Stories and Particularities

Lately, I’ve been sad because I can’t make sense of my life. Usually, I do feel that my life makes sense, but not so much now. This is most likely because I was blessed to be born into a healthy marriage, a financially stable home, and have adjusted pretty well to normal life. 

Although, of course I despise normal life in some ways. That is why I’ve been sad. As compared to my life up to this point… staying in one place for a year, legally living in a building, grocery shopping weekly at the same place, and working for steady wages (with no end in sight)... aren’t my ideas of fun. Along with my best friend Jacob, I’ve cultivated a life in which my future is usually comprised of uncertainty, as are all futures in reality. I’ve just grown to dysfunctionally prefer uncertainty, and see normalcy as boring. My bad.

Here I am in Virginia Beach and I’ve taken to cleaning air ducts during the day and trying to cope with it at night. This sort of back-breaking work is something I’ve seen exemplified my entire life, and I realize it has immense value. However true that may be, I can’t help but feeling that this isn’t what I’ve attempted to work towards. While I’m jogging up and down stairs multiple times a workday, I’m often asking myself “If I had to do this forever, could I?” That question just yields sadness because I imagine myself doing that work forever, and then without answering my own question, I silently conclude “I won’t.” Then, I run up and down the stairs a few more times carrying a vacuum, a tool-bag, a ladder, and whatever else we may need. I’m forced in all this, to make sense of everyday life and hopefully to even enjoy it. After all, I can’t escape my overly analytical self, or my intense set of emotions. So I’m working hard to catch up with the life I’m already living on a daily basis.

And what I’m finding, is that I cannot make sense of my everyday existence as quickly as it happens. I must work, I must eat, I must sleep, and I don’t have time to write about every occurrence or poeticize reality in real time. This is exactly the opposite of college and seminary, times when I was able to absorb information, take a job a few hours a week, and process life into meaningful abstractions like a machine. 

My assumption up until this point has been that I will not be happy unless my life makes sense. This is a very simple assumption that I’m now working overtime to shed. After all, I’ve met some emotionally thriving dogs, as well as very intelligent and emotionally deprived professors. Emotional intelligence is it’s own form, and a beast to be reckoned with at that. Simply knowing what chemical creates happiness doesn’t fire them off, assuming you aren’t using drugs, which isn’t sustainable in most cases, or good, arguably. 

But, laughter has come to me and beauty has surprised me. I’ve begun to be forced by the constraints of a workday to search for goodness within what I’m doing. Sometimes, while unclogging a dryer-vent, I find myself unable to move while wet lint is being slung at my face. Once, so much lint came out of a dryer-vent that we had to cover nearby vehicles with a drop-cloth. Needless to say, we were also covered in lint. I’ve been forced to crawl under muddy decks, or into spider-infested crawl spaces. At other times, I have been in an attic for 30 to 40 minutes on a day in mid July with Wilbur, my coworker. This generates anger, delirium, laughter, and then camaraderie in that exact order. The odd thing about terrible experiences, is that during them, I always want to escape. But, the moment I've have found my freedom, I feel proud. Of course, this is because I will have survived without a fatal spider bite or a fatal mud-knee syndrome, whatever that would be. I think this is the way most people feel. As long as suffering has a clear end, that does not extend into your future affairs, you would not undo any hardship. Of course there is PTSD, and other regrettable situations brought about by war or disease, which should not be trivialized. 

Then there is Wilbur, and that of course is not his real name, but he asked me not to use it, and I wish there were more people named Wilbur.

Wilbur has been through much more than most people in his life by his age, which is 23. Wilbur, grew up in Richmond, and became addicted to Heroin as a teenager. He has since, been clean for 2 years, and often refers to situations that remind him of when he “was using”. This experience has made Wilbur a wise man, and suffering such a horrific past has put everything into perspective. His time of drug use was marked by self-hatred, theft, reclusiveness, and more. Now, Wilbur is resolute and has already begun the process of recovery which doesn’t just mean no longer using drugs. It means, revamping his perception of himself, and recreating patterns of life that are responsible, healthy, holistic and ultimately joyful. Wilbur has become an honest, resolute, confident and humble man. I would trust him with anything I have. 

One day, after Wilbur and I spent over an hour in an attic, we finally finished our itchy work. Wilbur’s shirt was as wet as if he had been sprayed with a hose, and so he took it off when we got in the truck. I settled into the back of the truck, facing backwards as we buzzed down the road towards our next job. Then above the diesel roar, I heard something I did not expect… the string section. Wondering why I heard Cellos and Violins, I looked towards the front of the truck to find Wilbur had turned on the Classical radio station. I inquired “Wilbur, did you choose this?”, to which he said “Yea man, I love Classical music.” This was a matter of fact for him, and he felt no dissonance in this reality, it simply was. So, with his shirt off, and a cigarette hanging from his lips, 23 year old Wilbur navigated us down the road to the sounds century-old compositions and traffic. Smoke was floating past his face in the truck cab, and in that moment, I was captured. 

All of the events that had led this young man and myself to this moment, were incalculable. I could not quantify or make sense of the moment, but I almost cried and then I laughed. Sure, smoke isn’t good for your lungs, but its better than Heroin, and it floats through the air with such disinterested grace. I don’t know why Wilbur likes Classical music, but it was something I never would’ve guessed. It is extremely particular. In that precise moment, I knew it did not matter that I could not make sense of it's history, or even ask and answer the right questions quickly enough to define it. It was just a time, and it was the truth of Wilbur and I’s particular stories intersecting.

Beauty is not only symmetry and cultivation, it also has something to do with strangeness. Oddness and Beauty have their unusual nature in common, they are striking and rare. This moment with Wilbur was beautiful and rare, and I knew it was beyond me to understand it, but not to experience it. 

So, life is happening, it is unraveling in fascinating and particular ways. Reality is constantly being lived, and only becoming a “story" as it dissolves into the past.  These particularities are only shocking or fascinating because they do not fit into our categories neatly. One of the undeniable values of "being present" as all our yoga-masters are encouraging, is that we are faced with a complex reality. Categories are helpful because we need to survive, but they also inhibit our ability to take life as it sometimes comes. I guess all I’m saying is, shed categories when possible, embrace confusion because it is unavoidable, welcome strangeness because it is real, enjoy particularity, glean from suffering and learn to recognize beauty. Even if it doesn’t make sense.

Good Work

    While living in Boulder, CO, I made a pair of sandals. It was one of the most exciting parts of my summer. I made them using a foam mat from Home Depot, a rubber mat from an undisclosed location, and 2 leather belts. I cut the foam to fit my foot, and sewed the leather straps in-between the foam and rubber layers with dental floss. Sewing with dental floss is a technique I learned from my best friend Jacob. 

    Upon seeing my sandals, people's first reaction was much like I imagine yours is: "man! you should sell those!" But, just as it had never crossed my mind to sell them, it had never crossed most of my friend's minds to make their own shoes. The mindset to make, vs. the mindset to buy (and in turn sell) is a mindset I've tried to cultivate, although I still enjoy a brand new … whatever. There is something about growing up where I did, in this part of Virginia that is still so closely connected with it's roots. Something that says your first instinct when something is broken should be to fix it, or make a new one. My pawpaw speaks of a time when he and his father had to make woodworking tools before they could build anything. Imagine that, even the tools had to be made. 

    I will most likely never sell a pair of sandals and this is no shame! I just don't see sandal making as my primary vocation. Besides that, my fingers were bleeding and my back was sore after nearly 10 hours of work for 2 shoes. I'm currently sitting a desk I made myself, next to an old chest I converted into a guitar amp. Should I sell guitar amps made from old luggage cases and fold-away desks? I have no desire to. In fact, I have no real desire to go out trying to sell anything. I only want to because I'd like to have children one day, and I have to convince a woman that I can help feed them somehow. 

    But, here is the scariest part about my sandals, people often describe them as looking real. "Man! Those look like real sandals!" What a terrifying compliment. Because, it remains within the power of some unknown hands to make shoes that look "real". Someone outside of our everyday lives dictates what counts as "real", or "homemade", while at some point in our human history, everything "real" was homemade. 

    The gap between the goods that make up our everyday lives, and the people (or machines) that make those goods, has disheartened us and we don't even know it. When a person creates something, it reflects them, their hands, their personality, their flaws and their whole self in undetectable ways. Wendell Berry says "The body characterizes everything it touches. What it makes it traces over with the marks of it's pulses and it's breathings, its excitements, hesitations, flaws, and mistakes. And to those of us who love and honor the life of the body in this world, these marks are precious things, necessities of life." 

    It is bold of Wendell Berry to say that these "marks" are necessities of life. Especially considering the fact that most of us live without any personal touch of creativity. If those marks are necessities, I wonder if we're actually living? I would say partially.

        I work at an elementary school. Children draw things for me all the time, just to make something of their own. There is no Hallmark store for them to stop in, they have 3 minutes to tell their new favorite substitute they love him, what do they use? Whatever they've got. Aside from that, I watch kids make things all day. They collect bobby pins and hang them on a twig, or shape their pepperonis into semi-recognizable faces. We stop that as adults - and I can detect two reasons from everyday observation, but help me if you notice something else. The first is this: children simply have space to create because all their needs are met. Creativity requires patience, time and energy. When you're being fed, clothed and cared for, you can direct your energy towards creative endeavors. Everyday life is being forced upon you, and that reality provides material for creative interpretation. The need to escape or make sense of everyday life motivates and funds creativity. Secondly, when you get older there is no apparent need for you to create. Our everyday experience encourages us to buy a pair shoes, birthday cards, meals, cars, houses and everything else, all ready-made. What you have doesn't matter, your skill is unneeded because whatever it is you make, is made better by someone else. 

    As a child I remember being terrified of getting older. I watched my father wake up every morning at 6 am, grunting under his breath as he embarked on 8-12 hour day of "working for someone else", as he often called it. I remember asking my mom why people exchanged money for groceries. It didn't seem natural to me as a child, for money to mediate the interaction. It looked foreign, it didn't match up with my understanding of humans in other contexts such as at home or church. What does money have to do with food, especially among friends? We are literally letting the government get in the middle of nearly every transaction we make. There is a rant here, but I won't take it. 

    As I began to understand the implications of getting older, the beauty in the world seemed like a distant front. It was a wall on one end of my life. Somehow it was a part of me, but not me. Then on one end of my life was what I dreaded in my future, but must what be done. My family (lovingly) encouraged me to work hard, to prepare to grow up so I could pay rent, pay for a car, health insurance, etc… But, what if that impulse as a 16 year old in my first ice-cream store job that said "man, I hate doing this sort of work", was actually a beneficial impulse. What if it wasn't laziness, but rather healthy disgust? What if some work should not be done because it is harmful work? I'm sure 100 people can come up with 100 different examples as to what harmful work may be. In my case I might say it was refilling vending machines - a job I loathed. Perhaps for someone else it is retail work, or waiting tables. We are told that it is good to work at something you don't love. I understand this in general, I've done some manual labor I didn't love, but I didn't feel that it robbed my soul of light. There is a difference between doing hard work, and doing harmful work. 

    Where does that leave me now? Well, I' trying to figure it out. I have lived in a van, and spent months at a time with little to no money. While I must admit I have been stressed about finances at times, I have also lead a very happy life up to this point. 

       Recently, one of my best friends told me that she doesn't write a book because she doesn't know how to publish it or market it, or blah blah blah etc… This friend of mine is incredible with words. She wields them like a welder with his electric arc, she can instantly bind an idea together in the air, she wins every argument, reads books overnight, and can lift you up from the decomposing soil of despair with but a few words. Yet, here she is keeping her gift from the world because she doesn't know how to fit it into the current scheme of goods and services that invades every moment of our day. The absurdity of this is apparent. We can never have enough beauty, art, truth-telling, or honest expression. 

    Imagine the zombie apocalypse finally ensued, and you and your children were stuck with my unnamed friend on an island with no money. Suddenly the skill to express oneself deeply by way of language, would be more valuable than the skill to sell that art form into the circus of the so called "free market". The art would outweigh its sale price for you and your uneducated children. I've used the zombie apocalypse as an example because it is easier to see. The stakes need not be so high. It is valuable for you and your children to know that stories come from people, as well as shoes, and furniture, songs, houses, clothes and everything else. It is valuable to know that the power to create the world around you is in your hands.

    Perhaps it is too much to say, and may seem like an aside. But, as a man who still believes in God, I wonder if our agnosticism and doubt towards God's creative influence in the universe is connected in any way to our lack of understanding in regards to how things in our everyday lives are made? If we do not know who made our shoes, how much more impossible is it to know, or even believe anything around us was created? The world around us seems to pop up, the shoes appear on the shelves along with the tomatoes and dogs in the puppy mill. Nothing is made, it just is. 

    This may seem like another aside - but I've made an album of music. If I become famous or not, it does not matter, because I have cast my vote in the world. If you want to listen to it, that'd be great. 

    

My last moments in California

    So, I've made it to Boulder after what seemed like one hundred goodbye-meals and the mourning of one million tiny losses, immeasurable losses that I will not recognize the absence of for years to come I am sure. The process of leaving California allowed me to extract all the best of my life there. Those pleasures are enough to keep a man in one place for too long, and I had to constantly remind myself this past month why I was leaving.

     But January was incredible because it was a time of leaving, suspending my life between the knowledge of a place which only time can provide and the enchantment that only taking off can actualize. Just as you see your hometown anew from the sky the first time you leave in a plane, I saw my friends, the kids at work, and the city from an affectionate distance. I skateboarded down El Molino Avenue for the last time, more observant of each crack in the asphalt, more aware of each magnolia tree's scent. I muttered "goodbye" under my breath to strangers I see each day but never speak with and the gas station I walk by each day.

     My last day at work was the best day I've ever experienced at any place of employment. Here are a few stories.

     I wore my favorite shirt to work instead of my usual blue polo uniform. My favorite shirt has small foxes in dapper attire, and each fox has a small tobacco pipe in it's mouth. The print is so small it's hard to make out, but of course one girl named Isabella discovered the tobacco pipes and asked "Mr. Aaron, why are those foxes smoking a pipe!" At this, I realized I'd made a mistake by wearing the shirt in front of the kids so I placed my finger across my lips and said "shhhh!" Isabella, a very bright young girl, understood I needed to cover up my mistake and loudly quipped "Mr. Aaron, why are those foxes drinking air through a straw?"

     Another girl named Kennedy, who refuses to call me "Mr." interrupted our reading time and said "Aaron, can I ask you a question?" With lenience I gave in, "yes…" and Kennedy asked "So, Eve and Adam were the first people right?" I said "Yes, according to the bible." She then asked "So… why is Mrs. Obama called the 'First Lady'?" In my opinion, no answer is sufficient for that question.

     Every answer questions the validity of a question, and sometimes ruins it, especially the questions children ask. I'm sure in time Kennedy won't ask why a person has the title they have, and it is better to ask than not to care. So, if by not answering I allow the spirit of the mystery to remain, I think I extend the life of her childhood. Of course you can say I should have used the opportunity to teach her something, but I also just don't know the answer.

     My boss and friend Irene had shifted the schedule for the day 5 minutes ahead to create time for a surprise party. 5 minutes isn't enough time for an adult to have a party, but 5 minutes with 60 elementary students is an eternity of fun and laughter. As Irene entered the gymnasium, surprising me with a cake the 2nd grader, Esmeralda, threw her arms around my neck in celebration. I was sitting crossed-legged on the floor as we do at the end of each day when Esmeralda accosted me. Wesley, the boy on my other side, followed Esmeralda's example instead of mine, rejecting the rules and hugged me from the other side. This initiated a barrage of children piling on top of me, tugging at my clothes, laughing and hugging me without order. It was a blessed disobedience and I think even my boss and co-workers understood that for a moment the children were in charge and nothing could be done but to laugh with them. I heard my boss eventually commanding the kids "back in 3 lines!", but she let it go on long enough to make everyone happy. I don't know if I've ever felt a more pure love.

     As for the time with my friends, I had two going away parties, one planned and the other given in my honor by Jon and Janna Ziegler. At my going away party I requested that my friends give me my first crowd surfing experience, and they did. IT was a freezing party, and it tested the fortitude of my friendships to ask people to eat chips and salsa in the cold. The second party consisted of 12 friends in Jon and Janna's studio apartment. Jon and Janna made more than enough Mediterranean to feed us all - homemade hummus, yogurt, rice pilaf, chicken and pita bread. Jon prayed for the food by saying "God, you hate us… why are taking Aaron away from us?" No one knew how to handle his opening line at first, but we all decided laughter was appropriate. Jon then thanked God for humor, and of course for food.

     Against the better judgement of my family and friends I found a girl from Craigslist to ride with me from Los Angeles to Boulder. She was completely delightful. She helped my pay for gas, bought me a meal, and we talked about God, love and life with ease. As my friend Kegan sarcastically remarked "Hi! I'm Aaron Randolph, and when I take risks it tends to work out well for me!" I believe this to be God's grace, and until I'm dead on the roadside, I will still believe it. Even then I'll be eternally united with Jesus, and that will be a blessing.

     Upon my arrival I was greeted by enough snow to make someone from Virginia Beach cry. Jacob and I went tubing down a mountain at midnight and ice collected in my hair and beard while burning my face. I didn't notice though because we were laughing so hard. Here I sit in a coffee-shop, praying for a job, and hoping for the best. Amen.

Rain in the Desert

    As I write this, I'm riding a bus from Los Angeles to Phoenix Arizona. From Phoenix I plan to take a shuttle to Prescott, where I used to live. I'm reading Frederick Buechner's autobiography "The Sacred Journey", and in it he describes what it's like to attempt to make meaning of God's voice, or even to know if God's voice is what we're hearing. 

     He says: "To try to express in even the most insightful and theologically sophisticated terms the meaning of what God speaks through the events of our lives, is as precarious a business as to try to express the meaning of the sound of rain on the roof or the spectacle of the setting sun. But I chose to believe he speaks nonetheless"

     As Buechner notes, it is through events that God speaks to us, and it's funny that he would mention rain on a roof. I live in Los Angeles, and it doesn't rain very often there. If anyone has ever slept under a tin roof, or silently sat in a parked car as it rains, they know the beauty of it's unpredictable pattering. It is interesting how humans derive meaning from things that do not necessarily contain meaning in their own right, such as the sound of rain. I don't know exactly how we discover this meaning, but because we often hold the same meanings for things, I'm led to believe we undergo a similar process to forge them. 

     I mentioned living in Los Angeles because it finally rained the other night. In my van; a thin, steel, shell, the rain was incredibly loud. Of course, my head is only 2 feet from the roof, and the walls, so maybe it's like sleeping in an attic during the rain. Anyhow, my first thought when I woke up was a memory! I awoke with my father's words ringing through my mind. He once told me that he loved to hear the sound of rain on a tin roof, and I believe (if my memory serves me well) that one of the farm houses in which he grew up, had a tin roof. He always closes his eyes and cocks his head diagonally to emphasize something particularly meaningful. Then he adds some rasp and a bit of volume to the word "love", and like that he transports you into his own past. My dad enjoys telling stories, and generally enjoys life, so they're easy to listen to. 

     Perhaps it is from my father that I inherited a love for rain's pattering. Either way, I felt comforted, it felt like a new beginning for Los Angeles. The fact that I was so close to the rain, and yet completely dry, emphasized my safety. I awoke to find the sky visibly more clear. Even the children I work with noticed the sky was more clear.

     Now, as I ride through the desert in this charter bus, I have the rare experience of seeing the desert while it rains. I did not grow up knowing what a desert was like, or thinking it was beautiful in any way, but I know this must be the beauty. I feel like I'm witnessing a marriage proposal, it is rare, it is romantic, it only happens once in a relationship, and it changes things for many years to come. Like that, the rain has met the dry places, and I know the plants are rejoicing. Want to know how I know?

     I once spent a lot of time with a good man named Todd. He loved the desert more than anyone I'd ever met. He had a bicycle with one of those baby trailers on the back which he would load with supplies and then leave for weeks to be in the desert. This was when I lived in Prescott Arizona. I once asked Todd about a tattoo he has on his stomach. The tattoo reads "One Man" in a semi-circle around his belly button. In the middle of the circle there is a clenched fist. Todd told me it was inspired by Jesus, and the difference one person can make on this earth. I was astonished because I had no idea Todd even cared about Jesus. He eventually told me that Jesus was also his inspiration for spending so much time in the desert. He simply wanted to experience what Jesus experienced. Todd assumed this was a good means by which to know Jesus. What a thought, simply doing what Jesus did. 

    Anyway, Todd would give me this plant called creosote, which he acquired in the desert. He gave it to me because my shoes always smell bad, and creosote will completely remove the smell for weeks. By simply putting the leaves in your shoes as you wear them for a few hours, your shoes will be entirely without scent. It is incredible. creosote has a very distinct smell, and when our bus to Phoenix stopped, I smelt it so strongly in the air, so distinctly, and I figured that was the plants way of rejoicing on account of the rain. It was an odor, but it felt like I was listening to the plants singing a proud and excited song.

When I Was Hungry

    About one month ago my directly-withdrawn undergrad loan payment was subtracted from my account. The trouble with this that I did not anticipate it, I thought the payment would be consolidated with my grad school payment. This left me suddenly broke, with a total of $17.72. Naturally, I was terrified to spend this money in case some emergency should arise that $17.72 could have cured (Don't worry I have since received a paycheck). 

     With such a lack of funds, I had little to no money for food. All of the other seemingly necessary bills such as car insurance, plane tickets for Christmas vacation, and loan payments suddenly seem unimportant in the face of hunger. I believe God saw this need as an opportunity to demonstrate His excitement to take care of me. 

     The first meal I received was with a friend named Pat who'd invited me to go surfing. I arrived at his house that morning and he'd made healthy breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast. He did not know I had no food, or that I was more excited about breakfast than surfing. That morning I noticed how my inability to contribute to breakfast made it more difficult to accept the food without worrying. Normally, I would accept food without thinking twice, because I didn't need it. In that moment though, there was this haunting thought that I was secretly dependent on someone's kindness, and that I could not return the favor. I had a great time with Pat. 

     The next evening I was walking around Fuller's campus contemplating $1 hotdogs because they provide the most food for the least cost. My mother would be so unhappy about this choice. However, I was very hungry and I wasn't considering nutrition. While aimlessly walking I ran into my friends Keisha and Kofi. The conversation eventually turned to me revealing that I live in a van. This inevitably invites a barrage of well-deserved questions. Where do you shower? Where do you poop? Are you cold at night? How do you eat? To this last question I reply "I generally eat foods that don't need cooking like trail mix, granola bars, peanut butter and jelly, fruits and vegetables." They then ask when I last had a hot meal, which had been about a week prior. Keisha and Kofi invited me to eat with them at a nearby restaurant that night. That day I'd eaten the last of my bread and some dried pineapple, making my hamburger at the restaurant fast like a miracle. What's more is that I got to know Keisha and Kofi. 

    This sort of occurrence began to happen so consistently I could've relied on it each day. I began to be offered food every day, so much so that I started to write it down in a log. 

  1. Fri - Breakfast with Pat

  2. Sat - Dinner with K and K

  3. Sun - Lunch with Caleb, Dinner with Fuller Art's Collective

  4. Mon - Pasta with Evan

  5. Tues - Lunch with Andrew, Tacos with Keiichi

  6. Wed - Free Subway at work

  7. Thurs - Lunch with Jon and Janna

  8. Fri - Dinner with Chris' family, Art gave me 2 sandwiches on the street.

  9. Sat - Brat wurst with Jordan

 

     This list does not encompass each provision or meal, these were just the meals that happened to come when I needed them but hadn't asked. Jon and Janna offer me food 2 or 3 times a week, and I share with them when I have the means. Another friend lets me help in unloading a food truck every Tuesday for a food-distribution and I take a large box of amazing food home. 

     Tuesday Nov 5th marked the end of me being entirely broke. On this day I was paid, and went to the bank to open an account. Somehow, I left the bank with half an egg-salad sandwich from one of the tellers. As I skated away she says "I hope you like Avocado and Tomato!" Even better! That same night, I brought a box of eggs to a family as a contribution for an upcoming camping trip. I'd never met the family but know one of their daughters. I shouldn't have been surprised however, when they invited me to eat dinner; an offer I've learned to accept. It was so refreshing to spend time with a family rather than a bunch of people my age. We prayed before we ate, I had some wine, cake, pasta, orange juice, salad, and more cake. 

     When someone offers me food I listen to them, I perceive them differently because they've won me over in an expedited fashion. The communal nature of food is the best part of this entire story. My reservations about getting to know people must be forgotten when a meal is shared. I imagine this is why Jesus decided to spend his last earthly moments eating with his best friends. This is why I consider all these people to be such wonderful friends, even if I haven't known them very long. 

The Beginning of an Unconventional Life

  I live a somewhat unconventional life, although there are people who inspire me who are much more eccentric. My lifestyle does afford some surprising, wonderful and hilarious stories so I've decided to share.

     I am tempted to say I "live" in a van, but this is not entirely accurate, I would say instead I sleep and store my things in a van, but I live among and within the hospitality of the people around me. Let me explain how I got here.

     When I enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary in December of 2011, I first had the idea of living in a vehicle to save money. As a naive young man with no student loan experience, I called the financial aid office wondering if I was allowed to purchase an RV with the money they would give me for living expenses. Little did I know, I did not need to ask how I could spend my money. It's amazing how much loan-money students waste on frappuccinos, tattoos and expensive deli sandwiches.

     Anyway, when I came to school here in Pasadena, Ca (a suburb of Los Angeles), I brought a one-person tent, a bicycle, and three bags of clothing. I put the bicycle in a box and when I arrived at LAX I sat outside the airport for a while on the curb with my bike, wondering how to get to the hotel I'd reserved. Once I figured that out, I got to my hotel room and assembled my bicycle in a mixture of lonely and excited emotions. I'd only planned for one night's accommodations, and otherwise I was planning on being homeless.

     The next morning I woke up, packed all my belongings on my bicycle and rode the bike from LAX to Pasadena. It was a Sunday, and my seminary of course, was closed. I spent that day with nothing to do, so I went to Panera and sat there the ENTIRE day, morning to night. This was the most terrifying day of my life. I knew no one, I had no place to live and on top of all that, southern California had failed it's reputation for good weather and provided me cold, drizzling rain.

     I look back on all this and wonder why? Why was I determined to live this way, to make it hard on myself? I'm sure my family and friends have wondered this as well. I would most likely explain to you in financial terms, i.e., not having enough money to afford housing. This however is not entirely true because I really didn't have money to go to grad school in the first place, it was all loans. Additionally, the money I saved on rent I spent on Dr. Pepper in my first year of seminary.

     The real reason for putting myself through such hardship is an insatiable desire to test my limits, and perhaps to test God's. I have always felt that doing things the normal way was flawed. I live with the underlying suspicion that the masses always make stupid choices and I need to personally test the alternatives. Housing? Who needs it? Armed with stories like Mark Twain's Roughing It, and Elizabeth Gilbert's The Last American Man, I decided to join the ranks of wild men. I rode all around Pasadena on my bike searching for places to put my tent without getting caught. I turns out even LA's suburbs are relentless compared to Virginia Beach, where I grew up. There is no unused, unmonitored space.

     Meanwhile I was sleeping in a hotel room and riding my bike to school, wasting $60 a night on sleeping for three nights. At school I'd met another student who offered to let me sleep on his floor. He rented a room at half price while the manager of his apartment looked for someone to share his room with him. So, without informing his landlord, I began renting half of his half, making our rent about $150 a month each. Of course, the apartment was awful, but it was cheap, and I was out of the rain. According to the locals it rained more that winter than it ever rained in Pasadena! I am meant to rely on my community. Joey became one of my best friends in life, and always will be. Living with Joey was the beginning of my realization that I am not made to live the life of some tough, loner.