“Can I have some change?”

He was shrouded in the dimly light street outside the dumpling store I was hurrying towards to satisfy my famished stomach. I spotted him, as I spot all the unmentionables on the street, with a heavy heart, but life called and all I could do was walk onward.

The shop was quiet when I ordered my 5 dumplings for two dollars meal. Quite the steal in New York, getting delicious ‘homemade’ hot food for under $5. Then again, it’s Chinatown and you can’t beat Chinatown prices. I swung out of the shop and strode down the street so I could get to church as soon as possible and satisfy my stomach. He gave me a half-hearted call  as I walked by.

Can I have some change for a meal?

At first I kept walking. I do not really stop anymore for anyone who asks for change or food or anything. Seeing people ask and beg and plead day in day out wears on your soul — then the compassion fatigue strikes and what can one do but keep walking? Better to to feel guilty than to have an empty wallet right?

The split second passed as those thoughts flashed through my mind, and this night I decided to turn around, for once. Our interchange was brief. I told him to get something to eat with the meager amount of cash I had in my wallet, and he cheerfully pulls out a pair of takeout chopsticks to says that he’ll be able to use them tonight. I laugh and wish him a good night, and walk onward.

—-

Maybe we will meet again and I’ll ask him how his dinner was that one night a random girl made a human connection with him.

I write all of this not to gloat about my compassionate heart, but to reflect on how privileged I am. I have the ability to give out of excess and abundance, and not my lack-of. As I have been praying the prayer of learning that it is better to give than to receive, I still am unable to give for the sake of giving — and I find myself still giving out of guilt. Guilt of privilege, guilt of winning the DNA and demographic lottery, guilt of simply having so much.

Answers I have none, but in the seeking I hope that I am at the very least loving the broken hearted and least of these in a way that honors the Father. I pray that my heart of giving can move from a guilt driven motivation to one that seeks to give because we are all sons and daughters, and that my abundance is also your abundance, and there is something powerful to taking all that we have and offering it up to the Lord. In practical ways that walks out the prayer, ‘your Kingdom come | your Will be done | on earth as is in Heaven‘.

Word on the Street is a blog column that aims to “echo the rawness found on the street, showcasing the real in the day to day”. Among other things. I haven’t written one of these in awhile, thought to throw this one up.

Be brave, my lionheart

I. 

I’ve been ruminating over a mantra my friend Bethany told me over one of our ‘catch-up-on-life’ phone calls.

Brave people do scary things.”

Not that the phone conversation was the first time I heard of the idea to be brave, but that day it struck me in a new way. She phrased bravery in a way where bravery isn’t “being,” but simply to live out our lives as brave people. Instead of bravery being the action — bravery is what describes us as human beings.

II.

The opposite of bravery is fear.

III. 

These days I am constantly reminding myself to keep fighting. To press on. To live bravely. To let the act of overcoming and victory rule my life and not fear and inaction. Some days I lose, and some days I hold steadfast.

V. 

Being part of the current young adult generation, there seems to be all this outward and inward societal pressure for us to succeed, overcome, be movers and shakers, history makers and the like. I have found myself wrestling with whether my desires to “live up to the expectations of my generation” equates bravery. It seems like there is all this unnecessary emphasis on changing the world, whatever that may mean that we have forgotten to teach our children how to be brave and fight for the spaces and people that are within reach. There are slow shifts — but I find that I have been spending the past two+ years re-learning what it means to fight, to exude bravery, to make choices that may not make much sense, but to trust that there is hope and a purpose. The greatest lesson I have learned is change does not need to be in tens, hundreds, or thousands of people that I affect, but being able to affect just one person’s life is enough. If I can empower another person who is a brave person that does scary things …. that is power & change.

VI. 

1 John 4:18 – “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear …”

If brave people stand up against fear, could that mean brave people also love fiercely? It is risky to love. It is risky to live a life where bravery conducts the course of our actions and not fear. Fear is comfortable and easy. But in bravery there can be an endless path to opportunity and life.

What?! You’re not a New Yorker?

night views. blessed to be in this city.

A photo posted by symphosanna (@symphosanna) on

Living in the outer suburbs (or the 6th borough) of a huge metropolitan city puts me in an interesting position. Growing up travelling literally between NJ & NYC has greatly shaped my identity, habits, and how I see life. For many from Jersey, there is this awkward tension/desire to affiliate yourself with NYC instead of proudly being from NJ. For the most part, these people go to the city for cultural attractions, shopping, and the newest trend (cronuts, Smorgsborg, etc etc). In my case, it has been a bit different. Growing up for the past 11ish years, I have spent most of my weekends in the neighborhoods around my church in Chinatown. I have spent many bored afternoons walking the streets of Lower Manhattan, exploring the ins and outs of all the surrounding neighborhoods. A lot of my friends’ families have lived in their apartments and neighborhoods since their families immigrated here. I have my go-to places to eat/drink/shop … yet I am an outsider. But when I bring out-of-town friends to NYC, I can blab for hours about where we should go.

It is quite hilarious when friends will say, “What?! You’re not a New Yorker? I did NOT realize you live in New Jersey“. How do I do? Here are three ways you can also mesh yourself into the New Yorker identity!

  • When lost, do not stop in the middle of the street to look at your smartphone. Remember to always screenshot your Google Maps directions before embarking on your NYC adventure.
  • Actually, NEVER stop in the middle of the street to look at anything. New Yorkers are ruthless in walking around those who do that, but you never know when someone might decide to be extra rude and give you a hard shove.
  • Spend time on side streets. Instead of walking down 42nd Street and Broadway, walk two avenues west or east and explore the outskirts of high-tourist destinations. You’ll be surprised to find some hidden gems.

It is an interesting paradox to be in. But for now I will relish the positives of a suburban home and nature while getting to work, play, and serve in an amazing city!

New Jersey. New York. Love ‘em both. Continue reading

In the face of injustice, where do I stand?

These past few months have seemed especially heartbreaking. Every day, there seems to be yet another tragedy that comes up on the news, and my Facebook/Twitter feeds are littered with articles about injustices happening in our own country and all around the world.

I have found myself struggling in the two extremes. On one end, I wish to engage fully with the issues — to thoroughly research, fact-check, take part in dialogue and/or action to participate in alleviating just someone [aka savior mentality]. On the opposite end, I wish to disengage and turn off all the news, wishing that when I clicked on my Facebook homepage I would hear good news for once, and not another example of how depraved human beings truly are. I realized that with any extremes, neither are healthy nor sustainable ways of engaging in a justice-centered life. As a singular small person, trying to “save the world” (or attempt) is foolish and arrogant. So is remaining apathetic and wishing to separate from pain and suffering.

My struggle has been knowing that my faith in God compels me to care for the brokenhearted, the needy, the widows and orphans, and the oppressed. How do I wrestle to fight for the voiceless without trying to be Jesus? How do I let Justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream? The restless tug that pulls for me to not stand still and be a bystander to the struggles my fellow humans and children of God face churns within me.

The answers have not all revealed themselves yet, and maybe they will never be fully revealed for this time on earth. But in the meantime, in this season, I am learning how to simply lament and mourn when faced with injustices. That there is a time appropriate for weeping and sorrowful knowing how weak and broken this world is. In the lamenting I am learning to seek how hope & joy reveals themselves, to dance and rejoice not because I am happy, but because that is how perseverance is developed. To seek joy despite the pain, anger, and hurt. Without the lament + joy, there is no hope for reconciliation. I hope that as I learn how to seek reconciliation and stand in the face of injustice, I can be part of change and not further the cycles of oppression.

///

Learn this lesson well, my friend
There’s a time to rejoice and lament
Every season will find an end
All will fade and be made new again

The lonely moments

Why is it easy for us to feel lonely in the midst of a crowd? Or even at a bustling party full of family and friends — the pang of heartache and sadness coming up in the most people-filled circumstances?

In the past eight months since moving home, I have felt deep pangs of loneliness. But despite these moments where I want to clutch my heart as if someone had stabbed me, I have also experienced meaningful moments of solitude with the Lord.  It is through the slow, churning process of moments of incredible loneliness where I get to develop new muscles aka the discipline of solitude.

Human beings are wired to connect with one another, to feel-to think-to live-to breathe-to take it all in-or … take nothing in and be numb to what is around us because it seems easier. It is in the latter where we can wallow in depression and loneliness.

Solitude is a different story. In solitude, there is comfort because I do not let circumstances dictate my emotions. There is inner peace–for me that comes from my faith, but for others it may come from different sources. No matter what tradition/faith you come from, when you are able to grab onto solitude and let your senses breathe in life around you, the loneliness gets easier. It does not completely fade away, but whether you are at the peak of the mountains, driving down an empty highway at three am, or in a crowded city street; instead of being overwhelmed by what you do not have — you can be overwhelmed and filled by capital L life that you are living in.

How many breaths do you have left to inhale & exhale?  Embrace your season. Maybe your friends are not ideal right now. Maybe you are far away from your better half, family, or best friends.  Those things will pass. Do not let what you lack stop you from relishing what is in front of you.

Vulnerability & Scars

Sunday mornings.

I have been thinking a lot about vulnerability recently. It’s a dear friend I do my best to be consistent with. But I find myself failing vulnerability in the late.

On TimBeTold‘s newest album, there is a song called Cover Up Your Scars”. Tim asks us,

You never had a lover,
but if you ever did, would they ever break your heart?
Are you strong enough to recover,
or would you just forgive?
Or maybe you would fall apart,
and cover up your scars?

The idea of covering up our scars goes hand in hand with my desire to escape vulnerability. As much as I do it, each new time encountering vulnerability is still as painful and heart-wrenching as the last time. Yes, we were created to love, but to give all your heart — raw, bleeding, and exposed IS open heart surgery is: messy – sloppy – an enduring task.

This morning I was convicted. Who am I to desire covering up my scars if the Lord I claim to pursue with all my heart never covered up His scars? The scars are ugly and not pretty to look at, but without them I would not be fully who I was created to be. My light does not pierce as fiercely through the darkness as hope and joy and light if I was not a little bit scarred up. So I leave you with this thought from a favorite author:

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.

Madeleine L’Engle

Square pegs don’t fit into circles.

I am probably the least rebellious PK/MK out there, but my one act of rebellion would probably be refusing to be put in a box. That is why I do my best to let people meet ME before eventually casually mentioning the family background.

Anyways, back to my refusal to be put in a box. This past year since pre-graduation and post-graduation, I have been asked way too many times “what I want/plan/am going to do”. I know people are not purposely trying to frustrate me, but there are so many other ice breaker options > whatdoyoudo whatsyourlifeplans. We as people are so much more than our careers and majors and family associations!!!

I find that the more society tries to box in my identity, the more I let my identity become a scattered conglomerate of messiness — to the point where I have no idea where the beginning middle or end lies.. So…it was pretty amazing to have an older sister tell me in a straightforward manner who she observed me to be and be reminded of what passions and loves I have. Maybe in the rebellion to be outside of society’s boxes, I had put myself in another box where I wasn’t able to dream for myself.

People have often told me that I’m good at seeing the big picture while living fully in the present. This past season, I have failed at doing that. Honestly, what has happend is that I have let the present scare me into comfort and safety. But! I don’t think I was created to live in the safe or comfortable. The challenge lies in working my way back into that attitude that my whole life is a series of risks-based actions for the sake of the Gospel.

Surviving isn’t enough. Thriving is the standard.