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An Explanation For My Over-The-Top Love For Christmas

“Advent, meaning “the coming,” is a time when we wait expectantly. Christians began to celebrate it as a season during the fourth and fifth centuries. Like Mary, we celebrate the coming of the Christ child, what God has already done. And we wait in expectation of the full coming of God’s reign on earth and for the return of Christ, what God will yet do. But this waiting is not a passive waiting. It is an active waiting. As any expectant mother knows, this waiting also involves preparation, exercise, nutrition, care, prayer, work; and birth involves pain, blood, tears, joy, release, community. It is called labor for a reason. Likewise, we are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in the expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. As we wait, we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world.”

I’m the sort of person who listens to Christmas music starting November 1st. It seems like I’m the minority here. Most people can’t fathom having so much of the Christmas things for an entire month much less 2.

This year, I’ve barely partaken in holiday festivities, carol listening, etc. At least, for the type of person I am anyway. I think it makes me sad. So much has gone wrong this year and I still feel so unproductively sad and stuck where I am. Kind of like I don’t want to taint my favorite season with all my crap.

As we get closer to the end of the year, I’m still searching for a reason for why it all happened. I want so much to find even the slightest reason for it all… to tie it all together with a bow. I think it’s why I ended up where I am today. The more I fought, the more broken I ended up. But I just couldn’t lose so much and feel like I was coming up empty handed. Life just couldn’t end up this way with no consolation prize. So I fought. I fought for the story. I fought for the meaning. I fought and I think I should’ve gave up when I had the chance. Maybe I wouldn’t be this way… I don’t want to be this version of myself.

We’re days away from the end of 2015 and I’ve got nothing. It settles in more and more every day: Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

For all my love for this holiday, I have to say that 90% of the time, Christmas day is actually sort of a let down. It’s a whole lot of build up for what ends up being just kind of a mediocre day with too many calories.

But I love the anticipation of it. The waiting for a magical, wonderful day. The hope of a white Christmas. It’s a sort of giddiness that hasn’t changed since I was a kid.

But Christmas hurts this year. It’s the Advent season, the season of expectancy and hope. It’s the very thing I love about this season. But the thought of having hope and expectancy… How do I do that? When I’m still stuck wishing things just went a different way but knowing that it’ll never be? I’m not ready to hope for something else. I’m not ready to leave the idea of what could’ve been.

Here’s the thing though. The story of the season is that this God… all Holy, Majestic, Unblemished, and Mighty… He makes himself this feeble, mortal, infant baby, born into this shit-filled manger. Smack-dab in the middle of all our human mess. He’s this holy interruption to a world filled with all kinds of terrible things. Then he goes about healing people. Bringing hope and restoration to a broken world and rallying people to join in this work of restoring what has gone broke.

That’s what I want to believe: that there’s something real we can do to combat all the sadness, death, suffering, and decay of our world. That you very well can live with not just hope… but expectancy, 365 days out of the year, that something better is on the way. That we play an active part in it.

I used to be the kind of person who believed in that sort of thing. Instead, I’m just scrambling to figure out how to make it from sun up to sun down. Survival mode.

I don’t think I love Christmas just because I like all the Christmas things. I think I need it. Especially after a year like this. And it’s not just the carols and the pretty lights… it’s not the kitschy holiday things… It’s not Santa… It’s not the obscure concept of the “magic of the season” that coaxes us to blow money on unnecessary holiday themed things… even if I do buy into it.

But actually, I think there’s something distinctively magical about the season. And I do think it has to do with the songs, the decorations, and the candles. It has to do with the snow and the lights. It has something to do with the colors and the tree. It has something to do with the chance to really live it all up: that things won’t always be this way. It’s more than just warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s a promise. It’s a call to action.

What makes Christmas so special even if year after year, Christmas day isn’t all that its hyped up to be, is that it gives me space to remember that maybe not now, but some day, things are going to be different. That’s the magic right there. And it’s in the waiting. Waiting expectantly.

The Christmas tree in my living room is beautiful. Being able to sit in front of it in the dark makes me feel that childhood giddiness again. I want to be the sort of person who hopes again. The sort of person who lives expectantly and works actively for better days not just for myself, but for my neighbor as well. For that, I need Christmas. I need to believe again that God can find me in my shit-filled 2015. That He can meet me way down here. I need it for my friends who also find themselves feeling like life was a complete let down at the end of 2015.

So there’s my confession to you who don’t understand my love for this season. Is it really the most wonderful time of the year? Probably not. I don’t think it has to be. But I do need it.

On Year 2015: Making Britney Spears in 2007 Look More Reasonable Every Day

“Pain is alive in a broken heart
Past never does go away
We were born to love and we’re born to pay
The price for our mistakes

Grace, she comes with a heavy load
Memories they can’t be erased
Like a pill I swallow that makes me well
But leaves an awful taste”

I used to walk tall.

I’ve always had pretty poor posture. I would be hunched over in my chair and I slouched my shoulders when I walked. I never considered myself a terribly insecure person. No more than normal. It wasn’t until I was about 23 when I started to feel confident.

I think it was the sort of confidence you find when you’ve matured and had time to understand yourself and the things you’ve gone through in your life. It’s the kind of confidence that comes only with time and age… When you find things and spaces that work for you.. That build you up. Life finally feels like it’s sorting itself out after a period of instability after college. I started to stand taller.

For the first time in my life, I was getting frequent complements on my great posture. A lot of the younger girls in my life wanted to know how I learned to stand shoulders back and head held high. So much so in such a small period of time… it almost felt like living a lie. But I felt, generally, really good about my life: where I was, my social life, my future, my health, and my body. It was a confidence I could physically feel inside myself.

I don’t walk tall anymore.

My 2015 makes me understand Britney Spears’ 2007 on practically a spiritual level. It’s given way to 2 hashtags I frequently use: #placesIvecried and #toosadcantmove

You think your life is headed one way… and maybe it’s been headed one way for years. You’d like to think that your identity is much more than the sum of what you do. But let’s be real. If we’re lucky, we can go a really long time without having to really know that our identities are dependent on things and people. Our jobs, certain relationships, our social media platforms, our hobbies… We can go a long time without having to confront the fact that maybe we let these things determine our worth and value. We like to think we’re not that easy. It isn’t until they’re ripped out from under us that we find just how much power they had. It isn’t until they’re gone when we have to confront the fact that we are just as shallow and insecure as we feared.

Pain has a powerful way of distorting how you look at the world and your life. Not just in the emotional/spiritual/metaphorical sense. I feel like I actually cannot see in front of me. It’s almost like when you’re in the passenger seat of a car speeding down the highway… you look to your right trying to focus on any one thing: a tree, a building, or a sign. You try to fix your eyes on any one thing but you can’t.

I wish I felt more purpose in pain. I know I’m not some special case. Lots of people go through crap. A lot of people go through worse crap. I wish I felt more purpose in pain because I want to be able to tell someone else going through something that there’s a point in all the suffering.

People like to tell me there is. Sometimes, I think they’re speaking from experience. Sometimes, I think that’s what they need to tell themselves too. Other times, I think they said it just because they’re uncomfortable and that’s what you say to people in pain.

On my darker days, sometimes I think: maybe there is no point. Maybe you made a mistake. A bad call. And that’s all it is. A really shitty decision that leads to a really shitty time in your life. Sometimes, it feels to me when we say clichéd phrases such as, “we live and learn”, we’re shaving down the weight of our choices. Maybe we need to in order to live with the mistakes we make. To assign those decisions less responsibility and chalk it all up to some beyond-our-control circumstance. We need the platitudes to get by. Because how could we sleep knowing that we made such a bad call? One that changes you… changes your whole life?

Like I said, those are just my thoughts on my darker days.

As a person of faith, I’m reminded that God uses all things for our good.

I’d like to believe that painful experiences can make us better. That they don’t have to leave us bitter, cold, and hard. That they make us more compassionate. That we speak slower, softer, kinder. That they increase our capacity to take in the crap and dish out more of the good because there’s this ongoing storm of redemption in our lives.

If I can be honest, I really would’ve preferred living under the delusion that I was already these things.

Because I just feel tired. It’s been so long and it’s hard to feel like I have more fight in me when the suck and the sadness are just so damn unrelenting. It’s hard to feel like you can fight more when so many parts of your life feel like they’re falling apart at once and they all take turns hurting every damn day. I wasn’t prepared for the ways my life would change. To top it off, I wasn’t prepared for what would happen when I opened my heart up to someone who would end up crushing it into a thousand pieces and walk away without ever looking back. I wasn’t prepared for life to hurt in so many ways.

Of course, who is prepared for that?

But I guess I wasn’t prepared to become this self-centered.

It seems like the only reasonable response to life-pain is to become selfish, bitter, and cold. A lot of people don’t have the good fortune of being surrounded by so many good people. People who’ve scraped my off the floor so many times in the past months. You could say… that right there… that’s Grace. I’d say so too.

But I wish I wasn’t so self-centered. I want to say I wasn’t this selfish before. The Vicky I knew was interested in the lives of her friends. Most days, I can’t see past my own crap to have room for more. And on the good days, I’m just too focused on the prospect of a better day to stop and invest in my loved ones. And I know, these people are willing to love me, patiently, during the bad season. I just wish I could be better already for them. It’s not that I don’t want to accept their love and care. It’s hard to watch people you love and respect put so much time and effort into picking you up off the floor just to end up horizontal again.

Maybe there is a point to all the pain. Wouldn’t that be nice? That there’s a conclusion to it all that makes everything in the middle make total sense and allows you to move on. Maybe you’re better for it and you look back and you wouldn’t even change a thing.

Maybe what it takes to move on is time. Maybe there’s no point to the pain and you move on because you just learn to adapt to this version of you.

Maybe it takes forgiveness. Forgiving the people who hurt you and forgiving yourself for the choices you made.

We’re in November now. It’s my favorite time of the year and as we move towards the end of 2015, no matter how I try to think about it, the question that rolls around on my tongue is: what was the point of all of this?

Long-Suffering and my Grandmother’s Passing

My Grandma passed away Wednesday morning.

The funeral is happening tonight in California. With it all happening so fast, my parents decided it wasn’t worth it for me to come and asked that I stay home and look after the house and the dog.

Grandma was really old. Like, 102 years old kind of old. I knew her better when I was young when we would visit for extended periods of time. But I’ve missed out on so many trips to to California in the recent years. She always smelled like Si Chi oil and asked us to thump on her aching lower back with our fists as sort of a massage. The past few years, she had developed dementia, among other health ailments.

“Don’t come. It’s ok. Grandma and all the uncles know you’re a good girl. Grandma didn’t remember you. But she knows. It’s ok”, my mom cried over the phone.

My mother loved my grandma so well. My mother’s relationship with both her mom and her dad were really beautiful from the stories she’d tell me in broken english. She moved out a few years ago to live in California and the word that comes to mind when I think about my mother’s care for my grandmother in these past few years is: long-suffering.

It’s here that I come to grips about my own relationship with my parents. My mother doesn’t have dementia yet. I don’t think she knows how much I care for her. I hope to take after her in long-suffering. I hope to recount wonderful stories of her, in better english. And at the end of things, love her as well as she loved my grandma in her last days.

I’m so sad to not be at the funeral. To not be there yet again for Grandma. To miss out on another trip to see my extended family. I’m sad not to be there for my mom while she loses the most important and cherished person in her life.

They say, “the end of one journey is just the beginning of a new journey.” Last week, I finished my job at the cafe I’ve been working at for the past year and a half. It was the end to a journey I had given the better part of my life this past year and a half. The end of my career as a barista. The end of some relationships and bridges burned. The end of the life I’d been cultivating here. Then, the end of a life in my family. Yet, I’m about to move to Rochester. To start cultivating a life there. I’m about to begin my time as a staff member with InterVarsity. It’s the start of my mother moving back home to Long Island.

It’s in the middle of all of this where I feel so stuck. It’s where I want to stop and mourn but have to rev myself up to make a huge life transition.

But I guess here’s where I begin my first lesson in long-suffering. It’s not long-suffering if you lie down, give up, and hope things gets better. It’s the “keep on keeping on” despite the mess around you. It’s the enduring through the “long defeat”.

I’m holding on to hope that there are better days to come for my mom and my dad as they restart their lives together on Long Island. I’m holding on to hope that I’ll become the kind of loving daughter I want to be to them. I’m holding on to the belief that God’s calling is better and greater than the comfort I’ve made here, my own selfish wants, and my ambitions.

I am so thankful for the people who’ve helped carry me and counsel me through this difficult time. Thank you for enduring with me. To my best friends, my wonderful (ex) co-workers, my community from all over, and most of all to God- the ultimate example of long-suffering, love, mercy, and grace.

“. . . together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.

“I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’—though it contains . . . some samples or glimpses of final victory.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

2014 New Year’s Resolutions: My Crossfit Journey

January 2014 I started Crossfitting at Crossfit NYC: The Black Box. I don’t post or talk about Crossfit that much… I think… At least, I don’t talk about it nearly half as much as I want to talk about it ;P It’s been a full year of Crossfit now and I do want to share a few words on the journey as people are setting their New Year’s resolutions which often include fitness resolutions.

I didn’t really have a specific resolution last year. It wasn’t like, “This year, I’m going to get in shape” or “I want to lose x amount of weight.” But I was unhappy with myself. I was always at the very least somewhat active. But at this point last year, I was out of shape and not very healthy. I had actually tried crossfit in 2012. I did it for 3 months but had stopped for a full year. (I loved it in 2012 but became unemployed and broke)

I began Crossfit because I do actually love weightlifting. I started strength training in high school. I had an amazing coach. I think a lot of girls are taught to believe they only need to be lean and toned. He always use to tell me, “Women can lift strong.” He never let me lift light just because I was the only girl in the strength training class. I missed his.. I guess you could call it.. philosophy of fitness. Our weight room was the “bare necessities” and only consisted of power racks and barbells. Crossfit shared a similar foundation so that’s what initially attracted me to the sport.

To be honest though, and how I first heard of Crossfit was through a picture of Camille Leblanc-Bazinet on Pinterest. She was a woman who was beautiful yet made weightlifting look so badass. I wanted to be her. I became obsessed with wanting to be like her.

Back to January 2014. Out of shape and unhappy with myself, a co-worker of mine told me about a Crossfit box right by our cafe. I decided to join.

Unlike regular gyms, there are no mirrors in Crossfit. That has added such an interesting factor in this past year of fitness progress especially if you went into it with aesthetic goals. But that’s the beauty of Crossfit culture. You might join it for the aesthetic gains at first, but it soon becomes so much more than that. I don’t think I can say I’ve struggled with body image but I’ve never loved my body. I genuinely love the way I look now. Not because I think I look hot or because I have the “ideal body”. I don’t. My thighs and calves are huge, I have a crazy shoulder vein, forearm veins, more forearm veins (seriously though… my forearms…), my traps explode when I pull my shoulders back… And I love it all.

I look healthy. I look like I’ve worked hard. But the greatest lesson Crossfit has taught me about loving my body is not aesthetic reasons.. I love my body for what it can achieve.

I can pinpoint exactly when my perspective of my body changed. It was when I did my first toes to bar. 2 weeks before that day we had another workout involving toes to bar and I could only bring my knees to my chest. On this particular day, I decided to just go for one attempt to see how close I was getting to the real thing and I came up so hard I stubbed my toes on the bar. That was the day I started loving my body for what it could do, not just for the way it looked.

My message here is not that you have to change yourself in order to love yourself. But as 2015 kicks off, I think a lot of us fall into the trap of making fitness resolutions with the end goal, whether we’re conscious of it or not, being to look like someone else or to get that specific body type we’ve been told is “hot” by the wider culture.

I fell for it too. In fact, if you look at my Fitness Board on Pinterest, you can actually see the perspective transformation. (You can also see the exact moment in time when I started obsessing over Camille) In the beginning, I would go onto Pinterest to find pictures of hot girls with amazing physique to motivate myself to get back into shape. But it’s a lie. You can’t look like someone else. Nor can you pick and choose body parts from 100 different women and aim to have each part of your body look like this and that. You can’t look like her nor is your body a jig saw puzzle of multiple women’s body parts.

What IS possible and what I’m trying to say today is: Be the best version of yourself. If you have a fitness resolution this year, take a good look at yourself (figuratively). Ask yourself if you’re doing this because you’re trying to look like someone else. Because if you really want to make long-lasting changes, you have to let that go. Once you see that you’re not getting any closer to looking like her, you’ll lose momentum and motivation. Because that’s not how this works and you will never be happy with yourself. After a year of consistent hard work, I still don’t look like those girls I used to pin and I don’t look like Camille. And that’s completely okay. I probably love myself more because this is a body I earned. This is a vomit inducing cliche but there really is a beauty in the journey itself. Fall in love with the process of being the best version of you.

A year ago, I had poor posture. My boss used to call me T-rex because of my slouch and because my velociraptor resting arm position. Seriously, I used to work at Starbucks and we would talk about my #raptorhands. I had chronic back pain because I was standing for hours over the stove or the counter. My knees would hurt because of problems with my Illiotibial band.

Nowadays, back pain isn’t a thing I deal with anymore and Crossfit recovery and mobility education has taught me how to manage my ITBS problem. New friends tell me I have amazing posture. I’ve literally never been told I had good posture. I’ve slouched all my life and of course, it’s my natural tendency but I walk tall now. I stand up straight with shoulders pulled back because I have this new sense of confidence. All of this I gained in just a year.

Add to the list of things Crossfit has done for me in this past year alone: I have abs! That was never a thing before 2014! I can do strict pull-ups! I can lift heavier weights than some of the men in my class! I am so close to being able to do a free standing hand stand!

Fitness Resolutions of 2014: #winning. Crossfit may or may not be right for you. But for those of you who are about to start your own journeys, I hope this helps put a little more perspective on your own goals and that come year 2016, you’re well on your way to becoming the best version of you and that you’ve learned to love and appreciate every last detail of you.

You may stop reading here. This next part is for people who may be considering Joining Crossfit.

Read More…

Growing up and Successful Adulting in 2014

I haven’t written anything in a really long time. I think it’s been over a year actually…

2014 has been an odd one. I think it’s felt a lot like… trying to walk across an ice rink in sneakers: Do-able, but in a kinda sorta not really but yes but you also face-planted and fell on your butt a thousand times so….

What I mean to say is… Have you ever had a period in your life where nothing was going really bad so you can’t complain but, nothing feels like it’s going really great? And you’re left wondering how you’ve really progressed in life or how you’re improving as a person?

These past few months, my biggest obstacle has been: How do I adult? I’m 25 now which, has sort of been a benchmark year when I’ve thought of my life as a young’n. Like… at 25.. I’m definitely a grown-up and I know things. Except I don’t know things and I have to google everything and gosh, if I didn’t have a smartphone I’m pretty sure I’d just be wandering around lost somewhere. And it’s a horrifying realization when I have to deal with “grown-up” things because my first instinct is to find an adult to do these sort of grown-up tasks but then to realize, “… I’M supposed to be an adult.” I need a better adult…

I’ve been having random flashbacks. I’m a person with a terrible memory. Like.. I know I’ve done things in life and have memories but I can never recall them until something reminds me of them. And then I’m like, “Oh that’s a really good story.. I should remember that for parties so people think I’m interesting.” But then I immediately forget. Anyway.

A couple of weeks ago, the cafe I work at has these little.. baby pumpkins that aren’t actually pumpkins because they’re actually squash… Anyway, I was looking at them and I had this flashback to a time when I was a kid at halloween. I loved these mini-“pumpkins” and I carved one like a jack-o-lantern. And I wanted so bad to light it like a regular jack-o-lantern because it was so small and cute so I begged my mom to make it work. She tried to let me down easy and explain that it just wasn’t possible (physics.. science.. whatevs). But she tried to make it work anyway. Like.. spent way too much time when it was just obviously impossible.

And then today, I had this memory of a time when it had snowed. I think I was in kindergarten and I was so excited for snow and desperate to build a snowman. Mom knew it wasn’t the snowman building kind of snow… it was the really powdery what-even-is-the-point-of-you kind of stupid snow (it’s actually a really pretty kind of snow that I now appreciate but am still a little bitter at) but I wanted that darn snowman so bad she took me out anyway. She brought a large metal bowl with her from the kitchen full of water to try to make the snow stick together. It didn’t work. Again, she tried to make it work when it just… obviously… was not going to work.

These memories… They make me feel sad. I’m not sure if that’s the correct appropriation of what I’m feeling.

I associate my childhood with a lot of loneliness, pain, and brokenness. I feel a lot of regret and wrestle daily with the feeling that I am not at all how my parents wanted me to be.

There are words that were said that no matter how much I try to understand and realize that they just said in a moment of anger that will always burn in my soul. There’s collateral damage and hits taken in the crossfires of a broken marriage that I’ll carry on my shoulders. There’s guilt that I repeatedly came up short for everything they dreamed for me.

I think a lot of us are in this boat. Childhood can be so difficult to understand and sometimes it’s just easier to make it black and white because.. somehow that would make all the crap and the hurt easier to take. I hate thinking too deeply about my childhood. I never want to. The generalizations make it easier.

But these flashbacks of late, I think they make me sad because what got lost in the black and white generalizations were the very real evidences of a child who was indeed loved.

Am I awful that it was so hard and took so long to realize that while yes, there was a lot of bad stretching across my childhood years, I was still loved? There’s a part of my brain that just believes these two truths are mutually exclusive. But I remembered all the bad and forgot about the good.

Like… I’ve also just remembered her being mad at me on so many nights because I went to bed but was not actually sleeping. She knew this because she would come in to kiss me on the forehead while I was supposedly sleeping only to find that I was still awake.

Year 2014 is coming to a close. My doctor is technically still my pediatrician because I don’t know how my medical insurance works or how to find a grown-up person doctor.. I still don’t completely understand how this credit card situation works and I still don’t understand car insurance.. I occasionally eat gummy bears for breakfast and I still feel like I need parental permission to leave my house for more than a day at a time. All this to say.. I’m really bad at this adulting thing at 25 years old.

But I think the most grown-up thing I’ve done this year is realizing that despite all the bad, I was and am a loved child. I never really considered myself a “loved child” before and that mental shift is pretty powerful to me.

Sometimes life gives you really small pumpkins that are actually squash. Sometimes the snow is too powdery. I think she did the best with what she had. That’s all we can really do and I think that’s all I can really ask of her.

This holiday season, I thank God for the gift of these memories. I thank God for a life that’s really full of love.

On My Reading Desk This Week (01/27/13 – 02/02/13)

I’ve decided that on Saturdays, I’m going to make a post with a list of interesting articles, or blog entries, or opinion pieces that I found throughout the week. I love, love, love reading articles online. I got the idea from Jahnabi Barooah, the Assistant Religion Editor at The Huffington Post.

In her words: “I am an obsessive reader. As a web editor, I spent several hours online reading essays, blog posts and reportage every day. I also read in the subway, in the bathroom and occasionally, when I’m eating alone. In the world of new media, good writing and original ideas are becoming increasingly rare. When I encounter them, some give me momentary pause in the midst of a busy work day. Others linger with me for days challenging my worldview.”

Word, girl. Word.

So here are the things I’ve been reading this week:

Surprised by Suffering — Scott Bessenecker, Least of These Blog

Western Christian perspectives on suffering… or lack thereof. Is Christianity really just “positive, encouraging, and safe for the family?”

Is Delhi so Different from Steubenville? — Nick Kristof, New York Times

Thanks to Jahnabi for the link: On the condescension of the West towards treatment of women in India following the gang-rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, and why rape is America’s problem too.

Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A — Shane L. Windmeyer, Huffington Post

Is it possible to stand together despite having polar opposite convictions? This is an amazing story that I hope will set the example and blaze the way for building bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community.

Chiune Sugihara, Japan Diplomat Who Saved 6,000 Jews During Holocaust, Remembered — Jaweed Kaleem, Huffington Post

The unsung hero of the Holocaust. I never heard of him till this week. Awesome reminder that wherever we are in life, whatever resources, status, networks, etc. we have can be aligned with and used for justice if you have the creativity and the eyes to see it.

Pay-What-You-Can Restaurants Dish Up Dignity in Denver — Jeff Haanen, Christianity Today

What has meal-sharing become in American culture? Redefining and re-appropriating our understanding of what it means to pay for things and how we view people who pay us. What might it look like to contribute to the flourishing of your city without the condescension of charity from a distance?

Re-discovering Christianity as a Movement – From the Streets of Bangkok –Matt Wilson, Redletter Christians

Reflections on Christianity as a movement towards kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven rather than a belief system you simply arrive to.

God Is Not A Christian: Desmond Tutu And The Dalai Lama’s Extraordinary Talk On God And Religion — Huffington Post

A recount of two spiritual leaders exchange about religion and God. I found their interaction to be really beautiful and example-setting to us all.

After Being Raped, I Was Wounded; My Honor Wasn’t — Sohaila Abdulali, New York Times

Jahnabi: In the wake of the heinous gang-rape of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi, Abdulali shares an emotive story describing her own rape.

For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II — Mike Dash, Smithsonian

Fascinating article detailing an encounter between a party of traveling soviet geologists and a family isolated from any contact with outside civilization (let alone other people) for a good 40 years.

The Girl Who Got Away — Allison Singh Gee, MSN

One girl’s story of how she was almost a victim of human trafficking and the realities of human trafficking on our own turf.

Rediscovering Jesus in the City (02/14/2012)

I’m back on Long Island after a week and a half trip to Geneseo. I spent about half-hour in Penn Station waiting for the LIRR. In that half-hour, I witnessed 2 different people on 2 separate occasions belittle and verbally abuse service workers and sat across the table from a woman who seemed to suffer from Schizophrenia.

Since I’ve gone to school in upstate NY, I’ve noticed that the more time I’ve spent up there, the more culture shock I would feel when coming back to Long Island during college breaks. So at first, I was bitter. Bitter that I was back downstate rather than upstate. Annoyed at the crowds of people and already wanting to make plans to move back to beautiful, amiable, and wide-open upstate NY.

Next, I got kicked out of McDonald’s. You’re only allowed to sit for about 20 minutes. That made me even more annoyed with the City. As I gathered my things and made my way to the LIRR’s waiting area, I recalled my conversation with Pastor Dave earlier today. With the St. Louis trip coming up for my fellowship back in Geneseo, we were talking about my future and how Dave realizes that I’ve grown a heart for ministry in cities in my 4 years of attendance at CityLights. I was taken aback by how his observations contrasted my current sentiments.

I know I love the city. I’ve loved seeing God move in cities. I love how cities are places of many different cultures and people. It’s diverse. It’s exciting. Dave was right. I do love cities.

So what’s changed?

Yes, the people in general are meaner down here than in upstate in general. I feel like that’s a natural result in densely populated areas. But that’s not news… downstate hasn’t changed. I have.

I used to not be phased by the “mean” culture that is downstate NY. When I went to school, strangers were drastically kinder to me. I started to prefer upstate’s culture to the one I had grown up with. And my time at Citylights taught me to look deeper into city culture with a new set of eyes to see the brokenness of the city and its people.

Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of post-graduate life that makes me find any little reason to reject life here and return to what is now more comfortable: life in western NY. Whatever the case, I was convicted that I was feeling so annoyed to be back.

I started to think about Gerry, the director of CityLights, my role model, and my spiritual father. Over the years, I’ve observed how he interacts with his environment, how he approaches ministry, people, etc. What were the differences in his everyday living that made him such a force of calvary-like love and transformation in the city of St. Louis? I wondered what it would look like if Gerry were walking in my steps tonight. What would it look like?

I recalled an experience I had with him at a Waffle House during the summer of 2009. It was about 3am. We were driving around together and we stopped in for a late-night snack. He was so kind to the woman behind the counter. Knowing it was a graveyard shift, he looked around the back knowing that she’d probably been on her feet for hours and seeing that there was no place for her to sit and rest her feet. He gracefully struck up a conversation about her. He was engaged with her. He showed such a profound level of compassion and empathy for this stranger. Upon leaving, he left her an extremely generous tip. The woman was so blessed. It was such a small thing but it left a profound mark in my memory. People in the service industry are treated with no dignity. But I saw Jesus that night. Gerry sees the situation with a different set of eyes. It’s what I believe to be a new set of eyes followers of Jesus should see the world with. He saw her the way Jesus sees her.

Consider the woman across from me possibly suffering from mental illness. She’s society’s outcast. Much like the lepers in Biblical times, she’s “unclean” or “untouchable”. She belongs to the kind of people that we do not want to associate with. We pretend not to see them so much so that maybe, we really don’t see them anymore. I know that was me. There are so many people in the city like that. I forced myself not to see them to avoid the internal conflict between my uncompassionate heart and the work of the Spirit. And so, over time, I really didn’t see them.

How did Jesus treat the social outcasts of His time? Take the story of the leper for instance in Mark 1. Jesus heals the leper. Not only does He heal him, Jesus touches him. In that time, people used to run across the street away from a leper screaming, “Unclean! Unclean!” Can you imagine for this leper how long it must have been since he had human contact? What does it do to a person’s soul to not even be dignified as a human being with one simple touch? Jesus could have simply said, “Be healed!” and by His words, the leper would be healed. We’ve seen that happen in the Gospels where Jesus heals simply by uttering words. But no, Jesus saw that the leper needed also the healing that would come from touch, human contact, for the first time in a long time. Oh to love like Jesus. To see how He sees. What a difference it would make!

I stand convicted that I am not a loving person. I don’t love Jesus as much as I love comfort and familiarity. And I certainly do not love His people. I especially do not love people who may be rougher around the edges. The city is full of broken people. It’s crowded with them. The problem doesn’t lie in the masses of broken people but within my own broken and unloving self. I’m annoyed with the crowds of broken people. Jesus was constantly followed and pursued by crowds broken people. He was never annoyed with them. Mark 6:34 says, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”

The service workers, the mentally ill, the homeless… you might compare them to the “sparrows” in Matthew 10. Seemingly insignificant to us, but are loved and cared for all the same by our Heavenly Father. How do we treat the “sparrows” in our lives?

Jesus, I’m so sorry for the way I’ve grown so complacent. Renew my mind and give me a new set of eyes to see the world in light of the Gospel. Teach me how to love like You. Transform my life and give me a heart that loves the unlovable and touches the untouchable. May I never just be a passerby but change me to live the kind of life that reflects the good news of Jesus Christ wherever I go. In the big things and the little things, may You be glorified.

The city desperately needs Jesus. Gerry is taking up his cross in St. Louis. What will I do? What will we do?

I love the city. I really do.

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