"In heaven, will God ask for papers?"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thinking about money...

I love concerts. In the past five or so years of my life, I have spent hundreds of dollars on tickets, gas, and meals to go to shows and many many hours with friends attending and driving to and from those shows. I absolutely love the environment of live music being shared by a talented group of people--Christian or secular, indoor or outdoor, metal or acoustic. It would never take me long to fork out the $10-40 for a ticket and drive over three hours to get to a concert.

I have driven many miles to see one of my favorite bands, Sanctus Real, perform and I have spent many hours  waiting at shows to maintain my spot in the front row at music festivals. Every time I heard that they were going to be anywhere in the Midwest, I began my research, purchased tickets, and cleared my schedule to make sure I could be there. Moving down here to Texas, I was bummed I would miss their performances at LifeLight and other shows in the tri-state area...until I found out they were coming to El Paso! I was SO excited that I'd have the chance to see them again.

So Sanctus Real played here in El Paso last week...but I didn't go.

After the initial excitement wore off, I started thinking more about the show and its $25 ticket. They were playing with Casting Crowns, so this was probably a pretty reasonable ticket price. But for a few days, I just couldn't bring myself to buy a ticket. I kept thinking about how this $25 was one-fourth my stipend for a month, and what else I could spend that money on or save it. I'd also have to miss a night of YoungLife...which wouldn't have been a big deal, considering we often have as many leaders as we do youth attend. But instead of worshiping with my hands raised to the "Face of Love" or "I'm Not Alright" that night, I worshiped with my arms around our high schoolers, swaying back and forth and singing as loud as we could to "Stand by Me."

Many people I know would not see my refusal to the concert as a big deal. But for me, it is kinda a big deal. Being at concerts have been some of the most joyful moments of my life. I think my decision to not attend demonstrates how much I am already changing from my experience here on the border. Even just a month ago or so, some three weeks into the program, I willingly and excitedly spent $40 for an Avett Brothers concert here in El Paso next month. I don't regret my purchase and I am very excited for the show, but the extent of thought that I put into buying that ticket was way less than the Sanctus Real ticket.

I don't want pity for not having much money or want to put myself up on a stand, saying "look at me and how much I am sacrificing because I'm poor!" But I live and work around so many people that come from families that just don't have the option to make a purchase without giving much much thought into it. On the other hand, I also work with many who have a family member who doesn't think twice about spending money on things like alcohol.  I have never been good with money and I never really think about finances ever...but I am learning that the less money you have, the more you think about it. (Unless you're an addict.)

I am blessed to be earning no salary. I am blessed to have rent and utilities taken care of. I am blessed to be missing out on fun experiences to spend time with confused teenagers. I am blessed to have to think twice or three times about spending $6 on a coffee and bagel...sometimes giving in (like now) and sometimes deciding it's not worth it. I am blessed to be living in a community where we take a lot of time to consider our financial situation before buying groceries or making other purchases. I am blessed with the ability to feel blessed despite my economic situation, and to recognize that life for me is still very, very comfortable.

As I sit at a small table in Kinley's with my bagel and coffee, I wonder how comfortable the man sitting outside my window is...I mean, having to beg for money from folks sitting outside a coffee shop, how comfortable can he be?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

C'mon, let's follow this through.

You know, people are interesting.

Lately I've been fascinated by just how different people can be...what a variety of types of people there are. This fascination has led to my own examination of what kind of person I want to be. I'm warning you now--this post might get long, but I think this post will be helpful for me to organize what I've seen and thought about in regards to people. (Pretty broad, eh? But we'll see where this goes.)

There's been a few different instances that stick out in my mind about how people can be:

I walk to work every morning. I like to look around and keep my head up when walking, hoping for an opportunity to share a smile or hello with someone also walking. But most of the people I pass (usually college students) do not look up at me when we pass on the sidewalk. Yeah, it can be awkward to say hello to a stranger on the street or make eye contact, but I'm the kind of person that loves giving and receiving a friendly hello or smile from a stranger. Maybe I'm just making the situation weird for my passerby, I don't know. I guess some people just aren't as friendly to strangers as I like to be.

On the contrast, a few blocks from my work site, every morning there is a man (or a couple of men) standing at a busy intersection where the main highway meets my street. He stands on the median while the stoplight is red, holding a cardboard sign that says "Homeless" or "Hungry...anything helps." He stands just feet from the stopped cars, looking in the eyes of the passengers and drivers with his own desperate eyes. He is not afraid to acknowledge those passing strangers by silently pleading with them with his gaze and his sign.

The neighborhood in which I work is interesting. Our program serves youth (and adults) that are mostly from low-income, sometimes abusive or just not healthy, migrant families. But we are sponsored by a church that has a private school just across the street from the building we use. As I return from picking up our kids from school around 3:00, I notice the line of nice cars filling the parking lot and the many kids exiting the school building, making their way to the cars. I spend a great couple of hours with the kids in our program, then spend another 40 minutes or so bringing a lot of them home. Many of them would not be able to attend our program if we did not offer a ride from school and/or a ride home for them. 

The past few weeks we've traveled into New Mexico for weekend adventures. To get to our destinations, we have had to pass through border patrol checkpoints on the highway. Our first two times, the border patrol official gave us a quick glance, asked the question, "Are you all U.S. citizens?" and with a "Yes, sir" from us, let us on our way. Today, we simply received a glance and a wave of the hand to continue on through. Those checkpoints are using racial profiling to decide who can and cannot continue on their way with a view of what we look like. I guess you can determine if a person is a U.S. citizen simply by glancing at them.

I could continue with stories about how I've noticed these things about people (including a fun encounter with strangers and hotel management), but this post could be pages and pages long. Mostly these experiences have made me think more about the type of person I want to be.

I have heard a passage from scripture a lot lately, Romans 12:2. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Mostly the first part sticks out to me: Do not conform any longer.

I have a lot of desires for this next year. I want this year to be different for me. I want to wake up in the mornings and actually spend time in reflection and scripture. I want to run every day. I want to keep up with the news. I want to give my all in everything I do with my work. I want to really get to know the youth I'm working with. I want to be honest with my housemates. I want to read more. I want to be bold in my beliefs and opinions. I want to unashamedly speak Spanish. I want to be able to balance life here and now with life in the past in the Midwest. I want to learn more guitar.

I want to stop conforming to sleeping in, holding back, being ashamed, lazy, and ignorant. I want to become a transformed person. I want to be buena gente. I want to be giving, selfless, passionate, spiritual, motivated, energized, and honest.

I'm not exactly sure what this will all look like, but I hope to be transformed.