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.

.

.

.

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

x

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.

x

Late in the Mourning//My Former Distraction

img_5331

a print from my big sister

25 May 2016
My eleven year old golden retriever sits in a box on the mantle, no heavier than a gallon of milk, and it disturbs me more than I thought it would.

When I was away at college, I always forgot that I had dogs at home. I got used to not seeing them everyday, and that was totally fine, because I knew they would be waiting for me when I got back.

So after Koa died, and I went back to school, it was an easier transition than I expected.

I was already used to not seeing her. But because of that, I never really mourned her, and now that I’m home, I’m beginning to feel the effects.

Walking around the house, I catch a glimpse of her for a split second before realizing she’s gone. And I still wander around when I’m bored or procrastinating, in search of my former distraction to hug and hang out with. But she’s not here anymore.

I see the way my family still clings on to our dog. My older sister wears Koa’s dog tag around her neck. My younger sister keeps Koa’s old bed in her room. There are pill bottles from Koa’s last pain meds on the kitchen table.
My mom even waited for me to get home to fill out the insurance forms for Koa’s euthanasia and cremation.

I don’t want to forget my first dog; she was a milestone. After years of persistence and a year of pet-sitting to earn the money to buy a dog, my parents finally gave in.

But I don’t want to hang on to something that’s not here, either. She’s a phantom limb. She’s here but she’s not, and it hurts when I think of her.

The day Koa died was strange. My sisters and I slept the night in the sunroom with her, taking her out when she needed to, but mostly just being with her.

Mom took photos of us, which I’m thankful for now, but at the time I couldn’t help but think how strange it was that at the end of the day, my dog would no longer be alive.

It felt rushed, like we were trying to fit in as many activities as we could before Koa had to leave.

As the hours went by, we gave Koa more treats and crowded her so much more. Then at 9pm, the vet came to our house, and we all sat on the floor with our love. Everyone was crying as we whispered our last “I love you”s to Koa, hugging and petting her for the last time.

Then she was put to sleep.

I walked away at that point.
Koa stopped moving.
It was horrifying.
I had never seen something die before, and I couldn’t believe it happened.

Koa was my childhood, she was half my life.

I hid in the front room until the vets took her away.

The next day, I went back to school for a retreat, and then forgot about my dog for a while.


13 July 2016 
Life goes on, and sometimes faster for others. My 95 year old great aunt was admitted to the ICU in late June. Her kidneys were failing and she was put on life support. No one knew how long she had.

We were to decide what to do with her with a social worker, and when he told us to make plans for her death, I was hit hard with my final mourning for Koa.

In a room of ten people, spanning over three generations, who care deeply for my great aunt, I began to cry for my dog.

Us sitting in the family meeting room at the hospital felt like when my mom and I were at the emergency vet, and the doctor who had never met me or my dog before was telling me that I would have to put her down.

I hadn’t cried for Koa since the day she died.

It was a quick release. But it felt good, getting it out.
It was an incredible relief.

I loved having a dog growing up. Coming home after school and being greeted by the happiest face, a cold wet nose nuzzling you in the middle of homework, asking you to take a break and go play.

A friend to wake you up in the morning, a headfirst burst through the door, a lick on the face, and wag on the tail, leading you to the kitchen for breakfast and a walk.

I’m thankful for all of it.

x