Sex in the City

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This post is part of a Mother’s Day synchroblog. I’ve joined up with some incredible women who are passionate about eradicating sex-trafficking. Please head over to Kaylie Hodges blog to read more in this series. 

Nestled cozily amongst the ubiquitous greenery, beaming in the glint of a deep blue harbor, sits the city I call home. One of the fastest growing cities in America, we’ve officially, unofficially launched campaigns called “stop telling people about Portland.” Okay, but jokes aside, when people think of Portland, a number of things often come to mind, most notably, an unparallel culinary experience. Whether it’s food or drink, we take the cake [literally] and up you a Blue Star donut. You’re welcome.

Portland is known for having established what is referred to as “coffee culture.” We have more breweries than any other city in the world, with wine country just a short drive down the road to some of the most elegant Pinot’s you’ve ever tasted. I recently heard a pastor say this about Portland, “A few things happen when you move to Portland: one, you get a tattoo, it’s like a passport stamp, ‘Oh, I see you’ve been to Portland.’ And second, your taste in coffee and beer get very expensive, or ironic, you have a choice.”

But don’t concern yourself with it, as the hipsters say, “You probably wouldn’t understand…”

If you’re not a bona fide, high profile foodie, you may still be drawn to Portland for its outstanding beauty and conduciveness for outdoor adventuring. Home to hikers, bikers, dragon boat racers, you name it, you’ll find it. With a heart for conscious consumerism, small business and sustainable practices, Portland is almost literally the Garden of Eden.

Interested in starting a non-profit? We probably already did. You guessed it: we’ve got more non-profits per capita than any other city in the U.S. And while I could continue this rather pretentious Portland pitch [it’s surprisingly easy to make fun of Portland], that is actually not the point of this post.

Edenic imagery in mind, there is actually a disturbingly dark underbelly to the city that often gets overlooked at first glance, particularly by those just passing through on their gluttonous food tours [Yeah, we know who you are with your umbrellas in tow, your Dutch Bro’s… frappy thingys, and flagrant mispronunciation of “Couch” street]. But I’ve digressed…

As I was saying:

Food and outdoor adventuring are not the only markets we monopolize. There is actually one additional category in which we top the charts, but we don’t really like to talk about it. It’s like airing our dirty laundry, we’d rather not. We’d rather tantalize your taste buds and keep you wrapped up in the hedonism we idolize in this city than admit that we’ve been identified as a central and prominent hub for sex trafficking.

There it is, our deep, dark secret.

According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It is estimated to generate $32 billion a year, $28 billion of which is generated from commercial sexual exploitation. The average age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the United States is between 12 and 14. Portland is ranked second for the greatest number of children found in forced prostitution among all U.S. cities [Source].

Tragically, we often think of these sorts of issues as being far removed from our comfortable little worlds. These are systemic problems arising out of troubled economies somewhere over there in those other countries. In other words, it’s someone else’s problem. But this simply isn’t true. This egregious “industry” is running rampant in our own backyard.

All of it is our problem.

Recently, my younger sister met and immediately became inseparable with a young woman she met at work. My sister has always chosen outstanding friends, so when I had the privilege of meeting her, I was eager to hear her story.

I was driving the three of us out to the Gorge for a hike, because obviously. Within minutes I was struggling to see through my tears as she shared in such humility and transparency the intimate details of her life.

She began her story as a mere babe, roughly 4 years of age, growing up in Sikkim, India. With striking poise and grace, she recounted the instance that would change the trajectory of her entire life.

She and her sister were attempting to find higher ground during a monsoon when the taxi driver stopped to offer them a ride to safety that day. The decision to accept his offer still haunts her today; they were so young- her sister just barely in her double digits.

When the taxi driver stopped again, she had to witness her sister being mercilessly raped by this old man. She can still hear her cries; still see the blood that dripped down her leg later that afternoon in the showers at the brothel they’d been taken to.

Public transportation remains a terrifying trigger for her today. “No money in the world could get me into another taxi,” she says.

In the days and weeks that followed, she recalled her sister trying to explain to her what sex was, and where they’d been taken, and what she ought to do when the men started coming to her. But she didn’t understand. All she could comprehend is that these people gave them food and nice clothes and bangles. They sent her to dance classes and gave her a warm bed to sleep in at night.

She’d been a mere baby- 4 or 5 years old- and her virginity was worth a great deal. She was being “groomed.”

She recounted the day her sister came to her and said, “We have to run away tonight.” While she found this confusing at the time, her sister had been insistent, and ultimately, she trusted her with her life. So in the middle of the night when her sister woke her, they crept up to the rooftop where they would jump from structure to structure until they made their way to the ground. Then, they made their desperate getaway and ran for their lives. They slept in cornfields during the day, and ran at night. Eventually, by the grace of God, they would make their way back home. Her older sister was married off shortly thereafter, but because of her young age, her father would send her to America to be adopted for a chance at a better life.

“He tried to explain to me that there was this place where anything was possible. Where I could be whatever I wanted; a place where I could eat as many apples as I desired. He knew how I loved apples.

“He handed me a bag of peanuts when he put me on the train that day. I was so excited about the peanuts. I could see him out the window, and remember being confused by his tears. All I could think about were the damn peanuts.”

Tragic as this story is, it has a much happier ending than most. She and her sister ultimately escaped, wounds intact. But not all are so fortunate.

This kind of evil breaks me. I’ve read all kinds of statistics and information about the rampant nature of this evil, and I still don’t know how to process it. All the information, the statistics, they feel so far away, so removed and distant.

And then I see her face. I hug her and I remember, that the statistics have faces, they have stories, and they are right here among us. Who knows, you may discover one day that a victim is closer than you ever imagined, she might just be your sister’s best friend.

Here in this beautiful city I call home, sex trafficking is alive and well. Almost more shocking is that the majority of those who live here have no idea our beloved city is home to the second largest trafficking hub in the country. And as much as I may wish to deny it, Portland is no Garden of Eden. But where you live, whether in Portland or Nepal makes little difference. That’s the point. Boundary lines can’t and don’t contain sex trafficking. Government systems aren’t able to eradicate the crime, and every well intentioned non-profit can’t protect all the young girls and boys.

But before we throw up our hands in helplessness, there are things that can be done.

Would you join me and my friends today in prayer over this horrific evil? Our prayers are heard and they do matter. And if you have the resources, would you consider making a donation to one of these organizations to help bring freedom for those trapped in a life we can’t even begin to wrap our imaginations around?

Here are some resources and ways you can help.

1) Very good summary video about the problem as it is manifested in Portland, put on by the Junior League of Portland: Waiting for the Light.

2) The Lov Foundation.

3) And of course, please visit the other posts in this series for more information, link at top of post.

 Grace, Peace and Freedom for all.

A House, A Table, A Sisterhood

image from localmilkblog.com

image from localmilkblog.com

[This post is part of a collaborative series on Friendship, hosted by my friend Cara over on her lovely little blog, Little Did She Know. To read more on the series, check out her page, here].

The house sat up on the hill overlooking the breathtaking skyline of downtown Portland. It was massive, in a ritzy SE neighborhood none of us could have afforded without the whole lot of us. So we pooled our resources, and six women signed their names on the dotted line and together, began the long, exhausting process of moving everything in, unpacking, and then, of course- attempting to make sense of everyone’s belongings- arranging and rearranging it all, only to rearrange it again.

I’m not sure we ever fully accomplished the task, but slowly, over the course of time, mismatched though it may have been, this house became our home. With almost 3,000 sq feet of space, this place boasted more rooms than we knew what to do with, including what we fondly referred to as the Harry Potter closet. There were many spaces I would grow to appreciate in the year we lived there, but hands down, if I had to choose, all my fondest memories bring me back to the kitchen table, the one Shannon’s dad would spend an entire afternoon disassembling in order to add the extra leaf, the one that still always seemed too small for all the people we’d attempt to cram around it.

I learned the beauty and the mess of true community in that house, gathered around that table. In the single year we lived there, we hosted more dinner parties than any one of us could recall. From housewarming parties, holiday parties, birthday parties, going away parties, barbecues, bridal showers, book clubs, game nights, wine nights, dance in your underwear nights, you name it, we gathered for it. I can’t think of a single year of my life more centered around the ideas of community, food, wine and celebration.

But of course, it was a mix of a ton of fun and a whole lot of crazy. We didn’t always get along, the six of us [hard to believe, I know]. People tried to warn us beforehand, “Six women? You’re out of your mind!” or, “I sure hope you aren’t all friends, because you won’t be for long,” they’d say. And honestly, there were moments when I thought perhaps we ought to have heeded warning; perhaps we might have avoided all the tension before it had the chance to build, culminating into those awkward, sometimes painful encounters. So many hard conversations could have been avoided all together, so many tears circumvented. But you know, the most valuable thing I learned gathered around the table that year wasn’t how to stage it for the perfect Instagram picture, it was how to remain sitting at it.

When the six of us moved in, we were a mix of friends, and friends of friends. We knew we had a lot to learn about one another, and we were aware that with six very different personalities, the situation could prove challenging. However, we also knew that more than all of this, we were a group of women who wanted to live life communally, with open doors, and with a spirit of hospitality. We knew we wanted to welcome people into our home, feed them, laugh and cry with them, and then hold them hostage until we were certain they were leaving with fuller bellies and fuller hearts.

In all honesty, I don’t think any of us had any idea how difficult it would prove to be; perhaps we were too optimistic in that regard. But nonetheless, we chose to stay seated at the table. We chose to enter into those hard conversations. Laughing together was easy, but we would have to learn to cry with one another. We would have to learn when to give space when it was needed, and when to invade that space in order to sit in the ashes with one another when that was needed too. We would have to learn how to approach the conversations that needed to be had in a way that was respectful and life-giving, and sometimes we’d get it wrong, I know I would on innumerable occasions, in which case, we had to learn how to say, I’m sorry, and please forgive me. And then we’d have to learn to give our forgiveness in return.

There were a million incredible memories carved out in that house last year, I could write an entire book to recount them, perhaps one day I shall. And yet, there is one that has left such an impression on me, I still get choked up recalling it.

It was March 21st, I remember because it was “Match Day” for our med-student friends, many whom made up a significant chunk of our friend group- in fact, our house would lose two of the six that year to residency programs. Life and community as we knew it was about to look very different on a number of different levels, and we were all processing this impending change in our own ways. But nevertheless, it was a beautiful March day and we were all in relatively good spirits despite perhaps being a bit tender emotionally.

I was standing there in the kitchen, appreciating the mid-day light as it poured in through the windows, watching as Rachael rolled out dough for crackers, flour streaked across her face, moving freely like she does in her booty-short shorts and sassy new haircut, humming unselfconsciously away to her latest favorite jam. And there was Allison, moving in effortless rhythm there alongside her, pulling tinfoil over her dessert to leave. That’s when it hit me; I had this flash-forward moment in which I realized I was peering into my future.

These women, somehow, at some point over the course of that year, had become my people, my home team, my girls; the ones invested in this city with me. They’d become so much more than roommates, they’d become the women I’ll go on to build homes and families and businesses alongside. And I knew in that moment that in 10 years, long after our time in that house was but a memory- when the careers have changed and husbands and kids begin to fill the frame, and Rachael’s arms become increasingly covered in tattoos, as they are sure to be- as all the natural evolutions come, and they will come, we will still, undoubtedly find ourselves in each other’s kitchens, gathered around each other’s tables. Rachael will still be a sassy, smart-mouthed dreamer who cries at the drop of a hat, Allison will still be baking her decadent sweets, consistent and kind the way she is, Amy will still be her generous self, filling our wine glasses liberally, freaking out the moment she notices they’ve been empty for all of 3 seconds; that is to say, we will still be us.

I’ll never forget the profound feeling I had as the many frightening unknowns of the days ahead dissolved in the light of that overpowering, beautiful reality.

It was a crazy year. I’m not entirely sure what I expected going in, but I can tell you what I didn’t expect: I didn’t expect that these women would become my very best friends. I didn’t expect that in the years to come, they’d still be my people. I didn’t expect that when the time came to leave that house, those of us who would remain in Portland would fight tooth and nail to find another place, a smaller place, that would work for the four of us who remained, because we would want to stay together. And I didn’t anticipate that we would cry when we finally found it, partially out of excitement, though mostly out of exhaustion and relief after a long, drawn out, fierce search. I certainly didn’t expect that as we settled into our new home on the other side of town, this one that is a fraction of the size of the house up on the hill, that here, in the smaller spaces, we’d grow even closer.

It’s funny now to consider the many stark differences: our current home is actually too small for a dinner table. In fact, most of us had to sell or otherwise dispose of most of our furniture just to fit here. We joke that our living room is our “Room of Requirement,” it is our make-shift living, dining, entertainment room, den, office, you name it, the space will become it, and we will do as we have always done, and we will gather in it.

Granted, there are days I really miss having a separate space for dining, one with a real table to squeeze people around. But it’s striking to consider the progression. You see, last year we needed that table- it was our glue, it was our home base, our gathering point; it was the centripetal force, the thing that united us in honesty and humility, it was a symbol of what it means to be community when we couldn’t remember how.

Whether by wine and laughter or by tears and confessions, the moments we chose to stay seated at that table bound us together as sisters. And now, today, while the luxury of a dinner table would be incredibly convenient, we don’t actually need it in the same way anymore. Our hearts are already invested and fastened together, our futures already indefinitely entangled. We learned what it means to stay seated at the table for the good stuff as well as for that which is not so good, and the rhythms and habits we formed around that table have enabled us to do life together, beautifully, even in its absence.

Like Coming Home

 

redding

This past weekend I had the great privilege of traveling to Northern California to stand beside my best friend from college as she pledged her life and devotion to a truly wonderful man. Their vows made everyone cry, I assure you. The whole affair was nothing short of steal-your-breath-away. The venue, a gorgeous vineyard in Redding, California, provided one of the most stunning backdrops I’ve seen thus far, and for a moment, standing in the warmth of the afternoon sun, wrapped in its unseasonable glow, I recalled the rain I’d left behind in Portland and wondered, in a weak moment, if I had in fact made a terrible mistake.

From the time I was a young girl I’ve been thoroughly enchanted with the idea of travel; by the sheer expansiveness of a world that lay in wait for me- by the great unknown, surely begging to be known. Adventure- I could hear her beckoning me from the four corners of the globe to come and turn over her rocks, exposing the earth’s rich history in all its untamable, boundless beauty; inviting me to breathe it in like air, and breathe it out like a blessing.

And eventually, I would.

sunriseEventually I would board planes, chasing the sun till my feet met the cobblestone streets of Europe; I’d head underground and hop on subways in search of the secrets told by a city that never sleeps. I’d take buses and cabs and boats and I’d tread by foot the same soil traveled by countless others who’ve come before me. Sometimes those travels would leave me standing in awe of the relic beauty and robust hisotry present in the ancient, Gothic architecture of France. Other times it would have me caked in the dust of poverty, arms intertwined with the fragile limbs and bodies of orphan babies as I rocked and sang them to sleep in the sticky, marshy African air, praising God for his Common Graces- faint breezes like a whisper, evening rainstorms as a reprieve from stale heat, the reviving nature of human touch- which He generously bestows to all without partiality; all of which I so thoroughly overlook in the midst of my Western comfort.

And still, there is no denying I’ve only begun to skim the surface of all that is to be explored in the vast expanse of creation. Many have seen much more than I, and could speak with far greater authority to the world’s many wonders. God willing, my journeys are far from over; there is certainly so much more I pray my eyes bear witness to before my lips breathe their final hallelujah. There’s something inherently stretching involved with traveling to new places: a palpable reminder that the world is far bigger than my daily perimeters extend; that it does not revolve around me and my trivial, selfish agendas. It helps ground me in the hope that there is still much to learn and discover in life. It’s humbling in so many ways, and this is good. I need humbling.

But even so, I often find that these same experiences tend to breed something of another nature within me as well, that is, a spirit of discontentment. I would argue that our exceptionally mobile and digital age has contributed to a fear of commitment that largely exceeds the generations before us. As our options for travel and consumption have vastly expanded, there is tremendous temptation to flea or escape when life gets hard, or a little scary, or even just too routine. We begin to ask ourselves what else is out there.

What exactly is behind door number 2 anyway? 

As our journeys expose us to far away, exotic places, there creeps in a gnawing thought that haunts us: perhaps we have been cheated in some way; perhaps life is keeping some grand secret from us, for surely we were born in the wrong city, state, country, era, body and so on and so forth. We’d rather envy the greener grass in another’s yard than cultivate our own. And we begin to believe the lie that what we have is not enough.

It’s an age-old story really, and I regret to say how often I feel this way.

But on Saturday, when I landed in Portland, something instantly felt different. I pondered what it could be as I slowly made my way up the steps and through my front door. I trudged my belongings upstairs, exchanged my California garb for a more appropriate fall sweater, then immediately headed back down to the kitchen to make myself the first good cup of coffee since my departure three days earlier. Then, in an effort to unwind from a busy weekend, I grabbed my mug and journal and made my way to the front porch. And as I sat there, breathing in the cool, fall air, watching the clouds drift lazily across a sky of vibrant blue, something strange began to happen: it was as though I began to unfold in that moment.

If you know me, you know I am not exactly a details person. Generally speaking, I’m so often in my head, distracted by my own thoughts, that my external surroundings just sort of pass me by in a blur. But on this particular afternoon, it was as though all my senses were heightened: I noticed the way the sunlight streamed through my kitchen window as I made my coffee, reflecting off the water in my aero press, casting its light onto the countertop in a lovely dance; I couldn’t help but smile. I wondered if the trees had overnight decided to light their tops ablaze, exposing their autumn hues, or if I’d simply missed it until now. It was something like making the switch from cable to HDTV. Everything came into precise focus. Everything, and I mean everything was beautiful. I felt almost as though I’d put my skin on again- the skin that’s mine, and mine alone to wear- the skin that’s comfortable and at ease. And it hit me as I sat there sipping my coffee, that this thing I was feeling, this peace and alertness to all the beauty around me, it was the feeling of coming home. And I had to give pause to the moment and thank God, but for his perfect wisdom and goodness, I’d still be searching for such a place.

For surely, of all the roads we travel in life, few are as satisfying as the roads that leads us home.

 

 

Seasons of Sadness & A River That Runs

It’s winter in Portland. Or perhaps you’ve not noticed.

LionWitchWardrobeWallpaper1024

I, on the other hand, am painfully aware.

Having grown up in this rainy state, I really shouldn’t be surprised to find myself in this place again, blindsided by the wave of sadness that envelopes me so abruptly and completely this time of year. It doesn’t seem to get any easier.

Seven years beneath the sun-kissed skies of California and I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to want nothing more in life than to waste away time in bed all day and night; to curse the daylight for making me do life again. To loathe the very skin I wear so thoroughly. To bemoan the very things that normally bring me so much life. But alas I am here, trying to shake this old, SAD companion of mine all over again.

This time of year the clouds seem to hang lower in the sky, sluggishly slinking in with their oppressive gray to seal shut the expanse between heaven and earth. Leeching color from a once vibrant landscape, laying it bare, they expose the remains of a desolate and somber frame. The passing days slip by without much distinction within these ominous and wearisome walls; wandering indiscriminately about them I silently wonder how much longer God will give sanction to these relentlessly lonesome months.

It’s a strange sensation to feel so disconnected from oneself. To catch the reflection of a stranger where you expect to find your own. And I don’t know how to get her back, that person who lights up these eyes so vacant as of late. She’s in there somewhere, I’m sure of it, just hibernating away these cold, cold days.

And these are my truths. Or at least, in part they are, as much as I hate to admit it. Because the most challenging lie to overcome in the midst of these dreary, bitter-cold seasons is the notion that this Great Sadness is mine alone to bear; that I am all alone and untouchable in this place. Like the cartoon character wandering about a beautiful day beneath a personal and all encompassing rain cloud that no one else can see. That is what it feels like.

Enter: Deidra Riggs.

And as I was standing on the cusp of the frozen river, in below freezing temperatures in Nebraska with my dog, I heard the Lord say, “No, still not close enough. Closer! I have something to show you.” And so I did. And as I got closer, beneath the ice I could see the river running, and little sprigs of grass from the riverbed peeking out to declare, “Spring is coming, spring is coming, spring is coming!”

And that’s about the precise moment the dam broke. And all the things that had grown numb and been frozen by the ice and cold suddenly began to thaw; feeling began to creep its way back into my fingers and toes, making it’s slow but certain journey through my limbs, eventually making its way to my heart. It’s a painful process at first, as with all things that participate in the forging of new life. And before I have a moment to take inventory, I notice moisture has welled up from behind these distant eyes, quickly moving to carve out a forgotten path down my cheeks.

There she is.

Spring is coming, spring is coming

Spring is coming.

The Heart of a City in the Heart of Girl

They say you ought to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. Along the same vein, I’ve found that you also ought to be careful the deals you make with God, because one day, he just might ask you to pay up. No, he definitely will.

Eight years ago I packed my belongings into a couple of suitcases, cut off my long locks, bleached them blonde and boarded a plane. I was off to find some adventure and sunshine. I was off to create a new identity. One that did not involve single stop-light towns, cows or cornfields. Determined to leave small town life behind me forever, I informed God that I was never moving back. Or actually, I told him I never wanted to move back. Knowing at some level that with everything you ask the Big Man, you’re supposed to tag “but your will be done” to the end of it, just for good measure, I made a deal with God. I told him that if it were up to me solely, I never wanted to go back and I never would. I had found my home and Oregon was not it. But… if for some outrageous, unforeseeable reason that I could not yet comprehend, HE ever wanted me to go back, I told him I would go, but on one condition: he would first have to change my heart. I’m talking heart-transplant-status, because I am stubborn and I want what I want, and if left up to me, I would always find a reason to be anywhere but back where I started.

But I hadn’t just left a small town behind, I left the house that built me, three younger sisters, who were actually little at the time… I left a history that I thought didn’t matter. But history matters. Good or bad, it always matters. And it always comes full circle.

portland skyline

June 26th marked one year since I spread my city of angel wings and landed among the roses here in Portland.

I hadn’t seen that one coming…

And now, as I eat my own words, I’m finding what I expected to be bitter and contentious has turned sweet and fulfilling on my tongue. I don’t know how or when he did it… but it hit me like a wave the other evening as I was walking through the charming neighborhood of John’s Landing, overlooking the stunning city scape nestled so cozily among the green, bordered by the glint of a deep blue harbor, I love this city. I mean deep, invested love. And just as immediately as this dawned on me I found myself wondering out loud in amazement at how in the world he accomplished it… and when? Because he certainly didn’t do it all at once. It must have happened softly, gently, in the quiet moments. In the moments I didn’t expect to be significant.

My sweet mother came up to visit me last weekend. We went for a walk after dinner, and as we were walking through aforementioned charming neighborhood, my country-loving mother admitted that she really adored this part of town. That she didn’t even know places like this existed in Portland. She even said she could see the charm, why people would want to “live like this.”

Now let’s be clear, my family has never understood me. I am quite literally the only city-lover in my entire extended family [with the exception of one uncle]. So for these words to leave my mother’s mouth was history in the making.

But quite honestly, while I resisted the urge to say I told you so, I understood what she was saying. People who don’t live in Portland, or Los Angeles, or New York, or wherever, don’t know the first thing about the heart of the city. They don’t know the subtle charm, the community, the local hole-in-the-wall market that sits at the corner of Corbett & Curry with their Thursday evening Craft Nights. People who don’t live daily life here don’t know about that adorable coffee shop tucked surreptitiously away in that neighborhood on the East Side among the craftsmen-style houses and abundant foliage that’s so ubiquitous in Portland. They don’t know about the phenomenal meal you can get for 5 bucks at that long-standing, community favorite food cart that’ll feed you for a week straight. They don’t know about the body of believers that thrive there, the people who are dedicated to living life missionally; who will forego sleep night after night to stay up dreaming and praying with you about a shared passion to love a city well in fresh and creative ways.

Rather it seems that people who are unfamiliar with Portland come to visit with “downtown” as their only frame-of-reference, similar to the way foreigners intrinsically link “Time Square” with New York City as though they are one and the same. But ask any native New Yorker and they’ll tell you they avoid Time Square at all costs. Because despite popular belief, the heart of that city isn’t found in iconic streets lined by lights, billboards and tourists, but rather just left of center in that quaint little brunch shop in SoHo that only the locals know about. Stick around long enough and you’ll start to pick up on a subtle hum, an undercurrent to the deafening ruckus of this enormous, sleep-deprived city. There’s a pulse that beats just below the surface, filling the million little nuanced crevices with the genuine lifeblood of investedness.

Similarly, downtown Portland is the business district of the city, complete with high-rises, confusing one-way streets, innumerable, sprawling bridges and shopping malls. All things that can be had elsewhere with far less stress and free-parking. I get it. It’s not always glamorous, especially if you’re not used to crowds and traffic. If that’s all a city was, I wouldn’t like them very much either. But this, this is a far cry from the heart of any city. The face of the city, perhaps. It’s certainly the first thing you see. But just like getting to know a new friend, you have to sit in the chair across from them for some time, day after day, before you really get to know the heartbeat and soul brimming behind the eyes. There are layers and layers to be discovered. And if you are willing to invest the time and get your hands dirty, so-to-speak, you’ll certainly find more than just a face sitting before you, pretty or haggard as it may appear, you’ll start to uncover a story. As you peel back layers, you begin to learn the history that forged this person; where they’ve been and where they are going. You’ll learn their subtleties, what it is that makes them tick and come alive, what distinguishes them from a sea of faces in a crowd. There are caveats and sacred spaces that only the invested will ever earn the privilege of knowing.

The same is true for a city. There is an immense amount of character that exists beyond the superficial layers of traffic, brazen pedestrians/cyclists who pay your thousand-pound-hunk-of-metal little, to no mind, impossible parking, and countless coffee shops. I mean, how much coffee can one person really consume in a day anyway? You’d be surprised…

A dear friend of mine was keeping me company the other day. This specific friend moved up to Portland from Southern California the same exact time that I did just over a year ago. We share a kind of kindred-spirit in this regard as we both settle, in our own little ways, into the rhythms [and layers] of daily life in this beautiful corner of the world. She posed a great question: Okay, one whole year later and we both love this city. So what’s your favorite thing about Portland?

I actually had to stop for a moment to sort through a list of things I love… favorite?

[Pause:] I simply must note: I count it a crazy-cool blessing that this was not an easy question to answer due to an abundance of possible conclusions.

[Resume:] Truthfully, I love all the little things. The freckles that pepper the face of this city. At first glimpse, easily overlooked, known only by those who get close enough to really see. But at the end of the day, I have to land the plane on this: size. Portland is a small “big city,” naturally giving way to genuine and intentional community. Since I moved here, I have bumped into innumerable friends from all stages and walks of life. I have a number of friends I went to school with in California who are now scattered all throughout the city, and I run into them at coffee shops and food carts and intersections and church… all of the time.

One of my favorite instances of this happening occurred when I was leaving Fox Tower one afternoon in late January. I turned the corner when BAM: I nearly plowed over a dear-old friend from college standing on the corner stuffing his face with authentic Portland, food-cart cuisine. The craziest part? This particular friend lives in Vietnam. In fact, he has lived there for the last 5 years. He was in Portland for one day. One day! What are the chances? I mean seriously…

But it doesn’t take long to realize that this is not an uncommon scenario for seasoned “Portlandians.”

Worlds collide here in Portland.

The community is tight-knit. I know full well that I can’t walk around this city by foot without bumping into someone I know. That’s just Portland, and that’s just the way I like it.

Portland often gets a bad rap. The street corners and bridges are regularly thronged by a young homeless population, “weird” free-spirited hippies and weed. But again, this is a first-glimpse kind of take-away. What you just missed was the story playing out behind the scenes. You missed the kind-hearted coffee cart owner who just pulled a hopeless looking young man back behind his cart to hand him a hot cup of coffee “on the house” before proceeding to speak truth into his heart, breathing life [quite literally] back into this young man’s vacant and void expression as evidenced by the welling moisture that eventually breaks the brittle dam, carving out a fresh trail down burdened cheeks. You just missed the broke med student who stopped to shake the hand and look into the eyes of a man who is used to being ignored and treated as sub-human. You missed him handing him the last few dollars in his pocket… dollars he is accruing interest on. Sure, you saw that group of runners on their early a.m. jog as you drove to work this morning, but what you didn’t know is that they were praying for you as they tread the landscape of the city they love, covering it with so much more than their footsteps.

Okay, I recognize that these stories are not strictly Portland-specific. Kindness and the nuances of a community are found in every city. In fact, they aren’t limited to “cities” at all. Even single stop-light towns, like the one I come from, possess stories all their own. Because at the end of the day, the true heartbeat of a city isn’t found in any particular place per-say, but rather intimately bound and fashioned to the hearts of the people, the community that inhabit it. And only once you dig deep into the heart of a human will you uncover the true heart of a city. And then one day, like me, the realization will likely hit you like a freight train as you sit back in wonder and awe while it all comes to life around you, unfolding right before your eyes, burrowing itself deep within the sacred-most spaces of your heart. There’s no question, we will certainly have to brave a little traffic and congestion from time-to-time, walk the dark and lonely streets and enter into the stories of others in any given city before we will ever earn the right to bear witness to its truest beauty. And the most pronounced miracle of all? The transformation of your own heart in the process.

early mornings, sacred moments

Before the sun makes its daily debut over the pristine Portland skyline, I make my way out from under the covers into the brisk Spring air and through the double-doors of one of my favorite coffee shops in the Pearl to meet a new friend for a good old fashioned cup of joe. If you know me, you probably know that I love mornings, most of the time. And then there are the other times when I have to set 5 alarms three minutes apart just to drag myself out of bed. But I do it, because once my feet hit the ground and the showerhead spits out those reviving waters, I wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place. And then, especially once that warm mug is firmly in my grip wafting the fine aroma of an even more reviving kind of liquid, you can bet I’m wondering why I don’t do this every morning. Sadly, I still don’t have a good answer to that question, I’ll have to get back to you on that…

Portland Sunrises…

Sundays are taking on a new shape for me as of late. I’ve always been especially fond of Sundays because for me the day is imprinted with images of early mornings, community, Scripture and sound teachings that re-center me and renew my perspectives for yet another week [God willing]. Emphasis on the early mornings portion…

I’ve always been a morning person, so it comes as little surprise that I have long since preferred the early services at church. Personally, it’s the time I feel most awake and aware and able to retain what I hear, and most able to then reflect on what I’ve heard, chew on it for awhile and then perhaps even do something about it. But since I’ve moved to Portland, I’ve found myself embracing a rhythm characterized around lazy Sunday mornings spent sleeping in succeeded by post-sunset services. This is in part due to the fact that evenings are the only time the downtown services meet. Furthermore, it’s the service everyone from our house church attends, and well, it just works. And I’ll admit I’ve grown to appreciate the routine here more than I’ve ever been able to before, but there is still something about the early a.m. hours that I feel like I’m missing out on. So I signed up for the Theology class that Solid Rock is offering downtown on Sunday mornings and I’m discovering a deep sense of gratitude welling up in me as a result. It reminds me how much I love being a student. How much I miss being steeped in deep, critical thought while the air is still crisp, the coffee is still hot and the skyline still hazzy with fog. And for all the petitions and arguments that attempt to keep me tucked firmly away beneath the covers come Sunday morning, I have learned that the getting up and the going are ultimately always worth it notwithstanding. And so I do. And it is. And I’m so thankful. The day is filled with so much promise when you don’t sleep through it.

Friday morning rituals

Friday morning rituals

Recently I had the pleasure of sharing my fondness for early mornings and Portland coffee and heart-to-hearts with a lovely girl who just keeps popping up in my life in the most random, unexpected and delightful ways. Take for example the time a friend and I were co-hosting [hostessing?] a little gathering of friends over wine and cheese and small treats. We had both invited friends of ours, some of which we knew mutually, and others we did not. When Abby walked through my door, my jaw dropped. I had no idea she would be there nor did she know that when she accepted the invite from my co-hostess, that invite would bring her across the threshold into my apartment. It was… perfect. Moments like these are precious to me because they make a really big, often cold and calloused world seem just a little bit smaller, warmer and brighter. So we took it as a sign and decidedly made our run-ins more deliberate and purposeful… bringing us to this particular morning.

It’s amazing how quickly two hours can fly by. The time spent in the company of this sweet girl made me wish I really did do this every day. There is just something about the hours surrounding sunrise that always feel more honest, more pure, and certainly more fruitful. And even though her own feelings toward this time of day are quite the antitheses of my own, she still met me there, resisted the urge to hit snooze and made her way into the chair across from me trusting the caffeine to come through and carry her the rest of the way. And I’m so thankful she did, because moments like these are sacred. While the rest of the city sleeps, these moments are gathered up like gemstones. More often than not they go entirely unnoticed and overlooked, slipping through our fingers before they’ve ever had the chance to be discovered, unearthed, and appreciated.

See exhibit A:

We found this gem tucked surreptitiously away in a drawer at our table.

We found this gem tucked surreptitiously away in a drawer at our table.

Now I understand that mornings are not for everyone. I’m a rarity in that I happen to be predispositioned with an ability that enables me to rise quickly, sprightly and cheerfully… most of the time. Some of my most cherished memories have been illuminated by dawns first light. And yet the very moments that feel most sacred to me resemble something more like being ripped through a knot-hole backwards for others. I get that. For me though, it seems that with each passing year as time becomes less abundant and simultaneously all the more precious, my appreciation for these hours grows exponentially with it. There is an insatiable craving in me to partake in the compounded potential that seems to reside in the suspended hours surrounding day break. Granted, it’s not always the easiest choice or practice, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t worth it every.single.time.

Anyone else out there have any thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear them, no matter which side of sunrise you find yourself waking up on… :)

Grace & Peace

A New Year: A Neglected Need

There is something undeniably cathartic about a blank page, regardless of the medium. Something invigorating about the possibility of the words that might fill that space, and ultimately, something profoundly healing that occurs deep down in the sacred most spaces of my heart when possibility is transformed into written word: something with tangible form, something with purpose. It’s therapy. When I think of the times I do my best writing, it’s nearly always when I find myself in a state of desperation. When significant change is threatening to shake my foundation, when relationships get rocky, when the daily grind becomes unbearable [welcome to the last 6 months of my life]. When the weight of the emotions I’ve so actively and tirelessly attempted to suppress start to effervesce to the surface, forcing their way through my thickest skin, my most convincing face, corroding my nerves of steel, that is when I find it most critical I write. It is always beneficial for me to write, but there are times when it is simply and absolutely necessary I do so. The reality of this truth has become a much more prominent theme in my life in the last few months. This likely has a lot to do with the manifold, fundamental changes my life has undergone in the past year which have brought me face-to-face with a soul-craving I’ve let lay dormant for far too long. But as the New Year casts its many bright and hopeful promises and projections over the impending months ahead, making its presence known with every new gym membership, undertaking of previously put-off projects, and hopeful declarations for change, while I’m not big on resolutions, I am inclined to take a step back and reflect over the past year and dream about the things I long to see come to pass in the year ahead.

The year twenty-twleve has forever staked its claim for permanant residency in my memory and upon my heart, similar to a scar: painful in the moment, but ripe with the one hell of a good story. In April of last year, we received the perspective-altering diagnosis of cancer for quite possibly the sweetest woman I’ve ever known: my mother. I say perspective-altering, because lets face it, when that thing that always happens to everyone else finally happens to you, paradigms shift, perspectives change. Period. And more specifically, for me, when we got this news, all the things I’d been on the fence about were no longer worth fence-sitting over. It was time to choose a side, to quit living my life as though I am the only one affected by the decisions I make. Because you can bet that when perspectives change in this way, a reorganization of priorities will follow close behind. And so I packed up and moved. I moved back to the place I left, back to the place they say you can never return to: home as I once called it. And it’s true what they say you know, you really can’t go home again. But you can create a new one. It takes time, and imagination, and a little ton of work, but you can create something new in an old space. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past 6 months… it might be a bit early to call, but I think it’s working.

To backtrack a bit, in late June of last year, I left my life in L.A., my incredible community, my job, my life, uprooted and officially moved. This is significant to reflect on and not skip-over because the choice to do this left me trudging through a mess of emotions, the likes of which I still have not yet mastered. While many of the questions I had been wrestling with for months suddenly became crystal clear in light of necessity, the emotional whiplash that followed wasn’t something I was familiar with, or knew how to navigate. I won’t dive much more into this now- feel free to read more about that journey here, here, and here. The point being, I went from a stable, steady, confident 20-something year old young woman who more-or-less had life figured out, to the precise inverse-of, in a matter of mere days. It was all business and planning and future until it wasn’t anymore, and suddenly the U-haul was packed and my cube was empty and the gas-tank was full in preparation for the 914 mile drive that, until then, had been but a hazzy point on the distant horizon. I was hugging friends goodbye when it hit me: everything I’d been preparing for was now present tense. There was no more planning to be done, no more items on to-do lists to cross off. There was only God, a long stretch of pavement, some really bad pop-music, and a critical dependence upon a calling I knew I’d received despite my best arguments. And it seems, there’s been no looking back from that moment.

As luck would have it, or more likely the divine kindness of the Lord, I rather quickly met a really amazing man who helped take the edge off something otherwise quite daunting, and seemed to possess this effortless talent for putting a smile back on my face, and a sunrise back in my mornings. And as life seems to normalize, at least in terms of that relationship, it seems as though all the chaos of the past 6 months is catching up to me with maddening force… and while I, in my best efforts, have tried to convince this really bright, talented and thoughtful man that I am “in fact, not very emotional…” [because until now, I really have not been one to process the world through the lens of emotion], in a hysterical, divine-comedy sort of way, it seems that this poor man ought not draw any other conclusion than to think of this frenzied girl he’s dating as nothing short of incredibly self-deluded. I feel like I’ve been lambasted by a vast array of emotions that I can confidently say I’ve never encountered before. I feel them deeply, each one with distinction and an acuity that is piercing and threatening. And on top of that, I feel an additional sense of guilt that this incredibly decent man [poor soul] had to enter my life during a time when I’ve felt so profoundly unlike myself. And yet the stability his friendship has provided me throughout this season has been one of the most outstanding blessings I could have hoped for. In fact, in my indubitable lack of futuristic giftings, I dare say it’s all the things I never even bothered to ask for, which makes it all the more bittersweet in context. He has pushed me at times when I didn’t believe I was capable of processing it, he has challenged me on perspectives I thought I had nailed down, and in time, he has encouraged me to be the woman I had almost forgotten I wanted to become. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to help me identify remember the things that make me come alive, make me tick, make me hope. And then he encouraged me to pursue those things. I don’t mean to sound trite, but no one in my life, save a few kind professors, has ever truly encouraged me to go after what I am actually good at. It’s always been impracticle, irresponsible, asking too much, and not enough at the same time, and always, fundamentally, misunderstood. And so, for years I let go of my dreams. I decided to live someone else’s in the meantime. But in the past 6 months, amidst the chaos and dissonance, I’m finding I’m beginning to rediscover my voice, in more ways than one, and I am finally ready to say: I hate that dream. The one I’m living. The one that’s not mine. And I’m done.

So I quit my job on Monday.

And there’s nothing lined up to take its place.

And that’s frightening.

And I feel like a crazy person.

And I feel liberated.

And I am choosing to trust the Lord.

And right now, from where I sit, despite all logic… that’s a pretty damned good start.

I’m reading this book right now, and among other influences in my life [see above], it’s really challenging me to think critically about my life beyond the places I seem to be stuck presently and all the events that have led me here.

As I mentioned previously, I am not especially futuristic. I tend to live every day as it comes. At best, my future planning capabilities might venture out a few weeks in advance in the case of a really special occasion. Take for example my decision to move back home. When it happened, it was an instantaneous decision. Seriously, ask my roommate at the time. She nearly had a heart attack when I came home from work to announce I had put in my official transfer request that afternoon when I hadn’t even known I’d do so that very morning. And in true me fashion, I made the move just one short month later, once again with very little vision of what awaited me at the other end of that 17-hour drive North, or what I even hoped to accomplish once I got there. And it’s the same reason I find this part of the entry so much more difficult to write than the last: it requires me to consider that which is not yet.

And while at face value this way of living may seem appealing or ideal, glamorous even, what I rather find is that it leads me to living in the present, but with very little direction. But it is important to know where we are headed… how else will we know when we are lost?

Your life can look a lot of different ways when you’re twenty-five: single, dating, engaged, married. You are working in dream jobs, pay-the-bills jobs, and downright horrible jobs. You are young enough to believe that anything is possible, and you are old enough to make that belief a reality.
Now is the time to figure out what kind of work you love to do. What are you good at? What makes you feel alive? What do you dream about? You can go back to school now, switch directions entirely. You can work for almost nothing, or live in another country, or volunteer long hours for something that moves you. There will be a time when finances and schedules make this a little trickier, so do it now. Try it, apply for it, get up and do it…
This is the thing: when you start to hit twenty-eight or thirty, everything starts to divide, and you can see very clearly two kinds of people: on one side, people who have used their twenties to learn and grow, to find God and themselves and their deep dreams, people who know what works and what doesn’t, who have pushed through to become real live adults.
And then there’s the other kind, who are hanging on to college, or high school even, with all their might. They’ve stayed in jobs they hate because they’re too scared to get another one. They’ve stayed with men or women who are good but not great because they don’t want to be lonely. They mean to find a church, they mean to develop honest, intimate friendships, they mean to stop drinking like life is one big frat party. But they don’t do those things, so they live in kind of an extended adolescence, no closer to adulthood than they were when they graduated college.
Don’t be like that. Don’t get stuck. Move, travel, take a class, take a risk. Walk away, try something new. There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming. Don’t lose yourself at happy hour, but don’t lose yourself on the corporate ladder either.
Bittersweet by Shuana Niequist
Excerpt from chapter: Twenty-Five

The entire book is like this: rich with insightful, and for lack of a more appropriate word, bittersweet truths. I read this very chapter to a friend the other day. A friend who also just quit her job, the same job I just quit, to move to another state where she knows no one in order to fully pursue her dream with one-hundred percent of her effort and heart. She came over to say goodbye actually, and when I finished the chapter, she looked me square in the eye and said:

How could you ever read that chapter and not quit your job?

I have no idea. Honestly. Obviously…

She also expressed upon the close of that chapter how she felt reassured and more confident than ever she was in fact making the right decision. And I’m so glad.

She’s training for the Olympics by the way. No big deal. Something tells me the world hasn’t even begun to see all that my sweet friends beautiful, fiery spirit has to offer. But we can revisit that point in about, oh I don’t know, say four years…

And so in this season, I dare say, I am asking myself less questions that sound like:
what are you going to do?”
and “how much money will it make?”
and more questions that sound like:
“how will you accomplish the becoming?”
and “who will you be when you get there?”
and “where is there anyway?”

I certainly don’t have all the answers. I’ve only just begun to ask the questions. However, what I do know, I will strive not to forget in this season. The things I’m discovering about myself, re-learning and embracing about myself, they are valuable, and they are worth pouring my heart into. In this season, I plan to explore the things that make me come alive. The things that make me feel grounded and unfettered too, make me feel hopeful and inspired. Even when it’s not glamourous, even when it’s humbling. Call it naivety, call it stupidity, but I am still young enough to believe anything is possible. And I am finally old enough to believe that I am capable of turning hope into reality. Because it’s the only way I know how to not get stuck. And so I’m taking a risk. I’m walking away, trying something new. Hoping against all hope that my terror will keep me on my toes, keep my eyes on God and my spirit determined.

Perhaps I was wrong. When I’d said this season has left me feeling “so profoundly unlike myself,” perhaps what I’m feeling is instead something far more resembling my self than anything before and I’m only just gaining the clarity to recognize it. It is certainly possible that in all the time I spent investing in someone else’s version of me, I lost sight of the real thing. Perhaps I’m just now taking the time to notice.

My prayer is that at the close of 2013, as I reflect back on yet another year that’s flown by, I’ll see the bittersweetness of this season in all its rich context and the fruit of the tears that brought me to this vulnerable and healing place.

Happy NEW Year. May it prove to be nothing less.

Beauty in the Body

“The body is one unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… Now the body is not made up of one part but of many… The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
-1 Corinthians 12:12-26

———

It never takes long before reality abruptly drags me back down to earth as the twinkle in my eye is met by a vacant, disbelieving stare, and I am quickly reminded of the rare form that exists here in this particular, obscure vein of LA. I suppose I ought to just keep it to myself sometimes, but it’s so difficult once you’ve tasted and seen just how beautiful it can be. You want everyone to know, to experience it too. But in the same breath, I do recognize that I might fare well to spend more time praising the beauty of my present circumstances rather than always harping on what was like some broken record. What can I say… I’m working on it.

I just got back from 5 days spent in L.A. [and by ‘just,’ I mean like 2 weeks ago- which is how long I’ve been writing this stupid post... but that’s besides the point].  This was my first visit since I moved to Portland 4 1/2 months ago. In many ways those past months feel as though they’ve stretched on and on, and yet, sitting back in that familiar territory surrounded by so many dear heart-friends, it somehow felt as though I’d never left and very little, if anything, had changed at all. I was right back in the same room where I had spent the last two months of my time in L.A. with my sweet roommate, Emily, next door to our dear friends Rachel & Jon, directly behind the sweetest southern couple you have ever had the privilege of knowing who also happen to lead our community group, and just a few blocks away from several other great friends, with the number ever increasing. Mornings easily filled up with last-minute invitations to coffee & breakfast, frequent barbecues seemed to plan themselves, and life, in all of it’s chaos and brokenness seemed to just unfold effortlessly, together.

life in community

life in community

I did not grow up “in the church,” or perhaps you might say, with specific, consistent exposure to a body of believers in any way. My parents were believers and raised us kids under the guidance and instruction of the Word as best they knew how, but it did not extend much beyond the boundaries of our property line. With that said, I have always had a very strong conscience toward the Lord, however, it wasn’t until mid-way through my college years that I discovered for the first time the genuine, authentic, unsurpassed beauty of the active, thriving Body of Christ by way of the Church. I’m not talking about a building where people gather once a week and sing songs and guzzle down coffee to stay awake during the sermon to then head promptly back to their *normal* lives. No, and if that’s your experience, while it’s not all bad, I’m genuinely sorry. When I make reference to the Church, the images that spring up in my mind and heart are not of checklists and placating some distant God for yet another week, but rather of a group of people who intentionally, by the abundant grace of God, find a way to come together to meet each other’s needs, to carry each other’s burdens, to share in joys and sorrows, laughing together, mourning together, eating together, serving together, learning together, and especially forgiving together. Simply put: to do this crazy, broken, beautiful thing called life… together. It’s an incredible concept really once it sinks in that through all of life’s ups and downs, no matter how dark the valley, no matter how steep the climb, we never have to journey it alone. We were created for community. Perhaps this sounds elementary to some of you, but for me, I was genuinely unaware of this beautifully intrepid way of doing life all throughout my adolescence and well into early adulthood.

I remember the first time someone expressly explained the concept of the trinity to me. Yes, God is One, and there is none other. However, our One God exists in three parts, you might say… that is [in a way that is still difficult for me to wrap my mind around], God exists in community with Himself; always has [see John 1:1-5]. And when God created Adam, he created him in His own likeness, to be an image bearer of his glory and character. With that, God deemed it not good for him to be alone. It was necessary for man, as image bearers of the living God, to exist and thrive in the context of community, just like God. Insert Eve, and suddenly, as the two began dwelling in communion with God and one another, creation was deemed by the Creator, for the very first time to be very good.

With that said, somehow, by the grace of God, I discovered this reality in college and have not since let go of the concept. In fact, it just keeps getting better.

When I moved out to the west side after graduation with my fun, adventure-loving, [did I mention beautiful?] roommate Jill, we searched for quite some time to find a community we could dive into. And to be honest, it took more time than we would have liked. Several months went by before we even discovered Reality L.A., and then several months more beyond that before genuine community and deeper friendships began to take root and spring up out of that dry season. This is the second lesson I had to learn about community in my life [the first being that authentic community exists and is essential for gospel-centered living]: it takes work, it takes investment, risk and time. Community doesn’t just happen to us… it’s something we collectively build, literally. So invest we did, and over the course of the next year and a half, the incredible friendships that developed are unlike anything I could have ever anticipated. I spent seven years of my life in Southern California, and yet, the people I met in my last year and a half down there are some of the dearest, most authentic friendships I’ve ever known. They are the people I book last minute flights to go see, simply so I can sit in their presence while sipping hot coffee, soaking up life’s little joys along the way. And they are the reason I love L.A. They taught me what genuine community really looks like in all it’s rare and lovely form, dysfunctions not excluded. Joys celebrated together, and disappointments cushioned by a blow of grace, every time. It’s not perfect, but it’s real, and it’s always worth it.

And now, as my bones are readjusting to the deep chill that boasts its dominion over the air here in Portland, soothed by copious amounts of hot coffee, I am reminded once again, that the Church is not confined by city limits or building walls or demographics or anything at all. And if that is true, then neither is community.  4 1/2 months later and the blessing of this sweet truth has already been poured out over me in more ways than I can count. This is the lesson I’m currently learning about community… it exists wherever you choose to build it. Furthermore, most everyone is longing for it, whether they cognitively acknowledge it or not. So when jaded expressions from those who think me a bit hyperbolic attempt to dissolve my joy, I shall choose instead to invite them to take part in the irresistible revolution that exists right here. For as the Lord has kindly been revealing to me in fresh ways every day, our joy as children of the King is not circumstantial. I won’t find it in L.A. or in blue skies, stunning beaches or sun-kissed skin [although these things certainly don’t hurt!]. But as I lean into the beauty of the body that is all around, glimpses of eternity reflected in every pair of eyes that meet my own, I know that then and only then will the words of Paul begin to be fulfilled in our city and in our world: that there may be “no division in the body.” And when this is true, there is more than enough joy to go around.

So let us all bring our varied gifts, talents and shortcomings alike to the table. Then by the grace of God our Father, may we find the strength to stay at the table. Invest. And thrive. Because “life is a gorgeous broken gift, six billion+ pieces, waiting to be fixed.” May we make our way through the shards of glass together. May we heal together. And may we usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth… together.

Grace & Peace

The {Art} of …Slowing…

For the last few weeks I have been wandering around Portland, feeling lost and far from home most of the time, but trying amidst my culture shock to jump into city life here with both feet; to immerse myself in Portland culture. Eating at local food carts (something I’d never dare attempt in L.A.), venturing into the multifaceted world of public transportation, and even trying to wrap my head around the whole “live local” concept that seems to permeate this city, because lets be real people, I am a Target girl to my core. There is so much to learn and adapt to. But what I’ve found to be one of the most challenging aspects of life to adjust to here is the rhythmn that this peculiar little city hums along to. Just imagine- everyone on the street is a Sunday driver (walker, biker, whathaveyou) every day of the week… Now there are many contributing factors, but from my observations thus far, it is life by way of public transit that makes everything slooow.waaaay.dooown.

Okay sure, the public transportation system here has a great reputation. Apparently it’s said to be one of the best in the nation. And after just a week of exploring it, I could see why. But for an L.A. girl like myself who is used to jumping in her car on a whim whenever I need something, and knowing I can get right to where I need to go when I need to get there, it’s been rather strange trying to adjust to a lifestyle which requires so much, well, waiting! At first glance, it seems crazy to me how much longer the most menial things take when you are forced to rely on public transit. Even if you would like to drive, generally you will find it’s entirely impractical because there simply isn’t any free parking (not to mention this city, while easily navigated as a pedestrian or cyclist, is abnoxiously frustrating to try and navigate by motorvehicle due to obstinant one ways and “no turns permitted” signs on practically every street. Ummm… I’m sorry, what?). Consider this: you want to go out to eat? Pay for parking. You need to go grocery shopping? Feed the meter. You want to go to the gym? Swipe it. You want to go to church on Sunday? You guessed it, cough it up. I mean honestly people- it’s legitimately more difficult to park in Portland, a small city in a state with more undeveloped land than almost anywhere else I can think of, than it is to park in Los Angeles (maybe you’ve heard of it?) Anyway, it didn’t take me long to realize that driving to work everyday just wasn’t going to happen. And so I learned quickly what the Max was and what a Transit Center is, and that there is indeed an app for that. 

Over the past few weeks I have observed the life of one of my roommates, and I am constantly amazed at how she gets by. She doesn’t have a car, a smart phone, a computer, or basically anything that I would dub a necessity from my privileged perspective. Most astonishing to me though is that when she recounts her day, it seems that most of it was spent traveling. Walk a mile to the bus stop, catch the max, connect to another bus, catch a street car, all to finally end up where you needed to be 45 minutes to an hour later (and that’s if you’re staying in the city), a drive that would have taken me 10 minutes… maybe. It seems very inconvenient to me to say the least, but what is most surprising to me I think, is that people here generally just don’t mind. It’s just part of the rhythm of daily life. And so it dawned on me, that the very ability to slow down is in fact an art form: The Art of Slowing as I call it. And so I take a moment and pause, close my eyes, breathe in deep (because the air is clean here and when you take a moment to pause, you notice such things), and remind myself that life is not a destination so much as it is a journey. And as cliché and hackneyed as I know that sounds, I legitimately need reminding of this. I am a very destination oriented individual by nature, and as frustrated as it makes me sometimes, I am clinging to the truth that this is a valuable lesson/art form to learn & perfect. And so I bought a monthly transit pass, and I listen to funny converstations on the bus and catch up on some reading, and I crowd in next to quirky people on the Max, and I have walked this city up and down, six ways to Sunday, and I’m buying a bike, and I haven’t filled up my gas tank in over two weeks, and you know what? I’m beginning to be okay with it. I might even start to like it.

Some moments I’ve had time to appreciate while waiting for the MAX

This morning I got invited to a Happy Hour Bike Ride with some people at work that’s taking place next week. It’s some big organized thing some people in our office are doing with a client of ours or something of the such. We are all hopping on our bikes after work and riding 8+ miles to our destination- some brewery somewhere. And it’s funny, because I would have laughed if someone asked me to do this in L.A., who has time for something like that? But here, it’s entirely commonplace for a group of strangers to come together like this as a community who share a common interest. And one of the beautiful things about moving to a new city is, chances are, you know very few people. So when you get depressed looking at your usually over-booked social calendar to find a row of empty squares on a page, you tend to say yes to things you never would have before. And of course, this is how you make new friends and discover new hidden gems and create new social circles. And so even though I have never been a bike rider (except for my morning spin classes of course), and even though I can’t drink beer because of my gluten alergy, and even though I probably won’t know anyone, I’m saying yes. Yes to a little adventure. Yes to new opportunities and the possibility of new friends. Yes to the potential of discovering new passions & hobbies. And ultimately, yes to whatever surprises the Good Lord has in store.

So in the spirit of community, I hope you can find your own little way to join me on this journey toward the Art of Slowing. Maybe just today, for an hour, or maybe for a week or month. Who knows, we might just discover through the practice of this discipline that the spirit of slowing begins seep into our pours causing our souls to expand a bit to make room for all the beauty and colour in the world surrounding us that we so often overlook on the way to our next destination. Or maybe that’s just me…

Happy Journey!

Some Food For Thought

I’ve been a vegetarian (or pescatarian for those of you who know the difference) for many years now. I get a lot of questions regarding this choice of life-style, but mostly, people just tend to be amazed that I could live life without eating meat. And if I had a dollar for every time I got asked “but how do you get enough protein!?” well, I’d have a lot of dollars. However, despite the inherent restrictions & challenges that come along with such a life-style, I think my favorite part about choosing to forego meat from my diet is the mere fact that it has forced me to be so much more creative when confronted with the inevitable: “what’s for dinner?”

And no, beef is not the right answer in this case…

One of my new roommates who just moved up to Portland from Orange County (thank the Lord for the gift of solidarity in this season!) made a comment the other day about how when she lived with her sister, they literally ate the same thing every single night: chicken and rice with a limited rotation of vegetables. She said they always went to the grocery store with the intention of coming up with something more creative, but always walked away, more or less, with the same meal. I think this would kill me, but I understand the mentality. Growing up our meals were consistently just more of the same, only sub out the chicken for beef, and you can bet that we rotated through the same one-dish-wonders every week.

Making the choice to eliminate meat has forced me to explore different options. What other sources of protein are there out there? What can you use to make a meal more “meaty” or hearty so that you don’t miss that fist-full of flesh on your plate? As a kid, my mom used to beg and plead with me to help out in the kitchen; “You need to start cooking one meal a week. How are you ever going to find a husband if you can’t cook!?” Old fashioned to be sure, but she meant well. (Mom if you’re reading this, I love you!) So she would force me to make spaghetti with the intention of it being a weekly routine. I would make it begrudgingly and then conveniently let her forget when my “day” came back around the following week. All of that to say, it never stuck. You can’t force someone to love something they just don’t, especially a teenager, let’s be real. Everyone knows that will always make any teenager all the more hell-bent on hating it just to spite you.

But remove meat from the equation, and suddenly I found myself fascinated with new flavors, dishes, combinations and varieties. Through my college years I started to experiment a little more, and the more income I managed to bring in, the more I ditched the cafeteria & explored my talents in the kitchen. Fast-forward to present day and wouldn’t you know it, cooking is one of my favorite therapies. Or perhaps that’s food, and cooking is just the means to an end ;) Either way, I have learned to fall in love with the art of cooking. But more than that, I absolutely love the way food brings people together.

In college, I was heavily involved in Rezlife where I was responsible for planning events and promoting community for fellow students. Tack on 3 years of that and my party-throwing, dinner-making, cookie-baking abilities only improved. I fell in love with hosting events and determined one of my natural giftings to be the gift of hospitality (or so said some Christianese survey I took years back). But whatever, I’ll take it. When I think about the holidays, or a friend from out of town coming to stay, or any event in life really that might warrant an occasion for a gathering of friends/family, my mind immediately jumps to all the many possibilities. I love the presentation factor. It’s more than just the menu, or what’s in your glass, or the anticipation of (or perhaps dread of an irrefutable) dessert; it’s about the beauty of it all. Environment. Display. Appeal. They say you eat with your eyes before you ever take a bite, and I must say, I couldn’t agree more.

As luck would have it, I just moved in with a sweet girl who is in culinary school up here at the Art Institute of Portland. We both have a love of cooking, but she has the eye for presentation and the natural intuition that promotes a seamless sequence of events in the kitchen. These things I’m still learning. But let me tell you, it is a total blast to have someone to cook along side. Just the other day she was looking through some of my cookbooks that I had pulled out as I was unpacking and she became engrossed in one in particular given to me by a friend years back called “Eating Local” (how very Portland of her). It has some really great recipes in it, most of which I have not attempted. But she fixated on one in particular that incorporated every part of a beet. The root, the stem & the leaves with a whipped fresh mint goat cheese blend for the savory dip. Now I love beets, but for the life of me, I have never known how to cook them. And I certainly didn’t know the stems and leaves were desirable for eating. But she convinced me, so we ran to Fred Meyer (because apparently it’s a big deal up here & that’s what people do), and got all necessary ingredients. This girl whipped the dish together in no time, and I was stunned not only by the beauty & creativity of the dish, but by the explosion of flavor and savory goodness that followed. Add a delightful wine (“God King Slave,” a beautiful syrah-tempranillo blend, created & produced by the one and only Christine Collier) and the meal made for my favorite evening in Portland thus far.

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Last night my best childhood friend, Vanessa came over for our first reunion since my move and, you guessed it, we made dinner. Vegetarian stuffed bell peppers with asparagus and of course a red wine.

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Lo & behold, another fine evening. But I was struck last night by a strange & comforting thought while we were slaving away in the kitchen: it really doesn’t matter where I am, when I’m cooking with friends, I’m home. I had forgotten that I was not in LA anymore. I had forgotten that it was not normal to spend an evening with Vanessa as old friends. And I had forgotten all the anxiety that has been my faithful companion throughout the course of this move. And with that realization, I couldn’t help but fall just a little deeper in love with this simple pleasure, and furthermore, I felt, if only ever so slightly, more at ease in this new place that feels anything like home. So here’s to hoping I can adapt one bite at a time.

Cheers