Each summer — as the program year winds down — we invite Fellows to reflect on their experience and write a testimonial to share with Friends. Lydia Mansfield, a young adult Fellow who served in Portland during the 2019-2020 program year, shares about her search to know and see God this year.
I rise up onto the lifted step and swing open the door of the mobile medical facility that Outside In, my site placement for my Quaker Voluntary Service year, operates. The mobile outreach program aims to meet the needs of communities who might not have access to the downtown federally qualified health center the organization runs. The size of a large RV, the van houses two patient exam rooms, a small testing lab, a tiny office space for the providers, and a restroom. I move into the crowded space and am greeted by Andrea*, the Medical Assistant who works on the vans. She’s become my friend during the months I’ve been doing outreach work at this location, which primarily serves a population that is chronically houseless and chronically ill.
Andrea dispenses one of her snarky-yet-motherly quips. I laugh big. I ask her how she’s doing; her oldest son was shot to death on the street a few months prior and we’ve been grieving alongside her while also holding that we cannot imagine such a loss. It’s been rough, she shares, but there’s been traction on the case and she’s holding on to her children and grandchildren. I smile softly, give her hand a squeeze, and let her know I’m looking for a patient. The nurse practitioner, Maryam*, had sent me a message letting me know she was seeing a man who needed follow-up care but didn’t have insurance. Maryam hopes I can help connect him to the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program. That’s my role this year – assisting folks in applying to and navigating the public health coverage available to them. Andrea nods over to one of the patient exam rooms. I angle my way into the makeshift private space and – for the dozenth time this day, the hundredth time this week, the umpteenth time in my tenure with Outside In and the Quaker Voluntary Service – I see God.
In what ways do my work and service address that of God in all people?
Prior to my year in Portland, I was deep in Quaker queries, talking to elders, and participating in my local Meeting’s Spiritual Formations group. This query was a (non-violent!) gut punch. To answer that, it meant revealing the truth to myself, meant shining the Light on the dark parts. I innately knew I was not letting my life speak in a manner that served God, served God in others, served God in myself. It feels heavy to admit that, even now. But through deep internal turmoil and with abounding love from my home Meeting (thank you, Friends!), way opened for me to embark on what I preemptively called My Great Experiment. I (non-violently!) blew up my life, quit my job, trekked across the country, and began what has been a year of intense discernment through service, community, and spirituality. And I will never be the same for it.
Our first Worship Night as an intentional community, we wrote letters to our future selves. Ten months later, I am now the person to whom I wrote. It’s strange to hold that note I’d written to myself, as if I am somehow existing in two places at once. Or maybe it’s one place, but two me’s. Time is strange. I don’t need to open my letter to remember what’s in there; I’d prayerfully written my desire to meet God so many times this year that I’d confidently be able to say I know Them, to say I feel Him in others, to say I see Her in me.
Maryam stands next to the man, who reclines in the exam chair as she lightly wraps a wound. The boot he wears to help him walk after his foot had to be amputated from exposure last winter rests on the counter. I know this man; he volunteers upkeeping the community center that serves him and other folks experiencing housing instability in the area. He’s lived outside for at least a decade. He gives me a friendly smile. I smile back, greet him and Maryam by name, and we begin to work through a Medicaid application together.
“I’ve met God this year, again and again and again. And I’ve learned that I’ve been meeting God my whole life. That I will continue meeting God. And that God doesn’t just dwell within us, but also between us – in the relationships we build and the ways we care for each other and the Grace that greases the wheels of it all.”
We finish in twenty minutes. He has health coverage. I silently pray he receives the same dignity at his specialist appointment that I see in the care provided by Outside In’s practitioners. I pop out of the exam room and step out of the van to connect with the next person in need of Medicaid assistance. I feel the Portland drizzle spotting my face, my sneakers grating against the asphalt outside the van, and the warmth of a little bit of Light. I’ll see God again that day. I’ll see God when I get home to my five housemates that night. And tomorrow, when I work with a young trans woman who needs help accessing gender affirming treatment after her family has thrown her out. And next week, when a client just released from prison looks for coverage for his diabetes management as he navigates re-entry into a society that makes it so hard. And the next month, when an undocumented mother hopes to get vaccines covered for her two children who are starting school soon.
I’ve seen God.
God is on that van – in Maryam’s medical expertise and tenderness, in Andrea’s sharp jokes and unending grief, in the patient’s missing foot and his open camaraderie. God is here as I write this reflection, in the house where I live with my intentional community, where we have laughed and cried and worshipped and argued and cooked and fixed plumbing with duct tape and planted literal and figurative seeds in our garden. God is on the bus I take to the downtown clinic, with the bus driver who asks what book I’m reading that morning and the fellow passenger who sits a little too close to me for comfort and the young couple flirting up front. God is in our QVS Portland Coordinator who somehow manages to hold space for all of the tumult and joy we’ve experienced this year. God is on our local support committee who endlessly nourishes us with food and wisdom. God is in you, as you read this reflection and get a peek into the opening of my soul I’ve felt this year. God is in me, as I move out of My Great Experiment and way opens for my work and service to address that of God in all people.
I’ve met God this year, again and again and again. And I’ve learned that I’ve been meeting God my whole life. That I will continue meeting God. And that God doesn’t just dwell within us, but also between us – in the relationships we build and the ways we care for each other and the Grace that greases the wheels of it all. God is the in-between-ness of our individual selves and God is the sum of our parts as we endeavor to let our lives speak. To echo George Fox…when God is at work, who shall prevent it? I now know this, experimentally.
More about Lydia
Originally from the Miami, Florida area, Lydia Mansfield spent her childhood summers growing up at Opequon Quaker Camp. She is presently a member of the Tallahassee Friends Meeting and is so grateful for the support Tallahassee Friends have shown her as she’s embarked on this year of service. Lydia graduated from Florida State University with two Bachelors of Science degrees – one in Geography and one in International Affairs – and minors in Statistics, Arabic Studies, and Humanities. Interested in understanding the world experientially and empirically, Lydia also completed graduate coursework in Applied Demography where she did social research on the intergenerational impact of educational attainment on reproductive choice attitudes. She has spent the last few years working in the public sector as a GIS Analyst making maps to aid in planning, emergency management, and transportation demand management. Lydia is passionate about building strong communities and has worked as a community swim instructor, Guardian Ad Litem advocate, and political organizing fellow. Before embarking on a year of service with QVS, Lydia skated with the Tallahassee RollerGirls roller derby league and played a half-elf sorceress in Dungeons and Dragons. She enjoys coffee, piano, dance, and all the dogs. Lydia will be serving with Outside In’s Clinic as an Outreach & Enrollment Specialist.