Wednesday, September 4, 2013

37

I've recently decided to stop buying chocolate that wasn't fair trade certified. I had considered this for a while, just like going mostly meatless, and like that decision, it was difficult to commit to it. Going to Mission U and taking the class on poverty (as well as taking the Theo Chocolate tour) sent me over the edge, and I decided to do what I could to not buy chocolate potentially harvested by child slaves.

However, I've noticed that this seems to be a slippery slope. At some point I will find myself with nothing to eat. Mission U also had me thinking about tea and coffee, so I've tried to avoid buying those until I got a clearer picture of what's at stake with these products.

In researching all of this, I stumbled across slaveryfootprint.org, which is similar to carbon footprint calculators only it tells you how many slaves you have essentially created through your consumer choices. 37 is what they decided based on my lifestyle. Along the way, they teach you about where particular products come from, such as clothes, shoes, foods, electronics, and even sports equipment. It was utterly sickening.

This certainly hasn't helped my problem with trying to do the least harm I can in a country dedicated to feeding off of others. I imagine that if I could make my number 0, I would have to not only own a large farm that grew every single product I needed, but I would have to excel in producing clothing, food, electronics, etc. and somehow also work a job that would support this farm. So what do we do when all that is available to live off of is made at others' expenses, and often their lives?

Well, being careful with what you buy helps.

But really, I think now that "doing the least harm" isn't actually doing much to help those whose lives are taken from them by our systems of injustice. Yes, what you buy does matter because it affects what products are available. If we all stopped buying chocolate that was produced through child slavery, unsafe working conditions, and little pay, then the chocolate companies that get their supplies from these places would go out of business.

A bigger thing that we can do is to use our voices. Teach people about the costs of the things they buy. Tell your officials that it's not ok to get cheap clothes put together by people who weren't paid, are children, or worked in unsafe conditions.

And pray. A lot. I used to think prayer was just what you're supposed to do, but I'm starting to see that it really matters. I don't have a lot of hope that mere words and changing my diet will stop people from abusing each other, or stop our country from exploiting others, and that is really draining some days. But I do know that God cares for these people, and God is slowly working to change us so that we are open to changing our ways. And the best way to be open to being who God wants you to be is through prayer.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Going Where I don't Want to Go

Sometimes it's scary talking about God. For me, it usually is. There are three main reasons I get scared when talking about God, at least lately:

1. Everyone is watching: This is typically a preaching moment, the latest example being at Annual Conference. That fear is more about performance than being afraid to talk about God though.


2. He holds me to my words much more strongly than others': It's one thing if you hear someone give a compelling sermon or you have a moving talk with someone and feel called to follow God's words through them. Maybe over time you'll forget what they've said or it's easier to explain it away as an emotional moment. But when He's got me saying things like "Go where you don't want to go" and "Where do you need to die to glorify God?" it's kind of hard to forget that. Cause He'll bring it up every moment I'm too lazy or feel too scared to do something.


I had another Space Needle moment the other day. I was walking to my second bus stop after a 2 mile walk because Sunday buses run more slowly than I can travel by foot, and this old Santa Claus-looking guy smiled at me and asked if I "had any change miss?" And I said no, sorry, cause I usually don't carry change. I wasn't sure I'd make it home and then to church on time so I hustled up the hill and saw a Bank of America coming up. I was like ...crap. This is totally an opportunity to have change on me.


I had a lot of excuses and a lot of rebuttals:


I won't make it to church if I turn around - Really? You think God is more present in a building than right here?


Oh look, I'm almost past the bank and I haven't decided what to do yet - Tara, turn around and go back to the bank.


It's not really going to affect my day if I do this or not - Awesome, cause it might really affect his day.


And finally, the real issue:


I'm so scared of what he'll think, of what other people will think - Hmm I remember you telling 600 people to do things even when they're scared.


Dang.


So I went to the bank, walked back a few blocks, ended up going the wrong way, went the right way, and found the guy again. He was looking at some other people passing, so I said "Hey, I passed the bank and thought of you." He said thanks, and I said "Have a good one" and he said "You too."


I wasn't satisfied with that interaction though. I could have spent those 15 minutes sitting with him at breakfast, I could have said more than "Hey I got you this," and I don't know if my awkward comment made him feel uncomfortable because I could go to the bank and take out money anytime I wanted. That's all I had at the moment though, and I prayed that God would fill in what I had missed.


I was listening tonight to some older sermons from my church in Virginia, and my pastor was sharing a similar story about not having change, but he bought the guy a meal. Kind of like my story, didn't have change but he could access money. But he mentioned that he had one other thing: prayer. I didn't consider that. He was able to tell the guy that he was worth it, he was loved, and this wasn't all that was in store for his life.


If I had considered that I could offer prayer as well, I probably wouldn't have because I would worry about pushing my beliefs on someone. But to offer God's love in a way that tells the person they are loved more than they can know, and that the greed and injustice of our society that put him in that place will be conquered one day, is a lot different than saying "Here's some money, but let me help you get saved first."


But even if I had thought all of this out and heard my pastor's sermon beforehand, I probably still wouldn't have offered to pray with him because of


3. I am constantly struggling with the concept of Jesus.


I will argue all day long about how loved and important each person that ever lived is, and how we need to change our world to reflect the way we were meant to live in the Kingdom of God, but I have next to no answers when it comes to the role of Jesus in all of that.


I started from a young age being confused about Jesus. My mom would say that Jesus is God and God is Jesus, but church would say that Jesus is God's son, so how can he be both? As I got older, I could accept the mystery part better and understood the concept of Jesus having always been in existence like God, and then he was born into the world as a human but also God.


But then I started doing camp at the Jeremiah Project, and one of the questions on the application was "Describe your relationship with Christ." Um. I can talk about my relationship with God, but how do you have a relationship with Jesus? If you lived during his time and in his location, yes you could have human relationship with him. Or since he's now not physically on Earth, can't you just pray to God and have that be it? Or should you also talk to Jesus in prayer? Or is that like the Catholics who pray to Mary? Is it wrong to talk to other dead/resurrected folks? I used to talk to my Grandma sometimes, and people do it on movies.


So I started in high school using Jesus and God interchangeably, my best answer being that they're the same thing. But then in college I was hit with new ideas: what about other religions?? The immediate answers around me were that obviously, Christianity is the only answer and everyone needs to come to that realization. But then what if people don't get to know Jesus?


The first thing that helped me was Romans 1:20 - "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." Ok, so God talks to everyone, and therefore everyone's got a chance to know Him, even if they don't know Him by the same names I do. 



But then this little grain of sand got in my brain: you either accept Jesus or you reject him because he said to go make disciples. If we're supposed to make disciples of everyone, then they can't believe in other religions anymore. But that seems super wrong and forceful, and we've certainly done a lot of harmful, forced conversions in our history as humans. And why would these other religions exist if they didn't have value?

My classes senior year of college and coming to Seattle helped a lot with giving me some answers I felt more comfortable about. From my Psychology of Religion class: everyone is on a spiritual journey, and seeking "The More" is more valuable than having the "answers." From my LGBTIQ class: you can reject parts of the Bible without rejecting the whole. From my Bible study at Lent: "believing" in Jesus is not just an affirmation of his supreme rule (oh yeah, another question I've had since childhood: Is he God or just the ultimate human who will be king at the end?), but belief means living as he taught and lived: creating justice in an unjust world and giving your life for others. 


And most importantly from that study: maybe our interpretations of what Jesus is saying is not exactly what I've heard in church my whole life. Maybe when he says "I am the WAY, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," he's not saying "You must accept me as the only answer to get into heaven," but rather "See how I've lived. Follow my example, my Way/Path, and you will get to know God." Which begs the question: Have other people in other cultures discovered the Way, and therefore have just as  legitimate answers to life in knowing the More?


That's been my most satisfying answer this year, but that sure doesn't help me with the Jesus question because what about salvation? That's the HUGE issue with the every-religion-is-legit theory. Do we have to accept that the only way our sins are covered is through the blood of Jesus? I'm willing to accept that for me, but can I put that on others? And I've been reading a book lately that says the early church didn't believe Jesus's death was to cover sin. It says that's a development of the last few centuries. Ai. 


Jesus talks about being the Son of God and the Son of Man in the Bible, but someone brought up in the Lenten Bible study that these words are mostly found in John, which was largely written by the community after Jesus's death. Would he have actually said that about himself during his life?


A big thing I've found helpful in the last few months was something that Jesus says in the Bible. I'll have to find the verse later, but essentially he says to watch him and see if his ways are true. That's how you'll know who he is.  


He also asks a pretty big question: "Who do YOU say I am?" 


Clearly I have a lot of options for this, but I've decided to look for more. In my second year as a US-2, I want to try a different religious gathering (I was going to say church, but why not try other religions too?) at least once a month and report on who others say Jesus is. I'm not expecting to find The Answer, but I want to get to know God better through other people, and maybe I'll find a few more answers along the way. 


The big thing though is that I want to talk about God away from the comfort of the church walls. Maybe not as someone making disciples just yet, but having conversations about what exists beyond what we can see. (Yes, this is why science has helped me love God more!) I've done this with my family and my adopted family, but rarely with people I'm not as close to. I feel like my relationship with God is incomplete if I'm afraid to tell others that I'm in this relationship. Me and God might seem obvious from my status as a missionary, but saying you love someone on paper (or Facebook) is not the same as being excited to share with others in person why your life is different because of that person's love.


So yes, talking about God: the thing I don't want to do. Maybe it'll be easier once I hear what others think about Jesus. Probably not though. Someone telling you about their best friend/family member/governing body does not make you closer to that person. But two people having a dialog about God does help both of you get to know God better through His presence within us.


So friends please pray for me that I die to my pride, and that I will talk about God, even when I'm scared.












Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Role of Food in My Life

This past year as a I started my term as a US-2 I've had a lot of experiences centered around food, so I'd like to share a few!

1. The first big one was becoming a "vegetarian" during training. Contrary to popular belief, it was the Methodists and William and Mary ecology professors who got me started on this, NOT the hippies in Seattle! One of my professors sophomore year was really big on explaining how much eating meat (at least in the US) contributed to pollution. The big boys were cows, pigs, and chickens whose costs of living and dying are causing major problems for the environment. Cutting meat out of your diet is one of the most environmentally-friendly moves you can make!

At the same time, many of the fish we eat are harvested in unsustainable methods. Many that are wild-caught are gradually decreasing in number over time without being replenished. Many that are raised in farms are either causing a lot of pollution for maintaining them, or they are being fed prime species of smaller fish that the species we over-fish eat, contributing to a further reduction in the populations. Not to mention that super rich countries, like the US, go into developing countries and out-fish them, leaving them with a smaller food source.

This information impacted me at the time, but I had no idea how I could live without meat. Especially since I was still living with my family!

Well 3 years later, come time for training, we were at Stony Point where they have amazing food all-around. One day I realized that I had gone 3 whole meals without eating meat without meaning to! Hearing from some of the current vegetarians about their experiences made me remember what I had heard in class, and so started my confusion over what I should eat. I still agreed that changing my diet would be a good practice for the world, although it was obvious that one person doing this would not help our growing problem with pollution. I've been reminded multiple times though that even if the impact is not even noticeable, it doesn't change the fact that I should do what I believe is right in my life.

I say that I am a "vegetarian" because I recognize that sometimes other factors have priority over the save-the-environment approach. For one, I wasn't sure I could do it at a homeless shelter when I got here. Turns out I can! Two, I think hospitality trumps personal choice sometimes so I wouldn't reject something given to me from someone I didn't know well who made a great effort to feed me (not related to meat, but this idea comes up later!). And three, there are 4 animals I will currently eat: deer because they are plentiful and often over-populated, tilapia because they are farm-raised but vegetarians so not causing a depletion problem, catfish because they are omnivores but are fed vegetarian because it's cheaper and therefore are not causing a depletion problem, and Alaskan salmon because Alaska knows how to sustain its fish populations!

Of course, all of this will go down the tubes in the event of a zombie-apocalypse where you gotta eat what's available!  (except zombie flesh)


2. Composting. Sure, my mom did it with fruit and vegetables in her garden in Virginia. But OH NO this was nothing compared to Seattle where any type of food and paper is composted, and compared to overcoming my gag reflex in touching other peoples' food! Not to mention mold, endless mold. Working at the Jeremiah Project where you got dirty everyday got me over the fear of soiling my clothes with any number of unspeakable smells, but my first month at Mary's Place got me over the fear of not only cleaning off other people's half-eaten food, but literally digging through the compost buckets to hunt for plastics that no one can remember to throw in the trash can. Oh yes, moldy bread, coffee grounds, used tissues, gnawed-on bones, fruit slime, spaghetti, old cheese, and icing make a lovely smell, and feels great when it seeps under your gloves!


3. Becoming a "vegan." I realized about halfway through my trial as a "vegetarian" that dairy products and eggs are the same problem as cows and chickens causing pollution since they produce these products!  Yogurt and cheese were my go-to's to help me get over the loss of meat, so how was I to let them go too?! Well, I was able to do it, at least at home. I slowly found substitutes that were not super expensive (except fake cheese, it's not really worth it!), and I started reading labels when I bought things.

Obviously, this would not work at Mary's Place if I was to eat actual food! I also realized that this would not work at friends' houses or restaurants as again I would not be eating anything, and I could very well offend most people by making them prepare special meals for me if I came to visit. So right now I am satisfied with the idea that I will buy "vegan" in my home, and eat "vegetarian" elsewhere as much as I can. "Vegan" is also not exactly so, as I don't care about eating animal products like honey, but not eating dairy and eggs makes it look vegan, as only eating 4 animals makes me look vegetarian.

I also watched a movie on the treatment of meat animals in the United States, and that got me again, although I never would have thought that I'd change my eating habits for the sake of the animal.  However, the way we treat most of the animals we eat is really, I would say, evil. I have no problem with the fact that my body was made to digest other animals, but it is not worth it if they suffer their whole lives for me to enjoy a cheeseburger.


4. Finally, the Food Stamp Challenge! I participated in this through my church the last week of April, and it was harder than I expected. For a single person, you would be using $7 a day for meals. I calculated it out, and that's $49/week = $196/month. I get $200/month as a food stipend, so I was like pshh I already do that and have money left over! But then I talked to some people and realized how much free food I get from Mary's Place. So for that week I ate all my breakfasts at home, brought lunch, and didn't go out for dinner with friends. You also could not use any food you currently had in possession, so unless you bought some, you couldn't use oil or any herbs.

Here are all the things I bought for 7 days worth of meals:

Bread
Peanut Butter
Frozen orange juice mix
Almond Milk
Carrots
Apples
Strawberries
Frozen Broccoli
Crackers
Avocado
Potato
Pasta
Pasta Sauce
Canned black beans
Tomato
Lettuce
Onion
Cereal
Can of soup
Rice
Canned peaches
Tortillas

I bought them over a couple of days and I was used to living on less, so I figured I'd be fine and have at least a little leftover.

I spent $10 more than I was supposed to!! What?! I bought all the cheapo brands, and still went over! Wow. It was hard living on just that too; PB sandwiches at work everyday with no snacks and repeat dinners with no extra flavorings was really hard mentally to do. Especially since there was so much candy in the office that week, and we eat real good for lunch at Mary's Place!

There were some flaws in the system: the biggest one is that when you have food stamps you have the whole month's worth at once. So essentially it wouldn't have mattered that I spent $10 more one week if I spent less the next. I usually end up doing $60 or so at once and then don't go back to the store for 2 weeks except for little things. Another thing is that I didn't eat all of the food I bought, so if I had left out a few options and ate a lot a lot of similar meals, I would have made it. Also, a few coworkers pointed out that many women who are on a low-budget food stamp program do use services like Mary's Place, so their meals are supplemented too.

But the really big point is that I got to feel what it was like to eat much plainer things, and much less, than I was accustomed to. I got to go home after a small and boring lunch and not be able to pig out on food. I was never starving, but I wasn't ever satisfied either. It really made me frustrated, but then appreciative of all the meals I do have, and that I got 3 meals each day.

An unexpected problem was the hospitality thing, in that this week all the moms who don't speak English and all the kids kept trying to feed me! How do you explain to non-English speakers and kids that no I don't want your food because I am living on $7 a day which can only come from my pocket money, but yes I still like you and appreciate your gifts? You can't. So I cheated a little :) But really, people rarely live in complete isolation, and I've found that a lot more "poor" people than "rich" are willing to share and give to others, wanting nothing in return.




~I don't know how long my weird changes in diet will go on, and I've worried a lot about people thinking my decisions were stupid or at least hard to understand, but I am really glad that God's been teaching me about food this year. I've started to find in the last month that grains are becoming about 50% of my diet, which is way unbalanced. This seems to be taking the place of the yogurt and cheese which took the place of meat, so I really need to start finding some healthier options (and self-control!) to put me back in check.

So it looks like the next lesson is how to be a healthy "vegetarian" "vegan" !

Monday, March 4, 2013

An Awesome Day of Experiences

On Saturday, I got to go to the Vancouver (WA, not BC) UMC Leadership Training and co-lead a workshop. This is a fun story to tell, so let me share:

As I would do in college with papers or studying, I super procrastinated writing out what exactly I would say at this workshop. Also, I was not really sure what to expect other than the fact that I would be telling people "How I became a US-2." To me, workshop meant an interactive experience, but the title of my workshop sounded like I would be itinerating and the only person talking.

I had the day off the Wednesday before, and I planned to write out the bullet points of what I wanted to say. Of course, I tend to do nothing and stay in bed all day when I have off, so I didn't get anywhere. There was a chance that I would meet up with Katherine Parker, a missionary who has served the past five years in Cambodia and will soon be moving to Nepal, but she was on her big itineration tour, and it didn't work out. Somehow, I was motivated to go to the grocery store, and in walking there I realized that it was a beautiful day, something I hadn't experienced in weeks! So I decided to eat lunch and walk to the beach to pray and write.

Of course, as it does in Seattle (and Williamsburg), it started raining and the sun disappeared. So I knitted and read and also procrastinated cleaning my house. So come Friday night, after finally getting to see the inside of the new Emergency Family Shelter and getting my clothing assignment for Tuesday from one of the kids who is now my personal stylist, I was feeling the stress of needing to get this worked out.

So I avoided it some more, figured out my bus/train/carpool plan which would start at 3:00 the next morning, and planned out my talks for the churches and college ministries I'd be visiting in April. When all that was done, I started to write and realized that I spent a lot of time on my life story before US-2, and I imagined the audience would want to know more about my life now, but at that point it was already 10:30 and my sleeping hours were slipping away. So I scrapped it, went to bed, couldn't sleep because I was worried about what I would say, had a dream about giving a tour of Mary's Place, had to convince myself that a tour was not part of the plan for tomorrow, and finally woke up at 3:00.

At 3:20 or so when I decided to actually get out bed, I was reminded that I am getting old and can't pull all-nighters anymore because I get a little crazed in the head. I jump at noises, am terrified of shadows, and talk to myself a lot when I haven't slept. I also get really scared of taking a shower because of all of these factors, but it had to be done because I knew I wouldn't be getting home till late at night.

I got to the bus stop at 4:00, rode the bus ok, and got downtown by 4:30. The first Light Rail train didn't leave until 5:06, but there wasn't another bus that would get me there at a better time, so I got there pretty early. Early enough that the gates to the underground were locked, and I had to wait outside. That wasn't too big of a deal. I was actually more scared in Ballard when I was absolutely alone on the street than Downtown where there were lots of people around, and the influence of the shadows, noises, and me talking to myself didn't help. I recognized though that had I not been working at Mary's Place for the past 6 months, I would actually be scared to be Downtown late at night, and I was happy about that change.

I waited outside, and there were a few guys there too, so I stood the next doorway down just in case. Leaned up against the building like I was tough, and got some gum in my hair. Classy. There was one guy who was mumbling to himself and pacing back and forth, and he ended up dropping a piece of paper. He didn't notice it and decided to stay by the gate, so I picked it up and gave it back. I don't know if he really needed it; it was like a coupon paper without the barcode, so maybe an advertisement or something, but I've learned here that what is important to people is not always the stuff that I think is important, so I gave it to him. It was really cool to just have that interaction, and he seemed really grateful.

We're really great in the US about ignoring each other, and often the homeless feel that more than others. As I get to know the women at Mary's Place, I'm reminded of what I learned at the Jeremiah Project, that God's Kingdom is here. It may not look like it at a secluded camp in Northern Virginia, or in the homes of chain smokers with scary dogs, or on the streets of a big city in the middle of the night, but God will surprise you if you let Him show you where to look. Staying in that place of ignoring each other is buying into the lie that this is all there is and it's all about me. If you can chip into the walls we're taught to put up, you'll find a whole new level of wholeness.

So yeah, I was having this "Oh dang, God!" moment, and two security guards walk up to open the gates. I gave them a polite smile and looked away, and one of the guys goes "You wanna come inside? Get away from all the CRAZIES?!"





.......I was like "what."





There's only been two times in my life when I've felt terrified and sick because of what someone said that was completely opposite of God. One was in Farm Fresh when a guy was going through my line calling others a fag and trying to get me to agree with him, and the other was a few months ago on the bus when a lady was verbally attacking the people around her, calling the women fat or a slut and claiming the men were inappropriately bumping into her.

This wasn't exactly one of those moments because it was an isolated statement where the others continued for a few minutes, but it gave me the same feeling. Like he was trying to hit on me by dogging on the people around me, including the guy I just had a moment with. I was seriously concerned for a second about being the only female underground with these two security guards because of his statement. I wanted to be like "Really? You just said that to the wrong person. Do you know where I work?" But it was a security guard. And the way he said "Do you want to come in?" wasn't like someone who cared that I was a young woman outside at night but like he was inviting me into his apartment. Seriously creepy. So I looked at him for a second, like whatthe, and said "It's not that bad out here." I really wish I had said more.

I got my ticket and went down to the bus level, and of course by then I was all "Yeah, I would have told him! Man, if he came two minutes earlier and saw me talking to that guy and said something like 'Is he bothering you miss?' I would have been like 'Naw man, we're having a conversation!'" I'm pretty tough in my head.

I got on the train, and after a few stops this guy comes on and sits right behind me. Now when I describe this, it will sound like I'm quoting the MadTV skit "Can I have your number?" which I LOVE to reenact, and from which I got my drag name, Terrell. HOWEVER, this really happened, and it wasn't funny at the time.

He goes "Heyyyyyy" and I was like ...oh gosh... and I considered ignoring him, but I'm really critical of people who ignore others, especially when they rudely blow them off, so I was like ok let's see what he wants. Shortly after, I realized he was really drunk and not so dangerous, especially since I was meeting my ride at the airport and he couldn't really do anything to me on the train when I was surrounded by other people.  I don't remember what he started with, but he ended up asking how I'm doing, where I'm going, all that. And then he was like "So can I have your number?" and I was like "Uhhh no, cause I don't give out my number." He was like "You don't? Man you mean right? Look, you got a friend? You know, like a friennnnnd?" I was like "Nope, no friends." He was like "You know, like a boyfriend? Girlfriend?" And I was like "Nope, and not looking for one!"

So more of that, and we talked about Virginia, and how he used to live a few blocks from me (I'm sure), and how I was meeting someone at the airport. No, not my boyfriend. No, this ring doesn't mean I'm married. No, I'm not sneaking away in the middle of the night to meet my boyfriend. Finally I realized that we were on the way to the last stop, and I had figured from this conversation that he wasn't going to the airport, so I was like "Um hey, where are you getting off? We're almost to the airport." And he was like "Mannnnn you made me miss my stop man! Made me miss my stop!" And I was like "I think that's on you dude!"

So we both got off at the airport, and he went to the other side to catch the train back to wherever, and I told him to take care and that I hoped he made it back ok. I was glad that he wasn't a creepy guy, although it's kind of scary to be approached like that, especially when that person is drunk. And I was satisfied that I hadn't said something really mean or moved to another seat or ignored him like I've seen a lot of people do in those situations.

But then I thought about it: what if this guy was the one I was talking to in my tough-girl scenario when the cop asked if he was harassing me? Would I have said "No, we're having a conversation" ? I realized that wow, I'm not really sure. Did I care about this drunk guy as much as I did the guy who dropped his papers? Did I even consider them on the same level of worth? Not really. And yet God does.




Wow, what a morning! All that before I even would normally wake up! Between these lessons and finding out that the workshop would be more interactive than preaching, I was SO PUMPED to talk about what God had done and was doing in my life! Katherine Parker and I shared the workshop and relayed the importance of mission being about relationship and walking with the people you met. How you need something from them just as much as they needed something from you. Her experiences of community were inspiring, and I loved being able to share about the community I had found among the homeless women and children of Seattle. How they will endlessly give their last dollar to someone that needs it on the street. How they will walk an older woman all the way to Mary's Place because the free ride zone is gone. How they have embraced me when I had no family or home here.

Mm. God's Kingdom is beautiful!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

End of 2012 Update!

The past month has been so busy!

So Thanksgiving and Christmas both have huge meal events, and at Christmas we also had a Santa Store where moms and kids could pick out gifts for each other, it was so awesome! Of course, both of these events needed 100 or so volunteers, and I got to be in charge for the day at Thanksgiving which was scary but thrilling! I figured that out around 12th grade when I started staffing the Jeremiah Project: I never get over stage fright, but once I start going I love it!

Besides the big events where we served around 300 people at Thanksgiving and 500 people at Christmas, we also had some great volunteer-run events each week during the holidays, which brightened up our season. For a lot of people in life, the holidays are hard because they are a recognition of who may not be with us this time, but for the people at Mary's Place and others who are dealing with homelessness, poverty, and brokenness, the holidays glaringly remind them that they don't have parties to go to, their families may not want to or cannot visit them, and they may not have gifts to give or receive. We had groups come to do cookie decorating, arts and crafts groups to make holiday decorations, lots of musicians, and even Santa Claus himself! It was really a warm place to go, physically and emotionally!

I was super pumped to help plan and engage in all of these activities, but then I slowly caught an up-and-down sickness that kept me out for about 2 weeks. That was really hard to deal with because I usually never missed school, even when I was sick, but I probably had the flu and that's not worth passing on to the staff or members of Mary's Place, so I frequently got sent home.

So I did what I could from home, went to the doctor who couldn't tell me anything, and had 2 days where I couldn't get out of bed except to grab some food, and then I was off to Colorado Springs! That was a cool experience, but it was hard to adjust to. First of all, I walked out of the airport and came face to face with my twin. Like no joke, the teenage boy version of myself. Daniel and I have looked similar since his birth, but we're finally the same height, and he had the almost-mullet thing I had going on earlier this year. Walking next to him was like watching myself, it was so weird! Once I got over that, it was strange to see that my family were the same people, but they had a new life they had lived in for 6 months that I knew nothing about. It really made me feel like I had no earthly home since I'm torn between Seattle, Colorado Springs, and Williamsburg, all of which are changing and are new for me to experience. It's kind of a cool thing, but then it's also scary because for someone who is all about control, I really have to trust God on where my life is going because EVERYTHING is changing!

It was also hard being with my family because I only had 6 days with them, 2 days of which were for travel, while my sister Laura had double the time I did. I was pretty sad having to leave and knowing I couldn't see them again until this summer, and I was worried that it would be hard adjusting back to Seattle life. But wow, was I thankful for Mary's Place! They really are my family here, and everyone welcomed me back after being gone nearly 3 weeks, and the love I felt there kept me grounded.

Then my friend Kris came to visit, and we saw SO MANY MUSEUMS! It was exciting, but I don't know how I survived it! Normally I am lacking for time when I get home from work because the bus ride home takes a lot out of my free time, but while Kris was here we also tended to do some kind of sight-seeing after work, then went home and cooked a real meal, and then watched a movie and THEN I went to sleep! Phew! It was cool having him here though because his family is like my second family, and I learned a lot about living with another person in a tiny apartment. It seems like I'm good at having a sense of direction for my life so that I can get things done the way I want and have to, but that really doesn't translate to living with another person because I have to let go of a lot so that both of our ideas are heard and employed.

I was also worried that when he left I'd be pretty down since I'd just seen parts of both of my family briefly and then I'd be back to my new normal life. But again, I got to see how much the past 5 months here have really impacted me! Between work, church, and friends, I really am loved here, and I'm really glad to have been sent here! At first it was hard to connect the excitement and hope I had developed from training with actual life here in Seattle, but now that I'm more comfortable here I'm feeling the yes-this-world-can-be-different spirit, and I'm fully embracing it!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2 Amazing Things in my life!

1. The amazingness of my amazing state where anyone can marry their best friend!

http://seattletimes.com/flatpages/video/mediacenterbc3.html?bctid=2015241974001


2. The amazingness of my amazing job where we really are a family!

http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=3071236&file=1



And something to think about:

I was at Pastor Linda's Bible Study at Mary's Place on Wednesday, and I haven't been able to go very often recently because we changed my schedule around, but I happened to have extra time this week so I joined! We were talking about Advent, and waiting, and hoping, and Pastor said something that wasn't part of her planned topics, but it really caught my attention! She said "If I knew God's plans for my life, if I could see them laid out in order, I would probably try to manipulate them!" I was like ....ohhhhhh! That is something I've been worried about for most of my life, like how am I supposed to know what God wants me to do, and why can't it just be straight-forward so I can do it right? Duh, cause I'm a control freak and I most certainly would try to control it if I knew what it was! Or I would congratulate myself on what a great plan I had after a successful execution, and I would forget that it wasn't my plan in the first place!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hats & Tea & College Students!

Ok! So big events in my life for October: recruiting college students and our huge fundraiser Hats & Tea!

The last two weeks of September, I traveled to different colleges to speak about volunteering at Mary's Place. I was really excited to find that many colleges in the area have a service-learning component to their freshman and sophomore classes. This means that they must do a certain number of hours of volunteer work besides the normal class time, and they will apply what they are learning at their volunteer sites to their classwork. It sounds awesome, and I wish William & Mary had done something like that!

Organizing all the different schools was a little hard at first because I originally planned two orientations and said that if they couldn't make those dates I wouldn't have time to plan others. This worked until the day of the last orientation when a school I had not previously heard from, had not been asked to speak at, and which did not have an easy online list of interested students (the other schools did!), sent me like 5 emails with more coming each day of interested students! So I planned for 3 more orientations, stressed myself out a little (more like a LOT), and settled on the 25 or so students I currently have.

The problem was not just taking extra time for orientations, but I had also made a schedule of which students would come when, not putting too many at one time, and now it all had to be altered to fit 10 more people! Now that it's pretty regular, I know who to expect to do what tasks each day, and they are so awesome! They really help me stay focused, and end-of-the-week trash runs are not so daunting!





The other reason I was super stressed and busy in October was because in the middle of planning for college students, I also had to gather all the volunteers for our annual Hats & Tea fundraiser. This is a HUGE production, which after planning, I was so excited to be part of because it reminded me of old-time southern fancy-pants tea parties which I had never been to while living in the South!


We started having meetings in September to talk about the pieces of the event, one of which was a sandwich-tasting meeting: awesome! We decided on chicken salad, salmon, pimento cheese, and open-faced cucumber sandwiches (this term slowly grated at my nerves as I frequently heard someone talking about the specifics required; oh yeah, open-faced cucumber sandwiches are a big deal because we CANNOT have soggy sandwiches haha!) Basically we had to find church groups to prepare 100 of each kind of sandwich, and the Friday before the Saturday event our kitchen crew cut them into fours and de-crusted them, EXCEPT for the open-faced-cucumber sandwiches which were delivered in pieces to be assembled as close to the time as possible! (They actually ended up being my favorite-tasting sandwich!)

Besides the groups to make desserts and sandwiches, we had a phone list I had to set volunteers on for asking for donations for the silent auction (also my first time at an auction!). This was not a popular task because you had to be comfortable talking on the phone and soliciting, but I had two or three solid people who worked on it, and many people had donated in the past or would be notified through word-of-mouth. Luckily that's all I had to deal with for the auction other than finding volunteers to help on the day because it seemed like a very detailed job, and those in charge of it did great!

I was a little worried about finding volunteers for the set-up on Friday because I didn't plan very well for that one, but we ended up taking some of the ladies from Mary's on a field trip and they helped with my major task: the tables. Each table had a specific placement for each of many items that were to decorate it, and with some confusion along the way when people would start on the next task without me explaining how it would work, we did it!


Finally the day came on October 20th! I was in charge of the high school students who served each table, and they did a great job! I forgot to ask in the beginning if they had been told what the event was for, I assumed they would know since they signed up, but I figured out about half-way through Saturday morning before the event that they didn't really know how big of a deal this was, and one of the women from Mary's who now comes back as a volunteer helped me tell the stories of some of the situations people face while dealing with homelessness. I think this really helped convince them (and remind me!) of why their job that day was so important.

The day started with the auction, where endless gift baskets lived among cool items like home-made American Girl doll clothes, jewelry made by the women of Mary's Place, expensive knife sets, and so many other things that I wish I had taken a picture of! As people were deciding on the auction items, my high schoolers got to go around serving sparkling cider on trays, feeling super fancy themselves!


After the auction, people found their seats and were served tea, sandwiches, fruit cups, and desserts as they listened to and participated in the program. We had a few performances by our choir, a guest choir, a parade of hats, a time for Pastor Linda to talk with some of our moms about what it is like to raise a child on the streets, and "The Ask" (which I didn't know had an official title, but indeed each piece of a fancy fundraiser is appropriately named!).


This was an amazing day, and the guests were left with the words from The Ask, that giving more may hurt them a little, but it would hurt a lot of families a lot less. And they must have really believed it because we raised about $11,000 more than last year, and the most we've ever seen at this event! This was really great because we are opening our new night shelter at our old location which should be able to hold 12 or so families, and after working out the legal issues with turning the building into temporary housing, the funding was a big thing we needed to get it started.





So that was my October, the next few months will have lots of planning around holiday events!