workman in the light

There is nothing particularly interesting about Workman. Just in the thick of the boredom of being a single thirtysomething, just tall enough to change a smoke detector without a chair, and with less hair than before. He works 9 to 5, collects blackened coins from the ground, and is friends with all street animals (that is stray cats, rabid squirrels, schitzo mice, and dirty rats, to name a few).

He fits into the world by being a wall, holding up the house, but often pinned over with more colorful and exciting things.

Things that will eventually, fade and crumble away…

he slumped out of the small office meeting room, eyes to the floor. the interviewing team seemed uninterested and unimpressed with him. again.

we are happy having you in the basement, you’ve been doing a wonderful job there the past few years. if a position is available in the front, we will be sure to let you know

he wanted to see the light. 

walking into work everyday, the most enchanting part was seeing the stream of sunrise come through the curtains in dusty lines. it sounded a lot better than being underground in the green-yellow fluorescent lit basement.

but apparently, today was not the day.

so Workman went back to work,

taking the industrial elevator down, watching the last bit of natural light disappear with the doors.

it was late afternoon. Workman finished his shift and decided to walk home instead of taking the train.

it was a pleasant early fall day, the sun barely hanging in the sky, warming everything that stayed still in its sight.

the sidewalks were empty, which was not rare for this place.

people cared too much about staying in their tidy suburban homes than visiting the city these days. Workman crunched red and brown leaves under his feet. ahead, there was a small rustling in a twiggy bush. a pigeon with two stump feet was trying to eat a bottle cap, flipping it with each peck.

bending over to help the disabled bird, Workman rustled through his backpack and took out a sandwich bag filled with dry, brown crusts and offered some to the bird. curious, the pigeon pecked, and then grabbed the whole piece and jumped back into his bush. 

Workman dumped out the rest of his crust and continued walking.

Workman lived on the bottom floor of a short, brick-walled apartment building. inside, it was neat. a paper thin magnet of dust seasoned every belonging. that was the consequence of living in the city — constant construction means constant dust, no matter how often you try to wipe it away.

he pulled a 30 minute lasagna from the oven, and sat at the small square table in his small square kitchen and opened up the small window by his head to let the city in. cars rolling by, high heels and brogues snapping on the concrete ground, and a cat, softly peaking in.

a dirty yellow cat with a bite out its ear poked its head through the window, drawn in by the

lasagna.

Workman extended a hand. tentatively, the cat sniffed. Workman scooped up a bite of the store-made meal and offered it to the stray.

it flinched at first, then slowly, slowly tasted the offering and bit off a chunk.

the cat eased on the edge of the window, and Workman split his dinner with a new friend.

a light rain and gloom fell onto Workman the next morning. nothing too bad to walk through, so he went about on his way to work.

before he got too far, a small black circle in the center the cement caught his eye. with just an edge of copper showing, Workman bent down to pick up the dirty penny. as he crouched, a small black nose poked it’s way out from behind some trash cans.

he turned just his head to see what was attached to the nose, but it retreated.

Workman slowly rose, and walked steadily over to the cans, eyes low to avoid the rain sprinkle from falling into them. A quick rustle let him know that the little nose had scurried further away. he stayed still, patient to see if it would return. it didn’t.

Workman came back with a plate of eggs and sausage, and an umbrella. he sat next to the trash cans, nibbling and staying dry.

the nose returned, this time attached to a matted brown dog, who sat at his side, asking for a bite. Workman lowered his plate to the pup, who licked up the breakfast in a matter of seconds.

as the two sat on the curb, the drizzle turned to an even lighter mist, and the clouds cracked, sending beams of yellow light through the haze, warming Workman’s face.

Workman stood and continued on his walk to work, umbrella tucked under his arm, and a little black nose following not too far behind.

 

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childhood cancer

There was fear, when they told her it was cancer. But also a young boldness that everything would be ok.

Lee and her two sisters sat still on the couch, sandwiched between their parents, not knowing what to say or how to react.

Then May started crying.

Mom got up to comfort May, to tell her that it was good that they caught it early, and the doctors were already working on what to do. Mom and Dad were getting second opinions, things might be OK.

Horizontal black bangs, and a shrimpy size of the second shortest in the class, the things Lee cared about when she was ten were simple. It was September, and she had just begun fifth grade. She loved playing with her dog, play dates with friends, and drawing with chalk on the front driveway.

She had an easy, sheltered life.

So when the bombshell of cancer invaded her small world, she didn’t know how to take it.

She felt like she should be more sad. Why didn’t she cry when she heard the news like May?

This was DAD after all. Mom said he was too young to have cancer. Lee didn’t really understand what that meant. She didn’t really understand cancer. No one was telling her how to feel, or what to do about it.

It seemed like Dad was becoming a superhero. He took time off of work and picked Lee and her sisters up from school more often now. He worked on things around the house on the weekends and went running in the mornings and biking in the afternoon. During the day, he didn’t stop moving. He built a new vegetable box for Grandma in the backyard and had Lee and May carry bags of dirt in with him to dump.

He didn’t seem scared.

In class one day, a girl said a joke.

What did one unemployed cancer say to the other?
…Let’s get Jobs!

Lee didn’t get it.

My dad has cancer!

She said to everyone.

The teacher pulled her aside.

Prostate cancer.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t something that Lee or her sisters had to worry about getting, according to Mom.

Dad and I were the youngest couple at the support group yesterday

Mom said over cereal the next morning.

She said it with a laugh, as if she was retelling the plot of Modern Family last night.

It was odd to hear Mom laugh about Dad’s cancer. But slightly comforting too, to see that it didn’t just have to be a sad thing.

 

The day Dad had his operation, Lee and her sisters got to stay home from school. His surgery was early in the morning, and the girls all got up with sleepy eyes and slippered toes to hug him and wish him luck. He’d be done by noon.

Dad came home and went straight to bed, drugged and drowsy. He was home and he was OK.

A little while later, Dad got the results of his tumor. The doctors supposedly got all the cancer out, and he wouldn’t have to do chemo. He would,

…Keep whatever little hair he has left!

Mom joked.

 

That was good news.

 

 

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where there is no backyard

the brain pinching smell of piss perfumes the cracked cement backyard of my city apartment. as i walk downtown, i find there is nothing special from alley to alley, nothing particularly unique to differentiate each building back from the last.

grey and narrow and edge to edge with anotherman’s trash, this is tight city living. where people find parking in front of each other’s garages, and life is hard to come by but not completely void.

people dig through trash with their shopping carts, bicycles, and flea market carts, collecting odd old things. there is a small bit of shame as we exchange shy lip-stretched smiles and covert glances at each other in the walk-by. stories skipped over as we pass, and soon forget each other’s faces.

there may be nothing particularly unique about these narrow walkways, but the character of each one shines brightly through the patchy floors and chipping wall paint.

the difference you pay when you live where there is no backyard.

 

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LAUP stories_004 | inside the house of a stranger i know

this summer, i participated in a six-week mission trip called the los angeles urban project, or LAUP.

LAUP is partnered with intervarsity christian fellowship, and sends college students and recent grads all around los angeles to live with and work with the urban poor.

my team was placed in west long beach.

we worked with fountain of life covenant church’s family center, tutoring k-12 kids.

this is the story of them.

monday, 31 july 2017

after four weeks of tutoring, playing and growing friendships with our kiddos, it was time to say goodbye.

today was our last day on site. we were to clean the family center, and make house visits to our students and drop off photos from our vbs week.

for most of the house visits, we went in groups of three or more; always traveling with our director, who could translate and converse choppy spanish with our non-english speaking families.

i thought i would spend most of my day cleaning. but i ended up going to every house, and visiting some 10 families.

each household gave us water or snack and sat down to talk, even if there was a language barrier.

the intimacy of entering into someone’s house for the first time was huge, and it was too big for me to fully appreciate what was going on in the moment.

most of the time, i let the people around me talk. i kind of just sat and nodded, smiled and laughed, fit into the group that i was with.

there was something about filling in gaps of the stories of the kids i had just barely gotten to know over the four weeks that caught me off guard.

it wasn’t quite gratitude, gratefulness, appreciation…

it was judgement.

i found that i was judging most of the houses and the families inside.

i know it’s not fair, but i did it anyways, instinctually.
my mind crept there, almost naturally,
my heart hard to receive the things these people were letting me into.

the first house we entered was quite a scene. it belonged to a little boy i had been working with all summer, david.

on a small patchy front lawn sat a shopping cart and a stroller, both filled with stuff. inside, the musky living room was taken over by a baby in a crib, napping while spongebob played on the tv above him. the shelves were crammed with toys and random junky trinkets. david invited us in with hugs, and then reclined on the couch to stare at videos on a tablet. his little sister sprawled on the ground, playing with tiny toys and scribbling into a cartoon coloring book.

we all took a seat on the couch as abuela entered the room. she stood in the doorway and began to apologize to us in broken english.

she was sorry that david didn’t come to tutoring more often, that he skipped the last day, that she had too much on her plate to always remember him.

outwardly, i accepted her apologies.

inwardly, i started blaming.

this is why he wasn’t learning… he watches tv all day, he stares at a screen, his family can’t read to him, they don’t care about tutoring.

this summer with david was not easy. he had been held back in first grade twice already, mainly due to his difficulties with reading.

my posture changes slightly as abuela shares about her life.

it’s not easy.

she takes care of up to 10 grandkids at a time, in her tiny house, which, if i’ve learned anything from managing just 7 third graders, is not easy.

she does this all on her own, and works, too; a caretaker for the elderly, which, is not easy.

my thoughts are put on pause, judgements halted.

my head understands how difficult her life is, but it doesn’t know how to sympathize.

i know that i am wrong in my judgements.
of course i am.

but it took a while for it to really sink in.

for me to find exactly what judgements i was placing where.

i float through the rest of the day listening to these stories, never really adjusting or feeling comfortable in anyone’s house.

the next day i told all this to kim.

on a walk along the dry reservoir bed of the la river bike path, i told her about how i felt entering into these houses and stepping deeper into the lives of abuela, our students, and people i had barely interacted with over the weeks.

and it was rather revealing and freeing to voice those harbored thoughts.

my heart was hard to receive, but after releasing my thoughts, a little bit of the stone covering chipped away.

i needed to voice everything, my preconceived notions on immigrants, on uneducated kids and people, on what a house should look like, on kids whose parents are not present. my judgements on the things i do not see, because that is how i begin to break apathy.

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this is the fourth piece in a series of LAUP stories. click here to find more.

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LAUP stories_002 | wor_ship

this summer, i participated in a six-week mission trip called the los angeles urban project, or LAUP.

LAUP is partnered with intervarsity christian fellowship, and sends college students and recent grads all around los angeles to live with and work with the urban poor.

my team was placed in west long beach.

we worked with fountain of life covenant church’s family center, tutoring k-12 kids.

this is the story of when i led worship on a container ship.

before we begin, dear reader, i’m afraid you may feel like you’ve skipped a chapter in a book, and some things may miss your darling brain. so, this bitty intro here provides some context to keep you informed. if you think you know enough, then by all means, skip this chapter and read ahead. but, for everyone else, please stay and read.

my team this summer consisted of five lovely souls beside my own: jeff, emaly, michael, and kim, our ASC, or team leader. we stayed at the house of a biracial white/indian couple, who we called mama fay and papa chim. papa chim is a retired chaplain at the port of long beach, and had been serving for over twenty years, building relationships with captains and seamen, even occasionally housing a few.

papa chim invited us to go to the ports with him to sing worship songs to the crew before they set off to japan. we had to get cleared by the ports a few days in advance, and had to leave the family center early that day.

well then. now that you are filled in, reader, so begins the story of my favorite day of LAUP.

tuesday, 18 july 2017
PORT OF LONG BEACH – 6PM

it takes 10 days to get from long beach to japan, by ship.

24 hours to unload,

then 10 more days to get back.

21 days of work

and 4 days off.

they choose to spend one of days those with us.

it felt like we got out of school early. we cut tutoring short so we could get to the ports by 6pm.

we were laughing and bouncing and yelling in the car, just a bunch of kids on their way to a shipyard after school.

we meet up with papa chim and sam, his chaplain friend, at the port of long beach. they came with a stack of pizzas, we came with a guitar and djembe, ready to worship.

we were taken to the captain’s quarters, towards the top of the ship. ported, it looked down on the shipping yard, as giant cranes lifted crates from floor to ship.
we climb all over the couches, children in dad’s office, gaping at the giant claw-machines grabbing for prizes.

we fight for window space,

my turn!

i shove emaly out of the way. with my face pressed into the thick bolted glass window, i can kind of make out the neighborhood of my beachside apartment.
i look down at the faded blue and red crates, stacked like a building.
this is something i didn’t think i would see when i signed up to tutor third graders for a summer.

the captain takes us to the bridge, the main steering room.

we take the elevator up, which made me nervous only because mama fay told us a story about a little boy who died in a ship’s elevator once;
his body got caught between the inner and outer door, and when it shut, the elevator pulled down half of him with it.

we pile in.

it feels like a coffin.

i am matchboxed in between six other bodies.

this casket of an elevator makes my back cold and wet with confinement sweat.

the elevator stops and i get out last, making sure to jump out with both feet so i don’t get caught in between anything.

on deck, we touch and take pictures of just about everything. the bridge is panoramic. it overlooks the entire port and everything going on below.

we make our way into a small common room.

sam and papa chim introduce us as missionaries. and before we start singing, sam says a few words

when they were our children, they were bad.
but when they become God’s children, they become better, and good.

worship was great.
i’ve never lead worship before.

i made mistakes, and it wasn’t perfect, but it was fun, and a privilege to lead worship on a ship, for a group of men about to go out on a 10 day journey.

our presence to these seamen was very important, as papa chim explained a few nights earlier.
they go out to sea and have a grueling schedule, one that allows for very little downtime. they often leave behind family for months at a time and completely change crews after a full shipment.

it’s a lonely job, especially for the captain, his authority ostracizing him from his crew most of the time.

the thing with LAUP is that we are put into an environment we’re not all entirely used to; one that is meant to show us what underprivelage looks like,
living in lower class neighborhoods, living on a stipend of $175 a week, living in the confines of a 1 mile radius from our site.

and it’s not to be a tourist at a zoo; we are there to integrate with, build relationships with, and sympathize with the people of our community; being a christian is all about community living, and you can only do that if you live in community with all of God’s people, from all parts of privilege.

so when we got this special treatment, it was displacing, uncomfortable,

and made slightly more uncomfortable when i learned that the pizzas papa chim and sam brought had disappeared along with a majority of the crew, and we were set to eat a dinner with the captain only. it was prepared by and served by ansari, a crew member who stayed extra long and took extra pictures with us after worship.

after dinner, the captain takes us to explore the engine. we each get a pair of earplugs because it’s so loud.

and for the rest of the time we were on the ship, i let myself just be there, and stay innocent to what i know is a very hard life.

we reach the very bottom and take the elevator up; too many stairs to climb.

i came back outside with the same amount of privilege i came in with.
stipend living does not take away our college educations, our living in a first world country, our ability to give up six weeks of our summers, to not have a job
and to live with the people that must.

the only difference is that now, i know what it looks like. and as simple as it is, that’s all i needed.

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this is the second piece in a series of LAUP stories. click here to find more.

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LAUP stories_001 | LAUP_date

The following two excerpts are email updates I sent out to a small group of people when I was at LAUP, or, the Los Angeles Urban Project. 

This summer, I participated in a six-week mission trip called the Los Angeles Urban Project, or LAUP.

LAUP is partnered with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and sends college students and recent grads all around los angeles to live with and work with the urban poor.

My team was placed in West Long Beach.

We worked with Fountain of Life Covenant Church’s family center, tutoring k-12 kids.

14 July 2017 – three week mark –

Contrary to my own belief, these first three weeks were actually super difficult. I was pretty homesick and overwhelmed the first week, pretty tired and overwhelmed the second week, and pretty challenged and overwhelmed the third week.

I came in with a posture I often have with new challenges, thinking,

It’s easy, I got this!

But was immediately bucked from my high horse to the welcoming and humble, humble ground.

Orientation week kicked me in the butt. Four days full of talks, and discussions, and bible studies, and social justice, and money, and living incarnationally and convictions, convictions, CONVICTIONS out the wazooooOOOooo!

Plus, commuting up from West Long Beach to Lincoln Heights for the week, and eating mainly pasta and rice gives you the farts, the fats, and the carbo-loaded energy to run around,
not sit in an old, unpadded chair inside a hot, windowless, sanctuary for eight hours…
#imnotbitter #oweek

Week two was our first week on site, and getting used to working full days from 9 – 6, creating full curriculums and filling the day for these kiddos nearly pushed me into burnout.

Reflection was needed. And reflection was had.
And the hard things started coming up.

I think I realized that I initially signed up for LAUP for reasons besides what the program actually is all about.

LAUP is about community living, community involvement, and living a life as selfless as Jesus.

And I signed up because I thought it would be fun.

Of course I wanted to grow closer to God, I wanted to learn about His heart for the poor, the marginalized,
but I really just wanted to do it for me, more than anything. Because my friends and mentors said it would be a great thing to do, because I was a little aimless about what I wanted to do after college, because I wanted God to put something on my heart.

Now, those don’t seem like terribly sinful reasons, but I realized that I never prayed about it, or asked God if this was where he wanted me to be for the summer, and that disappointed me.

That said, week three has brought a bit of redemption for this realization!
As I have gotten to know these kids, my heart has begun to hurt for them, and I can feel God begin to show me where He’d like me to go.

Some of you may know that starting a charter school (in the way distant future) has been something that me and some friends have been toying with this last year or so. At the very least, school reform is something on my mind
I think that while working with the Family Center, my mind has begun to picture that future more and more.

The kids are here for a reason. They were left behind, they fell through the cracks,
they became marginalized.

I’m working with kids who are in the first grade for the third time because they can’t read, kids who look like they’re about to cry when I bring out division, kids who were just left behind because they learn differently.

And that is breaking my heart.

It’s only been three weeks,
and ideas have not been fully processed,
but these things that God is bringing up, as difficult as some of them are to [deal with],
have been very cool to deal with.

…………………..

6 August, 2017 – Post LAUP – 

So… LAUP ended.

And now, I’ve got some plans.

If you’ll remember, when I last wrote, I was barely realizing my understanding of where God might like to send me post-grad and post-laup.

What seems to have transpired from my six weeks is a desire to work with marginalized kids.

I’m going to take the CBEST (California teacher test), and apply to be a substitute teacher (you only need a BA to do it!) to see if a classroom environment is the one for me. That said, as of right now I am still exploring different avenues of how I can best use my skills of media and film and storytelling to cater to underprivileged youth in and around Long Beach and LA, because teaching isn’t necessarily the only path.

I’m really excited to see where this takes me, and super grateful that I have found something that both breaks my heart and fills me with joy, allowing me to instill some sort of change in the community I am in.

LAUP was transformative in so many ways, and I am so happy it was my first post-grad adventure. It is going to change the way I enter the working world, and how I try to impact it.

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