My Challenging South Seattle Mama

Mother's Day, 2016

Mother’s Day, 2016

When I first began working with Becca at Rainier Health & Fitness, I found her rather annoying, even bully-like. We had several disputes and I felt insulted when she would greet me at my stand-up desk by kicking my butt.

“How rude and disrespectful,” I thought.

In fact, after a few months of working at the gym, I told my best friend, “If our manager, Becca, ever becomes my supervisor, I’m gonna quit.”

Well, the following week I learned that roles were shifting, Becca was getting promoted as director, and, simultaneously, would become my direct supervisor!

Our most heated conflict occurred when I oversaw the creation of a new branded hoodie, and Becca didn’t like the design. She wanted to simply slap our logo onto the hoodies. We decided to ask gym members which image they preferred, and whichever design got the most votes, we would print. Seeing that most members were voting for the new image, Becca campaigned at our office, swinging the vote in her favor by our coworkers…most of whom never ordered a hoodie. She got her way, but we lost money on the project. And I was furious.


Celebrating the 10th-year birthday of Rainier Health & Fitness

Soon after, however, I learned about the Enneagram personality types. Specifically, the number 8, also known as “The Challenger”, seemed to me to describe Becca. The 8 needs to be in control; some sources even describe the 8 as someone with a “need for conflict.” However, they are also extremely loyal to their groups, their tribe, their family—and anyone whom they perceive as their family. All of a sudden, I understood Becca. A strong woman, she was someone whom I wanted to fight with, not against. I also realized, for instance, that her playful kick to my butt was how she showed love and affection! So when she booted my rear end, I kicked back. When she hurled an insult, I retorted. She began to respect me more which caused us to bond. Instead of conflict between us, we became fighters together, dedicated to making our business, ministry, and one another’s lives a success.

The season of working alongside Becca’s corresponded with my diving deep into the Enneagram for self-reflection, growth, and healing. I learned that I exhibit the personality traits of an Enneagram 7 with a 6 wing, but that when someone develops both their wings, they become much more balanced. Working with Becca helped develop my 8 wing in the form of greater confidence, boldness, and strength. Even more enlightening was identifying my own mother as a 9 on the Enneagram, the Peacemaker. I came to realize that I had an aching gap in my soul from a lack of connection with my mother, partly due to her personality and partly to her pregnancy with and care for my younger brother during my second year of life which confined her to  bed rest and subsequently demanded her caregiver attention when he was born a preemie.

Of the nine personality types described on the Enneagram, the Challenger and the Peacemaker stand in sharpest contrast. Where the Peacemaker avoids conflict at all costs, the Challenger creates it! Where the Peacemaker is indecisive and unsure, the Challenger usually has a strong opinion. Where a Peacemaker often allows people around them a lot of freedom but consequently struggles to form deep bonds, a Challenger has extremely tight bonds with the few people in their group whom they feel also have their back.

Slowly and somewhat miraculously, a tight bond formed between me and Becca. I recognized she was filling a role and space in my life that had been painfully empty, and as our relationship deepened, it enabled me to find inner healing. One year on Mother’s Day, I drove to the church where her niece/daughter* was preaching to commemorate the day together. A couple weeks later, I visited my own mother in Arkansas where I experienced God’s healing power in our relationship, a connection that I had never previously experienced.

No one wants to hear the news that someone they love has cancer…let alone two people they love! Perhaps it was fitting, though, that I learned of Becca’s diagnosis within minutes of hearing about my own mother’s. However, in contrast to my mom’s breast cancer which was dealt with rapidly through a mastectomy, Becca was experiencing stage 4 liver cancer. Yet whenever I inquired about her condition, she always asked about my mom’s health.

Becca reading Scripture at our wedding

Becca reading Scripture at our wedding

In addition to both her and my mom facing cancer, Becca and I also bonded over her struggle with her daughter Christina’s mental illness, an experience that coincided with one of my family members. Sadly, the illness ultimately caused Tina to end her young life. At her daughter’s funeral, the church was packed with guests spilling into the foyer and down the stairs. I watched in amazement as this strong woman stood at the front of the sanctuary facing her child’s open casket and praised God from the depth of her being. I learned that Tina would have turned 25 later that year—a season of life when most parents are anticipating their grown child’s wedding, instead Becca planned her child’s funeral. It hit me that she would never experience her only daughter’s wedding, so I asked my fiancé if we could honor her at our wedding in a couple months. He instantly agreed! On our wedding day, Becca stood alongside my family on the front row and was our guest reader of Scripture from Proverbs 31.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Becca started asking about babies soon after my marriage. My husband reminded me that part of the reason she frequently inquired stemmed from her desire to see our child while she was alive. Then, I had a dream that I was on a phone call with Becca, informing her she would be the first person I told, after my husband, should we find out we were expecting. In my dream she said, “After you tell your mom though, right?” and I replied, “No, I will tell you first!” Well, when I found out I was expecting, guess who I called first to share our news that a little one was on the way?! And just like in my dream Becca asked, “You’ve told your mom, right? You need to call her right now!”

But a couple months later, shortly before Christmas, Becca’s family and closest friends gathered for a celebration. Glancing across the room, I didn’t recognize her at first, so thin and frail, so unlike the feisty, weight-lifting middle-aged woman I’d worked alongside only a year before. I approached her and pointed to my stomach that was just beginning to show the life forming inside. I was excited for her to one day meet the child she had much-anticipated. But she was slipping away. She asked if I was having contractions and I told her no, it was much too early for those. Family and friends began singing and sharing memories of her, then she cut us short. She was tired. Her body was tired. But her soul, her spirit, was as strong as I’d ever known. She seemed to have this deep sense of peace that’s so rare to witness in a human, let alone an Enneagram 8.

Mom holding my son at Christmastime

Mom holding my son at Christmastime, December 2019

Becca never got to meet our son. On Christmas Day of 2018, she passed from this life. I was grateful to have gotten to join the final celebration of family and close friends, to see her one last time. I knew then I would likely miss her funeral because on Christmas Day, my husband and I were on a flight headed to the other side of the globe. I learned of her death a week after it occurred, and we were still abroad when the funeral commenced.

Yet the impact Becca had continues to shape who I am today. A photo of us together sits on my bed stand. Every day when I glance towards it, I’m reminded of how her influence has made me stronger as a mother, daughter, wife, and friend. It’s with all my love and thoughts I dedicate this Mother’s Day tribute to you, my beloved South Seattle Mama.

*what they described as a typical Samoan-fluid family relationship



Boo Bash at the Beach: A Safe(way) to Celebrate

Children deserve a safe and fun Halloween. That is the basis for a free trick-or-treating event held in a Safeway parking lot of South Seattle.

For the past several years my home church has hosted a Trunk or Treat on the Wednesday before Halloween in which we invite our neighbors to come collect candy from the back of cars we decorate in our church parking lot. This year, our lead pastor asked our community development team to look for ways we as a church could be more out in our neighborhood. One of the ways we found to do this was to partner with a community Halloween event that had already been established: Boo Bash at the Beach.

Our community development team leader called up the organizer of Boo Bash and asked if we could bring a couple of our cars to the event. She was delighted to hear from us, having reached out to over a dozen churches and either failed to hear back at all or received negative replies.


Pastor Peter hosting a Lego-themed trunk

“Bring all of your trunks,” she said.

Whereas a couple hundred people would participate in our Trunk or Treat, last year’s Boo Bash attracted over 3,000 children and parents. Plus, since Boo Bash began three years ago, crime has  decreased and shootings have been nonexistent in our neighborhood on Halloween.

I arrived mid-afternoon to help set up. Originally I had planned to co-host a fishing-for-prizes trunk in the back of a img_9205friend’s van, but she was sick that plan was scratched. I definitely felt a little out-of-place in my pink camo “fisher-woman” attire and had people thinking I was either on a safari or going for a combat look. Instead of hosting a trunk, I did odd jobs helping set up chairs, hang banners, run to the organizer’s home for a box of supplies she had forgotten and gave breaks to the hosts of other trunks. One of these was Les Miserables- themed and featured blank white flags kids could write or draw their hopes and prayers on for making the world a better place. I was impressed by the contributions by young children:

img_9229“Make People Stop Fighting.”

“I could make the world a better place by planting and growing trees.”

“Jesus”one wrote in the center of a cross.


Staying until the end to clean up meant I was about a half hour late to a study I had initiated in North Seattle on The Art of Neighboring, but it seemed silly to rush away from a neighborhood event to go read and discuss a book on neighboring. Thankfully, the participants there understood why I valued being part of this Halloween neighborhood event.


Love Starts With a Name

Many would say it would be ‘nice’ to know the neighbors better. But as a life priority, that ranks somewhere near the desirability of adding heated seats to their automobile. You can get where you’re going without it, but it can add a little enjoyment to the drive. (The Abundant Community, p. 16)

Many people are familiar with the story in the Bible of the religious leader who asked Jesus what the greatest command was.

who-is-my-neighbor“Love God and love your neighbor,” was the short version of Jesus’ reply.

“Who is my neighbor?” the leader asked, wanting to justify himself.

Jesus replied by telling a story about an outcast (think illegal allien) who came across a guy beat up on the side of the road, helped him out and even paid for his medical bills! This was after two other religious leaders walked right past the wounded man.

“Which one was the neighbor?” Jesus asked.

“The guy who showed pity.”

“Go and follow his example.”

Just like the questioning leader, many of us still try to justify ourselves by redefining “neighbor.” We say, “Neighbor can be my co-workers, my friends, really anyone in the world.”

“When we insist we’re neighbors with everybody, often we end up being neighbors with nobody.” ~Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring (p.35).

These authors emphasize that we need to demonstrate love to our literal neighbors, and to start by simply learning the names of those who live around us. As they explain:

What do you think about when you hear the word love? Theologians write about it, poets muse about it, singers sing about it. We want to be really clear: we are none of those. We are relatively normal guys. We’re not deep thinkers, nor do we have any musical skills whatsoever-we’d embarrass ourselves on a karaoke stage. And, if we happened to rhyme, it’s not on purpose. But we do know this about love: to love someone, it helps to actually know their name. (p.40)

The authors then challenge readers to complete a simple exercise: write down the names of the people who live immediately around you. If you can, write both the first and last name. I have to admit, even though I’ve lived in my current neighborhood for over a year (and just around the corner from my current house for three years prior to that), hosted a neighborhood BBQ, participated in block parties and cleanups and am involved in community development full-time and volunteer in my free-time on a community development team at my church, I struggled with this first step. The exercise highlights how most of us could grow in loving our neighbors, and an easy way to get started: by learning their names!

Once you’ve jotted down names, the next step is to write any other relevant information you’ve learned through conversation with the person. In other words, things you can’t know just by observation such as the color of their car or landscape in their yard. Finally, you write down in-depth knowledge you’ve gained from meaningful conversations such as your neighbors’ dreams, desires, beliefs and motivations (p.37). It may take years to completely fill in the squares with this sort of in-depth information. Yet as we do, genuine love will form between us and our neighbors, replacing suspicion and criticism that has become a marker of our industrialized planet. As I wrote in a poem for a neighborhood block party last year:

“Which is the greatest command?”
A man asked the Teacher
“Love God and love your neighbors
Treat them like your brothers and sisters.”

Yet how can we love them
When we don’t even know?
The people around us
Are just houses in a row!

What we don’t know
We often suspect
Hurl insults
Treat like an object

Upset when their dog
Poops in our yard
We call the police
As we get in our car

Why not walk across the street
Offer to lend a hand
Get to know that neighbor
Turn into a friend

As we know our neighbors
We reduce our fear
Look out for each other
When danger is near

We represent a range
From wealth to poverty
Yet each brings a gift
That strengthens our community

So neighbors, let’s unite
Set aside our worries
Let’s raise our voices
Tell our communities’ stories

Let’s work for change
Safety on our avenue
Decrease the crime
As we reclaim and renew

Our neighborhood as our own
Where we work and connect
Worship and play
Without fear or regret

Why I Want to Create Wealth


Land was wealth 300 years ago. So the person who owned the land owned the wealth. Later, wealth was in factories and production, and America rose to dominance. The industrialist owned the wealth. Today, wealth is in information. And the person who has the most timely information owns the wealth. The problem is that information flies around the world at the speed of light. The new wealth cannot be contained by boundaries and borders as land and factories were. (p.95, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the rich teach their kids about money—that the poor and middle class do not!)

Chew on that above paragraph for a few days and you’ll start to realize how profound Robert Kiyosaki’s words on finances are to a variety of realms. Think about it: the latest news—the most timely information—has power to sway masses of people that can influence a nation’s election. Yet this is true in a thousand other areas as well. In terms of social good, for example, if victims of human trafficking were equipped with the right information at just the right time, we could significantly reduce if not eliminate modern day slavery.

Kiyosaki’s best seller has given me huge insight into the significance of wealth creation. Most people work the majority of their lives for an employer, sending most of their income to the bank for loans and to the government in taxes. For the most wealthy, however, Kiyosaki points out that no matter how much we try to tax them to redistribute wealth more equally, they always find loopholes to evade the system. So taxes never affect those who are the most well-off. His words came to mind during last night’s Presidential debate. Donald Trump has successfully evaded our tax system his entire life. Yet after watching I thought to myself, “As offensive as I find the man, he was probably right when he accused Hillary’s financial supporters of also tapping into tax evasion loopholes.” The wealthiest people always do.

Kiyosaki’s advice is not to avoid paying taxes, but rather than spend our energy complaining about the wealthy not sharing (because essentially they never well), he encourages readers to focus on wealth creation. While reading his Rich Dad Poor Dad book last week, I came across a similar challenge from a vastly different source: a workshop at a Christian conference focused on international development by means of business.

“It’s time to ask, ‘what causes wealth?’” our white-haired facilitator said.

  • Churches consume it.
  • Families consume it.
  • Governments consume it.
  • Nonprofits consume it.
  • Only businesses create wealth.

Kiyosaki had expressed similar sentiments through his cash flow charts: much of what poor people and middle class people consider to be assets actually consume our income. And just like our workshop facilitator said, Kiyosaki emphasized how in government, successful budgeting is combined with spending (a.k.a consuming):

The government ideal is to avoid having excess money. If you fail to spend your allotted funds, you risk losing it in the next budget. You would certainly not be recognized for being efficient. Business people, on the other hand, are rewarded for having excess money and are applauded for their efficiency. (p.85)

Spending as close to the amounts allotted us in our budget to avoid losing money for future seasons is also a common practice for many churches, nonprofits and aid organizations-places often dedicated to fighting poverty. Our workshop facilitator, however, pointed out that “Good intentions don’t end poverty. Enterprise and freedom end poverty.” Many organizations are beginning to recognize this with the development of social enterprise, high-bred fusions of business and non-profit worlds. But we need to keep pushing, beyond providing jobs for people.

“Instead of training job seekers, we need to train job makers,” our workshop facilitator instructed. And he backed his advice up with scripture:

“Remember the LORD your God, because he is the one who gives you the ability to produce wealth,” (Deuteronomy 8:18 NIV)

Bringing Heaven to Earth: CCDA-Style Worship


One moment your thrusting your fist in the air shouting “They say ‘stay down’ and we stand up!” and the next moment swaying to Enkaya Naisipa. The following day when Paris unexpectedly gets struck by a terrorist attack, you’re lamenting in Hebrew and Arabic for the loss of lives…in France as well as Palestine. This all with an assembly of several thousand others who have gathered from across the United States, lead by a multi-ethnic team of musicians.

This describes one of my favorite aspects at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) annual conferences: worship. Because I savor the music so much, last year at the conference in Memphis I attended a workshop titled “CCDA-Style Worship” expecting to experience a couple hours of song and prayer. Instead, I got the behind-the-scenes insights into what goes into these worship sessions, beginning with a history lesson on how the worship has evolved through the years:

2005 conference 
The first CCDA conference drew 800 attendees, about half were white and half African American. The worship was historical black gospel, reflecting older, long-term practitioners.
2008 conference 
The group leading worship was more multi-ethnic which brought in an element of racial; however, they were not necessarily practitioners of Christian Community Development.
2010 conference 
CCD practitioners lead worship.
2011 conference
CCD practitioners with reconciliation bent lead worship. This is what I experienced in 2013 at my first CCDA conference in New Orleans and again last year in Memphis.
2016 conference 
Worship leader Sandra Maria Van Opstal described this year’s upcoming conference:
CCDA worship in L.A. is going to look different than in years past. As a team, we have selected songs that represent our communities (Latino, African American, Korean American, and Syrian). Sharing our songs allow us to tell our story. Sharing our stories helps us to honor and acknowledge that we each have a distinct experience of God. Each community has a history that has shaped us deeply. Sharing our songs with one another and inviting one another into worship also helps us to enter into solidarity with one another. I sing songs that tell your story and invite you to sing songs that tell mine. It’s not simply about a drum rhythm or the language being sung, it’s deeper than that.
As usual, the conference’s worship will reflect the communities of the city that is hosting us: Los Angeles. Van Opstal explained this also in her post:

Los Angeles is a city of nations. Aside from the fact that the white community is not the majority and Latinos make up almost half of the population, did you know that global communities of Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Armenians, and Syrians, among others, significantly influence the culture of LA?

Can you imagine a global-local community coming across differences to praise God? What does the church look like in this context? What happens when this diverse group of people gather to glorify God for his person and actions? Multiethnic worship happens!

Sandra described how the three R’s of Christian Community Development integrate into CCDA-style worship in her blog post blog post on the topic. Additionally, I learned at the workshop that four CCD principles most relevant to incorporating into worship include the following:
1. Reconciliation
2. Leadership development and empowerment
3. Church-based
4. Formational and holistic
#1 Reconciliation 
In order for reconciliation to happen through worship, we must ask ourselves what we can do to make people from various backgrounds and communities feel welcome in our churches. Incorporating varied worship styles into our services is really a profound gesture of hospitality. One way we can ensure that we do this is by visiting churches in our neighborhoods where people of different ethnicities gather who are lacking in our congregation and incorporating elements that are missing in our current worship in order to be more welcoming to that group of people. We don’t do this to steal people from our neighborhood churches, but rather to provide a space for newcomers who have not yet connected to a church to settle. For example, my multi-ethnic congregation has attracted few Latino members, yet at the gym where I work one mile down the street, I constantly meet people who have just moved to our neighborhood and speak primarily Spanish. Members from my church could easily visit La Iglesia De Cristo a few blocks away and take notes on how worship is done; we could also ask the Latino to give our worship leaders some pointers.The most segregated hours in the United States are on Sunday morning when Koreans attend Korean-American churches, African Americans attend African-American churches, Caucasians attend predominantly white churches and so on.
However, as the facilitators of this workshop emphasized, in order to truly foster reconciliation, we must move beyond hospitality and dive into lament. We need to recognize that the issues such as #BlackLivesMatter and Syrian refugees and immigrants affects us, even if our congregation is primarily homogeneous. Worship leaders must ask, “How do we help our congregation form solidarity with people who are suffering even if they are NOT in our community?” The principle is one of mutuality: how do we communicate I NEED you to those on the margins.
Reconciliation is never easy though. Even the leaders of this workshop admitted that they had experienced conflict in planning for the CCDA national conference.
#2 Leadership Development and Empowerment 
Practically, this means allowing someone to lead in ways we wouldn’t necessarily do things. Discipleship can be described as modeling our life after someone we admire.Leadership development, however, goes a step further and says, “I have gifts you can model but you have gifts that I do not and can supersede mine!” Practically, this means allowing others to take part in choosing which songs we sing.
#3 Church-based
A core value of Christian Community Development is to be church-based and worship can integrate as well as even amplify this component.
One presenter described being told to choose between becoming a pastor or an artist, not realizing that musicians are pastors. People often remember songs better than sermons too!
In an effort to integrate worship with community needs, leaders often feel conflict between production and process. One workshop presenter expressed feeling a tension between performing on stage and providing music therapy for disabled children. A suggestion for inclusion was to invite people with disabilities to help lead worship.
#4 Formational and Holistic 
The church can be incarnational by responding to what’s happening in their congregation and community through worship. Fully experiencing the place where our church is located guides our worship. For example, during worship we could both celebrate our high school graduation and lament our sister Mary’s death in her family. Doing so, bonds us together as a community, as a family. As one presenter said, “If I just wanted to worship God, I would stay home.”
The presenter gave the analogy of how worship leaders are like tour guides who both take people where they want to go but also where they need to go but didn’t even know existed. This happens well when worship comes out of prepared place. However, in taking into consideration various styles of worship, even with an ethnic community, leaders may blend planning with spontaneity. One of the workshop presenters noted how Latinos tend to be from two camps-Catholic and Pentecostal. So she juggle planned versus spirit-lead, more spontaneous worship. In order to do this at her church, they go through liturgy but re-name it.

How I Met My Housemate


Me, Gracie & Annalise

God has continually provided housing, and housemates, for me in astounding ways. This particular story began on the continent of Asia and resulted in my most long-term housemate in Seattle. I dedicate this post to her, a woman of great strength and character, who has survived living with me for five years in three different homes of South Seattle. So grateful for the chapters of life we have shared and looking forward to the ones ahead as she marries and relocates to begin a new chapter in a new place. 

Our story actually started in 2010 when I did fieldwork for my graduate program in Kolkota, India. While there, I stayed with a local host family who were leaders in the social enterprise where I was interning. An American guy, David, had also just moved to Kolkota to do community development. He was staying with this host family at that same time while determining which slum to relocate to long-term. David mentioned he had a sister in Seattle, but didn’t put us in touch.

Fast forward to the following year when I began looking for a church in Seattle involved in community development. One of the churches I visited during my search was located in a gymnasium that served a Boys & Girls Club during the week. The first person I met in the hallway was a woman who asked me a typical get-to-know you question: “Where did you move to Seattle from?”


Me and Annalise after a slime run 5k

“Bangladesh” I replied.

“Oh really? My brother’s there right now. He lives in India.”

I eyed her more closely. Her smile combined with blond hair looked familiar.

“Is your brother David?”

“How did you know?”

“We lived together with a local family in Kolkota last summer.”

“I feel like I’m gonna pass out. You saw my brother last summer?”

We decided to grab coffee and get to know each other more so exchanged numbers and friended each other on Facebook.

But then we got busy with life and work and grad school and never did get coffee. In 2011, I had finished grad school and was asking God “what next?” I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to relocate to the Rainier Valley of South Seattle, so began visiting Rainier Avenue Church. Towards the end of June, Annalise messaged me for the first time since we had met saying her lease would be up the end of July and she was looking for people to live in intentional community with her in the Rainier Valley who wanted to reach out to their neighborhood. I replied:


Annalise in our gutted kitchen after I accidentally flooded it (another story!)

Oh my word, Annalise. I have been praying about moving to the Rainier Valley and praying specifically that God would connect me with people who share a similar passion for living in community among the marginalized/Christian community development. Yes, we definitely need to meet up for coffee. I leave for San Francisco on Friday but will be back to Seattle on Tuesday night, July 5th. Would love to meet up with you soon after that.


My lease was also up August 1st, so we agreed to meet up to discuss this possibility on the Thursday after the 4th of July weekend when I would return from a trip to California. As I was about to board my plane back to Seattle, I found a voice message from Gracie, a woman I had “randomly” sat next to one of those Sundays when I’d visited Rainier Avenue Church.


David and his bride at their Seattle wedding reception in our beautiful backyard

“I don’t know if you remember me, but we had talked about you possibly moving to the Rainier Valley and looking for housemates. Well I’m moving the end of this month and wondered if you’d be interested in living together?”

I called her back as soon as I was in Seattle.

“There’s actually another woman interested in living with us,” I told her.

“Is her name Annalise?”

“How did you know?”

“My boyfriend taught a class she was in and she emailed me about looking for housemates here too.”

Gracie already had houses lined up to look at—on Thursday! So instead of meeting up to talk about possibly living together in the Rainier Valley, we literally went to look at houses. By the end of the month had found a place that met our criteria and the three of us moved into it together.

Prayers From Prison

Prayer-in-PrisonAn older, obviously intoxicated man carrying an open beer can blocked our path on the sidewalk. I was strolling back to Rainier Avenue Church with members from my community development team, having just enjoyed dinner at the new Poke’ restaurant in our neighborhood. I avoided eye contact and was about to skirt my way around this “drunk” when my friend Carlotta greeted him.

“Why hello! I’ve missed you!”

His eyes lit up, recognizing his friend.

“I’m gonna come back and pray for you all,” he said.

“Ok. We’ll look forward to seeing you.”

After their cheerful exchange she remarked, “He’s such a sweet man. He comes every Sunday before church and prays with us and for our congregation.”

Wow. I don’t come arrive Sunday mornings to pray for my church. I barely make it on time for the second service most weeks!

Too often we disregard people before we even give them a chance to speak, as I did the “drunk” I passed on the sidewalk. Yet if we paused to listen, we might not only have an opportunity to bless someone but to receive a blessing ourselves. I have found this to be true from the most surprising sources.

IMG_3002For example, last year I began writing letters to a friend I’ve known since childhood but hadn’t seen in over a decade. This friend is incarcerated. Controversy surrounds why he’s where he is. Perhaps he was guilty. Perhaps innocent.[1] The fact remains that he’s a human made in the image of God with a thirst for connection to people, to friends, to his Creator.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus spoke of how one defining quality of the sheep—those who make the right choice and inherit eternal life—was that “I was in prison and you came to visit me” and then explained that when we do it “for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”[2]

My friend lives several states away from me so visiting isn’t realistic. But I can visit in the form of a letter. So every month or two, I send him quotes from books I’ve been reading, verses of encouragement, stories from coworkers who serve in our judicial system and general life updates. He replies when he’s able to since he doesn’t always have money for postage stamps. Our correspondence isn’t romantic; my friend has a fiancé. No, he’s starving for spiritual companions. In fact, he has told me aside from parents and a grandmother, no one writes him now that he’s been locked up for a couple years. Ironically, many who support prison ministry to complete strangers have dismissed him as a “hopeless case” and finally getting what he deserves. Perhaps if he was a stranger to them, they would offer more empathy, more hope, more encouragement.

But the encouragement isn’t a one-way street. In spite of his struggles, depression and constant relocation, my friend always asks how he can pray for me and I’ve experienced acute answers to those prayers. In my most recent letter from this friend, he closed saying, “I pray for you every day.”

Wow. Few people say this to me. Fewer yet do it. Other than my parents and perhaps a couple grandmas, I suspect no one prays for me every single day. Honestly I don’t pray for anyone on an ongoing daily basis like that.

I am continually amazed not only that prayer often comes from the most unexpected sources but that those very sources put me to shame by the regularity of their prayers. I guess that’s because desperation drives us to God. Or as Jesus put it, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”[3]


[1] The fact that he’s a person of color in a slanted justice system makes me speculate that even if guilty he’s facing harsher treatment than he would were he white. But that’s another topic for another blog post. For those interested in a comprehensive, well-researched work on race and the US justice system, please read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

[2] Matthew 25:36 & 40

[3] Mark 2:17, Good News Translation

Neighborhood Dreams

Rainier Valley Heritage Parade 2015

This guest post comes from Lauren Squires who volunteers with me on the Community Development team at Rainier Avenue Church. She recently shared this vision with our team, a group dedicated to our South Seattle neighborhood of Hillman City. An Urban Planner, Lauren sees community development through holistic lens that consider issues like sustainable transportation solutions alongside human equity and economic capacities. Her vision was inspired by an activity she participated in at CommonLife’s monthly neighborhood gatherings known as Fellowship of the Neighborhood. Thanks, Lauren, for sharing your thoughts; through shared vision and collaboration, such a dream can become a reality!

After a busy day at work, I hop on my bicycle to ride home up over Beacon Hill to Hillman City from downtown. Catching glimpses of the vistas, the Cascades saying goodnight to the Olympics as the spring sun settles behind. I wave, nod and smile to folks as I wind through the neighborhood streets.

Dropping down into the heart of Hillman City, the intersection of Rainier and Orcas is buzzing with people. The streets are closed for a neighborhood festival and block party. The people of the neighborhood have taken over the street. Vendors from the Somali market are cooking food and brewing chai, selling to the neighborhood from tents. Muslims from the mosque and Christians from Rainier Avenue Church work shoulder-to-shoulder to paint a mural in the street at the intersection of Juneau and Rainier. Women at Spinnaker Bay are pouring pints for a boisterous crowd in the beer garden set up in the street, tempting the dedicated CrossFitters tossing medicine balls back and forth just 10 feet away. Women are lined up along the sidewalk getting their hair braided, watching to the people groove to the band playing in front of Tarik’s restaurant and community culinary school recently opened in what use to be Maxim’s Gentleman’s club.

This is the epitome of neighborhood flourishing: to ride my bike home from work without my heart spiking once from a close call through a network of neighborhood streets and safe crossings—all the while recognizing faces and exchanging smiles. To be engulfed in a neighborhood gathering, surrounded by others that call this place home or who just pass through regularly for business and have stuck around for the evening. To see each community member’s presence and contribution celebrated and cherished. Each has a valued place at the table. Unity across race, age, income, creed and even transportation mode.
I scan the throng of neighbors eating, chasing toddlers, deep in conversation with each other or just taking it all in, as I am. I weave down the crowded sidewalk to lock up my bike. As I walk past DADS’ open door, inside I see OGs watching a basketball game with their sons, mentors coaching their younger brothers and a father changing his baby’s diaper at the front desk. If I would’ve seen these men anywhere else, I would’ve assumed the worst of them based on their clothes, speech and swagger. But those assumptions have been proven wrong too many times now. When I walk the streets of my neighborhood, it’s characterized by openness toward each other, assuming the best of one another, a leaning in and positive inquisitiveness about our difference instead of a pulling back.


What would it look like if your neighborhood was flourishing? Tell us in a comment.

Lauren Squires_Head Shot

Lauren Squires, Urban Planner

Lauren is an urban planner, active transportation specialist and community advocate enthusiastic about inclusive, livable places. A strong team member offering a range of strategic planning, policy development, bicycle and pedestrian design, facilitation and writing skills, at MIG|SvR Lauren works on projects ranging from complete streetscape concepts to multimodal transportation planning to community planning projects focused on health and equity. Lauren is passionate about urban systems and engaging complex issues to enhance quality of life in Seattle. A Rainier Valley resident, she regularly collaborates with diverse communities on neighborhood planning initiatives such as Rainier Valley Greenways. Lauren currently serves on the Seattle Planning Commission.

ZUMBA for Community Development

How does a small town respond when gang members from “the world’s most violent city” less than an hour away begin to stream into their bars and streets? For residents of Cofradia, Honduras, they gather in the town square and DANCE!

Located about a half hour west of San Pedro Sula, Cofradia is a tiny town with a population of about 18,000. On weekends especially, the town has become a host for gang members to grab a cerveza or sing karaoke. Sometimes the night ends in a fight, sometimes a death.

To counter ­­violence, city officials decided to host ZUMBA fitness in the town square on weekend evenings—Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

I got to participate in one of these community-wide events when visiting a friend who currently resides about a block away from the town square. The dance exercise begins at 7:00 PM, about an hour after the sun sets all year-round since Honduras is so close to the equator. Several hundred people gathered to participate as well as watch the ZUMBA activity. We laughed and danced, following the moves of the instructor on stage. It felt like a dance party, exercise class and neighborhood block party all in one. When I crossed the street to collect my phone to record a video, I noticed a couple police patrolling the area.  Although law enforcement was present, safety on the streets is ensured more by a group of people coming together for some fun exercise than additional guns and weapons.

“This is fitness for community development at its finest,” I thought.

Just a few more blocks down the street I found a CrossFit gym that also offers ZUMBA. As someone who works for a fitness center dedicated to community development, I was thrilled to see that residents in Cofradia have opportunities for fitness that are creating healthier inhabits and habitation.

10 Benefits of a Community Yard Sale

yard saleMany people think I run an annual to bi-annual yard sale simply to make some extra cash. Although my yard sale earnings contributed towards paying off student loans, the intangible benefits I receive from managing these sales extend beyond the monetary. Following my most recent sale this past weekend, I jotted down ten reasons I love running yard sales in my neighborhood:

  1. A core value of Christian Community Development gets lived out. John Perkins talks about the three R’s in Christian Community Development: Relocation, Redistribution and Reconciliation. Hosting a yard sale in my community is a way of living out the “Redistribution” piece. Most of the stuff I sell comes from wealthy people, who have discarded their belongings when moving, or from hoarders who have passed away and can no longer benefit from their earthly possessions. I get joy when hosting these sales by seeing how the discarded possessions of wealthy people get repurposed by my low income and working class neighbors.
  2. Low-income neighbors, immigrants and refugees can outfit their homes and families. Many refugees and first-generation immigrants purchase clothes, dishes, house ware and furniture at a reduced rate to outfit their households. Yard sales like mine offer our neighbors the ability to buy these items at low-cost (say a couch for $10-$20 or a shirt for $.25)…and that’s far more dignifying than receiving handouts!Shoes lined up for the sale
  3. International development happens at a grassroots level. In addition to buying for their local families, some first-generation immigrants purchase affordable items to ship to their relatives and friends in developing countries. I see this as powerful, grassroots community development that supersedes the work of giant organizations and mega NGO’s which often intrude with foreign ideas about what people need. Since yard sale goods are selected and shared by people who were once local residents there and know the community, culture and needs, the “aid” coming in the form of boxes filled with bargains is likely to be what’s both useful and appreciated.
  4. Leftover items find new homes. At the end of my sale this past weekend, I took five bags of remaining clothes to a clothing exchange where a group of working-class friends (who value repurposing items over buying new) rampaged through them and discovered all sorts of wearable finds!
  5. DJ at yard saleOffers intermediate employment. With the last two sales, I’ve been able to employ a couple friends who were in-between jobs.
  6. Get to meet my neighbors. Hosting a yard sale connects me and my household to our neighbors, literally our front-door community.
  7. My neighbors meet each other. Simultaneously, my neighbors get introduced to each other at the sale, oftentimes some of whom previously knew no one else in the area.
  8. Ideas for future community gatherings percolate. During the course of these neighborly interactions this past weekend, we discussed hosting a progressive music night—something similar to a progressive dinner in which we would go from one house to the next for a different genre of live music. Conversations like this highlight the gifts that each person brings to our local context.
  9. Professional connections form. This past weekend, for example, I was able to introduce my assistant to a potential employer whom I’d been trying to connect for a couple of months!
  10. Our neighborhood gets safer. Knowing one’s neighbors builds trust and has proven to be the leading cause in crime reduction.