National AIDS Memorial Grove

Guest Blogger :: Brooke Arnett on Prioritizing the Flourishing of Others

In the post below, Brooke offers us another look at the remarkable evening that was "The Light in the Grove" at the National AIDS Memorial Grove.  Pay special attention to her reflections on how the cost of causing the flourishing of others is trumped the experience of actually getting to participate in the adventure of human flourishing. As my fellow Open Door peers and I arrived at the AIDS Memorial Grove on Saturday night, we entered into an evening together as servants to the HIV/AIDS impacted community in San Francisco. The setting was stunning and elaborate, with no detail overlooked. I could describe all the particulars and preparation from the huge tent the event was in, the lighting set-ups, catering, floral arrangements, and so forth, but it would never convey what the night was really like.

As guests arrived at this peaceful and sacred space inside of Golden Gate Park, I witnessed a unique and loving community come together for the sake of humanity. My role that night was to serve appetizers, and as I walked around offering delicious finger foods, I watched people leave their differences at the door, and gather together to support one another and to remember loved ones that have been lost to HIV/AIDS. The night was filled with passion, it echoed their pain, but most of all, it was fueled by hope.

Many of the guests that were there have been largely affected by HIV/AIDS and have suffered more loss than some of us will ever face. Over the years, the HIV/AIDS community has been ostracized, overlooked, misunderstood and disregarded. It's hard to contemplate that a few short decades ago this pandemic wasn't even a reality in America. Since then, their community has turned a story of tragedy into a reason to hope for a better tomorrow.

I didn't say yes to volunteering that night because I thought serving small bites to strangers sounded fun. I didn't say yes so I could get a free meal, or because I had no other plans that night. Quite the opposite in fact: I turned down plans that day and even had to buy a new outfit and pair of shoes for the occasion. Not to mention that new and unknown situations give me a lot of anxiety. Does any of that matter? Certainly not.

I said yes because I want to be a the kind of person who is part of making wrong things right. I said yes because I have hope that those who have been broken will one day feel whole again. I said yes because I desire for people who have been marginalized to feel acceptance. I believe that love and kindness heal, and this world doesn't have enough of it. Being a servant is not a role I have lived into my entire life or even do very well today. But I know that every time I say yes to an opportunity to put the needs of someone else before mine, I find Jesus there.

God has been working in a big way to teach me how to count others more significant than myself as Philippians 2:3 calls us to do. Serving at the Grove was a reminder that this life is not about me. I am learning that I am equipped with everything I need because I know Jesus and that my role in life is not about serving appetizers, but His love.

Maybe saying 'yes' that night cost me financially, cut into my free time, and forced me to face some anxieties, but there is no price you can put on prioritizing the flourishing of others. When you say yes to serving others, you're allowing an opportunity for God to work in ways beyond what we can fathom.

Guest Blogger :: Steve Arnett on Saying "Yes!"

The day before World AIDS Day, The Open Door Community's tradition is to join the National AIDS Memorial Grove team in hosting 'The Light in the Grove.'  Our friendship with the AIDS Grove has been cultivating for five years as, monthly, we head back into the Grove to serve, side-by-side, with the local HIV/AIDS impacted community.  As time has gone by, we have discovered that "we" are becoming "us" and that hope, along with some of the most beautiful vegetation on the West Coast, is growing in the Grove.  In this post, Steve Arnett reflects on his experience of serving at "The Light in the Grove" and asks us what it might look like we became a community known for saying "Yes!"

Saturday afternoon a group from Open Door loaded up in vehicles and headed for Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. After a few wrong turns, we arrived at a little slice of heaven. Walking down the hill, we began to take in more of the scene. Caterers and event staff scurrying about, cargo vans and trucks unloading gear, LED lights, dancers and a stunning transparent tent. This would be our workplace for the next few hours.

We received our directions and were set into motion. I was a busser. It was my job to collect used dishes. Is bussing a glorious position? Does it require any special gifting? Absolutely not, but I gave it my everything. Did I get my hands dirty? Did I worry all night about dropping a full platter of dirty dishes? Did I love every minute of it? You betchya.

For me, saying yes to service opportunities has often been fueled by my desire for justice. Light in the Grove was no different. The AIDS community is/has been one that is misunderstood, avoided, and often looked down upon. What we forget is the family, friends, children, significant others who were left behind as someone’s LIFE was taken from them by a global pandemic. And we, as a group of people who are trying to love others as Jesus loved us, just had the opportunity to get our hands dirty and serve these people... HOW COOL IS THAT?!

After getting home, Brooke and I were processing our evening and she asked how the experience was for me. My response was, “It was no big deal.” She looked at me puzzled. I explained to her that I saw a need, said yes, and gave it my everything. It has become my normalcy to position myself in a role of service. I don't want or require recognition. I just want to love on folks like Jesus would have. God, over a long period of time, has turned my heart into one that loves to serve. Without Him, I'm certain my life would look very different.

What if we were a community of yes­sayers... humans who set aside our political/religious/personal preferences and filled the needs of others? What if serving was no big deal? What if it became our normalcy?