Well folks, my time in Chicago is rapidly coming to a close. In just a few short days, I will be on a plane back to the Lone Star State and my time as a YAV will be officially concluded. It's hard to believe that a year went by so quickly. Seems like just yesterday, I boarded the plane for orientation in New York and now I am about to board a plane back to Texas. It's been a year full of challenges, growth, struggle, disappointment, tears, laughter, rejection, acceptance, love, hate, doubt, faith, despair, hope and lots of hours of watching Buffy and Arrested Development. I think what's been most shocking for me to witness is just how much personal growth I've done this past year. I came in as a rather reserved, shy individual with a host of self-esteem and self-loathing and body image issues that I had only recently started to deal with and accept. I had never successfully lived with people my own age and had never actually cooked for anybody, including myself. While I know that I will still struggle with issues of self-loathing and body image probably my whole life, I think this year has more than anything else, put me on the path toward a better, fuller acceptance of myself and my abilities. I can now look in the mirror and say "I like myself" and actually know that I mean it. My imperfections make me who I am and who I am is pretty darn great. I'm eating better now that I have learned how to cook and can even make a wide variety of dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. I've even dabbled in baking and that has proven to be a success as well. I always told myself that cooking just wasn't something I ever saw myself doing. I had a lot of self-doubt and resigned myself to just living off TV dinners and fast food the rest of my life. If I hadn't done this YAV year, that may have indeed been the case.
I've also finally discovered some clarity and some direction in life. In case you weren't aware, I'd basically been drifting along in life working a variety of dead-end jobs that didn't pay well and living at home and not really doing anything good or productive with myself. I was content to just drift aimlessly through life. Now, however, my life has a sense of purpose and direction. I have a clearer idea of what it is that I was put on this planet for. I have a better sense of where God is calling me to go and what he is calling me to do. I've even begun to see how the seeds for my new life direction were planted so many years ago and are just now starting to bear fruit. I've realized all the myriad ways that the gifts and talents I have developed can be used in my new life plans. I guess that just goes to show that God sure does have a funny sense of humor, doesn't it??! Now, I can honestly say that where I am going in life is exactly where I should be. I once had a good friend of mine ask me, "Is where you're going where you want to be?" I never really had a good answer for that until now. Yes, now I can say that where I am going is where I want to be.
This has also been a year with a lot of struggles. That's to be expected, though, I think. I think if you were to ask any YAV about how their year went, they would be hard pressed to not mention something about struggles. Whether it be being separated from family and loved ones during the holidays or dealing with bad days at work or being attacked or coming to terms with themselves or facing rejection after rejection, every single one of us has a story to share about the struggles that we have had to face as YAVs. Anybody who tells you this is easy is either a liar or incredibly naive. There's nothing easy about doing this program. There's nothing easy about being away from family during the holidays or watching a friend you've known for a long time die suddenly or hearing about a death of someone close to you back home and not being able to be home for it and having to grieve from afar or being rejected and thinking that it means God doesn't love you. However, what helps is having a community there to support you. Whether it be the people in your own house or people back home or even other YAVs from far away, it's good to have that support network to turn to in times of struggle and grief. Yes, I've had to deal with my fair share of trouble this past year but what has been a blessing is seeing how much love and support I have received from my Chicago community to help get me through it. This year has really shown me how much we rely on others to get us through those hard times. No, it hasn't been easy but its been made easier by knowing that I always had somebody up here to turn to when I needed help.
It's gonna be really hard to say goodbye to this place and these people in just a few days. I've been slowly saying my goodbyes already and it has been an emotional process. I never thought I could get so attached to so many people in such a short period of time. When I reflect back on the past year and the people I have met, I have nothing but smiles. I honestly cannot imagine my life without these people now. My life has been so enriched by meeting them and now I have to leave them behind. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end as they say and I guess that is certainly proving to be true.
I think my final thoughts are just to reflect briefly on the past year and how much I have been shaped by my experiences here. I'm going back to Texas as a completely different person than I was when I left. I only hope that I can keep it up and maintain the growth while I am there and then continue to grow once I leave again to head for California. This has been such a transformative and instructive year for me. While I may not have been changed for the better, I know for sure that I have been changed for good!!