Monday, March 30, 2015

5 Reasons Doing PSEO Was One of the Best Decisions I've Ever Made

1. Escape from high school

Having to ask to go to the bathroom, being forced to get up at 6:30 a.m., only having one choice for lunch, getting in trouble with your parents if you skip class, and riding the bus with thirteen year olds. That's high school, not college. In college you can usually get up and leave class no questions asked, you can sleep in until 30 minutes before the earliest class you scheduled for yourself, there is a multitude of lunch options, you could never go to class and your parents would never be called, and seeing people under the age of 18 at school is very rare. There are so many freedoms available in college that it makes high school look like prison. (Read my post about reasons college is better than high school.) And if your 4 year sentence could be lifted 2 years early then why not take it?

2. Exposure to college atmosphere

Not only do you get to escape the boredom of high school, but you get the rare opportunity to see what college is like before you are thrown into it with no idea what you are doing. PSEO provides a more gentle transition. You get to see what college professors are like, get your textbooks, experience daytime college life, roam a college campus, do college level work, and meet college students. But at the same time you don't have to worry about paying for it all, you don't have roommate troubles (unless you live on campus), you can take a reduced load without risking not graduating on time, you can keep your ties to your high school friends, and you have your parents to help you along the way. Then when the time comes for you to actually go off the college you may very well be a pro (especially if you end up going to the college you took PSEO classes at).

3. Money, money, money

Sticker price, tuition at my school (University of Northwestern - St. Paul) is $28,390. Look, I don't have that kind of money in my change jar or even in my savings account (17 years of birthday money, 1 year of PCA work, and 2 years of tutoring people in math don't get you that much). Multiply that by the 5 years it'll take me to get my bachelor's in pastoral ministry and my master's of  divinity degree and you'll get... a heart attack. That's not even including room and board, meal plans, parking permits, dorm furnishings, or textbooks. College is expensive. This isn't news. Getting in anywhere from a semester to a year of free college can save you tons of money. Also, if it convinces you to do PSEO you can make yourself your parent's new favorite child (I know I am #1 now. That's a joke - anyone who knows me knows I am an only child.). Put it into perspective... even $30,000 saved in tuition is huge. With that money you could buy a brand new Dodge Challenger or 42 Samsung 1080p HD LED 50" Smart TVs or over 6 thousand venti White Chocolate Mochas from Starbucks or 25,000 tacos from Taco Bell or sponsor 3 children (from the time they are born to the time they become adults) through Compassion and give them nearly $100 every Christmas. I'm telling you PSEO can save you SO much money.

4. Chance to start working towards your future

If you are anything like you me you hate the idea of wasting your valuable time learning calculus. I am an impatient person and I'll bet you are too. Personally, I want to go out into the world and start a church. I want to lead people to Christ and I want to do it now. I need to educated and prepared but that doesn't have to wait until I am almost 19. I am doing it all now so I will have a master's degree and be ready to start proclaiming the name of Jesus for a living when I am 21. Whatever your dream is, you can start working towards it up to 2 years sooner by doing PSEO.

5. Ability to test the waters of a certain college

If there is a certain college you want to go to, doing PSEO there will give you a good idea if it is truly the place for you. Before you move in and start paying tuition for something you may not like, PSEO gives you the opportunity to try a college out with only a semester commitment. If it isn't for you, then move on to another college.

Note to those who have been scared of PSEO because of their schools...
A majority of schools see you as money. You are worth several thousand dollars of funding. If you choose to do PSEO, they get very little money for you. This is why so many teachers and administrators try to scare students away from PSEO. They want their money. Sure, some students do best in high school but if you have the support of your parents, you are informed, and you are willing to work then don't let anyone try and stop you from saving yourself that cash, testing out those waters, fleeing high school, entering college life, and working towards your dreams!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

All the Same: Follow up article on "Different Worlds, Same City"

The central lessons found in "Different Worlds, Same City" include...
1. We all have struggles
2. Our struggles are often different from those of others around us (for better or worse)
3. We are more similar to one another than we are different.

When we first read Angie's story we think she has no problems. But then as we progress through we learn that she grew up in a lower income home, she doesn't know her father, and her mother died two months ago. Then during the story her boyfriend dumps her on her birthday. We don't see the struggles at first but as we get to know her we start to see them. This is often how it is with our own relationships. When we first meet someone we often think they have no problems but only once we spend time around them and start asking questions do we discover the truth: we are all the same in at least one way. We all have struggles. We see this also happen with Mandy. Although we read early on that she has struggles. In the first few paragraphs we discover that she is homeless but it's more than that. She isn't just the homeless person many people wrongly picture as typical - drinking alcohol and being too lazy to get a job or a home for themselves. Mandy is hardworking and is fiercely trying to get a job. During her conversation with Angie we learn that Mandy did nothing to deserve the homelessness situation she is in. The reason she is homeless because her father was abusive and her mother died too. Even the people we think are perfect and have no problems have their own struggles if only we care enough to ask..

While Angie gets up in her warm, soft bed, Mandy was getting up off the cold, hard ground. This simple fact goes to show that not everyone has the same struggles. Mandy's problems include joblessness and homelessness. Angie's problems include loss of the man she loves and the recent death of her mother. Everyone's story is made up of different problems. Some struggle with their weight, others struggle with being bullied. Some struggle with depression, others struggle with finding a job. Some struggle with infertility, others struggle with abuse. We all have struggles but they are not all the same.

Some struggles are similar. Many of us struggle with lack of purpose, fear, inequality, trust issues, poor self-image, lack of courage, inferiority, bitterness, anger, sadness, and uncertainty. In many ways we are more similar than we are different. Tenth Avenue North's song "All the Same"  speaks to this. Mandy and Angie are similar in many ways. They both have needs - physical, mental, social, and spiritual ones. They want and need friends, support, care, and love. Mandy and Angie also have basic needs - a job, a home, food, and warmth. Mandy had spent 2 years worrying over how she would be seen. If people would understand that she was just like them. That even though she was homeless she was still just like them. Angie was one of the few people to take the time to find out who she was on the inside. As human beings, we have so many similarities to each other.

In conclusion, "Different Worlds, Same City" teaches us 3 basic lessons. We all have struggles but your struggles will not be the same as your neighbors. Everyone's problems are different but in many ways, we are all similar to one another.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Different Worlds, Same City: The Story of Two Women

"Different Worlds, Same City" is a fictional short story of two young women and it is written from their different perspectives. I was inspired to write this because of the mission trips I have been on to New Orleans and Dallas, and also a meeting with a fellow sister in Christ a few weeks ago. I hope you enjoy it!

"This is going to be an incredible day", thought Angie as she awoke. It was Angie's birthday and she had a wonderful day planned. She'd taken the day off of work for the first time in months. She was going out to breakfast with her best friend Stacy at the local diner. Then they were going on shopping at Hillsdale Mall. Later that night she had a date with her boyfriend Jared. Her greatest birthday yet was just on the horizon and she couldn't wait for all the day would hold.

Mandy woke up to the sound of an ambulance screeching nearby. She was cold when she awoke. Most people were grateful for the winter coming. It meant Thanksgiving feasts, snowfall, holiday shopping, baking Christmas cookies, and ice skating season was close. But winter was always a miserable time for Mandy. It had been for years.

She met Stacy an hour later at the restaurant. Stacy greeted her with a huge hug and a gift bag in her hand. The two girls chose a booth by the window. Angie ordered an omelet, hash browns, and fresh fruit. Stacy ordered chocolate chip pancakes. While they waited on their food Angie opened her gift from Stacy. Brown leather boots. The exact ones she'd seen and loved when shopping with Stacy just one week before. "How perfect!" Angie exclaimed. She loved them. Shortly after she opened her gift their food arrived  to their table.

Mandy had $4.36 in her pocket. Just enough for a little breakfast out. She walked to the gas station nearby and got a cup of warm coffee for 99 cents, an apple for 69 cents, and a muffin for 99 cents. She purchased her food and went to go sit on a bench to eat her meal.

Angie and Stacy left the diner and headed for the mall. After several hours of shopping the girls headed back to Angie's apartment. 

"You bought 3 dresses all of which were on sale Ang. You shouldn't be so uptight about spending the money. It is your birthday", Stacy said. 

"I guess not but you know me. I didn't grow up having a lot. Spending $100 even on my birthday is a lot", Angie explained. 

"I know. But Ang, you do so much at the school that you deserve a little something extra just for you. It is your 25th birthday after all", Stacy encouraged. 

Angie hesitantly replied, "well... I guess I don't have any dresses and they are beautiful. I am definitely going to wear one of them on my date tonight. Now the only problem is this: what should I wear to my date?"

After Mandy finished her meal, she went to the homeless shelter nearby. The sign at the bank said that it was Tuesday. That meant the showers were open and so was the clothing bank. She walked the six short blocks to the shelter. The shelters were bursting at the seams. She had stayed there two weeks before, meaning that she would need to wait another two weeks before she could go back since it was so full. Still, the showers were open to everyone. She got in the women's line, which looked to be about 20 people long. She talked to Dominique who was in line in front of her. 

"How's the job hunt Mandy?", she asked. 

"Well, I went door to door last week but then my good jacket got stolen and I missed the last shower day so I haven't been looking the past few days. I've been waiting to hit the showers again and I also need to find some new clothes if I am going to be considered by anyone", Mandy responded. 

Dominique laughed her usual raspy laugh. "Well, good luck girl. You're going to need it. I still think you're crazy. I've been on the streets for 10 years and I went to 104 businesses during my first two years and nothing. Not one ever even interviewed me. Soon as they find out you're homeless they give up on you. They think you're going to steal from 'em or something." 

"I still have to try Dominique", Mandy smiled.

About forty minutes later she got a shower. The water wasn't warm by that point but she still was grateful to shower. Afterwards, she went next door to the clothing bank. Now her only problem was this: what should she wear on her job hunt? 

Angie looked at her 3 new dresses. One was lilac with beautiful lilies on it, the second was long and dark blue, and the third was green and simple but gorgeous. Stacy left for the hospital after getting a call from her mom saying that her sister had gone into labor. Angie loved Stacy's sister very much and wanted to go with but Stacy insisted that she stay and get ready for her date. Now she sat alone trying to decide what dress to wear. Jared had called her and asked if he could pick her up at 6:00 instead of 5:00. Jared seemed kind of nervous. They had been seeing each other for nearly two years and lately he'd seemed like he was planning something. Angie wondered if maybe he had planned to propose. The idea of that both excited her and made her sad. Her mother, whom she had always been close to, had died the previous summer. She couldn't imagine her mom not helping her through the whole process of planning a wedding like she always thought would happen.

Every time the bank was open you were able to get two things. Since her jacket had been stolen she would want a new one since the winter weather was creeping in. She was able to find a blue one. It was two sizes too big but it was pretty nice. It must have just been added. Otherwise, someone would have taken this gem. Her shirt was old and faded and starting to tear. She couldn't go to businesses like that and expect employment. So she went to the section where they kept the tops. The selection was pretty picked over but she found a dark blue polo. It was technically a men's shirt but it was the thing that looked the most professional. So she checked out and then went to the bathroom to change. Now, she looked like she was dressed for success. Destiny was waiting for her right around the corner.

Angie eventually chose the green dress and decided it would look wonderful with her new boots Stacy got her. It was only 3:30 so she decided to drive over to the hospital. It was a beautiful day and the birds were chirping so it wasn't a surprise that Stacy chose to wait outside while she waited for her niece to be born. But then as Angie approached she could see something was wrong. 

"Stacy, what's wrong?", Angie asked in concern. 

"Hope was born but she is blind", she said and began to sob. "Oh Ang, she'll never see the blue birds or the wind sway the trees. She'll never know what I look like. She'll never see the beauty of a lake or a mountain. She won't even know what her own mother looks like." 

Angie soothed her friend and led her to a bench. She hugged her close and comforted her. "Stacy, have I told you about Maurice?", Angie asked softly. 

"Of course. He's your favorite student", Stacy said, obviously confused. 

"He's deaf but he sees the world through a different lens. He sees his deafness as an advantage. He doesn't have to listen to the noise of the world. Instead, he hears God. Maybe Hope will be able to use her blindness for a greater purpose and she can hold a different perspective than others." 

"Angie, what I would do without you", Stacy sniffled.

Mandy spent the afternoon and evening inquiring about open positions to every business she could. Every shopkeeper said they had no openings. Most would ask for a phone number to call if positions opened up. This was always a dreaded question because there were always ways of getting out of telling potential employers you had no home but that request always made people wonder. How do you tell someone you have absolutely no way of contacting anyone - no email, phone number, no address? It's not that she was ashamed of being homeless. It's just that she wanted people to see her as more than just a homeless person. She wanted them to see Mandy, not another Homeless Person.

Around 5:00 she went home and got ready for her date. She was still worried about Stacy and her sister but Stacy practically kicked her out of the hospital. "You'll be late for your date!", Stacy cried out as she looked at the clock. Angie showered, got dressed, applied her makeup, and fixed her hair. Jared arrived right on time. As she went to answer the door she wondered what this evening would hold for her.

As she approached the last business she planned to go to she sat on a bench and prayed silently for ten minutes. She needed a job and she needed one soon. She would not spend another winter out in the cold. When she arose and looked towards the steps of that last business. Between the time she sat and the time she rose the OPEN sign had went out. Mandy went back to the bench, sat down, and began to cry.

Angie had been walking around the park for an hour and a half thinking. Finally, she sat down. Her boyfriend had planned no kind birthday gestures and given no gifts, much less a ring. In fact, as they reached the restaurant Jared just said "I can't do this anymore" and broke up with her right then and there. After that she just walked to the park and had been pacing in circles ever since. Her feet were killing her and she needed to eat something. It had been seven hours since she had last eaten and her stomach was growling. Still, she did not have the energy to hail a cab or walk anywhere. Instead, she just sat down and began to cry.

After a few minutes Mandy regained her composure. She decided she needed something to cheer her up. She was hungry but wanted to save her little money for breakfast. She hadn't been able to ask for money since she had been so busy looking for a job. Maybe tomorrow she would get a little more cash. Instead, she decided to go to one of her favorite places in the city: the park downtown. She loved its fountains, its furry inhabitants, and its people. When she arrived the park seemed quite empty. As she walked around she saw a young woman and she froze. The woman on the bench wore a green dress. Her mother's favorite dress had looked so similar to this one. She stood still for a moment as the memories of her mother flooded her mind. Oh, how she missed her dearly. Finally, she came back to reality. She noticed for the first time that the woman was crying. She started to turn away but as she began to walk away. She knew that she couldn't leave her. So she walked up to her hesitantly.

"Miss?", said a voice. 

Angie looked up in surprise. She had not heard anyone approach. "Oh...hello", Angie mustered.

 "Are you alright?", the voice, which belonged to a black teenage girl, asked. 

"I will be...I just...", she started. 

"You seem pretty upset....Is there something that maybe you might want to talk about?", the girl asked uncertainly. 

"No, I couldn't burden you with my troubles", she said. 

"Miss, my mother once told me that when we share our joys they are doubled and when we share our hurts they are halved", the girl said and sat down beside her.

"What's your name?", Mandy asked the young woman. 

"It's Angela. Call me Angie", the woman replied. 

Mandy was floored. Finally, she got out "that was my mother's name". 

"I don't mean to be forward or anything but... have you lost - or I mean, has your mother passed on too?", Angie asked. 

Mandy tried to hold back tears. "Yes, ma'am. Two years ago next month", Mandy said. 

"Mine too. She passed away two months ago", Angie replied as a tear rolled down her cheek. 

"It's a dreadful thing to lose someone you love", Mandy said. 

"It is indeed", Angie affirmed.

"That's actually what brought me here tonight", Angie sniffled. "My mom always loved this park. She took me here when I was a little girl. I come here now when I have troubles and sometimes I tell her about them...What brought you here tonight? Oh, I am sorry I never caught your name." 

"It's Mandy. I came here to cheer myself up a bit. I'm unemployed."

"Oh, I am so sorry", Angie replied. Then she asked "how long have you been looking if you don't mind me asking?" 

"Well, two years as a matter of fact", Mandy told her. 

"Did you start to look after your mother died?", Angie asked. 

"Yes, I had to drop out of school and support myself", Mandy responded. 

"No other family?", Angie asked incredulously. 

"Nope. My father abused my mom so she left. She was an only child and both of her parents died years ago. No one is left that I know about." The longer this young girl went on the more Angie's heart broke.

"Are you homeless?" 

Mandy could tell the woman was scared to ask this so she answered pleasantly. "Actually, I am." Now Mandy was scared. Would she treat her differently? Would she stop talking to her? What was she thinking? 

"You poor dear. I am pretty hungry. Can I treat you to a pizza?", Angie asked her in the sweetest and most compassionate tone she'd heard out of anyone in weeks. 

At first she didn't know what to say. Then she quickly said yes and thanked her. During the next 20 minutes Angie hailed a cab and they were dropped off at a pizza place. On the way Mandy had asked her about herself. Angie told her of her break up with Jared, of poor Hope, and also about her own mother. Mandy learned that Angie had never known her father. As the girls climbed out of the cab, Mandy's heart fluttered. A sign on the side of the pizza place read HELP WANTED. 

"Angie!", Mandy cried in excitement. "Look!"

"I have even greater news. My uncle owns this place. I didn't know he was hiring but it looks like he is. I am sure I can get you a job here!", Angie practically screamed. 

"Why would you do that for me?", Mandy asked Angie in a confused tone. 

"Because in a lot of ways Mandy you are just like me. And right now you could use job and if I am able to help you then I should. You've already helped me tonight. I should return the favor."

Mandy was shocked. Ever since she had been homeless she had been treated differently by nearly everyone. But Angie treated her like an equal, a friend. Things were looking up. If she could get this job then she could eat 3 meals a day. She could live in an apartment. She could go to the dentist and the doctor when she needed to. She could buy new clothes. She could help her friends. This could make all the difference. Not only that, but she felt as though she'd made a friend. Not just for the night but for life.

Angie hadn't had the birthday she expected. At the end of the night she thought she would have a diamond ring on her finger but instead she had a new friend around the table and a new perspective on life.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Censorship Sucks

Think back to some of the classics you may have read in high school. Books like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck may come to mind. Did you know that all those books have been challenged and, in some cases, banned in public and school libraries? What about other favorites like The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Giver by Lois Lowry, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling? All of them have been challenged or banned before too. Even children’s books like the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Where’s Waldo? (yes, I am serious) by Martin Hanford, and even the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park have been challenged or banned.

For decades books have been challenged. While many are simply left alone, books are too often removed from libraries so people can no longer read them. Not only does this limit citizen’s choices, but their choices are limited by the thoughts of a minority. The banning of books causes censorship of author’s ideas, which is a right given to people in the Bill of Rights – the freedom of speech. Silencing authors results in a limited spread of new ideas and stories. In addition, when books are banned people’s right to express themselves and read what they want to read is stripped from them. Such censorship and rejection of rights should not be accepted in a country of democracy and freedom. Censorship by the banning of books should be ended by books remaining in libraries. This should be done because authors should have the freedom to share the stories they want to, the number of books available to people in public libraries should not be limited further, and people have the right to read what they want.

The best solution to end the censorship and freedom restriction caused by the banning of books is simple: keep challenged books available for people who want to read them.

One reason booking banning should not occur because authors should have the freedom to share the stories and information they want to share. In the Bill of Rights it states that citizens of the United States of America have the freedoms of speech and press. This means people can speak and write freely. An author does not deserve to have his or her work prohibited and unavailable to be read.

One argument that is often discussed is that banning these books from particular libraries does not mean people cannot find them. Books are able to be found on the Internet, in people’s homes, and in bookstores. While this is certainly true, the library system exists so all people can have access to books and material. Not all people have the money or resources to access books except through their public library. People should have access to these books through their libraries.

Authors have the right to have their work published and available. John Green made the sarcastic response to his book The Fault in Our Stars being banned in a California school library: "I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never experience or witness mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them. But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality."

Green brings up a valid point. Are issues like death, violence, homosexuality, sex, and swearing unknown to people before they read these books? No, death, violence, homosexuality, sex, and swearing are all heard about and discussed in everyday life in TV shows, movies, billboards, magazines, the news, radio programs, and newspapers regardless of who is listening or watching or reading. Removing books with these issues will not solve these problems.

Indeed, most of the reasons books are challenged and banned relate to these issues. According to the ALA from 2000-2009 1,577 challenges were filed due to sexually explicit material; 1,291 were because of offensive language; 989 were deemed unsuitable for the target age group; 619 were decided to be too violent and 361 were due to homosexuality out of the 5,099 challenges filed.

Authors should have the ability to write about things that happen every day in our world. Most of these books do not glorify topics like drugs, sex, and violence (unlike 90% of TV and movies today). Most of these books include these things but still have strong themes involving family, love, hope, goodness, and trust.

In fact, many of the books that are challenged are considered classics. The ALA lists 97 classics that have been challenged and/or banned.

The ALA says 17,700 books have been challenged since 1990. This number of challenges is astronomical. Imagine 17,700 books disappearing from public schools and libraries.

Not only does the number of threats against books continually increase the number of readers is continually decreasing. (People really should read. There's a blogger friend of mine - okay, it's me - who wrote about some of various reasons you should read. But I digress...) According to The Atlantic, from 1978 to 2014 the number of people who do not read has nearly tripled.

The freedoms to read and write should be preserved by books being kept on the shelves of public and school libraries because people should not be limited with the books they can choose from and should be able to choose books for themselves, and authors should have the freedom to share their opinions and ideas with the world. The silencing of authors and restrictions of readers is a hindrance of our rights and freedoms as citizens of the United States of America. If this problem continues, then censorship will continue to interfere with the freedoms of our country. Books that are created by authors for years and loved by thousands should not be taken off shelves because of a concerned few.  If there is a book in a library someone finds offensive they simply should not read that book. If that person tries to ban the book because they are uncomfortable with it then they are forcing their feelings on others. There may be hundreds of people who want to read that book. In a democratic country the views of one or a small group does not dictate the group. One person or group should not have the power to take away a book from a much larger group. Those books are not for just anyone to take away. They belong to all of us and are a part of so many of us. As junior Elizabeth Johnson put it “books belong to their readers” (Sagebrush).

Want to know more about banned books and censorship?
Banned Books That Shaped America

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Welcome to America (Part 3): Land of Opportunity

This post is the third in a three part series based on the song "Welcome to America" by the Christian rapper Lecrae. The song's three verses are all told from the viewpoint of a different person. The third verse is through the eyes of an immigrant. With that being said, this third post will focus on the opportunities we have in America that are not available to people in other countries.

While too many U.S. citizens still live in poverty, imagine what the U.S. would be like if it weren't for the various programs the U.S. runs. Things could and would be a lot worse. Today I'd rather not focus on the bad side of things. The bad news should be discussed more openly but there's also a lot of good news to be shared.

Food stamps, food shelves, free K-12 education, college financial aid, unemployment services, Headstart, disability services, free / reduced school lunches, and more. The United States offers so many services and runs so many different programs for those in need. Citizens probably only know a fraction of the number of programs their own country offers.

Food Stamps
Food stamps are one of the most well-known and popular social programs (as it should be because we spend about $70 billion on it each year). Forty one million Americans, which account for 14% of the population, use food stamps.  The states with the highest participation rates (roughly 20%)  are Mississippi, Tennessee, Oregon, New Mexico, and Michigan. The states with the lowest participation rates (from 9-6%) include Colorado, North Dakota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Wyoming. Food stamp participation rate by state can be viewed here. The history of the program dates back several decades but (as with every program) its still changing. The list of foods people are able to buy and where you are able to use them are still being changed and altered to this day. The program continues to strengthen each year and will provide families with the services they need for a long time to come. This kind of program could save a lot of people from starvation in other countries but there are many issues as to why it could be very difficult to do. 1). The government doesn't have the money to do it. 2). The government may very well be too corrupt. 3). The government could be too unorganized. 4). There is simply not enough food readily available in those countries. This is definitely something that makes America stand apart.

Free and Reduced School Lunches
Free and reduced cost school lunches are also heavily used. Nineteen million students receive free or reduced cost lunches each year. It is reported that 47% of students qualify for one or the other. The place with the highest percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches is Washington D.C. at 72%. This kind of program isn't even available in many countries because free education isn't available in many countries.

Food Shelves
Food banks and food shelves are also widely used. It is said that 46 million people (1 in 7) rely on food banks. Since food stamp benefits have been cut there's been an increase in food shelf usage. Even with food stamps. food banks are still used.

Hunger: America vs. the Rest of the World
Overall, the amount of hunger in the United States is startlingly low compared to the rest of the world. Only eleven percent of households are at risk for hunger while 98% of those in developing countries do not have enough to eat and one third of the entire world is considered starving. When we compare the situation in the U.S. to that of the rest of world we realize that there is so much worse out there. While the U.S. still has people going hungry there are two main reasons the situations are much better here than in the rest of the world. For one, there is much more food available here in general. Second, there are programs put into place here like free and reduced lunches, food shelves, and food stamps which all help contribute to making the poor of the U.S. fed.

Free Clinics
In America, there are free clinics available to people who do not have the money to pay for their own medical care. They offer care for free or at greatly reduced prices. Most clinics provide treatment for illnesses, injuries, and long-term conditions. Some provide more services. They began to pop up in the 1960s and 1970s. Today there are over 1000 free clinics. Annually those clinics have given care to nearly 2 million people in need. With so many in need and the great cost of medical care, free clinics greatly help those who don't have the money to pay for their own medical care.

K-12 Education
K-12 education is available to every American child - no matter the child's income or gender. This kind of opportunity is very limited throughout the world. Over the years developing countries have built more and more schools and children have become more and more educated. Still, the United States has more education opportunity than most countries and has for a long time.

College Education
Although American colleges and universities are far from free, a majority of students receive some amount of funding from the government. In 2011-2012 alone, the government gave out $21,800,000,000 to students.

Although there is still a lot of people in America in need of help, the conditions here are much better than in most of the world. Food banks, free / reduced school lunches, food stamps, free clinics, free K-12 education, and college grants are all opportunities that are quite special. Maybe America isn't the land of absolute perfection but it certainly is a land of opportunity and potential.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Welcome to America (Part 2): Land of the Free

This post is the second in a three part series based on the song "Welcome to America" by the Christian rapper Lecrae. The song's three verses are all told from the viewpoint of a different person. The second verse is through the eyes of a solider. With that being said, this second post will focus on the freedom we have in America thanks to our military and how many Americans are ignorant to the sacrifices many make for them.

Over a million Americans serve their country through active duty in the military (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013). Through every tour thousands and thousands risk their lives for the safety of their country and for the well being of people all around the world. They leave their families and friends for months at a time. They leave the comforts of their home to go to a land they've probably never been to before. They serve their country well.

In addition, millions more are affected by the absence of those million serving through active duty. Their husbands or wives are without their loved ones for months at a time. Those who have children must act as single parents for the time being all the while praying and hoping for the safe return of their spouse. Children give up their mommies and daddies for months while they serve their country. Some children never see their mommies or daddies again. At the same time, mothers and fathers wait in anticipation. Brothers and sisters write letters. Friends mark their calendars for the day their friend will be back home again. Those in the military and those with family and friends in the military sacrifice so much.

Do we ever stop to realize how much? We cannot let Veterans Day be enough. It's not. We should live our lives in constant gratitude for the freedom we have and the reasons why we have it.

We should recognize that many men and women who return from the military have struggles when they come home too. They have missed out on so much while they were away. Some miss the birth of their children, their children's first words, their sister's graduation, their grandparent's funeral, their dad's surgery, and so much more. Not only are they trying to catch up on all they missed but they also have to start on the difficult journey of finding a job. In addition, many suffer from depression, PTSD, and some even have suicidal thoughts. One in five veterans of the Iran and Afghanistan wars suffered from PTSD (CBO, 2012). One third of Vietnam Veterans suffered in the same way. Suicide rates of veterans are double that of the general population (Veteran Affairs, 2012). It is estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every single day (VA, 2012).

Its time we start realizing the true cost of our freedom and work to help veterans around us who may need a helping hand. Next time you read the paper (freedom of press), go by a school (freedom of education), or enter a church (freedom of religion) remember the price of your freedom and be grateful for it. It wasn't free. Everything worth having is worth fighting for. We don't all fight for freedom but we all reap the benefits. Today and always thank those who have fought for us.

"I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land, God bless the U.S.A."
- "Proud To Be An American"


  • Here is a video of those in the military returning home. (Helpful Hint: grab tissues - you may need them)
  • There is an organization called Beyond the Yellow Ribbon which is dedicated to helping veterans and their families. For more information go to their website.

Here is the second verse of "Welcome to America" by Lecrae:

"Man, I’d die for America
I served my time for America
Got shot, shot back, went to war, got back and ain’t nobody give a jack in America
I could've lost my life, boy, I lost my wife
I can’t even get right in my home land
Cold sweats, hold tecs, paranoid looking out for a threat in my own land
I was trained in America
How'd they get up in them planes in America?
Flew them right into the buildings
Taking out civilians
People getting killed in America?
And I’m still in America
Though America ain’t feeling me
I went to war for this Country
Turned around came home and you drillin' me?
When y’all free here saying you don’t wanna be here
Well, you probably could breathe here
If I didn’t load a couple magazines here
Y’all just complain in America
I’m jumping out of military planes from America
Aye I was made in America
That's why I’m out here saving America
I got a brother in the cemetery now
Cause he wanted y’all safe
And everybody want the freedom but nobody want to hear about face!
We bled for America
To keep y’all fed in America
But whats the point of talking a lot of y’all don’t really even care America"

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Welcome to America (Part 1): Land of Destruction

This post is the first in a three part series based on the song "Welcome to America" by the Christian rapper Lecrae. The song's three verses are all told from the viewpoint of a different person. The first verse is through the eyes of a drug dealer. With that being said, this first post will focus on the issue of drugs in America.

Drug Overview
Did you know that the illegal drug market in the U.S. is one of the most profitable markets in the world (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency)?  Well, it is. Drug trafficking and usage hurt America's economy and citizens greatly every year.

Drug Use
According to Drug War Facts, there were 24.6 million currently using illicit drugs in 2013. This means nearly 10% of the U.S. population uses illegal drugs! Worldwide about 3-7% of people use illegal drugs (DWF). This means there is a greater percentage of users in the U.S. than there is worldwide (in terms of % of population). Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the United States by far with 19 million current users (DWF, 2013). When studying students in grades 8, 10, and 12 it was found that 1/4 use marijuana on a regular basis (DWF, 2013). In a study done, 15% of seniors in high school use an illegal drug other than marijuana (DWF, 2013). Drug use is definitely something we should be aware of.

Drug Costs
Most people are not aware of the costs of drugs. Drugs have cost America money and lives. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says illegal drugs cost the U.S. 181 billion dollars each year. Not only do drugs cost the U.S., drugs also cost students. Two hundred thousand students have lost financial aid because of involvement in drugs (NIDA). Drugs have also cost many their lives. In 2013 over 40,000 American citizens died of drug overdoses (NIDA). Countless actors, actresses, singers, musicians, and celebrities have had their lives taken from them due to their involvement with drugs. Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died in February of 2014 at age 46 due to overdose of heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines (CBS). Pop singer Whitney Houston died of cocaine overdose and drowning at the age of 49 in 2012 (CBS). Comedian and actor Chris Farley died in 1997 when he was 33 of heroin, morphine, and cocaine (CBS). The Doors front man Jim Morrison died from a heroin overdose in 1971 when he was just 27 (CBS). Janis Joplin died of the same fate a year prior; she was also 27 (CBS). Glee actor Cory Monteith died from a toxic mix of alcohol and heroin at the age of 31 in 2013 (CBS).

Drugs are a huge problem in the U.S. but we don't recognize it. Drugs cost us as a nation financially. Drugs cost us great talent because stars are taken captive by drugs. Students lose sight of their goals, get caught in drugs, and lose financial funding for their futures. Everyday people overdose and lose their lives, which affects their families and friends. Drugs cost us too much. We need to take a stand and stop letting drugs ruin our lives.

Know The Truth
National Institute on Drug Abuse

Thursday, March 5, 2015

5 Benefits of Reading

“You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” 
― Ray Bradbury

The partnership between our brains and books is almost like magic. Our brains are able to interpret words on a page and create pictures and events in our minds that deeply impact us. They effect us in astounding ways. They can change our perspective on the world. They can evoke emotions in us. They can teach us about ourselves. Books are very powerful and there are many different reasons to read. Here are 5 of them:

1. To know that your thoughts, struggles, fears, hopes, and dreams are universal
In this life, we will all have struggles. Many will be universal. But we often don't know that our struggles are universal because our deepest struggles are not ones we tend to share with others. But when we read we discover others that struggle with the same things that we do. Screenwriter, playwright, and writer William Nicholson once said “we read to know we're not alone.” Similarly, we learn that our thoughts and fears are not unique but actually usual. And our hopes and dreams are are not custom but common. James Baldwin said it best when he said “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

2. To experience other cultures and understand other people who are much different than us
How incredible would it be to travel the world, taste new foods, meet new people, and see new sights? It would be amazing. The problem is this: I don't have an infinite amount of time or money to do that. Therefore, I read instead. Reading gives us the opportunity to see through a small window intro another world. It even can give us the ability to travel through time. We can go to any place and any time and experience what it would be like to be someone else. When we read, it is almost like we become someone else. George R. R. Martin said it this way: “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only one.” When we read we get the opportunity to see life from another's view. This can help a middle class white woman understand the poor Hispanic woman and also help the modern day African American man understand the African American man that lived in Georgia during the Civil War. Through reading we are able to build a better understanding of others and gain greater empathy towards them.

3. To gain more knowledge
Dr. Seuss simply stated “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” No matter what book you read you can always learn something from it. In Gone With the Wind a reader learns about women in 1860s America, men in 1860s America, Civil War conditions, medicine in the 1860s, and much more. Some of the things readers can learn about in To Kill a Mockingbird include the Great Depression, racial inequality in the 1930s, and how court cases are run. Distant Waves is a historical fiction book that touches on the great works of Nikola Tesla and it also talks about The Titanic. And this is just fiction. I didn't even talk about nonfiction. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "if we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads."

4. To escape from the world
When we read we get the opportunity to escape our world and enter one that is entirely different. After an exam gone bad, a rough day at work, or a not-so-fun family gathering, there is nothing better than transporting yourself to Narnia, Hogwarts, Tara, or River Heights. W. Somerset once said “to acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”

5. To teach us life lessons
Books can teach us many life lessons. The Great Gatsby teaches readers money cannot buy happiness and you cannot repeat the past. 1984 teaches people that love conquers all. Of Mice and Men shows people that not all stories end “happily ever after”. The Harry Potter series shows readers that the world is not split into good people and bad people, politics corrupt, and people can change. A Wrinkle in Time teaches people to be proud of the individuals they are. The Hunger Games series shows readers to stand up for what they believe in, sacrifice is the foundation of maturity, and hope is stronger than fear. There is so much that a collection of pages can show us about life.

Reading is one of the most powerful and important hobbies to have. It can show us a lot about the world without us every leaving our homes and it can show us things about ourselves too. In the words of John Green "great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Why I Keep Going on Missions Trips

I recently signed up for my fourth mission trip in four years. Here's the question most people would ask: Why? Why sign up for a week of no watching Friends on Netflix, no scrolling through my Facebook feed, taking time off of work, leaving behind my family, getting my hands dirty in service projects, giving little kids piggy back rides, and sleeping on the cold church floor (usually) every night? Because my past two mission trips (Revolution trips to New Orleans, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas) were life-changing.

On the mission trip to New Orleans I got the opportunity to see a beautiful city full of beautiful people and also a city of devastation all at once. I saw God working. I saw light in the darkness. I got to meet people on the streets and was by changed by what they said. I will never forget Daryl, a homeless man I met who didn't know where his next meal would come from. Despite his problems he told us God would take care of him. His prized possession was the Word of God. My encounter with Daryl changed me. I couldn't and didn't go back home the same.

When I came home I had a lot to think about and process. Over the course of the next year I started volunteering in the middle school ministry, Ground Zero. I took a leap of faith and became a small group leader for 6th grade girls. I still lead those same girls and I love them so much. I am so grateful to God that I not only got to meet them but that I also get the privilege of spending time with them every week. I wouldn't have that if I hadn't decided to go to New Orleans on that trip. It was also because of that trip that God revealed to me a greater calling than I could have never dreamed of for myself. On the Revolution winter retreat the following January we were asked where God was calling us. I knew in an instant: New Orleans. God was calling me to plant a church in New Orleans. I look back in awe of how much that one trip changed my life.

After such an experience as that, how could I say no to a trip to Dallas? I couldn't. And so last summer I headed off to Dallas and had another wonderful trip. I experienced new people and faced new challenges. I was in awe of how God had used one church to change an entire community. I hope to put social justice programs like theirs into place in my future church. I also learned more about love. My team and I worked a VBS in a Hispanic community. Many of the kids only spoke Spanish yet only two of us spoke Spanish so many of us couldn't communicate verbally with the kids. So instead, we communicated non-verbally. We showed love. We played with the kids and colored with them and smiled at them and spoke kindly to them. After 4 days of this, we learned something very important: "though we may come from different countries and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one". Albus Dumbledore (from the Harry Potter series) told us the same thing but it is with these kids that we knew it was true. I also learned about the power of our stories. I learned many people's stories on our prayer walk in Dallas. Not only that but I learned a lot of my team members stories. Pasts involving depression, drugs, pornography, suicide attempts, abuse, and alcohol surfaced. I was shocked. These people were my friends. How could I have not known? They all looked so clean and perfect from the outside. But they aren't and neither am I. None of us are. But God uses us anyway and that is the beauty of it. When we start hearing stories we became curious and when we become curious we start asking others for their stories. Other people's stories can change the way we live. I never would have started asking other people deeper questions if it weren't for Dallas.

Next year I plan to join a program called Streetlight, which ministers to the homeless. That's something I never would have done if it hadn't been for New Orleans and Dallas.

I learned so much and experienced so much in New Orleans and then again in Dallas. I can't imagine not giving Chicago the chance to change me in incredible ways. Imagine if others did the same. What if, instead of watching Netflix and going shopping all summer, everyone gave God a chance to change their lives?