2.16.17 – Meeting Mary

If you have not yet realized, here on my blog is where you will find me sharing my heart. And because I just had an experience that broke my heart, I feel compelled to record the story.

I was popping by the drug store this evening. On my way in, I noticed a woman lingering outside. When she was still there on my way out, I approached her and asked her if she needed assistance. As I was doing so, she began to wince, trying to offer a smile, but it was clear she was conflicted, and words were not coming to her.

I recognized exactly what was happening, because I myself have been plagued with the same feeling so many times: when you just need help, but it is way too difficult to ask.

She must be new to this asking for money thing, I thought to myself, because it honestly seemed like she had no idea what to do or where to start.

I dug into my wallet, apologetic at my measly $2 offering; I am notoriously awful at having cash on hand. As I did so, she suddenly began to pour her story out to me. For 30 years, she had been employed at the same company. She unzipped her sweatshirt to show me the logo T-shirt of the company. Her pride was apparent as she told me how in her 30 years, she worked hard enough to go from $7 an hour to $9 an hour.

“But recently, I think they got afraid. They told me I couldn’t work there anymore, because they didn’t know what was going to happen, and this new president, I would get them in trouble. Because I am illegal.”

Have you ever watched someone admit that they are not a legal citizen of the United States? The way she said it, THAT was the moment that my heart broke. (If someone wants to send a powerful message, compile a video of people admitting they are “illegal”). My heart broke because of the shame apparent in her body language and how she downcast her eyes as she uttered this confession. She was a hard-working, contributing member of our society, who took pride in her job and wanted to work. Yet because of where she had been born, because of circumstances entirely outside of her control, she was being sold an uncompromising lie about who she was as a person: that she was somehow lesser, somehow dirty, somehow unwanted, somehow a liability, and that somehow 30 years of loyalty and service and hard work could all just be forgotten and reversed. That she could be rendered homeless simply because of the fear that our new president has ushered in.

And yet…she was still SO proud of her story, and still clothed in the T-shirt they had given her. When, at the end of the day, despite the fact that she was “illegal,” this employer was not even paying her a state mandated legal wage, so for them to shame her so hypocritically for something they were guilty of in their own way…oh, the irony of the entire situation…

This narrative we are currently immersed in, and the leader who perpetuates it is in direct contrast with a different leader and a different narrative that I know. In the narrative I ascribe to, we were all created equal in the image of God. And because ALL were created EQUAL, it does not make sense to me that we would build a hierarchy to contradict this equality, and try to play God ourselves by thinking that we are somehow better than others, when if we would just look at a fundamental human level we would realize where we stand. And because we are ALL the image of God, for us to cast judgment and want to shut out our brothers and sisters in Christ because of circumstantial differences – that just does not make a whole lot of sense to me. If He tells us we all have merit in Him, why would we try to find ways to challenge the merit of our fellow brothers and sisters? The leader I know filled his days with endless ministry and unconditional love poured out upon the marginalized and all those on the fringes of society. The homeless, the refugees, the immigrants, the widows, the children. It seems to me like there is a very clear interpretation presented here: “And if a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. But the stranger that dwells with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”

If you don’t ascribe to my narrative, that’s fine. I’m not here to try to tell you to believe the same thing. I don’t find it productive to sit on social media and debate politics, and my intention is not to sway opinions, spark a comment war or anything along those lines. I think that no matter what your opinion is, you should have the freedom to believe and share it.

However, I DO think – and I would think this no matter who was our commander in chief — we are living in a world that is broken, hurting, lost and hungry for more love, more compassion and more people to pause and share stories and resources in any way they can.  And I DO think it is productive to engage with your community and learn from every situation you find yourself interacting with, rather than keeping your head down and ignoring the woman outside the drug store. My intention is more along those lines: to spark some train of thought, to provoke action, to ask you to dig into your community and plant roots and water the growth, in the hope of ministering to each other in love and warmth, to build a little bit more beautiful of a vision each and every day. Even if you are in total support of our current president, and you side with the employer in this anecdote, and want to deport the woman I spent the evening talking to immediately — even if that is you, I ask you to engage with those around you, to learn the stories of strangers, to have a heart for the broken and to generously offer your resources to them. Try not to see people as labels — illegal, legal, Muslim, woman, homoxesual, Christian, Atheist — try to see beyond the label, and see instead the soul that was so lovingly crafted by our Creator, so intentionally put upon this Earth to serve a divine purpose in the Kingdom. Love doesn’t choose sides. Love isn’t red or blue. Love laments the aggression of the bipartisan landscape and calls us to something greater.

YOU BETTER BELIEVE THIS EXPERIENCE MOVED ME, BECAUSE YOU BETTER BELIEVE THAT CHAR DON’T PREACH. It makes me very uncomfortable, actually.

I asked this woman what her name was. She told me, “You know the mother of Jesus? You know who she is?” I said, “Yes ma’am, that would be Mary.” And she said, “Yes, that is my name too.” I asked Mary if she would be comfortable with me praying for her, and she started to shake her head laugh.

“Whenever people ask to pray for me, either I cry and then they cry, or they cry and it makes me cry. And I don’t want to cry. We always cry.”

I told her I understood, but that if it was okay with her, that I would pray for her later tonight when I was at home. She said yes, that she would like that very much. I told her to take care.

I had made it maybe about a dozen steps away, when all of a sudden she shouted, “WAIT!”

I turned around.

“What is your name?”

“Me? I’m Charlotte.”

“Charlotte, can I pray for you tonight too?”

“Yes, Mary. I would like that very much.”

Mary didn’t assign me to a category. She didn’t write me off as “legal” or her “enemy” or her “opposition.” She looked outside of her own bleak and challenging circumstances to extend grace and prayer to a stranger.

And let me just tell you: I’d much rather have people like Mary as my co-worker and my neighbor than those who would cast her out.

I’ll close with a couple of paragraphs I wrote at the end of 2016, part of something more personal and separate, archiving my sentiments on the transition from 2016 to 2017. Because what would my blog be without being utterly jumbled? Though disjointed, they relate to the ideology:

I think that regardless of your beliefs on an array of different topics, the way we choose to address and interact about these topics often makes me question the level of humanity within all of us, and if we are selling ourselves short by not living up to our fullest exploration of outward reach of love towards others. And I would hope that no matter what side of the fence (and please let it be just a fence, not a wall) that we align with, we can all see that an aggressively partisan environment is not conducive to a harmony that allows us as a society to all bring out the best in each other. There is no compassion in our disagreements these days, yet I do believe compassion is a better vehicle for change than aggression.

But I guess compassion and increased levels of humanity, these are not traits born in a vacuum of a perfect utopia. These are character developments painstakingly cultivated by difficult outside circumstance that cuts in deep enough to expose vulnerability, then the healing of the wound leaves that muscle memory just a little bit raw to remind you not to go forth and damage or cut into the world in the same way. So I guess when I look at how difficult life seems right now, I have to be careful about how I choose to compartmentalize 2016 in the archive of years I have been involved in, or the exhaustion I choose to let permeate my 2017. I am not living in a utopia. However, rather than dwelling on in its far-from-it reality, rather than shunning an entire year as an atrocious smear in history, I think that I need to try to choose to acknowledge it for what that type of environment is capable of ushering in. Let’s, as we close the door on 2016, and look towards 2017, let’s acknowledge the potential it has to teach us about compassion. Let the muscle memory be raw, let us not continue to lash out and harm each other.

xxxxx.

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DISCLAIMER: written amidst peak flu, while overdosed on DayQuil, not long after hallucinatory dreams of giant cricket-humans cloning and zooming in and out of perspective, sort of like those kalidescopey scene-change moments on That 70s Show.

8.17.2016 – Entropy, Street Art, Memoir by Char & More

My weekends are generally spent attempting to balance the tension I feel as an introvert perpetually fronting as an extrovert, who loves having a social life, yet is also plagued with the chronic condition of pathological independence*.

Don’t worry, I have filed that sentence under “things I would def NOT open with on a job interview or first date.” It is fine for here though, because I don’t really think future boyfriends or future employers read my blog. Quite certain my primary demographic is moms I am friends with on Facebook, plus accidental randos from other countries…

Weekends, though. Looking at the ones to come, I’m out of town for three of the next four, and working at least two, potentially three of these four; the same story as July. So this last weekend, I needed a pause from my restless inertia to retreat into my creative space and work on processing the world, totes alones. This involved a textile hunting trip in the fashion district of downtown Los Angeles.

Ah, downtown Los Angeles, where equally unrelenting are the cliche catcalling construction corners, and the putrid wafts of baked urine.

Unpleasantries aside, I quite love breathing & heartbeating with the city ecosystem of this subset of LA. It was the initial neighborhood my career landed in for the three years immediately following college, so it was the backdrop for an insane amount of growth and development. Going back to the neighborhood brings a fondness and nostalgia, and also a heightened sense of awareness and inspiration because it is a proven environment of catalyst for change in my life.

One thing I always notice when I am in DTLA (or anywhere, really) is the street art. My old office used to look out at a Banksy original. (Ironically, the PARKING artwork has been concealed by some high rise development now being built over parking lot). I’ve written before about downtown’s sidewalk stencils, and I would frequently spend my lunch breaks strolling around just noticing the artsy quirks of the city streets.

As I wandered and absorbed during my trip this weekend, I realized that my draw to street art goes beyond the message or the visual appeal and is more rooted in the beautiful ideology that persists behind it…

For a while now, I’ve been joking about writing Memoir By Char. As I piece together my introduction to my book, it reads more like the opening statement for the defense in a court of law. This meaning, I feel compelled to justify my memoir writing due to the fact that nothing has exactly happened in my life to warrant there being a noteworthy work to publish to the world. I was delaying the execution of my goals with, “I’ll write a memoir once I am famous, or when I am at least established or have figured life out.”

Unfortunately this actually contradicts my entire philosophy on art. During my time in Europe, I was blown away by the authenticity, the desire to create, and the fulfillment of personal journey that all seemed to be the motivators, the driving force behind the contribution of art to society. I was struck by the contrast to here in the United States, where so much of it seems to be about critical acclaim, financial improvement, competition, revenge or other materialistic and external factors.

Like this European sentiment I tapped into, street art is so pure. It is fleeting; it can quickly disappear should the neighborhood decide its presence violates the order of the space. As is a zeitgest — the spirit of the times — which fluctuates with the external factors that are always morphing around it. The artist is not there to see its reception. While a legacy is not guaranteed, at least in a physical sense, it is like this admission of prophetic, untapped potential into the universe, waiting to be discovered by someone who just may weave an element of it into their worldview, however temporarily or permanently. Whereas generally we seek an immediate value proposition for anything we face, with street art, the guarantee is not necessary to warrant the effort to create it. The driving force is based on potential alone. 

“Prophecy. It touches a common key. What prophecy actually is, is not knowing whether the bomb will fall in 1942. It’s knowing and feeling something where someone knows and feels in other ages. And maybe articulating it in a hint that they will pick up on it in a hundred years.”

Are we tracking? Convoluted, I know. Take a breath, because I’m diving again.

Street art gets criticized for interrupting the order, like it is unauthorized somehow. To which I say, the world desperately needs more Robert Mapplethorpes and Allen Ginsbergs and European study abroad professors to show us that a work of art’s worth is not contingent on its broader societal acceptance, and that everywhere should be a space for us to learn about each other and our world through the expressions we choose to portray.

In fact, I think that when entropy prevails over order**, it offers this unexpected authenticity in the way things are NOT, rather than the mundane way we expect things to exist. It is in this zone of zero expectation and optimistic curiosity where everything has a lot more to offer than it generally would be given credit for. There is this generosity of output, an artistic currency that provides value for both maker and consumer. Nobody is afraid to create, because worth is not dependent upon sensibility within the system. And rather than trying to shape symmetry and order for the purpose of understanding the world within our strict frameworks of expectation, what would it look like to embrace entropy in order to learn about the world through the looser, creative, exploratory frameworks of what others are trying to communicate via their chosen manner? 

I mean, this is why I am drawn to creative outputs in all forms. Literature, culinary, film, photography, fashion, music, bodies, architecture, dancing, identity, design — whatever the outlet is for our expression, any time we are creatively ministering through that vehicle of expression, this is where we see the most authentic version of people for who they are and how they view the world around us. It is SOUL MATTERS. It is embarrassing blogs that may or may not get seen by anyone, and alleyway markings that may or may not be seen before they get painted over, and side projects that may or may not get accepted to the publication, and all these other dreams that we take the courage to act on despite the fact that we may never receive the recognition we as a collective society perceive defines their worth. And sadly I think that most of the time we do not even offer these dreams enough of a chance because we extinguish the spark before it catches, thinking that we must conform to an existence within the order rather than the entropy.

The weekend taught me that I shouldn’t have to rationalize Memoir by Char. I guess I don’t think it fits into the same league of output offered by those around me who I appreciate the declarative candor by which they share themselves, in a manner that is just COOL. But there shouldn’t be a comparative order to expression regardless.

Yesterday, I found myself laughing at the general absurdity of my life, and I said, “I know that the stars are aligning, I just can’t tell if the alignment is going to propel me into a new universe of possibility, or if it is going to render me lost to a black hole vortex where I am extinguished in the abyss.” And at the time, of course, I was really hoping for the new universe. Yet after processing my thought train through the release of order in favor of disorder, at this point I am almost ready to embrace the potential of the black hole.

The more I write the more clarity comes to me yet I fear the opposite result for my readers. I hope we reached a happy medium — because I feel damn good, and I want you to feel damn good too.

 

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*If someone happened to invent pathological independence before me, which I highly doubt, I still claim rights to being the poster child.
**I mean this all in a way totally artistic definition of disorder — not disorder like The Purge or anarchy or anything.

3.21: Anxiety, Imperfections and Kitchen Floor Breakdowns

This post is an exercise to myself.

I swear I say this every time I write, but this one is even more convoluted and messy than ever before – a complete, unedited stream of consciousness straight from my twisted brain. Hitting PUBLISH without a second thought.

Two Friday nights ago, I was halfway home from work. I was going to leisurely stop by home, gloss up a bit, CHANGE CLOTHES AND GO (Jay-Z style obviously) meet up with Michael.

Mid-commute, my accounting manager calls. She tells me that the business trip I was leaving for at 10AM on Tuesday is actually now scheduled for 7 AM on Monday.

I immediately go into a frenzy. I have calendars upon calendars that I calculate my life upon, and the switch in days messed up all of my calendars. It interfered with my personal calendar and seeing my best friend from out of town. It interfered with my Monday office calendar; I thought I would be taking care of a lot of last minute projects essential to my trip. It interfered with my transport to the airport, where I was going to leave my car while I was away, when I was going to pack, when I was going to shop for last minute things and a host of other items that my mind immediately started overanalyzing.

I turned around and rushed back to work to take care of all of the Monday tasks on Friday night. Then, late to meet Michael, I rushed out of work.

Somewhere along I-5 south, my mind and my car were both moving too fast for the fact that, as I came around a blind corner moving with the flow of traffic, the entire freeway was surprise backed up to a halt.

Cue Sterling, my car, head-butting a Ford F150 truck with trailer hitch.

Cue airbag release, an explosion I have never experienced, complete with firework smells that made me convinced my car was on fire. Cue hands so shaky I could barely call 911. Cue panic on top of the schedule panic about how this was going to interfere with my trip and was I going to need to go to the doctor but my new job’s health insurance doesn’t kick in for another couple of weeks and who do I call and what do I do and is my car fixable and am I going to be sued and is someone about to fly around that same blind corner and obliterate me while I try to figure this all out.

After dozens of phone calls, I find myself and my car being towed back home by the world’s nicest tow truck driver. Michael is already waiting right outside my place and wraps me in the longest, nicest hug then takes me to go get wine and junk food which I can barely consume because I feel like I am going to throw up. Hours later, after he leaves, it’s midnight then 1 then 2 then 3 AM and I’m in bed still unable to sleep. My body finally realizes the full shock of what happened and I’m uncontrollably shivering in a cold sweat and heaving for an hour straight. A few hours later, Cristina texts me that she’s on her way from San Diego to come spend the day making sure I feel okay and not alone. Even though I tried to tell her no and pretend like I was strong enough on my own, I was so relieved that she was more stubborn than I was. My friends are really good at meeting my strong resistance to asking for help with an even stronger will to help.

Weekend proceeds. I get the car to the shop, figure out my packing and shopping and errands. Then I get another call from work.

FALSE ALARM. I actually leave on Tuesday, not Monday. The whole Monday scenario was a mistake.

This sent me reeling into anger and confusion. WHY, when I could have been home safe, and I halfway already was, WHY did a FALSE ALARM occur to alter my course back to work, then into my accident? WHY do those split second decisions occur when you could have switched lanes or left the office 5 seconds later or decided to take care of it all from home over the weekend…WHY didn’t one of those scenarios play out? WHY, do I now have to travel with the stress of trying to figure out insurance claims, rental cars, my first market for my company, airplanes and hotel beds with a body suffering from whiplash, all at once, from a different city? It still doesn’t make sense to me over a week later and I doubt it will.

Unable to give myself any answers to these questions, I remained on a high level of stress. It continued when our hotel check-in reservations were messed up. It continued when I was trying to present the perfect image to our customers, both of self and of the brand. It continued and explosively magnified on St. Patrick’s Day when I had a severe allergic reaction to something I ate while meeting with one of my media contacts, and suddenly my face was swelling up and I had these weird dimples because it was getting so fat, my lips looked like Botox gone wrong, my chest was so tight and I couldn’t breathe or swallow and the thought of going to the emergency room in the middle of a very important business trip in a random city made me wish that I would actually just die on the spot from the allergy and not have to be dealing with all of this stress.

I have not reacted this severely in a long time, and it sent me into an even deeper panic than what I had already been experiencing with the car and with my travel. Afraid that any little thing would set me off, I stopped eating (since Thursday afternoon until now), except minimal snacks of safe items here and there – but even those I managed to work myself into thinking I was reacting to. I was napping on Sunday and literally sat bolt upright from a dead sleep clutching my throat, sure I had stopped breathing. I took more Benadryl than is probably advisable, then panicked on top of the panic on panic that this would cause my liver to fail or my heart to stop.

Somehow, I thought that (after not eating for 4 days straight) it would resolve my anxiety if I just went to the gym and got some endorphins. You HAVE to breathe while you work out, so by working out I rationalized that my difficulty breathing would be proved a facade. I went to Body Pump with my co-worker, which is relatively extreme on a normal basis due to it just being a ton of reps of weighted squats and lifts and curls, but a particularly bad idea when you are totally malnourished. Halfway through the workout my legs started quivering so badly I could barely stand. “Yeah, this is good, this is what my body needs,” I told myself. I always love the feeling of soreness from workouts.

However, driving home in the dark on the freeway for the first time since my accident, between the lack of food and the quivering body that couldn’t calm down and my chest pain from my anxiety I nearly just lost it. I didn’t know how I was going to even make it home. I thought to myself, “who the hell have I become and why am I allowing myself to be so consumed by all of these things?”

So, a couple hours later, here I am, sitting on my kitchen floor trying to force down some plain quinoa noodles without panicking that I am allergic to them even though I have eaten them a hundred times before, and trying to reevaluate how I can get a grip on my anxiety.

What it boils down to, as I have explained to friends while explaining my accident, is that I try to live my life at a really high level of just having my shit together. I pay bills in surplus amounts before the due date. I calendarize my life. I update my resume. I get pissed if my credit score goes down by a point. I authoritatively negotiate. Sometimes I go home to meal prep and clean my apartment instead of hanging out with friends. I get mad when people don’t do the right thing. Laziness aggravates me. I want to be good at everything I do, which is exactly why I never sing karaoke. I want to be a perfect driver and a perfect employee and a perfect friend.

When you work so hard to maintain your standard of life, when something bad and unexpected happens, it shatters you. It forces you to face the fact that guess what: you will never have your shit together as much as you like to think, because life just doesn’t operate like that, and your very obsession to cultivate a world that will cause others to perceive you as a competent human being is an impossible notion and largely out of your control. You don’t understand how insane it is for me to admit that I GOT IN A CAR ACCIDENT. AND IT WAS MY FAULT. That is something that on another day I would like to keep as a very deep dark secret that nobody knows about. How stupid. How shameful. How incompetent. Yet. Here I am, kitchen floor. Isn’t that where all breakdowns occur? And my blog is how I hope to transform my breakdowns into breakthroughs.

Knowingly, today a friend sent me an article on anxiety. It is here, if you are curious for the full length. But here’s what really stuck out to me:

I can always find someone’s judgment to worry about: a projection of what I imagine another human being, or even a cosmic power, might be thinking of me. It’s as though I’m just not ready to be the witness. I’m not ready for that level of freedom. I still need to be the one who is watched and judged. And the judgment is inevitably cruel….I know that this isn’t a pleasant way to live in the world. I know that it isn’t necessary. But the perception that I am being judged gives me something tangible to aim for. Through unnecessary self-improvement I can cordon off the abyss; I can distract myself from deeper existential questions regarding the nature of existence and the fact that I am going to die.

It suddenly clicked for me that so much of my anxiety is stemming from me trying to be perfect all the time. Even just Friday night a friend was telling me that I am WAY harder on myself than even seems humanly possible, which is so true. I do this because the alternative is anxiety induced kitchen floor breakdowns. When I am living my life in the way that I want, as the perfect driver and the perfect employee and the perfect everything else, I don’t have to face the weaknesses that my perceived incompetence brings about. If I focus on being in control of everything, it reduces the amount of time I spend getting really worked up about the meaning of life and existential questions and the psycho timeline of events that just so perfectly that leads you to disaster and everything else I don’t understand. And I would much rather feel like I am making steps to be in control, rather than to feel like I have to deal with thinking about things that are out of my control.

It’s pretty stupid, though, this constant need to invent judgment to motivate the way I live my life. In reality, do my close friends think less of me for getting in an accident? No. They worried so sincerely about me that they came to my rescue, made sure I was surrounded with prayer and communication, and suggested anything helpful they could imagine.

So why do I spend so much time trying to build myself up to sitting on a pedestal? I don’t know, I guess I would just rather sit there on a pedestal that at least I know I worked myself to the bone to build, then sit down below in the trenches with my demons, thinking about all of the ways I am failing at life. Because sitting with my demons is where I’m at now, and I don’t have any idea how to handle the physical, emotional and psychological impacts of not being able to get a grip on my anxiety, and let me tell you, it’s a terrible place to be.

Where’s the balance? Where would you define the appropriate altitude between self-inflicted pedestals and self-inflicted demons? How do you respond to your insatiable need for unnecessary self-improvement without totally setting yourself up for disaster when things don’t go as planned? 

I don’t actually know.

But for me, tonight, it begins by admitting some of my faults, inabilities and insecurities. It begins by trying to find relief in the fact that I don’t have my shit together and I never will, and if I did I would probably never learn another lesson a day in my life.

I suck at flossing my teeth. Sometimes I get so stressed and think I am so busy that I allow this to stand in the way of being radically compassionate to every person I come into contact with, which is a big goal of mine. Don’t ever ask me where to go for dinner or what movie to watch because I have a crippling fear of inconsequential decisions. I am terrible at directions. I irrationally envision worst-case scenarios mostly everywhere I go. I’m overly cautious and overly fearful. I have zero filter on my sass which is generally unhelpful. I have a lot of hostile thoughts about my living situation. And my old CEO who tried to steal all my tax withholdings and flee the country, causing a time of many kitchen floor breakdowns. In an apocalypse, I would be the first person to die and I would happily allow myself to be sacrificed because I am 0% brave, so much so that I can’t even watch scary movies even though I know they are totally fake. I spilled a giant bag of popcorn kernels on my floor a couple of weeks ago, and now, sitting here reflecting on my imperfections I have a new angle of my kitchen floor and can see a gross pocket of stale kernels which my sweeping missed. But I probably won’t sweep it up tonight. I would rather pay to go to the salon than paint my own nails even though that is a stupidly lazy and expensive habit. I can’t go anywhere without mascara for fear of resembling a young boy and I’m just vain and narcissist. Half of the time when Nocturnal Baby starts yelling when I am sleeping, I yell back or bang stuff around in my room which is just so immature and rude. I can’t imagine all the terrible things people would think about me if I died and they had to clean up and go through my life, and they would be like “wow this girl is legit a weirdo.” I have always joked that a better name for my blog would be convinced I am dying dot com.

While these may seem like random and stupid little things, truth be told they are literally all thoughts that have gone through my head in the past 4 days of my non-eating non-breathing anxiety. I guess somehow I think that by tearing myself down I’m going to build back up stronger. I don’t really know. I just thought it might be therapeutic to admit some of them, particularly on the internet, a space where people so deliberately try to put together this image of the best version of themselves. And I thought that maybe if we all spent a little more time admitting and relating on our imperfections, we would spend less time getting worked up in a frenzy over not being perfect.

Usually as I wrap up a piece I’ve written I feel a peace. It seems like everything has come full circle, and I get it, and I’m cohesively sharing my new revelations. This feels nothing like that. I guess that would negate the purpose of this being a post on imperfections. But, I also think that this is more of the beginning of a new thought pattern rather than the conclusion of it.

Still gotta keep that mantra of “make them gold,” though.

“Can you tell me what to have and what to hold
If you never take the weight on your own
No one tells us what is hard and what is fair
And we will deliver once we know where to fall

We are made of our longest days
We are falling but not alone
We will take the best parts of ourselves
And make them gold

We are made of our smallest thoughts
We are breathing and letting go
We will take the best parts of ourselves
And make them gold…”

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10.06.2015 – Hurt People Hurt People

At the Long Beach Trader Joe’s I frequent, I often come across a man outside. He sits with a sign saying he is homeless, laid off, hungry and grateful for assistance. He does not seem too much older than myself. As you walk by, he does not ask for anything – particularly not money, alcohol or cigarettes. He is not on drugs. He is not shouting at patrons of the store. He is not following anyone inside. He keeps his head down unless you interact first.

Recently, I asked him, “how can I help you today?” And it was difficult for him to even look me in the eye as he thanked me and requested a salad. Heartbreakingly polite and humble about the fact that he needed assistance.

A couple weekends ago when I went to Trader Joe’s he was there again. Only this time, Trader Joe’s had parked right beside him a sandwich chalkboard proclaiming something along the lines of the following message:

“Trader Joe’s just not support the solicitation or loitering of anyone outside of our store. Please feel free to ignore such persons as you go about your shopping!”

Part of me really wanted to take a photo of this. The other part felt like that would deny dignity to the man sitting right next to the sign, whom the message was obviously directed at. The exact wording escapes me, but the part I am sure of, the part that has haunted me for weeks now, was:

feel free to ignore such persons

Written in a cheerful, flowery script, with an exclamation mark following the phrase.

Trader Joe’s felt the need to give people permission to IGNORE HUMAN LIVES.

Without getting too charged up, let me tell you that I find this attitude absolutely more offensive than the homeless man’s behavior. Shame on you, Trader Joe’s. Shame on you, patrons of Trader Joe’s who complain about the presence of a homeless man sitting outside. Shame on you, because ignoring human lives is exactly the underlying root of so many of our society’s problems.

On a related tangent, recently, as I was walking through downtown Los Angeles, I noticed someone had stenciled on the sidewalk, “HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE.” This is such a heartbreaking reality. When we think about people who hurt people, whether it is mass shootings or crime rates or violent transgressions, who are the people that are lashing out?

It is the hurt people.

Where does this hurt begin? It commences the moment we isolate, ignore, dehumanize, marginalize. It blossoms in the moment we strip away dignity, human rights and respect. Anyone subscribes to an attitude of thinking they are superior to those in different life circumstances is fostering an environment of negativity and disconnect.

Connected, positive, happy citizens are generally not disrupting society. Those who are participating in these actions are those who have been shut out of community, denied love and told they are not good enough. We look down on India’s caste system, but at a different level we definitely allow similar ideals to prevail in our society, without recognizing them for what they are.

Among approximately seven other books, I’m working through The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell right now. From it, I was reminded of the Broken Windows theory (something I half slept through the first time around in Intro to Sociology circa 2009). Essentially this criminology theory postulates that urban disturbance (shout out to my own alliteration) is this downward spiral progression of self-fulfilling prophecy, where little crimes such as broken windows or graffiti are what cause big crimes such as murder and illegal drug business. As the book puts it, “the graffiti was symbolic of the collapse of the system.” Little indicators that the system is broken make way for people to break it further. If there is graffiti and broken windows around, it signifies to criminals that nobody cares, so a crime done in this setting is less punishable. I guess it is kind of like: which are you more likely to handle recklessly and carelessly — a brand new Tesla, or a junker clunker?

The “hurt people hurt people” stencil coupled with reminder of Broken Windows Theory actually led me to apply the theory to the human psyche. In my theory, the small transgressions like graffiti or broken windows correlate to small missteps like failing to acknowledge an interaction someone sends to you (which is incidentally the number one cause of marital dissatisfaction), or saying something insensitive and not caring to correct yourself. I firmly believe that interactions either build or break – there is no grey area here – so every time we do not act intentionally with love and compassion, we are breaking windows. The more broken windows there are, the more broken hearts and broken souls and broken spirits we create, which is exactly what destructs our society. The hurt people are hurting people. But we are all responsible for hurting those hurt people in the first place.

Another book I’m currently reading is Blue Like Jazz, 74 years behind the curve, I know. I am only a couple chapters in, but one thing that stuck out to me really insanely powerfully was the following statement:

“the path to joy winds through the this dark valley. I think every well-adjusted human being has dealt squarely with his or her own depravity…I think Jesus feels strongly about communicating the idea of our brokenness, and I think it is worth reflection. Nothing is going to change in the Congo until you and I figure out what is wrong with the person in the mirror.”

(The Congo reference being the political turmoil, genocide, civil war, rape and other atrocities taking place there. BOOK REFERENCE THREE go read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, one of my all time favorites).

But, back to that quote. It is saying, and I agree, I have been trying to get at this point in so many of the pieces I have written on here…any of the larger changes we hope to befall our society are never going to click into place unless we can face ourselves squarely in the mirror each day and commit to stop breaking windows and to stop hurting others, however directly or indirectly.

I am not sure what this means in your life. It could be offering more grace to your spouse, or ceasing to ignore those who are homeless, or letting go of your ill thoughts towards your co-worker. What is that area of your life that you are feeling convicted about right now? Who do you know needs a little bit more of your compassionate heart, and not your hard heart?

I know that my idea of love and community and connection, a society where we are not hurting one another, is radically idealistic in today’s society. My vision is complete compassion, total devotion, absolute affection, undying attention, unquestioning support, extreme selflessness. I fail at each and every one of these aspects every single day. But I believe so strongly that I need to keep trying.

I know this, because I’ve suffered a few broken windows in my own life.

On more than one occasion I have been told by people that I am one of the strongest people they know. Let me tell you something. Strong people don’t just happen. They are built from the circumstances around them.

My strength is both found and destroyed in the loneliness and isolation I often feel from my radical vision of love and connection not being met. I would venture to guess that on occasion I feel just as dehumanized and devalued as the homeless man sitting outside of Trader Joe’s. The difference is that theoretically I “have it made.” I’m completely independent, I’m paying my bills, I have a vehicle and a job and a great apartment and money to spend on hobbies and outings. I grew up in a white middle class family and have never known struggle in the way many of us would define it. While I experience broken windows, I guess because I have material security and basic needs met, it is easier for me to cope. I would never lash out against society, and I hope I never hurt others in the way that I have felt hurt. However, because of my capacity to feel so lonely and hurt, I can absolutely empathize with the hurt people who hurt people.

Without the depths of the lows I have felt, I would not possess a capacity for the potential of the heights I strive for. Science doesn’t make sense to me in an expressly scientific context. But Newton’s Third Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? That makes so much sense when you apply it to hurt and love. Apply Newton’s Third Law to life and what you find is that the most broken people are the ones with the most potential to love. Yet we never give them that chance because we are too busy keeping them down with the ways we ignore them and marginalize them. And, I would conjecture that it is just as dangerous to OURSELVES to deny love to those who need it most, as it is dangerous for those who are being denied.

So I’m vowing to stop. I’m vowing to acknowledge that often the people who cause us the most hurt are the ones who need the most love back. And that as painful as it is to open yourself up to the rejection that comes from loving them, there is no other way to live. I am vowing to approach each interaction with the intention of building rather than breaking – something I vow time and time again and always need to be better at. I’m vowing to be the kindness that comes along and sweeps up the broken glass from the windows of others who have had their hearts shattered by a world that doesn’t offer them the compassion and attention and affection they need. I’m vowing to use my strength built out of my brokenness to inspire others to raise themselves up and help repair the glass of others. I am vowing not to ignore a single human life or possibility for interaction. And I’m extending an invitation for you to join me. Please join me.

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Here is the P.S. section:

There’s two more points that I couldn’t get to fit in anywhere here without going off on majorly unrelated tangents, which I’ve already done enough of. But I will just briefly highlight them for you to consider yourself:

  1. If you operate on a religious basis, the model I am striving for in terms of loving others and deliberately avoiding creation of broken windows, even when it is hurtful and not always easy? That example comes DIRECT FROM JESUS. We are always shattering our own windows and the windows of others with the transgressions we make, and we are LOVED ANYWAY, and we are called to do this as well.
  2. If you are skeptical of how much I’ve emphasized the need for connection, community and compassion, and all of my long winded analogies do not make sense to you, just look at the way we prioritize social connection via our smart phones. If the way we perk up at a notification does not equate to a cry for more connection, albeit in an entirely misplaced and devastating way, I don’t know what does.

Lastly, I thrive on the discussions and thought processes that develop when others read my blog and reach out to me. We have so much to learn from each other. If you are feeling compelled, please act.

11.15.2014 – Go Make Someone’s Day

Something that has been a consistent struggle of my life is feeling like I have nothing of worth to offer people. Turning 24 in July, a friend asked, what is it that you are wishing for or where do you want your life to be this year, and I said, “I just want to matter to the world.” I got laughed at. “Char, you do matter to the world.” It is much harder for me to acknowledge this, though. I think it stems from the fact that throughout elementary, middle and high school there were hardly any stable friendships or relationships of any kind. The common thread was that I was always losing people in some way. I believed that because I couldn’t make anybody stay, I must have been worthless.

My mindset has transformed in that regard, as evidenced recently when someone asked me, “If you could go back and tell a 10 year old Char one piece of advice, what would it be?” Without hesitation, I knew that the answer was, “Other people’s inability to love you the way you need is not a reflection of you being an unloveable person.”

So in various ways, I have been attempting to overcome my fear of not adding enough value to the world. To begin with, I realized it has to do a lot with compassion. The more you are a compassionate person, the more you can put yourself in someone else’s situation, be in tune with what they are thinking and feeling, and thus know what they would want/need to hear or see or have done for them. Developing compassion for people results in providing worth to others. I also realized that if you have a desire to offer something, this in itself provides you with some sort of gift to be able to do so. People with a genuine desire to give back to the world will be blessed with that capacity.

But being blessed with the capacity may not come in the form you are expecting it to. Another lesson: offering value does not exist only in a grand sense. For example, sometimes I long to be fabulously wealthy so I can go around financially blessing other people and funding higher education en masse. Or, I wish I was a motivational speaker who made people break down and cry from feeling inspired to change their lives. I am hopeful that someday I will get to the point where I am in a position to impact lives at this level.

In the mean time, I was given such a cool reminder this week that what you offer to someone in the absolute smallest sense can provide just as much worth as these giant gestures.

Monday morning, I went to grab some tea before work. A woman outside asked me for money. I stopped, smiled, looked her in the eyes and said, “ma’am, I would love to buy you a drink or some breakfast. Do you like coffee?”

She was so immediately grateful. “Oh, if you could just help me get a cup of coffee, that would be the most wonderful…” I asked if she liked it strong, or sweet, or if she liked lattes? “No, not strong, just lots of milk and sugar.”

I went in and ordered my tea and her coffee. Filled it up with lots of milk and sugar, and brought some extra sugar and napkins outside of it with her. As I handed it to her, she burst into tears. She said to me, “You are an absolute angel from heaven, bless your heart. I have never had anybody in my life be this nice to me before. Thank you, thank you, you have absolutely made my day.”

As I walked away, I actually began to cry a little as well. It was a devastating prospect that this would be the nicest someone had ever been treated. This must be an exaggeration, I thought. There is absolutely no way that this is the kindest gesture she has ever received….but then with how it touched her, maybe it really was. No matter the case, it was just such a humbling moment for me to realize that literally the smallest gesture can transform someone’s day. A cup of coffee can change a life.

The earnest nature with which she spoke actually reminded me a lot of grandmother. Whenever I talk to my grandma on the phone, she will just be so genuinely happy that I have called and say “thank you, thank you! Love, love, love! Bless you child!” in the same way this woman spoke to me. A phone call can transform someone’s day. A phone call can change a life.

Later in the week I was eating some almonds en route from work to the gym. I could see a homeless man up ahead asking people for assistance. I kind of laughed to myself and was like, “okay, I doubt this guy is going to want my almonds.” But that devil on my shoulder was opposed by the angel on the other side who said, “stop feeling like you have nothing to offer. Offer him your almonds.” I mean, I have nothing to lose at this point, right? If he doesn’t want my almonds, the world keeps turning? It is not a personal rejection or a reflection of my worthlessness.

So I had over my bag and apologetically say to him, “I don’t know if you like almonds at all…” He was peering at the bag, “what is this? What is in here? oh….ALMONDS!!!!! YES, ALMONDS! OKAY, RED, THANK YOU!”

I laughed out loud. The almonds I feared worthless made him shout in delight. Bystanders looked at us like we were both crazy. Almonds can transform someone’s day.

Coffee. Phone calls. Almonds. You know what makes a day even more than these things? Being able to make someone else’s day. I receive just as much from these interactions. Learning. Reaffirmation. Humility. Joy. These moments were absolutely the highlight of my week.

Adding value to the world is so simple if you are brave enough to acknowledge that anything you can offer may be useful, and if you are selfless enough to act on it. So often, we all operate at high levels of stress, high levels of selfishness. It causes us to interact in unfavorable ways. The deliberate kindness you provide to somebody may not always be the kindest they have ever been treated in their life, as in the example I discovered this week, but sadly, I think quite often it can be the best thing to happen to someone’s day for sure.

So, I will wrap up with the call to action that these individuals made me think about this week. What would it look like to approach every interaction with the intention of trying to make someone’s day? If this feels overwhelming or impossible, how could you simply just make one person’s day each day? What would it look like to be the kindest presence in any given life on any given day? I want to know. Give it a go, and leave me a comment. Let’s all inspire each other to live a little kinder. Go make someone’s day.

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6.17.2014: Intimacy vs. Information

While participating in my usual routine of enjoying the sun on my break today, the following thought came into my head: “INFORMATION DOES NOT EQUAL INTIMACY.” Something about it suddenly defined and related to so many different areas of life. Because of the widespread applicability, it seemed like a breakthrough wave of thought in attempting to define and overcome I guess maybe one or a few of society’s existential plagues that prevent us all from living at a heightened level of self actualization, and promoting more respect and goodness for our fellow human beings. Consider if you will the following scenarios:

  • Information on social media feeds has replaced the intimacy of personal conversation and self disclosure. We assume we know what is going on in someone’s life because we have access to their perfectly filtered, calculated, edited version of their life. Yet this information provided is not comprehensive in any way. It does little to address the intimacy in the struggles and lessons that we don’t publish to our cyber worlds because we are too absorbed in our self praising and competition to prove our friends, our possessions, our experiences, our workouts, our meals are all more awesome than anyone else. Then we forget to ask anyone about any of it and write it off as “oh yeah I saw on Facebook that you got a new job that’s cool.” Rather than “tell me about what the experience was like for you? Tell me about the interview.” It has become so much more familiar to provide strictly information, rather than any kind of openness in dialogue.
  • Information about religion has replaced the intimacy of actual relationship with God and fellowship with others. Since when was listening to podcasts of sermons from your bed on Sunday morning considered going to church to be in community with others; to be surrounded by the Holy Spirit? Just because you can quote your Bible at me all day long does not mean that you are living a life reflective of the deep intimacy that is promoted when you take the information beyond what is word for word to instead what is heart to heart. To me this contributes to a larger theme that I often consider, how there is a huge discrepancy between religion and spirituality, and why I am hesitant to ever declare or align myself with a church or a denomination: so often in the struggle to prove that their information is most correct they miss the whole point of intimacy.
  • Information and intimacy are often incredibly warped when it comes to modern day dating. Just look at the notion of dating apps. We see snippets of information – location, age, photo – and this is the only basis we need to judge whether or not this is a type of person we want to be physically intimate with. We feel like the basic information we know about them is enough to mean we are emotionally intimate. While I haven’t done online dating myself, I’ve been out recently and felt like all it consists of is “Hey, we just told each other random information about ourselves for half an hour and had a few drinks so do you want to touch my dick yet or what. I mean, I know you. You’re a good person.” You don’t know me. You know a few things about me. Information is not intimacy. 
  • Just because we are a family in the sense that we share the same cellular information called DNA does not mean intimacy is automatic or a given. It is something that has to be worked toward. Related by default, family by intention. Information vs. intimacy.
  • We were equipped with information reflected by the crisp diploma, but does that mean we have a deep understanding of how to exist in intimate relations with the world around us, to function within the real world at a level that is more than just going to work? Does our informational curriculum teach us the intimacies of compassion, empathy and respect?
  • When you ask your friends how their day went, hoping for an answer that reflects intimacy  and you are met with “Oh I got a Starbucks and went to yoga and work and traffic sucked but it’s almost Friday.” I don’t want the information of your daily schedule. I want the intimacy of what you are wrestling with and how I can help you overcome it. I want to know what we can relate on at a significant level.

Substituting information and intimacy, confusing or equating the two – I see how it misconstrues what I consider to be the most important aspects of life: relationships with friends, family, significant others and higher powers as well as how we navigate our purpose post-college. I was trying to think about why this is, and the conclusion that I came to goes something like this.

We spend so much of our lives comparing ourselves other people, PARTICULARLY as it relates to our spiritual, career and relational journeys. We need social affirmation in order to feel like we are achieving our goals. If you don’t believe me, just read about how Facebook is implementing a new feature that is a weight loss tracker. We aren’t even responsible for our own health goals unless they are made visible to the masses in our newsfeeds who are benchmarking their success not by the intimacy of how they feel, how they want to live or look – but by INFORMATION – how everyone else is doing comparatively, or by the quantitative information of how many people have “liked” a milestone. It is so much easier to compare informational milestones than it is to compare the intimacies of the lessons we are learning or the feelings of the moments when we step outside of our comfort zones. We are fixated on the destination, not the journey. But the journey is the process where we really interact intimately and have the opportunity to learn about ourselves and others. To be our own best version and to inspire and encourage the best versions of those around us.

I think one of the most profound quotes in the entire world is Theodore Roosevelt’s “Comparison is the thief of joy.” We cannot find true joy in life when we are comparing information rather than discovering intimacy. We spend so much time trying to filter everything from an informational standpoint so we can use this information to compare how we are doing by our interpretations of the standards of others, or society’s timeline of informational milestones. 2012: Graduated. 2013: Big Kid Job. 2014: Married. 2015: Mortgage. 2016: Baby. But that is not what life is about, and if this is all you are living for you are going to wind up unhappy and unfulfilled, stuck trying to attain whatever collective ideal we have morphed life into. That damn American Dream. No. Life happens in between the seams and in the stitches that weave those milestones together. We shouldn’t be satisfied to move from one to the next without stopping to consider all that we have learned along the way, who this has developed us into, and how this new development can be of use to those we encounter around us. And the only person we should compare ourselves to is who we were yesterday so that we can ensure we have all of our efforts focused on refining a better version of that.

The best analogy I can offer was a joint collaboration in elaboration. Think about looking out at the world through your own eyes. Information exists in what is directly in front of you. You don’t even have to seek or search to find it. If your eyes are open, it will be there. This is characteristic of how we are bombarded with insane information overloads every day. It can be so overwhelming that we interpret it through our tunnel vision, and neglect to look all around us or use our peripheral vision. But intimacy is not just there like information is. It requires seeking and searching, starting within and expanding its way outward. Open up your eyes and don’t just look, but SEE.

So then, what intimacy will you attempt to unlock today? Look back at those bullet points and try to pick out a few particular areas of your life that could benefit from an increased infusion of intimacy. When you are interacting with others, lead by example and spill intimacy out onto them. If they don’t follow suit, don’t cease to be satisfied by informational responses. Dig deeper. Ask better questions. Seek unrelentingly to learn and improve from everything. I can almost guarantee you will find your life more enriched.

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I have two post-script / disclaimers to notate:

1. If you haven’t already realized, the majority of my blog content has become my frustrations with the way the world operates and the things that interfere with us all becoming better people. If I don’t blog them out of my system, I sit and stew in them, getting frustrated and depressed about the state of the world. It reminds me of a time when my father told me that my frustration and depression are good things for the very reason that they are existential. I’m fixated on meaning and development and when they don’t appear for me I feel that life is insignificant; it’s not personal tragedies I’m bumming about, you know? It’s societal tragedies. So when these flashes of explanations for the way society is, or ideas in terms of practices for overcoming them in order to be a more decent human being come into my head, I process them out by blogging. This is my method of trying to learn from it all myself, not me assuming I am correct or an expert trying to assert my opinion onto people and make them do it my way. I always assume this is sort of known, but I feel extra need tonight to reassure that I do not consider myself immune from the things that I criticize or attack. When it comes to society, we are ALL part of the problem. Some of us just operate at heightened levels of attempting to develop a solution and encouraging others to do the same, which is where I’m at tonight. I do not consider myself outside of these things, but I think that by publicly discussing them we can all become a little more accountable.

2. Tonight’s thoughts would not be complete without an incredible friend of mine. I don’t think there is anyone else on the planet who would react to me texting out of the blue “OMG I SUMMED IT UP. information does not equal intimacy” in a way that not only encourages me to further explore this thought, but to also jump right onto the same wavelength and offer dozens more inclusions and perspectives. Thank you for being a place to come for clarity when I need to sort through my jumbles, and thanks for always seeing me in a better light than I deserve because it encourages me to strive for that.

 

6.07.2014: Reinterpreting & Redefining the SPU Bubble in the Wake of Tragedy

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Last Thursday afternoon I was updating some of our Twitter accounts at work when I saw that Seattle Pacific University was a trending topic.

I was immediately struck by the oddity of this. Generally colleges are only trending on Twitter due to sports or scandal, which aren’t exactly newsworthy topics at SPU. I wondered if they were getting some giant award, if Barack Obama was visiting, if someone famous had decided to attend…though ridiculous, these all seemed much more plausible scenarios than anything negative, particularly the devastating scenario I was met with upon clicking the topic, which was that the place I spent four life-changing years at, a place that felt more to home like me than anywhere else on this earth, had fell victim to a grotesque, shattering act of violence. My jaw dropped and I began to experience a whole host of physical emotions consistent with the anxiety I am generally able to keep at bay – heart about to beat out of my chest, shaky hands, the immediate need leave my surroundings to go be ill…

If you who are not familiar with Seattle Pacific University, it is an incredibly small, tight-knit community tucked in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, attended by only about 4,000 students. While you may not know everyone’s name, you definitely feel like you know most people’s faces, because these faces are so intentional about making eye contact with you and smiling as they pass. The campus draws students who are extremely serious about their education, their relationships with other people and their faith, all of which are designed intentionally to be fostered and furthered by the University’s aims and ways of operating. The hearts of the staff and students seem so pure and lovely that it is almost this little utopia where you don’t envision anything drastically bad ever happening. In fact, there were times it almost frustrated me how naïve it seemed in some ways; I worried about the ability of graduates to be able to assimilate themselves into the harsh realities of the world around us that exists outside this phenomenon commonly known by students and staff as the “SPU Bubble.” However, reflecting now after it has been so shockingly burst by Aaron Ybarra, my heart simultaneously breaks and swells with so much emotion for how this bubble is actually the most incredible thing that could exist, and how it’s an example of how we should all live our lives outside of the SPU community, regardless of affiliation to the school or even to religion. I now understand it in a new and completely different light, and it’s a light that I feel absolutely convicted to share.

I was urged by several different people to get myself into therapy my freshman year. As I went through my sessions, the largest common thread that we were able to process out of everything was that I had never had a place and space in my life where I was able to be completely 100% myself, and to have that be verified, understood and loved in the way I felt I needed. Unexpectedly, SPU became that for me. The ecosystem of the SPU Bubble enveloped me, invested in me and then gently pushed me back out into the world as a changed person.

When I think about the best way to describe and define this ecosystem, what comes to mind is the word DEVOTION. We live in a broken world as a culture that views devotion as somewhat of a foreign concept. Consider how often we see the following:

  • Relational devotion destroyed by our tendency to assume our needs and comfort are more pressing than the needs and comfort of others,
  • Marital or romantic devotion destroyed by the evils of infidelity,
  • Community devotion destroyed by the journey of the individual, which our society has prioritized in a damaging way where selfishness and disregard for humanity are disguised by the label of “independence;” this somehow makes it acceptable,
  • Political and patriotic devotion destroyed by the corrupt examples and private agendas of politicians and the government,
  • Environmental devotion destroyed by materialism and our insatiable desire to consume and possess.

In our time at SPU we all have joked about the overuse of our motto “engage the culture, change the world.” But it’s so completely spot-on to the mentalities and actions of those who attend. Seattle Pacific University exists in a bubble because of the people are DEVOTED. They are devoted to strengthening individual relationships and to building community. They are devoted to their educations and careers in ways that will allow them to help overturn some of the damaging worldviews outlined above.

I see examples of this devotion when I think about:

  • Professors and mentors who bend over backwards to help further not only the career success of their students, but their personal development as well, even when they don’t always feel appreciated or valued,
  • Student workers who sacrificed so much time and freedom to be peer advisors and took this role completely seriously,
  • My dear, favorite community of “roomies for life” where we sacrificed study time and to-do lists to sit down and have important, intentional conversations that have forever shaped who I am,
  • Classmates I hardly knew coming to pick me up or walk me home from the bus when I felt unsafe after working late downtown,
  • Strangers who sat down to eat with me in my first few months when I spent mealtimes alone,
  • The common rhetoric of “Help yourself to my things.” “What can I do for you?” “Let me know how I can pray for you.” “Do you need a ride?” “You are more than welcome to join us.” Etc.

Honestly, everyone completely adopts the Jesus mentality of “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” You find people devoting themselves to carrying some of the weight of your burdens, because the weight is so much easier to cope with when it is shared. It’s a really amazing and special thing, and from what I’ve seen of the world outside of our bubble, it’s very rare. It never existed in my life before SPU.

The absolute shining example of this comes from the heroic actions of student Jon Meis, and those who followed his lead. Jon disregarded all thought for his own personal safety and his own life when he sprang into action, debilitating Ybarra with pepper spray and a choke hold. It was to him a worthwhile risk to take in order to save the greater good — and that is exactly what he managed to do. Devotion saving lives. How incredible. I tear up and get chills every time I think about it. It’s hard if not impossible to write anything about this that serves the magnitude of what he did but I urge you to contemplate the strength of this devotion.

I think there are two different sides of the coin when it comes to looking at the SPU Bubble post-shooting. On one hand, the safe, secure utopia has been violated. It will take a lot of rebuilding and repair for those affected to overcome this, and this is such a horrible thing to me. I hope it doesn’t deter potential students whose futures could be forever shaped by the SPU community in the way that so many of have experienced.

On the other hand, I believe it’s so important to always look for the light in the darkness. In reflecting on this, the thought that struck me was that maybe the bubble had to be burst in order for the world to be let into it. Look at all the media and press coming out around this situation. SPU is being portrayed exactly as it is: as a strong, unified community of faith. Not only are we serving as witness and inspiration through this, but it goes beyond that. The world has temporarily come into our bubble, praying with us; praying for us. They are becoming part of our community like never before.

Prior to coming to SPU, this was all something I had no idea existed. I entered SPU as a depressed individual. I felt insignificant and meaningless. I contemplated at times if there was any purpose to my life, and if it would matter to anyone if I ended it; suicide was honestly a consideration. While I absolutely never thought for an instant about harming other people, I know that a lot of what I did feel is probably the same loneliness and insignificance that people who commit terrible acts of violence have experienced in their own lives. While this tends to be a more rare and extreme type of person, I know without at doubt that there are millions of people out there who have no idea what it means to be truly loved and understood; people who have no idea how to accept the love and understanding that others pour out to them. Yet maybe amidst this tragic situation, we can realize the importance of using SPU’s example of devotion to devote ourselves completely to helping others with their burdens and making sure that love and support are things that all can come to understand. My strongest desire is that it all serves as such an inspiration to the whole world, and as a result everyone is motivated to more strongly devote themselves to the things outside of their own personal agendas.

It feels wrong not to address the death in this tragedy of Paul Lee, but I am honestly at a loss for words because death is something so beyond my realm of understanding, particularly when it is the death of someone who deserves to have so much more life; someone who without even knowing you feel like really still had such a contribution to make to the world. I can’t imagine what all the lives he has touched are experiencing. I devote my prayers and sincerest wishes to their healing and comfort. I lament that when looking for light in dark situations, the dark ever has to be opaque enough that a life is lost. This is something I can never fathom. I desperately ask, “can’t there be another way?” I would also like to remind the world to recognize that Paul Lee is a human being. Paul Lee’s family and friends are human beings. Remember this as you may be tempted to make him or the situation out as an unintentional martyr for you to use in your quest to express your opinions on gun control, school safety, mental health or any other political agendas. I wish we were a society where we considered these things and knew how to do what was right before or outside of situations like this because I find that it is inhumane to correlate them. Let what is shared and said of him to be untainted; let it be about how he lived his life, touched others and what made him happy. Let it be about what of his personal legacy will live on, not what of a political legacy it should instigate.

As I wrap up, I ask you this: how much devotion will you consciously choose to pour out into the world around you today? Tomorrow? How will you graciously receive and honor the devotion of others? Devotion changes lives. Devotion saves lives. There is no more noble aim than to commit yourself to these things. It could be serenity and courtesy in interactions. It could be choosing words that only uplift. It could be monitoring your health and fitness so you are better equipped both physically and emotionally to provide long-lasting devotion. A friend and I were discussing the other night how we never wanted raised voices or yelling to be an acceptable part of the behavior in relationships – that’s one I’m devoting myself to. Attempt to sincerely compliment three people per day. Attempt to sincerely make laugh three people per day. Consider the resources you have to offer those less fortunate than you, whether it’s buying a meal for a homeless person or simply spending time with someone who is mourning. Whatever you choose to devote yourself to, do it because it will make the world a better place, and do it with every fiber of your being. Let the world into your bubble, and let your light shine to them.

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