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My engagement story and my Cinderella episode.

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Someday I’ll be the kind of woman who never leaves make-up application for the car, but last night was not that night. I finally finished my hair at 4:50pm. I was supposed to meet Joe in Lincoln Park at 5pm. It takes a half and hour to get there.  I made sure my make-up was in my purse, I put my snow boots on with my black on white polka dot dress and grabbed my new black peep-toe patent-leather heels to change into once I arrived.  I called Joe to tell him I was late. I was so late that we had to meet at the restaurant in order to keep our reservation.

It was date night. A few months ago we started having date night every week. We take turns planning it, and whoever plans pays.

I don’t like to drive at night, to places I don’t know. Especially not for a date. Meeting at the restaurant is for first blind dates not for us. I made two wrong turns, but arrived a few minutes before our reservation, paid the marking meter, and opened the passenger side door of the car to switch into my cute high heels. There was one shoe. I looked under the seat, behind the seat. I emptied my whole purse. Still, there was one high heel. I had to keep the snow boots on. I felt like a fashion nightmare walking into Gajas, a romantic fondue restaurant. I arrived before Joe and was escorted to the bar. I quickly excused myself to the powder room to apply my lipstick and call Liz, my roommate. “Is there a black high heel shoe in the living room?” “No, I don’t see it.” I was almost crying. At least I found my red clinique lipstick. I had to go sit at the bar for minute like a girl about to be stood up. I called Joe and told him about the shoes. “Don’t say anything, I insisted.” I started porousing the wine list until Joe arrived. The first thing he did was look at my outfit up and down. “You brought attention to it,” he said. “Actually we’re supposed to meet a couple at a fancier place later, so the boots might be a problem.” Now, I was upset and embarrassed all over again. The hostess tried to check his coat. He insisted on keeping it with him, saying you could have things stolen in coat rooms and sometimes they can’t find the right coat at the end of the night. I shrugged.

We were escorted into the main room of the restaurant past curtained booths and  to the worst couple table in the place. It was in the middle of the room in a row of “date” tables. As we sat down, I was so surprised that I didn’t say anything. As soon as the maitre d’ left I scouted the room for a better table that was open. I asked Joe if he wanted to move to the table on the wall. He agreed, we asked if we could move and we sat down. He ordered the Italian wine on special that I suggested.

Wine, Cheese, fruit, and bread. Scallops, beef tenderloin, lobster, shrimp, chicken, vegetables all fried over a flame in a pot on your table. Marshmallows roasted on a chocolate flame dipped and rolled in graham cracker crumbs, strawberries, cherries, and pine apple dipped in chocolate. Genius.

Suddenly it was 7:30, we had been there two hours. I needed to go pay the parking meeter again, before I overstayed. “We’re about to go,” my Love insisted. So, we fumbled to pull up our groupon.Then I realized I had to go out to meter. I added two more hours, we would take a cab to our next destination and leave the car there. Then I saw it. No, not my black peep-toe high heel…a parking ticket. I was so mad.

We got in a cab and Joe directed him to Chicago and Michigan.

“We’ll go in Nordstrom Rack, you’ll by $15 dollar heels and it will be fine.”

“Yeah,” I said.

We look ed at the designer shoes, we looked at the regular shoes. There was one pair of black high heel sandals with straps that looked like they would rub your feet raw in 2 hours for $35. Nothing cheaper, nothing better. I was whining. One of my new years revolutions was not to buy uncomfortable shoes, and I did not want to waste $35. I babysit for a living. I was having a meltdown. Joe called our friend who was waiting at the bar and asked if my boots would be a problem. They insisted they would not be a problem.

As we were walking, Joe asked me if I knew where we were going. I asked if we had been there before. He said, “Yes, and no.”

Spiaggia. It was the place of our first date, and we recently had a friend who started hosting there. Knowing the how classy this place is, I again felt ridiculous. Why didn’t I just drop the $35? Joe would have bought them for me. To make maters worse I had been crying.

“Do I look like I was crying?” Joe looked at me up and down to tease and made a face. That was it, I was in tears again. I turned away from him in the lobby and tried to make myself stop. Then I powdered my nose, applied lipstick and said, “Ok.” As soon as we walked in, I was happy. Spiaggia is amazingly beautiful. Kate was happy to see us. She took my coat, and offered to take Joe’s, but he was still insisting on keeping his coat with him. I knew he was being strange, but still didn’t suspect.

Then Kate led us to a private window-view table in bar. Suddenly I had a goofy grin on my face. We weren’t meeting anyone. We recounted our first date and how overboard Joe had gone to impress me. I wasn’t sure about him at the time. I liked him, but I didn’t trust him. I didn’t know he was for real. He was happy to see that I was smiling, but asked me what changed. Ten minutes before I had been in tears. I didn’t say. I didn’t know for sure what was going on and I did not want to ruin it either way.We ordered cocktails and mid conversation, Joe fumbled open a ring box on the table. “You got it!” I exclaimed. At that point I should have shut up and let him do his thing, but we were both nervous I guess and I was afraid that setting the ring on the table was the closest I was going to get to a proposal so I said, “Aren’t you going to ask me something?” I must have asked that three-times before Joe got on his knee, asked me to marry him and put the ring on my figure. The ring, by the way is amazing. It is so beautiful. It is just how I wanted it, and he picked it out. It has a round center diamond, inlaid diamonds on the danty-band with filigree along the back. It is white gold and the center stone is much bigger than necessary but exactly what I anticipated Joseph Negussie would give me.

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Our friend’s Brian Pederson, Matt Donavan, and Kate came from around the corner. Brian showered us with flashes of photos snapped, Matt was almost in tears, and the waiter poured champagne on the house. I was so happy.

Outside,  snow started fallinng lightly and a horse and buggy was waiting for us. There were two-toned pink and wine roses and a bottle of champange. We drove along Lakeshore’s inside drive and through downtown.

I never did find that missing shoe, but I’m not waiting for Prince Charming to find me and return it. I was proposed to in my shoe-boots.

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Why Chicago? …For the Potential of A Great Love.

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If you know me, you might wonder why I moved to Chicago. And, there are many answers to that question. In the next few blog entries I will explore why Chicago.

Last year, I left everything—my job, my friends and family—to move across the world for the potential of a great love. I had been living in Delhi, India for two years. I loved running VDS, a young adult program. I worked with and lived near my parents. I was good at what I did. My students were learning how to serve people in poverty. But, I reached twenty-eight and started believe that I would never find love. It was real for others, but not for me. Almost and sort-of relationships with promising young men only compounded my discouragement. So in the spring of 2009 when a tall, dark, and handsome American man walked into the retreat center in North India, I expected disappointment. I glanced at his left hand, but there was no ring. Huh. I thought. He offered to carry my suitcase down to my room.

“No thanks, I got it.” I snapped.

He was in India for a week accompanying his pastor on a speaking engagement. I wanted to help him adjust to India, but I refused to jump on the merry-go-round of “let’s get close in a few days and when you are lonely you can always email me,” and go-around-again. I was still dizzy from my last merry-go-round ride. Although I put my guard up, Joseph was persistent. We easily talked for hours. On the last day of the conference we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers and I offered to meet him in Delhi when he had a lay over on the following Saturday.

Saturday I dressed more American than usual in a cute sundress. I went out to the market with my friend. While haggling with merchants, my phone rang with an unknown number. I answered,

“Amy, this is Joe Negussie, ” he said.

“Oh, Hi” I said. “Are you in Delhi?”

“Yes,” he said. “We are sitting in lounge outside the airport for the next few hours, but do not have time to leave, do you want to come join us?”

“Um, maybe,” I said. “Let, me think about it, I might show up, I might not.”

I got off the phone and explained the situation to my friend Andi. We continued shopping. Ten minutes later, something came over me and I said to Andi, “I’m going to go.”

“You are?” she asked quizzically.

I nodded.

“Don’t you think he’s going to think you like him?”

I struggled. I didn’t care if he thought I liked him. I hoped in a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw and in my broken Hindi haggled for the price and directed the driver to take me to the airport. At the airport we bantered and exchanged travel stories until it was time for him to check for the flight.

Monday morning I had an email from Joseph. Next thing I knew I was in a flirty email correspondence, but there was something different about this exchange. As soon as I wrote to Joseph, he’d return my email—within hours. I was traveling and still cautious, so I would wait three days, sometimes a week depending on my Internet access. No matter how long I waited, he wrote back instantly. Most guys take days or weeks to respond. We got into a deep correspondence of past stories and experiences.  Joseph suggested I visit Chicago when I was in the U.S. for the summer. I was planning my itinerary of fundraisers and so I said, “if you host a fundraiser, I’ll come.”

He said he would throw a party if I would let him take me on a date. I agreed. He did not just take me out to a nice dinner. He took me to Spiaggia—an exquisite restaurant in downtown Chicago with a lake Michigan view. And, then he had a surprise. We were driving and I started seeing signs for Midway airport. Next thing I knew a buddy of his was greeting us and Joseph was explaining that Jarryd was talking us on a flight tour of the city. He was a charter plane pilot. I loved it. And, as I looked down at the city I had a feeling that something was pulling me towards Chicago.

A few days later I was leaving and Joseph told me he was interested in getting to know me better. He asked me to come back to visit Chicago before going to India again in the Fall. I agreed. By the end of the second visit we were officially dating. We both agreed that long-distance could not be long-term and we kissed good-bye.

For the next month we talked on the phone, over web-cam, and email. Then, I casually started looking for jobs in Chicago. Before I met Joe, I assumed my next move would be following a job offer in the States, and I hoped to be in California where my grandparents live. But, there was no reason I had to live in L.A. I had lived all over the place and found myself happy as long as I was in a city. We were on web cam talking about everyday life and I mentioned that I was looking for a job in Chicago. Joe changed the subject and pointed out a picture behind me. I let it pass, but rapid-fire emails and more Skype conversations followed. The risk freaked him out. Still, he did not disappear or break it off. A few weeks later I received a Chicago themed package in the mail. He did want me to move to Chicago.

I did not know what was going to happen. We had only spent three weeks together in person. That time planted a seed in me, and if it was watered and given sunlight, it might grow into the love of my life. But the seed could be neglected, over watered, ripped out, or not given enough sunlight in Chicago’s winter.

I would not have moved for anyone, and I would not have moved anywhere—but I liked Chicago and I liked Joseph. Some men look good on paper, but in reality they are dull or inconsiderate. Joseph looks good on paper. He was high school quarter-back, he was in a fraternity in college, started an faith-based organization in college, makes good money as a twenty-seven year-old, has just started his MBA at Kellogg, his boss told him that one day he will be her boss, and he’s gorgeous. But in reality, he is better than his CV. He is generous, God-fearing, fun, and loving. They say love is blind, but I did not want to be fooled. If this was real, if he was real, we could be something great. If not, it would be awful but I would get through it. So, with my eyes open, I boarded the plane, waved good-bye to my beloved friends in India who cried, “Mut jaow, Amy didi, mut jaow” (Don’t go sister Amy, don’t go), and took the first greatest risk of my life. It was the last week in October 2009.

At first it was a little rocky, we didn’t know each other well. He was used to doing what he wanted to do. But I was impressed that if I was offended by his behavior or attitude and I told him how something made me feel and what he could do different, he would apologize and make immediate changes. I made adjustments too. By mid- January I received an early Valentines present on my front porch. I’ve never asked him what possessed him to give me perfume mid-January especially because lovely earrings followed as a surprise on Valentine’s Day, but I think that was when he finally relaxed and remembered why we both felt that pursuing each other was worth going to extraordinary measures.

My life in Chicago still means sacrifices. I love the city and I love Joseph. But, I have had to work in coffee shops and other part –time jobs. I have turned down dream jobs, in other states. Someday I hope I will have both the man I love and a job I love, but for now it is worth the sacrifice. After a year of being together when I think of all the men I’ve dated, or even wanted to date, when I think about the men that my friends dated or even married, no one compares to Joseph Negussie. I feel excited thinking about our potential to love each other well for a lifetime, and to impact the world together for good. I would have never known this love if I did not take the risk of moving across the world for the hope of our potential great love.

St. Ar Bucks: My Recession Parish

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St. Ar Bucks is my parish. I have been called to St. Ar Bucks. I am a missionary. I do not mean that I am trying to push anything on anyone. I just mean that I have been sent there for a time for a purpose. I am here like a bar-tender therapist to listen to the customers and my co-workers. I am here to empathize and to call out the good in each one.

Never mind that I am the most over-educated barista at my particular café.  Not only do I have college degree, I have a master’s degree–from Princeton Theological Seminary. And yet, I make Lattes. I clean toilets, I take out the trash—for $8.50 after my raise. When it was a half an hour walk and I thought it was temporary as in, 6-8 months–I was okay with it. Now it’s a hour bus ride, a 30 min bike ride, a $13 cab ride, or a fifteen minute borrowed a car or talked a friend-into-driving-ride, and it’s frustrating,

If it weren’t for the people I work with I would not have been able to last this long. They are real, they are interesting. Last night I worked with a nocturnal comic artist who drinks, and smokes and knows how to make everyone feel like he’s his or her best friend. He is very gifted with people. In fact last night a customer was hitting on me and he said to him, look she doesn’t get a paid for you to hit on her. The man said, “you can’t blame me for trying.” My friend said, “no, but I can blame you for a big swing and a miss.” That really meant a lot to me.

Sunday nights I work with an actress. She’s a tall beautiful perfectionist, who has an immense amount of compassion for the world. As a result of her compassion does not eat meat, and her boyfriend is a girl. They have become my friends. Her boyfriend is a photography student and owns a beautiful brown Alaskan Husky. Somehow my co-worker puts up with my quarks. She finds me a bit odd as we have talked about relationships, a moral system, and even God.

There is a theory that St. Ar Bucks attracts the artists and the more interesting variety of people to work there, it maybe true. I am highly impressed by my co-workers’ longevity to the job. And, here I am supposed to be a witness of who God is and they are putting me to shame in the good attitude category. Barely making enough money, odd hours, and lectures over the particularities of how to steam milk in order to perfect cappuccino foam—can be testing. You have to remember your job is not your life. It is just a job—a means to an end. We work to live, we do not live to work. Or at least we do not live to work the job that gives us a bi-weekly pay-check and health insurance. I am a preacher, he is artist, she is student, she is an actor. The café is a practice stage, it is a place for comic inspiration, and it is a congregation.

The economy is bad, so at least we have jobs. And, we get a pound of free coffee a week and if you close you can take home food that would be thrown away. Doing has been over thrown by being. “What do you do (for a living)?” and “Who are you (made to be)?” are not the same questions.

Fitting In

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I think I tried on my entire wardrobe this morning. Nothing seems to go together, I’m trying to look American. There are hundreds of kinds of Americans, but what I’m going for is the twenty-something attractive city girl variety. Now I’m sitting in a coffee shop—no wait it’s a tea-shop—watching the stylish women walk by on the sidewalk. I finally saw a girl that I would like to be dressed like. She had tight red pants on, black boots over top—the heeled calf-covering scrunchy type, a big yellow purse, and long curled red-colored hair. I think her top was black. I’m going shopping tomorrow, thank God. Oh there she is again she has a multi colored scarf and a black jacket on too, but it was the sunglasses that toped off the outfit. What I can’t figure out, is how much or in which ways that I want to fit in here…or anywhere. Internally I have this foreigner thing going and that is why I’m keeping this blog. But here in the U.S., unlike in India I can disguise myself as a local. And, really I am pretty normal. I’m a single twenty-eight year old girl, over-educated, underpaid, who likes to watch movies, dark chocolate, red-wine and to lament about injustice in the world. Hopefully I do stuff about it too, but let’s be honest sometimes there is more dialogue in my circles than anything else—but I put in a few hours at a food pantry here and there. I’m normal. Then the inconvenience of having a boyfriend but not sharing a bed with him comes up, and someone is shocked. “We’re old fashioned like that,” he says. But it’s too late, our abnormal-ness is out in the open. But we pour another glass of wine and step in when the call for a dependable friend is made and the oddity is put to the side. We walk the line of cultural relevancy and our own counter-culture.

I met some people last week who moved to Amsterdam in the past year in order to start a new faith community. Well, Amsterdam is a very secular city. In Amsterdam, one girl suggested to believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, might be akin to believing in the tooth fairy. So mostly what my friends have been doing is just making friends there in the city, and throwing parties—being normal, having fun. And, their parties aren’t lame, people like hanging out with these guys. The cool thing is that I think Jesus was like that…people invited him over all the time. As soon as they knew he was coming to town they would throw a party. And like this guy was saying last week, it was the religious people that Jesus would give a hard time—not the other people. I’m sure people were drinking and smoking, and using foul language around him. Yet in the bible we never see Jesus telling anyone to go away because they were contaminated. In fact, we know that Jesus was even at a party that included a prostitute. And, Jesus didn’t end up in some heated discussion about the evils of prostitution, but instead this woman washed Jesus feet with her tears. It wasn’t like he took advantage of her; instead they had an intimate yet innocent human interaction.

Versatility, to be able to relate to all kinds of people, is a good thing. The challenge is continuing to know who you are, throughout your many transformations. For me, I look to St. Paul who said he was “in Christ.” That’s what I want to be, “in Christ.” I’m “in Christ” loving the little kids who came with their parents to get groceries and the food pantry, I’m “in Christ” talking with a surgeon who makes more money a year that I will ever see in my life, and I’m going to be “in Christ” as I make cappuccinos at Starbucks. Most of the time, my “in Christ” relational status might not affect how I am perceived, but there will be moments when people will be surprised at the things I do or say, and that’s a good thing.

Who’s going to wash the dishes?

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Who washes the dishes? I remember when I was in college and my roommate and I would have our guy friends over for dinner. These were the nights when we would go all out and actually buy meat. But, there was one rule: if we buy the food and cook, you do the dishes. In my new apartment in Chicago, we do things the real American way: everyone does their own dishes (for the most part). It’s fair. But in India, it’s not how things are done. The wife, mother, or servants do the dishes. If you are in a cafeteria setting, maybe you do your own dishes, but the boss or person of authority will rarely be allowed to wash his dish.

My friend, Yuvraj is the kind of guy by Indian standards who could go his whole life without washing a plate. That would be very normal. He’s a U.K. educated upper-middle class twenty-nine year-old from a good family. But, Yuvraj is a follower of Jesus. And sometimes when people follow Jesus they find themselves in very different roles than would be seen as normal.

He has recently moved out of his comfortable family house and into a very simple cement house in the slum. Him and his wife now sleep on the floor; carry water in from a hose outside to wash dishes, and share a bathroom with at least twelve people. Why? It’s not easy, and it’s not that they have some weird preoccupation with suffering… They are real; they want nothing to do with hypocrisy.  They believe that the Creator of the universe cares about the suffering people of the world, and sent his son Jesus out of love for them. The God of the universe cares about the woman who lives across the gully from them in a three-sided shack with her children. God sees this sweet lady who never asks for anything and whose children get bitten by rats while they are sleeping. So Yuvraj and Mary see her through God’s eyes, and they insisted that she accept a bed from them—so her and her children have a chance to sleep through the night without rat bites. They imagine that if Jesus were living in their neighborhood, he might do something like make friends with her.

But back to dishes—plates. So Yuvraj started this training program in which he goes into a small town or village area and teaches a group of people problem solving skills, has them get into groups and try to think of solutions to real community problems they are facing. And, when he hears the best problem—solution he has a grant that will help them start working to implement these solutions. And, each day of the seminar starts with a time of spiritual reflection. So one day my friend Yuvraj taught devotion about Jesus washing the disciples feet. Most of the participants were Christians and all of the participants were rural Indian farmers. Then they started the training for the day and at lunchtime had a cafeteria-style-wash-your-own-plate-routine. On this day Yuvraj finished his lunch first and after washing his own plate turned to the next man and said, “Would you allow me to wash you plate?” The man blinked, and stepped back, with his month open. You have to understand that Yuvraj is so well spoken in English that sometimes people think he is a foreigner. The third man elbowed him and reminded him of the teaching of Jesus washing his disciples feet. Yuvraj laughed and said, yes, but I’m not going to say like Jesus that you have no part with me, if you don’t let me wash your plate. I am only requesting that you allow me the honor of washing your plate. As the men continued to come up to the sink, some allowed him to wash their plate and others didn’t.

Later Yuvraj brought this up to me, because we were talking about foot washing—which is something I love to do in a worship service, but Yuvraj was saying that foot washing has been ritualized beyond meaning in some contexts. On Good Friday, the priest will wash the communicants feet and it is like receiving a blessing—but the ordinary yet disruptive act of Jesus washing his followers feet has been lost. In Jesus’ cultural context, you would come in the house from a day of walking around on dusty streets and either a servant would wash your feet or you would wash your own feet. It was just a normal thing, like sanitizing your hands after moving around in a crowded place, buying lunch, pouring a glass of water, or washing the dishes in your neighbor’s house.

A Shout out to the Confusionist: His India.

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A friend of mine has recently started blogging, and has some great poetry and thoughts. Take a look at this poem India written from a perspective of someone who is a Delhiwalla, a.k.a. a born and raised Delhi-ite.

Not My India: Social Justice and Responsibility

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“To all of you who, after watching Slumdog Millionaire or reading The White Tiger, say “This is not my India”, well I just have to ask whose India is it, then? Because that is the India I see every day from my auto or bicycle rickshaw, or when I go to teach English or visit Doral Putty in the Wazirpur slum, or when I go to KFC and see Punit almost get kicked out.

But don’t worry, after traveling for two hours and watching the India that is “not yours” pass me by, then I arrive in Gurgaon and get to see “your India” too. I walk in your pristine malls and there are no Punits anywhere in sight.” (Punit is a friend who drives a rickshaw).

This is something I wrote a few weeks ago, while trying to process life in India and Amy read it and asked me to write about social justice.

In order to fully understand social justice one must first define what “social justice” is. According to the Wikipedia entry, “social justice” is “a term, generally applied by the left, to describe a society with a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution, policies aimed toward achieving that which developmental economists refer to as equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.”

Many people in the United States believe that social justice is for heart-bleeding liberals and not at all in line with traditional capitalist, conservative and thus Christian ideology. For example, who wants to redistribute property or income if they worked hard for it and those who lack wealth only lack it because they have not taken fully taken advantage of their opportunities. And they are right, equality of outcome, while appealing, is unrealistic.

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However, according to the American Heritage Dictionary justice is “the upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law”. I believe that this definition of justice is also the definition and essence of social justice. To deny humans an equal opportunity and quality of life is, well, inhumane. As one blogger put it “every person deserves a certain fair share of society’s benefits and burdens” and I would argue that social justice is not about equality of outcome but equality of opportunity. The idea that “all men are created equal” is the foundation of our constitution and country and this idea is effused throughout our entire society and educational system. Though India has similar rights and protections written in its constitution, due to a culture and tradition of caste (or ‘jati’), it is still in need of social justice. The opportunities for citizens are not the same. From education, to jobs, to social status in society, discrimination still runs strong. These barriers must be broken down and I would argue that it is Christians, out of all religious and ethnic groups, who have the greatest mandate to achieve this goal.

Some Christians say that they are unwilling to “jump on the social justice” bandwagon, however, I believe that “social justice” can not only be accepted by those of Christian faith but that fundamentally it should be! Social justice is supported by both the Old and New Testament. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” Social justice is intrinsic to the teachings of Jesus and there are countless verses on loving your neighbor, helping the poor and in general, caring about others and their welfare.

I will leave you with two thought provoking quotes. The first addresses the consequences of ignoring social injustices. The second addresses (once one has chosen to advocate for social justice) how to be effective. Having warm and fuzzy feelings about helping people, will not aid anyone in the end. Real action is required.

“It is no service to the country to turn away from the hard problems–to ignore injustice and human suffering. It is simply not the American way of doing things. Of course, there are always a lot of people whose motto is ‘Don’t rock the boat.’ They are so afraid of rocking the boat, that they stop rowing. We can never get ahead that way. We can only drift with the current and finally go over the falls into oblivion with nothing accomplished.” -Harry Truman

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Above is the first ever guest blog post. It is written by Lynnelle, who is not only married to my brother, but is also my good friend. Recently she spent three months here in Delhi.