soul food. 2012

“Until you take the journey of self-reflection, it is almost impossible to grow or learn in life.” – Iyanla Van Zant

I’ve finally had some time to settle down and reflect a bit on the year that was. I’m usually pretty deep in my own head, but believe it or not I wish I had done more reflection this past year. About who I am and who I’m becoming, where I’m going, why I’m chasing after the things I’m chasing after, that sort of thing.

Certainly this past year went by in a flash, and initial indications have me pretty happy at how things turned out. I have no regrets about how 2012 went down. I’ve tried my hand in various things–failed at some, succeeded in some. Sure, I won’t lie, it feels good to reach some of those dreams I’ve had hanging for so long above me. I could probably feel proud about myself. But it’s not so much that.

More than what I did or didn’t achieve, more than anything else I think I’ve had to learn the hard way that character is far more valuable than anything I could ever accomplish. It’s hard to take in, but I had to come to terms with my own fleeting youth. I’m not trying to imply that I’m an old sap or garner sympathy points or anything, but I’m trying to get at this growing awareness that I become more of each decision that I make, whether good or bad, and that the stakes are only getting higher as I mature and take on more responsibilities. It’s at this point that I truly felt like I took a step back this past year. I’ve made some immature and selfish decisions that end up making some things messy further down the road for myself or somebody else. And it’s exactly this, knowing that your decisions aren’t made in a vacuum–they affect everyone else around you, whether or not they are conscious of it–that could cause unnecessary drama or tension in life.

This lesson is nothing new that I hadn’t known or learned before. But for whatever reason, it just seemed to be amplified more loudly in 2012 than in years past. I felt like I was rubbing up against this desperately wild “me” that wanted to cling onto the immaturity and squeeze every ounce of instant gratification. That little devil whispering, “Hey, you only get the chance to do this once before you’re really too old.” (I’m not talking about that YOLO crap–though it might have a little to do with FOMO…) And in a sense, why not, right? It seems so much easier and fun in the moment. Society’s pushing you to do it, people around you all seem to be doing it, even your closest friends are giving you crap for not doing it.

The hard thing is to constantly resist. There’s this little voice that would come in at just the right moment to remind you of who you are and what you’re living for. It’s not to chase after money or skirts or self-glory. It’s about living for a Kingdom that is bigger and greater than yourself and will live on long after my days are done. And I have to trust this is something that will ultimately satisfy me, because God says so–and that’s enough–even when I don’t believe it in the moment. (“Never trade what you know for what you don’t know.”) Yet, it’s scary to realize that I am hearing that voice less, and if I try hard enough, I can even tune him out. Which words will I choose to feed on this year?

I’ve never been much for resolutions because I believe most of them are based on good intention and nothing else. (I even wrote a long allegorical story about it.) Certainly it’s good to have dreams, to have things by which to measure your life. But I believe most of the work needs to be done in the deep. Everyday I have to wake up and make a conscious decision about who to follow (myself, others or God), what to live for, who I want to become. And all this takes much reflection, prayer, study, self-discipline and people who are willing to call you out on your BS. It’s so much easier to just mail it in, clock-in / clock-out, and waste my days away behind the tube. But I don’t want that story–anybody else could write that. I want my life to be great, I want my life to tell something meaningful.

So I guess I’m writing all this to say that we should all take stock of what matters most. Decide on what’s important to you, and be prepared to make some sacrifices and devote your time and energy to it. You become what you study, you study what you love. So love the right things.

I wish you all a wonderful and enlightening 2013. May we all come back at the end of this year and sing of the many great ways we’ve changed the world around us–and how we’ve been changed in the process.

Cheers & blessings,

MY

jeremie. life after

It was a weird time, if there ever was any, to go on a missions trip. Over a year ago, when I first heard about the opportunity, it sounded good. I sponsored a child in Port-au-Prince and I was intrigued by the chance to visit him in his native land. I was further motivated by the devastation brought upon by the earthquake that struck two years earlier.

But much can change in a year. In that span, I’ve lost friendships and rekindled old ones. I’ve had to deal with my waning passion for church work and reassess my direction and vision. And somewhere in there plans to visit my sponsor child fell through. On top of all this I was tired of traveling–this would be my fifth trip in two months.

This all hit me the night before I prepared to depart. My life was busy, but worse, I possessed a busier heart and mind. I was wrestling with a raging man inside of me who gave little sense of purpose and offered no rest. What was my reason for going? What did I expect to discover? Would I actually do more harm than good?

An unbelievable calm came over me once I got on that plane. If but for a moment, all the questions were settled. Love was the answer. “As I receive and extend loving grace through Christ at home, I look to receive and extend loving grace in Haiti.” That was what I had stated as my mission–now I just had to go out there and do it.

My time in Jeremie, a small town along the western coast of Haiti, would challenge me on this very front. During the week I was there, I spent five days on a medical team working intake (triage) for our physicians. This required recording patient vitals: blood pressure, temperature, pulse, height, weight, and general diagnosis. It was sad to see the extent of their pain. Some were seriously sick, many were sick simply because they were hungry and malnourished.

Yet in spite of hardship, the Haitians are a strong and resilient people. They’re no stranger to suffering, and perhaps it is because of it they are able to love and embrace life more openly. More simply. They don’t take for granted the small things. And in many ways, I was envious of what many Christians there possess–a purity and passion to their worship. I won’t over-romanticize it, because they have their own flaws and shortcomings, but when I was around them I didn’t worry about how I dressed or how much money I made. I was reminded of how similar we are, how we all need love, healing, redemption and purpose.

It is hard to admit that I have a very small capacity to love. I thought I loved people, but what I had discovered was that my love was limited: based on my own terms, within my bounds or comfort. When the orphans ran up to me and played with my hair, I was afraid I’d get lice. I wanted to keep them at a distance, at a place where I could love them yet still be safe.

That’s the thing about God that trips me out. I think C.S. Lewis had a great quote about this. “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” To not be safe. As many reasons as God has to not love broken, sinful people, He still does. He reaches out and gets dirty. He does so with no guarantee that love will be returned. His love knows no conditions, no reservations, no bounds.

It seems like God is constantly reminding me to look at the bigger picture, to understand His purposes and live life with a kingdom focus. It is difficult, knowing that inside I am divided in many ways. Pursuits of success, comfort, popularity and other desires. You might think that would change after a trip like this, but really, I don’t think it is that easy. I’m being placed back into the very waters I’ve been swimming all my life. Selfishness is what I breathe.

I don’t know what to do with what I’ve experienced and what I’ve witnessed. I guess things like this aren’t meant to be figured out right away; like they say, it takes time. But I just know that I can no longer come before God and say “I didn’t know.” I hope I figure it out. I hate missing out on a good story, especially the one God is trying to tell through my life.

To all my dear friends, family and fellow bloggers–thanks for reading and thanks for your support. Thoughts of you kept me strong during my time away. I covet your prayers as you so remember. It is a broken place, this world, but let us not be counted among the ones who did nothing to fix it. Godspeed in your journey.

false starts / new ground

In a little less than 10 hours we will have effectively reigned in the new year. We will have had a little more to drink than we should and make resolutions that we won’t keep. We will put our arms on one another and sing a round of Auld Lang Syne, reflecting on the year that was and how this year, for better or worse, will be a different year.

How will this year will be different? Who do you aspire to be? What new things do you aspire to accomplish?

I ask this because I’m not sure what to wish or hope for myself. The superstitious side of me used to welcome these even-numbered years because these seemed, well, not odd. Until 2008 came to shred that theory to pieces by proving to be the single hardest year of my life. I also used to welcome the Chinese zodiac, perhaps thinking that my fortuitous year would bode much fairer to its “rat” kind. Until I realized it was also the same year as 2008. (Maybe those are the years I should avoid? By, you know, living in a forest or something.)

One can neatly sum up my past five years as a series of “false starts.” Since I’ve graduated college, I’ve been at four jobs, in and out of three relationships, and in three different living situations. That’s hardly something I’d like to advertise to any prospective employer or wife. If you were to ask me where I see myself in five years, I would tell you that I’ll have either won the Nobel Peace Price or found residence next to a guy named Leroy on Skid Row. Looking at my recent track record, I wouldn’t rule out either one. The point is: I stopped trying to predict life a long time ago.

Yet for all its ups and downs and crazy turns, life has never for once left me complacent. It has never stopped asking of me, never stopped prodding me to grow, learn, examine and redefine all that I have tried to so neatly assemble. I have a lot more dirt, and many more scars now than I did five years ago. But I can tell you with great confidence that I learned more about life and the human condition in the school of hard-knocks than I ever did by reading about it at a public institution.

One of those lessons is that failure can be a good thing. In the first two decades of my life things came easy. I never had to apply strenuous effort to excel in academia, sports or friendships. These last five years seemed to make up for them. Never have I failed so much in life. Failure was what I ate for breakfast. Failure was what I smelled like after the gym. Failure was what I pissed in bathroom stalls. (Alright, I exaggerate a bit…I did experience some success too, but it just didn’t compare.) Little did I realize that failure was the very thing I needed to build my character and prevent me from chasing things that aren’t real. It’s the sort of thing that recalibrates your perspective in life: keeping you diligent, humble and thankful. What if I had succeeded in everything I attempted these past five years? I’d probably be an arrogant, self-serving jerk. Granted, a jerk with lots of money, but still a jerk.

In his restraining grace, God gives us failure to help us realize that success isn’t everything. That life isn’t about medals or money or respect. That we need Him. That what you want isn’t what you actually need, and even what you think you want isn’t what you want after you have attained it. The challenge for me then is to live a life that I would not regret 70 years later in my deathbed (Lord willing).

So, what to say about 2012? I think Winston Churchill said it best: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” It’s about living life for a greater purpose than following a paper trail, about taking risks for the greater good of those around you and to continue trying even when failure is fresh. And if I have attempted these things in the upcoming year, then whether I succeed or fail, 2012 will have been a year well-lived.

Risk hard, love hard, dare to make a legacy. Here’s to another year of living–cheers.

-MY

It’s Never Sunny in Seattle

At least that’s what I’ve heard. So when my plane pulled into the terminal last night amidst a huge torrent of rain, coming down like sheets of liquid bullets shooting sideways, I didn’t think I’d wake up to see this:

Yes…the sun. I hear it rarely makes an appearance up here, but it didn’t even take a day for me to find it. It’s the same sun that shines in LA, that I take for granted all too often, but here it’s peeking through to lend the place some light. It’s like the plants and trees rehearse so that whenever it appears, they are ready to reflect their wondrous colors onto the world:

I’ve only been here less than 24 hours, but I am already in love with this city. The weather, though a bit nippy, is crisp and cool. And the Seattle folks are unlike Angelinos–they are quite nice. They take time to make conversation with you, and in fact, welcome the opportunity to meet strangers. Smiles come on the faces of both the poor and rich, and hello’s are doled out by the dozens. There is a spirited current running through this city…it’s infectious.

Since my buddy Josh had to work, I took the community bus from Lynnwood to Downtown on my own. I went out looking for an adventure, for stories, and I found it not in the buildings or monuments, but in the people. Right as I hopped off the bus, on 5th and Pine, I saw a man on the street holding up a sign that read “help”and “jobless.” Caught in stride, and prompted by the Spirit, I went to strike up a conversation and perhaps offer him some food. I told him I was visiting from LA and asked if perhaps he wouldn’t mind giving me some pointers to the city. He responded sure no problem and told me his name was John. His friend Roger saw us talking and tagged along; we walked down the street for some Subway. We talked about the struggles with the economy and how hard it was to hold down a job. Then we talked about guns and how Roger shot a .45 magnum and how I couldn’t hit a thing with the magnum because the recoil was furious. John told me I needed to steady my wrist with the other hand lest the kickback might snap it. It was a rather enjoyable lunch with my two new friends.

I went on my way to Pike Place, home to the famous Farmers Market, and was able to visit the many vendors there who were selling homemade goods. The people were once again very amicable and probably sold me on some items because of their personalities alone. I could support the faces and names behind them. One woman named Lauri even gave me a map of the city and pointed me to the first original Starbucks down the street:

I got the exclusive gift cards that feature the original Starbucks logo that you cannot find anywhere else. I’m not a big coffee drinker, so it looks like they won’t remain in my hands for long…

Anyways, it’s time to sign off. The rain is about to hit the smooth streets of downtown–the sun was just here on loan–and I’m going to write for a bit before I meet up with another couple at a Thai place for dinner. If you ever get a chance, go visit Seattle–it rocks like Nirvana.

Thanks for reading, and keep warm in body and spirit.

-MY

All the Little Colors

Sometimes I feel like life is moving too slow, though it is at the same time moving too fast. I’m talking about the big moments in life. Finding that special someone, moving out, getting that big promotion, launching that grand project. I feel like it is easy to pass through life waiting on these things to happen without enjoying the mundane and ordinary that make up the majority of our days. The real life where real moments, memories, and character are forged–it is easy to waste away. It is deceptive; the days can seem to drag out long and slow, but when you begin to add them up you get to wondering how you got so far out into the present.

I might have gotten used to thinking that everyday should offer some sort of fireworks spectacular. Something that would set my days apart, either jump-starting or lighting it up with emotion. Some films and novels would have me believe that. What’s so devastating is that most of my days, in fact, are no different from one another. I wake up, go to work for 9 hours, come back and eat dinner, do chores, read and write (and occasionally, exercise) before turning in to sleep. Then, I wake up the next morning and push repeat.

Yet, it is in this routine of life that I am finding what it means to be devoted to the small things, the little details and attention of life that can make the mundane magnificent and even sacred. It is learning to put every bit of heart into every moment you’ve been given. It is learning to look deeper than the surface, to discover what makes this day’s color sepia as opposed to mahogany. (It is easy to see a contrast between blue and red; it takes a whole other set of eyes to split and define shades.)

I remember contributing an article to an old publication several years ago, when I was just starting my post-graduate journey. As a jobless and poor young adult, I talked about how I felt like Moses when he was relegated to spending 40 years of his life in the desert, doing little more than tending sheep and wishing for a 7-Eleven to open up near his house. My focus was on how Moses eventually made it through that desert period and onto the next stage and calling for his life.

It’s almost five years later and I now revisit that story but with a different perspective. A part of me still feels like I’m in that desert (or have returned there). But this time, instead of looking to just get through it, I am now focusing on my life while being in it. I’m sure Moses learned it this way. Though Scripture is mum on the matter, something tells me that he made the most of his time. That as a careful shepherd he came to know each sheep and its unique features, why this one was missing a patch of wool above its ear or why that one always steered left of the herd. In my mind there is no doubt that he cared for each sheep dearly and studied each one intently. He learned how to be a great leader before he was ever called to be one.

We often look for the big moments and events by which we can mark our lives. It may be rightfully so. But what will we make of the other seemingly ordinary days that come before and after the fireworks? I am learning to see the colors beyond the surface, whether or not the smoke has cleared. And the days shall all be wonderful if we are willing to see them that way.

The Slow Blog

My sister found me the perfect site today. It’s called “The World Institute of Slowness” or simply the “Slow Blog.” She said she came across it and actually thought of me first. I don’t know if she’s implying that I’m dumb or that I take too much time when I move.

But after clicking the link and looking through some of the content, I realized it was indeed for me. It talked about life and the necessity to slow some things down in efforts to really get at the heart of life–the quiet pleasures, gradual beauty–that is so often missed amidst the noise and quickness of “life.”

I stumbled upon a quote from one of their earlier entries that really sums up its ideals (and, of course, my “slow” sentiments). It’s from the Dalai Lama:

We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense;
more knowledge, but less judgement;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines, but less healthiness;
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street to meet
the new neighbor.
We build more computers to hold more
information to produce more copies then ever,
but have less communication;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods
but slow digestion;
Tall men but short character;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window,
but nothing in the room.

It’s a great site that’s worth checking out. That is, of course, only if your quick and ever-demanding schedule allows it.

All is Forgiven

There is a piece from Ernest Hemingway’s Capital of the World short story that speaks of a father who went to Madrid and posted a newspaper advertisement that reads:

“PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA.”

Hemingway goes on to write that Paco is a common name in Spain, and when the father appeared, he discovered 800 young men named Paco who were waiting at the square for their fathers.