Monday, February 20, 2017

Small

It was a dark and dreary December night. It was that weekend mid December when Christmas parties hadn’t quite got going yet, but Christmas concerts and productions were in full swing. A few fiestas were already on the schedule.
I was headed to the church from one party. I’d turned down an invite to a Christmas concert with friends because it was the last small group of the semester with my ninth grade girls. A couple hours before, I’d started getting text messages from my students, bailing for one reason or another: school, homework, school. More than likely they didn’t want to go out. It was cold. It was rainy. I got it.
But it was still a little frustrating to have them cancel with only a few hours to spare. I could have made plans. I could have gone to that concert. I could be home in my bed watching Netflix.
The sixth girl canceled on my way to the church. That only left one girl whom I hadn’t heard from. But Aubrey was sure to show up. She always showed up. She was always early and she was always the last to leave. She didn’t attend the church but came to youth group and small group, tagging along with her best friend.
Aubrey was incredibly quiet and barely said two sentences during any given small group. Usually her words consisted of asking prayer for her dog, Mitchens, who always seemed to have one ailment or another.
            I pulled over on the side of the road and texted Aubrey the state of things. I asked her if she wanted to cancel, or, if she wanted, I could swing by and pick her up for coffee. Please cancel. Please cancel, I muttered to myself as I waited for her to reply. I might still have time to make it to that concert.
            The reply came back instantly. “I want to get coffee,” she said.
            “Be there in 10 minutes,” I replied. Okay, we’re doing this, I thought.
            I arrived at Aubrey’s. I’d never been to her house. I went inside and waited for her to find her coat. I chatted with her parents, who I usually waved to through the car window as they were driving away after fetching Aubrey from youth events. I pet Mitchens, the dog I’d heard so much about. He seemed in good health on this December evening.
            Aubrey and I grabbed coffee. Actually, we both got hot chocolate because Aubrey didn’t like coffee and I didn’t want the caffeine that late in the evening. I seriously had no idea what we were going to talk about when I first picked her up, but Aubrey seemed to find her voice box the moment we were in the car. She talked about books and weird science fiction but also informed me she had dyslexia. I thought this was strange: I have two siblings with dyslexia and neither one of them like to read very much.
            Then she showed me how to download this app from the library where you could reserve audio books. Aha. That’s how she reads so much.
            We finished up and I took her home. I stopped in to say Merry Christmas to Mitchens, then drove home through the rain. I marveled how one 45-minute hot chocolate one-on-one had revealed a layer to Aubrey’s life that small group had never opened. She’d come alive as we nerdily swapped favorite book stories and found a common love in Harry Potter.
            Over a year later, this moment came back to me. I’m living in a different city, working with a different group of teens and preteens. Our tiny middle school ministry is a vibrant and lively oasis in a big city full of young, ambitious professionals. Sometimes I wonder, is it worth it? There are only a few kids. Maybe, that time would be better spent somewhere else...
            Then I think of Aubrey. It was a small moment with just 2 people. But it was pivotal. I felt like I’d discovered Aubrey. It had taken a while, but we’d finally met. I had the privilege of finding beauty beneath all the silence.
            The next time our small group met, Aubrey was as quiet as ever. Her sweet spot was never more than 2 or 3 people. That was okay. But I knew if I ever used a Harry Potter illustration, I could count on Aubrey to back me up. I knew I could look at her across the room and she’d know exactly what I was talking about.

Sometimes the small moments are actually pretty epic.

(Names used are not the real names)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth  (Kingsbridge series, #1)The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Justice. That’s what you want while reading this story. You want justice for those who can’t defend themselves. You want justice served to the power holders who abuse power. You root for the power holders who attempt to use their power to help others and make the world a better place. You grieve when the good (but flawed) characters are thwarted. You cringe at the next evil plan the wicked conceive. You’re crying for justice throughout the entire story.
As I neared the end of this over-900-page book, there was one thing lacking in this epic tale. While the good characters are flawed, make mistakes, and grow, the bad characters seem to be very one-dimensional. They are pure evil all the time and have little or no genuine goodness or moments of true remorse.
As I neared the end, I thought this lack of transformation would be my one complaint about the book.
Then Follett surprised me. A few of the evil people actually experienced redemption. They are brought low and they choose to repent in their humble circumstance. They experience genuine forgiveness.
You cry for justice. You want evil to experience defeat. You want the underdogs to survive and thrive. You cheer each time a helpless character receives timely assistance from an unexpected place. You cheer each time evil if thwarted and grieve when evil seems to triumph.
(As a side note, I became fascinated with cathedrals after reading this book).
Great story. Worth the time of reading this almost 1,000 page novel.


View all my reviews

Monday, February 6, 2017

Inspired by a Super Bowl Commercial

        Last night's Super Bowl commercial on immigration reminded me of a change in perspective I experienced in Guatemala. I wrote an article that was published in a tiny magazine about my encounter with dozens of kids who’d been caught trying to cross the boarder into the United States. I’m reposting it here, in its unrevised glory, through the eyes of my 21-year-old self:

“Illegal immigration has been an important issue in the United States. It still is. I have my own sentiments about this issue and those sentiments were greatly influenced by an encounter I had with some unique people.
I attended a language school in Guatemala for three months in the beginning of 2007. While there, I made friends with a Guatemalan couple that had an interesting ministry to various places in Guatemala. One of the places they ministered is a house for deported teenagers.
One afternoon, Germon and Karla (my friends) invited me to visit this house with them. I accepted the invitation. On the way, Germon and Karla told me that the house was more like a jail. These kids, some as young as 12 years old, had tried to sneak into the United States. Their efforts failed when they were caught at the boarder or sent back because of child labor laws. When they returned to Guatemala, they were sent to the house. They will stay in the house until their families are able to claim them. Some of them are orphans. They will never be claimed.
We entered the house and were shown to a room full of teenagers seated in plastic chairs. Boys and girls with matted hair and dirty faces stared intently as Germon began to share his testimony.
Germon lived in the Latino community in San Francisco. He was in the States for 4 years, working at construction. He doesn't speak any English. The Latino communities band together so tightly that it makes it possible to live in the United States for many, many years, and never learn English.
You have a dream, Germon said to the kids. You tell your parents you are tired of eating eggs and beans for every meal. Things will be good in the United States. You will be able to make lots of money. You tell your parents to let you go.
I went to the United States, he continued. Things are not good. The conditions are bad. There was one house where lots of people lived. It was hot. They didn't have water, or electricity, or food. While I was there, one person died.
After Germon finished speaking, Karla read the story of the prodigal son from the Bible. I've always heard the prodigal son story applied to a spiritual journey. In the lives of these kids, the story is a reality. After she finished reading, Karla told them, When you go back to your parents you need to say, Mama and Papa, forgive me, forgive me.
Later, I learned that some of the parents of these teenagers went into debt in order to send their child to America. They placed their hope of a better life in the child being able to send money home. Things didn't turn out the way they planned. The child was going home to a family more impoverished than when he left.
I left the house with more questions. I had lived in Guatemala long enough to see that living conditions are hard, jobs are scarce, and progress is virtually unattainable (unless you are in the drug marketing business). What I didn't understand is why so many people seek to enter the US illegally.
In Guatemala, as well as in other countries, the government makes it exceedingly difficult to leave unless you have money. Travel papers are expensive, and require considerable amounts of waiting time before you receive one. So when a persons last hope is crossing the boarder, sometimes he is left with only one option: illegal immigration.
That day I received what Germon calls a vista nueva (a new perspective). Since then, I haven't been able to look at the Mexicans roofing the neighbors house, or the Guatemalans digging ditches, in the same way as before. I'll always wonder: what did they go through to get here? Is it everything they were dreaming it would be?
Would I have had the guts to do the same thing?”
Reposted from Wrecked for the Ordinary, March 2008



Friday, February 3, 2017

A Tale of Two Cities

A whiff of marijuana.
A pile of human feces in the park.
A woman yells at a driver who stopped his car with its bumper hanging in the center of the crosswalk.
            “Fuck her good. That’ll warm you up,” a man says to his buddy on the street. He dances side-to-side, blowing warm air into his cupped hands.
A handful of teenagers steal a container of snacks from a street vendor. They run to the center of the square, toss the container into the air, then whoop and holler as it crashes to the ground. They abandon the shattered container and the scattered contents, running from the scene while they laugh and shove one another.

--
A stranger picks up the ruined, plastic container and returns it to the street vendor.
A teenager who saw the episode, helps the street vendor pick up the mess around his cart.
A father with stroller boards the metro. All seats are occupied, so he grabs a handle and hangs on. At the next stop, a young woman offers him her seat.
A theatrical production. Colorful costumes. Warm music. Dancing.
A photographic story hangs in a tiny art gallery. It’s the story of a woman informing her parents that she’s gay. Tears and laughter in one frame.
A pastry chef creates food as beautiful as it is delicious. Artistic genius goes into each tart, telling a story with every masterful chocolate shaving or frosted flower.
A coffee shop manages to create a sense of family—a rare feat for a monstrous city.


My love for city life began many years ago while I was studying in Guatemala. The reality of dignity and depravity living side-by-side as neighbors was so much more in-your-face in the city.
While there, I once stepped around a dead dog that lay across the sidewalk, stiff and lifeless with tongue hanging out, glued to the hot concrete. Just around the corner, I walked passed the open doors of a chocolate factory. The smell of chocolate was so thick you could taste it.
Beauty and death lived on the same street.
I love the city. The Jekyll and Hyde of it. The layers upon layers of evil and good, swirling together every moment. It’s jarring and redeeming at the same time. There’s such a beauty to the city. And a sense of balancing on the edge.
 I miss it when I’m not there. I love it when I am.

           

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Blind Dates and Secret Names

I was once advised by a friend to go on as many blind dates as possible. It would either prove to be really fun and turn into something, or it would be terrible and make a great story. I used this same reasoning with Match.com.
I got on Match.com because I wanted a distraction from my real life. New job, new city, new friends, and new roommates. It was all new and overwhelming and I just needed something completely different to suck me out of this emotional overload.
I discovered quickly that dating is not the answer. Going onto Match.com with the attitude of “it sounds fun” is probably the worst idea ever. I forgot how emotionally taxing dating is, so after the initial giggling at horrendous profiles, I realized my idea to use dating as a distraction from the real world was as preposterous as many of the likes, winks, and “JZboy is interested in you” emails I received.
I had a date within a week. While I was waiting to meet up with YoloDave  (not his real name) I was asked out by another gentleman on the street. That makes three consecutive times I’ve been asked out while waiting to go on a date with someone else. Because these are the only three times in history I’ve been asked out by a random stranger, there is something to be said about the aura emitted when you are getting ready to meet up with someone—but that’s an article for another day.
The date with YoloDave was enjoyable, even though he was almost an hour late. In a big city you can claim traffic as an excuse for just about anything so I let him off the hook. We said those tantalizing words, “next time” as we parted and I texted all my friends on the way home.
There was no next time. It might have had something to do with forgetting to text him back, but I’ll never know. Either way, it took one date for me to realize I did not need one emotionally taxing activity to distract me from an emotionally taxing life.
After that, I didn’t get on Match again and waited patiently for my membership to expire so I would stop receiving those annoying emails.
Here’s where Match.com’s auto renewal policy shows itself a demon in the night. I somehow missed the auto renewal rule, so when I was notified that my membership was renewed for another three months, I instantly called and asked for a refund.
I encountered terrible customer service. After telling the eighth person I spoke with, “I live in a big city with lots of single people. I have a blog and a (very small) twitter following, but I will use all of my resources to ruin your life if you don’t refund my money” I got nowhere.
For my final month with Match, I stubbornly refused to use the service, even though I had paid for it. That’ll show them, am I right?
A few days ago, however, I received a message from an interesting individual. Cheesy screen name aside, I decided to a respond. In order to speed things up I gave him my number right away and said, “I only have a week left on Match so let me know if you want to grab coffee or drinks. Peace.” (But I didn’t say, peace).
He texted me immediately and began with “Hey Kate.”
First thought through my head: Hell, no. Don’t be calling me, Kate. My friends can call me Kate. My family can call me Kate. Heck, even someone who’s only known me a few days can call me Kate. But don’t assume you can call me Kate when we ‘ve never even met.
Then I realized my masterfully brilliant screen name ZanyKate was the culprit here. I didn’t sign with my full name when I emailed him back—because I totally forgot about the whole incognito screen name thing. Seriously, Match should become a spy agency. It’d be a perfect cover. The hearts and smiley faces and single meet-ups would double as code and drop sites for secret information. Two smiley faces = I have the package. Three winks = the eagle has left the nest. It’s brilliant, really. About as brilliant as my code name, ZanyKate.
So my experience with Match.com had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
I’ll let you decide if you think of my experience fulfilled the promise of my friend’s advice about blind dates.