2 years

I was beautiful

in the world’s eyes

and she gave me

things, people, places

Memories.

Mostly gone,

with painful extinction bursts.

A caricature

of who I am.

Whose few true elements

I savor and cultivate

with time,

intimate discovery.

Transformation and shedding frantic,

swollen shards

that cry and groan

as I will

to burst out of myself

for you- my treasure, my cross, my mission.

 

I was loved

revered, idolized

for a blip in time.

But, because my desperate

longing soul

fell

hypnotized, magnetized, idolized

to the right now,

I perish.

 

I was beautiful

in your eyes

as fallen petals

from broken flowers

were drawn to your brokenness.

I had nothing

because I spent everything

trying so hard

to be beautiful.

 

But my nothing

was beautiful

to you.

 

I am beautiful

in your eyes

when we have nothing

but each other

and everything.

When we have nothing

we give each other everything

because we will to love

through the One who is Love.

 

I exist to give you

my nothing, my everything

my small little love

because you belong to Love

and I belong to you.

 

I am beautiful to Love

because I love you.

 

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barista treasures

I find myself a curmudgeon-y, worn out barista. It surprises me to think I’ve done this for almost 7 years, and that this work has been my silent companion through school. The work frustrates me, constantly makes me feel torn between professional and burn-out, and treats me like an annoying old friend. Preparing and managing a coffee shop is now embedded in my muscle memory. Spectating people’s control issues manifesting through their latte preference has become sport. And so, as I acknowledge my impending transition into my “first” “professional” career as a school counselor, I think it’s necessary to reflect on my first real career as a professional coffee-slinger/janitor/impromptu counselor/pseudo-bartender barista. Some gems over the years from all the different shops I’ve worked:

The faithful, elderly regular. To you who I serve black coffee and plain lattes on sleepy Friday mornings. To you who meet up faithfully, punctually with your retired cronies to share the same pastry prepared the same way to talk about the same shit on a different day. I am comforted to hear your cackling laughter, your low grumblings, your casual conversations. I am grateful when you look into our painfully empty tip jar, shake your head disapprovingly, yell “Cheap bastards!”, and then put in your much-appreciated dollar. I am touched by your willingness to put your book down and keep an eye on our safety when someone scopes the place (yes, it happens frequently). I hope to have your faithful devotion to long-time friends one day. I hope to stay true to myself and to my routine and to the things that make me happy. I hope to always respond when someone asks me how I’m doing that “it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!”.

The countertop conspiracy theorist. To you whom against whom I sinned when I made the mistake of putting a lid and a straw in your plain, black iced Americano. To you who gaze slowly over every item you see, asking me what type of GMOs are in our flavored syrups. To you who would, if I asked, give me a 20-minute lecture on why the plastic in our our store is going to to destroy the baby turtles in the Galapagos. I always daydream about your younger years, about the protests you must have participated in, the causes you must have stood for, and the far-out things you must have seen. I wonder what you must think of me and my generation. I wonder what kinds of things we could learn from each other. I wonder if you’d listen to me the same way I always listen to you. Do not mistake me for such a Good Samaritan, I listen because I am paid to. Is that bad? What interesting things I’ve been paid to listen to. What interesting things you have felt comfortable telling me because I’m paid to listen. I’m sorry about all the plastic, I do not agree with you on many things, but damn, have you made me learn how to listen. And for that, I find myself grateful. Unless I’m trying to close.

The ambitiously flirtatious Fabio. Don’t get me wrong, there was a few years time that I truly appreciated you. You who would come into the shop and flash me a smile that I’m sure has impressed many a young, single barista. You who seem find me infinitely more interesting on the days I wear make-up and do my hair. You whose charisma I’m sure has earned you free coffee and heaven knows what else. You who may or may not have a girlfriend/fiancee/wife, but I wouldn’t know because you are so eerily charming. There was a time when I needed the self-esteem boost, but I’m good now. I found someone who thinks I’m equally as interesting when I’m rocking my frizzy hair and baggy gym clothes. I hope you find the same and stop hitting on the baristas who gain false hopes from you. Also, you’re not as discreet as you think. I see you staring, and it creeps me out. Please stop.

The Spectator. What if I walked into your office, found your cubicle, stood over it, and watched you do your work so intensely that you felt like my gaze burned a hole in your face? Well, that’s how I feel. When you come to the spot to pick up your drink, lean over the counter, and watch me in complete silence for the entire 2 minutes I spend making your drink. Or, even worse, when you silently watch me make the line of drinks I have to make before yours. We have newspapers. We have magazines. We have stuff for sale. Go enjoy yourself. Wander for a minute. Or, talk to me. Ask me questions, respond to my question “How’s your day going?”. It’s a question I reserve JUST for people like you to remind you that a human being is making your drink. A coffee shop isn’t a zoo, and I don’t enjoy being on display while I do my work. Man, that felt good to get out of my system.

The awkward lovebirds. I love you guys. So much. You make my day so much more interesting. To see two people who have never met before other than on Tinder or through friends, your first encounter is something in which I am happy to participate. I love helping to break the ice. I love being the one to caffeinate your first experience with each other. I always wonder if you’ll end up together, date for awhile, or decide to go your separate ways. I enjoy seeing your body language relax over the hours you are in the shop, getting to know each other, asking each other questions, and revealing who you are. I am silently pleased when I realize you’ve been talking for the majority of my shift (6 hours!) and that when I remind you that we are almost closing, you make plans to continue your conversation somewhere else. I love the pleasant awkwardness and anticipation. I love seeing the excitement and wonder. And I love using at least one terrible coffee pun to kick off your first encounter with your potential spouse, or just that person you went on a date with that one time. I really do love it a latte.

The introverted bookworm. You sir (or ma’am) are my spirit animal. How I envy you when you pick the sunniest, coziest spot in the shop, nestle into your chair, and read. For hours. Truth be told, when I sweep the lobby I always try to sneak a peek at what you’re reading. Sometimes I note it to myself if it looks interesting. I want to tell you that I love doing exactly what you’re doing. I want to tell you that, even as an extrovert, quality time alone with a book is so rejuvenating. I will pour you coffee if you ask but I will leave you alone. Time alone with a book is a treasure. I’m sorry that there are loud customers who don’t realize that.

The Energizer battery. 6 shots of espresso in your latte? Are you sure?! That’s what I’m thinking and what I’m sure my facial expression says when you order something with an absurd amount of caffeine. Like, what are you on your way to do, sprint a marathon in 5 minutes? Write a novel in an hour? Meet 7 deadlines at once? I realize sometimes caffeine has different effects on people, but sometimes I wonder how a person gets to the point where they enjoy 6 shots of espresso. These people are a cautionary tale to any and every barista. They become the reason that we, after 3 cups of free coffee and some shots of espresso, cause us to say “maybe I’ve had enough for the day”.

The “is-there-coffee/sugar-in-that?”. You singlehandedly help me keep my judgment in check as a Catholic. After doing this work for awhile, I have come to appreciate the delicious simplicity in a cup of black coffee. So when (and I hate to generalize, I really do) a woman comes to the counter and asks if she can get the equivalent a single shot of espresso drowned in fake sugar and milk alternatives,  I have a hard time. Maybe it makes me a coffee snob. It probably does, I admit it. But simple things are beautiful. And probably healthier. I would love to make you an Americano (espresso and water) with some raw sugar and some coconut milk sometime. It’s delicious, sweet, and much better for you.

The patience tester. Whether it is the person who comes in 3 minutes before closing time, the person who orders 10 drinks during a busy part of the day and leaves no tip, the person who spits (sometimes literally) out an order while they’re talking on their cell phone, the person who watches me mop and then immediately walks all over the floor, the person who forgets to mention something they want in their drink and then gets upset at me for it, the people who know our hours very well but proceed to stay past closing, the person who ignores us when we call out their drink, forcing us to walk it to them even when we are busy, the people who move our furniture to provide seating for their large group and do not move it back…these people teach me patience and humility in the hardest way possible. I’m always reflecting (usually too late, I admit) how every person I meet is a reflection of God. This includes especially the customers who test my patience. I am always challenged to provide genuine, efficient, and quality service to people who may not deserve it. That can be very difficult. But I think from it, I learn to appreciate the many more customers who are perfectly polite, respectful, and sincerely friendly. I appreciate the days where these customers are few and far between the many awesome people I get to meet in my job. I am brought true joy when someone comes up to me and genuinely thanks me for making them something delicious.

My job as a barista has made me appreciate so many things. It continues to humble me despite my many years of higher education, which is something I need. It helps me see the beauty and value in simple work. It leads me to encounter people of every sort of diversity. It allows me to use my hands, move around, work quickly, and produce tangible results. I think I would be a very different person without my job as a barista. No one else in my family does this sort of work, and I like the way it makes me unique. I am often exhausted and sore after my shifts, and I often complain about the negative things that happened. Reflecting on the different people I’ve met, though, helps me to see the job in a bit of a more nostalgic perspective. I’ll miss it when I leave.

I have to say, service professionals don’t get paid nearly what their work is worth.

Warrior

There is so much to fight and fight for on this side of eternity. Right now and frequently, I am wearied by this fight.

Sometimes it is a lonely weariness. It is surprisingly isolating to believe that there is evil in the world, and that it bleeds subtly into virtual and real interaction. It hurts to see the dismissing look on friends’ faces when I tell them there is such a thing as evil. And that I experience it frequently. The flippant disbelief hurts. But I keep believing.

Sometimes it is a pent up and frustrated weariness. It is realizing that my body and society have an automatic way of functioning, but that I and we are made for more. I am programmed, told, and reassured that my personal choices do not affect those around me. But I have lived that lie to fruition, only to destroy and be destroyed. So controlling the automatic in me now, while often done in white-knuckle frustration, is worthwhile. I keep resisting the automatic.

Sometimes it’s a scared weariness. Of of what I’ve lost of this world as a result of pursuing truth. The confidence once given to me by the fleeting and superficial is painfully and slowly shed. It falls away now as I become confident in something greater, constant, transcendental. The things outside me that once reassured my dignity drop off with each season of my life: one by one, leaving me to re-establish a quieter, centered, unchanging, inner dignity. Building this kind of confidence forces me to face myself. My choices. My mistakes. My flaws. Terrifying, sobering, but I keep nurturing an unchanging dignity.

Sometimes it’s a sad weariness. I am sad to acknowledge humanity’s capacity, my capacity, to offend another. To violate dignity in the name of disordered conscience. To truly believe that we are all alone in creating lives that lead to abundance. To think that “it’s my life and no one else’s”. To forget that we belong to one another and should care about how the choices we make affect others. To want to reach out to a loved one who is hurt, but to have them be resistant because of their own battles from the journey. To want to show another I care, but not knowing how. It is sad to see others hurt because of evil, but I keep trying to reach out. At the very least, in prayer.

All of the time, it is a vulnerable weariness. I am small and weak compared to the millions of powerful forces in the world. I am poor and searching for truth and Love. But as I become weaker, more humble, more dependent on a force stronger than evil, I am made strong. Sometimes, I am given the nourishment to keep going despite my weariness. Other times, I need to suffer through it, foregoing immediate nourishment. Sometimes I settle for the nourishment when I need to suffer, and sometimes I suffer in vain. The seemingly endless human journey.

But in my vulnerability and weariness, I am able to admit that I cannot journey alone. I am able to search for the company of others making the same journey, often more courageous than I. I am able to accept imperfect love as I am imperfect. I am able to forgive those who have hurt me as I learn to ask forgiveness of others. I learn that people are fragile, vulnerable, precious, as I become more fragile, vulnerable, and precious. I am able to purify my intentions. I am able to experience pure joy in only a way experienced by someone who has endured pure suffering.

I accept that there is evil in the world, and I accept the suffering it takes to fight it. It is only through suffering that I am made fully alive.

Discernment, coffee, and the occasional outburst

I wish I could say that me wiping tears while simultaneously running on the treadmill and listening to podcasts was a one-time thing…in the last couple months. Today, during the first of my 2 (yes, I have that much free time now) workouts, I had a fantastic realization regarding this weird period of my life. I was listening to a 60-year-old radio broadcast of the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen talk about marriage. And yes, it made me cry.

Obviously this man has some inspiring things to say about marriage. And, the subject matter was obviously relevant to me now as Sam and I prepare for the exciting, amazing, terrifying vocation of marriage. But, the reason I was moved to tears by this and other speakers/writers/people to whom I’ve turned my attention lately was something entirely different. I cried because I can tell that, without a doubt, Archbishop Sheen truly lived his purpose in this life. And I’m coming to realize that there are few more beautiful things in this imperfect, peculiar life as a human.

When I hear Archbishop Sheen’s voice, I am immediately both astounded and honestly kind of scared. He speaks with such confident, powerful inflection that I’m pretty sure he could convince anyone of anything. Thank God he used that power for objective good. His voice was beautifully made for the radio and, made for speaking truth to millions of lost people through it. His voice was made to comfort, inspire, present, and rejoice in the truths of a 2000-year-old religion. And even to people like me–60 years later!!! His purpose on this Earth was realized and, even now, that amazes me to tears. It also begs the question, “Am I living my purpose?”

I’ve thought of that more than occasionally in this bizarre chapter of my life. I graduated with a Master’s degree at the ripe young age of 24 with the promise of brighter futures and influencing young people as a school counselor. I was (and still am) so proud of realizing that goal. I worked toward this purpose relentlessly for 2-and-a-half years. And, much to my surprise, I was left with very little to no prospects of a job. Instead, I was forced to jump fully into the ever-trusty coffee shop job that has accompanied me through every one of the 6 years I have been in college and grad school.

After my grandiose decision to make a life for myself in Washington state and then my other grandiose decision to bust through graduate school like my a** was on fire, I am living at home and working at a coffee shop.

As the prospect of a job right out of grad school became dimmer, my confidence began to plummet. My sense of purpose and drive was compromised, and I felt almost completely isolated. As a textbook extrovert, the lack of ample social interaction through school and internship left me depleted every day. Thoughts of losing friends from school over the years and facing yet another transition loomed and still looms. And, though there has been wedding preparations and small business matters to attend to, I find myself dealing with this cross of displaced purpose still today.

Thank the Almighty God for my fiance, my family, and my ever-shrinking group of true friends who carry me through when they have the time. But, I am beginning to realize, this truly unfamiliar period of too much downtime is mine to bear. And when I see it in context of the larger purpose for my life, it doesn’t seem quite as lonely or uncomfortable.

I have no busy-ness to be my crutch, my excuse, my comfort zone to remain in auto-pilot. I have no reason to brag or rely on outside accomplishments to boost my ego or make me feel important. I have no excuse to have superficial friendships. In fact, I treasure my smaller number of intentional friends even more now. I have no bureaucracy to contend with, no excuse to have one-too-many beers because “my life is soooo stressful”. My life has quieted. My pleasure-seeking brain hates it. But as I live it and even write this, I see how it is enriching my life.

My life was not balanced in the busy throes of school and work and relationships. It is not balanced now, and will never be perfectly balanced. But I really believe that it was for a divinely inspired reason I am being placed in this uncomfortable situation. I am “forced” to tell people “I graduated in December with my Master’s degree. No, I do not have a job in my field yet”, so that I can learn that my occupation (whether school counseling or as a barista) does not define my worth. I am “forced” to tell my friends “I am so happy we are meeting. I get lonely during the day when I am not working and have nothing to do. Thank you for being in my life.” I am “forced” to tell my fiance, “Thank you for loving me even when I’m doubting myself”. I am “forced” to tell my parents “You guys reflect what true sacrificial love looks like. I’m sorry for waking you up when I come home late when you have to be up early the next day”. In short, I am placed in this situation to get perspective that successful life and wealth doesn’t always have to come from money, occupation, or popularity. I am “forced” to see the good things that have always been constant, even when I haven’t noticed it. I needed that. Though it sounds trite, I’m not sure I truly understood that before this humble, more quiet period in my life.

This chapter in my life is meant to prepare me for the next. This chapter in my life WILL help me realize my purpose in life, so that one day, someone can be touched by my passion for life the way I was touched by a late Archbishop of the Catholic Church.

What we mean for evil

Reflections on change, on injustice, on things I don’t understand, on the unfolding of my life as it unfolds…

Brings me to a delicate space in my mind.

I write this clad in a conservative black dress on my way to a funeral to a peer, a fellow young woman with whom I went to high school. It humbles me, even puts me to shame to think of the plans we meant to make upon two chance encounters at Theology on Tap in the last couple years. Isn’t that the way it goes though? No one is ever ready for death, let alone the death of a beautiful, vibrant peer. I find myself more open to the existential crises thrust into my consciousness, as I start to accept that my life will always be peppered with them.

Untimely deaths, imminent transitions, and one mere glance on the internet makes known the overwhelming suffering of the human experience. I find it so daunting lately that I am more tempted to stay in my low-paying, comfortable coffee barista job rather than actually use my Master’s degree and place myself within Cynicism in professional “Adulting”.

For some reason, this has also been a weird season of deliberately exposing myself to things I find unpleasant or uncomfortable. Maybe preparing myself in some way? Whether it is watching documentaries on Netflix about horrendous 1960s cults who abused children in the name of “God”, going to churches outside my own faith tradition, seeing the wealthy misuse their blessings, watching debates on the existence of God, or reading posts on Facebook on election day, I feel exposed to the confusion of our culture in a big way. My heart is saturated and swollen with the pains and injustices of the world. As someone already on the precipice of entering into this world, these societal pains are amplified in my mind. What a scary time. I am faced with the all-too ubiquitous million-dollar question, “How do I make sense of all of this?”

I hear the canned answers just like anyone else: “Turn to the Lord”, “Pray your rosary”, “We just to accept there is evil in the world”, “It’s all the fault of (insert person’s biases here)”, “F*** this, I’m moving to Canada”. While all of these have made sense at one point or another, I find myself yearning for an answer that is more universal, more hopeful, more honest, more human. Which, as I write it, sounds impossible. Maybe it truly is, but I am a believer in God and so I reflect on a possible answer from Scripture:

“Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people”. -Genesis 50:20

I often think lately that I use my faith to escape into a bubble where everything makes sense, everything feels safe. But what I love about this verse (among other things) is that it goes against this “comfortable faith” in acknowledging the evil and danger in the world. It does not suggest that the way to live a “Godly” life is to simply do good and avoid evil. It displays to me the inevitability of encountering and dealing with evil. The solution, I think, is what I love best. This verse suggests that the way to look at evils done to us (whether individually or societally) is to see where evil can help God do His job. It effectively answers the pained “Why me, God?” question. According to this verse His answer to this question is, “To help you grow, to make you stronger, to make you humble”. It is looking at suffering in this way that makes it meaningful. It assures that we do not suffer in vain, but to improve ourselves and the human condition if we choose to accept suffering faithfully.

I watched a documentary on Netflix called “The Children of God” that exposed the inner workings of a 1960s cult in the United States. This cult was part of the Jesus Movement subculture within the counterculture environment at the time, and they effectively blasphemed every aspect of the Christian faith. The true meaning of sexuality was warped as the leader of this cult permitted any and all sexual activity in the name of Jesus. Children were abandoned and brutally sexually abused in the name of religion. I understood my atheist/agnostic brothers and sisters a little better after seeing this documentary. I was left so disillusioned by human capacity to rationalize evil. Not long after viewing this, however, I came across a book written by this cult leader’s daughter who participated in all atrocities associated with her father’s cult. This woman preached such truth about sin and humanity and hope in the face of evil that it left me floored. To think someone could believe in forgiveness and hope despite her own father’s sexual advances and sins towards her PERSONALLY! If someone like this woman could forgive her own father who hurt thousands, there really is no excuse not to believe in good even in the face of such grave evil.

My boyfriend and I both have tumultuous sexual pasts but have recently tried (after failing many times) to embrace chastity. Our pasts have educated and helped us practice compassion and forgiveness towards each other in a way I didn’t think was possible. Again, what we meant for evil, there was a supernatural force who used even that for our good.

The election led to piercing negativity within my age group. Many were so dismayed by the state of our country to elect who we did, to allow such “misogyny”, “bigotry”, “anti-Muslim” rhetoric in our already-flawed political system. But, a couple days after this all set in, I was surprised and please to see recants and changes of heart explaining how we should support each other and move forward together in the face of results we may not like. Such positivity despite “evil” results.

Seeing suffering in its larger context of meaning, seeing “what we meant for evil” as “what God meant for good” lends to a mindset of resilience. Bad stuff that inevitably happens is not the result of a cruel and unpredictable world, but an opportunity for us to be humbled, relinquish expectations, and grow. Even if for some reason God doesn’t exist, I like to hold on to the hope that suffering and evil not only purifies our hearts, but helps us to love each other a little better every day.

 

I’d like to say that sewing the previously severed back together

in the hopes of new growth

is lovely.

That reattaching fallen meaning to its original source is surgery: precise, laser-cut,

a cosmic jigsaw puzzle.

Or even something successfully completed in the universe.

That’s what they sell you.

Meaning in the flesh, of the flesh, becoming one

after twice cauterized and split, uniquely molded

by two lives.

Romantic when it all “fits together”.

Perfection when each benefits from the other,

is good, but not the best. Not even close.

Existing with another is only perfected in

existing for another.

Uncovering earthly beauty begins the journey of

purifying, sanctifying, dying

for transforming

for Meaning.

The impossible Surgery

of seeing beyond who I am

what I want

for you.

Reconstructing the original form of

tenderness, intimacy, ultimate closeness.

Working muscles that are weak

only strengthened by a vision

of something better than me.

We were made for more than us,

society, mere legacy.

I act, suffer, exist to make you

Perfect.

 

Don’t fall in love.

Don’t fall in love. Everyone wants to. I wanted to. I have before, as I’m sure lots of people do all the time. But, having “fallen” in love has led me to believe that you shouldn’t. Instead, you should choose to love. Choose to love someone just as flawed as you are, and choose to love them every second of every day.

Love requires superhuman sacrifice. It requires deliberate movement and constant courage through change. To love someone is to fight for them when they continue to push you away. It requires you to get rid of the scoreboard, the preconceived expectations. It is built on the notion that your feelings, thoughts and actions are voluntarily contingent on your beloved and vice versa. Love is the ultimate step out of oneself in order to discover the soul of another.

This discovery can be tragic and scary, but mostly beautiful. When you choose the path of discovery that is love, you will tread through neuroses and darkness entirely new to you. You will sit and walk and thrash through the insecurities of your beloved, alongside your beloved. These insecurities may be small, or they may be big enough to break your heart as they did theirs. But, this journey is purely redemptive. I promise. Through it, you have the power to show another person that they are not alone and never have to be again.

To be in love with someone, you must first believe that YOU are completely worthy: despite and because of your mistakes, your past, and especially because of your imperfect nature. Wake up every day and train your mind to stop trying to convince you otherwise. Wake up and train it to focus instead on grasping the incredible idea that humans can love each other past pain. You must believe in your own unchanging, infinite value so that you can embrace someone else’s. This takes conscious effort and tireless determination.

Falling is accidental. There is nothing accidental about dying to yourself for the sake of another. Don’t fall in love. Choose it.