Why HOBY Is An Amazing Part Of My Life Two Years Later

Why HOBY Is An Amazing Part Of My Life Two Years Later

I still have the "HOBY spirit."
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Chances are that if you’ve seen me at all in the past two years, you’ve heard me mention HOBY. And it’s likely been more than once, possibly even to the point where it’s annoying.

People often ask me what exactly this "HOBY thing" is, and I can’t tell you how often I’m at a total loss for words. “It’s a leadership seminar,” I’ll eventually stammer, getting a polite smile and nod in response before the subject is changed.

But that’s not quite it. Not even close. Just a scratch at the surface, really.

But for these people, I keep it simple, hoping that I can somehow communicate to them in the way I get excited about this thing and the way that my eyes light up that THIS is the place where I found my tribe. That this is the place that has moved my voice closer to my lips.

It’s impossible to describe HOBY for a multitude of reasons, one of which being the detail and depth I’d have to go into to even begin to try to explain is far too great for the small talk it typically makes an appearance in.

Also, we HOBYs kinda like this ambiguous little secret of ours, both frustrated and pleased that we have such a hard time helping others to understand this other family of ours and the place we’ve found that we belong––––this place where you discover the best version of yourself.

Lately I’ve been resorting to calling it a “utopia” but that’s really not it either. That makes it sound too much like a cult, but with the fervor my fellow alums and I speak about it with, one might just start to wonder.

So really the best way I can describe it is by calling it “an ineffable wonder” but by definition, I’m really not describing it at all.

I attended the HOBY New York West seminar at the University of Rochester in May of 2014, where I heard one of the Lost Boys of Sudan speak, cleaned up Mount Hope Cemetery, got poison ivy, wrote, directed and performed a skit all in half an hour, stole bandanas and candy off of neighboring groups’ tables (harboring quite a collection from each by the end of the weekend), and laughed when our table was stolen out of revenge one night during dinner. I had had a nice time, but I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about.

And then I was introduced to the WLC, or World Leadership Congress.

I wasn’t going to go at first, discovering four days after signing up that it was the same week as a summer course I was planning on taking at a local university. But after mulling over my options for several days (and, let’s be honest, crying) I decided on the World Leadership Congress.

Every minute I got closer to departing for Chicago, the more the dread came in and the fear settled in my stomach. I cried the night before, afraid of flying on a plane for the first time in eleven years to a huge city I’d never been to before.

But it was like that the night I left to go back home, too, and it had nothing to do with the plane ride, and everything to do with the fear of leaving this place. This version of me.

And now, I’d give anything to go back. To be traipsing around Chicago with twelve of my favorite people--ones who are unapologetically themselves and incredibly enthusiastic about everything--by my side. Screaming ridiculous cheers at the top of our lungs down the street. Making Canadian jokes. Untangling ourselves from human knots.

The thing about HOBY is that everyone you meet has this genuine love and care for you. It is a place where I instantly felt connected and understood, even though I was meeting these four hundred twenty-five other people for the very first time.

What I loved about my week in Chicago was just how incredibly open and welcoming everyone was. By the end of the week, you really felt like had known the people in your group for years and had experienced some of their hardships with them. I had finally found what my favorite author Marina Keegan calls “the opposite of loneliness.”

HOBY is a place that challenges you and your beliefs for the betterment of both yourself and the world. Bringing together about 430 ambassadors from 16 different countries, it enables ambassadors to learn that we all have much more in common than we ever could have imagined, despite coming from so many different corners of the globe.

People often ask me what you do at this leadership thing, and I never know how to describe it without making it seem dull. Because it wasn't. We listened to speakers and created websites and nonprofits and thought about ways to solve world problems. We explored Chicago and wrote notes and danced and sang crazy cheers and played ridiculous games. We updated our social media pages and took too many pictures and hugged everyone we met. We engaged in service projects and discussions. We slept too little and smiled too much. We laughed so hard we were sore the next day. We cried until our tears ran out. It was exhilarating.

At night, I would crawl in bed, exhausted, but joyfully so. That’s when I would contact my family. But my home life felt so far away and so unreal. It made it hard to think about coming home--leaving this place and saying goodbye to these people. This version of myself. Me, a homebody, couldn’t imagine coming home to her family in just a few days.

It’s no wonder ambassadors talk about “HOBY hangovers” and “withdrawals” and creating an island only for HOBYs to live on social media every once in a while. We celebrate our anniversaries like high school couples and, in our friends’ opinions, gush about it too much.

Getting off the plane and seeing my family again for the first time in eight days, after all of this, was surreal. I felt like a pair of pants that shrank in the wash––––I just didn’t fit anymore. And of course coming home begged the question, “What are you going to do with this?” I didn’t have the answers to that then, and honestly I’m not sure I do now. I was terrified of losing this other side of me, scared that I’d fall back into my normal routine and everything I had gained would be lost. The staff had warned us of this, scheduling a presentation entitled “Life After HOBY” on one of the last days. “You might feel like you don’t quite belong when you get back,” they said, assuring us that this was normal.

I remember going to Wegmans after reuniting with my family and having to resist the urge not to rush up to a person looking at bread and tell them my name and ask them where they were from. It took a lot of effort not to get up, put my hands over my head and start shouting “O-U-T-S-T-A-N-D-I-N-G OUT-OUT-OUTSTANDING” at the top of my lungs whenever someone asked me how my day was or if I liked my pizza. I’m not sure if this is what the staff were talking about, but it was definitely far from normal.

I’ve been on multiple trips and sports teams before and since, and while I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them, I’ve never felt as connected to these people as I have to HOBYs.

Oftentimes the leaders at these events boast that this new experience will be the best one of your life, so when “HOBY Daddy” Russ Tanguay told all 426 of us ambassadors in a conference room at Loyola University of Chicago that “a week from now, you’re going to wish that you were back in this room on July 19th, 2014 at 8:32 pm CT” I was skeptical. But, I can’t even begin to tell you how right he was. It's been two years since that date and I still remember the exact time.

I still post about it on social media and engage in Google Hangouts to catch up and commemorate that day. I volunteer as a Junior Counselor at New York West every year, eager to inspire high school sophomores just as much as my counselors inspired me and keep my HOBY spirit going.

In this day in age, when we are surrounded by violence and hateful acts and a crazy presidential race, it's comforting to know that those of different cultures, religions, views and backgrounds can all come together respectfully and peacefully and learn how to lead together for the betterment of our local and global communities.

HOBY has not only challenged me, but given me confidence, lifelong friends, a love of service, and a place where I belong. Being able to give back to the organization that taught me how to reach my full potential and granted me the opposite of loneliness is one of the most outstanding feelings in the world.

Cover Image Credit: hoby.org

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I'm A Christian And I Have A Tattoo

Stop judging me for it.
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Like most people, I turned 18 years old during the course of my senior year of high school. I’ll never forget the months prior to my birthday, though, because I spent hours making a decision that would be with me forever, the decision of where I would go to get my first tattoo and where that tattoo would go, and of course I spent a lot of time deciding on the font, the colors, and all of the other aspects of the tattoo I wanted. Throughout this time, two things stood firm 1) the fact that I was going to get a tattoo, and 2) the six letter name that it would consist of.

Now, three years later, I’m 21 years old and I still get the occasional dirty look at church on Sunday or in line at Walmart, and more often than not this look is accompanied by the following words: “Why would you do that to your body when God says not to?” A few weeks ago at a new church, a woman came up to me and said, “How can you consider yourself a Christian when you have that blasphemous thing on your foot?”, I simply smiled at her and said: “God bless you, have a good week.” I let it roll off of my back, I’ve spent the past three years letting it “roll off of my back”… but I think it’s time that I speak up.

When I was 8 years old, I lost my sister. She passed away, after suffering from Childhood Cancer for a great deal of my childhood. Growing up, she had always been my best friend, and going through life after she passed was hard because I felt like even though I knew she was with me, I didn’t have something to visually tribute to her – a way to memorialize her. I, being a Christian and believing in Heaven, wanted to show my sister who was looking down on me that even though she was gone – she could still walk with me every day. I wanted it for me, for her. I wanted to have that connection, for her to always be a part of who I am on the outside – just as much as she is a part of who I am on the inside.

After getting my tattoo, I faced a lot of negativity. I would have Leviticus 19:28 thrown in my face more times than I cared to mention. I would be frowned on by various friends, and even some family. I was told a few times that markings on my body would send me to hell – that was my personal favorite.

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:28

The more I heard these things, the more I wanted to scream. I didn’t though. I didn’t let the harsh things said about me and my choice change the love I have for the Lord, for my sister, or for the new precious memento on my left foot. I began to study my Bible more, and when I came to the verse that had been thrown in my face many times before – I came to a realization. Reading the verses surrounding verse 28, I realized that God was speaking to the covenant people of Israel. He was warning them to stay away from the religious ways of the people surrounding them. Verse 28 wasn’t directed to what we, in today’s society, see as tattoos – it was meant in the context of the cultic practice of marking one’s self in the realm of cultic worship.

26 "You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying. 27 You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. 28 ‘You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. 29 ‘Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness. 30 ‘You shall keep My sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD. 31 ‘Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God."
Leviticus 19:26–31

The more I have studied my Bible over the past few years, the more I pity those who rely on one verse in the Old Testament to judge and degrade those, like myself, who made the decision to get a tattoo for whatever reason they may have for doing so. This is because, you see, in the New Testament it is said that believers are not bound by the laws of the Old Testament – if we were, there would be no shellfish or pork on the menus of various Christian homes. While some see tattoos as a modification of God’s creation, it could also be argued that pierced ears, haircuts, braces, or even fixing a cleft lip are no different.

24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."
Galatians 3:24-25

In Galatians, we read that the Old Testament law was created to lead people to Jesus. However, we know that Jesus has come and died on the cross for our sins. He has saved us, therefore we are no longer held to this law in order to have a relationship with the Lord. Our relationship with Him comes from believing that Jesus came to Earth to die on a cross for our sins, and repenting of our sins – accepting Jesus as our Savior.

I am a Christian, I have a relationship with the Lord that is stronger than it has ever been, and - I HAVE A TATTOO.

I have a beautiful memento on my left foot that reminds me that my sister walks with me through every day of my life. She walked with me down the red carpet at my senior prom, she walked with me across the stage the day I graduated from high school, and she continues to be with me throughout every important moment of my life.

My tattoo is beautiful. My tattoo reminds me that I am never alone. My tattoo is perfect.

Stop judging me for it.

Cover Image Credit: Courtney Johnson

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Yes, Asexual People Like Me Are In The LGBTQ+ Community And DO Belong At Pride

The "A" in LGBTQIA stands for asexual, not ally. So why do some not include asexuals in Pride celebrations?

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The Asexual Visibility and Education Network defines asexuality as follows: "someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who [a person is]." Asexual people, the organization states, are as capable as anyone else of forming close bonds with others; they just do not feel any need to introduce a a sexual element to that bond.

And, before you dismiss asexuality, numerous academic studies and articles, some from top-level universities, have already legitimized asexuality's existence.

So, enough with the plant jokes already. Asexuality is a real thing.

The fact that I even need to explain and validate this sexuality should give those underneath the "ace" (asexual) umbrella a place at Pride festivals and parades. But there are those within the LGBTQ community that say that asexual people do not belong there--Megan Hoins goes into the ugly side of that exclusionist attitude in an article from last year. Usually, this "ace discourse" manifests online, but, as we all know, the Internet does not exist in some sort of vacuum, and what we say has very real consequences, no matter where our voices are heard.

I'm a lesbian but not ace. Maybe that's a little TMI, but I wanted to let you know where my perspective comes from before I launched into my argument: yes, asexual people are part of the LGBTQ community, and they do belong at Pride festivals, parades and anywhere else considered a safe space for members of the LGBTQ community. I want and value their presence there, so long as they want and value mine.

Why do I feel this way? I could write a whole essay on all of the reasons; unfortunately, an online article is a bit too short to cover them all. I'll stick with something that research cannot discuss: my own coming-out experience. I have a lot more in common with an asexual person in this respect than I do a heterosexual person.

As a lesbian, I dealt with compulsory heterosexuality--in fact, I wrote a whole article on it. Basically, it is the societal assumption that, as a woman, I am obligated to like men. It took me years to convince both myself and others that my identity and feelings were real.

Asexual people deal with a similar hurdle: compulsory sexuality. They deal with this weird, Westernized hypersexualization: of boobs being shoved in their faces in every single magazine ad, of men with sexy six-pack abs in commercials. Viewing sexualized images when there are no sexual feelings present feels to the asexual very similar to how I felt with everyone telling me that I was supposed to like men: everyone saying, "He's so cute and so into you, go talk to him!" and one of my parents not accepting the fact that I don't like men for months after I came out, stuff like that.

By no means am I trying to lump the asexual and lesbian experience together; they are two unique things, but they bear remarkable similarities. The fact of the matter is, though, that heterosexual people never have to go through anything like this. They never have to defend their right to love who they love, to feel about who they feel about. Society just rolls with it, because it's the norm.

If I, a lesbian, belong to the LGBTQ community because I do not fit societal norms of what is expected of my attractions, then why don't asexual people?

Cover Image Credit:

Flickr

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