A Year-Round Holiday

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  ― C.S. Lewis:

You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.

-James Bunyon

Humbling. How positively humbling it is to have enough in this world, that I can help to serve others who are less fortunate than me.

Growing up wasn’t easy for us. I remember those winter days in Vallejo when the greatest thing in the world was when my father would open up a can of Vienna sausages in our little bedroom, and even though the liquid turned into a gel because it was so cold, we ate them happily, laughing because my mom would scold us for using our bare fingers. This was the same year that he gave me an old, red cigar box, in which I saved up all the loose change that I found on the ground. I can’t express the ecstasy I’d feel when I found a dime or nickel by the cash registers in grocery stores (can you imagine how I felt when I found quarters?!)… The five dollars that I ended up saving felt like a million dollars in my seven-year-old mind.

I remember those days when my dad would pick my brother and me up from Farragut Elementary when he was done with his shift at the gas station, and sometimes, he would treat us out to Wendy’s– that cup of chili with two packets of saltine crackers was Disneyland to me… it was just as good as waking up on Christmas morning, but even better, because, c’mon, it was Wendy’s.

And I’m sitting here now, fourteen years later, on my memory foam mattress, in my own dorm, crying. I’m crying as I am typing away, because all I can ask myself at this moment is: “How did I get so lucky? How did I get so lucky?” My mind flashes back to the pain and struggles that my family endured just to drive us to school, to put food on the table, to find our own place to live. I’m getting so emotional because it has been a long, arduous lifestyle; ask me a decade ago, and I would have been certain that we would still be in our one-bedroom apartment. But God always provides. He always answers. I’ll never forget when I was in chemistry class in my community college when I thought I was totally done with my tennis career, but I emailed Coach Howard to ask about Holy Names, just for the heck of it. I’ll never forget when I was going back to the car from Thousand Steps Beach, and my scholarship and letter of intent was officially emailed to me. I’ll never forget when my mom called me to say that they couldn’t come visit me for Thanksgiving last year because they finally found a new home and needed to move by the end of the month. I’ll never forget shopping for the first Christmas tree we’ve had in twelve years or so. I’ll never forget those pivotal moments when things finally started to turn around… But I will also never forget those rough moments that made it difficult to stay hopeful.

This morning, when I was helping to feed the homeless with the Night On The Streets Catholic Worker, I was reminded of my past when I looked into the eyes of the cold and hungry men and women that we served. Empathy for the suffering and anger towards the messed-up society rose in my heart and I wish I could do more than fill up a cup of coffee. Grandiose ideas of how to flip the situation at hand swirled in my mind but I know it takes so much to put something in action… and it is disheartening.

But God gave us all gifts. I know that mine is compassion. He gave me a big heart that wants to give and give and give even when there’s nothing left and I lay awake thinking about those that couldn’t receive. I’m a hyper-sensitive creature that knows what other hearts want, and I want to provide. But that’s not to say that I don’t struggle with my own vices. I am so far from perfect, I struggle with staying humble, and my priorities are all over the place most of the time. But days like these put me back in place and I know that God put me on this earth to give… the basket will never run empty.

I am writing all of this to hopefully inspire some of you to come with me on Sunday mornings to help feed the homeless in Berkeley. It is definitely a struggle to wake up at sunrise on a weekend morning, but please trust me when I say that it is so worth it for so many reasons… And I invite anybody else to join me on Thanksgiving in San Francisco to do the same thing in the Tenderloin district. This season truly is a special time to really reflect on our blessings and to give back, even if it is just a thanks or two, and I hope that you all will join me, in flesh or in spirit.

JC, the coordinator of Night On The Streets Catholic Worker, said that last week was the most volunteers they’ve ever had in 19 years of his program.

I had the privilege of meeting O’dell, who shared his life story with me… his best advice for our generation is to stay in school.

Even though the streets were blocked off for the Berkeley Half-Marathon, we still found a way to serve the cold and hungry.

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