Alyssa Sellers

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Walk In Love

Red Square ~ Moscow, Russia ~ March 2008
I really love John’s second book. When I was at my lowest, this book helped me claw my way back up. Consequently I’ve probably read this book a good deal more than any other in the bible.

Back in 2010 I was in desperate need of divine direction, so I dove back into to it and was struck by the second half of verse six:

 “…his (Jesus) command is that you walk in love.”

So, yeah, that is easy, walk in love, right, right.  Yet, “Walk In Love” is a way more positive credo than “Meets – It’s Where It’s At” which is what I had taken out of 2008‘s closet and dusted off special for 2010.

This salute to the uninspired is rooted in the annual review structure at my first HR job. Getting a ‘meets’ meant you were doing just enough, you weren’t ‘exceptional,’ but you weren’t ‘needs improvement’ either. Meets was mediocrity at its best. I’ve lived most of my life in the exceptional range, but toward the end of 2007 I was questioning why and wondering where it had gotten me. I decided that maybe meets was where it was at. Less expectation meant less let down, less heartbreak and my young little heart felt it had had its share. I resolved that in 2008 I was going to lower my expectations and reap the mediocre benefits.

That year turned out to not be a “meets” kind of year so the salute didn’t get a lot of play. Therefore, I felt it was still pretty fresh and ready for a new release in 2010.

But then on that day in February in 2010, I decided, instead, to go with God and walk in love.

There is no promise of destination in this new credo. No direction other than to go and walk and while doing so, love. He is not asking me to perform a miracle or do anything extraordinary, but to obey him in love.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people and this is not learned in 5 minutes.”

Compared with the billions that have inhabited the earth the Bible only highlights a few people’s stories. There are people we never read about who pleased God by doing this extraordinary thing of living by faith in him – day in and day out. They milked cows and delivered their product to people while praising God for sun and rain. They strung telegraph cable across the county loving everyone they met. They built subdivision and lived gracious lives. They sat at a desk and entered information into spreadsheets and let God’s light shine through them even when they sometimes struggled to breathe.

They didn’t slay giants, or build ships that saved the animals of the world. They loved God and moved as he wanted them to. And through loving him they loved others and God was proclaimed throughout their blocks, streets, neighborhoods, cities, towns, states, countries, continents, hemispheres – the world. They were generous with their lives because God was generous with his leading; prompting others to be generous too. I think we want some huge event, some grand adventure or reckoning. But on the whole, for billions of people it just isn’t that way. God asks that we be faithful in everyday things, everyday.

God asks that we walk in love. Since that day in February, I have; or at least, I try to.

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The Weather Outside Is Frightful

Rutherford Beach, Cameron Parish, La. ~ April 2010

I suppose most every kid has stories of some chore they did as a result of weather. I knew a guy in college who told me all about shoveling feet of lake-effect snow off his driveway in upstate New York. A coworker in Colorado talked about wind-blown leaves that she raked and piled into high mountains. I heard harrowing tales from a friend who mowed her recently rain-soaked backyard grass jungles in the middle of Mississippi. I suppose kids from the desert talk about sand storms and rock formations. I, a girl from the tiny town of Cameron on the Louisiana Coast, have evacuation stories. Many a hurricane season did I go through the evacuation process. As a child, I kind of liked the excitement of it all. Packing up boxes, loading up trucks, boarding up windows; it was an adventure.

I remember evacuating to my aunt’s apartment in Lake Charles, about an hour’s drive north, when I was around 6-years-old. The power went out abruptly ending the rotation of the record that came with my Sesame Street Hurricane Preparedness Kit. So, I put down my Barbie paper dolls and headed outside with my most favorite umbrella of all time. It was clear vinyl with multicolor hearts printed in rows around it. The storm passed pretty quickly and the next day we drove back home. It wasn’t a bad storm, probably a Category 1. The most damage done was blown down tree limbs and leaves. We unpacked and un-boarded windows, and my brother and I went back to school.

Pack, board, leave, return, and repeat. We all knew the routine by heart. The season started on June 1 and we made tentative plans with baited breath until the season ended on November 1. Usually, though, folks would start to breath a little easier around the beginning of October. I was so attuned with the timetable that as I got older, before the start of each season, I would begin to have disaster dreams. In them I was escaping some catastrophe – fire, flood, earthquake, etc. – and deciding what I was taking out with me. The dreams all ended the same; with me grabbing photo albums and yearbooks. They served a dual purpose, I suppose, preparing me for what was coming and for what I wanted to save when I would leave.

The further away I moved from the Gulf Coast, the further away the fear moved from my mind. I guess it is true what they say about out of sight out of mind. When the waves were no longer breaking in my backyard, I was not nearly as concerned. That was until the last time I evacuated. Prior to that trip, I had never driven into the parish when everyone else was evacuating. Watching the steady stream of headlights on the cars leaving was chilling. Cameron was swathed in a blanket of fearful ambiguity. Talk from the Food Mart to the gas station was that we just didn’t know what the hurricane was going to do – she could hit directly, get stronger, or she could do what every storm has since 1957 did – hit somewhere else. But as coastal residents, we were all amateur meteorologists and therefore knew one thing for certain, hurricanes have minds all their own and move too quickly to allow much human hesitation.

Packing was overwhelming. Knowing that whatever we didn’t take with us may not be around the next day was daunting. Knowing that the entire area where I grew up, that I still called home, could be destroyed was stifling.

The next morning, my parents and I stood in our den weighed down with worry and prayed. This was a big storm. Overnight the hurricane had grown into a Category 4 and it was heading straight toward us. If it hit damages would be far greater than downed tree limbs. There would be lost homes. We hugged each other then, following the routine, my mother and I drove out and my father stayed. He was a Sheriff’s Deputy and was required to stay.

As we drove out I thought about my relationship with my town. For the most part, growing up I felt that I really didn’t fit in. I suppose it is because we wanted different things, my town and I. Most of my wants would be found in a larger city. I wanted theater productions and concerts, a high rise apartment where guests had to be buzzed in like on “Seinfeld.” And I wanted to go into a convenience store and not hear country music blaring through the speakers. I really just don’t care whose bed his boots have been under.

While the bright green marsh flashed by in my rear view mirror, I thought of how I spent most of my youth wanting to be anywhere but there. But now I had been away at college for three years. And I was starting to realize that this place had its charm. It’s the biggest parish in the state, with three national wildlife refuges and most of the state’s beaches. Man, there is something about the Gulf of Mexico that grips me, and probably everyone else who lives there. It’s not the most beautiful piece of waterfront in the world, but it’s alive and a part of us. I went to sleep every night with the sound of waves crashing less than a mile away. That breeds a different kind of person, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never gonna love country music, and I aspire to different goals than some of the folks there, but every bit of what happened there helped in molding me as a person and with one giant storm all of it could be lost.

I evacuated with a renewed appreciation of the place, the people and the situations that helped make me who I was. Not all of it was good, but all of it was meaningful.

We once again spent the night at my aunt’s, only now she was about three hours away in Houston, Texas. The next morning we learned that Hurricane Lili’s size diminished and she unexpectedly turned as she got closer to land. Both actions are extremely rare hurricane characteristics.

Almost exactly one year after that storm I moved to Portland, Oregon. And almost nine years later, I’m still here.

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Blame It On The Rain

I speak in sound effects and song lyrics. Sound effects are hard to convey in writing so, today, I choose song lyrics.

Portland was smacked by its first big storm of the season yesterday. It’s been windy, rainy and slightly chilly so most people with any sense stay inside except for when venturing out is absolutely necessary. Needless to say, I went for a walk along the Willamette River this morning. I needed some movement, some nature and some God. I pressed play on my Season of Singing playlist and after some Kanye West and Ben Folds, The Weepies began to play “Painting by Chagall” as a train rumbled alongside the East Bank Esplanade.

Thunder rumbles in the distance, a quiet intensity
I am willful, your insistence is tugging at the best of me

Sometimes rain that’s needed falls…

Coincidence? Possibly. I mean I did make the playlist and it does rain constantly in Portland. Although, we get little to no thunder, so a train is as close as I am likely to get and the song starting as a train rolls by, well…

I am humbled in this city
There seems to be an endless sea of people like us
Wakeful dreamers, I pass them on the sunlit streets
In our rooms filled with laughter
We make hope from every small disaster

I created this playlist toward the end of March when I was creating the proposal for my book; a memoir about holding onto hope in the midst all sorts of disasters. With the book and proposal nearly finished I felt the winter was over and now it was my season of singing. It’s the end of November and my book is still a Word document on my laptop but there has been lots of singing and laughter over the past nine months. The playlist flows into Lenka’s “Everything’s Okay” as I near the Morrison Bridge.

Sometimes I need a little sunshine
And sometimes I need you

The Esplanade is one of my favorite places in the city but I didn’t step foot on it for the first six years I lived in Portland. Sometimes the things we will love are within reach, we just haven’t embraced them yet. Fear kept me from embracing the joy that is the East Bank. Fear isn’t from God, hope is.

Keep giving me hope for a better day
Keep giving me love to find a way
Through this messy life I made for myself
Heaven knows I need a little

Hope for a better day
A little love to find a way
Through this heaviness I feel
I just need someone to say, everything’s okay

And then the crowd resounds with:
Everything’s okay!

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.
1 Corinthians 13:13 The Message.