What is a word that describes the middle ground between black and white? What about a word that describes the middle ground between big and small? To me at least, the answers were obvious. Black and medium. When I thought about other opposites though like relaxed and anxious or love and hate, I couldn’t find an indisputable answer.  There are many shades of love, and many shades of hate, and no one clear place to land in the middle.

I like to think of myself as this incredibly complex person, who hovers over the median lines of issues and debates. I like to think that politically “I’m a moderate,” and that I don’t have brown hair, but I also don’t have red hair, so it must be somewhere in the middle. (Which I call auburn). I like to believe that I am a sweet person, but that I am also intimidating and commanding to appropriately suit the situation. Yet, I like to think of Mother Theresa as a good person. I also like to think of her as a Christian. I like to think of her as a woman. For some reason, I do not like to think of her as not a perfect representation of a pair of opposites. In my mind she isn’t a good person who could potentially struggle with something, she is strictly good. Its not just her that I do this for, though. For example,  Ted Bundy is evil. My dentist is nice. The lady behind me in line is impatient, and the barista at Starbucks is bubbly. I polarize people’s traits and then define them, which made me realize that perhaps people do the same to me. I got quite afraid of the reality that I am I able to be so easily boiled down to concrete, binary elements.

Thinking in binary terms can cause you to manipulate, incorrectly define, and limit yourselves and others. It then provides the increasing opportunity to fail and the inability to meet expectations. It is obviously detrimental to ourselves to think like this, but it also can cause damage to those who care about us who just cant jump through our hoops.

It frustrates me when people think that I am so easy to figure out. I’m not. I am not black, and I am not white. I am not simple and easy to define. Trying to explain me will make you miss out on getting to know the actual me. By limiting me to your schema and stereotypes, you chose the me that you get to know, and you miss out on who I really am. People don’t crave to be defined, I believe that they seek to be understood. I don’t want someone who can tell me that I tend to overreact, I want someone who will look at my overreaction and understand certain things make me short tempered. When you think of me in binary terms, you can also manipulate me into something I’m not. You can make me be better than I actually am, or much worse. Either way I am set up for failure. If it is decided I am perfect, then the disappointments will pour in because I’m flawed and I will undeniably fail you. If you think negatively towards me, then I could fall into a perpetual cycle of trying to please and prove myself when it is already settled in your mind that I am concretely bad.

This happens to me, but I engage in the cycle and I do it to others. He is a good guy, or a bad guy. I like them, or I don’t. When I have made my decision, it is made and it would take much earth shaking to make me change. I put people into the perpetual pleasing cycles by having higher than possible standards. By trying to define other human’s actions, I have limited them as people, and made the environmental context the sole reflection of their personality. I have also decided to only see the good in people and ignored the pain and hurt that they cause in my life. I am beginning to see the beauty in the gray, though. I am beginning to see the beauty in saying things like, he is unkind when he needs to feel guarded, instead of  just labeling him mean. I am beginning to see the beauty in the opportunity the middle ground gives me when I am getting to know people.

I challenge you to also lessen how much you think in binary terms.


Why Someone Whose School had a Shooting is Not Talking about Gun Regulations

I walked out of Otto Miller at around 3 o’clock on June 5th, only about 15 minutes before the shooting happened. Someone that I knew died. People that I know have been hurt. To have your home invaded is an incredibly traumatic event. I was robbed of having a feeling of safety, not only here but anywhere, and now have to heal and figure out how to cope.

Now that I have gone through this, I will admit that until you spend hours hiding and receiving and sending texts that say “are you alive?”, it is easy to be cut off and distant from events like these. Truthfully, before this I was. It’s just one more school shooting, more causalities, and another push in the fight for gun regulation for some. Both sides of the arguments have solid points, but in polarizing ourselves we are missing what really needs to happen after events like these.

Through this whole thing, I’m not blaming. I don’t blame gun regulations. I don’t blame the person who sold the gun. I don’t blame the lack of mental help the shooters in these events need. I don’t blame poor security. I don’t blame the media. To blame is to limit what happened. You can never explain why this happened because it beyond our realm of understanding. There is no way we can piece together why the shooter came into our building with the intent to take innocent lives. To say it was poor gun control that took Paul’s life is demeaning. To say that it a lack of mental illness awareness that took Paul’s life is demeaning. A 19 year old boy lost his life, and another high school student died as well. Families are experiencing incredible pain. Communities are mourning. No regulation will ever return the feeling of safety, and no regulation will ever return our friends.

The extra push behind needing better gun regulation is most likely a way to show sympathy and let people know that this should never happen again. Here are my problems with saying that gun control is the answer. For one, the shooter could have come in with a homemade bomb. He had a knife. Gun regulations wouldn’t have stopped him. He wanted to create terror. He wanted to harm mass amounts of people for his own personal fantasy of being glorified and exalted. The main reason why saying it is as simple as gun regulations is because of the belittling of lives lost, and the way that it highlights the flaws in the system, and almost reversely glorifies a shooter for taking his chance. I beg you that for the sake of the people hurting do not exalt him by pointing out the flaws in the system. Do not exalt him by making it seem like there were ways he could have been stopped, but wasn’t. Do not exalt him because what he did was evil and caused incredible harm. He should not be glorified. This happened in my own home, and I haven’t even bothered to learn the person’s name. I have chosen not to acknowledge the legacy he tried to create.

In times like these we need to lean on each other. We need to look to God, and begin to grapple with how we are going to forgive. In light of what has happened I ask that you be sensitive, and know this is more than a simple policy adjustment. A person died at my school, and a person died at Reynolds high. Two young lives were lost for someone’s sport, and that to me is one of the most evil crimes that can be committed. To say something as simple as gun control could have stopped it has can cause incredible damage to a family that lost their son. There is no simple answer as to why this happened, and losing your son, or your friend, or your roommate, or a classmate is complex and cannot be tied up with a neat answer. There is no reason why this should have happened, and instead of searching for answers or trying to define the incredible pain that people are feeling we need to learn to just be in it. We need to feel the anger and feel the heartbreak so that we can forgive. We need to cry and mourn because a friend was taken, and now hundreds more in Oregon are going through the same thing. If you want this to never happen again, the best place to start is simply by mourning the life that was lost, and disregarding how it was taken. Remember Paul Lee, a young 19 year old boy who was full of life and had many more years he should have spent dancing. Do not waste your time remembering how he died.

On behalf of my friends at SPU, please join us in remembering our friend. During a time of utter pain and confusion, it is heartening to see the support and love spreading on campus. A stranger came into our home with the intent to harm, and although we are broken, we are united. We are not a community centered in hate, or in vengeance, but in Christ. We are healing, and through healing feeling anger and sorrow, but yet learning to forgive. Paul, you are greatly missed, and we cannot wait to dance with you in heaven.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we  are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:6

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

An open letter to the SPU gunman

falconstrong's Blog

Mr. Ybarra,

Yesterday, you walked into the doors of a place I’ve called home for years with the intent to harm. The events of June 5th are forever embedded in my mind…but probably not for the reasons you’d assume. I’ve read articles claiming that you had an obsession with Columbine and a desire to partake in a school shooting. I’m writing this letter to tell you that the school you entered yesterday is not just a school, we  are so much more…we are a family.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t angry. I am so angry. I feel violated. I feel shaken. I feel like my home has been compromised and one of my family members has been taken while others fight for their lives today. I do not understand. I cry out for answers. I lament. I’ve never felt fear as deep as I did yesterday waiting…

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Using Cruelty Free Products

Eating meat so far has been easy for me, but in order to really adopt a cruelty-free lifestyle I believe that I need to be consistent. One area where I evaluated where I could make some changes was within the cosmetics and other beauty products that I use.

First off, identifying why animal testing is wrong seems like a good place to start. It is true, companies have to test their products for safety somehow, and animals are biologically very similar to humans. If there is an adverse reaction due to a product, a human’s death with be socially more significant than the death of an animal. Reading through what happens to animals during testing is sickening and cruel. Animals die so that our mascara and our shampoo can be tested. If we were to use natural, organic products, adverse reactions which animals are used as test subjects for things like birth defects and internal organ damage, wouldn’t be an issue. Also, there are so many options of cruelty free products that there is absolutely no excuse to use them!

One of the most common procedures done is the toxicity test. In this test, the animals, generally rats or mice, are exposed to a substance, usually a household or industrial chemical, by ways of injection, rubbing it on their skin, or indigestion. They are then observed for reactions like nausea, vomiting, rash, diarrhea, bleeding, tumors, and birth defects to name a few. Then to end the experiment, the animal will generally be killed to observe if there was any internal organ damage. Here are some examples from;

  • Reproductive and developmental toxicity test: Rats or mice are exposed to a test substance and bred. After the animals give birth, the adults are killed so that their reproductive systems can be examined. The offspring are examined for birth defects and are also eventually killed.
  • Acute toxicity test (LethalDose50): Animals, usually rodents or dogs, are fed a test substance in increasing quantities to find out how much is required to kill them.
  • Skin irritation test (Draize test): The test substance (often an acid or painful substance) is rubbed onto a rabbit’s skin to see if it causes irritation.
  • Inhalation toxicity test: Rats are either placed in sealed cages or squeezed into restraint tubes pumped full of gas, forcing the animal to breathe in the vapors of the test substance, usually for 4-6 hours/day for either one-day, several weeks, or months. Animals are examined to determine whether breathing the substance has toxic effects.

Its great that companies are looking out for the safety of the consumers, but in my opinion:
1. If toxicity tests need to be run and there is a risk of birth defects or internal organ damage then the products are not healthy and we shouldn’t be using them anyway.

2. Since the product can’t be healthy, it isn’t worth taking the lives of animals.

3. The torture that is subjected to make sure that our all purpose cleaner or mascara is safe is, in my opinion, wrong. 

My question is, why is this even happening? How have we been okay with this for so long? There is only one set of federal laws concerning animal testing (Which are the Animal Welfare Laws), and these laws really only touch upon cage size and conditions of the animal’s habitats, not protection for them. In fact, in China it is mandatory that all products be tested on animals first, and many American companies are now switching to conducting tests on animals in order to expand their market, so its important that we make sure the products we use are cruelty free. Here is a way to check if the products you use are tested on animals:

But don’t worry! Using Cruelty Free products does NOT mean that you have to use super organic and expensive products, or products that don’t work. Click on the pictures for the links to take you to the sites for them! Here is some stuff that I use:

Hair Care: 

Organix Hair Care
I almost exclusively use this line of hair care now. The shampoo and conditioner is great, and the supplemental products like the oils and flat iron sprays are also really high quality. In addition to being cruelty free, this line of products is also inexpensive! I can generally get my shampoo and conditioners for around $5 each!

Another hair care product that I use is the Macadamia Natural Oil Deep Repair Mask. This mask is expensive (It’s around $40 most places I find it), but INCREDIBLE! This is the best hair mask I have EVER USED. Thank goodness it is cruelty free!

As far as bodywash goes, I love Philosphy. Again, another expensive product (It ranges from $18-24), but so worth the money. I bought my last bottle on Black Friday and there is still a quarter of it left. This stuff is awesome.

field of flowers

Some products that were surprising to me that are cruelty free are the products from Bath and Body Works, and the fragrances and lotions from Victoria Secret. I use the  Pure Seduction scents in all forms (spray, lotion, bodywash) and I also use all of the Bath and Body Works products. These products are relatively inexpensive and they all work really great!

Pure Seduction Victoria`s Secret for womenCountry Chic Body Lotion - Signature Collection - Bath & Body WorksThese are just some examples of cruelty products I use. My new goal is to start using more natural products which are also healthier for myself and the planet, but a good place to start is by using products that you know will bring no harm to animals!

Can I Be A Christian AND Be A Vegetarian??

“But God put animals on this Earth for us to eat…” Personally, I don’t believe that to eat meat is to be condemned, and I would be surprised if there was a Christian vegetarian who held that view. Yes, murder … Continue reading

50 days As a Vegetarian

Elimination diets are becoming  widely used everyday. So many people are toting the “gluten free” label, whether that be valid or not. We are forced to think about organic or non-organic, carb cycling or no carbs, high fat low fat– the list goes on. I have been doing my own experimenting and researching, and wondering what is the ideal diet for myself and my body. Everywhere you turn the “best diet” is displayed and sold to you, and I at least would like to be an educated consumer.

According to the American Dietetics Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” In addition to this, from an abstract done by, “The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals.”

Well why would I not want to try the diet!? Another factor to consider about the vegetarian lifestyle is a cruelty free diet makes it even more appealing. Like shown in the documentary Food Inc., the beef industry, for example, has monopolized the average American’s diet, and is feeding most of the population animals which are genetically altered and live in dirty, disease breeding environments. Also, according to the documentary, “The average American eats over 200 lbs. of meat a year.” That number is a huge increase to the 120 lbs. that was the average amount of meat consumed in the early 1900s as well as throughout most of the century. In the documentary Forks over Knives, T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University references his China Study, a study considered to be the among most comprehensive nutritional studies ever conducted, reiterates that having a plant based diet, (which is essentially a whole foods, or vegan diet) can eliminate the chances in developing certain cancers and diseases, and then also reverse the symptoms of degenerative diseases like heart disease and type II diabetes. When I think of the diet I am about to undertake and think of the known health benefits, reduced risks, and the fact that my diet will be cruelty free makes me wonder why i wouldn’t try it.

After much research, I am going to adopt a “trial period” vegetarian diet for 46 days, (through lent! Including all of the Sundays) and then at the end of the trial, decide if the vegetarian life is the life for me. For me to end up fully adopting the diet, I need to personally feel that being a vegetarian:

1. Makes me feel better! I want to be as healthy as I can be! As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine!”

2. Makes me look good! I want a diet where I will be able to see that I am getting adequate nutrition through the quality of my skin, and I want a diet where I will not put on any extra weight!

3. Will provide me long term health benefits! If it’s going to happen, it will happen, but if there is any lifestyle changes I can make to increase my chances of avoiding the major killers like heart disease and cancer, I will do anything to try!

My first day is Wednesday March 5th, 2014, and my last (last!??!) day will be Easter Sunday! I will be updating my blog multiple times a week with dilemmas I face, daily progress, information on how to become a vegetarian, resources on vegetarian diets, and fun things like recipes!

Thanks for reading this, I can’t wait to start!