Friday, February 18, 2011

reaching out, reaching in

[Preface: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago after volunteering at a hunger-homeless outreach place and now feel the time is ripe to share it.]

People - I think all men - were milling around the entrances. They had easygoing gates and talked with an emphasized midwestern drawl. We met Laura on our way inside - and I was immediately grateful. She is friendly in the no-nonsense way that I am not. I felt safe in her presence, like walking in with a mother hen.

I have always been quiet and reserved. In recent years, I have found my confidence, my strength, my voice. I don't often find myself in situations uncomfortable enough to revert back to shy Ellen - and I've been in a lot of diverse situations. I consider myself fortunate to have lived such a breadth of experiences. I don't think (though I'd like to) that I am atypical for a 23 and 3/4ths year old - so many of my peers are equally well-traveled and experienced (and more). So many of my experiences are memories of me finding my voice, facing what could be considered "uncomfortable" and choosing to bloom there. It is in this way that I have gained a sense of self. And yet, I follow a God who says that whoever seeks to save his/her life will lose it; and if we lose ourselves for the sake of doing things God's way, that is when we truly live out our identities.

Death, you see, leads to resurrection.

And so, when I stepped out of my car, I experienced a kind of death. Not the kind of death you hear about on the news in the "bad" parts of town, though when I tell you what died, you won't be surprised. It was my sense of being comfortable. It started in my stomach and rose almost instantaneously to an all-encompassing sense of being uncomfortable. I searched the faces of the men we passed. They were not unfriendly or unkind, but hardened by weeks, months, years without a home. Or at least without a physical address.

It might have been useful to keep my mantra from Mexico in my mind: "We have more in common than what is different." Yet in Mexico, I was welcomed by children with joy on their shy faces and here there were no children. I looked. Twice.

I checked my companions' faces to see if any expression on them might mirror my heart. No sign of fear or discomfort registered on Caleb, Jon, or Shannon's face. Our mothering new acquaintance was greeting people and navigating us through the door.

As I decided I was alone in my sense of discomfort and fears, new mini waves of emotion surged through my heart. I kept my face composed and calm while instructing my heart to remain open. My friend David's words resounded inside me, "Feed the hungry? You can't mess this up." I drew comfort from it and did my best to push aside the uncertainty, uncomfortableness, and now shame for those feelings.

We stayed from 9:30-12:15, making burritos, cleaning, slicing and plating pie, and for me, just trying to stay busy so I wouldn't think too much about the double-edged sword of being uncomfortable and feeling bad about it.

I struggled to keep my heart and mind open in what felt like an entirely different culture. It was less than an hour from my house and consisted of mostly people born and raised in the same general area as me.

Even in all of my discomfort, I saw Jesus today. He was in the workers and volunteers who consistently form the community at this particular place. They are the ones that can invite the hungry and the chefs to be part of something bigger than frying eggs and clearing dishes. They laugh with us as we (the kitchen people) ask them stupid questions and work through our own prejudices and uncomfortable-ness. So gracious of them.

It's good to be uncomfortable.
It's good to grow.
It's good even if I don't grow, to get out of what I normally do. To serve and to NOT get anything out of it except an awareness of my own discomfort.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Do you facebook stalk people?

I do.

I feel... slightly embarrassed admitting it, but at the same time totally justified because it is so normal to do. Not sure if this is a good stance or not.

The people I stalk though, I usually have very specific reasons for doing it. I like to stalk the facebook philosophers.

The philosophers are the acquaintances I've made over the past two years that seem to be in sync with some part of life that feels very true. This is magnified when we disagree about lots of other things. I read their statuses that pop up on my wall, go to their profiles, because they remind me that life has rhythm, to stop and see the beauty around me. And to get off facebook. ;)

So thanks facebook philosophers. Here's a quote from one of them, translated, "No one is entitled to excess until there is not even one with need."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

stream of conciousness: juggling on a unicycle and word processing

did that just happen? spanish karenni hispanic asian japanese = Monday? Bibles, babies, alzeimers, Indian food, Respect Men, Captivating, dancing, sleeping, focused, prayer (not what you think) as movementfaithfulnesssilencelisteningteachingpatience.

Why is it so much easier to commit to one big thing instead of following Christ into the thousands of tiny actions I complete or start or try to do each day? what happens when home is not a building? what happens when i am exhausted? why can't home always be where I am? Displaced, not troubled. How do you even begin to teach someone a language? start where they are. accept where you are. Where am i? How can I accept me where I am while looking forward? Is progress real? I think I'm a mystic. Sometimes I want to be a nun - committing to one big thing is easier than 1000s of small things. One thousand. Can my students even fathom what that is? Today we practiced even and odd numbers. I hate standardized testing. Maybe strongly dislike. Like coffee - I dislike it and it's strong.

There's a blue exercise ball in my room, but I prefer to sit on the floor. I always sit on the floor. Like the man I met yesterday. Karenni is a strange language because I do not know it. it's amazing that people communicate in so many different languages and that there is little or great overlap. I think I might be a two-language kind of girl. I wish I knew arabic. then if I taught community esl classes, i could communicate with more students. most refugees don't speak spanish.
Spanish. it's hard for me to express myself in spanish. especially with church. i think it's good that I learn and that I'm uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable on saturday. I wish I knew how to handle being hit on in a gracious way. is that possible?
Animals are so nice. I like my dogs. they are really my parents' dogs though. in my parents' house. someday I will move out. David's moving out. not me. not yet. i'm waiting.
on the world to change? no. I should prep stuff for tutoring mañana. the first day is always hard to prep for. I learned that with my niños in spain. I miss them. I long for them. beautiful, beautiful niños. the new american there is named bryan. he lives with one of my most favorite families. heart friends, really. If I ever go back to spain (and I hope i do) it will be to visit paloma and alberto and ana. and abuela. and faby and abuela paquita (i hope she's still alive then) and mar and marta. everyone else will be good to see, but those people are family.

yesterday we had argentinean folk dancers at school. phew. well, he was argentinean and soo charming. his wife was mexican. they danced and the travel bug bit me. i wonder about that... so much desire for new and not becoming rooted. i thought of leandro, obviously. he's the most gypsy hippie person i've ever met in real life. i wondered what he'd think of my life now, working in a school, learning to give myself away. i don't think he'd understand, despite all his thoughts on freedom, love, and how in tune he was with what I'll call the spirit of life. Ana was like that too. bless her heart.
i like my life though. even if it makes no sense. a lot of things i thought didnt make sense to leandro though, especially when i couldn't explain them in spanish or english.

it's weird to lose your own language. and english is so easy compared to spanish right now. i need to practice more though. I should put my rice and beans in the fridge. they're definitely cold now. but I like sitting here on the floor. this is a long post. streams of conciousness always remind me of my friend Samantha. I haven't talked to her in a long time. that's a sad, but natural part of life. you can't always keep in touch with everyone you love. and i love pretty much everyone, but Sam's more than that, she's a heart friend. she was there, in spain, round one. mi compañera de piso y de habitación. de risas, de maria, y de tortilla que olió a tú sabes qué.

i miss the beach. i want to run on it, sleep under the stars, go on romantic walks, swing my feet off a pier. eat ice cream. i like winter though. that's new for me. and good.

okay i need to go now and write a coherent post or put away my rice or print groupons or figure out what i'm teaching tomorrow to my new friend.