Reflections by Nancy Lam
Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach, Abara Borderland Connections in El Paso
“Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose,” the quote by Martha Postlethwaite, a United Methodist pastor, spiritual director, and counselor for addiction recovery, begins.
This conference taught me again that the work we do as CCDA practitioners is not only external. The work is also to attend to ourselves, to make sure we are whole and cared for. The work to care for our souls is just as important and can be even more challenging because though others can aid and walk alongside us in the process, no one can do it for us but ourselves.
And rest can be hard. On the afternoon of the second day, we got to choose from a wonderful offering of restorative activities. The first hurdle came here – I struggle with the paradox of choice. The more options provided to me, the more anxious I get that I will choose “the wrong thing.” I knew my body needed to move and to be in nature, but I didn’t want to miss the pottery activity later that afternoon because I had never done pottery before and what a cool opportunity! So I decided to stay behind. When the time came to do pottery, paradox of choice popped up again: should I make a bowl? A plate? A combo of both, a bowl-plate of sorts?? Then Ginny, our facilitator and artist in residence, offered to make a handle for our mugs. Because I didn’t know which I wanted to make, my first attempt ended up being too thin and lopsided and a cross between a bowl, plate, and cup – not very functional. Halfway through my second attempt, I finally settled on a mug, but became frustrated that I wasn’t picking up the molding technique as quickly as others were. I almost felt like abandoning the project! But with the encouragement, advice, and accompaniment of friends, I kept going and felt so proud of the project and so glad that I saw it through. I decided to gift the mug to my boyfriend and carved leaves and plants into it.
Though this is a small example, it exemplified the obstacles I face in trying to rest. For me, rest can end up being disrupted by the hurdles I faced that afternoon: paradox of choice, perfectionism, comparison, and stress – what if the time I set aside to rest doesn’t end up actually feeling restful? As a practice in self-compassion, rest takes effort and practice, but ultimately, rest is a gift to ourselves and to others.
I also appreciated the tools on how to regulate our emotions and plans for self-care, and that we got time to actually put them into practice. I plan to teach the “4 stops to regulation” activity to our high school students here at Ciudad Nueva in our mental health series. I found the activity so helpful to connect mind and body, to have a guide I can go to when I feel overwhelmed and need to return to baseline again.
The rest of Postlethwaite’s quote goes: “Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest that is your life and wait there, patiently, until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world worthy of rescue.” This conference was a roadmap in creating this clearing. I have been stressed by thinking about what is next after my fellowship here at Ciudad Nueva and Abara, and I was reminded to shift to a posture of listening to this song, hands open to receive goodness.
Thank you to everyone at East Central Ministries for saying yes to hosting this year and creating this space of rest, peace, and connection. I came home feeling well cared for with gratitude in my heart. Check out their many ministries including a health clinic, urban farm, thrift store, food co-op (Ciudad Nueva got their idea for a food co-op from here!), youth programs, case management, and affordable housing initiatives!
Reflections by Daisy Guzman
Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach in El Paso
This year’s Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) Southwest Border Conference was hosted by East Central Ministries in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The 2023 conference theme was “Peace in the Storm”; the question we were asked to digest throughout the retreat weekend was, “What does it look like for us to find peace in the storm?” I initially thought it was impossible to find peace in a continuous storm, especially when surrounded by it at home, at work, and in every corner of the world. I have worked for companies and organizations that emphasize the importance of self-care and finding inner peace to help others, but never the right tools to engage in these practices that are preached. Luckily, Jesus says the best rest is found in him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28. And so I did. I allowed myself to be present, indulging in the rest that he wanted me to have.
East Central Ministries put together such a beautiful conference, and it was clear that every step was very intentional. I was taken aback by the fact that we would be engaging in self-care activities, not just discussing their importance. We had various options, and I wanted to go on the group hike because I enjoy hiking, and it was the most straightforward option for me to go with. Still, I challenged myself and picked activities new to me. I signed up for a bookbinding, pottery, and mosaic doodling class. “Chaos to control” is what the instructor called it- the purpose is to bring ourselves a daily moment of calm during the uncertainty and stress of life. I can attest to that statement; I wanted to give up because I am typically not good at art, but as I kept practicing, it became more and more relaxing. At that moment, I realized I could leave my worries behind and be present. I was not thinking about all the hats I wear back home as a mom, wife, daughter, social worker, sister, etc. I focused on myself and how cold the clay felt on my fingertips.
During this retreat, I shared moments of vulnerability and truth with strangers and even people I work with daily. I learned that many of us share the same struggles of wanting to find peace in the storm for ourselves and others but have difficulty finding a balance. I learned that it is ok to say no to things and focus on other areas of our lives that require more of us at that moment. We will never give our 100% to everything, so it is crucial to ask for help and take a step back to fill our cup. I am fortunate to have met the people I did on this weekend retreat- it restored my energy and faith in the power of creating community and God’s purpose for all of us. It is a privilege for us to have engaged in activities that brought peace and rest- even during the storm that is life.
Reflections by Abby Carl Klassen
Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach in El Paso
Working in the helping professions can give you tunnel vision. The demands of the work of social justice advocacy, reparative action, and community collaboration can become constant barrage of the immediate and urgent without much space to assess and reflect. Direct service work is traumatic on the daily. The paperwork is endless. The constant demand for “deliverables” is relentless. All of it can leave you with the impression that everything is terrible. It can leave you with the impression that you are nothing more than a problem repository and vending machine for social goods and services.
The Border Southwest CCDA Regional gathering in Albuquerque at East Central Ministries was an opportunity to rest and engage in restorative activity. It was a space designed to re-position oneself outside the tunnel of constant needs and demands through practitioner focused tools, resources and activities, but most importantly it was an opportunity to connect with other practitioners, enjoy each other’s company, and receive encouragement that only other helping professionals can provide. I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended alongside coworkers and friends from El Paso and would like to extend my deepest thanks to the organizers of the gathering.
Pictures courtesy of Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach