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Insatiable Hunger

February 1, 2011

Though some will choose to hate me. I will choose to love.
Though some will try to divide us. I will try and unite.
Though some will attempt to aggravate me. I will attempt to alleviate.

We are not each other’s enemies. But still you spend your time making war with me. I will decide not to fire back. Instead, I will sit here and pray. I will not run and hide from you. I have a far greater shield in front of me.

Though some will choose to point out where I have gone wrong,
I will choose to underline what’s good in this world.
Though some will do what they can to cause me pain,
I will do no harm to them.
Though some will spend years quarreling the matter,
I will spend my hours telling a truth.

Your bullets are made from the hardest steel and sharpest words. I used to be scared. I used to have fear. But then you fired your guns with crosshairs on my head. Your bullets, they hit me knocking me below the ground. The pain took my breath away, but your weapons lack eternal power over me. I am not here for your purpose and you couldn’t stop me from what I’ll do now.

Now I know I have nothing to be afraid of. But your fear is exactly what has kept you here. And what are you afraid of – that which you do not understand? If you truly believe what you say, then have no fear. The spirit is bigger than any man. You have nothing to fear except for yourself. And for that, you should be scared.

If only you could see. The answer rests not with the body. Nor with the angels or demons. The question is the answer: How much will you love? There’s never an end. Once you love, may you only continue. Insatiable hunger this love for one another. No threshold needed to cross into the kingdom. Only the requirement that you be love.

It is for Freedom.

January 26, 2011

This morning, I woke up in a free place. A freer place than yesterday. Hopefully not as free as tomorrow. Because although we have made progress in our short history. We have much work still to do.

Enthusiasm is contagious. And so is negativity. But these days, one sells much better than the other. Yes, there are bad things that need to be noticed, but seriously, scare tactics for the sake of creating news where there is none?! C’mon, peeps. We love to hate the politicians, who love to hate on one another. And we scream about our inability to get things done. Have we forgotten what we are capable of? It doesn’t take politics. Not even the government. We are people. Free. To create our own change.

Sometimes we do better in a crunch. As the underdog. Than we do as the big dog with all the power in the world. We just have forgotten what it’s like to be in desperate need.

When will we see? It is for freedom that we have been set free. Not so that we have the power to enslave others.

Though we have no control over other people’s influence and how they choose to act, we do have control over our own. Darkness doesn’t have the power to overcome light; light will always have the upper hand. Life doesn’t have to be as negative as we make it out to be. The successful optimists are those that are active in seeing progress come to life. But those that just sit back and let life happen to them will always be wondering why things can’t seem to get any better.

Yes, today, I woke up in place where people choose to enslave themselves and their neighbors. Whether by pride or prejudice or the lust of material things.

Let us remember that we live in a world of suffering and pain. Even here within our own free state. If you’re thinking what can I do if I’ll never have control?

First, cry. Empathize or at least sympathize. With all the hurt in the world. For all the ways in which we fall short. And then pick up your head and find one place where you can make a difference. Focus on that, and put everything you have into making someone’s life a little better, giving without judgment. Only acceptance and love. Sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it won’t. Sometimes they’ll appreciate, sometimes they can’t. But every time you’ll realize that you are becoming more of the person you already wish everyone else to be.

In My Absinthe, Ahem, Absence.

January 10, 2011

You might have wondered: Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego NashvilleBen!? Well, here’s the answer… EUROPE!

I’m sorry you haven’t heard from me lately, but I have been on somewhat of a writing sabbatical. I have taken some time to think, to wonder, to do nothing. Except observe. Look. Watch. Listen. Taste. And try and take as much in that I could during my travels in Europe over the past 14 days. But the time was very much needed. After my December, the past two weeks couldn’t have come at a better time.

But, I’m back now. And man does it feel good. It feels right. And I can’t remember a time when I’ve been as focused, as driven, as happy. I’ll be doing a lot more writing in the very near future. But until then, I thought I would supply you with the same random thoughts/quotes passing through my own head. Enjoy, if you will!

“Life, an age to the miserable, and a moment to the happy.” -Francis Bacon

“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” -Dale Carnegie

“It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment. What creates despair is the imagination, which pretends there is a future, and insists on predicting millions of moments, thousands of days, and so drains you that you cannot live the moment at hand. ” -André Dubus

“Happiness comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to risk life, to be needed.” -Storm Jameson

“It is not the burdens of everyday that drive men mad. It is the regret of yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves that rob us of today.”

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” -Carl Sandburg

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” -Helen Keller

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” -Morrie Schwartz, in “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” -Ashley Smith

“The higher you reach, The further the sky
The more miles you walk, The longer the road
The steeper you climb, The harder you stand to fall
The stronger you get, The heavier the load
The bigger the dream, The rougher the ride
The truer the love, The deeper the ache
The blinder the faith, The tougher the go.” -Gabe Dixon Band

“You can’t really know just how much you love something,
Until you’ve been told you can’t.” –Yours Truly

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” -Winnie the Pooh

There comes a moment in your life when you realize. That you can see with more than just your eyes. That you can see through your experiences. Through your heart. And that’s what will turn the world upside down. Making it capable to go anywhere. To do anything. But more importantly, to be just who you are right where you are.

Life Support is about More than Machines.

December 20, 2010

If you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably already heard. The past 4 days have been tough on my family. And although you may have heard bits, I did want to share the story because it means a lot to me. It’s deeply personal, so if you’re looking for a refined post about life being easy, you may want to skip this post. This one is about family, and it’s not the happiest of stories that I’ve ever told. But in some ways, it is one of the most peaceful ones.

Last month my grandfather was on life support. And I don’t mean just by machines. There were many things supporting his life. Machines. Doctors. Friends. Sons. Grandchildren. Brothers. Wife. But perhaps most strongly, himself.

The last month, things happened rapidly and my grandfather went from being at home and getting around on his own to being in Intensive Care in the hospital. And, then one month later, he was laying on life support. There, supported by a ventilator in the VA Hospital, the doctors said that he didn’t have a chance of coming off of it.

But we knew him and we didn’t exactly believe it. So, instead, my dad spent the whole week pretty much alone with him, holding his hand the whole time, encouraging him that he could get stronger and he could come off life support. Eventually, there in ICU the family had to make a hard choice, but we chose to take him off the ventilator because we didn’t feel like it was right to make him suffer any longer. When it was removed, it was by miracle that he stabilized on his own. And he eventually was able to speak again. During that last week he tried calling my grandmother and telling her that he loved her so much. We were present as he tried talking to her. We could hear him in the room and we could read his lips, but his voice just didn’t transfer over the phone to her. We told her what he was saying, but I just don’t think it was good enough for him.

It was over the next few days that something even more miraculous happened. The doctors determined that he was stable and could be transferred back to rehab at the nursing home. Once there he was well enough to get in a wheelchair so that my dad could take him to see my grandmother. He spent a few hours talking with her and telling her that he loved her from the bottom of his heart there in person in her room in the nursing home. There face-to-face again. Holding hands. The boy scouts brought in two little stuffed animal puppies, and my papa and granny talked about how one was my grandmother and the other my grandfather. How they’d been married 63 years now, and how they would be together forever. My grandfather just laughed and smiled.

After telling her that and talking with her for a while, my grandfather was wheeled back down to his room (in that same building). My father was able to tell him that he loved him before my dad left. Shortly after my dad left his room and headed home, my grandfather went into cardiac arrest and he passed away. I know that it was because he was holding on until he had completed what he needed to do. At that point, it was complete and he could go in peace. It is for this reason that I am at peace, no matter how sad it is. And I am still very sad about it, but I know that everything is okay.

Now, I sit here with my grandmother (his wife) and she can’t catch her breath because she is so upset. She is telling me that love is all that has carried her through the past 63 years, and even though now he’s gone, her love is still present. She tells me that they were never the “church type”, but that she knows the Lord is with her because He allowed them a miracle of seeing each other one last time before he passed. Her lips shake and you can tell she is worried about everything. I’ve always felt like I was just like her.

It’s hard. Our family is super close. But I think she’s right. God is truly good and He gives us what we need. He gives us strength and miracles when they are right. This is one of those things that is so hard. But it was right. My grandfather was 89 years old and lived a long, eventful life. I can’t think of a more peaceful way for it come to a close. He will be remembered as a strong man of strict discipline that worked his way for his family especially as a merchant marine that crossed the equator dozens of times in wars (and has a certificate, purple heart and bald head to prove each one). His bald head came from a war accident that pretty much scalped him and made him unable to grow hair on the top of his head. But mostly we’ll remember him as the “Chief Bald Eagle”, the first member of our family to make it to YouTube* as a wrestler, referee and promoter of wrestling all across America. He now has a spot in the Wrestling Hall of Fame for his contributions in the “wrastlin” field.

This time stirs up emotions that I have honestly never felt before. But it reminds me that I am so thankful for the memories I have with him. And how amazing my family is. This has been one heck of a week. But I have one heck of a family.

*YouTube video shows my grandfather as the referee and my uncle as one of the wrestlers.

1,347 Friends and That’s Not Even the Half of It.

December 12, 2010

One year ago this December, I wrote about The Fight of a Lifetime. A fight that still brings the rawest of emotion out of me. The story from that post was about my city’s struggle with homelessness and its deep need to secure more permanent housing solutions for all of our residents. It spoke about Project Homeless Connect in Nashville, a project fundamentally rooted in removing as many barriers to housing in a single day as is possible. (Or at least the way that possibility is currently pictured within our minds.)

But little did I know, when I wrote that post a year ago, how much things would change in one year. And, unfortunately, I don’t mean for the better. Let me take a step back for a minute.

We’ve known for the past couple of years now that at least 4,000 individuals, including children, are homeless on any given night in Nashville, TN. That’s within the city limits of Davidson County. So, that’s roughly within 500 square miles of land. An area that (according to the 2007 Census) has a population of 620,000 people. Do the calculation, and that means equal to .65% of Nashville’s total population is homeless. HOMELESS. Without a home. Does that hit you as hard as it does me?

That’s more than quadruple the number of people that ride the Music City Star (commuter train) each day. A service, that I might add, has cost roughly $9.4 million dollars since its construction in 2006. ($3.3 million for construction and $1.7 + $4.4 million in financial bailouts to keep the service running until 2011.) That’s $6,575 dollars per day to transport 866 people (Q3 2010).

I know that homeless individuals are not statistics. (No more than I am a statistic.) They are friends, they are family, they are people just like you and me, with personal stories often rich with love, pain, worries, and hope. Just like the rest of us. We must remember this. But, still, the statistics help us to put the issue in perspective, that we might know the size of the challenge that we face. Not to be intimidated, but that we might see the very real urgency. That we might look at this life and death situation of our brothers and sisters and intervene in order to help overcome it. It is our obligation, if you see it as I do. That together we might build a stronger community sooner rather than when it’s too late for some. (Our vulnerability index shows that nearly 42% of Nashville’s homeless population is at risk of dying on the streets.)

Yes, I wrote about The Fight in December of last year, but since then I’ve written about The Flood and its unpredicted destruction of Nashville’s tent city. Following that post, I wrote about a World of Poverty. One that includes the issues of relational and imagination poverties within our own houses and neighborhoods and often within our homeless communities as well.

It’s been a tough year for Nashville’s homeless. Not only did the flood wash away Nashville’s last real chance at a tent city for a while, but, too, its residents were run out of each corner of our city by unwelcoming neighbors. I still remember the harsh words “The gates of charity are closed!” being shouted by a PASTOR in reference to homeless individuals being unwelcome in his neighborhood. In addition, the flood was also a financial and volunteer drain for the city. Our residents have poured donations and volunteer time into rebuilding what once existed in April, and was at that time taken for granted. I’m not, for one second, saying that we shouldn’t have done this. We HAD to. It was the only way. We couldn’t give up. It’s in our nature to BE Nashville and to help our neighbors get back to a normal life.  Instead, what I am trying to portray is the state of where we find ourselves now.

If we look at our Project Homeless Connect event one year after my last post, both volunteer counts and key financial donations were  defined as a struggle. Volunteer counts decreased from over 700 in 2009 to about 450 this year. Financial support for the Housing First program is also in dire need. In addition, another predicament that we find ourselves in is: rental occupancy rates have been at a rare high which means fewer units available for the lower income/homeless.  I’ve heard over and over again that the city’s residents are maxed out following the flood. It’s true. We must realize this, and we must find a new way for reaching what we need. We cannot be satisfied that some cannot do it, but we must find those who can. This year we’ve gained a new support and voice for Housing First – and he’s currently one of Nashville’s biggest heroes: #28 Chris Johnson. He’s voiced a new PSA for Housing First, and he’s stepped up when a hero was needed.

Our first year at Project Homeless Connect, 1,078 homeless individuals were served. During our second year, that number was 1,558. This year, the intake number on-site was 1,347, but it looks like the total served will end up being around 1,500, with a higher percentage of families than before. All this to say, the number of people needing assistance to move out of homelessness is not decreasing. Therefore, we cannot afford to decrease our efforts. Yes, there is more need in our city. There is more struggle. Especially following a huge recession and flood. As I’ve said before, “The point is NOT guilt. When guilt becomes the point, love gets lost in the shuffle. Guilt helps NO ONE. Love helps everyone involved.”

But our city has overcome challenges larger than this in the past. Eventually, the pay-off is always worth it. We save lives. And if that’s not good enough for you. You should also know that we, as a city, save money by housing people.

It costs about $17,000 per person per year to provide housing plus intensive case management. In comparison, it costs communities an average of $35,000 per person per year to manage homelessness as we have done during the past 20 years by leaving people to fend for themselves utilizing our social services systems, jails, prisons, hospitals, ERs, and Detox facilities. (TKA Blog, Source)

If you think that this isn’t relevant to you because you don’t live in Nashville, try researching the homelessness situation within your own city. If you find that it’s a non-issue, please let me know what you’re doing. Because if you’ve found a solution, the best thing you can do is to share it!

I also understand that homelessness is not everyone’s passion. We each have our own things that keep us awake at night. I encourage YOU to comment with your passion that keeps you up at night. Tell me what is that you believe needs to be done in our world. I am ready to learn.

Chasing Ninja Turtles

November 24, 2010

I remember running circles as fast as I could from the slightly older and bigger kids on the new playground only to have them catch up with me and try to pry the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures from my little hands. I used to have a death grip on those things. I didn’t share well, much less give them up to some other kids that wouldn’t even let me borrow their Master Splinter. You see, I’ve always been bad at…

Letting go. When I care about something, I invest all of me. Maybe ninja turtles are bad example, but when it’s time to move on from a project or friend or stage of life, it often feels like I’m cutting loose part of myself. I don’t like it. And for some mistaken reason, it feels like giving up. Letting go means you’re going to have an empty hand until you find something else to grab a hold of instead. But it’s a totally different mindset from giving up. Sometimes letting go is completely necessary.

If given the choice, I’d probably choose to hang on to it all. The good. The bad. The everything that I invest in. For the fear of letting go and the fear of the unknown often keeps people hanging on for far too long. For example, it’s good that I have faith in people and invest in friendships. But it’s bad that I invest in them even when our friendships inhibit each other’s personal growth. I’ve learned. There are certain times and situations in your life, when it’s going to be best to just let go. It’s probably not going to be easy. No, it’ll be easier for you to stay in a comfortably, painful situation just because it’s familiar rather than doing what you know you need to do.

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.  -Raymond Lindquist

We need to find the courage to say NO to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity. -Barbara de Angelis

You have to pull off the band-aid quickly. Separate yourself from poison in your life. It may sound rough to call someone or something that you love poison. But when you realize that it’s bringing you down and preventing personal growth, there’s no other way to describe it as well. Make a choice today to keep the positive in your life and get rid as much of the negative as is in your control. It’s not possible to rid of it all, but some it is.

When that negative addition is gone from your life, you just may experience a relief and satisfaction that you didn’t even realize you were missing. Then you’ll have time and energy to spend on people and things that invest in you and will want to share their experiences with you as well. Someone that will let you borrow their Master Splinter, because you first offered your favorite Michaelangelo to them.

The Good Side of Bad

November 11, 2010

We’ve all witnessed bad things happening to good people. Unfortunately. Our moms get cancer. Our friends leave us. Our spouses lose their jobs. Our children have their hearts broken. Our grandparents don’t live forever. When these things happen, it’s easy to become frustrated and feel defeated. To ask why? To become depressed seeing the bad happen to the people that we know deserve only the best. It’s tough to think that no matter how hard you try or how much good you do, in the end, bad things can still happen. It’s scary because it implies that we can’t always control the outcome of our situations. I don’t think this is the case all of the time, because many times we do reap what we sow. But still it’s often enough to be noticeable and cause us anxiety knowing that we’re not in complete control.

So, often times I find myself (as a perennial optimist) thinking… “What good is there in the bad?” I feel there must be something good within even the worst things in life. If not, then bad things are no longer useful to me. Getting rid of the bad things happening to you is impossible. So, it’s what you make of the bad that truly defines your life. If you choose to focus on how bad can actually improve your life, you have the opportunity to move forward and progress with your life despite any situation. But if you choose to focus on the negative, only on the pain, then you can allow yourself to be bogged down and actually move backwards.

I’m not downplaying the impact that bad things can have in our life. There’s no doubt in my mind, that some days, weeks, or maybe even years you’re just going to feel like someone has reached inside your chest and ripped out your heart. But. The next morning, the sun will rise again. And when it does, you’ll have a choice. You can lay in the bed, face down regretting everything that’s gone wrong. Or you can lay on your back, looking up, thinking of the future and how you can make it better. And then you can get up, and try your damnest to make today better than yesterday.

How do you handle your bad days, weeks, or years?