Monday, January 30, 2012

He loves us first

This summer, my Bible Study group held a picnic at a local park in Hollywood. We cooked more than enough food to share with friends and strangers. We had an incredible day of fellowshipping, playing games, and meeting new people. Among the people we met were a group of three young people experiencing homelessness in Hollywood. My Bible Study friends talked with them all afternoon and invited them to Sunday church. The youth didn’t come. Some Bible Study friends were disappointed. I wasn’t. I also wasn’t surprised. In my head I even scoffed at my friends for their disappointment. How could one afternoon of conversation really impact someone enough to motivate them to come to church? How could it do much of anything?

Flash forward a few months: Through God’s grace, I have become the coordinator for the Hollywood Winter Shelter project, STAR. We have finalized our guest list and are now working to extend invitations. Our guest list contains 40 names. Many of them I know, many more I do not. My co-workers give me physical descriptions of each of the guests. One girl, “Callie” is described to me as a young, 19 year old girl with a pixie hair cut and a sweet, outgoing personality. I immediately realize that she is one of the youth I met in the park. My heart is overwhelmed; I want so badly for her to come and accept shelter with us. I did not speak to her that day in the park, but I feel this need for her to be at STAR. Our team all sets out to locate our guests; (this is not an easy task: imagine working to locate someone without an address or phone number) we just can’t find everyone. We search the drop-in centers and places we know our friends hang out. Callie is nowhere to be found. I begin taking long walks, combing areas where I know she hangs out. No luck.

Last Thursday (almost three weeks into our shelter): Hollywood BID officers find Callie and convince her to come check out STAR. She is so sweet and bubbly. I am overjoyed to have her with us! She then disappears for the next two nights. On Sunday, she reappears. I really didn’t expect to see her back. She cannot believe that we let her back into the program. With open arms. Why would we take her back? Why aren’t we kicking her out or chastising her? Instead, we give her a hug and tell her we missed her.

Tonight we are talking. I tell her how I am so blessed by her being here. I tell her how I searched the streets for hours looking for her. I admit that I was somewhat stalker-ish in my actions… She remembers that day in the park from this summer. She sees a deep, intense love here at STAR and remembers seeing that same love in the park, months ago. This love overwhelms and confuses her. Callie explains to me, “yeah, I have friends and they love me, but yeah… here… here it is just unconditional and bubbling over. I have never experienced love like this. I have never had people miss me ,and want me, and look for me.”

If she only knew. Hopefully someday she will. Someone is longing so desperately for her. God loves her so much more than me or anyone working with this project, so much more than anyone on this planet is capable of seeking after and loving another person. He loves her. So much. Because he loves me, I am filled with His love to pour out on others. Right now, she cannot see God, but she can see evidence of His work and love for her.

1 John 4:19 We love because He first loved us

I feel so incredibly blessed to be a part of a project where God is clearly present. I see him in the way this entire project has come together and continues to run so smoothly. I see him in the love demonstrated by all of the people who have volunteered and labored hours for this shelter to become a reality. I see him in my guests each and every day. He is here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Moving Forward

I am so grateful to everyone who supported me last year financially and by lifting me up in prayer. It is an incredibly humbling experience to know that you are being carried and supported by your community. I am praying that my year of service was just the beginning of a lifetime of change. I want to thank you and update you on what I am up to now.

I want to update everyone on what I am up to now. I really felt like I should remain in Hollywood after my YAV year ended. Last year God began a work in me by showing me what community can and should be… and I think/hope that I am beginning to catch on.

Last year I adopted a simpler, community focused lifestyle. I shared my home, my meager budget and my life with six strangers and my neighborhood. This year I am blessed to be living with a good friend from home in my old neighborhood. I still occasionally serve at the community house and often have the girls from the neighborhood over for Bible Studies and cooking. I am excited to begin having neighbors over for meals and fellowship… just as soon as we can afford to purchase furniture J

I chose to remain in Hollywood without a real plan for employment. I felt this abstract call to help people connect to their local community without clearly understanding what that meant or how that could pay my bills. I found a job working at a gourmet sandwich shop to pay rent while I continued to pray and seek out what I was being called to do.

I was blessed when I received a phone call from a local homeless agency asking me to send my resume for a winter shelter collaboration in Hollywood. Four local churches in Hollywood have decided to partner together with local homeless agencies and the LAPD to provide shelter to 40 of the most vulnerable members of our Hollywood community experiencing homelessness selected through the Hollywood Homeless Vulnerability Index and our Hollywood Street Outreach Team. They asked me to be the coordinator for this project.

I could not believe that I was being entrusted with such an incredible project and blessing. I really did/do not feel equipped, yet I realize with humility that I am not. I am only equipped because I have God working through me to make this collaboration happen. I am so excited for this partnership of local churches coming together to care for the physical needs of our brothers and sisters sleeping on the streets. I am praying that this partnership will lead to raised awareness on the issues related to homelessness and that it will help congregants to better participate in their communities by loving on and truly seeing our brothers and sisters on the streets. Please help me in praying for this incredible project. The shelter will open on January 8th and run through March 3rd.

Life in Hollywood is certainly an adventure and my faith life often feels like a roller coaster. I am simply working to focus on the greatest commandment, “Love God – Love People”

I miss seeing you all and hearing from you. Please e-mail me at or call me!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Home... and back again

Three weeks ago I finished my YAV year and came home to Pittsburgh. I have had a wonderful time at home seeing family and friends and absorbing the beauty of Western PA.

Unfortunately time is moving by so quickly and I find myself sitting on the front porch, listening to the rain, and thinking about my future. My bags are packed and tomorrow's plane ticket is sitting on my dresser upstairs.

Am I crazy for going back? I seem to alternate between a state of calm reassurance that everything will come together and complete and utter terror that I will be unable to find a job.

As it stands, I am moving back to Hollywood CA tomorrow. First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood has graciously offered to help me with housing for the next two months as I search for a job. I have ideas for what may be in my future, but nothing solid. I love working with people and helping them to become connected to their neighborhood. I'm not entirely sure if this passion correlates with a job that pays rent in Big Bad LA, but only time will tell.

Until then, I will pray. I will seek a job serving in my community and pray about other job opportunities. I will pray if LA is the city where I will be staying for the next few years. Finally, I will continue to invest in my community. I am excited to continue building the relationships that I began to form in my neighborhood last year. I am excited to delve into learning how to grow a winter garden. I am ecstatic to meet with the high school girls and help the seniors with their college application process and post-high school plans. I can't wait to see what gets added by the guys to the graffiti mural wall at the community house. I am thankful and feel blessed by this opportunity to return to Hollywood.

I don't know the entirety of God's plan for my future but I know that I have a charge to be present in my community as I strive to love God and to love my neighbor. More will be revealed with time.

Lord, Thank you for family and friends, green trees and rolling hills, rivers and rain. Help me to keep my calm as my future is revealed to me.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Beauty in Vulnerability

When I first signed up to serve as a YAV, I really felt that this would be an incredible opportunity for me to spend a year doing something completely different with my life. Now, my year is beginning to draw to a close, and I am realizing more and more that what I have been learning and doing this year is not simply a year-long project that I will look back on with fond memories, but rather a stepping stone to beginning the life I truly want to live.

This year has been uncomfortable in many different ways. I moved into a house with five strangers (and four of them guys!) and was instructed to share my life with them. Together, the six of us share one car, about $80 a week for house groceries, living space and work together to run the community house where we live.

I’ve had roommates before and I love them all deeply, but I have never been challenged to share my life so intimately with others. We all come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives on politics, budgets, eating habits, cleanliness, disciplining methods, communication, God… (just to name a few). We work high stress jobs and live on a shoestring budget; we’ve gotten to see each other at our bests and worsts. You can’t fake it all the time or hide from people you share so much with.

I had never spent quite so much time with the same people… and it has been really hard for me. When the year started, I would daydream about having an apartment all to myself when the year ended. I’m not exactly sure when the change occurred, but my perspective has shifted. The house feels oddly empty when no one else is home. The house can even seem quiet with all six of us without the two or three house guests who always seem to be around.

I’ve also had incredible opportunities to build deep relationships with people outside of my house in LA, most notably the women in my small group Bible study. Each week the women pray for one another. We don’t just pray surface level prayers and joys, but we have begun to open up to each other about our fears, doubts, pains and mistakes. We lift one another up, text and e-mail updates, meet for coffee and fellowship. We have come to share one another’s burdens. I have never been involved in a Bible study group so intentional. Sometimes though, it’s really hard and uncomfortable. You open up and later wish you hadn’t. You wish you could have just held everything in… been composed. Yet, I really don’t think that is a true model of life. Life is messy. We all fall apart from time to time. To deny doubt and pain is putting on a front or showing others a lie. Sometimes opening up can help others feel better about their own pain.No one wants to be the only one suffering in a room full of people with perfect lives. And no one ever is.

This past weekend we had an incredible opportunity to help friends prepare for a major life change. They asked us to come over to their home and help them prepare to move. It was such a beautiful day for me. It was the first time I had been in their house when it wasn’t spotless and everyone perfectly composed. There were some dishes in the sink and toys on the floor. They were stressed, tired, and on one another’s nerves. They may not have wanted us to see them in the state, but I felt incredibly blessed to be there. I love that they felt comfortable enough and trusted us enough to share their stress with us. I don’t feel that Christianity means not having drama, pain or conflict, but rather Christianity is demonstrated in the way we respond to these universally experienced emotions.

Everyone has pain and struggles. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has quirks. The beauty is in sharing them with others and building relationships. We are not called to walk alone but to share our lives with one another. I am blessed to have had this year to begin to learn how to truly open up my life and love others. Now, I need to take what I am beginning to learn and step forward to create a community of love, openness and vulnerability, wherever I go next.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Last weekend my housemates and I went on a trip to Tucson, AZ for a long weekend. We travelled down with an organization called Borderlinks to learn about and witness firsthand the issue of illegal immigration. Before the trip, I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to learn about border issues and to decide where I stand on the issue.

We were asked to blog and share about our experience. Before the trip, I thought this would be an easy task. How silly of me. Unfortunately, things are never black and white. Because of that, this blog may seem a bit like an excerpt from a James Joyce novel, with no clear direction or focus. I saw and heard so much over the course of the weekend that it will take me a long time to process and further research. My heart and brain are both muddled messes right now. I cannot at this point say where I stand on the issue, but I invite you to join my internal conflict.

Imagine with me for a minute: Travelling by foot through desert into a new land. To a country with a language you don’t speak or understand. Leaving family, friends, customs, comfort and security behind. You may not even really like the country you are going to. You simply know that you have a better chance of being able to support your family in this new foreign place. You barely have enough to feed your children each day, let alone pay for an emergency doctor visit or prescription.

Now, imagine a second scenario: You are a recently laid off father of four (living in the States your whole life). You aren’t necessarily a “skilled worker” and now you can’t find a job paying more than $9.00 an hour because there are plenty of individuals in your city more than willing to work for this rate. You have a mortgage, car payments, a credit card and really hope to send your kids to college.


How do I look at this issue with the eyes of Christ? He says to love my neighbor. Which ones? It seems to me what may help one neighbor here may hurt another. Or is this stupid worthless worry?

Do I show my love to my neighbor by taking down all fences and walls?
But aren’t boundaries and fences sometimes good and necessary? (Think of fences around swimming pools that keep kids from drowning.)

Am I to give amnesty to all people living in the country without papers?
What about my brothers and sisters who have been waiting for 14+ years to enter my country legally?
How much will that delay their entry?

So…. If I don’t know where I stand, how do I get involved? Am I called to be involved?
How many issues can I be involved in at one time and earnestly care?

…. I don’t know.

I don’t have an answer, and I’m not sure I will for a long time (if ever).

In the meantime, I know that it is my job to help those in need. To give a brother or sister their daily food if they are in need. To walk alongside. To love. But above all this, to continue seeking Christ first.

Lord, give me your eyes for the world. Help me see where you want me to serve and help me to always see my neighbors in need.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Surrendering Success

I need to learn how to slow down and breathe. Slowing down is not something I am good at, but definitely something I need to learn. I need to learn patience and how to wait upon the Lord. Too often, when I get sick of waiting, I make my own plans. I argue with God. “You can’t seriously have brought me here just to …. (fill in the blank with any mundane task)…” But I think that is exactly why God has brought me here.

God doesn’t care as much about the “job description” as much as the attitude towards the work. God has called us to be present; to love His people as much as we possibly can, despite who they are or where they come from.

I have been reading a book called Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle. It is an incredible book (I strongly recommend it for anyone). This book is a collection of stories told by a man who has devoted his life to loving people our population often declares unlovable. The tattooed, the drug addicts, the incarcerated, the gang members… he walks alongside them all as they struggle to find their way. Towards the end of the book is a chapter titled Success. I have pulled a brief excerpt from the beginning of the chapter.

…This work has taught me that God has greater comfort in inverting categories than I do. What is success and what is failure? What is good and what is bad? Setback or progress? Great Stock these days is placed in evidence based outcomes. People … want to know if what you do “works”

Salivating for success keeps you from being truly faithful, keeps you from seeing whoever’s sitting in front of you. Embracing a strategy and an approach you can believe in is sometimes the best you can do on any given day. If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God’s business.

-Father Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

Don’t worry mom. This doesn’t mean that I will surrender all plans for graduate school in favor of spending my days sitting on street corners. This simply means that I need to go through everyday focusing first on serving God and loving those around me as He would.

As difficult as it is for me, I need to surrender my need for success to God. I need to simply focus on serving Him and let Him do His job of taking care of the outcomes

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Jesus Saves"

I know that this blog entry is way overdue. I apologize for my lack of updates. I start blogs but can never seem to finish them or be happy with them. So… I’m not entirely sure where to go with this but I need to give you all some sort of life update.

I have been here two months now? This city is just so strange. My neighborhood lies directly next to Paramount Studios between Melrose and Santa Monica. We are right in the heart of Hollywood (The Hollywood sign is visible from our street). If you have never been to Hollywood you may feel that this seems like a funny area for us to be situated as missionaries/volunteers. The truth is that people in LA typically do not want to live here. Most of our neighbors struggle to make ends meet monthly and our neighborhood has some drug and gang violence. But being the strange city of LA, if you walk just a few blocks south from us you find yourself in Hancock Park; a very quiet upper-class neighborhood where many TV show celebrities live. A neighborhood where you would not need to worry nearly as much about locking the doors. The city is just an incredible patchwork of people from all different countries, cultures, social classes, ages and races.

My life here has been crazy. I’m still not sure why I am here or what exactly God has in store for me, but I do feel confident that this is where I am supposed to be. I have been working at Alegria for 6? weeks now. I am working with the nurse and social worker who head the department to write monthly education classes, translate, prepare to teach ESL, help students apply to college and prepare for our annual Christmas party. I am not really doing what I expected to be doing at work, but it is good. We’ll see what happens! We have also opened the community center on Gregory Ave. The kids are incredible. Sometimes we wish we had more energy left after work for these kids. They have so much energy! We help with homework, teach ESL classes and really just hang out with the kids. We are primarily a ministry of presence, but we are praying for direction and volunteers to help with the center. I have been checking out different local churches and am hoping to be settled into one soon. Fortunately, I have found an incredible young adult small group to get involved with just a mile from our house.

I think that part of my lack for blogging may be due to an internal faith struggle that I’ve been going through since Egypt. I can’t really explain what is going on in my faith life, just that I have been wrestling with things. One of those is perhaps the image of Christianity in society. Sometimes I just get overwhelmed with “Jesus Saves” bumper stickers and what I have stereotyped as a sort of “in your face” Christianity.

Sunday I had the incredible opportunity to see the positive power that this sort of Christianity can possess. I was walking with a team from Reality LA church in LA’s Annual AIDS walk. Our team name was JESUS. I was a little embarrassed. I’m not sure why. I am not embarrassed to be a Christian, but… well…. The day of the rally we met up and began to walk. I saw that we were not the only Jesus themed team. There was one team of about 50 young adults all in purple shirts declaring “Jesus Saves.” I wasn’t sure what I thought of those shirts. I didn’t dislike them but I didn't know that I really liked them either... As the walk began we came up against radical Christian protesters holding awful signs declaring things such as “Homo sex is a Sin” with scripture references posted… one of the verse references on a hate sign was John 3:16 (they didn't actually post the verse just the reference number),For God So Loved the World that He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but receive eternal life.” I am unsure how this verse of salvation and love supported their message of hatred and exclusion. Why they needed to come and protest a walk raising money to find a cure to a disease that is killing millions of people around the world I do not know or understand. I do understand the gospel and the light that I have been studying it in. The greatest commandment Jesus gave us was to love God and love our neighbors. Our neighbors are not geographical; our neighbors are all of God’s people; every tribe and every nation. As we walked past the protesters we also walked past the group in their Jesus Saves t-shirts. Suddenly I loved these shirts. I am a Christian, but I was not a visible representation of Christ at that rally. It would have been easy for the Christian protesters to be to only side of Christianity that walkers saw that day. Fortunately, there were people choosing to show themselves as Christians preaching a message of inclusion and love with their choice to walk as Team “JESUS SAVES”

(I hope this could be followed by you all...)

Thank you God for showing me how what I often consider corny Christianity can be powerful, positive and inclusive. I pray that you help me regain faith that I seem to be wrestling with and be with my housemates and I as we really dig into this year and a better understanding of you.