Category Archives: Philosophizing

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

Journey of a Rookie Mental Health Ninja

Mental health is such a interesting (and, I would argue, new) focus in the world. It’s this intangible, invisible plane of existence where everyone sees immensely universal themes of human experience with a beautifully unique lens. Often, that lens is kneaded and dyed and cured from the kiln of deep-seated psychic pain. Sometimes this pain is birthed deep within the miraculous chemistry of the brain. Other times it is violently stabbed into existence through trauma that callused, buried, and festered over time. In the case of many, it is a lethal combination of these two origins that mutilate and poison worldviews in such subtle ways that the Devil himself would be impressed.

I had the redemptive blessing of entering into this treacherous world with various transcendentally beautiful souls. I am just shy of completing the practicum segment of my Master’s degree in counseling: in other words, my first real experience in the field of mental health counseling.

I’ve always felt called to work in schools. The certainty of this specific calling made adjusting to a mental health setting extremely frustrating. Long hours, back-to-back clients, inconsistency, and feeling like everyone’s emotional trashcan were among some of the more trivial hardships. On a deeper level, I had to learn to communicate in a brand new way: open-ended questions, intentional listening for patterns/themes, and confronting inconsistencies in client stories are not methods I used to communicate every day. Honing these skills simultaneously in two languages (English and Spanish) brought on anxiety I had no idea I could feel. It also caused me to communicate this way in my own head, bringing to light my own psychic wounds–and often, some healing.

This experience educated my relationship with my boyfriend, my family, my friends, and my self-esteem. It has made interpersonal conflict more honest and focused on change, but has also made it more intense and difficult. It challenged me to a new sense of courage in balancing my needs and meeting the needs of others, which can be an overwhelmingly convoluted process. And, finally, it helped me take away some serious learning experiences that I hope I never forget. So, I’m writing them here.

  1. Focus on the redeeming qualities. I have always loved people. So it was surprising to learn for the first time in a real way that people can really suck. From dealing with a client who skips multiple appointments to hearing about pure evil acts of sexual abuse, it can become extremely easy to make the generalization that people just aren’t worth the effort. But to get hung up in this generalization is to be, at the very least, a selfish counselor (which is a complete oxymoron in my opinion). Sometimes all I could do to get through a hard day was find the redeeming qualities about my clients and counseling in general and repeat them over and over in my head. I owe that discipline to some great advice from my supervisor. Focusing on the strengths of a person or a situation diminishes a selfish mindset and places focus on the person who was courageous enough to place their mental health in your hands. I have to do whatever it takes to honor that courage because it is central to change.
  2. The statement behind the statement is the best kept secret of human communication. How often do people get stuck in recurring arguments that last for years? Extremely often, as I found out. This type of argument is not only annoying and circular in its resurfacing, but it often neglects larger themes that can fester and poison self-esteem and relationships. Too often, we keep conversations to a superficial level because of the fear of what it means to go deeper. Call it the effect of a culture of immediacy or technology, but to sit in the comfort of superficial exchanges often disguises deeper themes that need to be acknowledged in order to grow. All actions, statements, and behaviors can be traced ultimately to the meaning of one’s life. I believe that meaning in life is central to who we are. Some people may disagree, but I have grounded myself in this idea that we are all worthy of encountering meaning in life. Superficial exchanges do not equate our entire identity, but they certainly reflect them. As a counselor, I learned that valuing clients’ holistic identity as a sum of its parts can be therapeutic. Granted, this was a lesson I learned primarily by painful confrontation of my own “statements behind statements”, but it happened. A statement is never just a statement. A behavior is never just a behavior. A shift in focus to deeper themes of meaning and existence will always be more productive (albeit, sometimes painful) than the superficial exchanges we have with ourselves or others.
  3. Balance is everything. A focus on identifying meaning in life (again, a concept to which I adhere as a counselor but others may not), brings along with it certain inevitabilities. These include death, freedom, isolation, and the threat of meaninglessness in the classical existential sense. I value Viktor Frankl’s approach that also emphasizes suffering and responsibility. Most humans I’ve met in and out of the counseling environment are willing to admit that absolute bliss and contentment in life is not realistic or even something desired. Learning to balance things like suffering and meaning, personal needs and collective needs, rights and responsibilities, past and present, and present and future, are just a few things people strive for. For me, balance has come to mean sitting comfortably with my “monsters” or inevitabilities. Recognizing insecurities, anxieties, fears and strengths as all part of my journey and relating it to a quest for meaning in my life. It’s okay to have monsters. It’s okay to be scared and hurt and angry sometimes. But to let them overcome you or to completely deny them can stifle growth.
  4. Dignity is central to humanity. A central struggle I’ve had throughout this process is the reconciliation of my Catholic faith and the practice of counseling. My Catholic faith has become central to my identity and an absolute non-negotiable. Place this idea in a professional field that seems to, at times, embrace relativism above everything else and you can easily find yourself confused or offending someone. Often, it seems to me the idea that “the client’s reality and truth is his/her own” is beat into us pretty hard. I am not willing to abandon my faith for this idea. By the same token, evangelizing in a counseling session is not something I believe is productive. A mental counseling session is a space for a client to grow and heal, and not a space for me to disclose anything unless it is productive to this client growth. But holding fast to the ultimate dignity in human beings (something that my faith strongly advocates) has really educated this struggle. No one client is less worthy of healing and growing than another. Every human person has the right to recognize their own dignity and value their unique place in this world. Whether their past or presenting issues are in accordance with my faith is irrelevant. I am not there to agree or disagree with them. I am there to help them see their infinite worth. Sometimes I listen. Sometimes I reflect. Sometimes I tear up with them. But my ultimate vocation as a counselor is to allow a space for reaffirming dignity we all possess as humans made in the image and likeness of God.

 

A Healthy Relationship with Familiarity

Tonight I took a drive in my beloved Chuck the Truck for the first time in ages. I chuckle softly to myself every once in awhile because my angsty 17-year old brother has pretty much claimed the truck for himself so he doesn’t look embarrassing driving to see his friends in a minivan. And I’m okay with that. Chuck the Truck, a beautiful crimson 2003 Toyota Tundra, was my first car. He bears many, many scars of my adolescence (a white scuff mark on the fender, a cracked mirror, a taped back window) and even more memories. Sitting in that driver’s seat that is almost too big for my 5’2 frame and cranking down the window by hand felt like getting back in touch with an old friend. Leaning familiarly with him as I made familiar turns on the familiar roads got me did something wonderful to me tonight. It helped me make sense of the absolute flux I am going through currently. Turns out that when I am able to come up with extended metaphors to make sense of my life, everything feels a little less scattered and confusing.

Part of me was extremely frustrated throughout my entire senior year of college at Gonzaga. It was a very ironic frustration.  You see, I got this breathtaking opportunity to create an entire new life for myself in a city 1300 miles away from home when I was 18 years old. It was the most terrifying, exhilarating, difficult journey of growth I have accomplished in my life thus far. I was frustrated about this during my senior year because after 4 years living a certain way, it became familiar. Just like Chuck the Truck became familiar after 3 years of driving through adolescence with him. And when something becomes familiar, it becomes incredibly difficult to give up, even when nature, time and cycles of life seem to relentlessly force you. It was hard at first to see my brother drive the car in which I cried over high school crushes and sang too loud and came home too late and shared awkward attempts at intimacy. It has been the hardest thing in the entire world to leave the life I worked so hard to build to be familiar. It was also difficult to leave a 3-year relationship that became second nature to me. It was difficult to leave rituals and friendships and embraces that had all become so incredibly familiar to me over the last 4 years and therefore became my comfort. But somehow I graduated, I broke off the relationship, I came back home, and now every sense of familiarity to me is virtually gone and I feel like I have no roots.

But shouldn’t this cycle of gaining and losing familiarity be the most natural thing in the world? People are born and grow and live and die and can’t hold onto things that are familiar. Because at some point, we will be forced to let go so that we continue to gain familiarity in new ways as we age. It’s just the cycle of life it seems. So why does it seem so incredibly difficult to find a healthy balance between honoring things in our past that have at one point been familiar, and learning to let go so we can move on to fulfill our purposes?

I don’t know if I’ll ever have an answer to that question. But at this point, it seems to me that my relationship with the “familiar” all points to trust.  I consider myself a faithful, spiritual person. And the only thing that has brought me great solace in this time of transition and uncertainty and discomfort is the idea that it’s all part of a plan. A plan of nature and ultimately a plan of God. That every single thing that I have ever struggled to let go is but a stepping stone that gets me closer and closer to being the happiest I’ve ever been and doing what I was meant to do on this Earth. Letting go of the familiar and accepting that premise is so difficult sometimes, but I’ve seen proof of it in so many ways. The world has to go dark in order to experience the brilliance of a sunrise, leaves have to part from their trees so that spring can come again, and humanity has to grow and experience pain and suffering and redemption so that they can gain strength. With this strength can hopefully come wisdom and, eventually, a legacy to pass on to the next generation. The next cycle of life. It is this solidarity through building a healthy relationship of letting go of the “familiar” that keeps us in community with one another. And that is beautiful. It allows us to share in the redemption that comes from adversity.

At this point, I am overwhelmed and, in some cases, heartbroken with the amount of transitions that I’ve been seemingly forced to undergo. I’ve been forced to let go of several things that I have considered dearly familiar. But I think I’m going to wake up each day and try to trust a little more that the cycle of letting go of the familiar will only allow me to grab onto something even better. Yes. I think a little more trust might help.

Ode to Adolescence

Last year, I was in Gonzaga’s production of “A Chorus Line” and my favorite song from that musical is (by a longshot) is “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love”. It is by far the best depiction of the absolute hot mess that is adolescence. I think adolescence is absolutely fascinating and hilarious like I’ve said before, and tonight in my Lifespan Development class we talked all about. So hence, i found it necessary to provide commentary, even if it’s just for myself. I don’t really know why I feel like I have to provide a preface for every post I make…whatever.

I never realized how much acne, peer pressure, changing bodies, and new awareness of sexuality could be an all-out traumatic experience until I found myself sitting and looking back on my own journey through it. I always have to stop myself from shaking my head in annoyance at the massive herds of frappucino-carrying, flat-iron happy, lipgloss donning young girls at the mall because I used to be one of them. As much as the girls giggle obnoxiously to each other and take too long to try on clothes and feel the need to travel everywhere in giant groups and as much as these poor young boys feel the need to prove themselves, they need that time. Everyone is always talking about “those damn kids” who don’t know what they’re doing and have no life experience and therefore no mature thought. But for Pete’s sake, these pimple-ridden poor things need a break and here’s why.

On top of dealing with the hormonal voodoo that is suddenly making their hips wider and their voices 3 octaves deeper, on top of becoming suddenly aware that that special boy or girl may not think they’re good enough, on top of the possibility that they may be growing faster or slower than their peers who hold divine power to accept or reject them into social groups, these kids are going through something pretty significant. I read in a book once that adolescence is just as much a mourning of childhood and innocence as it is coming into adulthood. I thought that was so powerful. We get sex education and are made hastily aware of the biological changes going on in our bodies, but no one ever makes it known that once those changes start happening, there is no going back. The realness of sexuality and gender roles and the responsibilities of adulthood are suddenly dropped into our laps. You can be a kid at heart all your life but you never really are a kid again after puberty hits. And that is pretty damn heavy if you ask me.

Psychologically, it is very normal for adolescents to be moody and isolated and insecure. Stress and biology contribute heavily. But I believe that the loss of innocence does too, even if we don’t know it. Adulthood is scary in all of its decisions and moral dilemmas and autonomy. I’m sure people like me who are 21 would agree, and I’m even sure that people who are 91 would agree. These poor things are suddenly being thrust with that idea, many times without proper warning because their parents were too uncomfortable or honestly unequipped to provide it. They are being told by their peers, teachers, and even their own bodies that it is time to say goodbye to the days where passive aggressiveness, deceit, and increased responsibility just didn’t exist. What a daunting task to ask of a child. No wonder I felt so lost. No wonder the fifth graders I teach are constantly asking questions and seeking reassurance. No wonder there are so many issues in so many people that just never get resolved, even into adulthood. Adolescence can be an internal grief process of a simpler time. And unless it’s dealt with properly, I believe it can be permanently damaging.

Knowing all this, I vow at this moment to have nothing but love and solidarity for the teenage girl I see at Sephora wearing too much makeup, the group of baggy-jeaned boys in the airport who dares their friend to come say hi to me, or the many desperate quests for attention I have to deal with in my dance class. I know I would have loved some as I dealt with my too-frizzy hair, too-curvy body and the social price I paid for being unwilling to submit to peer pressure at that age. These kids just need someone to understand what they’re going through, even if they’re not willing to show appreciation for that understanding. And I will. With my future students, and with my own future children. Adolescence is a rough time but a necessary one. So smile at the next group of awkward tweens you see at the mall. They need it more than you think.