2019-2020 Blog Introduction

It’s that time of year folks!

Community dinners? Well… yes those have started, but we aren’t talking about that
Cold and flu season? Um. Yes that too, but again not my intended subject. (Sycamore? More like sick-some-more)
SpOoOoky season?! Yes, it is the first week of October, but wrong again!

It’s time to start our 2019-2020 blog! In our first entry, we will be doing a brief recap of our past month and a half here, including first hand perspectives of orientation!

The members of the Sycamore House are starting to find their groove in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The stressful, but fulfilling and exciting orientation, orientation showed all the members just how much Harrisburg has to offer. The dinners allowed members to meet wonderful families from church while eating some delicious foods. Adventures, such as exploring midtown and going to the capitol and the Pennsylvania Museum allowed Sycamoreans to better understand Harrisburg culture and how we might want to fit into this charming city. We also went to many church services and even got a house blessing! While exhausting/hectic/busy, orientation was a great way to start building up a community of wonderful, loving people that we can continue developing relationships with as the year progresses.

Orientation was stressful but fun!! I really enjoyed going to Mid-Town and exploring the area! -Shelby

I loved meeting the people of St. Stephen’s and getting to know Harrisburg. I especially loved seeing the capitol! -Faith

Orientation day was exhausting but fulfilling. We got to break in to the system and the system got to break into us, never truly comfortable but utterly necessary for the days to come. One of my favourite moments from the week was walking around the town with my housemates and navigating as a group. Another one is sitting down and eating meals together, no matter where we are invited. -Ian

It was really lovely to be hosted for dinner by all of the different board members. The food was always delicious and it was a fast way to meet some familiar faces from St. Stephen’s. -Emily

I loved getting so many opportunities to meet people one-on-one at the meals we shared together. It has been wonderful to spot those familiar faces at different events! On top of that, exploring the city in different adventures and outings allowed me to start feeling less like a stranger and more like I belong. -Savannah

As the weeks have progressed, the Sycamoreans have started finding their niches. In the next few weeks, we will be featuring each member and allow them the chance to tell you about how their life in Harrisburg is looking; from their placement to recreational activities to involvement in the church! Stay tuned 🙂

The Consequences of Healing

Hello! This is corps member Elisabeth Ivey. I’m sharing a reflection I’ve had about my journey through a year of service. I want to make clear that my interpretation of the following Biblical passage is just that – an interpretation. I welcome dialogue about the passage and any part of this post. You can comment below! 


A couple weeks ago, the Scripture reading came from Acts 16, telling the story of the slave girl possessed by a spirit that allowed her to prophesy: 

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Though I’ve heard this story before, it’s been sitting with me these past several weeks. I’ve thought a lot about this woman and this: her healing resulted in a direct loss of value for the people who owned her and benefited from her.  

***

I’ve often joked that I should add “anxiety” to my resume because it manifests in behaviors that benefit many workplaces. My anxiety means that I’m early wherever I go. The clock in my car is set three minutes behind so that I don’t show up too early. And before I even leave, an event will slip into my mind hours before it starts, ensuring that I can’t get anything else done for the day.

My anxiety makes me meticulous.

My anxiety pushes me to perform well.

My anxiety makes me want to please everyone around me with disregard to my own feelings. 

***

I remember the first time I told someone “no” at the beginning of this service year. A friend asked me to speak on a panel for an upcoming event, and I hesitated because the request came on the tail end of a week that I’d already spent visiting and speaking to classes. I was exhausted. My fatigue came not just from the preparation but from the mental energy it took to overcome the intense and pervasive anxiety that accompanied me when  I spoke in front of people. Throughout my senior year in college, I pushed through it. I wanted to grow, and so I shouldered the anxiety and exhaustion that came with these opportunities. 

After graduating, I realized I could choose differently. While I still wanted to face my challenges, I realized that I could also choose to care for myself. Distanced from the intensity of academia, I gained enough perspective to understand and identify the unhealthy dynamics that pattern many systems, urging people to push themselves to the limit. 

Still, I hesitated to say “no” because I respected this person. I cared for them, and I didn’t want to let them down. And even as I told them I couldn’t help them, I inwardly cringed as I opted not to make up an excuse (“sorry, I already have a meeting at that time”) but to deliver the news with the truth: I just didn’t have the energy to withstand the anxiety. 

I fretted after sending off the email, convinced that my decision made me fall from this person’s good graces. In this past year, I’ve struggled with feelings of guilt as I’ve accused myself of being stingy with my time. It’s true – after saying no once, it’s easier to say no again, and sometimes I can veer towards the other end of the extreme where I’d rather isolate myself from the constant demands that wiggle into my life even after college. Balance is a process.

I also remember one of the first times I didn’t arrive to work exactly on the hour or half hour, but a couple minutes past. I’m fortunate to have a flexible schedule at my job placement (so I could adjust my schedule as needed), but I mourned what felt like the loss of perfection. I’ve felt that uncomfortable sense of loss in other areas of life, as I’ve eased my grip on the need to have everything ordered in a particular way. Even though it allows me space to breathe easier, I worry about losing my grasp on the “strengths” that helped me function in the workplace, gaining me praise even as I struggled with the burn-out. 

***

I think of that girl, the one whose struggle looked like a strength, like an incredible ability that her masters exploited. I think of how her healing meant that according to her masters, she lost her value. And I wonder how she felt. Relieved? Afraid? Conflicted? 

Through this year of service, I have struggled, healed, and struggled again. I’ve adapted to new situations and set boundaries to preserve my well-being. I’ve had to face a worldview that I’ve developed through my lifetime that service means self-forgetfulness. To serve others meant I couldn’t serve myself, that I must forget my own needs. As I continue to wade through these murky views, I keep urging myself to settle into the grace I need to acknowledge that my needs are a part of my humanity and my imperfections are not unforgivable. 

These changes haven’t come easily, but even as I’ve experienced the growing pains of guilt (for not throwing myself into every possible opportunity) and shame (for failing to live up to a high standard), I’ve also been able to see that I’ve been healthy. In setting boundaries and pursuing healing, I may have limited my value to the world, just like in the story when all the masters cared about was their loss of money.

It makes sense.

The more we live into our healed selves, the less we’ll function in a broken world. Rather than making us worry about falling behind, perhaps the shift should rather incentivize us to invest in the healing of the world alongside ourselves. 


Above image by halfrain, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Slowing Down: A Reflection on a Year of Service

This week, corps member Elisabeth Ivey shares about some of the challenges she’s faced in her year of service and offers a reflection about how she’s been able to process through the doubts and emerge with a desire to take intentional steps through life. Continue reading below! 


A year of service has its challenges, and one of the most significant ones for me was discerning if I’d made the right decision in the first place. Taking a step forward down my chosen path, I looked to either side, wondering if I should’ve chosen one of the different routes my friends had taken.

As a new college graduate, each decision I made felt heavy-laden with pressure, but despite the uncertainty, this year has afforded me time to distance myself from the frantic pace of undergrad years. Through this opportunity, I’ve been able to clearly appreciate where I am, even if I’m still unsure of what’s ahead.

A year of service can mean many things and have many manifestations, and for me, it meant slowing down, which is a reminder I continually need. Recently, I published an article with The Porch Magazine in which I explored these thoughts more deeply. Continue reading below to read how I decided to lean into a meandering way of living.

The Meandering Way


Above image by Eddi, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

A Day in the Life

Corps member Madi Keaton shares a day in the life at the Sycamore House!

A Day in the Life of a Sycamorean
7:30—Time to get up! If the honking and screeching brakes of the cars on Front Street trying to get to work don’t wake me up, then my alarm certainly will.
7:45—Bed made? Check. Teeth brushed? Check. Face washed? Check. I quickly pick out and outfit and then head upstairs to pack a lunch. Generally, my lunch is made up of a lot of little snacks that we happen to keep around the house, like string cheese, hard boiled eggs, baby carrots, and a piece of fruit. On mornings where I feel especially groggy, I boil some water in our electric kettle to make coffee from our French press. I pour it into my trusty Mason jar, gather my things, and head to my placement!
8:30—Thankfully, my commute to the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project is only a few minutes’ walk from the house. I sign in and head upstairs to my office, where I start my computer and begin checking my email. The rest of the day varies according to the projects I’m working on. I’m either doing research or writing or attending meetings—or a mix of all three! Today, I’m working on a document detailing how to bring diversity and racial equity into the workplace. Many of this year’s trainings have been focused on creating an inclusive and equitable workplace, so I am compiling all of the notes as well as outside research into a comprehensive report that can be referred to for years to come. I am also doing other miscellaneous tasks, like writing emails, printing rebuttals for cases, and having check-ins with my supervisors.
4:30—I leave work and head back home. For now, I’m taking a break from the mental labor of work and watching Netflix until I get ready for dinner.
5:30—I begin to prepare dinner. One of my favorite things to make is tacos. I grab corn tortillas from the fridge. Then, I heat up some black beans over the stove with salt, lime juice, and chili powder. I heat up the tortillas too, melting shredded cheese between them to keep each pair together. Then, I place the black beans and a dollop of salsa on each pair. Simple, but delicious! If some of my other housemates happen to be grabbing dinner at the same time, I’ll generally sit and eat with them.
6:00—I clean up the dishes from dinner and decide what to do with the rest of the evening. Usually, I spend it doing chores like laundry or sweeping a room and then relax for the remainder of the night. Sometimes, I go out to an event, like a book talk at Midtown Scholar or a performance. Occasionally, my housemates will all want to go out and hit our favorite spot—Arooga’s! We collect the coupons off of the back of Giant receipts. They allow for one free drink or a buy one, get one free appetizer. It’s a great way to drink and eat food that is bad for you when you’re on a budget!
10:00—Time for bed! I brush my teeth, wash my face, and set my alarm for the next morning.

Above image provided by Elisabeth Ivey.

Caring in Community

Read below as Ben shares about a community outreach event! 


Just a couple weeks ago, I had to pleasure of helping Beacon Clinic run and organize their community outreach event. It was an outdoor event right outside our clinic that we partnered with other health organizations. We had organizations from Penn State Health, UPMC Pinnacle, Contact to Care, and a whole host of other organizations that were able to show up. All organizations had one goal in mind: to look after those living within the community and to spread word about the types of services offered around the Harrisburg community.

Specifically, Beacon Clinic was able to provide health screenings for the community. People were able to receive diabetes checkups and have their blood pressure checked as well. Furthermore, those who were interested were able to schedule future appointments. Reflecting back on this experience, I realize now the true importance of looking out for fellow community members. On a Saturday morning, a great number of organizations all showed up with the mindset of putting the community members first. Being a part of the Beacon Clinic team that day solidified in me the true power not only about the provision that medical care can have, but also the willingness to serve and give back to the community.


Above image provided by Ben Shao.

Native Plants: Caring for Creation in Your Backyard

Read below as corps member Chloe shares about native plants! 

What is a native plant?

Definition: A native plant is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. We consider the flora present at the time Europeans arrived in North America as the species native to the eastern United States. Native plants include all kinds of plants from mosses, lichen and ferns to wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.
From: http://www.panativeplantsociety.org 


Why native plants?

Because native plants are adapted to the growing conditions where you live, they are often easier to grow, and less susceptible to challenging conditions than non-native plants. Many non-native plants are also invasive, and crowd out our native plant species.

There is also a strong, ecological connection between native plants and the insect and animal world, especially the bird population.  These populations have evolved with the native plant population and have become dependent upon certain plants. For example, an oak tree can support over 500 species of moths and butterflies, amongst other insects, while a Bradford Pear (a common ornamental non-native) supports fewer than 100. The more insects, the more bird food available. Most terrestrial birds feed their young insects. So although you might be providing food for the adult birds with ornamental non-native plants, you won’t be providing food for their babies, which will ultimately impact their population.

Native plants also contribute to healthier watersheds and cleaner rivers and streams. Their deep root systems stabilize soil and protect from soil erosion, and they mitigate the chemicals in water runoff from lawns and other sources. Rain gardens, a garden design that uses native plants, can capture excess runoff from houses and remove pollutants from street water. This means a healthier Susquehanna River and cleaner drinking water.

Why bring native plants to St Stephen’s?

Planting native plants at St Stephen’s is a simple, easy way to practice creation care in our neighborhood and watershed. Through the cultivation of native plants on our ground, we can reduce runoff of from street pavement into the Susquehanna River. By choosing hardy native plants that will flourish here, we will save money on our property’s landscaping budget. We will also increase pollinator and bird habitat, promoting a healthier ecosystem right here in the city.
Planting native plant gardens on our campus is also an opportunity to educate students at St Stephen’s School and other members of neighborhood about the environment and our watershed, while letting everyone in the city know that creation care is important to us.
How can we bring native plants to St Stephen’s? 
Some suggested next steps are:
  • Present a plan for bringing native plants in Spring 2020 St Stephen’s to Property Committee, that includes financial savings
  • Work with the school on designing a native plant garden in Spring 2020 and on planning ways to sustain that garden each year
  • Plant native plants in our gardens, and share the joy with your neighbors and members of St Stephen’s!
If you would like to be involved in planning a community event with a Master Gardener here at the Cathedral in the next few months, or be a part of any long or short term work of bringing native gardening to St Stephen’s, please contact Chloe Selles at sycamorehouse@ststep.org
For the slides of this presentation, which includes pictures of some native plant species, go to: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1dLKKjZi7UcKgGQ77II-qAruNBCZ1ZjRvwjz0JL75-e8/edit?usp=sharing
Here is the copy of a “Native Gardening Guide,” which includes more information about the importance of native plants, a list of easy-to-grow native perennials, trees, and shrubs, and a list of upcoming local native plants sales.
Happy Gardening!
 
The St Stephen’s Creation Care Committee

Above image by Chris Sorge, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.