February 23, 2019

These Old Bones

Last night I sat at a folding table at the Santa Monica Homeless Shelter, playing dominoes (aka Bones) with a few clients who live there.

Jason (aka Yoga Man, a forty-five-year old pole of a man who doesn't look a day older than twenty-eight) said to the group, "Look at Tina (my aka because they say I look like Tina Fey). She even bought new dominoes for us."

I gazed down at the rows of white tiles with their black dots laid out in the formation of a cross and shook my head.

"No, no fellas. I've had these bones over twenty years," I paused, "And they've seen some darker times, my friends."

The mental montage of the places these bones have traveled flooded my thoughts ...

A sticky table in a smoky joint nestled somewhere on Bush St in San Francisco where I accidentally fell in love with someone as broken as me.

The white formica desk in my office as Ice Cube blasted from the boombox and the rancid smell of some unknown brown liquor wafted in the air.

The round patio table on my deck in Venice surrounded by bottles of Coronas and ashtrays crammed with cigarette butts.

To the folding table in the Santa Monica Homeless Shelter ...

Sitting with those three men who've seen their fair share of darker days, I felt a split-second of grace. The kind that comes with redeeming love and forgiveness and a ton of letting go.

I set my tile on the table. "We've been through a lot, me and these bones ..."

The men nodded, mmm hmming. Because they knew. They got it. Their eyes held the weight of their own brokenness.

Yet ... there we were. Slouched low around a table playing dominoes. Our laughter and shit-talking (which is part of the game) danced through the room--Chris involuntarily shaking from some sort of neurological disorder, all-smiles Jason dropping slang like, bolt de doors and follow dat cab, and OG Art slamming down tiles and taking everyone's points--as we shared life together. We made new stories, not concerned about the endings because all that mattered was that moment. The place where love enters. The kind of love capable of gluing the broken pieces back together.

I lost by two houses (aka 100 points), per usual. After twenty-plus years of playing dominoes I still suck. As I hugged my friends goodbye, Art handed me the spiral notebook for score keeping.

"You hold onto this for when you come back," he said.

I took the notebook and grinned. "We're gonna fill this up. Maybe I'll even win a few!"

Art let out a hearty laugh, Chris jerked a nod, and Jason cracked that twinkly smile. "Yeah, Tina. You gonna win a few."

I walked out into the chilly Santa Monica night thinking, I just did ... 

Me in my younger rookie days. Not much has changed. I'm still one of the fellas. Only sober. 


If you ever feel called to volunteer in the city of Los Angeles, there are plenty of life-giving opportunities right here: http://hopeforla.org/volunteer/


January 10, 2019

Girl on Mission 6


The last nine days we’ve been in Kerala, staying on IEM’s campus with the Bible College students and orphans from the Children’s Home. The campus is located in the south of India where canopies of verdant trees decorate the countryside. The energy here is slow and pleasant with room to spread out and breathe. Except for the constant campfire smoke from people burning leaves and trash. Unlike chaotic and frenzied Mumbai, Kerala is more peaceful. The soundtrack is an ensemble of cawing crows, kooky sounding birds, college students singing, children’s laughter, the occasional Hindu parade marching down the road banging drums and chanting, and packs of wild dogs howling at night like they’re on a murderous rampage.

I love the ministry Dr. G.V. Mathai (Papa) and Mariamma Mathai started back in the 70s. Their work has flourished and blessed thousands of people throughout India. In September, Mariamma passed away, so this trip has been bittersweet as we celebrate the work she poured into this ministry and share the loss with many people who loved and adored her. Their son, Dayan, has been speaking and giving sermons throughout the trip––encouraging the pastors and students. And he's had a terrible cold the entire time, but keeps showing up.

We’ve met many friends, like Uncle Joy who lives in Los Angeles and loves to sing, and little Abagail who has helped the team tremendously. Her mother, Shirley, who has translated every single bible study lesson, while helping serve food and chai at every meal. Kunimon who has prepared the most deliciously flavorful dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And Blessy, who called every store in town, trying to locate some coconut spoons we want to give as gifts to our donors. We've sat in on some of the college classes and shared testimonies and listened to the students sing old hymns. I've never heard harmonies so powerful and melodious. We've literally met hundreds of people, all of them warm and welcoming and radiating love.

Papa has shared stories about the many lives that have flourished because of God’s work with this ministry. Not only in Kerala, but in Mumbai and throughout northern India. God has truly blessed IEM. And it’s been an honor witnessing the fruits of their labors firsthand.

The children living here in the Children’s Home are magnificent. Attentive and eager. They memorize scripture way better than me. They’ve loved our lessons, songs and crafts. But what they love more than anything is playing Duck, Duck, Goose. Oh man, if you want to taste true joy, come to Kerala and play this game with these kids. Their shouts and laughter is an explosion of joyful noise. I’m not sure if the lessons are clicking, or if they’ll remember any of us, but I know––indubitably––they will always cherish Duck, Duck, Goose.

Each lesson has been on a fruit of the Spirit. For my non-Christian readers, these are spiritual gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We start with a Bible verse, then teach them a song with hand movements. Oh Lord. My heart erupts with glee every time we start singing. Their big brown eyes beam as they shout out the words and do the hand motions. After singing, we do a craft that coincides with the lesson. I wanted to die when we handed out packs of crayons and the kids were like, “Where’s the brown and black for their skin and hair?” Clearly a white person put together the color palette.

They love tape. Yes, tape. I can’t tell you how many times they call out for us, “Auntie, auntie, tape. Tape! Two. No, three pieces.” They don’t even need the tape. They just want it. After they finish their craft, they hold up their artwork, waving it to get our attention. Their sweet faces radiate with satisfaction with every validation and approval. I’ve been telling them their work is “delicious” because I’m a dummy and thought I was saying “super.”

At the end of each class, I hug them and kiss their little brown cheeks and do exploding fist bumps and repeat over and over how much I love them. I really do. I love them so very much. Tears are rolling down my face as I write these words because tomorrow is our last day with the children. Will they remember us? Will any of the seeds we planted take root? Has our love given them hope? What will happen when they turn twelve and have to leave the Children’s Home because of government regulations? Will they look to Jesus and learn to trust him even in the worst circumstances?

Personally, the time in India has had an enormous impact on my heart. It’s been a blessing and a struggle. I might be the only person––ever––who has gone on a missions trip and felt more confused about God and life and every single thing. I will say, though, the time I’ve spent with these darling kiddos has been some of the most gratifying, soul-filling I’ve ever experienced.

Of all the things I’ve learned on this trip, the main one is: missions is not for me.

I don’t like navigating through team dynamics. I don’t like being away from home for extended periods of time unless I’m on a 5-star cruise or at my parents’ house. I’m uncomfortable spending successive days with people. Especially 17 days. In a row. Like every single day together ... It drains my introvert battery and triggers the worst in me.

I do believe everyone––regardless of spiritual beliefs––should go on at least one missions trip in their lifetime. It’s enriching to experience different cultures and serve those who are often ignored or left behind. It will break your heart into a thousand pieces, but God will put it back together and shine His light through the cracks.

Some tips for those who’ve never been on a missions trip before:

1. Go somewhere closer to home (9,000 is far!)
2. Go for a short amount of time (17 days is too long!)
3. Bring Myco-shield, charcoal pills, hand sanitizer, hand wipes and TOILET PAPER
4. Bring snacks and pack them in something that could survive a nuclear holocaust (ants)
5. Have pre-planned workout routines and sweat every day

Lifesavers: travel clothing line, microfiber towel, flip-flops for shower, and adaptor with surge protection.

If you can, travel with a spouse or close friend (especially if you’re deeply insecure/paranoid and struggle in groups and think people don’t like you and are laughing at you behind your back).

Remind family and friends to check in with you because they get busy and forget basic things like how lonely it is in a foreign country without your tribe.

This is my last installment of Girl on Mission. When I return to the states, I’d like to get back to writing the novel I started and stopped a few times. I have no clue how God will use my writing. But I do know where He calls, I will go.

Except to Mumbai.

Thanks for taking this journey with me. 

(I'll add photos later, the wifi is spotty and it'd take about 12 hours to upload)


January 6, 2019

Girl on Mission 5


The city of Mumbai is jam packed with 23 million people and operates like a frenetic assembly line of relentlessly moving rickshaws, motorcycles and pedestrians. The constant chaos pulsates through the city at a jarring pace to the soundtrack of sharp horns, engines revving and your heart pounding as you watch your life flash before your eyes. And the stray dogs. The skinny, mangy, malnourished doggies make me weep inside. But these rugged survivors amble along just fine, making a home wherever they lay.

As I’ve mentioned––to anyone who’d listen––I didn’t want to go on this missions trip. Mostly because India was never on my list of places to go, I've struggled with fully understanding the reason for short-term missions and I don't like going outside of my comfort zone. But since I work on the global missions team at Pacific Crossroads Church, helping “send” people out into the world for discipleship, and since Jesus gave clear instructions to his disciples to, “go out and make disciples among all of the nations,” I figured I probably should do at least one trip before I die.

When I first arrived in Mumbai I thought I’d made the worst decision in my life. The noise and pollution and crowds of people are excruciatingly unbearable for an HSP (highly sensitive person) with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). But it’s a good thing I’m traveling with a group of beautiful and compassionate people. We’ve rallied together through each other’s ebbs and flows. The girls held my hand when crossing the streets because I just couldn't do it on my own. Yes, I have issues.

During our time in Mumbai, we met a plethora of people, attended services, posed for group photos, and heard powerful testimonies and stories of healing and redemption. It was a blessing meeting the pastors and church members from the slums. These are churches are supported by India Evangelical Ministry (the incredible organization we’re on missions with). The folks in India sing praise songs, talk about scripture, and pray like each breath and melody is a celebration of love and joy. Their reverence for God is inspiring and contagious. When they shake my hands they love to say with bright gleaming smiles, “Praise the Lord.” I might do this back in Los Angeles just to see how many people run in the opposite direction.

I had anxiety about going into the slums. I thought seeing the utter lack would crack my heart into pieces (it did on some level). But the radiant light shining from the faces of these Christians is a glorious thing. They have remarkable gratitude for the Lord. It’s almost incomprehensible when you compare it to their living situation. They’re a lot happier than most Christians I know back home!

Every Sunday, 40 – 50 people cram into these pastors’ homes (a 12 x 12 room) to worship God and study scripture. The spaces are so tiny, many members have to gather outside the front door, standing on their tiptoes to see inside. They need larger spaces to gather, but it costs money to expand. Not a lot, but it’s money they don’t have. Money I want to help raise.

After the initial shock of “what have I gotten myself into” I began to soften and see the bigger picture of short-term missions. At first I thought it was only about sharing the redemptive love of Jesus with others, but as each day passes, I see it’s about experiencing a completely different way of life. A way of life I never could've comprehended deep down in my soul without having been here in person. Each day gives birth to a fresh perspective about missions trips, the world, humans ... My spiritual lens has most definitely widened.

We’re now down in Kerala, staying on IEM’s campus with the Bible College students and the orphans who live in their Children's Home. More on that later ... Enjoy the time lapse video and photos of the streets of Mumbai.