Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Letter to Myself

September 1, 2015

Dear Marji,

            I am writing this letter on the 25th of June 2016 with only a few days left in L.A. This is proof that you will indeed survive this year and be a better person for it. However, it will be the hardest one out of your 23 years so far. I am writing to give you advice and a few heads up for living in this complicated city. I know on this first day the sense of adventure is great! Keep that as long as you can. That Hollywood sign is still striking, and the palm trees still exotic as they sway so high in the breeze.

My advice to you for survival this year is as follows:

·         Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of other people for how they look or where they live. Do not be afraid to question your faith or your friends. Do not be afraid to break some of the rules at work and at home.

·         Learn quickly to be your own person. Do not replace someone else’s standards of happiness or success with your own and then be sad for them. They are their own person.

·         You are not a trained social worker or mental health professional. Therefore when you are overwhelmed at work you are not a failure! Cut yourself some slack and be kind to yourself. This year is a hard one.

·         Find some Headspace and meditate. You can survive without worrying all the time.

·         Make time for exercise, reading, and nature. There is a lot of concrete here.

·         Talk to your housemates and your neighbors. You may not always have the energy after a full work day, but it’s a lot harder to live with them if you don’t know them.

·         Equally important is the fact that when your housemates or clients have serious breakdowns this year, you don’t have to fix them. You can take a step back.

·         Try as hard as you can to make friends outside of your house. Previous Dwellers or YAV alumni are preferred as they understand what you are going through this year.

·         Pay attention to your wonderful leaders in your program and at work. They will set the best examples of leadership in their optimism, praise, listening skills and equality.

·         Your money will be tight on your small stipend and covenant to simple living. Take it as a true opportunity to relate to your working class neighbors and clients experiencing homelessness. You will make it work (and people will graciously take you out for lunch sometimes)!

·         Most importantly, LAUGH at least once a day!

You should know that you will be okay. Time is a funny thing that passes painfully slowly or much too quickly. The magic of it all is that the world keeps spinning regardless of what’s happening in our small moments.

My mantra this year has been “just show up.” When all the other advice I’ve given fails, all you have to do is show up for the next day or the next moment. By the end of this year you will realize how brave and compassionate and strong and smart you have been, even in your worst moments. Your middle name is Grace, and it truly comes naturally to you wherever you are.
With Love and Peace and Hope,
P.S. “There is something you must always remember.
You are braver than you believe,
stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think.”
- Winnie the Pooh

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Advice from a Tree

              Yosemite National Park                The 4 year olds wanted to share their stuffed animals!

As I’m sure you can imagine a lot has happened in L.A. since I last wrote a blog in March.
Here are a few snapshot sentences of what I have been up to:

Conan audience member!
  •  I have explored new museums like the Getty Villa and the Grammy Award museum in the city
  •  Been to the taping of Conan’s late night talk show twice 
  •  Explored the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and discovered a beautiful pond to sit by
  •  Helped house two clients who have been on the streets for years and am getting much better at navigating the system of the Housing Authority
  • Had a visit and vacation with my boyfriend, Brett
  • Sang Let’s Hear it for the Boy at a fundraiser for a friend’s nonprofit bike-a-thon
  • Read the book The New Jim Crow and Brain on Fire (I’m now starting a book on Mother Teresa called Come be my Light)
  • I went to Disneyland again for Rowena's birthday! Thanks Paul! 
  • Disneyland trip #2!
  • Helped many people obtain California IDs, Social Security cards, birth certificates and other applications that cost more money than they can afford
  • Given impromptu biology lessons to kids from the neighborhood about our garden
  • Been the intermediate buffer between some friends experiencing homelessness and angry police and business owners
  • Climbed down the embankment to the LA River
  • Been heartbroken by a difficult domestic violence situation at work
  •  Made a 5 day trip to San Francisco and Yosemite National Park
  • And met the new site coordinator for DOOR Hollywood, Elizabeth

When I look back on the past few months and weeks, what stands out to me the most are the times I have been able to find nature within, and outside of, the city. When we went to Yosemite last weekend I came across a beautiful poem in the visitor’s center entitled Advice from a Tree. It really resonated with me and helped me reflect on how trees really can be good role models for our lives.

The city wears on a person more than I realized. When we drove up to Northern California and through large areas of farmland and vineyards, I took great comfort in the familiar fields of grass and the wild trees that were never planted in rows by human hands. Driving through the small town of Copperopolis where we stayed also reminded me of how friendly it is to wave at everyone you pass instead of avoiding them.

Other times I have found nature include camping at the beach with Brett, walking through the green space in the cemetery next door, taking in the different kinds of trees across the street from my bus stop in the morning, sitting on the back patio of a friend’s house with a palm tree that creates its own oasis right off Sunset Boulevard, the Getty Villa by the beach, and of course the grand creation that is Yosemite Valley with its waterfalls and huge stone mountains.

As I have gone through this year on what feels like a desperate search to figure out how I fit into the world, this poem truly puts my feelings into words. I don’t believe I was meant to be a city girl forever. I need my fresh air and green grass and quiet nights with crickets outside.  This year in the city has certainly shown me a more diverse and fast paced way to live, but it has also taught me to cherish the quiet and find more peace within myself even when I sit among sirens and yelling all around.

 As of today I have 9 weeks left in Hollywood. Some days that feels like a long time, other days like a short time. But regardless, I understand that just like a tree I am constantly expanding my roots, remembering my place among all living beings, embracing each new season’s changes, and enjoying the view of Los Angeles!
The Getty Villa (left) and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (right)

The kids made me a new pair of glasses when I got back from San Francisco!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A New Kind of Heaven

It is now officially spring time! It’s a season for new flowers and fresh ideas to break forth from the winter slump. While the weather here has not taken any noticeable turn from the average 70 degrees and sunny, there is definitely a new energy in the air. Trees and bushes that I thought would only ever be green are suddenly breaking out with purple and pink flowers! Their smell greatly improves the stale, city air, and also inspires me to think about the ways I, myself, will blossom at the end of this year.

This green vine I pass walking to work has erupted in beautiful, pink flowers!

My life would have certainly changed if I had only come to L.A. for one month. Now, after 6 ½ months, I can easily make an extensive list of ideas and virtues that have changed through my experiences of working in homeless outreach and in my Latino neighborhood. One idea I’ve been processing most recently is how I have come to see God differently, gradually taking him out of the box I was taught to put him in.

Rowena and Gio picking lemons in the garden.
The sermons at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood are posted on their website so people can listen to them any time after Sunday. This month I have started listening to the previous Sunday’s sermon on one morning per week during my bus ride downtown to work.  It’s been interesting to see the different ways I relate to the message when I am on the bus versus when I am in the sanctuary.

On the bus, I listen as the pastor talks about our neighbors, and then I see 2 middle aged Latino women, an older Korean man, a white man with tattoos and a Dodgers hat, and a young African American school boy pay their bus fare.

In the sanctuary, I am surrounded by middle and upper class white people with whom I can relate to so easily.

On the bus, I listen to the pastor talk about living graciously in the midst of suffering, and then I see a poorly dressed man on the sidewalk run in front of the bus and through traffic to give a man on the other side who is begging for money half of the sandwich he has.

In the sanctuary, I think about my own suffering as I work long hours far from home but still muster up the energy to play with 20 neighborhood kids at the end of the day.

What I love the most about listening to the sermons on the bus is the prayer at the end. In the sanctuary, everything is quiet and you can do your best to focus and feel good about how we might change the world.

On the bus, everything is loud and busy and real.  That prayer suddenly goes out to the mother in the seat ahead of me, struggling to keep her and her child’s bags together in the small area. Or a word of love and peace gets sent to the couple behind me arguing about last night.

It is so nice to sense the presence of God in my life outside of the sanctuary. I spend the great majority of my time out in the real world, where life is so busy it feels like God can’t catch up and I have to slow down back in the Sanctuary to find that spirit again. But listening to that prayer on the bus, I find a very different feeling of being with a God who drives 1000 mph all day, every day, and still manages to keep everything in order.   

A few weeks ago our site coordinator, Matthew Schmitt, gave a sermon on racial reconciliation. The line that has stuck with me the most was about how Heaven will be a place with people of all cultures and particularly of all music; rock will blend with classical, which will blend with steel drums and sitars, then bluegrass and pan pipes. Everything we can imagine and more will be present and beautifully come together!

A clear view of the City of Angels
Before this year, I’m pretty sure my vision of heaven was still all about cloud furniture and choir robes. Now I am coming to see that the Heaven God has in mind is actually full of beautiful, smiling faces in every color, maybe even on a bus together, with the most eclectic music and flowers and food the world has ever known! With that diversity in mind, I would definitely say that Los Angeles is a piece of Heaven on Earth.

Oh yeah, my family came to visit! Here we are at Olvera Street
experiencing quite a bit of diversity!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

What is love?

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! February is certainly my favorite month, bathed in the colors pink and red, celebrating what it means to love each other, whether romantically or as close friends and family, or even to love a stranger. Love Train has been on repeat for me since February 1st,  and it really does help me focus on loving others throughout the day!

But what is love, really?

This is something I have been thinking about a lot recently as Valentine’s Day has approached. I have experienced love much differently here in L.A. than I have at any other time in my life.

When most of us think of love, I would say our minds jump to romantic stories of “falling in love” with someone, or long term friendships, or the unconditional love parents have for their children. We like to think of love as an easy thing, something that just happens, a peaceful, sweet feeling we get within the very center of our being as we engage with something or someone that is beautiful to us.

But what if love isn’t really a feeling at all?

Any couple who has been married for several years will tell you the honeymoon phase comes to an end. The feelings of love, aka butterflies in the stomach and the desire for constant companionship, don’t last forever even though they may come and go throughout the relationship.

What if love is actually an action?

If you Google the definition of love, like I just did, it will tell you that love can be either a noun or a verb. What I’ve been learning throughout this year however, is that genuine love is most often a verb. Love is a choice. Couples who have been married for 50 years have (hopefully) spent a great amount of time making choices to act lovingly toward each other, even when they didn’t feel love for them. My boyfriend, Brett, and I have most definitely made a choice to love each other from more than 2,000 miles away, sacrificing what most couples take for granted in frequent kisses and dates. We have had to act lovingly in very different ways, like making time for FaceTime chats and sending encouraging messages of love and support when they are most needed. Because we do care for each other in more ways than just wanting to hold hands, we have been able to make our relationship work very well.

When we first came here in September, not knowing any of our housemates, our site coordinator told us straight up that this year would be one very similar to marriage in that living with other imperfect, culturally different people is hard! I don’t love my housemates like I would a spouse, and yet living with them has indeed taught me very much about how to love other people. In a way I guess we skipped the honeymoon phase altogether and went straight for the hardcore compromise. We signed a physical covenant stating that we would choose to act lovingly toward each other even when we don’t feel the sweet, happy love in our hearts. What keeps us together is the commitment we made to being here and striving for the same goal in seeking justice and peace in our world.

I am currently reading the book The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck, M.D.  The entire second part of the book is devoted to love and this concept of love as an action. Dr. Peck says that truly loving someone is a choice we make to extend the boundaries of ourselves to include the other person. He also says that a requirement of love is to be concerned with the spiritual growth of the other person. With that in mind, I can easily say that my housemates and I have love for each other as we have spent a large portion of our time together discussing where we are in our psychological and spiritual lives.

But how can we love strangers if we don’t know them well enough to have deep discussions about our innermost thoughts and feelings?

Here is what I have learned about love from my work with new people I don’t know every day. Often times when I approach a person experiencing homelessness, it is required for me to show love and genuine concern for them first. I do not know the first thing about the person or their story, but I do know that saying hello and speaking to them as a fellow human being is a simple interaction they do not get to enjoy very often, and therefore is an act of love to them. I would say that 80% of my interactions with strangers go well when they begin with a simple smile and hello. Incredible stories and deep feelings can be shared within the first hour of meeting someone if they truly accept your greeting as an act of love 
for them.  

The people who are hardest to work with are the ones who readily take my acts of love toward them, but they do so in a very greedy way, taking all of my energy and not giving any back. This is when it’s hardest to love; when the client walks through the door who has turned down countless shelters and apartments we have offered to put her in, cursed me out one day and hugged me, crying, the next. It’s hardest to love when I am so tired from walking at the end of the work day and a client needs me to transport them to the hospital. But God has truly given me a patient and loving spirit. This is something I have known from the time I was little, that being nice to others comes naturally to me, even when I really want to scream curse words at them.

I have also learned from my work and my home life (and the Dr. Peck book) that listening is an act of love. To truly listen to someone is work. Passive listening is not work. But love is work, and therefore passive listening is not love. Only truly listening and working to understand the other person is an act of love. My outreach team has actually complimented me on my listening skills, saying that I have a lot to teach them about how to truly listen to clients. I have found I am particularly good at listening to some of our severely manic clients whose sentences jump from space ships, to computers, to bicycle shops, to the devil, to yesterday’s lunch. These were the very kind of people I was afraid to interact with before working with PATH. I assumed they had to be dangerous and volatile. But what I have found is that when you really listen to them, their true selves start to emerge. So many people in their lives have stopped listening because they refused to put the work and the love into finding the nuggets of reality that sprinkle their consciousness. If I had the time, I would sit and listen to Space Ship Man all day, just asking questions and listening to every word until he finally makes it back around to his birthday, or where he grew up, or when his last meal was. There is a real person inside the disconnected consciousness, and these people deserve my love just as much as my housemates do, or my family does.

But just like marriage, my motivation and “feelings” of love for my clients come and go throughout my weeks. I often don’t feel like I have the energy to help all five clients I made appointments with to go stand in line at the Social Security office and the bank. But I have noticed a trend in the past five and a half months; whenever I choose to act with love for another person, even if it’s with a tired face and selfish heart, I eventually come back around to have the feeling of love again. I almost always end my day very fulfilled with what I was able to do, even if the last person I talked to flipped me the bird.

Love is sometimes a very abstract and wishy-washy thing. But what I have ultimately learned about it this year is that love begets love. I have learned that the feeling of love doesn’t always make another person love you, as anyone who has been rejected by a crush can tell you. But when you show another person acts of love, you will build a much more genuine relationship than anything that comes with the fragile emotions of the human mind.

This Valentine’s Day, I would love for us all to see love as an action, and not just one of giving chocolates as gifts. Show someone love by telling them something you know they’ve been wanting to hear from you, or setting aside time to truly listen, or even take some time for self care and showing love to yourself! This four letter word is so much more than Hollywood makes it out to be, but ironically I’ve found quite a deeper meaning to it by living beneath the Hollywood sign. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

One Day at a Time

Beauty in the world!
I have always felt as if the first few months of a new year are when time moves the fastest. This January in 2016 has been no exception! It is now the end of the first week in February and I am 23 years old. I could stop and do a lot of deep thinking about what the 22nd year of my life brought me, like an undergraduate degree, a loving boyfriend, a new life in Hollywood, etc., etc. But on this sunny Saturday, some still, small voice is whispering for me to slow down and take this one day at a time. No profound thoughts necessary.

 I will however, reminisce for just a moment on the experiences this New Year has brought so far.

On January 9th, Rowena, her friend Michelle and I all met this world traveler, set up with a little cardboard sign on Venice beach. His name was Pierre and he was from France. He sold everything he had to have enough money to travel the world, record people’s stories from the slums, and create an online story book of them. We immediately connected and talked about how we are doing something similar during this YAV year in Hollywood, except we are staying in one place and he is traveling around. The next week we met up again to have coffee and he told us much more about his project and what he hopes to accomplish. So far he has been to India, Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, South Africa, L.A., Canada, and he hopes to reach the Middle Eastern countries soon. This man has so much passion and love for his neighbors on the Earth. I have no doubt he is still doing great things! Please check out his website and support him if you so desire.

Pierre is on the left. He also gives free help with business ideas and resumes.
The following Monday, January 18th, our community day was spent watching the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade on MLK Boulevard! It was an amazing experience to see many different African, African American, Asian, and other cultures represented and striving for peace together. There was a Black Lives Matter protest making their own parade on the sidewalk behind us, but some of them seemed to have more of an aggressive take on how LAPD is treating the community. I wished that Dr. King were still here, advocating for peace. But I also realized that the remainder of the long parade was ALL about love, peace, justice, friendship, and breaking down the barriers of our communities. It was very clear that Dr. King’s message has not been forgotten, which is a beautiful thing in the City of Angels.

                          Bus like the one Rosa Parks would have used.                        Beginning of the parade.                                                                   
The view from the top of a mountain by St. Andrew's Abbey. I couldn't help but think of Jesus' 40 day stay in a similar desert.
The next Monday, January 25th, our community day was spent at St. Andrew’s Abbey. We all committed to one day of silence, from about 10 am to 6 pm. Some people may have been intimidated by this, but for an introvert such as myself, I was ecstatic to be alone with my thoughts. The Abbey is beautiful, with a small duck and coy pond, a cemetery on top of a mountain, an amphitheater, and quaint sitting areas. It is one of those thin places in the world, where stillness is easy to come by and prayer is a natural instinct (even though it’s not bowing your head and closing your eyes kind of prayer). I can’t say that God delivered any profound messages to me, and I definitely didn’t come down off the mountain with new commandments for us, but I found much needed peace of mind. I took an old journal with me that I have written in sporadically over the past 3 years. It gave me quite a reminder of all the reasons and experiences I have had that led me to seek out such a program as YAV. Since our trip to the abbey, I have been able to find much more joy in being here and finishing out my work, as it is something I started not just in August, but more than 8 years ago when I felt my life being pulled toward much bigger adventures.

This past Monday, February 1st, Rowena and I got to go to Disneyland! Paul, a fellow coworker at PATH, wanted to show us how much he appreciates our work with the outreach teams, as well as celebrate my birthday. We had quite an amazing time as you can probably tell by the pictures! My favorite part was Radiator Springs, which is an exact, life size replica of the Route 66 town in the movie Cars. We rode some beautifully designed rides, ate some delicious food, and saw a magical parade of lights at the end of the night. It was quite the escape from reality in Los Angeles, with no homeless people sitting on the sidewalks or business men with grumpy faces to pass by. It was a wonderful celebration and I am so thankful to Paul and his friend Brian for making it a day to always remember!

Radiator Springs!

And of course, yesterday was my actual birthday! I still went to work, but honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else on my birthday than help a man find some hope for his life after living on the sidewalk for 14 years, and getting to tell another man he has a voucher for housing! Both of them gave us multiple, big hugs for helping them and the joy from that was more than enough of a celebration for me to start this new year of my life. After work my housemates and I tried out Rosalind’s Ethiopian restaurant, and it was really good! I recommend the honey wine. ;)

Ethiopian food, eaten family style and all with your hands.

February is my favorite month, so I can’t wait to see what joy there is to be had tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that! 
Beauty in the world!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

Christmas LA Zoo Lights
Happy New Year, everyone! I am safely back in Hollywood after a wonderful Christmas break at home in Maryland with my parents and West Virginia with my friends. It was a much needed retreat to see the familiar McCoy Christmas tree with my preschool ornaments, the streets of Huntington that I now call home, and all the smiling faces that greeted me at the New Year’s Eve party! I sure do have a lot to look forward to upon my return in July.

Reunited with Brett! We did a lot of driving from MD to WV.

I’ll be honest; leaving my loved ones was hard. But once I saw the city of Los Angeles out the plane window, all the way from the ocean, to the Hollywood sign, to downtown, I couldn’t help but be excited that this city is now part of my life!

We made Christmas cookies with neighborhood kids!

Coming back with a fresh perspective on what I am doing here really helped motivate me this past week at work. I am assigned to work in downtown LA every day now, so most of my clients come from skid row. I was surprised when I went home at how many people thought skid row was just a saying! I can assure you it is a real place. It is a four square mile area with more than 20,000 people in the throes of sickness, hopelessness, and decay. The people I meet on the streets either live on skid row, or want to get as far away from it as possible. To learn more about the details of it, please read my blog from September, Go to Skid Row.

Several clients stick out in my mind this week, so I thought I might share a small part of their stories.

My first day back on the streets was Wednesday. It was pouring the rain (because that’s what it does in L.A. in the winter). So my outreach partner and I were speed walking from one dry spot to another, looking in our usual hot spots for anyone taking shelter. That’s when we met Bob. He was in a large street underpass with a few other guys who were all sitting with their duffel bags and blankets about five feet apart from one another. I realized we had met Bob once before in a nearby park, but he had a hat and his hood up so I barely recognized him. On our first meeting, he didn’t have much to say and obviously wanted us to leave as soon as possible. But this time in the underpass, he was excited to see us and smiled as he said we should remember him. We were able to tell him a little more about what PATH (my work agency) does and gave him our phone number if he ever needs to call us. I still didn’t think much about Bob until our third meeting on Thursday. I recognized his hat in the park and went up to say hello and ask about his day so far. He was the friendliest yet, asking about other people we had met and chit chatting about how nice the sunshine felt. I looked down and noticed the book he was starting to read on his lap. It was Sophocles: Oedipus Rex! I was amazed! This man I had initially written off as unfriendly and unapproachable, was now smiling and talking to me about Greek tragedies and philosophy! He said he thought it would give him much to think about; little does he know he has given me much to ponder as well.

Every person you see has a story, and you should never judge it by its cover! If Bob has any more surprises in other chapters, I’ll be sure and let you all know.
My PATH Metro LA Outreach team! They are awesome!

The next person I want to tell you about is the first person I encountered on Thursday morning. We started our daily route and a woman in a wheel chair rolled up to us crying. She was upset because her cat had been stolen the night before. We could smell the urine from 5 or 6 feet away. Her hair had been poorly buzzed off, probably for bugs, and one of her legs was very swollen inside her house slipper. She is older and according to my partner, who lived on skid row himself for 20+ years, she has been around for quite some time. Her state of hysteria over her cat did not allow us much conversation before she turned and wheeled away. It was not an abnormal scene for the morning, but certainly a sad one. I have had to learn that you can’t dwell on the ones who don’t want help; you can only attempt to be their friend and meet them where they are. Some of you may be wondering why someone in her state couldn’t be mandated to check into a hospital and get cleaned up. But you can only force a person to get treatment against their will if they are an imminent danger to themselves or those around them. This woman is still able to feed herself and knows where she is, which means she is making somewhat conscious choices to stay where she is. Through my new lenses as an outreach worker, the most encouraging thing to me in this situation is the fact that she was willing to approach us and share part of her story. We also saw her later in the afternoon, and I trust that as we show compassion and get to know her better, she may one day reach out to us as friends.

Beethoven statue in Pershing Square
where I sometimes meet clients.
In addition to the first woman of the day, another familiar client with a shaved head approached us later in the afternoon. She is often drunk, and has had no shoes for over a month. The first time we met it was pouring the rain and her socks were soaked. She was desperate for shoes, but we had none to give. Since then I have been on the lookout for a pair of shoes roughly her size in our dwindling donation boxes. I have yet to find any and felt even worse when she told us her birthday was this week. She also has no interest in seeking shelter at this time, but I am afraid her alcoholism will take a great toll soon.
I am desperate to befriend both these women. Their faces have popped up in my mind more than others this week and I can’t stop thinking about their haircuts. It would be so degrading to not have your hair. That’s why the Nazis cut off the hair of all their victims; to dehumanize and degrade them to the lowest level.

I have not found it helpful to completely put myself in their shoes, as that only causes me to feel hopeless and sad. I feel honored to be the one who gets to know them and help them, no matter what state their life is in now. Just like Bob and just like me, these women have names, and stories, and baby shoes, and families. And so many of these unlucky people that have to race on by to work, lest they be unemployed and on the sidewalk themselves, will never get to know their neighbors in Los Angeles like I do.

We all have those people who we see around our communities, curious about who they are, homeless or not. So I challenge you, if they look approachable, ask their name and introduce yourself! You may be surprised of what lies behind the cover of the book. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

I'll Be Home for Christmas!

I’ll be home for Christmas in 10 days! Right now it feels like Christmas in July. The palm trees are still green and I could have worn shorts to go ice skating downtown last week. The only things reminding me of that nostalgic Christmas feeling are visits to friend’s houses with real Christmas trees, Advent services at church, Bing Crosby’s voice, and the smell of clementine oranges being peeled.

A lot has happened since my last post in mid-November and I figured it was time for an update!

Thanksgiving was the best of times and the worst of times. I was pretty sick on the days leading up to Thanksgiving, taking that Tuesday and Wednesday off from work. But with enough sleep and medication, I was able to attend dinner at our friend’s house. Mary and Josh are longtime friends of DOOR and Mary was a volunteer in Hollywood one of the very first years the program existed. They graciously invited us over for a potluck dinner where they provided a great big turkey and we brought some side dishes. I made “creamed crack corn,” as my friends call it due to its addictive qualities. Rowena made some mashed potatoes and Jordan made a sweet potato casserole and pecan pie. Needless to say, we were well fed. I think my favorite part of the whole day was simply the familiar atmosphere of having football on the TV, talking in the kitchen while drinking wine, and petting the cat as it meandered through the house.

After we returned to our house, I was able to FaceTime and call the rest of my family as they celebrated with my Grandmother per our usual tradition. It was nice to “see” everyone through the screen, but it was also very difficult to not be there with them. My home sickness has doubled over the past month, and unfortunately I can now empathize with everyone who misses their loved ones over the holidays. Thankfully I will be back with the McCoy clan for Christmas, but my time at home is brief and I won’t get to see everyone that I want to.

Sticking with the holiday events, Rowena and I went with her prayer partners, Manny and Betty, to see Universal City walk a few weekends ago. It’s basically a large commercial shopping area right outside the Universal Studio Park. Santa was there!

They also took us on a late night adventure. Only slightly illegal. We had to jump a short fence. But I promise it was worth it! On Mulholland drive there is an overlook that is “closed” at night, but the view is 100 times better in the dark. It’s up on one of the mountains next to the Hollywood sign and you can see the WHOLE city, all the way from downtown to the Pacific Ocean!

Another great experience I had with Rowena and her prayer partners was the Sunday before our adventures. They took us to El Camino Metro church. It is a very large, Pentecostal, Latino church with a service all in Spanish. We went that Sunday to hear two of the miners from Chile speak who were trapped underground for 69 days back in 2010. It was cool to see them in person, however I can barely understand Mexican Spanish, so I can’t tell you anything they said in their Chilean accent. But the pastor did link some of their comments about faith keeping them alive to the verse from Luke 8:48, about the woman who believed if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ robe it would be enough to heal her. It was quite a different service from what I am used to. Rowena and I were the only white people there. In fact the first usher we met at the church nicely asked Manny why we were even there. We were not offended in the least, but it was a bit awkward to stick out so much in the congregation. Living in a mostly Latino neighborhood has taught me so much about what it feels like to be the minority. I am often the only white girl on the bus going to work, or shopping at the nearest Food 4 Less. I now realize how thankful I feel when someone makes an effort to welcome me into their circle. The church members greeted us like the rest of their family around them, and Manny and Betty and their family made sure we were well fed all afternoon. It’s hard for people here to comprehend how West Virginia is populated almost entirely with white people. I also know how hard it is for people in West Virginia to comprehend the diversity of Los Angeles. When I come back, I already know a large part of my story will be about how we subconsciously treat others who are different from us. But more on that some other time.

Other fun stuff:
The Hollywood Christmas Parade runs a block away from my house!

I went ice skating at Pershing Square in downtown LA!

I got free tickets to see Handel’s Messiah at Walt Disney Concert Hall!

Saw the Wayfarer’s glass chapel, Abalone Cove tide pools, and an ominous cave straight from Pirates of the Caribbean!


We had a Christmas store at our house yesterday! Members of First Presbyterian Church Hollywood donated a ton of toys to be sold at discounted prices to people in our community. For those who have less, it can sometimes be humiliating to receive gifts to give their children that they could not provide. We truly had a party yesterday with a jazz band, cookies, coffee and all, celebrating the joy these families bring to our community and empowering them to take pride in how they can support themselves.


Merry Christmas everyone!