Latest Entries »

Who’s She?

Mountain

I’m driving in my car and a familiar voice comes onto the radio. I turn it up a little…

Shawty, I don’t mind, if you dance on a pole…

I can’t believe I’m still listening, but the curiosity is killing me…

You can take off your clothes, long as you coming home, girl, I don’t mind…

This can’t be for real…

They be lookin’, but they can’t touch you, shawty, I’m the only one to get it. So just go ahead and keep doing what you do, do it…

That was the last time I listened to that song. Now I can’t get past the opening notes before my stomach turns. Apparently, no one ever told Usher the truth about the stripping profession: the fact that women who make money through that line of work happen to be far more likely to fall victim to crimes such as rape and sexual assault or the fact that they are less likely to recommend it to friends and far more reliant upon it as their sole financial support than their male stripping counterparts.

Rewind a few weeks…

I’m sitting in a church service and the guest speaker is talking about Moses and the burning bush. He gets to the part where God asks Moses to put his staff on the ground and it turns into a serpent, then he makes a crack about that being one of the many reasons why women should not be in leadership, as a woman probably would have screamed and run away from the serpent before she could see the miracle completed and the serpent turned back into a staff. Apparently, no one told him that Jesus turned concepts related to gender on their head when he praised Mary for sitting at his feet and taking the male role of student while he corrected Martha for fulfilling the very female role of tending to her guests.

Rewind a few months…

I’m lounging on my couch watching Frozen for the first time and finally hearing the supposedly “empowering” song Let It Go in its entirety. Days later, I am strangely, angered and saddened as I see a majority of the little girls that come to my home trick or treating dressed as Elsa. Apparently, a glamorous dress, long blonde hair, and a pretty castle still beat out emotional maturity, a good, kind heart, and a healthy sense of community even on a good day.

 Am I crazy or is being a woman tough?

While some of us are stuck in “no woman’s land” as we wrestle with our singleness or marriages in the age of the romantic comedy and in family or friend groups that send us the message that our highest possible calling and deepest happiness is to be found in the role of loving wife and mother, the rest of us seek our comfort from some bizarre sexual revolution that ultimately still has us catering to some equally disheartening (or arguably more so) man-made construct of sexiness and desirability.

Living in the Bay Area has really brought issues of gender to the surface for me. It only takes plugging a few words into Google to learn about the incredible inequality women are facing in tech companies, such as the one powering your internet search for the topic.

I never felt like I fit prim and properly into the “woman” category. Always a little too loud, always a little too opinionated, often completely outrageous… The battle is never over. While the women at my office, in my very female dominated field, catch up on the latest buzz regarding their take on 50 Shades of Grey (a franchise I object to on a large variety of grounds) I’m not sure where or how I come in, but I feel no more at home when the talk is homemaking or child-rearing.

That being said, I never had any interest in the whole tomboy gig either. I am far too big a fan of perfume, jewelry, and makeup for that. Is it too much to ask to be permitted to engage in an intellectually stimulating debate, maybe even voice a wildly unpopular opinion, all while wearing glittery, golden shoes? Will the day ever come that a woman is seen as fiercely feminine, not for her sultry appearance, but because of the contents of her heart and mind? It’s not looking good… In fact, the prognosis is quite bad…

That’s where you and I come in. We think we don’t have the power, but we do. We think all the control has been stripped from us, but it hasn’t. We get to decide every day the kind of women we want to be, the kinds of daughters we want to raise, the movies we want to watch, and the books we want to read. We get to turn off the radio or the television and say, “We aren’t buying the garbage you are selling any more.” We get to look at our peers, our partners, and our parents and tell them we don’t see ourselves in the product they are marketing. We get to say it’s not ok to convey to young people that exploitation is sexy or that a woman is only as valuable as the man she stands behind. We won’t stop shining because it threatens you. We won’t stop speaking out because it scares you. We were made for a greater purpose, we are rooted in a deeper identity, we bear a more valuable image, we reflect a greater light than the one you’ve reduced us down to…

 Inside of me is the brightest light there is, and I can’t, I won’t, hide it.

Advertisements

Shall We Dance?

When I was itty bitty, I wanted nothing more than to become a ballerina. I had never even seen a real ballet, but somehow I had managed to get it engrained into my miniscule mind that there was nothing more glamourous, more beautiful, more elegant than dancing on a stage wearing a pink tutu and pointy, lacey shoes. When my parents put me in dance class as a remedy to the annoyance of my constant requests and maddening spins and leaps across the living room, I couldn’t have been happier. However, after a couple years, it became clear that not only did I not have the body of a ballerina; I also didn’t have the dedication or skill. I let go of my childish dream and took a random class here and there in other forms of dance, but ultimately, my former desires gave way to more realistic career ambitions. Despite my abandonment of this activity, from the time I can remember, I’ve always come alive when I am dancing. Moving my body to the beat of music brings out a happiness in me that sometimes surpasses even the other things I love most.

In an attempt to re-engage in this form of pleasure and through the help and encouragement of both an old friend and a new friend, I have recently begun to dance again. On Monday nights, I make my way over to a local dance studio for salsa lessons. During the most recent class, the instructor grabbed hold of me to demonstrate a portion of the routine. As the music played, I worked my hardest to make sure I was correctly hitting each and every step. That’s when the instructor said, “Woah, I guess she moves whether you tell her to or not!” My face blushed in embarrassment as it often does during salsa class since my enthusiasm usually far surpasses my confidence or ability, but I pushed forward and didn’t give what he had said much of a second thought. That is until I was partnered with another male in the class who stopped me at one point and said, “I guess he was right. You do move whether you are told to or not.”

For those of you who don’t know, salsa is a dance that relies on partnering skills just as much as it relies on technique. A woman may be an incredible dancer, but if she doesn’t know how to follow, it is all for naught. The man’s priority is to take charge and lead and it is the woman’s job to make sure she is in the perfect position that makes the man’s job of leading as easy as possible.

Now, let me go ahead and pause before you get the idea that this post is about gender roles and that somehow I am asserting that it is always man’s job to lead and always woman’s role to follow… While I find gender conversations enthralling, today isn’t the day for that discourse. Today is the day I come to terms with the fact that I have spent about ninety percent of the 28 years of my life honing my leadership skills and given little if any thought on how to let go and follow. Vulnerability is hard for me. Acknowledging I need to release and surrender is even more difficult. Willingly relinquishing every ounce of power and control is torture.

Whether teaching groups of elementary or college students, being the voice of reason in times of crisis, or offering guidance and wisdom in the midst of confusion, it’s not hard for me to be the loudest voice in the room. It comes naturally. I’ve even learned how to be really good at vulnerability in the context of leadership. Share just enough to be relatable, but not so much that you are no longer seen as a mentor. This skill set has served me well and I am grateful for it, but it has also had its downfalls. I’ve been too direct with friends when I could have taken a meeker approach. I’ve faltered in my faith when I’ve done things my own way instead of relying on the strength and wisdom of the One I serve. I’ve missed opportunities to learn from those who had quieter voices than I had, but equally brilliant things to say.

I’ve said it time and time again, life goes through seasons. I had a very LONG season of leadership, but that season seems to be screeching to a very abrupt halt. I’m no longer in the front of the classroom developing leaders in my job; I am the new one that doesn’t know anything and is constantly asking questions in order to gain clarity. Even when I know the right answer, those around me assume I don’t and seek out those with more experience. I don’t know my way around the city and instead of having tried many of the coolest restaurants and experienced many of the exciting things there are to do, I am completely oblivious regarding how to get from one place to the next or offering up suggestions for fun things to do. Even my personal relationships are demanding a different level of vulnerability I’m not used to or comfortable with. It appears salsa class may be useful for more than just bringing me pleasure. There’s a larger lesson there. I will continue to grow in my technique. I’m a good leader for a reason. I can’t hide my light and I need to be willing to step into the “take charge” roles I may be called to in the future. But… It looks like I have no choice but to strengthen my partnering skills as well. Letting others lead and guide me, being willing to let go even when I’m “confident” I could do things better if I were just permitted to do it myself, allowing myself to be just downright bad at something so that I experience firsthand that it’s ok to let other people take care of me for a change… It’s not what I would have chosen, but it seems to be just what I need. So with resignation, I join this dance, hoping that in due time, my fellow dancers will be taken by how beautifully I manage to follow.

I moved to California with little more than clothes and my itty-bitty car, which my sister and friend had so strategically packed with said clothes (I’m worthless at packing, so I will forever be grateful that these two lovely women did the job for me). Moving with so few of my things has led to several necessary trips back and forth to various stores in the area, purchasing all the things I need. From groceries, to hangers, to a proper shower cap, my many life requirements have left me spending FAR more money than I would have liked to spend in double or even triple the amount of time. There is one thing, however, that I refuse to spend another cent on for months and months to come.

The county I live in, and apparently much of the rest of the Bay Area as well, has decided to make a grand, green gesture, by getting rid of all the plastic bags in stores. The only options shoppers such as myself, now have upon arrival at the checkout counter is to either pay ten cents for a paper bag or purchase a reusable bag, usually donned with the logo of the store that has recently been mandated into environmental consciousness. I actually really love the concept and I am fully and totally on board. There seems to be just one problem. I never, NEVER remember to put my reusable bags back into the car after I have unpacked them. I immediately realize my blunder as I step into the store, but at that point, my bags are still lying in some corner of my house and I just end up buying another bag or two before I exit the establishment. Due to this dilemma, I have now purchased a number of reusable bags more suitable for a large, hearty, hungry family than a single woman attempting to cut down on her sugars and carbs.

Plastic bags, or the lack thereof, aren’t the only things that are taking some getting used to. My sister still rolls her eyes at me as I pronounce all the city and street signs I see with a Spanish accent… the way it seems to me they should be pronounced even though “everyone else” butchers them using awful, American accents. The freeway exits don’t have numbers. Therefore, I spend much of the time I’m driving wondering if I’ve already past the point I need to be watching for. I also have to be diligent about when I do and don’t need cash since there isn’t a Chase ATM on every corner like there was in Chicago.

When push comes to shove, those are just the small things. I stop myself from referring to Chicago as “home” at least once a day as I think about the friends and festivals that used to be just a train ride away in the midst of the season The Windy City does best. I seek to learn the differences between Medicaid (which I am familiar with) and Medi-Cal (which I am not) as I stumble through California’s unique take on providing mental health services. I scramble to find a welcoming church that values having conversations on diversity and justice as much as my church did in the Midwest.

Despite all of this, the move feels right. I’m valuing the time with my sister even more than I imagined possible, the sunshine perfectly coupled with a breeze and beautifully absent of humidity is proving good for my soul, and the freedom of not having a million things scheduled at all times seems to be mellowing me out. What was supposed to happen, happened, and even in the moments I feel stretched, I can tell this change is good for me.

All that to say, I’m a far cry from “normalcy,” whatever that is. I don’t know how long I’ll have to spend in California to re-wire almost a decade of “normal” in Chicago. I’m also not sure how long it will take me to remember to bring those stupid reusable bags with me to the store! Judging by the fact I loaded my bag-less ground beef and cucumbers directly into the trunk of my car this evening, it could take a while…

Is it Saturday?

IMG_1031

I was awoken at 3am this morning by a fire alarm. Despite many attempts to disarm it, it persisted off and on beyond 6:30am when I dragged myself out of bed to ensure that approximately 200 students safely navigated their way out of the building that has been their home for the last nine and a half months. As they shuffled their belongings out of their minuscule rooms and into their even tinier minivans, I put my “serious” face on as my student workers and I fought to make sure they left as little destruction in their wake as possible. Now, a little over 12 hours later, I am left with a silence that is as deafening as it is beautiful and I am overwhelmed with a familiar feeling of relief that few outside of the realm of Residence Life will ever know or understand.

For the past four years, I have made my home in the midst of primarily first year college students in what most outside of student affairs (though the word makes those of us within it cringe) commonly refer to as a “dorm.” I fell in love with student development during my time as a resident assistant when I was an undergraduate student. After Easters and Thanksgivings, Bible studies and pancake breakfasts spent with residence directors who took the time to nurture and develop me as an individual, but more importantly as a member of a larger community, I knew I wanted to pay it forward and pass the love on to young adults such as myself. My journey as a residence director began when I wasn’t much older than the students I was overseeing. Still needing to do so much growing of my own, I’m not sure how much meaningful development of students I did in that initial year on the job. Learning firsthand that no one has a clue what an RD does unless he or she has been an RA or RD before hit harder than I ever could have anticipated. Being a person who likes to be viewed as competent and intelligent, I was embittered by the negating reality that people thought of me as little more than a glorified student. Even when I used all the words in my vocabulary to talk them out of their false assumptions, their only other point of reference landed them on the conclusion that I was some sort of 24 hour a day “house mother,” which was almost equally as frustrating. Sometimes even those within higher ed (or worse within student affairs) didn’t even get it! Unlike other friends who were spending their Friday and Saturday nights out on the town, I was attending on-campus talent shows and making middle of the night trips to the emergency room. In a role like this, sometimes a weekend can feel more stressful than a Monday morning. While others were working 9 to 5, I was working 9 to 9 or 8am to Midnight or 5pm to 2am. With an unpredictable, emotionally-draining schedule, that first year I discovered that it is only the love of students that will keep an RD going. If that love is forgotten, for even a moment, what is already tough becomes just about impossible. That love (along with a little bit of coffee, a lot of support from others in the field, and constant prayer) is what has kept me standing all these four years.

Indescribable ups and downs mark this path. One day you may be sitting with a student in the depths of their greatest brokenness and the next thing you know you are staying up late into the night with students and colleagues playing Settlers of Catan, laughing until your sides feel like they are going to split open and tears are running from your eyes. The same student who infuriates you to the point of wanting to throw a few punches (though your professionalism would never allow you to actually do it) can make you beam with joy and pride after just one semester of maturing through dedication, soul-searching, and hard work. Everyday is a fight for balance as you learn to open your heart and life up to those you must also hold accountable to policies and procedures.

Being an RD was my dream job for a time. I am grateful for the chance to have been able to live that dream even though the dream was brief. It has left me with stories I will never forget, lessons I may not have learned anywhere else, and a deeper sense of community than your average Joe ever thought possible. Though some manage to remain in such a position for far longer than I have, alas, no one is an RD forever. There is a time when peace and quiet and self-care, forward movement and more fully engaging in relationships with those your own age or older becomes far too tempting. Whether people leave the position for desires to own their own property, grow their families, or abandon the stress of always feeling pulled in a thousand different directions, for some reason or another, each RD’s time comes to an end. I’m glad to be gracefully bowing out before this potential thing of beauty became far too big of a burden to bear, before I stopped being any good at it or started despising the reason I stepped into the position in the first place. Even during times it made me so busy that I thought it was pulling me away from these things, being an RD has made me a better person, a better professional, a better friend… The best experiences have reminded me that this thing they call “vocation” is real and I should never stop pursuing it, while the worst have taught me how to cope, to overcome, to be a loving, capable supervisor, to give more grace, to set higher, more worthy expectations.

Sometimes when things get harder, it is time to put your nose to the grindstone and fight with more fervor than you ever have before and sometimes maybe it is getting so hard because it is time to say goodbye. So as I lay on the couch exhausted on a Saturday night that could have been spent dancing or catching a movie, my feet sore from climbing up and down six flights of stairs and my mind tired from repeating myself over and over to people who don’t want to take the time to read the informative e-mails I have so carefully crafted, I give honor to the memory of this gift I once cherished and smile with satisfaction as I think of all the fun ways I will be spending Saturday nights in the future.

How Long Will It Last?

Image

Last Monday night, I found myself walking around downtown Chicago a bit aimlessly.  I had accomplished all I had set out to do, but I didn’t want to get back on the train and make my way home just yet. The city was buzzing with energy as people were out walking their dogs, taking leisurely strolls arm in arm, and jogging, all in their spring clothes. I stayed out until the sun went down and then hopped onto the train to make my way back home.  I’m glad I soaked in those warm sunny moments because by Tuesday the temperature had dropped and by Wednesday Chicago was hit with yet another layer of snow.

 

Seasons are funny. Though the calendar gives us an approximation of how long they will last, ultimately neither the groundhog nor the meteorologist can give us a true picture of what to expect day to day, week to week, or month to month. Until we are fully experiencing it firsthand, there is simply no telling how short or how long it will be. Some seasons, like this winter in the Midwest for instance, seem unending. Despite the promise of spring that comes from our experience in years past, it is easy to feel as though these cold temperatures will last forever.

 

I thought my time in Chicago would last forever. If you had asked me two years ago, I would tell you I never intended to leave. Enchanted by the sights and sounds of the city, I couldn’t fathom deserting the place I had come to know as my home, where I had come into my own. Even now, I could hardly imagine a more magical place to live.  Growing into my adulthood here in this beautiful, diverse, urban area has been my dream.  I can’t imagine wanting to have spent the last 9 years anywhere else. But no matter how much I love this city, it couldn’t be more abundantly clear that it is time to go. My excitement for Chicago will never dwindle, but my calling and desire to stay has.

 

Friends are a lot like family, but friends are not and will never be family. Friendships won’t always last forever; there are too many variables. Proximity, stage of life, and busyness all factor into the state of our relationships. Those we perceived would be there through all the do or die moments can get to the point where they can’t even muster up a text or a call. It only takes a few moves, the births of a couple of babies, and an argument or two and suddenly that thing we thought we’d be holding onto until the end is barely hanging by a thread. Don’t get me wrong; I still have a stronger belief in friendship than just about anyone else you have ever met. Faith and commitment in friendship can still forge a bond that can last if given enough care and attention, but how many friendships like that will we ever even experience in our lives? One, maybe two, five to ten if we are lucky? I’m so fortunate to have formed a couple of such bonds during my time in Chicago. You can believe me. I am in no hurry to let them die, but these are the bonds that will remain whether I stay or go.

 

I’ve always been an adventurer. Fear at times can hold me back, but I am really the most invigorated when I am doing something new and exciting. Trying new restaurants, seeing new movies, learning new information… Without a novel challenge, it is hard for me to stay motivated. I’ve had a magnificent adventure in Chicago, but I can see now that if I stay, fear would be the only thing keeping me here. Sure, I’m still afraid I won’t find a fulfilling job, make new friends, or feel the sense of home I have developed here over the years. For some people those things might be enough to not make a move, but when I get scared, I just think of sunshine, surf and my sister and suddenly I am not so scared anymore. Every move we make or don’t make requires a sacrifice. Though we have so often been told we can have it all, our mortality reminds us that we can’t and we must make a choice. I’ve sacrificed much to stay in the city that I love and now I am ready to sacrifice the city that I love for a sister I love far more.

 

I will miss the spanakopita from Artopolis and the cupcakes from Molly’s, the view of the skyline on a nighttime ride on Lake Shore Drive, and the way the city comes alive in the summertime. More than all that, I will miss the friends I have made along the way, the church I have come to love where I began and will now end my journey in Chicago, and the spirit of freedom, independence, and confidence I gained while walking up and down the city streets flooded with music and artwork. Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart, but fortunately for me, I have a heart big enough to hold several places and faces, friends and memories. I know I’ll shed tears when I go, but that is far better than the regret I will feel if I stay.

 

This season hasn’t been as long as I anticipated it would be, but year after year I keep finding almost nothing is as I anticipate it will be. I am daily surprised, but confident that my future can already been seen by the One who never is…

Business or Pleasure?

Image

This evening I made my last trip of the semester downtown for supervision. I can’t say I was sad to see it end either. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride, that fortunately ended on a high note. My biggest challenge… Letting the doctoral student I was assigned to help me grow as a human being. Week after week, I would go to supervision wanting to talk about a challenging case, learn new interventions, or gain insight on how to improve my counseling skills. However, my supervisor and I couldn’t have been more out of sync. When she zigged, I zagged. Every time I tried to talk about a client, she did everything in her power to make sure I talked about myself. How did supervision feel? How did our process in supervision parallel/mirror my work with clients? Why was it so difficult for me to receive personal feedback?

I work in a strange profession. The personal and the professional are often blurred. At my last job, coworkers became like family. Throughout my time as an RD, I have discovered I do the most powerful work with students when I “get real,” show them vulnerability, and come to our interactions with a posture of humility.  Despite the crucial role being relational has played, my job requires an insane amount of balance. Getting too personal or informal and losing the professional edge will be the downfall of any RD. Without the personal/professional balance students will either see you as a cold-hearted machine or a fellow student who can’t be respected. Both are catastrophic. Though I have hardly perfected it, I have come to pride myself in walking this tightrope at work. Transforming into a counselor has posed its own set of challenges as I attempt to maintain that personable, empathic vibe while not making my work with clients all about me while falling into a trap of self-disclosure.

My work in supervision, with clients, and in higher education has sparked a recurring conversation across all the settings I find myself in the recent months. The conversation goes a little something like this… Is it possible to be great at your job, but be a horrible person, or an incredible person who is awful at their job? To this I have been offering a resounding YES! It happens all the time! We’ve all heard stories of the supervisor, coworker, or assistant who we wouldn’t want to spend a second with outside of work, but we have to acknowledge he or she gets things done on the job. We’ve also experienced the inverse, thinking to ourselves, “I might really enjoy your company if I didn’t have to work with you.” In fact, we probably confront these scenarios more often than we’d like. Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not, kind people are not magically blessed with competence.

While I will argue to the death about the fact that being mean shouldn’t disqualify you from certain jobs any more than being friendly should get you the job of your dreams, that downtown, doctoral student may have made a larger impact on me than I’d like to admit. We aren’t fragmented people. Work leaks into our relationships with friends and family while our personal life trickles back down into our work. Particularly in the helping professions, business vs. pleasure get cloudy. Caring people are often promoted just by sticking around long enough to woo the right people and other times when mistakes are made and a relationship is fractured whether inside or outside of the work environment, the ripples that follow are far easier to feel among coworkers.

I want to work hard and be seen as capable and competent in the work environment and I want to be seen as a kind and caring person at home. I don’t want the fight I got into with a friend to impact my work any more than I want the mistake I made on paperwork in the professional environment to infiltrate my personal relationships, but it isn’t always that easy. We pack home into our lunchbox and make our way to work each morning and stuff our professions into our coat pockets before heading back home. If we’re honest, we have to admit that hating our job has a tangible effect on our happiness and stress at home makes our heads spin at work. Our personal stories help shape our professional narratives and vice versa.

True balance will never be achieved. When we grow as a human beings, we grow as daughters and sons just as much as we grow as bosses and assistants. People were created to be workers, pouring their life and heart and passion into their vocations almost as forcefully as into family and friends. How else would productivity and a job well-done be one of the best ways to boost self-esteem? My hope is that I’ll rest in that reminder as I seek to let work and home make me lighter somehow, rather than bogging me down. All the while, striving to be better person and a better professional…

Can You Change?

Image

 

Probably one of the most overused quotes on the internet and in life in general is one often attributed to Theodore Geisel, or rather Dr. Seuss.  Though the true origins of the quote are uncertain, the most popular version goes a little something like this: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  Anyone who knows anything about me is probably fully aware that I am one of the biggest proponents of “being yourself.” However, anyone who knows anything about me is also painfully aware that I have a terrible habit of overanalyzing every little thing and there’s just something about that quote now (though as a teenager I remember liking it just fine) that doesn’t sit well with me. 

 

From the moment I was born, I always knew what I liked and didn’t like, what I wanted and didn’t want, and who I enjoyed and did not enjoy.  My mother has always told me stories about when I was a baby and I would allow very specific people to hold me.  Some, like my nana, would be able to snuggle me tight for hours, and others, though equally kind and loving would cause me to wail.  It wasn’t just a baby phase either.  I distinctly remember times as a child I would gravitate to some people because I like the way they smelled, the sound of their voice, the softness of their skin.  Then there was the issue of clothes.  I’m sure my mother had absolutely no idea toddlers were capable of being particular about fashion, but I was about as picky as they come.  Fabric had to feel a certain way, a belt only felt right when cinched as tightly as possible, shoes had to be comfy, and I liked things bright and beautiful.   I never had any trouble expressing myself either, which made it much easier for those around me to get a sense of what I wanted or needed, but also created some awkward moments for my family I am sure. “TACT! TACT!” A warning I heard frequently from my mom. It was easy for me to tell people off, tell them exactly what bothered me about them, comment on their sense of style (or lack there of), or explain to them precisely why they were wrong and why their point of view was stupid.  Unfortunately, that child often didn’t have a whole lot of regard for whether or not her words were hurting others, and she couldn’t understand why anyone had a right to get mad at her for simply being honest, speaking the words everyone else was thinking anyway and telling the truth.  I understand tact much better now, but it still isn’t always my forte.  My words are both my largest asset and my worst enemy, used to give voice to the unheard one minute and tear down someone I love the next. 

 

Can people change? I mean really, really change? Are we all just old dogs from the very beginning, incapable of learning new tricks?  As a counselor, I have to believe in change or my work would have no meaning.  The simple philosophy of “you made your bed now go lie in it” may work (and I’m using the term “work” incredibly loosely) in my personal life, but it has no place on the therapy couch.  There, every day is a new day, poor choices have consequences, but don’t have to destroy us, and old patterns can be broken.  As a woman of faith, I also have to believe people can change.  The story of redemption would be incomplete if it didn’t have an impact on our day-to-day living.  Being shaped and transformed is a crucial part of the journey.

 

Let’s get back to that quote.  “Be who you are”… But what if who you are is spiteful and ugly?  “Say what you feel”… But what if what you have to say is cruel and insensitive? “Because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter”… So is that saying the best hope I have for the people I surround myself with is they are “kind” enough to keep their mouths shut, minding their own business while I stomp around being my tactless, negative self? 

 

I would like to make the case that those who matter should actually mind the most what we are expressing and who we are becoming.  If not for people in my life who stopped me in my tracks after I said or did something foolish, I don’t know where I would be.  Without my mother empowering me to use my gift of words for good, I might still be out there shouting absurd insults to every passerby.  I’m permanently flawed though.  The times I have used my strengths for evil are without number.  I still have a lot of changing left to do.  Hopefully, not too much changing though.  I was created just the way I am for a purpose and I am not about to hide what makes me “me” just because I slip up and get it wrong sometimes.  I hope you won’t either.  I also hope you are blessed enough to be surrounded by people who know just how extraordinary you can be and encourage you to grow and change so you don’t have to remain a rip off of your true self.  

 

And being the cheerleader of “being you” that I am, I’d like to leave you a more meaningful, thoughtful, and powerful quote with a fully traceable origin from another man children adore.

 

“Nobody else can live the life you live. And even though no human being is perfect, we always have the chance to bring what’s unique about us to live in a redeeming way.”

            -Fred Rogers

What Time Is It?

I’ve fallen into this terrible trap lately. When I finish working at about 9:30pm, instead of writing, working out, reading or getting things done around my apartment, I park myself on my couch, open some mindless, rubbish, time-waster like Pinterest or Buzzfeed on my laptop, grab the remote and turn on The Big Bang Theory or Law and Order SVU and sit in an empty, technological stupor until it is time for bed. It doesn’t seem like I have much energy for anything else. I feel guilty about it, but after pouring emotional energy into people all day, sometimes a phone call or a text seems beyond my mental capacity. Even as I write this, I am frustrated because I know I could write something better if I just wasn’t so tired…

 

This week is fall break at school. Since I am not taking classes this year, the break doesn’t really mean much for me. However, it did mean the time I usually spend taking the train downtown and back and sitting in supervision on Monday evenings could be spent on activities of my choosing. For me, a free weeknight is about as elusive as Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster and will remain so until May. I’m currently working approximately sixty hours a week, so weekday leisure activities are almost entirely out of the question. In fact, I used my evening off to take a trip to the dentist and the chiropractor and get some laundry done, which at one point in my life may have seemed like necessities, but in the midst of my busy schedule, almost feel like luxuries.

 

Time is a strange thing. I remember feeling like things took forever when I was a kid. There has always been a running joke in my family that whenever you asked my mom how long it would be until dinner was ready, the answer was always twenty minutes. It didn’t matter if she was making black beans and rice or beef stroganoff or if the water had just begun to boil or the soup was boiling over, the answer was always the same. Quite frankly, I don’t know why we bothered to continue asking. I do know that twenty minutes seemed like a lifetime. Now, it doesn’t seem like any time at all. It isn’t long enough to respond to all the e-mails in my work inbox, or see a client at my internship, or have a meeting with a student. It isn’t even enough time to do one of my favorite Jillian Michaels’ workout DVDs. I miss playing monopoly, watching a movie from start to finish and grabbing coffee with a friend midweek. I wish I could take the time to send thoughtful texts and e-mails to those I love, plan fun get-togethers and trips, and write high quality blog posts, and reflections, but there simply isn’t enough time.

 

But then… I there seems to be too much time. I am exhausted and even when weeks seem to be rushing by, I still can’t get them to go fast enough. It’s Monday and I wish it was the weekend, it’s October and I wish it was summer break, this time of growth and learning is just beginning and I wish it were wrapping up. I want to find the fast forward button and be on the other side of this thinking, “Phew, that was crazy, but it’s over and I made it!”

 

But here I am living out a Monday in early October wondering how to enjoy the time that I have when I don’t often have the time to do what want. While it might be easier in some ways to shut out the world and power through, fulfilling my responsibilities, but never taking the time to appreciate them, it turns my stomach to think about how much I might miss if I did. But then again, when I truly think about everything that needs to be done, I get overwhelmed and start to convince myself there is no way I can continue to do it all well. Is it possible to be a good friend, daughter, sister, resident director, and counselor all at the same time or can you only pick a couple to excel at and then leave the rest for a slower season? How does one take time to breathe, when there is barely enough time to sleep?

 

Well, my friends, I have no idea, but here I am turning off the TV long enough to write a sloppy blog post anyway. Though they are not as long or meaningful as they were before, you just might still get a phone call or text at a random time, hours, days, or even weeks after you made an attempt to touch base with me. In between sending work e-mails and trekking up to the sixth floor of my Res Hall to get clothes out of the dryer, I even made a batch of my favorite dark chocolate, whole wheat, pumpkin muffins sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar. That’s because there is no fast forward button. It may still be October, and still be Monday, and I may be tired and spread too thin, but I’m not giving up. This time is precious and I want to be able to look back and be proud of how I used it no matter how fast or slow it may have seemed to go and even if it takes some lazy nights watching NCIS to get me through.

photo

What Would I Do Without You?

My mother tells me that when I was little and someone I really liked, but didn’t get to see often would show up at the house for a visit, the first words out of my mouth would be, “When are you leaving?” My parents would have to quickly apologize to our guests, explaining that I was not trying to be rude, but rather I had to be aware of how long they were staying so that I could brace myself for when It would be time for them to go. As I have mentioned before, goodbyes have always been hard for me. I like to make them as quick and painless as possible and a fourteen-hour roadtrip to Indiana is as long and painful as goodbyes get.

It was August 2003 and my mother, father, cousin, sister and I had all piled into my mom’s white SUV to take a trip halfway across the country. My sister had just graduated from high school a couple months earlier and the day I was dreading had arrived. It was time to say farewell to the most precious thing in my life. I tried to think of every single possible way to weasel out of making the long trek to drop her off at college, but my parents weren’t budging. I was going on that trip whether I liked it or not. And believe me, I did NOT like it. 

After saying our last words and giving our last hugs, we got back into that SUV with one less person and a lot less stuff and I cried until I wasn’t sure I could cry anymore. Then, I picked a fight with my father. We fought all the way through Ohio. My poor cousin had to mediate. Being angry for a few hours made me feel a little less sad for a while. When I got back home and went to my room, I discovered a CD and a letter waiting for me. My sister was half a country away and she was still taking care of me. In that letter was everything I needed to hear and the CD contained many important songs from our childhood together.

Anyone who doesn’t know my sister is missing out. Everyday, I wonder how it is possible for someone to be so intelligent, beautiful, funny, kind, hopeful, and generous. You should hear the things her friends and coworkers say about her when she isn’t even around to hear them. The stories of how she has loved and encouraged so many are innumerable. I have stories of my own, too. Times I was being a bratty, baby sister and she gave me grace I didn’t deserve, plane tickets she bought to come see me in Chicago or for me to go see her in California during seasons I wasn’t doing well, telephone calls where I talk her ear off and she always listens and never has a harsh word to say, and so many more experiences that would require I write for days to name them all. Alexandra is magic and everyone who gets within a few feet of her knows it.

There is a bond that siblings have that no one else can match. The amount of history shared, the understanding of background and family, the defining childhood moments… Siblings see it all. Even if you aren’t getting along, the reason brothers and sisters can trouble you so much is they know you well enough to hit you where it really hurts. Who else knows all about your parents’ quirks or remembers each of your former pets’ names? My sister was the only one (and most likely always will be) who ever understood what it was like to be a mixed girl growing up in Maine. As close as some of my friends I have made in recent years are, no one will ever grasp as well as she does how great a transformation I have made from an anxious child terrified of rejection to the confident, clear-headed woman I am capable of being today. I owe so much to her and my hope is over time I’ll slowly be able to pay her back.

Today my big sister turns 29. I am thankful for the times we have had together both happy and sad. I’m amazed by her strength and I couldn’t be more proud of all she has accomplished. I understand that not everyone has a sibling like mine and the relationship I have with my sister isn’t easy to come by. But if you have a sibling and there is something you can do today to make sure you have the chance at getting even a fraction of what we have, do it. Life is too short and sisters and brothers are too important to lose. Pick up the phone, a pen, or your laptop and make that first move. Reminisce, tell them how much you love them, swap a funny story, or ask for some advice. Whatever you do, don’t pass up the chance to grow closer to the person who can “get” pieces of you no one else ever will.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful sister. I love and treasure you. Every moment we have together is a joy and I look forward to a lifetime of memories I wouldn’t want to make with anyone else. Cheers!

Image

When will I feel better?

Paulo Coelho once said 

“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.”

It’s hard to remember a time I wasn’t terrified, a time I wasn’t worried about every little thing, a time when even something minor couldn’t send me into a tailspin. I just think it’s in my nature. I’ve always been naturally nervous, anxious, frightened that at any moment I could fall off the edge. Fortunately, only a few people have had to witness me in my lowest moments when I have been imprisoned in the darkness of my mind, I have lost the key for a time and it seems there may be no way out. I am no stranger to feeling sad for days on end and not being sure quite why or crying an endless pool of tears and feeling convinced they might never stop. I’m used to being overcome by a sense of panic or dread when one tiny, but oh so important (at least to me) thing feels out of place or a plan goes awry. 

I’m sure one of the reasons I can write so freely about these feelings right now is because, at least for the time being, I am not in that place. However, what is crazy about being me, or at least someone like me, that dark place is never too far away. And as if there wasn’t enough to fear, I also feel quite scared that right around the corner one of those times is waiting to creep up on me and again I will be caught feeling worthless, hopeless, like I’m drowning and can’t come up for air. 

All throughout my life, I was always afraid to tell people about how I was feeling. I thought they might think I was insane, or be worried I wasn’t safe, or think I was looking for pity and attention. Being a counselor in training, it seems silly that I would buy into the stigma associated with “mental illness,” but alas in the midst of my toughest times, all my training seems to go out the window. 

There is one thing though that turns things around for me time and time again: it’s the power of presence. When someone hears me and looks at me and tells me it is normal to be sad sometimes, that I’m not crazy for hurting, that I am loved and though there is no way to know how long the pain will last, it won’t last forever, that’s when I can see the sadness, the anxiety for what it is… a season, a spell, a storm to be weathered with others rather than needlessly alone. 

Funny thing is, in times when have I shared my experience with those willing to offer me presence, I was able to offer some presence of my own. As I have opened up about my story, others have chimed in with their similar stories or breathed deep sighs of relief in finally realizing they are not alone. Slowly, I have learned you can be strong while sad, intelligent while anxious, and capable and competent while overwhelmed. 

Life ebbs and flows. There are good days and bad days. I am now at peace with the reality that I have many days to come that seem so good that the bad is all forgotten and many bad days to come that are so bad that it feels as though a good day may never come again. I know who to call when I am feeling down and out (my beloved biological sister, my precious Lord, and nonbiological brothers and sisters who understand my battle) and I know what to avoid (loud/crowded spaces, people who don’t keep their plans, and small talk). I’m thrilled that no matter what stage or state I am in, I will always be able to offer the gift of presence to comrades and clients alike. 

I think Paulo had it right; we do need to learn to live with anxiety/storms. I’m just glad that the next time I see those dark clouds closing in, I don’t feel the need to fight them on my own anymore.