The Mystery of Pain

Pain is the storm raging within, You can see it in my eyes. 
If I tell you my story, you may think I'm made of lies.

The world tells me that there is always something bigger and better,
So why should I unveil my misery while I walk this wide road of discovery?

I have experienced the inevitable. I have wrestled the unthinkable. I have endured the cycle.

Pain is the storm brewing within, And slowly it is spilling out from the interior.

I don't know how long it will take for me to recognize this wide road needs to be narrower.


I woke up this morning heavy and frustrated. The unimaginably painful story people have to walk makes my heart search for answers. In those moments when I desire, hope, and fight for something more joyful, I feel helpless and weak. You see, the reality is I don't understand why. I keep asking, "Why?" but the answer keeps leading me back to the mystery of life: "Life is a series of mysteries we must each unravel at our own pace. Some people solve this mystery quicker than others. Some people never do. Some like myself are still trying to put the puzzle together."

We experience pain, but not without reason. In the midst of sitting, weeping, and questioning with my community I realize that there are uniquely designed gifts for all of us as we navigate through our stories at our own pace.


The poem above is written from the perspective of those I've encountered in the past couple years. Individuals who have endured and continue to walk a path of self-discovery. In their stories, I begin to find an "we" instead of a "them." These are individuals who have helped me look at the beauty of life, in such a raw way.

"Dear God, I am full of wishes, full of desires, full of expectations. Some of them may be realized, and some may not, but in the midst of all my satisfactions and disappointments, I hope in you. O Lord, strengthen my hope, especially when my many wishes are not fulfilled. Let me never forget that your name is Love. Amen."
 - Henri Nouwen 


Lessons from a Lost Wallet.

Lessons from a Lost Wallet.

I woke up Saturday  morning not expecting it to be a day where I wish life had a rewind-restart-Lord,-let-there-never-be-a-day-like-this button.

Oh, yeah. So this happened a couple months ago. I wrote this a couple months ago. Procrastination at it's finest. Okay, continue....

After our peaceful and (surprisingly) conflict free grocery making list, I walked into my room to get my stuff so we can make the trip to the grocery store. I looked in my purse and my wallet wasn’t in there. I looked in another bag and my wallet wasn’t in there. My wallet, which on this occasion so happened to carry ALL my cards. I looked in every place that my wallet wouldn’t be and (you guessed it) my wallet wasn’t there. My wallet, that has our grocery money, my ID, my credit card, my bus card, my…oh, no.

“Kira, I’m not going to start freaking out. Would you come help me look for my wallet because I can’t find it?” Kira and I begin looking for my wallet and we can’t find it. I’m not going to panic… Heather joins the epic search party and helps me retrace my steps from the night before. I’m not going to panic. No wallet.

(Side note 1: As we’re searching my room, Kira finds a herd of ants who have invaded my room once again. Side note 2: I’ve learned that when I begin to reassure myself that I am not going to panic, that’s the first sign of being in the midst of panic.)

I keep repeating, “I’m not going to panic; I’m not going to panic; I’m okay….” Immediately, I know that the only place my wallet could be is in the hands of someone else on the bus from the night before. Therefore, I panic and it involves tears. Between every phone call, every “oh, that sucks” from customer service representatives, and every “please hold”, I begin to see this panic grow into fear and I continue to cry.

I needed to allow myself to feel these emotions in order for this losing my wallet thing to be a lesson in discovering what was happening. The most significant thing in this moment of panic was when I called Kate and she asked me, “What are the fears that come up for you in this situation?” Holding on to this question, I began to navigate through this day and discovered more about myself, my community, and God’s presence in moments like these.

If it wasn’t for my community, this story will all be a sad story about a lost wallet that went to wallet heaven (besides the fact that this had all my stuff, I really liked the wallet itself). The wallet is now back in my purse and replaced with new cards (bless the person who returned my wallet…actually, they blessed themselves with my bus card and some of my stipend money…). Now that this dramatic day is behind me, I am able to look back and see something a little deeper than this particular Saturday being just a crappy day I don’t want to remember.

I continued to wrestle through entitlement and self-pity throughout the day. I began to gently hear these questions from deep within me rise up: In this moment, how can you be generous towards your team? How can you best love and care for those around you? I couldn’t ignore these questions, so throughout the day I chose to pay attention to others instead of myself.

Even though it was difficult to do, I found a beautiful opportunity to love my housemate in a way that was also life giving for myself. I have learned these past two years that a sign of a generous person is the willingness to serve others with joy and having a great inward attitude when what is needed from others isn’t the most convenient for us. Generosity is an opportunity to yell “I LOVE YOU and CARE FOR YOU because YOU CARE FOR ME, TOO” with my actions.

I’d say up to this point, I’ve chosen to be “generous” when it has been the most convenient for me. This was a HUGE gift from God for me to receive that day…and still things continued to stay consistently the same rollercoaster of good and bad throughout the rest of the day! (Side Note 3: I believe my last words to some of my housemates before going to bed were a frustrated, “I just need this day to be over.” So sometimes, even with Jesus we just have THOSE days.)

Lessons in How to Cultivate Thankfulness

After the rain, Charlie and I walked over to our sweet neighbor’s house to walk her over for community dinner. Our neighbor, Celeste is 80 something; lives with her dog, Doggy Dog; and calls Tarrin her daughter. This past year, Tarrin has not only befriended and loved Celeste in the most beautiful way, but has continued to fight alongside Celeste for opportunities and services she needs to sustain daily life. Tarrin’s care for Celeste has opened opportunities for the rest of us to get to know and love Celeste throughout this year as well.

Walking Celeste back to our apartment, I realized the beauty in slowing down and savoring the moment. It took Charlie and me 10 minutes to get Celeste’s house. With Celeste it took double that time to get back to our place for dinner. When we walked slower, we allowed for intentional conversations and laughter to be shared. My lost wallet drama fades in comparison to this slow and rich moment walking Celeste back to our house. It brought me back to see the bigger picture of what God has been doing in our intentional community of 6 and the impact and transformation that our relationships with our neighbors (no matter how deep) have been changing us to be more generous with our love, time, compassion, gentleness…and so forth. I also recognize the gift and truth I found specifically from living with Tarrin, Heather, Charlie, Kira, and Taylor. When I allow myself to be cared for when I’m hurting or in need of help, I’m allowing others to pour love into me so that I may be able to continue to give.

Through it all, I have learned the beauty of transparent relationships – especially when things are messy. 


Can You Take Pictures at My Wedding?

My time at Agape Development has been filled with beautiful learning opportunities and relationships. 

At the beginning of the year, I was able to attend the women's retreat and had a blast getting to know the those from the neighborhood. Although I take the hour-long (if I'm lucky) commute from Fifth Ward to Third Ward, working here has made me feel like I'm a part of the community. At the core of what the organization believes, I've seen (and learned) that Christian Community Development happens first by building intentional relationships and working alongside those in the neighborhood to bring about change. In order to build these relationships, all the staff live within a 5-mile radius from the office, which is unique to this organization. This has created opportunities for staff and neighbors to have holistic relationships. 
Kirk and Amanda Craig (Executive Director/Founders of Agape Development) and their kids. Kirk and Amanda have been a great example and source of support this year as I navigate through my second year with Mission Year. 

I know I've learned a lot of spiritual and professional lessons this year and it's been a gift to do it in a space that is grace-filled and supportive of my leadership formation. Throughout the year, I've gotten to know neighbors who have come to Agape Development and speak so highly of the impact that this community has had on their lives. 

One of those people is Ava. Ava told me the other day with tears in her eyes that she doesn't know what she would do without Agape Development. The relationships she's experienced are authentic and challenge her to be a better mother, wife, and community member.

About a month ago, Ava asked me to take pictures for her wedding. I hesitated. Every chance I had, I wanted to remind her that I am no where close to calling myself a photographer. She kept insisting and reassuring me that she doesn't care and just wants someone who can capture as many pictures of her day as possible. I hesitantly agreed and humbly chose to take this as a learning opportunity. 

David Hill (Program Director and Pastor, and pro-Gardener) officiated the wedding at the garden.

The wedding was held at Agape Development's community garden and the main area of the office was transformed into a reception hall. It was beautiful to be interacting with co-workers (and friends) and neighbors on a weekend and for a special moment for Ava and Terri's lives. I learned a lot (I mean A LOT) about using a camera (I've been borrowing one of my generous housemate's camera) and capturing sweet moments. I had to take a zillion photos just to get a few really good ones. I learned that it is hard and a gift to learn be "invisible" and out of the way while taking pictures.

I stepped out of my comfort zone big time...and what I'll remember about this day is not the pictures that I took, but more so the lessons of community, relationships, service, and love that I've learned at Agape Development.
This is Jessie, the Women's Ministry/Young Adult something, at Agape Development. When we're in the office together, we barely get any work done and talk about funny moments from Jimmy Fallon (#hashtag). She's so great at what she does and her heart and passion to love people and share God's love for them is beautiful....and I thought this was a beautiful picture. #longestcaptionever
Celebrating with cake to wrap up the evening at Agape Development.

When Justice Visited the Neighborhood

The Justice Project

The Justice Project is an opportunity for team members to respond to the injustices identified while being present in the neighborhood. Projects could be anything from creating educational awareness or meeting a tangible need in the neighborhood. Teams have worked tirelessly to build organic gardens for organizations as an educational tool for children, built benches for those waiting at bus stops, and invited neighbors to create art and beautify neighborhoods. At the heart of the project is an invitation to seek justice with neighbors. Recognizing that we’re only in the neighborhood short-term, I believe the “with” part is vital and possible as a result of our commitment to build relationships. 

Photo Credit: Kira Echeandia
Photo Credit: Kira Echeandia
Resource Splash Day

The Resource Splash Day was birthed out of the desire to make available resources into the hands of our neighbors who may not already know what is available to them. By highlighting the opportunities available through service organizations in the neighborhood, we hoped to either inform or update neighbors with free resources for their families.

What started as a resource book, flourished into a partnership with the Fifth Ward CRC (a Mission Year service site) to have a resource fair and a summer kick-off celebration at our neighborhood park. We met every Tuesday night for several hours to delegate tasks, ask each other questions, and make decisions as a team. After several hours and days of making phone calls, requesting organizations to be present at the fair, asking for donations, passing out flyers door to door, we had our event on June 6th.

Lessons Learned

We started the day by setting up tables and chairs for the service organizations. Fighting the wind, we covered the tables with plastic covers and taped them. As we ran around quickly covering the tables, we found that we had to keep going back because the tape wouldn’t stay. In that moment, I recognized not everything would happen the way we planned, and the day’s success is reflected by the hard work that was put into our project. These past two years, I’ve been invited to see the beauty in the mess. At the end of the day we sat around the kitchen table reflecting and I recognized the beauty of the day.

Our dear neighbor and friend, Celeste, was with us from the moment we set up to the moment we headed home. And she did it with much joy.

Fifth Ward CRC agreed to buy a snow cone party package from Agape Development (where I’ve had the opportunity to work this year) to pass out to neighbors as they come. For Agape Development, this means an opportunity to encourage entrepreneurial skills to the youth from their neighborhood.

Remember when I worked at Change Happens last year? During our team meeting Tarrin expressed the hope to have a mobile HIV testing unit present at our event. I knew that Change Happens had one, so I was able to call those I knew there for them to be present as well.

Over 200 people showed up to the Resource Splash Day and about 12 service organizations. Families played in the water, had their faces painted (by Taylor, Cassie (Kira’s friend), and I), had free snow cones and cookies, climbed into a fire truck and celebrated community.

Photo Credit: Kate Pollard

What if Justice Moved In?

It’s important for me to emphasize that I’ve seen beauty here even in the midst of the injustices I may witness throughout. Something that stands out to me about this day is our intentional approach to love and shine light on opportunities for our neighbors. As I looked around the park, I saw justice visit the neighborhood that day.

But what if justice moved into the neighborhood?

I’m sitting with this question, searching for a simple answer. If justice means building relationships and seeking community, then I believe that justice would maybe look like ordinary people like me moving into neighborhoods where people are economically, racially, socially, etc. disadvantaged in order to build relationships, walk alongside them, and seek new opportunities that meet their basic needs.

What does it look like for YOU to pursue justice for others in your community?


We're a Mess and That's Okay.

“Can you guys believe that we’ve been doing this [Mission Year] for a year and a half?” This was the question that Cynthia (Alum Intern) asked a couple of weeks ago that has stopped me in my tracks as we end second trimester and head into a straight four months to finish off the year. I started second trimester with a lot of expectations and hopes. At first I gripped so tightly to those expectations – often falling into disappointment in myself and my community. My expectations said “I need you to love me unconditionally” and thus, did not provide room for the mess that needed to happen: the messy dishes, the messy debates, the messy “too-much-to-do-too-little-time” attitude I carried. It is because of the mess in these past couple of months, that I have grown to desire more reconciliation, vulnerability, and unity in diversity in my life. It is because of the mess that I have learned the importance of holding loosely of my expectations so that I may learn how to be a better leader.

With the end of this trimester, I’ve seen my team grow a lot in setting better boundaries and inviting others into their personal growth. Watching them grow, I’ve felt challenged to set better boundaries and expectations in my relationships. Exhibit A: the messy dishes.
The dirty dishes are something that we often talk about in our community. I hear questions in the house like “Who left their dirty dish in the sink?” “Can you put the dishes away?” “Whose turn is it to wash dishes?” [NOTE: I’m sure that if we had a dishwasher, it would be “Who didn’t load the dishes? Who didn’t unload the dishes?” and so forth. It could also be about other things that each person does differently. All that to say, no matter what, this messy (fill in the blank) thing we rely on each other to do would probably be a consistent topic of discussion]. A couple of weeks ago during the concerns part of our team meeting, one of my housemates noted that it seems like she is the only one who asks these questions that push others to uphold their end of the commitment we each have to helping our community flow. After a few seconds, I felt that I needed to confess (out loud) to the group that I was probably hindering others from holding their end of the commitment to keeping the kitchen clean by washing dirty dishes when they weren’t mine. Voicing this was an invitation to allow others to hold me accountable to not only leave other people’s dirty dishes alone, but also an acceptance of the needs I heard in my roommate’s concern to join her in the asking of others.

With these little tiny steps towards creating better boundaries in different aspects of my life, I realize that I’m becoming more at peace with what I offer to my housemates as a person and a leader. I’m beginning to give my time, emotions, friendship, and vulnerability out of my true self and avoiding burnout by giving out of what I assume others need from me. This helps me to create the space necessary in my heart to celebrate community; letting go of what is not and embracing the beauty of what is.

In a recent conversation, I was reminded to be of good cheer towards my intentional Mission Year community. It’s not too much longer, where the definition of intentional community will be transformed by the number of unshared meals, different churches, different work schedules, etc. Spring time is almost here and I sense a transition into a season of celebration and rejoicing over the work that God began in August of 2012. I will never get this beautiful, hard, and transformative season of my life back – and as much as I want to run away when the going gets tough, my commitment to myself and my community is to stop tip-toeing around the messy water, and jump fully into what is right in front of me.


Neighboring Is...

Neighboring is worth it.
Neighboring is worth it, but it is not easy.
Last year on Francis Street, neighboring was “easier.” But then again, it is always easier to look back and think of our past in an idealistic way. We lived in a neighborhood where many kids would ride their bikes through our yard, people would stop by to look at our garden, or watch us as we pushed the kids on the tire swing that the guys put up. Looking back, it seemed that neighbors were always available and in the neighborhood when it was most convenient for us and our schedule (so ideal, right?).
I’ve sat with this idea of neighboring for a couple of weeks – especially as I begin to reflect back on my first year experience - and wrestle through the differences we face in neighboring this year. 
This year, we live in an apartment complex owned by one of our service sites, Fifth Ward CRC. It’s not too often that we see families sitting outside on the porch, kids riding their bikes, and so forth. Every day we walk by several guys who sit under the tree or by the corner store. A couple blocks down the street, there is a water park and playground where we’ve met a couple of kids. My team walks to their service site every day and our church is walking distance as well. We are in the neighborhood every day, yet we’ve also struggled to build deeper relationships with those we see throughout the week.
Neighboring is not easy.
I’ve come to recognize that the act of neighboring is not easy. I can do all of the above and walk through the neighborhood every day and not really get to know people. I guess if you replace neighboring with relationships, we would all agree that relationships take a lot of work. So, when Jesus asked me to love my neighbors, I strongly believe that I'm not being asked to do something - but that I become someone who just loves people. It only gets complicated when I make it complicated and try to dissect what it means and how I should do this and....

This loving people thing? Yes, i
t requires a lot of giving and receiving. Yes, it would be a lot easier if everyone in our neighborhood were doing Mission Year (another idealistic statement...). But, I think there is a discipline that we are learning as we walk around the neighborhood for hours on Saturday trying to be present and available for those relationships. It isn’t guaranteed that I’ll meet the entire block and have story after story on my blog of neighbors who’ve changed our lives. But, I think what is guaranteed is that as I continue to pursue the call I feel towards building relationships with great love, I’ll be changed.
 Neighboring (Relationships) requires making choices.
We have to choose to be present in the neighborhood. It may seem like a given in Mission Year, that being in the neighborhood comes easily for all of us who commit to being here. It doesn’t. It is my second year with Mission Year and I don’t have it all figured out. All I know is that I’ve come to the point where I desire to know the people that live in my neighborhood and I don’t desire to be a stranger to them or them to me.

Choosing to stop, be present and seek relationships with neighbors has been the most rewarding thing. God has shown me ways in which we are learning what it means to be a good neighbor and to allow our neighbors to be neighbors to us.
For example, the other day as I was taking out the trash, Mr. Bryan saw me struggle with the cup of water in one hand. Instead of just saying hello, he told me that he’ll take care of it and walked to open the dumpster for me. That wasn’t just a kind gesture that was an act of kindness from a good neighbor. I strongly believe that after the several months I’ve seen Mr. Bryan, this happened because I took the time a couple weeks ago to stop in my hurried state and shake his hand and introduce myself to him.
And there are several other examples in which my housemates are revealing that neighboring doesn’t have boundaries…Tarrin always sits with Ms. A in church. Kira is responsible for helping coordinate Feed the Hungry – where she interacts with a lot of our neighbors and has built relationships with them. Heather goes and picks up the kids in the neighborhood so they can attend youth group. Charlie has been teaching lessons at youth group. Caleb sits with the men in our neighborhood and has gotten to know them more. Taylor loves on the dogs in our neighborhood, which is noticeable and admired by a lot of the neighbors who love these stray dogs as well.
So, in my opinion, we’re neighboring…and you probably are too. But the one thing that we must never loose is that intentionality within our relationships. It looks different for all of us. It’ll look different for me once again after this year. The most important thing I’m learning to do is let go of expectations and just pursue relationships intentionally and in a way that restores my view of love and relationships.

Remember, there is no failing when you pursue relationships.
It'll be messy. It has to be messy. Let it be messy. Messy is not failing, it is a sign of the growth that is happening as you pursue loving people.


It is better to give than receive, they said...

It is better to give than to receive, they said. How many times have you heard that before?

During Mission Year, I’ve found that I have challenged myself to give more than I receive. Along the way, I realize that I’ve lost the ability to receive from others…essentially, not giving them the joy and blessings found in giving.

Last week I was on the 80 heading to work. It was the fullest that I have ever seen it. I approached the only seat I saw available and as I was sitting down, I mumbled hello and asked if I could sit next to her (not really giving her a choice of saying no). She scooted closer to the window. Oops, maybe she’s offended that I chose to sit next to her?

The bus finally started going and after a few minutes of coughing, she asked, “would you mind… a couple of dollars…coffee?” I was caught off guard and only heard bits of her request.

“Oh, excuse me? I didn’t hear that,” I replied.

“It’s really cold out and I have this cough…would you mind sparing change for coffee?”

Then my reasoning started having a conversation with me in my head. If I give her money, would she actually use it for coffee? What if she doesn’t? Why do I care so much on what she will use a couple dollars for? She’s right, it is really cold out and if I didn’t have money for coffee, I’d really hope someone would buy me a cup. Remember the solitude retreat when you asked people for a cup of coffee and you got rejected? Ouch.

“Ma’am, I really don’t feel comfortable giving money out, but I’ll buy you that cup of coffee if you go to the coffee shop with me.”

“Well, I can’t walk far, so would you get off here with me to the corner store?” she replied.

Okay, this is getting a little complicated. I’m running late to the meeting. She told me where the store is and that it only costs $1 at the corner store for a cup of coffee. Maybe she’s not lying.

“Ma’am, I’m running late to a meeting. I feel comfortable about giving you a dollar for that coffee.”

She was thankful for the dollar. Then we exchange names and I begin to hear her story.

Ms. Pat was on her way back to downtown from Fifth Ward. She has been trying to get a job for a while but her history prevents her from getting a job. When she was 19 she got into some trouble and was locked up for a long time. Her past has followed her. Once she got out from prison, she became addicted to crack and has been trying her best to get clean.

“Things are hard these days, but I keep trying,” she said.

As I heard her story, my heart went out to her. It seems like she’s been stuck in a cycle within the system and no matter how hard she tries, things end up back to the starting position. That’s discouraging and that’s the story of injustice for a lot of my neighbors here.

I reach for my backpack and realize that I also had some candy and Nutella packets in there. I offered them to her and her face lit up…way more than when I gave her a dollar for the cup of coffee…way more than my face when my roommate, Kira, chose to share the candy and Nutella that she got in her care package.

Then Ms. Pat leaned over to reach into her pocket. “I have something that I want to give you, too,” she said. Oh, no. What could she give me? She doesn’t seem to have much. She brought out a pocket sized NIV booklet of the book of John. I glanced at it, didn’t hear what she had to say about it and made my petition to give it back to her.

“This is so nice, but I already have a bible. Maybe you should hold on to it? I really don’t need this.”

After a while, I realized that she really wanted me to have this as a gift. She had so much joy in wanting to give and my pushback showed me how much I struggled to receive things, often robbing others the joy of giving. I eventually took the book as I listened to her blessings over me.

If I’ve been learning one thing from my neighbors here in Houston, it is the importance that learning to receive well has as much value as learning to give well. I think that is what generosity. This is the person that I am becoming. I am learning to allow others to provide for me uniquely as I do my best to provide for them. In that process, there’s a sweet spiritual growth spurt that occurs in my faith as I commit to living this out intentionally.