Tag Archives: love

God loves U…enjoy the sandwhiches

Stop right there, I know. That is not how you spell sandwhiches. Is there a story? But of course. Let me explain,

I want to talk about a concept that has been in the back of my mind for a while now. It is something that I think has been bugging and awing me for the past for months. This thought is one that rarely gets much attention. However I believe it deserves all the credit in the world for how relationships between all individuals operate.

It is the concept of capacity.

Webster’s Dictionary defines Capacity: the maximum amount or number that can be contained or accommodated

Centered at the front of my attention, this concept of capacity has been on my mind for a while. While the definition seems simple, I think the word means so much more. I think it is a loaded word, pregnant with so much life and substance. I think it is a word the defines relationships. I think it is a word that contributes to who we are as individuals, citizens, friends, lovers, workers, humans and so much more.

The capacity at which a person can love.

The capacity at which a person can hate.

The capacity at which a person can forgive.

The capacity at which a person can forget.

The capacity at which a person can determine priority.

There is a capacity that each of us allows to feel from others and a capacity that we allow others to feel. And beyond relationships, I think capacity can apply to tangible things as well (This will come into play with the post’s title).

In my line of work, I deal with people at their rock bottom. For some being homeless is the lowest level of low that one can possibly be at. I see people in their most genuine form of survival and their capacity to survive. What I think blows my mind day after day is their capacity to act on what they feel will help them survive.

A few weeks ago the housing specialist came to my desk to let me know that a woman would be coming into the shelter to obtain homeless status to be eligible for a housing grant that we have access to. She asked if I could take care of her paperwork and assessment. I agreed and a few nights later her ID was dropped on my desk.

I had no idea of who this woman was or what her situation was. The grant we have access to is to help people who need financial assistance with moving into their own homes. Almost anyone can be eligible for it, but they need homeless status and to acquire that, they need to stay in the shelter at least one night.

With her ID on my desk, I prepared her assessment paperwork like I do for the dozens of new people entering the shelter every week who I assist in transitioning. I walked out front and saw her sitting on the front bench, shaking. I smiled and introduced myself. Her voice shook as she reached out her hand to introduce herself. I explained the intake procedure and we walked back to my office. We sat down and like I do with any client before beginning the technical stuff  I just asked,

Why are you here?

Every day I go in I think nothing could ever shock me again, and every day I am proven wrong.

This was one story that stuck with me. It was her birthday back in 2011. Her husband woke her up with breakfast in bed. He kissed her good morning and said eat up. When she was done, they got dressed and he suggested they go on a birthday walk. She told me how in love they were. Their 3-year-old daughter was staying at her grandmother’s house so they could spend the day together. They went out walking. She stopped and stared at me. Her look went right through me and I felt the shift within her. Her eyes welled up. When they were walking he tripped. He stumbled and fell into the road. She said everything happened so fast that no one knew what happened. She didn’t. He didn’t. The driver of the car didn’t. She watched him get hit and just dropped.

Fast forward a year and a few months later. She had spent months in mental health recovery and while any specialist could tell you that isn’t nearly enough time, she came out of recovery for her daughter’s sake. She lost her home because they couldn’t afford it without his income. Her mother took them in. But in the time since he passed, she was finally able to secure a job. She just couldn’t afford that first lump payment for an apartment and heard about our financial assistance. When our housing specialist said she would need to stay in shelter one night to acquire homeless status, she became nervous. We sat in my office, very fragile. When we finished the paperwork, she said, what’s next? I told her now she left the office area and went into the shelter. The tears started coming and she said, oh of course. She dropped her bags and frantically collected them.

I said her name and she looked up, broken, all I asked was if she wanted to sit with me a little longer to prolong her inevitable stay in the shelter. She breathed out and said thank you. I’ve never seen someone so grateful just to stay sitting in an office. I said, tell me about your daughter. She went on and on. And I realized, despite all the trauma this poor woman had been through, she was putting herself through more, all for her daughter.

I couldn’t even comprehend the capacity of love she had for her daughter. Despite all the loss and pain, she wasn’t phased for a second when it came to the love and sacrifice she would go through for her daughter. I cried when I left work that night because of how tragically beautiful the story I heard was.

Now, while a person’s capacity to love can be immense and so powerful. Their capacity to hate can be just as immense and what’s more, take a much bigger toll on us.

Last week was the worst week it could have possibly been. I couldn’t have woken up last Monday morning possibly conceiving it would be a worse week. From the moment I walked into work to the moment I left Friday afternoon, just awful.

And during this whole awful week the concept of capacity stayed focused in my mind.

The capacity to throw 4 months of meticulous work, a college education and low-cost housing all out the window. The capacity to throw it all away.

The capacity to have someone risk their job for your health and then disregard them for your own selfish reasons. The capacity to use others.

The capacity to tell someone with anger and hate filling your bones that you wanted nothing more than to slice your wrists open and it was their fault. The capacity to be angry. The capacity to hate.

Such negative emotions. Fueled by what? No one knows. I don’t anyways. But being at the end of all the hate, selfishness, anger. It burnt me out.

People said one thing when I started this job.

Don’t get burned out.

But when I woke up Monday morning, I felt it. I didn’t want to go to work. But I did. I’m not just going to not show up. Fortunately, I had a 1-on-1 with my boss. We sat down and I told her everything. And like she does, she asked me my self-care areas.

I work out, I write, I pray.

Those get me through the day. And when I left I thought, I am going to work out tonight and maybe I should write about this too. But I didn’t think about prayer.

I went to the kitchen and asked the director if there were any lunches left. He said there were some bag lunches in the fridge. I grabbed one and walked back to my office. I sat down with a sense of exhaustion and defeat. But I opened my bag lunch and noticed a piece of paper inside. I reached in and pulled it out.

God loves U...eat the sandwhiches

God loves U…eat the sandwhiches

I almost teared up because of how happy it made me. I don’t know who put it in or where it came from. I could have grabbed any number of random bags. But that is the one I grabbed. And I grabbed it for a reason. Despite all the pain and sadness from the week before. I forgot about my own capacity. My capacity to trust in my faith. To trust in the fact that I am loved and watched over by someone so much greater than anyone.

The capacity to do anything is great. I believe capacity to love, hate, trust, forgive, forget, be humble, be great, be good, makes us who we are. And by the definition, is what separates us, making us unique and allows us stand up and stand apart from others.

Anyone has the ability to possess those qualities. But to possess the capacity to truly understand and demonstrate them, is something completely different.

Thank you for watching out over me.

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Alive with the Glory of Love

Before you read this, go to Youtube or your iTunes library and play the song “Alive with the Glory of Love” by Say Anything.

I remember the first time I heard this song by Say Anything. It was in the season 6 season finale of my all time favorite show Scrubs. The scene shows Eliot and JD laying on a bed together discussing the past, the present and the future. The episode is entitled “The Point of No Return”. While JD is about to have a baby with his old GF and Eliot is about to get married to her longterm fiancé, they reminisce over their shared love together. What got me about this scene was that as they discussed their old and buried love for one another, they discovered this ever-present yet fleeting moment of brief emotion digging up from within begging the question,

“Could we be making the biggest mistake of our lives?”

The scene cuts to black just before they kiss. When season 7 starts back up, they are in the same place and what happens? They don’t kiss. And I remember when I was 17 and I saw this, I thought,

“I guess old love can’t be relit.”

We have our one chance at love with someone and that is it. And when I went to college, I stopped watching the show. But about two years later I was talking to the friend who originally showed me the show and when we were sharing stories of the past, he asked,

“Did you ever catch the finale to Scrubs?” And when I said I hadn’t you would have thought his dropping jaw was going to knock our table over.

“You have to go home and watch it now.” I told him I would, but I really didn’t get around to it…

Until about a year later. It was the summer before my senior year of college. I hadn’t watched the show in near three years and all I could think about was the big let down of them not having this ever possible chance to love one another. But when I started the last season, I quickly realized, they were together, and they were in love. And it made me question myself,

“Can old love be relit?”

I was a boy raised in a home where the love between a man and a woman was non-existent. Everything I learned about love was from chic flicks and well written TV. As I sit here and admit that to myself and on the page, I think about how much it explains in my life.

I was a boy raised with the belief that second chances made love possible. I was a boy raised with the belief that love withstood anything. I was a boy raised by the belief that love was not something that ever went away.

When I first began to fall in love, I thought, this is nothing like the shows and rom-coms I have been taking thorough notes of for the past 10 years. But as I grew up and my capabilities of love grew and I learned, it started to make sense. And as someone who was raised by witty flicks with heart breaking one liners, my favorite description about how you know you’re in love was from a wonderful show called Castle,

“All the songs make sense.”

In those moments of pure heart stopping, gut wrenching, cold sweat causing, teary eye wiping, emotionally frustrated gesturing, passionate, mindless, unconditional, painful, agonizing, desperate, peaceful, hopeful, enduring, brain melting, selfless, true,

 L  O  V  E 

Everything makes sense… And yet nothing does. But somehow, all the billboard toppers seem to come over the radio and I find myself continuously changing them because despite how angry I am that in this moment of internal struggle, Taylor Swift seems to say the right things to hit the right buttons and make me just belt out in the sweet safety of my car,

“You are so right TAYLOR SWIFT!”

Love has taught me so much in the past 6 years. I have learned that despite being able to run through 10,000 volts of electricity on a casual Sunday afternoon, love can be more painful than anything on this earth. It is one of the most powerful emotions we as human beings can feel. I say powerful very confidently for a reason which some might find insignificant but one which I find relevant.

When I am lifting at the gym, I tend to rely on my emotions to give me the boost of energy to push for another rep or to add more weight. When I am lifting and I’m filled with love, I feel more powerful than anyone.

Love has the ability to give us power. Give us power over one another and over ourselves.

It can be used for good and bad.

It can be used to hurt and to heal.

It can be given and it can be taken away.

But despite the question of how one can use love, I believe there is one thing that remains true about love.

Love NEVER dies.

I was raised in a household where I saw love die. And in my lifetime, I refuse to let it. If I believed love could die, I don’t think I could believe in much anymore.

It is for that reason that I shared with a friend one cold night a small fact I rarely share with people. We were talking about life difficulties and challenges and she asked how I was able to remain happy through them and I said,

“I try to fall in love everyday.” Because while love can be used to hurt us in the most cruel and torturous ways. It can make us happy. And there is so little in this earth that provides us with pure happiness. And I think in that respect, love never fails.

Fall in love everyday. With a trait, a song, a sound, a smell, a quality, a feeling, a sight, a fact, a name, a story, a phrase, a belief, a moral, a value, an idea, and maybe if you’re lucky,

a very special person.

With all the lessons I’ve learned over the years, I’ve learned a lot about love. I’ve learned a lot and yet so little. And while it isn’t the best for a boy to grow up learning love from the big pictures and prime time lineups, it gave him hope.

It gave him hope that despite all the odds. Despite poor timing. Despite mistakes made. Despite judgements past. Despite old relationships. Despite new relationships. Despite beliefs. Despite goals. Despite let downs. Despite successes. Despite all the evil. Despite all the good.

Love. Never. Dies. 

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If you really knew me you would know…

My last written post was a talk that I had given on my senior retreat. Before the talk, my friend Bri introduced me. She said some very flattering words and then gave me a photo of the two of us and a jar. Written on the jar was the following, “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” -Ralph Waldo Emerson. Inside the small sized glass jar were what seemed to be a few dozen slips of paper. She knew that two of my passions were writing and taking photos. Each slip of paper had either a journal or photo prompt. The jar sat on my desk for the last few months of school and after I had graduated, moved home and unpacked, I took the jar and placed it on my desk. I don’t like to put meaningless things on my desk, that way whatever sits upon it has my focus.

With the first few weeks of summer spent doing little besides working out, relaxing and recouping after a very busy semester, I found myself sitting at the computer with blank word documents struck with writer’s block. I really wanted to write. I wanted to do nothing but write. I hoped that perhaps in the first few months of post-grad I could spill out the great American novel. But as a lot of writers know, sometimes the words just don’t come. Finally I forced my hand to reach into the glass jar and pull out a prompt. The slip of paper read,

Journal Prompt: “If you really knew me you would know…”

Hmm.

I thought a lot about the prompt. What did it mean? I put it aside and walked away. But as the week went on, this idea kept coming up in my head.

“If you really knew me…”

Who is you? Who am I answering? Who is it that knows me? Is it my friends or family? Is it people I’ve known for days, months, years?

“…you would know…”

What would you know? How do I sum up who I am in ONE entry? I think its impossible, but I also think that isn’t what Brianna wanted me to do. Last week was a really long week. It seemed like day-by-day I was getting hit back and forth with unfortunate circumstances. So by this morning, it finally hit me. How could I describe myself in one post? So I thought of the top 5 things most pertinent to who I am today and why I find them to be so important in knowing me.

(In no particular order)

1. Time is irrelevant.

In four years of college, I came to admire many people. I had a lot of inspiring professors and mentors over the course of my education. But one stood out. Him and I were often spotted bickering back and forth about silly nonsense. He was a priest and campus minister named Father Dinh. Many on campus knew Dinh. He was a very loving and gentle man. His words were often very inspiring.

An example of his wisdom? One time in conversation he stated, “Your heart is your home. What do you see when you walk into a home? Pictures, photographs, memories of loved ones. In your heart rests the images of those you care about most. You choose which photos you hang up, which ones you take down, which ones you throw away. You choose which ones get the best light and which ones sit in the darkest corners.”

He is a very prophetic man. But one of the most common things you will hear come out of his mouth is, “Time Does Not Exist”. Anyone who knows him well has heard him say this. It is something I agree with. Perhaps not 100%, but I believe there is a lot of truth in it. Last spring I spent some time working in Pine Ridge, South Dakota on the Oglala Lakota Native American reservation. While we did a lot of good labor work to help them during our time there, we also spent a good portion of our timing learning about their culture. Something that was stressed to us upon our arrival was to leave our watches and our phones in our rooms, basically any device that could tell time. The Natives of the land strongly believed that there was no need to follow the strict rules of time. Time is constraining. The length of a conversation does not make it a good conversation. Spending long hours doing hard work doesn’t mean it is good work. It is purely the quality of things that make them good.

I am a big believer in this concept that time is irrelevant. As a journalist, I have to adhere to deadlines. I am not speaking about time specific to one idea. This world is so wrapped up in time, always needing to know how long its been, how long they have to wait, or how long things will take. I like to believe that there is a beauty in timelessness. Especially after just graduating, time is simply the greatest commodity one can have. Why waste time counting it? Why not just be timeless?

2. I HATE social media.

When I publish a new post from this blog, it gets sent to my twitter account and followers of the blog. I can count on one hand the amount of times I go on twitter a week. But there is no Facebook in my life. In September I found that I was traceable via my Facebook. At first I didn’t think this was a big deal. But when people knew where i was ALL the time, it creeped me out. When it started affecting my relationships to the point that I couldn’t go out with a friend without someone asking why they weren’t invited, it got very irritating. At one in October, my roommate and I sat at our desks and were on our laptops. We were both on Facebook and he commented how much time we waste on the site. We sit down at our computers and the first thing we do is check to see if we have a notification and then get caught up in browsing the newsfeed. I took it to heart and started considering deactivating my profile. I talked about it with a few friends and the consensus stated I would probably not do it. I heard comments along the lines of “you won’t be able to see pictures of yourself and how will you keep up with your friends?” These things made me want to deactivate it more. Do they really think I am that conceited that I need to constantly check pictures of myself? I have over 600 friends on Facebook, I talk to maybe 10 percent of them. If we are really friends, we’ll still keep in touch. So one night I finally deleted it and it felt so free.

A few months later I found out I needed to get a Facebook for a class I was taking. It was a student run show and we needed Facebook accounts to keep in touch with one another. I agreed and said I would make a fake one. I didn’t want a Facebook. I had a life free from it. Why was I going to let it tie me back down again? So I created it. I loaded ONE picture and posted a status that said it was a fake page that I was using to stay in contact for my class. Well the kids in the class friended me so I accepted. Then mutual friends of theirs started finding me. Quickly all my friends started finding this fake page. I started getting accused of hiding from them. People actually got angry at me for not friending them with my FAKE FACEBOOK PAGE. Some people grew suspicious as to if we were friends at all because we weren’t Facebook friends.

DOES ANYONE ELSE SEE A PROBLEM HERE?

To quote one of my favorite films (Zoolander), “Does no one else get it? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

In the last two weeks of school, I started saying to people that I would be deleting the fake page soon and they were all surprised. Why are you deleting it again? Clearly they didn’t understand that I was serious when I said it was fake and I would be deleting it when I was done with the class.

While my posts have been scarce in the past few months, I love having a blog. Because as a writer, I feel like I’m actually expressing real emotions as opposed to depressing one line lyrics via Twitter (which I am guilty of). But I hate what texting, Facebook, twitter and other social media have done to human interaction. People don’t know how to interact anymore and that is just sad. When you can’t hold a conversation, write a letter or just express emotion without the help of technology to do so, something has gone wrong.

3. I LOVE wearing suits.

Since my last post was about hating something, this can be about loving something. I love to wear suits. My roommates and close friends used to tease me because if an event was ever slightly upper scale at college, I suited up. Quoting one of my favorite characters of all time, Barney Stinson, “Suits distinguish”.

When I was in high school, I participated in an extracurricular called Forensics. It was the process of speech giving. We competed locally and nationally. These competitions were judged and we were ranked based on presentation of both speech and self. Our coach who was one of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met, taught me more than anyone ever has. He drilled this concept of professionalism into our heads. Our school was known as the black suits. As long it was a black suit with solid colors, he approved. For six years, I sported solid black suits with an assortment of shirts and ties. While at first it was an irritation, I came to find that this level of professionalism paid off. Not only was I winning competitions, I found it to be a highly respectable choice of attire.

The concept of professionalism never really left me. In my last year of college, I was very strict to separate my personal and professional life. A close friend commented once about half way through the year that despite trying to consciously separate the two, we were at college. This didn’t really offer a huge opportunity for keeping two separate. So if I had to pick one over the other, I was going to pick professionalism. While this is not a fact that I want to bullet as a fact one might know about me, it deserves mentioning. I hate being intoxicated. When I got to college I had no desire to drink. I didn’t for a year and a half. I started it because of personal insecurities and hardships I was going through at the time and it got out of hand. But when I started realizing more and more that I was going to have to choose either a professional lifestyle or a reckless one, I was going to choose professional. Any problem I’ve had in the past two years has involved alcohol. Professionalism has always lead to scholarship, never problems. Suits are merely a metaphor for my personal preference to appear and preform on a professional level, and I love them.

4. I define the word PROBLEM different than most.

When I came back from Ecuador, I had seen a lot. If you aren’t sure what, read my Ecuador stories. I had been living in one of the poorest cities in the world. Between that, living on a suffering Native American Reservation in South Dakota, WHICH IS IN OUR OWN COUNTRY, and dealing with poverty and disability in Washington DC, I had seen a whole new scale of what problems were in the world. Ecuador had the biggest effect on this scale for me. When I had landed in America after the trip I turned my phone on for the first time. I had many messages from the week. Most of warm wishes hoping I was doing well. But then I started getting messages reading, “PROBLEM, get in touch as soon as you get back”. Obviously this made me nervous. I had just come from a place where if someone came up to me and said they had a problem it probably meant a loved one just died or they lost their home in a fire or they didn’t remember the last meal they had eaten. The problem I had been messaged about was in regards to planning a spring break trip.

As the past few months passed, I noticed it became something of an issue. One major problem was with my sister. She is a teenage girl in high school. Being a male, I don’t understand what a crucial and stressful time this is for women. I would come home and hear about her problems from my mom and laugh at them. I would get mad and say that her problems weren’t problems. The suffering I had just witnessed in such a desolate land was an actual problem, that is what needs solving, that is what needs to be fixed. When I would hear people muttering about problems at college, I would get angry and frustrated that they couldn’t see how meaningless their problems were. A professor once quoted a famous historian whose name escapes me saying “It is a sad day when the comedians of the world are the one’s speaking the truth.” One of my favorite comedians, Louis CK, stated “If you are white and American, you cannot complain about life. You have such a leg up the world.” I agreed with him a lot. Especially since in Ecuador a very formidable woman sternly spoke about how we had no right to fail at life or let the issues we witnessed go unnoticed because we were white, American and had an American passport. It took a lot of patience and discipline to learn and respect that people have very different definitions of the word problem.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a very close friend and she asked how I can be so nonchalant about life. I don’t think I said it in so many words, but I am about to dedicate my life to trying to solve major social injustices in the world through whatever means I can. Fretting over insignificant matters is a waste of time and energy.

5. I fall back on my faith, A LOT.

If you read my senior retreat talk entitled, “Fall Forward”, you might know the concept the one should never fall back, unless it is on their faith. When I first heard this statement, I quickly took it to heart. I think that is a beautiful way to define faith, something we can fall back on. I remember since I was very young up until last night at dinner, my grandmother has always pushed myself and her other grandkids to fall back on God’s love when we need it. When I talk about how I let a lot of problems go because I consider things like poverty and hunger to be the more pertinent issues in the world, I don’t do it without faith.

I’ve been asked many times to define faith. I believe faith is knowing that when something positive happens, it is a blessing. When something negative happens, it happens to teach us a lesson. Ever since I developed that definition and committed to believing in it, I have found myself more informed of who I am as well as to be more grateful for a lot of things. The simple warmth of a home and comfort of a bed is such a blessing. The complexity of friendships and relationships has taught me so much. Faith in God is a vehicle to learning what we are meant for in this world. I believe there are many who are meant for greatness. I believe that faith is the most powerful force one can have. I believe that it is the only thing we should fall back on. As Denzel said “everything else is waiting for us to fall forward.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________

That is my list. If you really knew me you would know those five things. While there is probably more, those are the ones that mean the most to me. Thank you for the prompt Bri. I hope much more comes out of this tiny glass jar.

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Ecuador: This is Wrong

I woke up the next morning to a rooster on my window sill screaming at me. Shock doesn’t convey my emotion. It was more just perplexity to the point of speechlessness. I turned over in my net. I felt the accumulated sweat against my sheets rub against my dry skin. I pulled my net up and crawled out, doing my best to maneuver my way down the metal bed frame. I put my sandals on and went to the bathroom. Billy our leader was walking in as I went to the bathroom with a bag and a group member followed him with a bag of equal size. When I walked out of the bathroom Billy had everyone gathered around the kitchen counter. He opened the bags and we looked in to see what looked like hundreds of rolls of bread. The sizeable amount of bread definitely awakened our appetites. We hadn’t really eaten since the meal on the plane. Everything they say about plane food being subpar is true. Billy told us we each got 3 rolls. That sounded sufficient for breakfast.

We had been preparing for simple living for a few months. 3 rolls was a simple breakfast right? Well…not exactly simple enough for where we were. It turned out that it was 3 rolls for breakfast and lunch. So we could split it up accordingly. We asked if there would be other food at lunch besides the rolls and he said yes. So a lot of us chose 2 rolls for breakfast. The woman who is the director of the entire program stationed in Ecuador came in to talk with us about some more orientation type details for the week. When she strolled in Billy asked if he could get the bananas. She allowed it. A few moments later, Billy came back in with a large crate, overfilling with bananas. He told us that we had this crate for the week and could eat them whenever we wanted but once it was empty, that was it. So now we realized that we would be getting a max of 2 rolls for breakfast, a handful of bananas and all the warm water we could imagine…splendid.

Megan, the director, had us all sit down.

Side note. I am hoping to send this portion of my blog out to the members of Rostro de Christo when I am done. I know that I have group members from my trip reading this as I post it. I hope that it will be a resource for the Campus Ministry department and the SEND program at school. After saying all that, I fully apologize if I butcher names of people, locations and/or other things I may talk about in this blog. I have a feeling when I start describing Spanish titled things, the spelling may be a bit off. So I apologize but encourage looking past the minor spelling errors and seeing the bigger picture.

We were sat around the table preparing for our day. Megan sat us down to briefly discuss some orientation things. But as we would quickly learn, she, nor any other volunteer, was going to tell us much about our week. They liked the surprise aspect. But more importantly, they wanted us going in without judgments or expectations. After about a half hour of chatting about respect, we headed out to meet Aide. Aide was one of our main Ecuadorian contacts. She was such a sweet, beautiful Ecuadorian woman. We met her in front of the local church. She introduced us to the area. It was a town called Arbolito. We would come to learn about how it was an invasion community. But we’ll get to that later.

Aide gave us a little background of the town and told us that we were going to meet our first neighbor. Before coming to Ecuador, we heard that we were going to have neighborhood time. This confused me, but after our first stop, we quickly understood the importance. Our first neighbor was about a 5 minute walk from our house. We kept in a close group and watched as the members of the community starred at us. It is very unsettling to be the minority, but also very awakening. We reflected a bit that night about how significant an experience it was to be placed in a situation where being the minority felt awkward and uncomfortable.

Nonetheless we kept moving forward and approached a wooden fenced in home. This home belonged to a woman named Lupe. Aide poked her head over the door saying, “hola”. A curvy woman with a huge smile appeared in the door way of what seemed to be a house made of clay like material. She ran right out and unlocked the fence door. As we proceeded in she opened her arms to all of us saying, “hola”, and offering a hug. As she hugged each of us with such a warm smile she gave us each a kiss on the cheek. You would never find that in America with a stranger, probably not even with most families.

As I approached her home there was a metal roof set up over the ground to create a porch type area. There were some wooden benches, a hammock and some plastic chairs. Another side note that we picked up on very quickly on in Ecuador. There is not one comfortable chair in Ecuador. Everything is hard. There are no cushions and no supports when we would sit in different homes including ours. At first glance, a bench does not seem too bad. But after a few hours, few days, a week, my ass hurt. Regardless we took our seats. Aide looked at me searching for a seat and suggested I take the hammock. I asked if it would be rude but she insisted. Another lesson I learned early on in the trip was after a night of very poor sleep, don’t take a hammock for a seat. Like I said, there are no comfortable seats. Well hammocks are the comfiest you are going to get, so if you take that as your seat after very little sleep, you are going to find yourself dozing.

But back to Lupe. She proceeded to start talking to us. It was confusing at first. Billy sat with her and translated the majority of what she was saying with Aide occasionally filling in. Her first questions to us were what our names were, what we were studying in college and if we had a boyfriend/girlfriend. At first this seemed a bit personal, but in Ecuador, they are very open. Again we would come to learn how personable the people there were. I can only really speak for myself when I told her I studied writing and art and that I indeed have a girlfriend, she responded that I had one because I was so handsome and that I looked like someone who she could have an interesting conversation with. It is an interesting fun fact that the people we met are much more in tune with individuals. They make it a habit to read the people they meet and have a pure genuine interest in anyone they meet.

Lupe proceeded to tell us a bit about her story. She had a difficult story about how her children had left her to pursue careers and better lives. But despite how alone she felt she was more than happy that they had grown and bettered themselves from the poverty stricken life she was stuck in. She continued to talk about how she has an abusive husband. We learned that in Ecuador men have a lot of hang-ups and act with a lot of machismo. The negative aspect of this lifestyle came with heavy drinking which led him to come home and verbally and physically abuse her.

We had not known this woman for more than 10 minutes and she was in tears confessing and explaining these things to us. She proceeded to talk about how she was soon leaving Arbolito because her husband, despite his poor lifestyle choices, owned the house and wanted her out. But despite all of this, she was so happy to see us. She saw that we were young, smart students with a lot of drive. She enjoyed us feeling welcomed by her and talked about some more history of Arbolito. After a lovely conversation we bid her ciao. We quickly learned that we do not say adios. It comes off more as a good bye forever. Ciao was more “see you later”.

As we walked back to the house, we passed by a school. But it was not a school like the ones that we are used to in America. It was a huge stadium type roof. There were rooms that stood along the sides with no actual walls. Billy told us that this was the school program that we would be working at later. While we walked along all of a sudden we heard a little scream. We turned around to see a little boy had run out of his home and jumped on a girl in our group. She was a bit startled but in a good way. We turned to see 3 or 4 other little ones run out. They all jumped on us wanting to be held. It was so cute. The smallest little girl walked over to me and smiled at me. Her beautiful smile and smooth skin shined in the sunlight. I bent down and picked her up and she giggled. She was adorable. Billy was laughing at us and told us we had to keep moving but we would be back later and said the same to the kids in Spanish. I put her down and we kept walking. We all thought that was the funniest thing. Little did we know we would soon become human jungle gyms.

We got back to the house and Billy prepared us for lunch. While a group of us prepared lunch, one of the group members made a schedule for the entire group as to who would go on bread runs, who would go to the market when necessary, who would cook and who would clean. Lunch got old really quickly. We asked Billy if he had to suffer eating this same thing every day like we had to, but he snickered and said no. He had his own diet which was minimal but varied so he didn’t get sick of it. Lunch consisted of however much bread you had left, a spoonful of tuna straight from the can and a few spoonfuls of a veggie base which we made every day consisting of diced tomatoes, onions and peppers. After a week of this I am surprised I can eat tuna so easily. Alas we forced it down, still hungry, but satisfied for now.

Billy then told us we would begin to get ready to go to Semillas. This was the school area that we had passed earlier. Again, we did not receive much information before going so that we could go in without perception. We got used to this pretty quickly. Had we gone into Lupe’s with some sort of perception it would have ruined our whole time with her because it is human nature to establish a bias. All we were told was the set up of the program. When we got there, the kids would be lined up. They would all be in lines based on sex and age. The first half was a constructive activity. The second half was recreo or recess. The last part was a bit difficult for us to understand. It was a talk to the kids about different values. The value of that week was spirituality. They would then pray and then receive a vitamin, a piece of bread and a banana. For a lot of them, this would be their first and only food of the day. Haunting.

We all filled our water bottles, put on some shorts, lathered ourselves in sun screen and bug spray and shipped out. Along with another group member, I grabbed the large crate of bananas which was identical to the one we had for the week but for the kids at Semilllas. As we started down the street to the school which was not a 3 minute walk, kids started just appearing out of nowhere. And they all wanted to be picked up. You might think I exaggerate. ALL OF THEM WANT TO BE PICKED UP.

It was a sad realization when it dawned on us that these little kids don’t receive this kind of love or attention at home, so we agreed to pick every single one up. BIG MISTAKE. When you lift them up once they want it again. And again…and again. Nonetheless when we got inside the gate of the school a little boy named Leontel ran over to me and jumped. Luckily I had put the crate of bananas down because it was so unexpected that I was glad I caught him.

He was small but a tough kid. He had a revolver belt buckle which made him awesome in my book. He pointed and shouted something I didn’t understand but I just decided to follow in the direction he pointed and it seemed to please him. When we walked into the stadium area, there were kids, EVERYWHERE. They all just starred at us. Pointing and whispering as if they had little secrets about the aliens that just walked into the room. We were asked to line up so they would follow our example and they did. Then we had to introduce ourselves, our favorite color and our favorite food. When it got to me I said,

“Me llamo Nicholas, yo favorita colore es rojo y yo favorito food es burrito.”

I immediately realized that again, I sounded like an idiot, and it was really stereotypical of me to think that since I am in South America saying burrito would make me sound cool…it didn’t it made me look like an ass. Regardless, we finished and the man running the program whose name was Ricardo, who would end up being awesome, released everyone to the big kid’s activity, the little kid’s activity or the homework room. The Rostro volunteer named Molly came over to explain what was happening and told us that she would split us into groups to help facilitate the kids in each area. She had us all sit on the bleacher where the little kids were assigned to go to and the second I sat down I had Leontel on my shoulders and two other little ones in my lap. The kids were beyond the cutest little beings I had every seen.

What we didn’t know when we would walk in was that each of the kids would watch us walk in and immediately choose a favorite without knowing anything about us. So when we all started getting split up into groups, the little kids would chase after their favorites or cry out in desire to be with them. When the other Rostro volunteer began splitting the kids up to get into groups with each of us, the little kids clutched on to the arms of the Gringos that they wanted to stay with. When she got to Leontel he literally attempted to tackle my upper body. I guess this was body language for wanting to stay with me because when she allowed him to stay next to me he put out his fist for a bump. This kid was awesome.

Our group had about 10 little ones in it. It was the leader of our trip and me. We were given a book to read to the kids and have them pick out little fun facts in it. Finally my 3 years of Spanish started to kick in when I was able to read to them. After which we gave out paper and crayons. They begged for more crayons but we had to restrict them to 4 each. Do you know how hard it is to say no to a small child that you know has nothing in their life and all they want in that moment is one extra crayon? It is impossible. Sorry Rostro volunteers if I left the kids wanting extra crayons, but I gave them the entire bag and watched their smiles burst and their little hands fight for the ones they wanted.

What happened next was one of I think 3 major moments during the whole trip which will forever be imprinted in my mind. The volunteer Molly came over to check on us. She asked how we were doing and we told her that despite the language barrier, we were surviving and seemingly doing well. She smiled and said “good”. All the kids wanted was attention. This was the only place they really got it. I looked over to see a little girl sitting on a bleacher alone. She was in a pretty little dress and was just sitting with her elbows on her knees and her chin resting on her hands starring at a little boy who was running in circles in front of her. The little boy was tiny. He had an adorable little striped shirt, a tiny had and tiny little shorts. Neither had shoes. I asked if I should get them to come over and join the group. Molly said, “It’s ok, we kind of let them do their own thing”. I asked why. She told me it was a difficult story.

My first thought, “shit, here it comes”. She explained that there were three of them. The tiny boy was 2, the little girl was 7 and they had an older brother in the homework room who was 9. The older sister and brother took care of the 2 year old because they had no family. I asked her to explain and she said that was it. They have no family. They have a mother that stops in once maybe twice a week and drops off a little bit of food. But the three of them are alone the rest of them time. When they would come to Semillas, the 7 and 9 year old would take turns doing homework and watching their little brother. Then afterward, they would walk home, in the mud, without shoes, make dinner for the little one, sometimes they got to eat and go to sleep. Then do the same thing the next day.

I fought back tears hearing this. But Molly continued on. They usually do not let kids under the age of 5 to come to the program because they keep it as constructive as possible but these three little ones they made an exception. Especially what had happened a few weeks before. We asked what had happened. She told us that a 7 year old and 4 year old were in the exact same situation. About 3 weeks before our arrival, the older brother was making the younger brother dinner and a fire started and burnt down their house and the two adjacent houses. The 7 year old got out.

The 4 year old did not.

Three weeks before I was at a Christmas party eating cookies and opening presents. Puts quite a few things in perspective. This 7 year old was now homeless and without a brother. I never got the chance to meet him. But I wish I could have. I don’t know what I would have said, but maybe just to give him a hug would have made some kind of difference.

A few moments later we started hearing screams. RECREO!!! This meant all hell broke loose and again, I was a human jungle gym. I ran around with little kids slung over my shoulders. All I could hear were their tiny laughs and giggles. If I picked them up once, they wanted one more. If I tossed them in the air and caught them their eyes would grow large and their smiles even bigger and say higher. If I held onto their arms and spun them around, they would scream over their own laughs and say faster. I never could have been trained or explained to the extreme and deep significance of ministry of presence. These kids did not want us to build them a house, give them food or provide better clothes. They were better than material processions. They just wanted love.

After eventually growing tired of tossing kids in the air and spinning them around, I needed a break. I drank some water and tried my hand at soccer. I had no clue that this would lead to a week of constant soccer. Really is huge down there. Something I noticed was the endurance of the kids. I’m 6 feet high and weigh just over 200 pounds with a decent amount of muscle. When I would run towards these little kids and snag the ball, they chased me until they caught the ball. If they fell, they got back up. Hell we were playing on concrete and they didn’t have any shoes and they were better and tougher than us. American kids are so whiney.

After what seemed like an eternity of small children craziness, they called for what I believe is called Shakra. Again I apologize for misspellings or names. But it was the prayer and talk of the afternoon about spirituality. The kids all prayed and as they were silent, we noticed something. There were little pieces of material drifting into the stadium. We couldn’t tell what they were but off in the distance we saw black smoke. Fire. Some of us grew nervous feeling the need to alert someone but figured wait till the kids are gone. When the kids got their food and left we pointed it out and asked what it was. The volunteers explained that it was the locals burning trash. We would start to see fire a lot more often.

But I had a quick realization. These little kids play in an area where the ashes of trash being burned drifts in and they breathe it in. I studied the atmosphere around me. I turned to see the 2, 7 and 9 year old leaving with no shoes but with ashes raining upon them which began to cloud my vision and the stadium around us. The locals and volunteers didn’t react, they were used to it.

This was pretty much the end of our day. We had dinner and a quick reflection. But overall, it was done. All I could think as I laid in my metal bed that night with the screams outside and occasional gunshots, this was wrong.

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