I am five days into an 8-week stay in my second home of New Orleans, LA, and it is breaking my heart and breaking it open.
I’m doing a practicum in urban ministry through my school in partnership with Christian Renewal New Orleans (CRNO), and I am grateful to be interning at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR), which is based out of my home congregation here, First UU New Orleans (FUUNO). I get to learn how intentionally intercultural faith-based outreaches are serving this beautiful, hurting city in ways that empower people to heal themselves and their communities, and I get to bring what I learn back to Tulsa, which needs so much of the same medicine.
On a personal level, I get to experience that medicine for myself. I came here with the intuition that my own growth and healing are integrally intertwined with the work I will do this summer. Already, I am seeing that play out. I am experiencing immense grace and getting to be a channel of it for others. I am smoothing scars over old wounds and turning them into testimonies to divine, steadfast love.
I ran away to New Orleans at age 18, fleeing a tumultuous and traumatic adolescence in Tulsa; I ran blindly, for survival, and as a result, unwittingly ran into more tumult and trauma. At age 31, I am now blessed to return with a purpose, mission, and vision; I have a clear reason for being here, and an openness to what more I may discover. This visit feels different from any other, most notably because I am different. I feel as though I still know everything I know about the city and my seven years here, but have entered with a clean emotional slate, free of expectations and biases. As I heal my own brokenness and light my own shadows, I get to run towards instead of away, not only in my inner life but in my work in the world. Thus, I get to align with others who are moving toward something, and help people and communities move toward something: toward healing and wholeness, toward reconciliation and redemption, toward life and love, toward honesty and authenticity. These moves are both inward and outward, individual and interdependent.
In recent months, I have been learning how to show up and be authentic in all areas of my life and work. This visit is taking that learning to a new level as I revisit Hurricane Katrina with the primary purpose of a minister, versus that of a survivor. I get to process how that lived experience informs and empowers my work today; thanks to years of recovery, therapy, and spiritual healing, I am now in a place where I can stay with my difficult emotions (anger, grief, remorse, discomfort, despair) as they arise, and let that experience heighten my empathy for others instead of isolating me in my own pain.
This, I think, is the essential work of relational ministry: to first learn to be present with my own complex experience so that I can show up fully with others in theirs.
My practicum runs from this week through August 8; I’ll be back home by August 15. Over that time, I will be documenting my process here, both for my own reflection and for the communities I am serving here and back in Oklahoma. You support my journey in many ways, and I will show my gratitude by keeping you in the loop about what I am learning for our collective benefit.