Alyssa Sellers


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When I was leaving full-time professional ministry for the second time I read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time. A speech given at the end of the novel pretty much summed up what I felt about my existence at that moment (I’d say spoilers but it’s on you, this bad boy’s been around for decades):

“Now, let’s get on upstream,” said Granger. “And hold onto one thought: You’re not important. You’re not anything. Someday the load we’re carrying with us may help someone. But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn’t use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spiting in the graves of all the poor ones who died before us. We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing you can say, we’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. Come on now, we’re going to go build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them.”*

I’d written a memoir about surviving physical and emotional hurricanes and had secured representation by a reputable Christian literary agency and hoped that it would only be a matter of time before my manuscript was published.   Continue reading

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Desert Jesus and the Cranky Girl

DesertI had forgotten how much chronic pain makes me cranky.

Almost 10 years ago I broke my upper right arm completely in half and had to get a titanium rod and screws placed into the brokenness. I was cranky for months. I thought it was the pain medicine.  I realize now, it was more the miserableness I constantly felt.

I realize now, because I did something awful to my right shoulder and I’ve been in constant pain for 3 weeks. It hurts to type this. It hurts to wash my hair. It hurts to lie on the couch watching Netflix. It hurts. It’s annoying. It makes me cranky.

And then I opened up my bathroom cabinet and something springs out and falls to the floor. “You think I’m picking you up!? Nope, you’re gonna stay there and take this time to think about what you’ve done.”

I’m cranky.

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Yelling with Strangers: The Magic of New Year’s Eve

New Year's EveI guess I could have stayed home last year/night and welcomed the New Year in solitude and contemplation; but that probably wouldn’t have been what happened.

I would have either A. fallen asleep before midnight because I worked nine hours at the USPS or B. watched the New Year’s Eve celebrations on TV and lamented my singleness. You know, because television and movies tell us something magical should happen on New Year’s Eve.

Instead I contacted my friend Jessica, we put on cute festive dresses and we went out; first to dinner at Zeus Cafe where my friend Lori was serving for the evening and then to the Boiler Room for Karaoke. And that’s when it got weird. Not the normal partying with Teletubbies, Care Bears, Elvis Impersonators and Nearly Nudes Portland weird, (which I’ve done and can totally handle) but frat party karaoke weird.

I’ve done a decent bit of karaoke in this town and never encountered a crowd such as this. I’ve also never been hit on with such frequent ferociousness, either. Continue reading

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Let The Sun Shine In

Portland, Oregon ~ May 2012

The truth is there were things I did know. But they were scary un-finished ideas:

I knew I had committed to raising my own support to work full time with my church to share God’s love with students at Portland State and the people of the Portland Downtown neighborhood.

I knew that I needed to continue to live downtown to do this, even though apartment costs are outrageous.

I knew I had already created my own plan to make this happen and I knew it had already failed.

When I wrote the previous entry I no longer knew what to do. 

Funny thing is God did. I ended up in the apartment I live in now. If I had every downtown apartment to choose from, I wouldn’t have chosen this one, that’s for sure. The first time I visited, the smell in the lobby – a mixture of old coffee and yakisoba from the restaurant next door, made me want to vomit. The doors on the apartments were a teal green reminiscent of 1992, a year of which I am not fond. The floor molding is industrial plastic and the Formica counter tops leave much to be desired. 

BUT…the apartment God chose has a lovely view of the Park Blocks and Downtown; a location that has been pivotal in wonderful new friendships. It has a steamed cleaned carpet with questionable stains, so it won’t matter what I accidentally spill on it and a purple door, which, if I may be permitted a church-nerd moment, reminds me of Lydia, the business woman who gathered the first believers who would later become the church in Philippi whom Paul spoke of with great joy.

Yeah, I still don’t know where exactly the money is going to come from to pay my rent each month as I live out this walk of faith, but I do know that through the Oregon Trail card, wonderful taxpayers will continue to help feed me for the next six. 

And I know why I live like this. I live like this because God asked me to. I live like this because I remember who I was and know I am better when I believe and trust in God. I live like this because even though most everything in my life is decidedly the most uncertain it has ever been, God isn’t. And for the first time in a long time I know what peace is. I live like this because God’s gifts are not just for me. I live like this because God wants me to live generously with my life, because this is how God has asked me, Alyssa Sellers, to be salt and light. This is how God has asked me to walk in love.

I have bad days; I have moments when all hope feels gone. But there are many more days and many more moments when I know I am not forgotten and I know that I am loved with an immeasurable love. Today is one of those days.

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Time Is On Your Side

726a9-books014lightA little boy is wailing in the courtyard of my apartment building. I live above a daycare and at least twice a day the children are brought to the courtyard to play. This child had been hysterically crying for well over 20 minutes. Consolation will not come. Many have tried, I’ve heard them, but it’s of no use.

I imagine this is what five of my friends have felt off and on over the last few weeks. They all have lost their mothers to illness; four of them after months of watching cancer ravage a beautiful body and one rather unexpectedly. The pain is fresh and deep for all.

All have also found hope in knowing their mothers are in a glorious place where they can yell with joy and see beauty again. I imagine these two wonderful women meeting each other in heaven, sharing stories of their families with joy and love. I hear their children talk with such hope about where their mothers are; the light in their eyes inspiring. I know that the ache in their souls is deep and will only be dulled over time.

I am really the worst at mourning. I want it to be over and done with at a pace that is inhuman. I encourage my friends to not be like me, to not rush through it but to embrace all that God wants to give them during this time; all the comfort, all the peace, all the love.

Time, after all, is a gift.

My friends all hold strong to the belief that this life is a staging area for the next. We are given time here to prepare ourselves and others for the next and longer, “here.”

In Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery, Anne sits up one evening with Ruby Gillis, a woman in her early twenties who will die the next day. Ruby says that she doesn’t want to die; she wants to go on living here.

“I’ve fought so hard to live – it isn’t any use – I have to die – and leave everything I care for.”

Anne sat in a pain that was almost intolerable. She could not tell comforting falsehoods; and all that Ruby said was so horribly true. She was leaving everything she cared for. She had laid up her treasures on earth only; she had lived solely for the little things of life– the things that pass–forgetting the great things that go onward into eternity, bridging the gulf between the two lives and making of death a mere passing from one dwelling to the other–from twilight to unclouded day. God would take care of her there–Anne believed–she would learn–but now it was no wonder her soul clung in blind helplessness to the only things she knew and loved. Chapter 14 ~ The Summons

After talking a bit more Anne leaves and on her walk home sums the evening up with this:

The little things of life, sweet and excellent in their place, must not be the things lived for; the highest must be sought and followed; the life of heaven must be begun here on earth.

Sue Erickson lived her life in that place. She left explicit instructions on how no unneeded expenses should be spent on her burial so that all of the money could go to help the people in India for whom she cared immensely.

In the summer of 2004 Sue and a few of my friends went to Hong Kong for a conference and service opportunity and met a man who was a spiritual leader in a community off the south east coast of India. They developed a grand relationship and when disaster struck in December of that year, our church community began to work to help that community. The first donations brought aid in the form of rice and fishing nets. The continued work over the last seven years has brought new life to hundreds of people in that area through teaching sewing skills, hygiene and the lifesaving word of God.

Sue worked an extra day a week giving that day’s wages to the impoverished widows, women, children and outcasts she loved and served in India. A memorial fund has been set up to continue that work.

The week she was supposed to leave for her second trip to India Sue learned she had cancer. She never saw India or the people she loved there again. I believe she will see those friends one day. Those friends and many more who found life because of her sacrifice.

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A Time to Dance, A Time to Mourn

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ~ October 2011

On a couch in a cozy corner of a home in North Portland I sat with Bob and Maxine, both aged over 80 and together for well over half a century. I watched as they held hands and occasionally cried softly through the sermon on suffering Cork shared this past Sunday.

Cork is married to their daughter Sue and this year they celebrate 40 years of marriage. Later this year, Cork will have to bury his love. Sue is near the end of her heroic battle with cancer. Since the notification a few weeks ago, hundreds of people who love Sue and her family are making personal pilgrimages to their home. I am one of them.

After most of the other visitors left, I sat alone with Sue.  She told me how much more real Jesus’s love has felt to her recently. As she unconsciously fiddled with the collar of her night gown, her clear deep blue eyes gleamed as her feeble voice spoke with power words of truth and love. We talked about how she saw and felt Jesus’s love through the kindness of her husband. With the heart of school girl she told me how Cork insisted they celebrate their anniversary this week even though the actual date is in October. He made potato and steak soup. She ate the broth and he ate the potato and steak.

On Saturday, I attended the wedding of two of my friends. These two friends are at the beginning of their journey together in love. Along with those who love them, I danced and laughed and hugged. Hope and love were tangible. On Sunday, during a worship service in a living room with 30 of their friends and family members, I watched Cork stand up from his chair and rub Sue’s now bald head and hold her hand as we sang praise to God. Together with those who love them, I cried and sang and hugged. Faith and love were tangible.

At the beginning and at the end, there is love.  This is the Good News.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
 ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4 NIV

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The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

Yorktown Battlefield ~ October 4, 2011
Sometimes I deny my inner history nerd. Then, one day while traveling across the country, I find myself totally engrossed with every little thing the tiny village of Yorktown has to offer and I realize I LOVE HISTORY. Well, really, I love a good story and that pretty much is what history is. It is a little over a month since I took a National Parks tour of the Yorktown Battlefield and I find myself on the Library of Congress website reading a few of General George Washington’s letters.
I blame it on the entertaining and informative National Park Ranger who told us that six months before the United States’ victory at the Battle of Yorktown, George Washington declared in a letter that, …we are at the end of our tether, and that now or never our deliverance must come.

Now, having read a few of Washington’s letters it appears that the man could be quite the Debbie Downer. After five years of writing about this brutal war, I imagine him hunched over his desk trying to find a new way to describe the state of bad he was currently in and choosing “end of our tether.” It is quite the dire description when you think about it.

I never realized how overwhelming it must have been for Washington and the men of the revolution. They were in the middle of something where, for the most part, the outcome was not in their favor and, by many accounts, was fairly foolhardy. They had absolutely no guarantee of success.

Nonetheless, Washington and his men tenaciously held on to that tether and six months later saw the tide turn in their favor when on October 19, 1781 General Lord Cornwallis of the British Army surrendered in Yorktown. With this victory United States independence was secured and the course of world history was changed significantly. Two years later the war officially ended and Washington became the first president of this baby nation.

So, I’m in the middle, or maybe more accurately in the second third, of my history and, Mr. First President of the United States of America, you inspire me to hold on. I wonder if you also inspired the ladies of Wilson Phillips.

PS: Veteran’s Day is Friday. You should thank one.

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Sometimes, when the clouds and fog are just thick enough to blur the tree lines but not enough to block the sun, I believe I am in a fairy tale. I’m at the beginning of a good one – one that is brimming with possibility, I just know it.

This optimistic attitude is rather new for me. I’ve lived much of my life believing the lie that this now, my current present, is the best there is, was, or ever will be. I recently met a bunch of folks across the United States many of whom also feel the pressure of this lie. Sometimes, we forget that this current present, whether good or bad, is only for now. We forget that tomorrow, or even our next moment, is full of possibility. Driving through the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia during my recent four week road trip across the U.S. the concept of “for now” became as vivid as the leaves I viewed from my passenger side window. The leaves were changing and so was I.

I began 2011 with the goal of living in joyful anticipation, an idea based on Romans 8. After many months of my typical ridiculous anxiety, I think I am finally living an adventurously expectant God filled life full of joyful anticipation.