Thursday, August 3, 2017

If Anything, Remember The Connections

Hello beautiful souls! I wrote in my last entry how I don’t know if it would be my last entry or not. After some thought, something inside my soul was telling me it wasn’t. I don’t think I can ever write an “Official Last Entry,” to this blog, but I can leave this blog in peace knowing I wrote about something very meaningful to me: connection.

Before I begin, the stories I give are there to creatively articulate a point, and not for accuracy. I am also writing in an American perspective, since I live in America. I’m not sure what I write is reflective of all Americans, but I use the “we,” to refer to America in general. I hope you find truth in this blog and not anger. If anything is offensive for some reason, please feel free to comment below:

Let me tell you a story of a man who ventured to India. This man was a CEO of a successful business and had it all; the six figure pay check, the luxury house with an indoor pool, the cars that showed off his status, the occasionally Friday night lover, and most importantly, the respect from his employees. Fear, would be a more accurate term, since he was known for firing employees every two weeks. He showed them no mercy anytime they made a mistake. He valued power and efficiency, and lost side of what is really important in life; so it came as a complete shock when the stock market crashed and he lost all his investors. In order to save his company, he had to travel to India in order to convince outsourcing companies to invest in his business. Like all great stories, things do not go as plan; he ends up waiting an excessive amount of time in Mumbai because he lost his bags.

He starts to become very impatient with the possibility of missing his bus, and in the heat of the moment, gets on the wrong bus. However, he does not realize it is the wrong bus, because in his eyes it looks like the same. After several hours on the bus he realizes not only did he miss his appointment, and his only opportunity of saving his business, but is in a rural part of India that he has never heard of. Unfortunately his international plan that he bought could not pick up a signal so he couldn’t call anyone about his situation. He walked for several miles, struggling to find a hotel that he could stay at for the night. Once he found a hotel in a nearby city, he also found out that his wallet was stolen. A local Hindu monk was nearby heard of his situation and offered shelter and food in his monetary. The monk asked for no money, but to help around the monastery when needed. The man agreed and soon learned a new way of life from the monks. It was hard for him, and he thought about quitting several times, but in the end he learned to see life through a new perspective. When the man returned to the US, his values have changed; he has changed, and decided to pursue a new career that gave him life.

Another story, similar to that one, is of a girl who just graduated high school. She was excited to go to college to study nursing. But even more so, she was excited to go to the same school her boyfriend went to. She was the queen bee in high school; smart, pretty, popular, and she was ready to be all those things with her boyfriend in college. Yet when she got to college, she started to become insecure with the amount of time they spent apart because of classes. She was also insecure because she noticed a bunch of attractive girls flirting with her boyfriend. She thought she was loosing her boyfriend and she didn't know what to do about it.

That scared her because all throughout high school she was known as the girl dating the star athlete. If she lost him, she would loose her identity. In order to save her relationship, she promised her boyfriend the one thing she wasn’t ready for; sex. The night before they agreed to do it, the poor girl found out that he already did it with another girl the following weekend. This crushed her soul, every time she would see him on campus she would be reminded of almost doing it with a guy that cheated on her. She did not know what to do, she felt like she lost a part of her identity.

When the chance came to volunteer in Haiti for a semester through one of her classes, she gladly applied. She has never been to Haiti before and it would be a good chance to get over her boyfriend. Little did she know how much of the undeveloped country she would see. She saw many people who are less privileged then her. She was exhausted, not only from the work she was doing, but also from the culture shock. She saw many things her mind cannot fathom into mere words. She not only understood how lucky she is, she also felt like her work was meaningful. That what she was doing had a purpose. She was able to see that her identity was not defined by anybody else, but what she wanted to do with her life. When she came back to the United States the following semester, she truly was a transformed person.

What do these stories have in common? Well, they are both tales about individual transformation. Actually, since I lived in West Hollywood last year, I thought it would be fun to paint a picture of how Hollywood sees individual transformation. I mean the stories that I just told sounded like a traditional blockbuster of the summer, no? The funny thing is that whenever American media illustrates inner transformation, it always takes place an undeveloped country. And while there is some validity that underdeveloped countries can show us a spiritual aspect that we (as Americans) can learn from; I have to ask, how white-saving ethnocentric can you be? The world is more complex than give and take. You do not give your resources to a struggling country, and then expect that county to provide spiritual wisdom! When did America get this notion in their head that the more a country struggles, the more spiritual it becomes?

While there may be a sense in comfort to some while answering that question, I would not like to label a place as “spiritual” or “not spiritual,” because everyone experiences spirituality differently. In the stories I weave, it is not the physically being in India or Haiti that change the individuals, it is the connections and relationships they make while they are in India or Haiti. It is not the location that gives them a transformative experience; it is the people that give them the transformative experience. The places we go and the experiences we have shape our personality, but the people we connect with transforms our souls.

I don’t mean to devalue beautiful places on Earth that people find spiritual; like Mecca and Jerusalem. I think these spiritual places are a reminder of what it means to be human. I also think loving others and forming relationships is what it means to be human. For me, I had a spiritual and transformative year in LA. If I were to revisit LA, I’m more than confident that I will be reminded of the personal and spiritual growth I experienced during my year. But I would have only experienced that growth if it weren’t for the relationships that I formed there. My YAV year is not about going to a place, “fixing it” (because it was never broken), and leaving with a greater sense of spirituality. My YAV year was about going to a place, living among the people I was serving, and developing relationships that challenged me to grow into a better person. Let’s face it, sometimes faith is not defined by a book or set of rules, but rather how we treat one another.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

That Closest to Our Heart, are Often Those Hardest to Express

With my days dwindling down to a little less than three weeks in LA, I think it is only natural to write a blog post about how I changed during this year or what I’m going to take away from my year of volunteering. After all, the expected “cookie cutter Christian,” thing to do would be to blog about “the top 10 things I learned this year,” however I am not a “cookie cutter Christian.” In essence, there is nothing wrong with blogging about how I changed over the past eleven months, because I can definitely feel a change within me, but a huge part of me feels like it is too soon to express what exactly that change is. I was told that it takes Dwellers several months, maybe even years, to fully unpack and process the events they experienced during their year of service. I deeply believe that no matter how hard I try to explain the impact of the experiences I had during my YAV year, I will never be able to express the beauty and insight I have encountered throughout my YAV year. In fact, if I tried to explain or express the importance of this transformative year to anyone, then I wouldn’t be doing my YAV year justice, because the most important things close to our hearts are often the most difficult to explain to people.

If a person had the opportunity to spend one Earth day in Heaven, could that person articulate the eternal love and cosmic beauty they experienced? If a person spent one Earth day in Hell, could that person express the agonizing damnation they felt of their soul slowly being ripped to shreds? The answer to both of those questions is no, intense emotions and experiences cannot be experienced without loosing some of its intensity. That is why I cannot express my overall experiences of my YAV year in a mere blog, because if I did I would be loosing the meaningful impact of what this year meant to me. Humans were meant to share experiences and stories, but sometimes their stories are so personal and impactful that the storyteller cannot share the beauty of their story they endured.  The experiences I had during my YAV year are mine and mine alone that is why while many can sympathize with my stories, but none of them can really empathize with my stories because they have not lived through it. There is nothing wrong with this, it just means that I can’t find the final resting words for my YAV year, because in a way I feel that my YAV year isn’t over even when I return home to start seminary.

So then the question becomes: Why am I writing blog about my final thoughts of this year if I just stated that I cannot find my final thoughts on this year? Simple, it gives me peace. It gives me closure. I’ve been through so many unique challenges this year, but despite the challenges I am able to rise above them and have peace about this year. This peace is not happy, nor is it sad, but it is peace in knowing that I was in and apart of the place where God wanted me to be at the time. I was where I needed to be in this point of my life in order for me to grow. I was challenged to find peace when I did not feel at peace, and I was challenged to find joy when I could not feel joy. I always knew who I was and I always knew who God was, but I was able to deepen my relationship with myself and with God on a much intimate dimension; a dimension that I cannot explain, but is filled with love, compassion, and courage. After all, I am much more braver and stronger than I think I, because I am called to be brave and strong.

Several months ago if you would have asked my to explain my challenges, I would have explained them from a place that isn’t coming from a place of peace and understanding, but rather from a place of grief and resentment. While my emotions I wrestled with this year of grief and understanding are validated, I cannot grow if I continue to be blocked by my emotions that do not bring myself joy. I can only get so far in life if I am dictated by resentment and not being at peace. This perspective switch I had comes from a lot of aspects of this year. The most visible aspect to me right now is my recent vacation to San Francisco with my parents. My brother is part of a fraternity in Purdue that participates in the Journey of Hope (I forget the official name.) This is a 60-day bike ride across the United States in the summer. Typically seniors in the fraternity participate in this before they enter the professional world or grad school, but a couple other guys are allowed to do this bike ride their junior year. This ride is to help educate and advocate for individuals with disabilities or challenges, so each night the guys will help out at a local agency promoting advocacy for individuals with disabilities.
Side street nook in Santa Barbra
Windmill in Solvang, CA
 I’m proud of my brother for being one of the 100 or so men participating in this ride. There are three routes that they take, one being the route out of San Francisco with about 30 or so fraternity members. My parents and I decided to make a small vacation out of Mark departing from San Francisco. My parents flew in Thursday and we took Friday and Saturday to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. Originally we were going to push it and make the drive the PCH in one day, but we decided to take two days so we can stop in nearby towns along the way like Santa Barbra and Solvang. We barely had an hour Saturday before we had to meet the group for dinner the night before their send off. Early Sunday morning was the send off and it was much more meaningful than I expected. Not going to lie, a lot of it had to do with the send off being at the Golden Gate Bridge and watching the bikers bike across the bridge. Another big part of it had to do with the realization that I probably won’t see my brother again until Thanksgiving because he will still be biking when I move into my apartment in Louisville.

My parents and I explored the city Sunday through Wednesday doing the typical tourist thing; Muir Woods and wine tour, Alcatraz, Lombard, Chinatown, etc. This vacation was so nice and much needed because I did not get a retreat this year like I was originally promised at the start of my year. In many ways, this vacation was the retreat that I was supposed to have. It was definitely seeing things from a tourist perspective again; I almost had to take a mental step back at times to process the sudden change from living in LA to visiting San Francisco. It felt weird seeing people who were homeless without my PATH polo on. I am not saying that I should feel ashamed or guilty for being a tourist, but I had to be more mindful of the role I was playing. By mentally stepping back I even realized how much knowledge I gained on social issues such as homelessness.

In fact, on the ride over to Santa Barbra I couldn’t stop talking about the homelessness phenomenon: about how people fall into homelessness and the biggest struggles for them and PATH when it comes to homelessness. I talked about patterns I see at work and why they exist (which can be several reasons depending on who you ask.) I’m not sure if I will work with people who are homeless in the future as a therapist (but who knows) but I do know that my understanding and perspective on homelessness has changed based on the amount of stuff I rambled on to my parents about. It is in that moment of passionately talking about homelessness on my way to Santa Barbra that I realized the way I interpret the world has changed. Being at a physical and emotional distance from LA, I was able to see how the way I interpret the world has changed, thus allowing me to understand that the way I see and interpret my year in LA has changed. I can see a change, but I cannot see the details of the change. Like I wrote earlier I know that I have changed but I still need time to truly discover what that change is. I told Mary that before my trip to San Francisco I was ready to leave LA, but I wouldn’t be leaving LA with a positive mindset. After San Francisco, I can positively say that I will be leaving LA with a positive mindset. I also told her that while I am aware that my days are coming to a close, I am not doing a countdown. I am beyond excited to go to the seminary of my dreams, but if I do a countdown, I will be too focused on getting out of here instead of enjoying the time I have left. I still have to finish up with my obligations at PATH, clean (hardcore), and say my goodbyes. I got to let LA know what my final words are before I leave. So I may write another blog post in the future, I may not. For now I think I’ll be too busy wrapping things up to write another blog post.

If I don’t get the chance to write another blog post in the future, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me financially and emotionally of this crazy and insanely beautiful ride. Thank you all for reading my blog posts as I navigate my thoughts and feelings about my YAV year, despite if they make since or not. I have along way to go, but I know I am better equipped to have the courage, empathy, and understanding to authentically live out my stories. And you, dear readers, I encourage you to have the courage and empathy to go forward and live out the amazing and beautiful stories you have to show the world. After all, I’m going to need some company when basking in the sun.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Zoo of Graffiti and a Seaside Adventure

Originally I wanted to write a blog about feminism, I even had a rough draft saved on my laptop. However, something inside me said that I shouldn’t post about feminism, at least not yet if I do post about it in the future. While I do think being open about the difficult conversations is essential for us to grow individually and as a society, I felt like if I did post about feminism then I wouldn’t be writing for me; I would be writing about feminism because “it is the YAV thing to do.” When I write a post it is because it is something personal to me, but lately I don’t really know what to write about when it comes to me blog. This is partly to do with my depression and loneliness I experienced earlier this month.

In many ways I consider myself getting out of the depression/ slump, but in many ways I still considered myself stuck in that slump. That is why I decided to briefly write about my depression in my last blog post; if I am open and able to verbal identify my feelings about my slump then I am able to move forward with processing my emotions. Regardless of the question of “how do I feel,” one of the hardest parts about my depression earlier this month is that it prevented me from venturing off and exploring LA and the cities around LA. Apathy is the double-edged sword of depression. In order to fight depression it is imperative that I get out of the house (especially as someone with extroverted tendencies), but with depression it is impossible to motivate myself to get out of the house. When I was a senior in college I also suffered from depression. It was my first time living off campus and I barely got too see my friends because I was busy with practicum and other courses, not to mention that college fear of graduating and entering “the real world.”

The university chaplain said that I studying in the library might be a good start. He said that even though I won’t be interacting with others in the library (because I’m studying), that people would at least surround me. I would be able to pick up on people’s energy versus if I just studied in my room by myself. I would be alone in the library because I would not be interacting with others, but I would not be lonely because others would surround me. This advice helped me a lot and got me through the remainder of the semester. To this day, whenever I am feeling lonely I try to at least go out of the house even if I do not interact with others. I always had a sense of wanderlust but that reason especially is why I explore areas like Long Beach, West Hollywood, and Venice (but I heard rumors about Venice so I took Mary because I was too scared to go alone.)

On memorial weekend I was able to explore more of California, which meant a lot to me because my slump has made it hard to want to explore new areas. On Friday, my community day, I suggested we explore the abandoned zoo in Griffith Park. I saw pictures on Facebook of my friend exploring the zoo a couple months ago and always wanted to go ever since then. Not only was it my city director and I, but also the discerners were able to join us. DOOR LA has two discerners this year, both girls around my age. If you are not familiar with DOOR LA, there are three programs Dwell (the program I’m in), Discern, and Discover. The Discern program is similar to the Dwell program but it is only for the summer and they are places at different agencies so it can be seen as less intense. It turns out that the four of us all enjoyed walking around the abandoned zoo.

It’s hard to tell what certain enclosures were used for. This was one of my favorite enclosure places to explore. Each small enclosure was like a private graffiti art show

The best way to describe the abandoned zoo is a dystopian graffiti park. It was very much like a hike, but hard random cages, buildings and tunnels (for lack of a better term) covered with graffiti that someone could explore. There really wasn’t a place was off limits, if you could get to it, you could explore it. So I definitely would not recommend it for small children but perfect place for a date. The four of us walked up and down several graffiti covered stairs, explored the cages and buildings, and took several pictures along the way.
When our city director waited outside for us, the three of us had a bonding experience of walking up and down the flights of stairs, posing in cool artistic ways, as we took each other’s pictures.
 One of the buildings we explored, also one of the more open areas. It looked like an art showing inside

Friday I also told one of the dwellers that I wanted to explore LA, but I wasn’t sure where because I wanted to go to a safe place to explore by myself. She suggested San Pedro, which is a coastal city south of LA and west of Long Beach. If I had to rate San Pedro, Long Beach and Santa Monica in order of most to least touristy it would be Santa Monica, Long Beach, and the San Pedro. San Pedro was still a decent size city (any place with more than two bus lines has to be a good size, right?) Even though bus lines ran through San Pedro, let me tell you it was one adventure to even get to the city.

Whenever I explore new areas that require a fair amount of time on public transit, I like to leave as early as possible in case something unexpected comes up. So by the time I left my house and grabbed my lunch for later in the day at Pavilions, it was about 6:45 am. I rode the bus to the Metro Red line, and from there I got off at Metro stop in DTLA where I transferred to the Silver line. According to the Internet I was supposed to be one the Silver Line for about an hour, which would place me in San Pedro, but would need to transfer to the 246 bus to ride to the coast. What I wasn’t expecting was the Silver Line bus to end twenty minutes end. The driver said that this was her last stop. Several passengers and I were confused because according to my transit app and Google Maps, this wasn’t the last stop on the Silver Line. Was the driver down with her shift? Shouldn’t she finish last route before starting another route if that were the case? I tried not to freak out and follow where the rest of the passengers were heading. Great, a 246 bus stop, well I would eventually be transferring to this line so it looks like I’m just going to transfer earlier than expected.

After a short amount of time of waiting, I was on the 246 line for a good 30 or minutes. Originally there were two places I wanted to explore in San Pedro and I was originally going to get off at a certain stop because the other place opens later. Because of the time due to the delay, I could explore the other place first. So on the bus I checked my app to see what was the stop I needed to get off at. It was around 8 by that time and I had a light breakfast so I still wasn’t awake. And I stupidly got off at the next stop. As soon as I got off, I realized that my app was saying I should start there and ride to a further stop down the line. I got off for no reason and had to wait 45 minutes till the next bus stop. I ate my sandwich then read my book, but it was not an enjoyable experience (I’m just lucky it was in a safe area.)

After I rode for another 20 minutes, I got off near a side road by the coast. I could see the ocean to the side of the road, but the edge was gated off, so I had to walk a good distance until I was able to go down by the beach. I explored the silent beach for a while but really wanted to get near the marina. (I love marinas because it reminds me of my grandfather who died of cancer when I was younger.) Of course, I had to walk even more to get to the marina because certain the beach and the marina was separated by the landscape. I eventually got to the marina but did not stay long, mainly because I noticed my phone battery was dropping fast and I wanted to get to the Korean Bell of Friendship before my phone was dead. Plus if I get lost, I REALLY REALLY DON'T WANT a dead phone. So I had to walk back to the beach, but I decided to take a shortcut along a bike path. I had to walk forever on that bike path until I was able to cross over on the main road.

I made it to the main road, but the road I wanted to be on. So I had to use my maps app to see where was the road I wanted to get on. Apparently I do not know how to use maps and got lost again. After walking a good amount, I was able to find the bus stop. I was annoyed at how long it was taking me to get to the Korean Bell of Friendship, which was the main thing I wanted to see in San Pedro. The bus ride was much simple compared to the bus ride earlier that morning. However, when I looked on the maps during the ride I saw that I could have just walked on the coast to the park where the bell was from the beach I originally started at. Mentally slapping myself for wasting more time, I missed the stop I was supposed to get off at. I got off at the one after the one I was supposed to get off at. I think my anxiety on the bus after realizing this wasn’t worth it because getting off at the wrong step was the best mistake I made that day.
View of Lighthouse off in the distance

There was a picnic away off the side of the road that had an open view of the ocean down below. There was path that went down to a small isolated beach, and then formed into a hiking path going up. I climbed the hiking path where I was able to see a lighthouse sticking out from a piece of land. There was a bench on the hiking path where I stopped to each lunch overlooking the ocean and extended piece of land to my left. I felt so at peace here. I knew that if I didn’t make it to the Korean Bell that I would be ok because the view from the hiking trail was worth the chaos of public transit.

As I looked at the lighthouse off in the distance, I thought of my Grandpa Joe who was a sailor. I felt his presence there as I sat and ate my lunch. Normally, I don’t feel God’s presence in nature. I can see God’s presence in nature, but I cant feel God’s presence in nature. But that day I did. I knew that experiencing this place was the exact thing that I needed to survive for the upcoming week (knock on wood.) Even though I didn't get recharged from people, I still got recharged from the sea and my grandpa’s presence.
Overlooking coast of San Pedro on hike up towards the lighthouse
Korean Bell of Friendship overlooking the water on the cliff by the sea

When I reached closer to the lighthouse, I noticed that there was a park where the lighthouse rested and the park extended past a road where the Korean Bell of Friendship rested on top of another hill. There was no way I was not going to see the Korean Bell after coming so far. However, I really wanted to enjoy the moment at this park and be present with this beautiful view of nature. I walked around the park on the cliff by the sea and then made my way up the steep journey to the Korean Bell of Friendship. Of course I had to walk around the perimeter trying to find an entrance to the other half of the park. The hike up to the Bell was not that bad, but my legs seriously hated me once I got to the top.

Now they were actually setting up for a wedding on the side of the Korean Bell facing the water, so I did not stay long because I felt a little awkward about being there. I stayed long enough to walk along side the Bell and snap some pretty cool photos. Got to say, that couple that was getting married had the right idea about getting married at the Korean Bell that overlooked the ocean. I’m glad I was finally able to make to the Bell, although my favorite part of the day was the path from the isolated beach heading up to the park with the lighthouse. That just goes to show that it’s not about the destination, but it’s about the journey (as cheesy as it is to say.) And if that means getting lost along the way, just go with it (unless it’s East LA, don’t get lost there.)

Speaking of getting lost, guess who got lost again when I got down from the cliff. Ok, I didn’t get lost, but I went left for a couple of yards, when I should have gone right to get the bus stop. So I had to back track and then walk what felt like forever. I even had to sprint to catch up with the bus. Luckily the driver was on a ten minute break, so I was able to get a grace period as I waited by another picnic away ready to start the big long haul back to La Casa. Three buses and one subway ride later I made it back home with a record of 17 flights of stairs climbed and 17,900 steps walk. Needless to say I was tired, but I was so fulfilled. I think I’ll wait for my legs to bend properly before I begin my next adventure.