Denver has Sprung!

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Now that the Summer “heat” has arrived to Denver, I guess it’s time to share pictures and reflect on the Spring that has already Sprung here in Denver. Enjoy!

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Bolder Boulder

That gets me through about May… Hope you enjoy and let me know if you’re interested in any of the stories behind the pictures!

Peace…

 

People’s Fair … An Extrovert’s Heaven!

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People’s Fair… a fair celebrating the people of Denver sponsored by the Capitol Hill Neighborhood. What a great idea!

I had heard about it a few months before and really wanted to volunteer so I signed up. Though my 7am shift got off to a slow start it soon became a fun day of randomness, awesomeness, and free food (the 3 ingredients to a great weekend…)

Here are some images from that weekend:

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Hooray for People…and Fairs… and the People’s Fair!

FTE: Chicago Style…

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Cenacle Retreat Center in Lincoln Park, Chicago!

During May 18-21, 2013, I was nominated to attend a conference in Chicago called “VEV: Volunteers Exploring Vocation” which is sponsored by the Fund for Theological  Education (FTE). There were about 50 young adults from across the country gathered to reflect, dialogue and discern about vocation, life and everything in between. The folks from Denver arrived early so we had some time to explore the city! The last time I was in Chicago, there was about 2 feet of snow, so to be walking around in shorts on a blue sky, sunny day… I was quite convinced the plane had landed us somewhere other than Chicago. Some great friends of mine were also in town so I decided to check and see how far away they were (since I knew Chicago was a pretty large city.) Turns out they were literally 4 blocks away and within minutes I was reconnecting with some of the most amazing people on planet earth…and their new son, Max! Afterwards, Antonio and I took a stroll along the lake and watched people play beach volleyball and roller blade…where are we again? Then I went for another walk (we had a good bit of time) with Ruben (aka James Potts) through the Lincoln Park Zoo which was also just a block or so away from where we were staying. And no, I didn’t share my peanuts with the bear… we just happened to be having the same lunch that day… Then we returned to the retreat center to have the actual conference begin!

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That afternoon, we were gathered to hear Jim Ellison, Director of the VEV Program, share a few words about vocation and welcome us to a series of speakers, dialogues and reflections that would soon significantly impact our “plans” and perspectives. It was amazing. I don’t have too many pictures of these sessions since I was frantically jotting notes and ideas but here are some other shots taken from the weekend. I particularly enjoyed the moments of worship, prayer and reflection. It was energizing being surrounded by so many like-minded and like-hearted individuals passionate about service and ministry and life!

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Another incredible aspect about this conference was the quality in speakers. They were local advocates IN Chicago walking the walk and talking the talk. Sure we had differences of opinion but I really enjoyed hearing their enthusiasm and their openness for discussion and answering questions. We also went and attended worship services at various sites across the city. I attended Nueva Vida or New Life which was doing AMAZING work with establishing relationships of peace and  compassion in the gang communities. Their church is actually located just off of one of the gang borders and  changed their philosophy from trying to “save” their neighbors to loving and living alongside them and showing them the true beauty of Christ’s message of peace. I was blown away. Wow. The takeaway message that I seemed to get from every speaker and dialogue was the significance to remain genuine and authentic and intentional in everything you do!

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Now between (and sometimes during) the serious conversations, there were moments of bonding and fun as well! Of course we had to get out and try some of that Chicago style pizza. And what better way to wrap up a conference than a game night! We even had an opportunity to do midnight yoga in the rain and return to some more games until the early hours of our final day!

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Then we said our farewells and departed to our respective cities. I always love the instant bonding that happens at these types of conferences and retreats when you gather with people who are passionate about the world and standing in solidarity with people who suffer its injustices. The funniest thing about the conference is that, aside from Jim’s opening speech, we talked very little about “vocation” and yet that was all we talked about. There were no sessions about practical, specific plans for what to do after the conference much less after our year of service. But the weekend reminded me that vocation isn’t necessarily just your job. It’s your hobbies. It’s your passions. It’s your life.

So in that, we talked about vocation all day long. And we gathered socially at night or ate Chicago pizza or worshiped in various community churches across the city, we were living out our “vocation.” My community here in Denver is currently reading an excellent book called “An Altar in the World” by Barbara Brown Taylor (go buy it right now…) and Chapter 7 talks some about “purpose” and, respectively, vocation. I love how she refers to vocation not in “what” we do but “how” we do the work we have. She even points out that Martin Luther said that, “our mutual vocation is to love God and neighbor.” That sounds like something that should be done in our life even outside of the 9-5 world. It’s even possible that our vocation isn’t our job and actually what we do outside of work for free! Crazy!  “The point is to find something that feeds your sense of purpose, and to be willing to look low for that purpose as well as high.” -BBT

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So get out there in the world, live your life, love God and your neighbor and…

“Be not simply good; be good for something.”

-Henry David Thoreau

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Thanks to FTE for yet again another incredible conference immensely formative for my life and faith…

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But that train keeps a-rollin’… on down to San Antone…

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Recently, I had the privilege and honor of attending a close friend’s wedding near San Antonio, Texas. Here’s a dual picture of us in the 3rd grade and then as High School graduates…

So there we were, Matt and Matt, reunited once again to celebrate this big step in his life. It was a great weekend filled with laughter, good memories and hot, humid weather!!!! It was an outdoor wedding with perfect weather and in this beautiful venue that came equipped with an outdoor chapel surrounded with blooming wildflowers, a pavilion with the most delicious maple-cured bacon ever, and an indoor reception hall that’s also used for professional photo shoots for hot rods like the one below which was just resting in the groom’s prep room.

Here are some pics from the wedding festivities…

 

 

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Matt and I have had one of those friendships where we could not see each other for years and then reunite as if it had been only a day. So I’m very thankful to God for his friendship and our rendezvous and I wish him the best in his marriage.

But the weekend wasn’t over after that! I decided to spend a full weekend there since I was shelling out some good money for plane tickets. So Saturday I borrowed Matt’s car (Thanks Matt!…haha) and began roaming the streets of San Antone. Of course, I had to stop for a classic vanilla shake at Whataburger and I may or may not have found a sweet striped shop at a Thrift Store…

Then that night, while I was running some errands for Matt, some seriously incredible thunderstorms passed over the city! I had forgotten how much I love thunderstorms and especially driving in them. So here I was, surrounded by lightning and sections of road partially flooding barely seeing 20 feet in front of the car due to the heavy rains while singing at the top of my lungs with the biggest smile on my face. Here are some pics from that travel when I was stopped or rolling at a racing 10 mph…

    

 

Then Sunday came and I was able to meet up with a friend and fellow Dweller/YAVer, Ashley, to hang out in Downtown San Antonio. We walked the Riverwalk for several miles then hung out in the city’s center for a bit soaking in the sun! That weekend happened to be the weekend of the annual Fiesta in San Antonio and there were events throughout the entire weekend. We decided to go to Mission Fest, the final official concert of the Fiesta held at a Historic Catholic Mission site where famous Tejano musicians and singers performed and celebrated the rich San Antonio culture! Some of these artists were even Grammy winners and all of them were amazing! Since Ashley is a HUGE fan and literally knows just about EVERYTHING when it comes to music, guitars and Tejano culture, I was able to learn A LOT! We walked around through the booths and games and paused behind the stage area to wait for some of the musicians to exit so we could ask for an autograph… we didn’t know what we were getting into…

          

After several hours of incredible conversations, autographs and a little sunburn, we came across a couple wearing VIP passes who were leaving the event. We were actually sitting in their seats accidentally and so we got up. On their way out, they handed us their VIP passes and the day just got CRAZY! Right at this moment, we ran into Augie Meyers (one of the Beatles’ greatest American influences) whom Ashley had actually met at a record shop the day before. He remembered us and we walked with him to his car to get some things while enjoying some more great conversation. Then we JOINED him and his wife in the VIP room to meet other performers and share about our lives over handfuls of pork BBQ tacos and the Texas favorite soda: Big Red!

 

So the evening and night continued wonderfully and my favorite part (aside from the incredible music) was simply having real, honest conversations with people not about their careers, or their tours but their lives, their mistakes, their funny memories and about their family. Midnight arrived all-t00-quickly and we  started saying our farewells. We were thanked for simply being there and listening to their lives and stories and not asking a thousand questions like “What was it like to work with the Beatles?” etc though we did discuss music a lot since it was a great passion of their lives. We walked away completely in awe and astounded that the day became as epic as it turned out to be. I took Ashley back to their house, said hello to the other Dwellers then made my way back to my friend’s house to prepare for the return journey to Denver the following morning.

If you get the chance, you MUST go visit San Antonio and dive into the beautiful culture there. The music will get you dancing and the food will satisfy every taste bud! And that was my crazy awesome weekend in San Antonio…

Just your BASIC Weekend…

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A few weekends ago I experienced one of the most diverse weekends of my life.

And it all started with my taxes… [cue intro music]

I got up early on Saturday morning looking forward to getting my taxes done at the same facility that most of the refugee families visit as well. I board the 16 and make my way to Emily Griffith Technical College in downtown Denver to use this free service offered by the State to those making less than $50,000/year…that’d be ME!

I arrive and they ask if I’m here to get my taxes done… yes!

They ask if I have all my tax documents… yes!

Then they ask if I have my social security card… oops!

So I boarded the 16 bus and headed back home for a business card-size piece of paper that prevented me from getting my taxes done. At first, I was frustrated because the website didn’t mention this but stuff like this happens all of the time to the refugee community and many Americans across the country and so I swallowed my pride and made my way home.

Then when acquiring my SS card, I decided I would bike back downtown since the weather was getting nice. I arrived  at Emily Griffith TC and was able to answer “yes!” to each of their questions. I then completed some necessary documents then had an Americorps volunteer help me with my taxes. It was exhilarating and nerve-wrecking watching my “expected return” value go UP and DOWN over and  over. At one point, it looked like I might actually owe $350 this year but then another step was  taken and it was changed to a return of $20. Woo Hoo! They helped me file my SC, CO and Federal taxes and  sent them all in for me… FREE! Then I signed the documents and said my farewells and thanks as I left with the satisfaction that my taxes were done!

Now the sun was shining and the temperatures were creeping up into the 60’s so I decided to take advantage of this with a free ice cream coupon I had. Of course this ice cream parlor was across town so I biked to the light rail and continued my journey south. When I arrived near the campus of the University of Denver, I called a friend and colleague who lived  nearby to join me for ice cream and we had a great time soaking in the sun and indulging in some wonderful conversations.

Then it was time for me to go so we said our farewells and I boarded the light rail and a bus home. When I arrived at home, I joined my roommates as we set off to attend a Hip Hop Break-dancing Battle in near where we live. Our organization’s (DOOR) assistant director, Cindy, was organizing this event and we wanted to support her as well as experience this beautiful part of urban culture. It was awesome. This event focused on the B-Girls (Break-Dancing Girls) and I was so impressed. They also offered a variety of challenges and competitions and free-style dances for anyone to jump in and try. Sorry to disappoint but I did not try it out this time. But here are some pictures from there and for videos visit my Facebook page!

Sunday then came along and I thought I’d try something new in the morning. So after a little reading, I went to the gym. Our community has a membership at the Denver Rec Centers and the one closest to us has an indoor pool for swimming laps. So, in the middle of winter in Denver, I went for a swim. I enjoyed the laps and workout but was not a fan of the cold rush my wet hair gave my body on the bike ride back home. That afternoon warmed up a lot as the day before and so I found myself out on our front stoop reading and basking in the sunlight.

Then around 3:30pm I set off for church at Bloom which is where I attend worship here in Denver. Twas another great time of sincere worship, encouraging/empowering words spoken and it was also great to see a lot of people once again who have become important parts of my life here in Denver. After Bloom I biked home and NAILED a pothole resulting in a lovely flat tire. So I walked my bus to the light rail and made my way home from there getting home much later than desired. I arrived and was overjoyed to be having dinner with Kaitlin’s parents who were in town. They cooked us Salmon (probably one of the first times having this in my life) and a few other things. Since I gave up gluten for Lent I was stoked to see all this delicious food without an ounce of gluten!

 

Then Monday came along and Lacy had planned an Art Day for us which was soooo cool! We visited an exhibit called “Scapes” downtown and it was really cool to see people portray the landscape of Denver/Colorado in different mediums from paint on wood, to 3-D models of houses, paint on glass… even colored pencils sliced in half!

Then of course, what goes hand in hand with warm, sunny weather than a thick snow shower? During our time in the art exhibit and driving back to our director’s house, snow gathered  all around which led to a lazy afternoon watching Coraline and eating home-made pad thai by Lacy! Then we reflected on our day and past week and prepared for another work week ahead. And that was just my basic weekend…

The Mystical Power of Strawberries…

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Last Saturday, a series of fortunate events led me to one of my most favorite adventures yet here in Denver. And it all started with a bunch of discarded strawberries…

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The time was 7:22 am and I was waiting for the 16 in hopes of a productive and fun day visiting thrift stores across the city. After all, it was 50% off day and you always meet the most interesting people on buses. Plus, I had my copy of Harry Potter (which I’m reading for the first time) and this makes for a most epic, long bus ride!

I arrive at the first Goodwill just after opening and was dismayed at not finding anything of personal interest, walking out of the store in 15 minutes which was much shorter than I planned on being there. So I decided to surprise a roommate who had to work this particular Saturday. So, once again, I board a bus (the 15 this time) and 2 buses later I find myself in front of her work only realizing that they don’t open for another hour!

What to do…what to do… Then I remembered that there was this Mercado (Hispanic grocery store) on the east side of town that had great produce deals. I’ll go there! Back on the bus I go (after a proper amount of waiting I should add) and within a stone’s throw of the Mercado I see a sign for a yard sale. For those of you that know me, you understand the ridiculousness of being this close to a yard sale and NOT taking a peek. I head down a couple of side streets and wind up at this elderly couple’s house who are looking to reduce their “stuff.” Though I walked away empty-handed I enjoyed some good conversation and love seeing what people hold valuable and the stories that accompany the “stuff.”

Then the moment came when I entered the Mercado to the delicious smells of fresh fruit and vegetables! I practically ran to the fruit section to search for the best deals… 3 lbs of oranges for $0.99…. WHAT?!? 15 ripe bananas  for $1.00… are you SERIOUS?!? Then I encountered a deal of a lifetime which turned out to define every second of the rest of my Saturday. I saw a clerk taking containers of strawberries off the shelf and replacing them with fresh containers. But he was tossing the “old’ strawberries carelessly into a box but they seemed perfectly fine to me. I asked of his plans for these discarded strawberries and when he motioned toward a trash can,  I quickly asked if I could purchase them instead. Sure, enough, with a crazed look on his face he offered me all that I could fit in a large cardboard box for simply… $1.00!  With excitement beaming from my face,  I began playing strawberry tetris placing as many containers of strawberries into the cardboard box. When it was all said and done, I had about 15 lbs of strawberries in my possession! While dexterously placing the strawberries I ran into one of our refugee community members and  her son in the Mercado. It was wonderful to see that they recognized me and that we shopped at the same place!

Then  I approached the check-out line… with 6 lbs of oranges, about 15-20 bananas and 15 lbs of strawberries. As you might surmise,  I did receive strange glances and  a handful of gawks but I was quite content with my findings. After paying a total of $4.00 for EVERYTHING, I walked outside and began to ponder what I would do with 15 POUNDS OF STRAWBERRIES. Then an  incredible thought came to me; what if I just gave them away to strangers and make friends?!…  I approached the bus stop to return to visit my roommate at work and upon entering the bus, I offered strawberries to everyone around. The amount of surprise and yet gratitude was so encouraging and I made many friends on that bus. I even came across another of our refugee community members and shared strawberries with her and her daughter. One guy, named Angel, was so perplexed as to why I had so many strawberries and  why I would just give them away.  After I shared the story and explained how I wanted to share what was given to me, the story seemed to touch him and he became appreciative of what I was doing. But I quickly reminded him that I give because God continually gives to me…and  not just strawberries!

At the next bus stop,  I met Jackie and over a handful of strawberries we discussed life and our passions of caring for others.  He shared with me his employment woes and I offered the two gifts that I could: a listening ear and…strawberries! We boarded a bus and continued the conversation while I passed out more strawberries. Just before I got off, he wanted to give me a gift since I had shared my stuff with him.  He had a bag of oils and lotions that he apparently sold on the side and offered me a container of shea butter to keep my skin healthy in the dry weather. Even though lotions and oils scare me, I accepted the gift as an honoring gesture to him and then we parted ways.

I entered my friend’s place of work and was able to offer her and her co-workers a  lovely surprise… strawberries! I hung out there for a while and talked and laughed with them while they did their work. Then I knew it was time to move on. As  I waited for the next bus as well  as at least 8 other buses that day, I engaged in more conversations, learned  more peoples’ stories and shared my  own over the delicious, fruity treat! I was able to offer strawberries to those begging for  food as well as those who appeared as if they could buy their own Mercado  if they wanted to. I offered them to anyone and everyone that said “Yes” to my request. To me, that’s a good example of God’s love. God gives and gives regardless of who someone is or isn’t, what they’ve done and even whether or not they’ve asked for that love. Now I didn’t force my strawberries on anyone and I don’t believe God forces love on anyone either. It’s simply offered in connection with a relationship and I can’t decide which gift of God is better: the love or the relationship…

In between incredible dialogues about life, faith, race and the awesomeness of Denver, I visited a handful of Goodwill and other thrift stores, all the while toting the oranges and bananas in my back pack while balancing the box of strawberries on my head. Then I went to a spaghetti fundraiser to support friends and fellow volunteers through a Catholic organization which was great to catch up with them. (I had ran into one of them on the buses and they shared with me about the fundraiser!) After the dinner, I was walking in the dark to the light rail station when I remembered that I was very close to one of my co-worker’s parents’ house. I took the short detour and greeted them which was a delightful surprise for both sides. After catching up and sharing a few laughs, my weariness from the day had caught up with me and I knew it was time to head home.

By the end of the day, I had traveled over 70 miles on at least 20 buses/trains to 14 destinations!

I started around 7:22 am and finally returned home to rest around 9:40pm. I tell you, that was the best $4.00 I had spent in a looooooong time.

What started out as a simple 50% off sale adventure turned into real, genuine conversations started over the sharing of a meal from the most unlikeliest of places. I arrived home that night with only 4 of the 15 lbs remaining but as I finished the final strawberries today, I won’t forget the stories, the conversations, the people on the buses that make me love Denver more and more. It’s days like this that reinforce my belief in why I am here and how I can interact with my neighbors and God each and every day.

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May you find your strawberries and share them with all those around.
Who knows what new friends are just around the corner, across the grocery aisle or even down the pew from you!…

Quotable Quotes…and Life.

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I’ve been meaning to post these for some time but here are some meaningful quotes I’ve come across over the past few weeks that are worth reflecting over…  just for fun I’ll add some pictures from the past 2 months as well!

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The better you know that two and two make four, the better you know that two and three don’t.
-CS  Lewis

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There is no Them. There are only facets of Us.
-John Green

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To love others is to see the face of God.
-Les Miserables
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Simplicity leads to brilliance.
-Bruce Lee
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I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor
but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” -Shane Claiborne

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Happiness is real only when it is shared.
-Into the Wild

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If the path always leads to yourself then you’ll never get anywhere.
-Wise Tortoise

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“The more generous we are, the more joyous we become.
The more cooperative we are, the more valuable we become.
The more enthusiastic we are, the more productive we become.
The more serving we are, the more prosperous we become.”

-William Arthur Ward

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“A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a home-sickness or a lovesickness.
It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment.
A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words…
My definition of poetry (if I were forced to give one) would be this: words that have become deeds.” -Robert Frost

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