Have you talked to a stranger today?

photo-1He stood on the edges of the crowded café of Barnes & Noble. His eyes wandered around looking carefully for a spot to sit. I looked up at the older man and wondered to myself, what was his story? Why was he here?

Nobody seemed to be moving from their tables. Everyone was focused on their own life, on their own apparent reality. Sidetracked by computer screens, books, people, conversations, and coffee. Everyone living in their own little world next to everyone else’s own little world. Not with each other, but next to each other.

I just sat at my little table in the corner. My favorite spot. My table was tucked away and provided the perfect amount of window light and the ever-so-lucky open outlet. Comfort on the fringes of the greater society.

Looking at the man still standing there, three thoughts entered my mind. 1.) I like this corner table spot that I am sitting at and I want to sit here until the end of the afternoon. 2.) I should get up and let this older man take my space. It would make him happy. And 3.) I was sitting alone at a table for two, maybe I should invite him to sit with me.

It was one of those built up feelings you get when you are anxious, excited, and are pushed just a little bit outside of your comfort zone by your thoughts. You want to take action but something is holding you back. Why could I not get up off of the chair to walk over to this man? As my brain fought within itself, a woman in the middle of the café got up to leave and the old man now had a place to sit. Relief. Or so I thought.

My intent had then changed from finding this man a seat, to a genuine interest in him, his interactions with others, and the way in which he set up his table for two. He picked out a special chair from the neighboring table to set up across from him. He sat at his table alone, pulled out a magazine and occasionally peered up as if he was looking for the person who was to sit in the special seat.

You could say that I enjoy people watching and I would certainly agree with you. But I think that it is much more than that. For me, it is more than casually watching people, seeing what they are wearing or who they are with. It is more so about observing their interactions with humanity and with the environment in which they are living.

For me people watching is about wondering what the world would be like if all of the separate lives that we live were lived together. If we didn’t live in a world where it was weird or awkward to go to a coffee shop or restaurant and sit down with a complete stranger. I wonder what a connected world would look like. A world truly connected through personal interactions, not through social media. What would a world of breaking our socially constructed norms look like?

I knew that at some point I wanted to walk over and ask this man a question. Show an interest in a random person I will never see again. Become socially aware and involved in the greater world around me. Live with people instead of next to them. I wondered if I would get the courage to stand up out of my seat and go over to him. To say hello and to ask about life. To show that maybe we do not have to live independent lives in our own little worlds.

I was not sure what would get me out of the chair and try this social experiment. Literally as this thought entered into my head, the answer appeared at my table.

“How are you doing today?” asked a man who I am assuming was the manager.

“I’m doing well, thank you.” I responded.

“Will you be joining us for coffee or cookies today?”

I sat there slightly confused wondering if maybe they were having some sort of special event in the store. I answered with a hesitant no and he responded with more of a demanding response.

“I ask that you please pack up your things and move to the chairs over there. We are very busy today”. He pointed to the awkward chairs by the magazines with no tables that nobody ever wants to sit in.

I am assuming that my lack of coffee cup initiated him approaching me. I was slightly annoyed as I began packing up my things because I had certainly spent my money there before on numerous occasions, just not today.

Nevertheless, I knew that this was my sign. I did not know what would get me up out of the chair until this man literally came over to me and told me to get up. I knew where I was headed next.

I fixed my eyes on the older man still sitting alone in the middle of the café and walked right over to him. I said, “Hello sir, how are you doing today?” The man looked up with a smile on his face and responded with a generic answer of something in the category of “good.” I asked him if he minded if I asked him a question and he said sure.

I asked the man, “If you could give one piece of advice to another person on how to live their life, what would it be?” His glance turned from my face to the magazine on the table in front of him. I knew that he was thinking. After a few seconds he turned his glance back up to me and said, “I know it isn’t easy, but my advice is to figure out what you want and get it.”I asked him if he had been able to do this in his life. His response was that he had not, but it was advice that he has given his daughter.

My question lead to a short conversation about life, school, Pittsburgh, football, reading, where my question had come from, and how I wished to write a book someday. During our conversation a woman had come and sat down with him. I said goodbye and he wished me well.

Stepping out of my comfort zone is something that I have not done for a while. It is something that I believe is vital to our growth and is vital to helping us determine our purpose for being alive. This is only my first encounter of many to come in my attempts to not live next to people, but live with them. I look forward to my next encounter and can only hope that the experience is as rewarding as my encounter with the man at Barnes & Noble.

 

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Roseburg Reflection

IMG_4228Roseburg is a small town in southern Oregon. My heart unexpectedly found this town through my service with AmeriCorps. While driving down I5 and into town, you can see picturesque building-less land in all directions. You see a vibrant blue sky, green hills, mountains, and trees, plenty of tall evergreen trees. A vision of never-ending greens and blues. A vision of pure beauty.

The town sits on the Umpqua River where the water is a colorful mosaic of every shade of blue. The area is peaceful and the land is serene. It is a place that was essentially my home for two years. It is the place where I grew up into the person I am today. It was in Roseburg where I learned about the human need for silence and alone time and the need to escape into a land of stillness. It was where I learned to truly appreciate the beauty in nature and in the world around me. It was while I lived in Roseburg that I fell in love with the small town feel. The small town community.

Last week I was in complete shock when I turned on the TV to see Roseburg on all of the national news channels. A mass shooting in Roseburg? That just cannot be. My second home was plastered on the screen. Literally my front yard, Umpqua Community College’s campus, and the house that I lived in, were on the screen right before my eyes. The community that I had called home, a small town not known by many, on TV revealed to the world because of the horrific tragedy that had occurred.

I watched the events of this tragedy unfold from my screen 3,000 miles away. My heart ached for Roseburg. It was broken for those who had lost their life, for the families of those who had lost loved ones, for those who had been injured, and for the community at large. I wished that I could have been there to help out, to comfort those in need, and to show my support at community events. I wanted to be a part of the healing process of this community that I hold so near and dear to my heart.

IMG_0558Roseburg and other small towns in the region are separated by miles of open land and peacefulness. When I went into town, I would certainly see at least one person that I knew. If I were to say that I was going to go to the grocery store in Roseburg it would be assumed that I would be going to one of three buildings with Sherms Thunderbird being at the top of the list. I would frequent the same check-out line in order to see my favorite cashier. If I wanted to go to a concert in the park during the warm dry summer you would know that I was going to go to Stewart Park, no questions asked. This is the simple life of the small town.

Something about the vast, rolling, beautiful landscape made every day life in Roseburg peaceful, slow paced, and meaningful. It made it easy to appreciate life and the life that was around me.

Sometimes things can seem so distant, so far away until it happens in your own town. We have become so use to these acts of violence that at times, they no longer affect us if we are not immediately impacted by them. You never know when a tragedy like what happened in Roseburg will happen in your area. You never know when your peaceful world will be rocked.

When a heartfelt connection is built through connecting with your community, purpose and belonging will be found. Become an active member of your town. Appreciate your community and do not ever take it for granted.
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Find home in your heart

photo If you would have told me during my early college years that upon graduation I would be living in the state of Oregon, I probably would have laughed in your face. Adventurer was by no means a word that I would have selected to describe myself. I was fine in my bubble and saw no need to adventure out of it. I saw no need to look outside of my walls. Here are three of the definitions that Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary provides for the word home.

  1. One’s place of residence
  2. A place of origin
  3. A familiar or usual setting

There are three specific locations where I have lived that I would call home for some time period of my life—York, PA, Mechanicsburg, PA, and Roseburg, OR. I grew up in York, went to college in Mechanicsburg, and completed my AmeriCorps service terms in Roseburg. If I had gone to Messiah College and not been on the track team, not made friends, and not became one with the community, I do not think I would have ever called it home. What if I had grown up in a house where I did not feel loved or supported by my parents, would I have called it home? If I hated my AmeriCorps service term, did not like my position, and had no friends, I am sure that it would not have made the list of places that I call home.

Clearly, the idea of home is not defined by the location in which you live. Home is defined by experiences, by love, by fulfilling your hearts passion, by friendships, by a support system, and by living in an environment that brings out the best in you where you can say “this is me”.

Within the past 2 years I have moved to Oregon, back to Pennsylvania, back to Oregon, and in August I will be moving back to Pennsylvania yet again. When I returned back to Pennsylvania after living in Oregon for my first year, I realized that I had forgotten something out in Oregon— my heart. So, I came back here to find it. I came back to the place where I had lived for the year after I graduated from college. I came back in search of where I had left my heart.

Did I find it, you ask? I found my heart in the Oregon trees. I found it in the children who I work with every day. I found it in the stillness of my river journaling spot. I found it in the simple, laid back Oregon lifestyle. Yes, I would say that I found my heart. Well, part of it at least.

Life was easy when I had one place I called home. Heck, it was even easy when I had two places that I called home because they were only 45 minutes from each other. But now that I have a place I call home that is 3,000 miles away from my other two homes, my heart becomes torn.

You frequently hear that “home is where your heart is”. This definition makes my heart feel slightly confused as it is defined by a location in which you feel the deepest affection. I think that it is more accurate to say that home is where you left a piece of your heart. Home is a chunk of your heart that you permanently left somewhere that you will never get back.

As I have struggled to discover my true home, I realized that there is not one specific place that I can say is my home. My actual house where I grew up in, the apartment that I stayed in during college, and the house that I am currently renting from are only bricks and wood. A physical home is easily demolished while a heart home can last forever.

But sometimes you unfortunately find that something that was home has become home no more. A broken friendship. Sometimes home doesn’t last forever. Sometimes certain homes are meant to come and go– change us, teach us, and prepare us for our next home.

I like to think that I have a big heart. My big heart can hold a whole lot of home. While my heart is at home with the children in Roseburg Oregon, it is also at home with my friends in Mechanicsburg, PA. My heart is at home when I am at my church in York as it is when I am in my church in Mechanicsburg and Roseburg. Home is everywhere where two souls connect.

When I leave Roseburg in a little over a month, I am at first saddened by the thought of what I will be leaving behind. I will once again leave behind a part of my heart. What I find comfort in, is the fact that the same heart that will be losing a part will be regaining a part that it had not seen recently. I no longer look at it as a piece of my heart that I have forgotten, but a piece of my heart that will forever be a part of who I am.

There are so many places in this country and in this world that are looking to enter my heart. New places with people I can impact and with people who can impact me. New views on life and the world that I can discover; new journaling places. With every stranger you have the potential of becoming friends just like with every place that you visit you have the potential of finding a new home.

I was once asked what it is that I am searching for—why I can’t seem to settle in one place. I could not answer the question at the time I was asked. But know I can see that I am returning to PA for a rejuvenation of part of my heart before I adventure off to discover yet another new part.

Find the adventurer inside of you and discover your heart in a new place. This may be somewhere nearby or it may be that big move you’ve always dreamed of. Take a chance in discovering a piece of your heart that you never knew was missing.

Home is the make-up of everything that has stolen a piece of your heart. Therefore your heart is the make-up of what you call home.

Embrace the Silence

photo copy 5It was an absolutely beautiful afternoon today so I decided to go to the Colliding Rivers to do some journaling. The water was pure blue, the sky clear of a single cloud, the sun shining down lighting up the lush green Oregon landscape. The perfect place for an afternoon of nature, relaxation, and thoughts.

After finishing up my journal entry, I decided that it was too beautiful of an afternoon to head home just yet. I got in my car and started driving down the road so I could visit a few more lookout spots along the beautiful Umpqua River. When I got in the car, I put the key in the ignition, unconsciously pushed the radio button on, and I began driving like I would do any other time.

Within about two minutes whatever it was that I had been listening to turned into noise. Why yes, I am aware of the fact that the song, was indeed sound which is a noise, but it was obnoxious, annoying, and made my head spin. It was not just the song because it was a song that I would enjoy on any other day.

I had sat by the river for nearly two hours expressing every deep thought onto paper. I was deep in my mind and deep in my soul as sounds of rushing water were quietly heard in the background. I had gone from listening to my soul to listening to something that was filling up empty air. The music was overtaking the silence in my mind and soul. My mind was slowly becoming busy with words of nothingness.

I turned off the radio and I continued driving. After a minute, I was at peace. I could hear nothing but silence. A beautiful silence. A silence that allowed for nothing to fill the void between my mind and the world around me. Nothing to take the place of the thoughts deep inside that are often covered up by the noise of the world. I had spent the last two hours releasing the thoughts from inside my mind, inside my soul, and that noise from the radio was trying to refill my mind.

In the silence I could truly appreciatephoto nature and the beauty of that drive, of seeing the green grass and the vibrant blue sky, and keeping my mind still. In the silence I could fully take in the beauty of God’s Earth and relate it to the beauty that is inside of me. There was nothing in my head and there was nothing interfering with my ability to think and live in the moment.

Turning off the noise allows you to be where you are and to think what you need to think. Turning it off allows you to discover what is within and what you need to see. It allows you to think the thoughts you should be thinking. It allows you to deal with today and not put off things you do not want to deal with.

Sometimes we need silence. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate music as much as the next person does. But sometimes taking the time to turn off the phone, tv, radio, or computer and just being, just existing, will bring us back to our true selves.

Silence allows you to uncover your deepest thoughts. It allows you to not only uncover them, but to experience them, to understand them, and to live them.

Free Yourself From the Clutter

Thirteen. The number of boxes.

The number of boxes that had been piling up underneath and cluttered around the ping pong table in the basement of my house. Boxes that are filled with memories. Memories of high school, Shippensburg University, and Messiah College. Memories of track meets, friends, roommates, classes that I defeated, and classes that defeated me.

These boxes held it all. Papers I wrote in high school and college, church newsletters that had been sent to my college addresses, Halloween and birthday cards, rubrics, lesson plans, lifting schedules, and even a letter that I sent to Proctor & Gamble years ago concerning a commercial idea that I had for their Tide to Go stick.

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Pencils, pens, socks, cds, projects, cups, plates, race bibs, old textbooks, and pictures. Pictures of friends who came in to my life for a period and are now only a distant memory. Pictures of teams, of family, and of people who I know will remain my best friends until the day I die.

You name it, I found it. In those boxes.

In those thirteen boxes that continued to pile up over the last six years of my educational life.

It was the same story every year. It would be move-out day and my dad would drive to my college to pack up the car. Of course my friends and I never began the packing process until the night before we had to be moved out. When my father would arrive the following day my disaster of a desk would still be waiting for the box or boxes that were on their way to save it. Everything went in the box. The box went from the dorm room to the car. From the car to my house and ended up right next to the boxes from the previous years where it would wait until it was joined by the new set of boxes the following year.

On January 25th, I will be returning back to Oregon to continue working with the Boys & Girls Club through another 6-month AmeriCorps service term. I felt as though this time before leaving would be a great time to finally go through these boxes and take a look back at the last six years of my life.

It can be quite a daunting task. You see such a large portion of your life sitting in front of you. You look at it and know that it will be messy both physically and mentally. Digging things up from the past. Things that remind you of who you once were and what you once hoped for. Things that remind you of paths you were going down before signs started leading you in different directions.

Over the past few days I have had the opportunity to re-live the past 6 years of my life from running at Nationals in Texas while attending Shippensburg, to discovering my Creation Project I made my first semester at Messiah, to finding each and every notebook from every class that I have taken during this time period.

I challenge you to de-clutter your life with the start of this New Year. Both a physical and mental de-cluttering. Start with the physical. Maybe you don’t have thirteen boxes to go through, but I am sure that there is some area of your home or office that could use a little help. Get rid of everything you do not use and have not used. Throw it out. You do not need it. It is freeing. Your physical space and your mental space are connected. Somehow the throwing away of ten years of old clothes will not only free up the physical space but will leave your mind feeling less cluttered as well. Try it and see!

As I sat down to blog today, I asked my dad what one possession he owns that he has kept the longest, where he got it from, and why he has kept it for so long. His response was a shirt that his parents gave him his senior year in high school. He kept it through all of these years because of the good memories that he associates with it. Good memories of his youth and time spent with old friends during a different place in time.

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We all have physical things in our lives that we do not want to throw away. Memories in our lives can be woven into our possessions like the fabric that makes a shirt. While donating and throwing away our possessions can be a hard task to do, discarding of what is not needed allows us to feel free and to be free. It allows us to have space and to appreciate what truly matters. During my de-cluttering I most definitely saved my good luck signs, track and field secret sister notes, some birthday notes, and picture collages. I look forward to the time years from now when I pull this box out of the closet to reminisce about some truly amazing times.

Not only should we work on de-cluttering the physical realm of our lives, but the mental realm as well. As I previously stated, downsizing the physical is a good start to downsizing the mental realm as it allows you to create a new appreciation for your world. The start of a new year is a great time to look inside, look back on your year, and rid your mind of the clutter. Of what is causing you stress and tension. It is a time to forgive those whom you hold grudges against. Let go of your pain and hurt from the past year.

Take it out of your mental box, look at it, acknowledge it’s presence in your life, figure out who if anyone you need to forgive, do it, and then dispose of it and set yourself free.

De-cluttering will allow for space in our lives. A space that is meant to remain empty. When we free ourselves of this clutter, we will free ourselves from that which we are bound allowing us to fill our lives with simplicity and life.

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Follow your heart’s true joy-fulfilling passion

You may or may not have known, but I spent the past year serving with AmeriCorps at a Boys & Girls Club. Above all else, this experience has taught me about true fulfilling joy.

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In sum what I have discovered is that true joy is not found through anything that you receive. You find true joy through what you give. It is found in celebrating the successes of others and in feeling a fulfillment you only experience when you embrace someone else’s reason to smile.

I have discovered a type of love that I have termed need-love. It is a love that can be directly connected with joy. When someone counts on you and you are willing to protect them and support them with all that you have. When a child loses a friend or family member, is struggling with who they are, struggling with their home life, there is nothing that makes you feel more needed or more internally fulfilled than the feeling of someone turning to you when they do not have that support elsewhere. One of the most fulfilling experiences of joy is through helping someone in their time of need return a smile back to their beautiful face.

This need love is not a one-way street. Although you may be fulfilling the needs of someone else, whether you know it or not, they are somehow filling a need that you may or may not know you had. You do not go about looking for these people. They just come, impact your life and you wonder what you ever could have done without them entering in. Soon you find yourself wanting to be there for them, which then brings you back to joy.

Deep, deep down inside of every heart is a hole– a hole that we all too often try to fill with materialistic things of this world. This year I had thought that I felt a distancing from God, but really I had just stopped looking for Him. While I was not pursuing Him, He was still pursuing me. What filled the hole for me was this deep feeling of joy that now when looking back on it, I know only came from the Lord and using the passion I had been given. He was with me from the start and this joy that I found was evidence that He lives inside of me and was working on me even when I could not see it. Now that I am back in Pennsylvania, I can see that I was connected to my faith all along. Maybe I just needed to leave Oregon so that my foggy vision could be made clear.

Everyone has been given a gift or a passion that can be used to help others. Everyone. God would not give us a true good-hearted passion that he would not want us to use.

Do you wake up in the morning and cannot wait to begin your day? Are you doing what you truly love and what you are most passionate about? Is your heart filled with this joy, with this feeling of completeness? Imagine what the world would be like if everyone did what they were passionate about everyday.

I have been asked a countless number of times since returning to PA, “What’s next?” When sharing a few potential ideas about my future I have been told, “That is a great step up from what you were doing” and that I will “keep working my way up”. Instead of looking at what the next step is, look at the now and analyze what gives you joy. We all too often like to plan our lives out with the overly used 5-year plan. By using this 5-year plan you may be missing out on your true joy and passion that is trying to reveal itself to you in the meantime.

I think of the path that I am to take with my degree. Sure, I could go down that road which would give me more money than some of my other avenues. But what is money when my joy lies elsewhere? At the end of my life am I going to wish that I settled into this mold that we call life or am I going to wish that I explored every path and avenue?

I will not be confined by what reality appears to be but only be the passion that is in my heart. When your heart sets your soul’s passion on fire, YOU are unstoppable.

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love.” – Maya Angelou

When you follow your heart’s passion, the joy that you feel will be contagious.

 

“Bucket of Yellow”, aka “The Bucket of Happy”, aka “The Happy Bucket”

IMG_1580About halfway through the school year at the Boys & Girls Club I put a blue bucket in my room at the club. I called it the “Happy Bucket.” The idea was based off of a journal that I started a year and a half ago that contains things that make me happy, smile, laugh, or feel blessed. My book currently contains 980 items and I am getting quite excited for the happy dance that I will have when I reach 1,000. Some things are small and rather insignificant, while other items made a huge impact on my life. Items range from Here Comes the Sun Pandora, leftover board meeting food, and Frostys in Coos Bay to seaweed, sunshine in Eugene and the Barko’s Bible study.

My final year in college my Nana gave me a book entitled, 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. The book is essentially a list of things that make the author happy. After reading through a few of her items that made my roommates and I giggle, we decided to each start a book of our own.

In my room at the Boys & Girls Club sat this blue bucket filled with yellow slips of happy phrases. The directions were simple:

What makes you happy?

1. Take a slip of paper.

2. Write down something that made you happy today.

3. Put it in the bucket.

Let’s see how much happiness we can fill the bucket with.

The first day that I put the blue bucket out, it was one of my activities for the day. As members would enter my room I would direct them to this bucket. Eventually, this bucket was placed on my side counter next to my Member of the Month Bulletin Board, member’s artwork, the Bored Jar, and popular books that members would enjoy.

Sometimes I would gather a few members to walk around the Club with the bucket and ask other members to put some yellow in the bucket. It made me so happy to see these kids encouraging their peers to think about things that make them happy. For most of the year though, the bucket of happy would sit on the side counter and be visited daily by its usual visitors.

There were many members who would frequently stick a yellow slip into the bucket. Occasionally I would check out the new level of yellow and a smile would be brought to my face. How can your day not be made when you look at childrens’ happiness of bacon, God, video games, staff Katie, candy, or sunshine? How can your heart not be filled with joy after seeing what brings other’s joy?

Out of all of the members who slipped some happy into the bucket, there were two teen girls that I will never forget. Every day, and I mean every day, these two girls would giddily gallop into my room with huge smiles, take a slip of paper, and record their happy moment for the day. Sometimes when these girls would arrive, my room would not yet be opened. Many times I would be in the Games Room when they got to the Club, which was right outside of my door. I would usually wait in the Games Room until more members arrived before opening up my room for the rest of the day.

When I was not open, these girls would run up to me, yelling my name, and tell me that I HAD to open my room. They had something that they MUST add to the bucket. I would open my room just for them to go in and add their happy. Skipping to the bucket, they would put in their happy, thank me, and skip right back out of the room. One day was especially memorable as they brought a new friend who proceeded to sing and dance to the song Happy while his friends made their daily deposit.

Before leaving the Boys & Girls Club and returning back to Pennsylvania last week after my AmeriCorps service year ended, I gave each of these two girls a Happy Book of their own so that they could continue to record these memories and so they could look back on these items when they needed a boost or when they needed to be reminded of a happy time. I wrote each girl a note and ended with the following quote:

            Take your time.

            Take chances.

            Believe in possibility.

            Do something creative every day.

            Do what makes your heart sing.

            Inspire others.

            Inspire yourself.

On the very last day that I was at the Club, I asked one of the girls how her Happy Book was going. She told me that she had written something every day since she received the book three weeks before and that she even has her sister now writing in a Happy Book. I truly could not have been happier. As my Uncle Tim had once shared with me, “Joy is something deeper than happiness and is found in helping others.” This quote has taken on a whole new meaning in my life after spending a year at the Boys & Girls Club of the Umpqua Valley. Seeing a member laugh or smile is what made me truly love the opportunity that I was fortunate to have for the last year.

 Spread the Happy.