Saturday, March 31, 2018

This Is What It Means to End

Sixty-eight days from now—assuming all goes well—I will be graduating with my masters in social work. That’s nine more weeks of course-work. Seven more weeks of therapy clients. And then, it’s done.
This season of graduate school.
This season of living below the poverty line.
This season of Jeremy working ridiculous hours to support us.
It will all be over.

And I’m overjoyed.
But I can’t say goodbye to the hard parts of this season without also parting ways with some of the good parts. That always catches me a bit off-guard. There's always grief associated with change. Even good change. It's a death of the way things used to be. Which is quite a paradox, isn't it?

Like, being a student. I’m going to miss being a student.

I love school. I love learning. I love showing up to a classroom (in which I am not expected to teach) and just soaking up the information. I love keeping my brain “on its toes.” Being challenged. Pushed. Stretched. Academia can have a certain thrill to it, especially when it’s a subject you care about. Or the content you’re learning about in class is playing out in real-time on the news. There’s always more to know and I think it's easy to get complacent where learning is not part of your job requirements. 

There are also perks to being a student. Like student discounts. Free bus and train passes. Free food on-campus. I’ve taken a dozen boxes of pizza home at a time, bagged up those portions into freezer bags, and eaten that stuff for weeks. There are perks like knowing you belong on campus at hockey games and the library and the fitness center. For a short moment in a school’s history, you are a student with full access to tenured professors and expensive journal articles.

I’m going to miss being an intern.

There’s this love-hate relationship between only being an intern and just being an intern. In one way, it’s a bummer that you’re not getting paid to do valuable work. In another way, if you make a mistake, you are—after all—“just an intern” and there’s someone to kindly get you back on-track. Interns get a certain level of license to misstep and “get it wrong.” Sitting with my “boss” and being encouraged to express insecurity and uncertainty is priceless. I can’t express how valuable that has been this past year.

I’m going to miss Christmas vacation and spring break and summer vacation. Yeah, that was nice while it lasted. In general, I just appreciate the variety and flexibility to my days. It's hard to get monotonous when your classes change each quarter.

Isn’t it interesting that as long as we may wish/long/thirst for one season to end, we still grieve for pieces of that same exact season?

                                       ____________________________

There’s this song that always feels right at times like this. It’s by Sara Groves. She alludes to the story in the Bible about the Israelites. They were rescued from slavery under the rule of King Pharoah in Egypt, but they eventually found themselves complaining about freedom, because walking around in the dessert was also hard.

Life is rarely “either/or.”
It’s almost always “both/and.”

It’s easy to think things will be so much better “over there”
Because this thing is so hard.

But it’s all relative, isn’t it. We can complain about the weather in January and in July. It really doesn’t matter. We will usually always find something to whine about.

 I'm trying be here all here now.








Painting Pictures of Egypt
Sara Groves 

I don’t want to leave here
I don’t want to stay
It feels like pinching to me either way
And the places I long for the most
are the places where I’ve been
They’re calling out to me like a lost friend

It’s not about losing faith
It’s not about trust
It’s all about comfortable
When you move so much

And the place I was wasn’t perfect
But I had found a way to live
It wasn’t milk or honey
But then, neither it this

I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
The future feels so hard and I wanna go back
But the places that used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I’ve learned
Those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned

The past is so tangible
I know it by heart
A million things are never easy to discard
I was dying for some freedom
But now I hesitate to go
I am caught between the promise and the things I know

If it comes too quick
I may not appreciate it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?

If it comes too quick
I may not recognize it

Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Words on the Page

As soon as I learned how to write, I had things to say.

Thoughts that needed a page.
Feelings that needed some privacy.
Ideas that needed a home.

When I was six years-old, I remember our little private elementary school bribing us with a catalog of prizes if we would just pester every aunt, grandma, and church member to buy wrapping paper or donuts or some other school fundraising ponzi-scheme. I was an eager and willing participant.

I had my eye on the prize:


A pink and purple, heart-spotted diary 
that came in a pink and purple, heart-spotted cardboard box 
that came with a lock and a key
You know, to "lock" the cardboard box. 


I remember unwrapping the thing.
I remember gazing at the thing. 
I remember imagining all the cool and secretive things I would say. 



Things like entry #1:


(Levi was the first boy I "loved" in the first grade. A big secret, apparently: "So keep quwiyit!")

I just had so many things to say. 
Like:


My six year-old self would like to remind my thirty year-old self 
that I am grossly underutilizing the privileges of owning a car. 



I thought about all of this recently because last month, I started my 15th journal

In 30 years, that's about a journal every other year. 
To say that I find writing "helpful" would be an understatement. 
To say I find writing "life-giving" would be about right.




I've been a regular journaler throughout my life for various reasons:
I wrote to chronicle all the annoyances of being the youngest child
I wrote prayers to a type of God that I'm pretty sure I no longer believe in
I wrote to try to understand my own mental illness
I wrote lists of gratitude to get me through hard times
I wrote to flirt with the idea that God was more than just a religion
Now, I'd say I write mostly to remember
Who I am.
What I value.
And where I'm going.






Someday, a great-great-grandchild will be so bummed to find out that in all those journals I didn't really write about the events of my day or people I was really upset at or gossip. I mostly write--repeatedly and diligently--long lists of remembering





To me, journaling is how we re-align ourselves on a regular basis with what matters most to us.
About what we're doing.
About why it matters.
It's a way of checking in with ourselves and asking:
"Is this life I'm living, the life I want?"



Sometimes when I suggest journaling to a friend or a client, I hear something like:

"Yeah, I tried that. I never kept up with it."
         
To which I say: Well, try again.
Would you say the same about exercise? Or eating vegetables? 
"I tried it. It was hard to keep up with. So I quit"? 

There is no journaling "type." Just like there is no such thing as people who are creative and people who are not (thanks, Brene Brown). There are just people who flex that muscle and develop that skill and people who don't.

I think it can take some time before the benefits of writing are felt. I also think people imagine that if they don't do it every single day at 6am over a flickering candle and chamomile tea, then it's not worth it. Essentially, all-or-nothing. So I often recommend that people lower the bar. Start by writing once a month. Maybe. About whatever you want. Then, maybe increase. Or maybe not. Take a year off and then, start again because the point isn't perfection. The point is process. 

And we've all got stuff inside of us that is not always said out loud. And that stuff's gotta go somewhere. Why not on a page?




Another thing I hear people say about journaling is:

"But I don't know what to say."

Okay, fine. Not everyone is just bursting at the seams with words that need a home (like my 6 year-old self). That's fine. So I'm going to share some prompts and themes that I often refer to on mornings when nothing comes easily. 

I tend to think about journaling as a prescription that I'm writing for myself. 
I often check in and think,
"What do I need today?"
"What do I want more/less of?"


Here are 11 strategies that work for me.

When you need to feel grounded that you're making the right decision:
"What I know for sure is..." I stole this from Oprah, but I don't think she'd mind.






When you're stuck in a negative self-talk cycle:
start here "The story I'm telling myself is..."

This comes from Brene Brown's work on how we can be more authentic in our experience instead of just reacting to and blaming other people. This is an opportunity to say: "The story I'm telling myself is that I don't belong here. I'm not good enough. But what I know to be true is, I'm doing the best that I can."





When you need a quick, little confidence boost:
finish "I can..." with as many statements as you can. 

When I was in Cambodia in 2007, a kind friend sent the "I Can..." Can which was a can of cards and each card had an "I can..." statement written on it. If you ever underestimate the power of a declarative statement about what is true, think about how how we (usually women) make "statements" with a question mark at the end. This is something I'm working on. 



     I also really dig some "I am..." statements, too. So, I just go with whatever I need that day.





When you've got a lot of worries on your mind:
title the page: "List of things I don't need to worry about today" and put it all out there.

Except for the essentials of what must happen today. Not tomorrow. Because what you do need to worry about do today is usually, just like: brush teeth, finish project, pick up dinner. This is a way of re-focusing on what's right in front of you and nothing else.






When you're mind is buzzing with too much stuff 
and you don't know what to do with it all:
just do a Brain Dump of all the things. 

Artists and writers often use this trick as away of clearing out the surface-level stuff and sifting the important stuff that's usually just below the muck of daily thinking (this is based on Julia Cameron's "Morning Pages")




When you need some hope for the future:
write a list of manifestations or statements that are not currently true, but things you are hoping for.

But instead of writing, "I will graduate with my masters in social work" (future tense) write "I am a master of social work" (present tense). The repetition. The speaking into existence. There's real power there and that comes straight from The Law of Attraction.






When you need some good ol' fashion prayer:
I start with "God, please..." and make a list.
Then, "God, thank you..." and make a list. 
Simple as that.






When you need to hear from 
God/Spirit/Jesus Christ/The Universe/Life Force:
write a letter as you would imagine God writing it to you.

I find that in my letters God is a big fan of me and much kinder than I am to myself. I usually start these letters with "Dear Child..." and end with "Sincerely, Truth"






When you can't stop thinking about a troublesome person 
or thing:
write a letter to that person or thing. This is the idea of Unsent Letters. Just as a vehicle for putting things out there that probably will never be said directly. I rarely write unsent letters to people, but I've written letters to: my tummy, my thighs, my overstimulated brain, my own spirit. 






When you need grounding:
finish these sentences
-I'm proud of you for...
-I'm giving you grace for...
-I commit to...

This is an adaptation of Lisa Nichol's method and she recommends saying them out loud in the mirror, but that's never been as helpful for me. So I write them from the truest part of me that has no form or edges. Just my own being speaking to my physical self. 





When you need some framing or structure to your day:
#1. If I could live this day again, I would...
#2. Today, I get to enjoy...
#3. My life theme is...

These three questions are posed in Donald Miller's Life Plan format. The trick is to answer these questions at the beginning of the day to look ahead and ask if you could live it again what you would do differently, because most of us know our common pitfalls. We know that co-worker who tends to drive us mad. We know that we often get to the end of the day with a headache, because we don't drink enough water. So think about them ahead of time and commit to make different choices.

My identified life theme is: 





Basically, I don't have any journaling recommendations for people who are naturally calm.
I don't get that.

I journal for the same reason I go to therapy. I have lived with a fairly ruthless and critical inner-voice for as long as I can remember, and I need a lot of reassurance and reminders. Maybe you'll find different things that are more valuable for you. Cause when I look around me and wonder what would make our world a little better (and kinder), I think that more self-reflection would go a long way.
A little more self-awareness.
A little more time spent in contemplation.
A little more thoughtfulness.

Like, instead of re-perpetuating our own self-hatred, by way of self-harm, addiction, crime, road rage, racism, sexism (pick your poison), we could realize it's actually not about something out there, it's about something in here.

Am I right?
Or am I right?





Some days, my journaling practice is all flowy and meaningful, but most of the time, it's like:



Not perfect.
Not articulate.
Not publish-worthy.
But mine.
And true.
And everything I need to take responsibility for what I can and let go of the rest.
Every. Damn. Day.

Happy travels to you. 



















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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

To Remember

This morning in yoga class, this song came on during the shavasana (cool down) and it broke me.




I was mid-way through tears before I could even recognize why.
It's like my body knows that part of us is still in Cambodia.
And I wept for that.

Not over the sadness that I was ever there.
Not because I regret going.
But just because it was.
It happened.

January 2014 visit to Cambodia

And now it's in the past.
And a piece of my heart still lives with a pig farmer in kompungseu province.
And a new mother in Phnom Penh.
And an economics student who is engaged to his high school sweetheart.
And I can't get those pieces back.
And I don't want them back.
But I'm not completely whole without them.
And I feel that.

I lived in Cambodia from August 2007 to July 2008.
It was a tremendously painful and life-changing year.
My body knows we are in the thick of a ten-year anniversary.
Like beyond July of this year, maybe it will feel even more odd that I'm still talking about this.
That I'm still feeling this.
Like, perhaps, I've been given 10 years to reconcile this.
And I think I will always need more time.
I will always want more time.

January 2014 visit to Cambodia

Music is a powerful force.
Like that song in yoga class this morning.
It evokes feelings we didn't know we had.
There is this "Cambodia soundtrack" of songs that pop up in my world today via Pandora or iTunes or wherever, and I'm brought back to that time.

Predictably.
Time and time again.

Songs like, "Stranger Girl" by Peter Bradley Adams.
And "There is So Much More" by Brett Dennen.
And "Stay Alive" by Jose Gonzalez.
And "All I Need" by Mat Kearney.
And "Every Age" by Jose Gonzalez.

 September 2015 visit to Cambodia // riding moto with Kanya

These songs are in my bones and that's where they will stay.
Because beyond those songs, or the occasional Facebook memory popping up on my computer screen, that's about all I have to remind me that:
-it happened
-it was real
-I'll never be the same


 September 2015 visit to Angkor Wat

Sometimes, I wake up in the morning and the first thought that crosses my mind is Cambodia.
A memory.
A student.
The school.
That time.

Wherever you've been. Wherever life has taken you. These recollections demand to be known. To be remembered. It's like our subconscious is saying,
"Yup, here it is. Don't forget. This is worth remembering."

And so, on mornings such as this, I sit and I remember.
And I weep.
On a yoga mat.
Ten years later.
Because little parts of me will always be spread around the world.
Where they belong.
With people I love.

And maybe that's less about lacking wholeness,
and more about possessing great courage.

Because people who don't want to be known, find ways to play it safe. But as Brene Brown says, "Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen."And so fragmented hearts are the "price" we pay for having shown up in the world.

I may never be a person who jumps out of an airplane for fun.
Or makes a bold character for a reality TV show.
But I can tell you that what I lack in entertainment value, I make up for in heart.

Because showing up and letting myself be seen is the most courageous thing I've ever done.
And will continue to be the most heart-breaking and important thing I ever do.
And that makes it all worth it.

Amen.













Saturday, January 13, 2018

Drishti

There's an idea in yoga practice based on the Sanskrit word "drishti."

I'm no expert, but from what I understand based on classes I've been to, a drishti is a focal point that is unmoving somewhere in the room and if you fix your eyes to that place, you are less likely to wobble. Maintaining a drishti is usually suggested during a particularly difficult balancing pose where if you were to move your eyes around (or close your eyes for that matter) balancing would be particularly difficult. If not, impossible, for some of us.

I don't know about you, but the last year or so has me feeling pretty wobbly. There are endless things to look at these days that are completely throwing me off balance:
-intense school requirements
-a heavy internship load
-watching Donald Trump be so embarrassing and unkind
-two man-children holding their fingers on nuclear launch codes
-mass shootings
-racism
-sexism
-being aware of the news at all
-my upcoming graduation
-my upcoming job search
-all the existential questions that make a life, a life

So for this coming year of 2018, my drishti--the one, unmoving place where I am choosing to devote my attention--is hope.

Hope.

I need all the hope.



Definition of HOPE
hoped; hoping

intransitive verb
1. to cherish a desire with anticipation, to want something to happen or to be true

transitive verb
1. to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment

2. to expect with confidence, TRUST


Sometimes, my 75 year-old friend, Carole and I will take long walks around the park near her house. And often she will chuckle (with love...) at all the things I may be worrying about on that particular day. The things that consume my thoughts. The ways I'll talk so incessantly about "running out of time." To which, she usually says something like, "Why are you always talking like you're my age?"

Probably because I've always felt older than I am.
Which doesn't leave much room for hope, constantly thinking that your world is about to end.

The Bible has some helpful things to say about hope.
Like Hebrews 11:1,
"Now faith is confidence in what we hope 
for and assurance about what we do not see."

And 2 Corinthians 4:18,
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, 
but on what is unseen. since what is seen 
is temporary and what is unseen is eternal."

Hope cannot be held in your hand.
But it can be felt in your soul.
This is a spiritual practice.


There's a quote by Jennifer Michael Hecht that my sister and I pass between us from time-to-time:

"Have some respect for your future self who's 
going to know things you don't know."

Hope.
The poet, Nayirrah Waheed, writes:


where
you are.
is not
who
you are.
-circumstances


Hope.
And Henri Nouwen, the priest and theologian, writes:

"Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. 
As we grow old, there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, 
a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have 
chosen the wrong road. But don't be surprised by pain. 
Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its 
beauty in the midst of a barren dessert, and be surprised by the immense 
healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water 
from the depth of our pain."

Hope.

This makes all the sense in the world to me.







I think I grew up with this idea that life would be mostly good, mostly manageable, except for those few ornery bumps in the road (death, illness, betrayal, heart break) and they were to be feared and dreaded. But I hear Nouwen saying, maybe the whole journey is bumps. So maybe we've got it wrong to expect an otherwise peaceful life. Maybe we should expect bumps. What's really worth being surprised and grateful for are the flat and smooth and picturesque parts of the trip.

I think that if we view life as mostly manageable and then, completely lose our shit over difficulty, we might have a tendency, as Brene Brown says, to "dress-rehearse" for tragedy. We think we might be able to predict difficulty and, thus, be better able to handle it. But she has an entire chapter in her book, Daring Greatly, that pretty well debunks that theory. Because what preparing for those "random" bumps in the road does, is it keeps us focused on the bumps in the road.

But maybe we would be better off anticipating, trusting, hoping for the joy in the road. And being delighted by that instead.

My drishti for the coming year is hope.



Sing us home, Brittany:

"So, bless my heart,
Bless my mind,
I got so much to do,
I ain't got much time
So, must be someone up above
Saying come on girl,
You got to get back up.
You got to hold on.

Yeah you got to hold on."










Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hope

Sometimes when I'm driving home at night, I look into the illuminated houses that pass me by. I see couples cooking dinner or a family huddled around the glow of a television. I see art on the wall. And book shelves. And dining room tables. And hanging pots and pans.

And all the things that make a home. 

And often, I feel like a lost, little girl--not a day over ten years-old--with her nose pressed against the toy store window and I think, "I can't begin to imagine what would have to happen in my life for me to ever have such beautiful things."

And, to be clear, it's not just about things. It's not just about longing for possessions or status or wealth. It's about security. And comfort. Health insurance. Peace of mind. Just knowing that we have enough money in the bank to buy what we need.

----------

We are not homeless. We have good health. We have things we need. But we are living below the poverty line. We are on Medicaid. On a daily basis, I walk the university campus of a multi-million dollar enterprise. I am a student with a right to be there. Just by being there, I must look wealthy. And in many ways, by some standards, I am wealthy. I have money in the bank. What a gift.

But hope is not a feeling that comes easily for me.
Call me a pessimist.
Call me a realist.
But this season of graduate school and standards and curriculum and expectations and career and "turning 30" has me feeling scarce and desperate and less-than.

I shared this with my 75 year-old friend, Carole. She laughed hysterically. "But you're so young," she said with surprise. "What do you have to worry about? There's so much ahead of you. There's so much to feel hopeful for."

And she's right. She must be. She's old. She knows stuff. And hearing it was hard. It's like I've adopted a posture of "never enough" that clouds all of the opportunity in front of me. I'm struggling to see clearly. I'm desperate to graduate and move forward to all that "hope" out there somewhere.

----------

I spent the morning re-reading some blogs I've written over the past 10 years. But mostly, the past four. About Korea and Cambodia and Vietnam. About things we were able to experience and witness and learn. We felt so "rich" in Korea. We were both working and making money and paying off student loan debt. But alas, in the United States we aren't valued in quite the same ways.

And so now we scrimp by. And to say the shift has felt disorienting would be an understatement.

We went from having a large apartment, making more money than we needed, and being valued simply for speaking English to living in a tiny apartment, making less money than we need, and being valued only for what a graduate degree on paper might get me.

----------

I think a lot about money.
And debt.
And retirement.
And the cost of health care.
And the cost of having a child.
And mortgages.
And the cost-of-living.
And annual income.
And career.
And whether or not we will have what of my peers have.
And how we chose degrees we were interested in.
But not necessarily degrees that make money.
And whether or not I'm okay with that.
And what we've gained.
And what we've lost.

----------

I know security doesn't just fall out of the sky if you wish for it. I know that nice things require hard work and regular income. My parents haven't just wandered into a sense of financial security. They've worked for it. And so at this moment, we have accumulated enough birthdays to be adults, we just don't have any adult things to show for it.

And maybe I'd feel more secure if it weren't for the Internet and the regular reminders that people ten years younger than me have careers and homes and families and a dog. I made other choices. I'm grateful for the opportunities I've been given. But let's be clear: it's a trade-off. For sure. 

And I know that life is about more than just material possessions and making money. Because when I drive by those houses in the neighborhood, I get this familiar ache in my chest. 
I'm longing for a home.

----------

And so, as we enter a new year.
As Jeremy and I conquer the last five months of graduate school.
As I look for a job and a career.
As we become a two-income family.
As we continue to find our way on this side of the world.

I have to practice gratitude for all that we have.
Because we have so much.

And I have to hold onto hope.

For all its ridiculousness and youthfulness.
For all the ways I want to talk down to the silliness of hope.
Hope is where I'll be.

Hope that we can crawl above the poverty line.
Hope that we can make enough to be okay.
Hope that the security I've felt before, will find me again.
As it always does.
As we always do.

Hope. Always.