Alyssa Sellers


Lessons of Love: Start with a Smile



Downtown Portland is filled with people who want something from you.

They want your name on a petition, they want you to buy their new product, they want you to sign-up to support an international child or an environmental cause, they want your money for a Tri-Met pass, dog food, beer, weed, human food, a hostel, etc., or they want you to repent and follow their Jesus who hates a long list of people groups they have proudly printed on their sandwich boards and canvas signs.

Residents of this economically diverse neighborhood will encounter at minimum three requests a day for something from them. Consequently, residents of this neighborhood don’t look up. They don’t make eye contact. They don’t engage with one another. Continue reading


Boromir and the Portland Summer


When spring officially faded into summer on Thursday evening I was walking through the South Park Blocks listening to The Classic Crime song Vagabonds. It’s a song about loving a city and loving living in it.

“People can’t get enough
Of living in the darkness and the rain
But when the sun comes out
The streets are filled with songs
And people playing it loud
So the whole world can sing along”

OK, I know that this song is about that other Northwest city, but it still applies. I LOVE Portland and the streets WERE filled with song as I left my friend’s apartment and walked the 10 blocks home in the twilight. Summer is here and the sun will soon come out and stay out for three long glorious months. We have been waiting. We are getting kinda stoked. Continue reading

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Life is What Happens to You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

June 2012 ~ Me, Dragon, Eva

I fell in love with George Gershwin when I fell in love with Mr. Holland.

In high school I adored the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus”. I watched it incessantly and cried enormously each time. I loved Mr. Holland’s world. It was land filled with the arts taught in public schools. A land where high schools had annual musicals featuring the music of George and Ira Gershwin.  A land with roundabouts and old auditoriums. It was magical and unlike any world I’d ever known.

I never imagined I could possibly visit, let alone live in, that make-believe world of Mr. Holland. I’m sure my parents made mention of it being set in Portland, Oregon,  they lived here for a bit in the 1970s, but from where I stood on the movie theater steps in the coatless warmth of January 1996 in Louisiana, Oregon was a fantasy land on the other side of the Rockies with four distinct seasons-not hot and less hot. The likelihood of me inhabiting that place seemed inconceivable.

It’s funny how life works out. 

In June 2004, while wearing a coat, I stood in a parking garage on SW 10th Avenue avoiding the ever present Portland rain and saw a marching band play “Louie Louie” in my first Grand Floral Parade.  This rather infamous song was recorded by Portland based band The Kingsmen in the 1963 and is played by the high school band Mr. Holland directs as they march ahead of a Portland fire truck in a parade during a pivotal scene in the movie.

June 2012 ~ Grand Floral Parade ~ Portland, Oregon

 “Huh…so I ended up in the Land of Mr. Holland after all,” I thought.  I hadn’t really realized until that moment that I had indeed been an inhabitant of that once magical make-believe place for 9 months and I was certain I would be one for another year, but most likely not any more.

This June, I once again stood in a coat on SW 10th Avenue and I realized that, just as Mr. Holland signed and sang,  John Lennon was right, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

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Little Things

I am back on campus as a community advisor for a Christian group at Portland State. Some days, probably like you in your work and daily lives, I have no idea if what I’m doing makes any sense.  But I’m here, trying to figure it out. The “it” being how to care for this neighborhood and love like Jesus does. Love without condition, with patience, with hope. I wrote a memoir that is yet to be published and in one chapter I talk about bringing a team of people down to my hometown after Hurricane Ike to love it like Jesus does.
Cameron, Louisiana ~ March 2009

It’s March 2009 and if culture is defined by details, Cameron’s is abandoned. Folks are back sooner after Ike than Rita so buildings are already cleaned, gutted and being rebuilt, but spring weeds covering derelict ruins leave the impression of abandonment. Prior to our arrival I’d asked Mom to find a place where we could beautify the town. Hurricane Café, a local eatery operating out of a trailer, was located on the concrete slab where the Post Office once stood. There was a 12 foot bed there that hadn’t seen flowers in over three years. Across the driveway there was a matching bed in front of the Bookmobile that was serving as the temporary Library. Our goal is to clean out the beds and put in flowers in four days.

After two major storms these beds hold a number of surprises – pounds of broken glass, four square foot sections of broken brick walls, busted wood and more. Our team of five adults and two preteens keep at it. For a brake, we attack the weeds up and down the empty spaces on Main Street. The string brakes on our weed eater so I walk down to Marine Supply to get more.

“Are you with that group cleaning up down the street?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where y’all from?”

“Oh, I’m originally from here. I’m Paul and Cyndi Sellers’s daughter.”

“I thought you looked familiar. You look just like your mama.”

“I get that a lot. I live in Portland, Oregon now and I brought some friends down with me to help clean up.”

“Well, it looks real nice, what y’all are doing. Thank you for coming. It really means a lot. Y’all coming down here and all.”

“We’re glad to help.”

We aren’t building a building or doing some other grand act. But we are here, doing the many small somethings they haven’t the energy to do and that means a lot to people. Care is sometimes most evident in the details.

So, it’s March 2012 and I’ve planted myself here, in Portland, Oregon, doing the small somethings, trying to show that I care.

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Would I Lie to You


I saw Portland Opera’s production of Faust in 2006 and it sort of changed my life. In the story Faust sells his soul to Mephistopheles (Satan) for youth. Faust in his new youth sees, lusts for and has sex with young Marguerite. This one night stand results in a baby. Marguerite’s brother returns from war and finds his sister dishonored. He loses a duel with Faust and with his final breath curses Marguerite. Completely destroyed she runs to the church for forgiveness and refuge, but Mephistopheles trails behind her, and employs a chorus of demons to drive her into insanity by telling her she is damned. In this state she murders her baby. 
In the final act Marguerite is in jail and Faust comes back to rescue her from execution by asking her to join him and Mephistopheles. As Faust and Mephistopheles try to convince her to flee with them, she sees Mephistopheles for the demon he is and cries out to God, giving herself to him and asking to be carried to heaven. As she is executed Mephistopheles yells, “Judged!” Immediately an angelic choir gloriously resounds, “Saved!” The scrim is lifted and the truth of salvation is shown.

Throughout the entire jail scene a scrim had been between the audience and the actors. Scrims are a tool of the theater. They are used to aid in suspending disbelief. When lit from the front, the scrim looks like a solid wall. If it is lit from behind, it is transparent and the audience is unaware that it exists at all. They have no idea they are missing something. They see the stage and the scene with the actors in costume and the set decorated. Motion happens, lines are spoken, all seems normal. And then it happens, the scrim is lifted, and you see the truth behind it. Imperfections and details of the actors, their costumes, and their surroundings that you never noticed before are suddenly blindingly obvious.

I was looking at life through a scrim. I was moving in my own jail, being accused by Satan. I was being told that I was alone, isolated, that no one else was as insecure or as insignificant as me. I was being told a lie. When the chorus of angels broke out in song from the balcony, it was as if God had sent them down for me. It was as if truth was falling on me with every note of the finale. The truth is I was not alone in my life or in my insecurity.

There is a good chance that Portlanders are insecure to the highest degree. It could be because we are a self proclaimed city of geeks. I mean, we have the largest independent bookstore, our library has the busiest circulation for a city its size and the metro area houses offices of the likes of Intel, Tektronix and other technology marvels. I’m pretty sure that in high school most of us did not sit at the cool table.

But here, now, we have made a new geek-chic cool table and yet, we are still not quite sure we should be sitting at it. We think that this could be a “Carrie” moment and any second, any false move, could end with pig’s blood all over us.

Somehow in the depths of my depression Satan’s lies had temporarily obscured God’s truth. I am loved by God, I am worthwhile. No one has it all together; no one. I think God had been slowly pulling up the scrim for awhile. I think my time with him and with wonderful, supportive Jesus loving friends had gotten me closer to the point where it could be lifted completely.

I now saw the world differently. Like the way a three-year-old sees her closet in the daylight as opposed to night. The coat is not a monster anymore, it is just a coat. That commuter isn’t judging me; he is covered in a scrim being accused by Satan, judging himself.

Portland Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly open this Friday at the Keller Auditorium. Check it:

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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.