Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Achieving Your Goal and the Pseudo-Inspirational Poster

(The Pseudo-Inspirational Poster)
[Iona, Scotland--Courtesy of Tricia McReynolds]

It's been a while. Since I've last written to you all, I've done these things:

  • Had family and loved ones visit
  • Saw Obama speak in Belfast
  • Met the Lord Mayor of Belfast
  • Have been to London
  • Went on a YAV retreat to Scotland
  • Said a bunch of goodbyes to people I'll never forget
  • And so much more!!!!!

I mention these things not to sound cultured or to name-drop, but because I want to point out how many opportunities God has blessed me with throughout this year. Can you imagine if I were to make a list of things I've done that bullet-pointed the entire year? If you were to tell a younger me of all the beautiful experiences, travels, and people I met this year, younger me wouldn't have believed you. Maybe I could believe living somewhere else in the world, but not for a year.

But God is full of surprises, isn't he?

Recently I achieved a goal and I'm very proud of myself for it. It may not sound very YAV-oriented at times, but I promise it actually connects quite well to my YAV journey. Let me explain...

One of the things the UK and Ireland really, really focus on is prayer. We do in the States too, but it feels different here. I don't know how to describe it. Sometimes in the States, I felt like I've prayed for something with a group of people, and we genuinely care about what we're praying about, or who, but we don't stop and take the time to feel it, to really soak it in. Italics for emphasis. Haha. But for real, the Northern Irish go out of there way to wait and to feel God's presence.

Haggis Burger
(It Was More Than Delicious)

I went to a 3 week training program for prayer ministry. It fascinated me and I loved it. While we were there, we were encouraged to put our hand lightly on the person's shoulder we were praying over (if we had the person's consent), and then just wait for God's presence. What I found most affective was to repeat "Come, Lord Jesus, Come." Once you have that, God does the rest. I'm not saying that always, every time, God is going to work through you with the perfect words for everyone and everyone is healed. Nah. But it at least gives you the basis that God's love is there, and that is my favorite aspect of Christianity. Just spreading God's love.

But I digress. The goal.

In Chicago, I lost confidence, motivation, and sight of who I was. I froze and couldn't do anything unless it was in a class. I would only act in an acting class, I wouldn't go out of my way to do improv, I wouldn't push to get my play performed. This was the opposite of high school, where I was in multiple plays, co-wrote plays, and co-created a sketch group that did live events and a public access tv show, which I think is pretty ambitious for a teenager.

I don't blame Chicago or Columbia for my dilemma. Both are places with wonderful opportunities. My confidence just happened to drop around that time, a time when I should have been making connections and thriving. The last three years there turned into a terrible phycological cycle/battle, especially the last two. I remember thinking:

"If you can't make a serious artistic move now, then when will you? Ever? Never?"
"Why don't you audition for something? Does it actually not interest you, or are you scared?"
"You are getting good feedback, yet you do NOTHING with it. This is a waste. You are being such a waste."

When I'd feel inspired by one of my projects, I'd convince myself what I was inspired about wouldn't work or was stupid. When I looked at what I wrote, I wouldn't give myself credit if it was solid in any way.

To state it simply and dramatically, I was trapped, and I didn't see myself coming out of an artistic rut I had never experienced before: low-confidence. Before Chicago, I felt very confident in myself as an artist or an actor or a writer. For the most part, a person. I still don't know exactly what happened, but the point is, I didn't know how to beat it, and I by the time I came to Belfast, without realizing it, I didn't really feel like an artist anymore.

Some Edinburgh Museum
(There Was A Couple Of Them :/)

God blessed me with a support system here. All the YAVs have been particularly encouraging about my writing and striving to get better at guitar and to play live. I told my flatmate David at the beginning of the year that I wanted to do an open mic, and he said "We're going to make it happen."

What's more, I utilized the prayer ministry I would never have experienced if not for this year. I spent some nights just lying in my bed before I slept, praying, but waiting for God's presence. Asking for courage. Asking me to fill me with His words.

So one day, on a particularly crappy day (I don't remember why it was crappy now), I told some people we were going to the open mic and that I would be playing on a whim. And I did. And I've played once since then, and I'm playing again tomorrow.

I'm slowly regaining an identity I lost: an artist.

For me, that is a huge step. I know that because of this year I've grown in confidence in certain ways, but to play my own songs in front of strangers? That was the kicker. That was a surprise in the best of ways.

Simultaneously, the goal of playing guitar live fulfilled another goal that I had set at the beginning of the year: learn to rely more on God. Without the support system He blessed me with or the prayer ministry training He guided me towards that I utilized to speak to Him more intimately--I wouldn't have been able to do it. Plain and simple.

Just another reason this year rocks. Later! I'll talk to you soon!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The End Approaches and Nashville

David, T.J., and the Giant's Causeway

So, it's been a while, and I don't know where to start.

That's my roommate David up there in the pic with me. He also does YAV stuff in Belfast. Check out his blog here. There's a ridiculous picture of him and a horse in there that you don't want to miss. It is hilarious.

All right. I can't stall any longer. I better get writing.

From what I understand, it's that time of the YAV year where a lot of YAVs everywhere are feeling a lot. Everyone finishes in late July and early August. Only a few months remain.

Some YAVs have no idea what is next in life. Some YAVs are all set and ready for the next chapter. Some YAVs just straight up don't want to leave their placements.

As for me, I know what I'm doing next year. I'm happy to inform all of you that I'll be heading to Nashville* in September to work with homeless communities. I'm super pumped about it.

I keep getting the question "Why Nashville?"

I looked into Nashville last year but was more interested in Belfast at the time and ended up here, which was definitely all a part of God's plan. This year has done so many positive things for me and my faith that I want to take on another year of service. I'd be perfectly happy working with kids again, but I want a new challenge, and homeless ministries have always fascinated me. It is something I know very little about, yet I come across homeless communities everywhere I go. Also, people in Belfast refer to Southern American culture frequently, which peaked my interest in it, and I realized I should experience that part of the States. Many people are quick to inform me that Nashville "isn't that Southern." If that is the case, that's okay, because I'm sure it is far more southern than Michigan. Also, it's near Memphis, which I hear is very southern.

As I mentioned earlier, many YAVs are feeling a lot, and I am no exception. It's a strange part of the year. New YAVs have been selected to come to Belfast. I'm facebook stalking new YAVs I'll be working with next year. The end is approaching, but I do have a good couple of months left. I'm trying to stay focused and in the now. Doug told me to set goals for myself, which I'll list for another day.

I think the hardest struggle for me right now is to push back the reoccurring thought that I have to say goodbye soon. I knew what I was getting into when I took this position, but that doesn't make goodbyes any easier.

I want to clarify that though I am excited for Nashville, and America, and to see some friends and family when I get back, and to see Michigan again, and eat Buffalo Wild Wings, and blue cheese salad dressing, and thick milkshakes...I forgot where I was going with this...

Oh yeah! I don't necessarily want to leave Belfast, but the reality is that I am, which makes me sad. In order to combat this sadness, I need to look forward to what is to come. I need to be ready for it.

I love Belfast. The people I've worked with, the people I've worshipped with, the people I've served, the city itself, and the people back home who got me here, I can never thank you all enough.


I know it's corny, but I'm a changed man. I've changed for the better. I've grown in ways I never expected.

And I'm right where I should be.

*Fun Fact: Nashville is a Sister City to Belfast

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Routine: Wednesday

See those bright lights and Belfast smiles? They're all for you, folks! All for you!

Well, well, well. I see you all came crawling back to my fascinating blog. You lucky dogs, you. Anyway, we're going to continue on with my routine again. Because I want to. And you have no choice but to read it (please don't exit out and read it).

Wednesday is actually pretty chill. It starts off with Moms and Tots in the big hall at the 174 Trust, which you can find a picture of on my Monday post. Moms and Tots is sweet. I love working with that age group, and the moms and child-minders are genuine, caring, and hard-working people. They are also hilarious and tease me a lot.

Julie and her son pick me up at about 9:50, so usually we come in with a few other volunteers and get everything set up in the hall by 10. There are books, small foot-powered vehicles, a mini-slide and mini-see-saw, and toys. All kinds of toys. Too many too list. I usually head over to the vehicle section of the hall, where the boys and I play a game we created. They call it "Monster." I pretend to be a monster that falls asleep in a chair. They wake me up. I yell "Who disturbed my slumber?!" in a deep voice. They laugh and point at the other kids. Then I act like a giant, usually. Sometimes a giant monkey or bird creature, but usually a giant, which means I wave my arms around a lot and stomp my feet and roar and slowly walk after them. They laugh and I catch them and then I go back to sleep. They wake me up again. Repeat.

Then I grab the tea kettles and I start preparing snack with the other volunteers.

Knights of the Preparation Table

The parents and child-minders get tea, coffee, and/or toast. If someone brings in something awesome like cake or a Polish dish, they get that too. A couple awesome Polish women attend Moms and Tots, so I've had Polish chocolate and another delicious Polish pastry, but I don't remember what it's called.

The kids get plenty of water.

Water we doing?

As well as plenty of healthy food. Fresh fruit, buttered toast, and then every now and then a biscuit (or as Americans call them: cookies).

I have nothing clever to say about this picture, but it looks delicious.

After we've all eaten, we clean up everything and do some craft. I remember this day we decorated snowmen. Note the cotton, top hats, carrot noses, and snowmen bodies.

We be crafty.

After craft, I lead songs like "Duke of York", "Twinkle, Twinkle", "Walking Through The Jungle", "Beehive", "Hootchie Gootchie Dance", and "Scarecrow." A lot of those I learned when I got here. We pull out instruments, march, do actions, and sing our hearts out. The kids get funky and it's hilarious. A good note to leave the morning on.

Then, if there are no announcements, everyone splitsvilles and the rest of us stay to clean. Usually these people pictured below, and then Heather gives me a lift home. The volunteers are wonderful at Moms and Tots. Not only do they give me lifts, but sometimes they'll have me over for lunch and feed me. So kind. By the way, since Moms and Tots is a part of the Trust, it's cross-community, so anyone is welcome to come.

Judith (who also helps at Special Needs Club with me), Heather (who gives me a lift home), Me, Kristen (makes amazing feta scones), and Julie (who gives me a lift there).

Then I spend a good chunk of my day doing errands and housework. Things that need to be done during the week that I haven't or won't have time to during the upcoming days. Or, if necessary, to nap and recharge. Then I'm off to Bible Study at Woodvale Methodist.

Awww Yeeeaaah

Bible Study at Woodvale is led by Shankill Methodist minister Mark Charles. Woodvale's minister, Margaret Ferguson, who you can see at the bottom left sitting on the floor, leads another course at Shankill Methodist. So we switcheroo the ministers, but you are welcome to attend any course you like. Mark, or Charlie as he is often called, has led some great courses about taking action with Christian lifestyles, as well the most recent course about the Holy Spirit. I've learned a lot from Margaret, Mark, and all these people. It's always a peaceful vibe with excellent discussion.

And that's Wednesday. See you later, I'm leaving. Or to put it like they do over here: "I'm away."

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Routine: Tuesday

C'mon In Cafe

What could be more interesting than knowing my day to day work routine? NOTHING. THAT'S WHAT. And so the saga continues. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you...Tuesday!

My, my! What fine dining you have!

Every Tuesday morning I walk into Woodvale's hall that hasn't fully heated up yet to some delicious smelling food and some very pleasantly set tables. Oh la la! I start my day off with C'Mon In Cafe! An outreach program for anyone in the Shankill area to come on in to a cheap yet quality meal.

Lesley and I

It was started by Lesley, my favorite "wee" woman other than my mom and my old roommate Cat. She went around pubs, diners, and events in the community, asking the locals what they needed from the church and just in general. What she took away from her conversations, basically, was that the locals wanted a place to be and socialize for a reasonable price. And then C'Mon In Cafe was born!

Carol Ann and the Dish Area

Carol Ann and I do the dishes. She usually washes and I usually dry and put them away. For the record, there are days when I do the dishes! She's just a lot faster than I am so she prefers to do them.

Don't dish it out if you can't take it!

Jim the Chef

Jim was a chef in the army, I believe it was. He and Lesley cook the meals together and he dishes them out to the waitresses to serve to the customers.

The Kitchen
Jim in the Kitchen

Tea, Coffee, and Juice Area

Waitress Mode

Ray Soupin' It Up:
Ray's in charge of serving the soup and stew.

Helen Enjoying Her Meal

The second part of the day is spent at the 174 Trust with the Disability Club (though I refer to it as Special Needs Club due to Greenwood's Special Needs Camp title).

Steady Eddie

Linda, the frontwoman of the Disability Club, and her husband Patrick take one minibus for pick ups, while I go with Eddie in another. We pick up kids from all over North Belfast and either return to the Trust for games, snacks, crafts, and activities, or go somewhere unique for the evening. We've been to the library, we've gotten a behind the scenes tour of a beloved local sweet shop (candy shop), bowling, Funland, and so on and so forth. It's a great program and a highlight of the week. The kids are always funny, genuine, kind, and ready to have fun. There are actually three separate disability clubs on three separate nights. One for kids in Primary School, one for kids in Secondary School (the one I help with), and one for Special Needs Adults out of school.

Linda, Patrick, and Judith

I really enjoy working with the three pictured above. Patrick is a really caring man, and I learn a lot from Linda during these Tuesday sessions. She's lead the disability clubs for a while now, and she's won some kind of award for it, too. Judith, originally from Poland, is a volunteer who is currently taking classes so she can work with youth as a profession. Her name isn't actually Judith. It's a long, super awesome Polish name that is difficult to pronounce and spell. For that very reason, she likes to be called Judith. Haha.

And that's Tuesday.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Routine: Monday

The 174 Trust:
Where the Gods of Cross-Community Work Dwell

I recently received an email I'd like to share with all of you:

"Dear T.J.,

I am constantly in awe of your blog posts, pictures on facebook, and how handsome you are. Your life is just so intriguing and hot and I want to know more about it. Please, PLEASE tell me allllllll about what you do in [Northern] Ireland. Thanks!

Seymour Butz"

Well Seymour Butz, honestly, I found your email horrifyingly on the stalker side, but since you are such a true supporter of my volunteer work in Belfast, I have decided to document my day to day work life for you. Godspeed, Seymour Butz.

Technically, my Monday usually starts out with a YAV meeting in City Centre that lasts about 3-4 hours or I have a one-on-one with Doug. But then by about 2:30, I'm at the 174 Trust. Here's some pics of the place (thanks again for letting me borrow your camera, Courtney). You can also take a tour of the 174 Trust on their website.

John, Me, and Geoff (My supervisor at the Trust)
I luckily ran into these two awesome dudes while I had my camera. Naturally they joked and said "Let's get this over with."

Some pictures of the lovely office. After School Club often sends me here on Fridays to let parents in. I know, I know. Already talking about Friday. Could I jump the gun any sooner?

The Trust is currently expanding.

The Stairs:
My Most Fascinating Caption Yet
The Meeting Room

Hangout Area


More Kitchen

The New Lounge:
Pool, Table Tennis, and more!
...I'll take a pic of the inside another day. The key was being funky :/


At that time there was actually snow in Belfast. That much snow was a big deal to them. Like, everyone freaked out and panicked. Anyway, this playground has football goals/nets, a jungle gym, a slide, and a climbing wall.

The Irish School:
For Kids!

Cool Artwork
I do a couple of things with the After School Club. I do pick-ups with Charlene, I play with the kids (anything from "cooking" to playing with action figures), and I help with snacktime. Playing with the kids is my favorite. They all have big imaginations and great senses of humor.

Anyway, so when I first arrive, Charlene and I pick up some of the kids in the 174 Trustmobile. Everyone else calls it "the minibus", but I, starting now, call it the 174 Trustmobile. Look at it! It's green and it has the 174 logo on it! It's like their Batmobile.

Then we all go inside to the After School Club room.

Aisling, my coworker, is embarrassed by how the bulletin board in the background is falling down in the picture.
When all the homework has been finished, we usually give them time in the hall to play. The hall is a place where they can run around and be crazy. They ride bikes in there, kick the football around, shoot hoops, etc.

I love the After School Club. It's one of my favorite programs I get to volunteer for. The kids are always hilarious and fun, and the people I work with are all super cool. Their names are Nuala, Aisling, Patricia, and Charlene. They all live in Catholic neighborhoods, which helps give me perspective on that community, a nice contrast from my work at Woodvale Methodist on the Shankill Road (a Protestant area).

Patricia, Me, and Aisling
I leave the After School Club at 4:00 and join up with the cross-community football club, where both Catholics and Protestant boys play together on integrated teams. The age range has been from 9-17, as far as I've noticed. Every Monday, we are taken to an athletic club called The Hammer, where we play football, which of course, is soccer.

The Hammer
I kid you not, on the other side of this picture is a guy, with a jersey number of 11, scratching his bum. I couldn't get a whole pic of it from my angle, so here is just a photo of number 9.

Northern Ireland Team Pride:
Artwork Inside The Hammer
Me and Andy
The football club is lead by Bill, who also runs the 174 Trust. His son Calum also comes and volunteers. Andy is taking youth worker courses and has been placed at the Trust, so he helps out with the club, too. Usually when we're done playing football, we'll go do something else like swimming, bowling, ice skating, banana boating, or the driving range, and then we'll go out to eat at KFC or make pizzas at the Trust.

What I've really enjoyed about the club is how it doesn't really focus on differences. The boys just come together and play football. The club builds friendships and it is as simple as that. Not to say they skip over differences either, though. Bill has moderated a couple discussions with them about the protests and riots going on right now. The Catholic and Protestant boys had different things to say about it, but it didn't affect their friendship in the slightest.

And that's Monday.