Thursday, November 16, 2017

Instagram Post: Life is Messy


Sometimes life is messy.

Packing up and going through the (e)motions that come with moving, returning to the place where I grew up, and leaving what has been my beloved community & life & city for the past 4 years.

Without God, nothing is certain. I made a choice 13 years ago to enter into a spiritual journey with the Divine Creator, and 5 (almost 6) years ago I promised myself that I would put His will before my own and follow this strange but divinely lit plan wherever it may lead me.

Life is messy... but sometimes... the mess is good.

 #labellajourneys #moving #pavkung #traveling #philadelphia #pennsylvania #divinecreator #spirituality #faith #Hope #Jesus #burlington #vermont #underhill #eastcoast #newengland #emotions
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Struggles & Finding Your Tribe

Photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash


Whether we choose to acknowledge them or not, everybody has them. It's so easy to get caught up in our own struggles, and sometimes its very hard to see that someone else is even struggling because we have learned through society or through culture that struggling is a sign of weakness.... so we hide it. We hide it behind smiles, positive tweets and facebook posts, or an instagram full of all of our things. I bring this up because I've seen this in myself. I know that I can be pretty darn good at hiding my struggles.

The thing is that Jesus wants us to hand those struggles over to him. He wants us to trust him with whatever we are hiding, and to help us work through the roots of those problems so that we can thrive through life.... And with that often comes this gift of blossoming tight knit community that becomes your Tribe. Have you ever tried to hide a struggle from someone you are super close with who loves you and only wants the best for you? In fact, they might not have known the specifics, but they probably at least knew something was up. And chances are that if they didn't know about your struggle, they will be ready and willing to help you take it on and to help walk you through it. God desires for us to have these kinds of people in our lives. We were not meant to walk this life alone- He gave Adam Eve for a reason. Jesus even had the disciples, and the disciples had been given each other and Jesus. Ruth & Naomi had each other. We may have people in our lives that we call best friends or that we are considered romantically involved with, but I would venture to say that outside of how the covenant of marriage should be, these kinds of people are people that we have even closer relationships with.

Your Tribe should be people that you know you can depend on, who you trust, who always come through for you, who you are always there for, who can engage with you on a spiritual, emotional, and mental level. These are the people you surround yourself with in both times of great joy and times of great sadness. The people you would do the same for, and who you can walk years of life with- even if they move physically far away, you can get back together with them and pick up were you left off. Its important to find these people that you can just do life with in the day to day.

Your Tribe is important.

I didn't really begin to understand this or even think about this until 2 years ago. Hubby and I joined an out of town friend at a party and realized that the people there were really comfortable with each other and knew each other in a different kind of way. We left the get together wishing we had a friend group that was really tight like that and that walked life together. At the time, we didn't really feel like we had that- I mean, we had friends, but the people that we were closest with we didn't live near. We talked about this quite a bit, but then forgot about it. Maybe about a year later we saw a video by @BeleafInFatherhood (Click HERE for more) where Glen & Yvette talk about forming their Tribe. I think the video was old at that point, but we had begun watching a lot of their videos around that time. Anyway, the video spoke again to what we had been feeling- and we want to live in an intentional way were that naturally comes together in our lives...

I guess I am probably thinking about this now because we will be moving away from those who are a part of our tribe here in Philly, and starting a lot of things from scratch once we move back to Vermont... And the struggles won't hit pause until I find some new folks to add to my tribe, but it would be easy to let them hinder my process for doing so.

I'm not saying that we should accept new people into our lives with an open door policy (be wise about who you add to your tribe), but I think for some of us on the more introverted side of the scale who only let few people in in general, we have to be very intentional and mindful when we are beginning a new thing somewhere else... and open to meeting new people and trying new things, and trying to get to know people we might not otherwise get to know. Looking for those people that we can get deep with.

I think this goes without saying  but this is something that is important for both single pringles and married spuds. And its so rewarding! Having a tribe is truly a gift, one that God desires to give to us. If you don't have a tribe, and it something you think you need or that you long for- please pray for one! Ask God to bring those people into your life, and to reveal those people to you.

I've posted the video I referenced below! Have you found your tribe? Are you looking for one? Share with me- Lets talk in the comments!

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Art & The Journey to Wellness: The Philadelphia Magic Gardens

Snapshot from our time at the Philadelphia Magic Gardens
A couple weeks ago was Philly Free Week, a week when some of the most deliciously artistic things in the city are free and open to the public. I actually had no idea it was coming up until I stumbled upon a facebook event saying that the Philadelphia Magic Gardens would be free all week. I was so excited, I immediately started freaking out and begging the hubby to take me on his day off!

I have always walked past the Magic Gardens when I have been out adventuring around South Street and looking for places to take photos. For the past 4 years, I have longed to go inside and see what beauty this place holds... but every time I tried, something inevitably came up. This time around, I reserved the tickets as soon as hubby and I set time aside for a date, and put it on the calendar!

I have always been curious about what the Magic Gardens are, and who put together something so intricate and detailed. In fact, I had done absolutely no research on that topic when we walked through the gate of this majestic place! As we walked around, we overheard the people who worked there telling others that this was all the work of one man named Isaiah Zagar. In fact, it wasn't until the end of our time at the gardens that we read the sign talking about why Mr. Zagar took on this project, how it started, and how it was essentially therapy for him.

A picture (in the very back of the museum) of the artist himself within the walls of the great mural
In the 1960's Mr. Zagar started this mural in the midst of an empty lot near his apartment during the South Street Renaissance (click HERE to learn more about that)  and also in the midst of a time when he was suffering from great depression, mental illness, and a really rocky marriage and home life. Not only did he create what is now known as the Magic Gardens himself, but also several murals all around South Street. His art was for the beautification of his community, some would say born out of a desire to save his community- but his creative process is what helped him to work through aspects of his mental illness and depression and relationship issues. His desire to create saved him, and in return for beautifying the community, the community saved his work when it was threatened to be dismantled and destroyed.

I always thought that the Magic Gardens wasn't that big, but when we entered it we found staircases, upper and lower levels, a seating area, and then 2 indoor galleries! We did not go into the basement or the rooftop areas, but there is much more to be seen there as well. It blew my mind to find out that all of this was created and born out of the complete messy shambles of a life that desired to heal and to beautify, and to be saved and to be healed. The Magic Gardens is now a museum and a non-profit, and Mr. Zagar is still around, still creating, still molding and being molded. In fact, one of his sons made a film about his fathers life- You can learn more about that HERE!

Freddie (hubby!) inside the Magic Gardens
As I experienced the beauty myself, it really spoke to me. Parts of this mural seemed like a monstrosity, and I could see how some may not understand it. Parts of it spoke to the artists travels to Peru & India. Parts of this mural were dark, or even slightly (or not so slightly) disturbing. Parts of the mural depicted joy and happiness... but overall the mural conveyed this vibrancy of life. I wonder what Mr. Zagar was thinking about as he created tiles, and collected materials, and laid each piece down... I wonder if he was able to recognize the vibrancy of life within him that was literally spilling out into the street as he created, or if he could only see it once it was done. As a fellow being that cannot help but create, and who also knows the struggles of depression, Mr. Zagar's story and artwork spoke to me.
Me inside the Magic Gardens in my favorite nook under my favorite koi fish vase
Creating is such a healing process for many. It's one of the reason's I am such a fan of non-profits like Music Makes Me Happy (see HERE) and programs like the HeART Exchange (see HERE) that are teaching our youth how to hone creative skills that will help them to process and heal themselves as well as others. Art is life changing.

Since I believe in a creative God, I can't help but think that he created us to create for a purpose that is much larger than we often think. We think in such limited and finite terms, but Art calls to the Artist to think and create beyond that- to be a reflection within and to others of the one who gave us that vibrancy of life to begin with.

My favorite find in the walls of the gardens
One of my favorite finds within the walls of this place is some little clay people and sculpture I posted above. As you can see, in this tiny nook were some little clay people all close to each other- two of which seem to be looking out. For some reason this little bit spoke to my heart one word when I saw it: FELLOWSHIP.
It reminded me to value fellowship, to enter into it unabashedly. I'm not sure why this came to mind when I saw these little folks, but it spoke... so I figured I would share.

I think it's easy to become withdrawn during difficult times (Duh!), but as long as something like fellowship results from our withdrawing- whether that be internal or physical- as long as that happens at some point, we can be reminded of the love and care the divine creator has for us... and we might even be able to turn around and see something beautiful made from our pain.

Do you have any stories about beauty coming from pain? or about your creative process? How about art being healing towards your mental health? I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment below, and don't forget to checkout the Philadelphia Magic Gardens!
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Monday, September 25, 2017

Faith, Football, and Patriotism.

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

Next to baseball, I'm pretty sure I have heard people call it America's favorite sport.

Now, I am a sports person, don't get me wrong- I have just never understood football. You would think that over the years of Super Bowl parties, high school & college games, watching my grandpa cheer for his team from the sofa, and my husband trying to explain the rules to me, that I would at least understand the game. Give me soccer, basketball, or even hockey- but don't expect me to understand the rules of football!

Truth be told, I may not really "get" football, but I can at least understand the hype that surrounds the sport. I enjoy going to a supporting event and cheering on my team and favorite players- especially when I have a personal connection to whats going on. I don't mean personal as in "I met Tim Tebow & Troy Polamalu once" or "lets get up close and personal"; I mean personal as in something or someone I can relate to- like "That's my neighbor / friend  out there on the field or coaching". Just like with anything else, when sports become something you can relate to its that much more fun to join the hype! However, just like with a game of monopoly, things can become (or be taken) personal instead of being just for fun... Case in point- I remember being in middle school and on the front page of the newspaper was a graphic picture and an article saying that the Yankees and Redsox fans were beating each other to a literal bloody pulp outside of the stadium because somebody lost the game. Go figure.

And that's the thing about sports: you win some games, you lose some games- but they are primarily for fun & entertainment. Not much is really at stake if you lose a game- Unless you are gambling or betting (tsk tsk), or in the case of a few high schoolers- trying to score a sports scholarship. I know that there are those out there who will disagree, but fundamentally I see sports as for fun (or maybe keeping in shape?), and in that case you really don't have a lot to lose when you lose a game. I'm definitely and will always be a 'sports are for fun' type of gal. Sure winning is fun, but so is watching the game, the thrill of playing the game, and the kind of built in community that comes with being able to enjoy those things with other people.

Aside from the fact that I profess to follow Jesus and find that congruent with nonviolence, I would still have a hard time seeing punching a fan of the opposing team as a part of what comes with being a sports fan. That should not be normal. In fact, when we teach kids about sports we would say that that is NOT good sportsmanship. In fact, lets hit pause and talk about that word for a minute. Yes- sportsmanship...

Even though it has the word 'sports' in it, it doesn't only apply to sports. Webster defines the noun 'Sportsmanship' as: fair and generous behavior or treatment of others, especially in a sports contest.

I'd like to imagine that Jesus would have shown excellent sportsmanship... In fact, he was the one who came from heaven to save the world and hung out with a ton of sinners, the oppressed, outcasts; I'd have to say that that probably falls into the "generous behavior or treatment of others" category of sportsmanship.

I'm bringing Jesus into this because in America we have this habit of mixing religion and sports... faith and football if you will... Kind of in the same way that we mix religion and politics- er... patriotism? Actually, I've seen people who try to keep all 3 separate all sorts of mix them together- Think about it! On Sundays we hear a sermon in the morning, maybe during that sermon we are encouraged to pray for our countries leaders- or in some churches to vote this way instead of that way. Sometimes a sports analogy is used to get the message across. Afterwards, many people rush home to watch football or their favorite sport of choice, where the game typically starts off with a pop star singing the national anthem, or maybe the color guard or something else regarded as patriotic. depending on the state you are in, there may even be a public prayer before the game starts. Then we get to cheering for our teams. When the game ends we leave the stands or our sofas.... claiming either "We won! Gods luck was with my team today!", saying "Good game, I hope we win next time!", or mumbling and trash talking the other team, forsaking any kind of good sportsmanship.

Faith, Football, and Patriotism...

Fellow Christ followers, please listen... Lately the conversation surrounding Faith, Football, and Patriotism in America has become pretty volatile... As someone who see's sports as being for fun & entertainment, and who is also actively pursuing conversations on social justice and faith- this sucks! I've tried to take time to understand where people are coming from across the hodgey-podgey mess that is social media related to this topic... It's not easy. I don't even like engaging people on this topic because of how volatile it has become. Yet... I know that these conversations are necessary for change systemically and individually.

If we don't listen to one another than our country can't move forward. It won't move forward in any way. Not politically. Not racially.

And, don't let the world fool you- we can't move forward spiritually as a country, or individually, if we are still held by the chains of bondage that come wrapped neatly in prejudice or feigned patriotism, complete with a bow made of distractions.

So do we #TakeAKnee or #StandForTheFlag? As Christians first, American's second, and sportsman 3rd, how should we approach the controversy?
I'm not here to answer that for you, just to give you food for thought. What you take away from this post is completely up to you. I am personally team #TakeAKnee, but I also understand why a lot of Christians are team #StandForTheFlag...

I grew up in a predominantly white conservative church in a majority white but liberal state.  We sang only patriotic songs  about America the weekend of the 4th of July instead of our typical worship. We would dedicate a large chunk of time to talking about our troops and why we should support them around every memorial & veterans day. We had flags in our church for different representations, but the American flag was always the biggest. As a teenager and later college student of color, I started to feel massively uncomfortable in this place that I had called home for so long. By then I was becoming more and more aware of the difference in how myself and my family was treated on a day to day basis in the world, compared to the rest of those who went to my church. It seemed easier and more comfortable for them to continue doing what was becoming uncomfortable for me and I couldn't put my finger on why until a little while later... So I smiled and nodded when they became patriotic, refused to have conversations about politics at church because I felt they wouldn't understand how the chasm had grown between our beliefs.

You see, the chasm was created by prejudice and racism I faced in the world. Not an attack on my faith, or persecution for believing in Christ, but witnessing my family and friends of color being stopped by the police and treated unfairly- an attack on me as a person because of the color of my skin. Being told someone couldn't date me, not because I wasn't "christian enough" in that era of purity culture, but because of my mixed race and half black heritage. When things from your reality shake your spirituality, you need community to pray with, fellowship with, and worship the lord with. While I could worship with them, I could not share the same perspective on how great our government was with them. I realized that the negatives affecting my life on a very real physical & spiritual level due to my race / ethnicity were easily swept under the rug for them because none of my white friends from that church had shared these kinds of experiences... in fact, sharing my experiences often left many of them scratching their heads.... so how could I expect them to guide me through an area in life many of them didn't  or couldn't acknowledge even existed?

I understand patriotism. There is nothing wrong with being proud about where you come from. But it is important to be able to be humble enough to acknowledge someone else's experience and to listen, even if only to consider that there may be some truth to that persons story- their reality. In the same vein that I feel privileged to be American, I also feel that we are not that great because there is so much more work that needs to be done. Just because somewhere else might be worse off doesn't mean that my country doesn't have plenty of room for improvements. As Christ followers, we should always be ready to continue the journey and seek out being more like him- which in my mind looks like being quick to listen for understandings sake, and slow to sweep any questionable things under the rug before we have exhaustively dealt with them.

Colin K. decided to #TakeAKnee, not because he wants to disrespect anyone, but for the exact opposite reason- He is looking to gain respect for a people whose lives have consistently had very little respect throughout our countries history. In the face of so much blood shed, in the face of fellow black Americans being consistently oppressed & devalued  systemically just as his black ancestors were, he did the most public and peaceful thing he could come up with. For him, and those like me who kneel with him, It is a peaceful protest about being granted the right to be seen as a valid human being in your own country. Colin K. is fighting peacefully for good sportsmanship, in this case: fair and generous behavior toward or treatment of ALL Americans, because Black Americans and POC haven't had that as of late. It seems like one of the most patriotic things you could do- He is an athlete fighting for sportsmanship in our country, just not in the way many are comfortable seeing sportsmanship, because this time it relates to race. As a POC, this affects me. As a Christian, this affects me. As an American, this affects me.

#StandForTheFlag came as a rebuttal by people who feel that this #TakeAKnee thing is disrespectful to our flag, our country. For those who #StandForTheFlag, anything less is seen as disrespectful to those who fought for our country, and the patriotism that they believe that our flag stands for. To many of them, sports and patriotism intertwine, so when a political topic threatens the joyous kind of patriotism they are used to it doesn't seem right nor patriotic- in fact it straight up should not exist in the same space.

The #StandForTheFlag rebuttal is frustrating for me. I mean, I understand it- #TakeAKnee forces people to come face to face with something uncomfortable that many have been able to avoid in this space they thought was "safe from that kind of stuff". For many American Christian's, their idea of patriotism is tightly intertwined with their faith, so when something challenges one it often shakes up the other...

And although I do understand that, it is still so frustrating to me because it seems to be trying to stand in the way and stop the call for fair and generous behavior or treatment of others- Which I thought is what we as Christians would stand for... and as Americans what our flag stands for.... Freedom. Freedom to be treated fairly, to fight to make our country better for ALL- regardless of whether or not we are in the armed services; To fight for our improvement, not only as people and individuals but as a country.

 have family members and ancestors who fought for America, who fought to be treated with respect, who fought to be saw as a first class citizen instead of a second or third rate one. They fought for my right as an American of color to be treated just like any white American, for my right to be able to call for improvements to this country just like anyone else... Yet here in 2017 I still see injustice and experience it or am affected by it directly in some way almost everyday. My faith is in the Lord, and because he has put in me a heart that yearns to be like Jesus, that yearns for good sportsmanship to be ingrained and exemplified in my family, community, and country, I cannot help but pray and fight for that.

I challenge you to enter into hard conversations with someone who says #TakeAKnee instead of #StandForTheFlag, or #StandForTheFlag instead of #TakeAKnee. Try to really listen to understand- don't talk to win an argument. Exhibit good sportsmanship. Be generous with one another. Remember that our citizenship is to Heaven 1st, and our time on earth and in America is a blip on the screen of life. Others are watching how we respond in this critical time, and it may influence their perception of him along with choices to turn towards God or turn farther away from him.

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