Where Did the Spark Start?

Has anyone ever asked you what makes you come alive? I’ve been thinking lately about vocation. Many people are able to look back and see clues from their childhood pointing to their eventual profession. Sometimes it’s an easy connection to make. My sister, for example, was always getting in trouble for making a mural on her bedroom wall with crayons or taking Mom’s lipstick and “decorating” the bathroom. She went on to study art in college and is now a very talented graphic designer. For me, it wasn’t immediately apparent.

Early in my senior year of college, I was busily applying to grad programs when I heard a lecture on this idea. If we really reflect, the speaker said, we can all point to moments in our past that reveal our true passions and gifts. I was an English major, and yes–I had been geeking out over library books ever since I could remember. Writing was my best subject in school, sure, but I didn’t want to be a teacher. I had started as a psychology major freshman year, but I missed English so much that I tested out of Major British Writers I in order to take Major British Writers II, which covered my favorite era of literature at the time. Here’s the kicker—I didn’t need either class for my psychology degree. I wanted to take it as an elective…I know.

Not long after this, I found myself sitting in Physiological Psychology memorizing the cranial nerves, and I came to a decision. Psychology was not for me. University policy was to meet with the head of the department you were considering, and it was in this meeting with the wonderful and wise chair of the English department that I first heard about social work. She was an impressive person but managed to put me at ease as she told me that social work involved a lot of writing and research, and graduate programs offered different concentrations. I could choose not to go down the clinical path, which was the part of psychology I didn’t really appreciate. An English degree would be a great foundation for a Masters in social work, she said.

So, I majored in English and loved almost every minute of it. I minored in psychology and started learning more about social work. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change a thing. This was the perfect academic path for me—a different means to the same end. I initially chose psychology because I wanted to help people. I’d always been told I was a good listener. I hadn’t thought to trace my interest back to childhood until this lecture my senior year of college. And when I considered the idea of vocation, it wasn’t clear to me exactly how I’d gotten here—applying to social work programs. It felt right, but when did this become my calling?

It hit me weeks later, cleaning out my closet. At the bottom of a pile of t-shirts, I found one that I had kept since 8th grade. They didn’t have anything but a size large, and I remember rolling up the sleeves when I wore it that year. The guidance counselor at my junior high had a program called “peer mediation”. Junior high kids have a lot of hormones and some get into a lot of fights. When this happened at school, the culprits could choose to meet with the vice principal or participate in peer mediation. I was chosen to be a peer mediator, along with several other students. There was an even number of boys and girls, and we were a mix of nerds and cool kids who made decent grades. I think by now you know which side I fell on. We were trained in conflict resolution and given a notebook of prompts to use in mediations. I loved it. I didn’t love much in junior high. It’s not a great time for most of us, I guess. But peer mediation was something I looked forward to, and not only because they paired me with the tallest boy as my co-mediator. I was able to talk calmly with students in a crisis of sorts and listen empathetically as each explained their side of the conflict. Then we collaborated to come up with a solution that would result in them avoiding detention and, hopefully, preventing future fights. I felt empowered and natural in this role. It energized me. It made me come alive.

This must be why I still had this shirt, though I never thought about it before. I can’t explain why it gave me so much satisfaction to make the connection between my middle school peer mediator career and my choice of graduate degree, but it was truly meaningful for me to remember where the spark started. Now, as a stay-at-home mom in my early thirties, I still rock my peer mediation shirt at the park now and then. I think most of us have more than one thing that makes us come alive, and this is just one of mine. I’m not working in social work right now, but you better believe I use those skills with my toddler. And here I am writing, practicing another one of my passions.

I want to encourage you to reflect back. Think about a what you’ve loved doing over the years. What are some things you have always been willing to work hard at because they bring you joy? Have you ever traced that path? You might be using your gifts in an unconventional way, but if you look closely, I hope you’ll see it.

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The back says “It’s a WIN/WIN thing.” 🙂 

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The City of Water

Without further ado…Venice!  The canals of Venice make it unique among the beautiful, ancient cities of Italy.  At night, the water reflects the city lights, and it’s pure magic.  IMG_0035 IMG_0039 IMG_0032We arrived around sunset and had just enough time to find our hotel, settle in and freshen up before heading out into the night to explore.  As Bryan and I wandered the streets hand in hand, taking it all in, my thoughts drifted to March 2004–a little over TEN years ago, when I was here exploring this city with a group of college friends.  We were on our spring break during a semester in England, and I was 19.  I remember climbing the stairs up to the center of the big bridge over the Grand Canal and looking out over the glistening water.  I thought dreamily of what it would be like to be there with my husband.  I couldn’t imagine a more romantic setting.  So here I was at 29, and Venice hadn’t changed at all.  But I had.  🙂  I’m so grateful for that surreal moment I had holding hands with HIM our first night in Venice and looking out at the Grand Canal from the same spot.

We did a lot of walking during our two days there.  We found the church from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and sought refuge inside when a heavy rain came on suddenly.  IMG_0146They had a DaVinci exhibit going on.  What a brilliant visionary!  Talk about feeling like an underachiever.  They had recreations of many of his inventions with his original sketches.

Of course, we took in beautiful San Marco Square and watched the pigeons (and the people) for awhile.  IMG_5139 IMG_0119 IMG_5132IMG_5142I got my first gelato of the trip while Bryan and I watched Costa Rica play England in the World Cup.  IMG_5144
We bought an umbrella and cuddled up together underneath it as we matched the pace of our steps.  It brought back memories of when we were dating in Costa Rica during rainy season.  We heard a gondolier quote a price of 40 euros for a ride to a European-looking couple just ahead of us on a bridge.  “Cheap!”  As we approached, he assessed our appearances (or, more accurately, my appearance) and shouted out to us, “80 euros!  Cheap!  Cheap!”  We opted to skip the gondala ride based on the “which will you regret more?” philosophy and instead rode the steamboat through the city.  It was great fun, albeit with slightly less ambiance.  The people watching in Italy during high tourist season is fantastic!  We heard bijillions of different languages, and I loved observing people.

Venice was a great start to part 2 of our Italian adventure.  From here, we hop a train to Florence!  See you there.  🙂

Day Ten: Shared History

When I was a sophomore in college, I studied abroad for a semester in England.  I believe there were fifteen girls and ten guys in our group.  We lived in two houses next door to each other.  We studied together, shared all of our meals, traveled together, worshiped together, etc, etc.

It was a pivotal chapter in my life—spiritually and emotionally.  I think it was for a lot of us.  You could feel God working.  So many conversations and experiences from that semester will stay with me forever.  Whispered words between four girls on a late night bus ride from Oxford to London, watching a powerful thunderstorm roll in off the Mediterranean from a cliff in Cinque Terre, Italy, befriending a Australian in a Scottish hostel, watching a pack of wild horses canter past us during an Easter sunrise devotional…God was there in all of it, working in our hearts and creating an unbreakable bond among us.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity I had to share that time with that particular group of people.  These days, I don’t see many of them too often.  We keep in touch via Facebook or Instagram.  Oh, that’s a depressing sentence for an old fashioned girl like me.  It’s a good thing I’ve heard talk of a reunion in the works.  I follow some of their blogs.  Several of my study abroad friends are incredibly talented writers.  No matter where they are or how long it’s been since we’ve spoken, I still care for each of them.  The thing about shared history is that when you have meaningful experiences with people then you associate them with the emotions you felt at the time.  Because that semester was such a positive, life-giving time for me, I think happy thoughts when I think about those friends.  I will always feel a connection with them, but beyond that, thinking about them is truly uplifting.  And I think that’s pretty cool.

snow in Oxford

Day Eight: Friends of All Ages, Part I

I have a close knit family, so I’ve always been around people of various ages.  I love spending time with my grandparents and younger cousins and aunts and uncles.  But I try to be intentional about also developing friendships with people who are in different phases of life that I am.  This is something I want to work on.  🙂

In the job I had before we moved to The Big City, I interacted with college freshmen almost every day.  I loved hearing what was on their hearts.  I would dare to say few times in life are more terrifying and more thrilling than being a college freshman.  They are adjusting to their new found freedom and lack of structure, and that can be overwhelming.  They are also figuring out what to study, who to spend time with and what direction their lives are going to go.

Emily Dickinson said, “I dwell in possibility.”  I think she was an INFP like me.  For this type of person, college can be amazing.  It was good for me to be around these folks and get back in touch with the part of myself that wants to be challenged and is always looking for adventure.  I want to maintain a bit of that youthful spirit throughout my life.  Being around college kids like this fellow truly inspires me.

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Day Seven: The Friends Who Go Before Us

Lisa is the closest thing to a big sister I’ve ever had.  She is only a few months older than me, but she has always been much more mature.  🙂  I love many things about her, but something that has always stood out to me is how she makes me (and others) feel really understood.  She is a very selfless individual.  She’s brilliant and humble and has a steadiness and confidence that shines through despite her soft spoken nature.  I never feel intimidated by her gifts.  She has a way of putting me at ease.  

We lived across the hall from each other freshman year and were roommates sophomore through senior year.  The summer after graduation, when I was spending the week in San Diego helping to prepare for her wedding, I found out from her mom  that she had decided that first semester I was someone she wanted to befriend.  I can’t tell you how special that made me feel.  Throughout our time as roommates, Lisa saw me through a lot.  I’ve always been able to share my weaknesses with her because she knows my heart and accepts me as I am.  She was the person I could count on to see the good and not judge me when I was being stupid—and still is, as a matter of fact.  She gives great advice but never unsolicited, and her kind spirit reminds me to give people the benefit of the doubt and look for the good in challenging situations.

I was always the trailblazer in my family as the oldest child.  My younger siblings could learn from my experiences and feel more confident going forward.  Well, Lisa is that person for me.  I remember being a college student and thinking that the idea of getting married sounded so intimidating.  When Lisa got engaged to her college sweetheart, she asked me to be her maid of honor.  I got a front row seat on the roller coaster of planning and preparation that is engagement.  I saw how good it can be despite the challenges when you choose the right person and seek God together.  It would be a while later that I would take that step, but when the time came, I was more prepared having watched Lisa go down that road first.  Seeing someone so close to me go through that transition made it real for me.  She was still the same person after she got married, and that helped me understand that I would be, too.  

Almost three years ago, she had her first child.  They named her Kara.  You can read about it here.  When her husband told me on the phone I didn’t believe him right away.  You just became a father!  How can you joke at a time like this? I thought.  🙂  I feel so honored to be little Kara’s aunt and namesake.

Since Lisa is the one who told me about the 31 Days challenge and encouraged me to participate, I thought it only fitting that I post about her.  Thank you, dear friend, for being the one who goes before me.  

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Day Six: Long Distance Friendships

Some of my dearest friends have lived thousands of miles apart from each other since we graduated from college back in the mid 2000s.  We have lived in Vietnam, Costa Rica, Italy, Canada and Northern California, respectively.  It can be really cool to hear about life in places that I’ve never lived and maybe even visit, but sometimes we just wish we all lived closer to each other.  It’s frustrating.

I’ve never been a huge fan of long phone conversations.  There’s Skype and FaceTime and Google Hangout.  There’s g-chat and Instagram and Facebook and email.  Even the occasional letter or package.  But nothing compares to face to face conversations with real hugs and walking places together and uninterrupted quality time (have you guessed yet that this is my number one love language?).  The last time we were all in the same place was at my wedding at the end of 2011.  The next time will likely be next summer for another wedding.  What better excuse than true love?  🙂

There is so much more I could say on this topic.  I think it’s easy for me to feel sorry for myself that I don’t have my closest girlfriends from college nearby like some girls do.  This month I’m celebrating friendship, and I want to practice thankfulness here tonight.  Yes, long distance friendships are hard, but you know what?  I’m so grateful to have friends I love so much that I’m sad I don’t get to see them every single day.  I am grateful that I still feel close with these wonderful women years later–despite the geographic distance between us.  I am so thankful for the technology that allows me to stay involved with their lives between visits.

On Wednesday, I have a phone date scheduled with my wonderful friend, Sarah, who is working on her PhD in Canada.  Instead of being bummed that I can’t sit with her and share a pot of coffee, I am going to be thankful that we always have such wonderful talks.  Ultimately, the distance between all of us just makes our time together more special.  I can’t wait for next summer!

Besties

Still Celebrating

My one word for this year is celebrate, and I’ve had some great opportunities recently to do just that.

What a memorable couple of weeks it has been!  We have shared lots of celebrating, family, food, siteseeing and Spanish speaking.  Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few thousand…

The graduates being hooded--this is actually the morning ceremony.  My cousin is the redhead somewhere in the front section.  :)  Proud of you, Zack!

The graduates being hooded–this is actually the morning ceremony. My cousin is the redhead somewhere in the front section. 🙂 Proud of you, Zack!

We loved hosting everyone at our house for lunch between ceremonies.  One last family gathering at Casa Rodriguez before we move (sigh)

We loved hosting everyone at our house for lunch between ceremonies. One last family gathering at Casa Rodriguez before we move (sigh)

A much anticipated moment

A much anticipated moment

My husband is a rockstar.

My husband is a rockstar.

We toured Fort Worth with Bryan's mom and grandma.

We toured Fort Worth with Bryan’s mom and grandma.

Ladies and gentlemen, my awesome Mother-in-Law.  :)

Ladies and gentlemen, my awesome Mother-in-Law. 🙂

Abuela wanted to arrive at the airport in Costa Rica wearing a Texas shirt.  She's a fan.

Abuela wanted to arrive at the airport in Costa Rica wearing a Texas shirt. She’s a fan.

In other news, I got a job this week!  It’s been quite a whirlwind.  Driving back yesterday after saying goodbye to Bryan’s mom and grandma at the airport and house hunting in the afternoon, it started to hit me how soon we are leaving (and how much we have to pack).  Also, we saw a tornado.  The wide open West Texas sky was a spectacular backdrop for the stormy sunset as we drove along the familiar interstate highway.  My whirling thoughts stopped for a little while, and I was just present; experiencing the storm with Bryan and marveling at the power of God.  I embraced my conflicting emotions and made peace with the silence as we watched the lightning flash in the orange glow of the sinking sun.

"That almost looks like a tornado." I said.  A few minutes later, we saw car after car pulled over and people snapping pictures with fancy cameras.  "It IS a tornado!"

“That almost looks like a tornado.” I said. A few minutes later, we saw car after car pulled over and people snapping pictures with fancy cameras. “It IS a tornado!”

Stormy sunset

I've never seen anything quite like it.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

More thoughts on the upcoming move soon…  I hope you all are feeling as blessed as I am this afternoon.  🙂

Libraries are for Dreamers

My love of libraries began at a very young age.  I had one of those amazing elementary-school-teacher-turned-stay-at-home-mom moms that did a lot of interactive learning activities with us when we were tiny.  We finger painted and made homeade playdough and visited musuems.  We wrote “books” which consisted of Mom writing down stories that we made up and binding the books using small scraps of patterned wall paper or drawer liner or something that she stapled to the outside as the cover.  (Mind you, this was long before Pinterest.)  The final step was us adding our illustrations.  They are hilarious to look at now, let me tell you.  We frequented the local library where my mom volunteered.  My younger sister (now a graphic designer) was more into the art projects, but our trips to the library were a great favorite of mine.  We had our own library cards and could pick out five books per visit.  How thrilling and overwhelming it was to search the shelves reading titles and exploring catagories.  I still love getting lost in an unfamiliar world and caught up in plot twists.  I still love the smell of old pages and the majestic shelves standing tall in the stillness.  Each one holds a wealth of knowledge on any topic your imagination can dream up.

Bodleian inside

I would like a replica of this room in my future home. (sigh)

As a student, I have been blessed to enter some of the most beautiful libraries in the world.  I spent the spring of my sophomore year in college studying in Oxford, England–“The City of Dreaming Spires”.  It was an incredible experience.  In addition to traveling around Europe, we invested a lot of time in exploring this beautiful city and it’s rich history.  Our tour of the Bodleian Library was the highlight for me.  If there was a book heaven, this would be it.  This is a little bit of the history, take from the Bodleian’s official website.

I remember the tour guide telling us that this is where students defend their research before graduating.  Wowzer.

I remember the tour guide telling us that this is where students defend their research before graduating. Wowzer.

Oxford’s libraries are among the most celebrated in the world, not only for their incomparable collections of books and manuscripts, but also for their buildings, some of which have remained in continuous use since the Middle Ages. Among them the Bodleian, the chief among the University’s libraries, has a special place.

First opened to scholars in 1602, it incorporates an earlier library erected by the University in the fifteenth century to house books donated by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester. Since 1602 it has expanded, slowly at first but with increasing momentum over the last 150 years, to keep pace with the ever-growing accumulation of books and papers, but the core of the old buildings has remained intact.

Family's visit--Here we are in front of Radcliffe Camera which houses many collections and additional reading rooms for the Bodleian Library.  (photo taken by Katie)

Family’s visit–Here we are in front of Radcliffe Camera which houses many collections and additional reading rooms for the Bodleian Library. (photo taken by Katie)

These buildings are still used by students and scholars from all over the world, and they attract an ever-increasing number of visitors…

I went to Baylor University for grad school.  Sic ‘Em, Bears!  To my great delight, I discovered that Baylor is home to the Armstrong Browning Library (yes, as in Elizabeth Barrent Browning, whose poetry I love).  It was recently listed as one of the ten most beautiful libraries in the US.  And I got to study there!  Being, you know, historic and everything…it doesn’t have a lot of outlets for laptops.  I would go with a stack of articles and text books and just sit and read.  It was heavenly.  Here is some of the background information on the Armstrong Browning, taken from their official website:

The Armstrong Browning Library, free and open to the public, is located on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas.  It is a 19th-century research center dedicated to the study of the lives and works of Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and houses the world’s largest collection of Browning material and other fine collections of rare 19th-century books, manuscripts, and works of art.  Scholars take advantage of the Library’s annual journal, Studies in Browning and His Circle.

This area is a popular spot for weddings.  It's gorgeous.

This area is a popular spot for weddings. It’s gorgeous.

The Library opened in 1951, the culmination of the dedication and determination of Dr. A. J. Armstrong, former chairman of the Baylor English Department, and his wife Mary Maxwell Armstrong.  It has also become a popular stop for travelers and school groups who are attracted by the love story and poetry of the Brownings or by the unique beauty of the building.  It is an ideal setting for a wide array of scholarly and public programs.  These include lectures, musical occasions, cultural events, conferences, and exhibitions.  It is supported by Baylor University and by generous endowments provided by a patron organization of “Guardian Angels.”

Armstrong Browning from the outside

Armstrong Browning from the outside

I still can't believe I got to study at these magnificent tables.  :)

I still can’t believe I got to study at these magnificent tables. 🙂

If you’re still reading, thank you for accompanying this English nerd on a journey of sweet, sweet library memories.  What places inspire you?

On Being a Sister

I come from a close-knit family, and it’s been a blessing more often than it’s been a curse.  This past weekend, my brother performed in the annual freshman show, and my mom, sister and sister’s boyfriend were able to come.  Dad was home with the other brother.  Seeing Alex perform with other freshmen boys from his residence hall (and WIN) got me to feeling nostalgic (as I am wont to do).

I was almost three when my sister was born, so my memories of her as a baby are murky at best.  Alex was born when I was nine, so I really remember watching him grow up.  I can’t even describe what an amazing gift this has been for me.  I’ve always been the motherly type, I suppose.  It often comes with being the eldest child.  So, imagine my delight when I suddenly had a real, live doll.  I remember feeding him, changing him, rocking him, etc.  I remember how hot he would get when he fell asleep in my arms and how loud he would scream anytime someone went near him with nailclippers.  I remember his adorable speech impediments and expressions and his imaginary friend “Folks”.  I remember taking him to the grocery store with me when I had finally gotten my driver’s license (and was more than willing to run errands for my mom) and getting dirty looks from older women who assumed I was an unwed teenage mother (oh, the Bible Belt).

I watched him overcome challenges and grow into a confident, hilarious young man.  I am, in some ways, more of a second mom to him than a sister.  I feel a sense of tenderness and pride when I hear him talk about God or find out about something kind that he did.  He knows that he is a natural leader, and he intentionally tries to make people feel included and special.  He is humble and down-to-earth, but he has big dreams, too.  I can’t wait to see what God will do in his life during this time while he is in college.  I’d say he’s off to a pretty good start.

It has been wonderful to live in the same town with him again, and I find myself struggling to keep from checking in with him too often. I remind myself that he needs to have the “college experience” and be independent. He knows that I’m here if he needs anything.  Sunday afternoon he came over for lunch with the family and fell asleep on our couch.  I saw him there all curled up and peaceful.  It was nice to be reminded that although he is a college man now, he’s still my baby brother.

 

Quarterlife Crisis Revisited

Last night, procrastinating as ever, I randomly opened a folder of old Word documents saved from my old computer.  I read through part of my masters’ thesis and laughed at some appalling beginnings of short stories.  I read some letters I’d written to God and one to my future spouse (for an exercise we did in my girl’s Bible study, as I recall).  I found some free-verse poetry that was really enjoyable to read, and I realized how dormant that part of my brain has become.  I still value words highly.  “The pen is mightier than the sword”, etc.  But I’ve left creative writing on the back burner the past few years to pursue social work and Spanish and other endeavors.  I miss it.  I want this blog to be about real stories, but now and then maybe a bit of creative writing will creep in.  For instance, check this out…(circa 2004-2007)

Drizzle

The melancholy rain

Suits me these days.

As it blots out

The blaring sun

My eyes tune to the grey.

It’s droning rhythm slows the world

To match my pace.

Cold, colorless drops gather

To stagnate in muddy puddles.

I rather like them, as co-conspirators

Against all things perky and productive.

Fickle

I try not to believe in signs

Wilt in your presence

Settle

It cannot be captured

In language

Never

Stop chasing me

Tell me why

Save me

I’ve got to get up

And go

Across the world

Live in my head

Always

Just beyond

The actual words

And permeating

My consciousness

Don’t glance

Don’t look away

Stay

Out of my way

Today

Hold me

Be quiet

Say what I want

You to say

Surprise me

Blind me

In slow motion

This time

Losing Count

There’s a bomb

In my stomach

And a half-smile

On my lips.

I might just

Rub off my face

And leave it

In a gravy boat

Drive to Mexico

And sell my delirium

By the ounce

‘Cause tai chi

at sunrise

won’t unwind

my tangled kite string

but distractions

can bless a simple

soul.

[What in the world does this last one mean?  I’m not sure I knew even then.  I promise I wasn’t on drugs.  I was just reading a lot of Billy Collins.]

I realize I’m making myself vulnerable by sharing this, and I understand if it’s not your thing.  It just fascinates me that my brain was once capable of this type of weirdness.

When I think about this time in my life—the “Quarterlife Crisis” if you will, I remember feeling like my future was a sea of question marks.  One essay that I wrote my senior year of college described it as “living in the ellipsis of my life story”.  It’s overwhelming–the thrill of possibility and the agony of isolation.  This phase (coupled with the writing classes I took) inspired a lot of creativity.  The classics that you read in high school and college were mostly written by depressed, suicidal alcoholics.  I’ve never been one of those, but I was wrestling with some heavy thoughts about life at the time that I composed a lot of my creative writing.

Nowadays, I am pretty stable and pretty happy.  I don’t think this means that I CAN’T be inspired like I was then.  It might just be more difficult to access that part of myself and look different when I do.  I want to go ahead and formally accept the challenge of finding creative inspiration despite the fact that I have less question marks in my life now.  Can one be a happy person and still produce interesting writing?  Yes!  (Do you like how I give myself these little pep talks?  Oh yes, it happens often.)  And I am by no means normal (the previous sentence is proof enough, is it not?), so that will help.

It seems that so far my posts about love/relationships/intercultural marriage have been the most popular.  This is good news for me, because I love writing about these things.  I’m considering writing down my entire Love Story in chapter form and sharing it here.  It is an unconventional story in some ways and also sort of sounds like the plot of a romantic comedy at times.  Until then, thank you for joining me here.  Now let’s all go out and write a weird poem or compose a song or paint a canvas–just for the heck of it!  🙂