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.

FullSizeRender

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

Advertisements

Recipes from my Sabbatical

Happy Friday, everyone!  Well, my word for the year is “GROW”, and I’m really making progress on that front.  The radio silence around here recently is due to some unexpected professional changes.  Change=growth, right?  Suffice it to say, I have a new job!  I’m at the same organization, and I am really excited about this new position.

In the interim, I had some time off.  It was harder than I expected.  I’ve never been one to turn my nose up at alone time, but after about the first two weeks even my introspective self was ready for some human interaction.  Some of the lovely souls in my life who are stay-at-home moms were kind enough to grant me some afternoons accompanying them on afternoon walks and preschool pick ups.  That was nice.  It’s still so weird to see friends that I knew as teenagers being moms.  It’s a GOOD weird, though.  I mean, just look at these cuties!photo (1)photo (2)

 

I got to visit Husband at work for the first time.  We work in different parts of the city, so having lunch with him was not normally an option.  It was great fun letting him show me around and introduce me to his coworkers.  He was a student when we got married, so this was my first time seeing him in his professional environment.  It suits him.  🙂

I didn’t feel inspired to write during this transition.  I like to process things internally before I’m comfortable enough to put them out in the open.  My other favorite form of creative expression is cooking, so I dove into that wholeheartedly.  I always dream about being able to make more things from scratch.  I cook quite a bit, mostly quick and simple things during the week.  I love recipes that use a lot of fresh ingredients, but they can be more time consuming.  So, I used this sudden surplus of free time to take on some new dishes.  Here are three of my favorites.

Pickles – Rachael Ray

Husband loves pickles, and I was craving some homemade ones.  I chose a recipe that would allow me to consume them more immediately than most pickle recipes.  In the end, they just tasted like slightly flavored cucumbers until I added more vinegar and allowed them to sit in the fridge for a few days.  Good things are worth waiting for.  Lesson learned.

Crispy Curry Chicken Tenders- Tasty Kitchen

I’m from the South, but I had actually never made fried chicken.  As a working woman, I just didn’t feel like I had time.  It seemed a bit intimidating.  They turned out great!  I love the curry in this, because it’s subtle.  You can’t quite tell what it is when blended with the other flavors, but it gives this traditional dish an extra oomph, if you will.  I love yogurt, and she incorporates it into the batter AND the delicious dipping sauce that pairs with the chicken.

Hummus – Ina Garten

I recently discovered tahini.  I’ve made hummus before, but a friend told me she always makes hers with tahini paste–which is ground sesame seeds.  The first thing I tried to make with it was chocolate chip cookies.  They were different…maybe a bit of an acquired taste, but they all got eaten.  This hummus recipe from my beloved Barefoot Contessa worked well.  The tahini paste gave it a bit more bite, and I used less garlic than she calls for because wow.

I started my first post-grad school job midway through 2010, and I had not taken a break from work since then.  So, though it was unexpected, I am grateful to have had some time off.  I am also glad to be working again now.  God provides.  My next post will be the long-awaited (by me, anyway) Part 2 of my post on being a connector.  Stay tuned, friends!

 

 

The In Between

Well, it’s been a month since I’ve written here.  Adjusting is a delicate process that requires a lot of mental, emotional and even physical energy.  At least it has been for me.  Let me back up a bit.

We were so blessed to have many Abilene friends show up to help us move.  You never feel so loved as when people come to help you to load your possessions and send you off well.  We had the U-Haul packed in about an hour and made the journey without incident.  They didn’t have a midsize available, so Bryan got to drive a very large truck.  He didn’t seem to mind. IMG_4054From there, things started to get weird.  Monday was a holiday, and we took advantage of the free time to buy a second car.  We are now a two car family for the first time.  Our plan is to live in the middle, and everyday after we drink our coffee, we’ll get in our separate cars.  And he’ll drive north, and I’ll drive south.  It will be quite different than working/studying on the same university campus and having lunch together almost every day.  Hopefully, the time apart will just make our time together in the evenings that much sweeter (it will be homework free, after all!).  🙂  Monday night, Bryan drove back to Abilene to finish up a short course.  He stayed with our dear friends, Derek and Rachel (the couple he lived with before we got married).  Meanwhile, I stayed with my parents and commuted 45 minutes (or more) to my new job to start training.  It was a bit rough after two and a half years of my 4 minute commute.  I’m loving the new job, and I’m so thankful for it!  However, those three days were disorienting to say the least.  I wasn’t sleeping well, I was absorbing a lot of new information, meeting a plethora of people and reuniting with familiar faces from my time there as an intern back in 2009.  My favorite part was getting to observe the sweet lady I was replacing giving a refugee couple an English test.  I’ll have more reflections on the new job later.  Thursday night, Bryan returned and we watched my brother, Moses, graduate from high school.  It was a sweet moment indeed.  He’s a bit camera-shy, so I won’t post a photo.

Friday, we flew to Costa Rica.  Now the past two summers we have been spoiled to spend a month there due to Bryan’s status as a student and my work contract.  This visit was only a week.  It usually takes me three or four days to readjust to speaking in Spanish, living the Costa Rican lifestyle, etc.  So, as you can imagine, it wasn’t the most relaxing trip.  It was, however, wonderful and totally worth it to have some quality time with our precious family.  IMG_4090Bryan and I even snuck in a day at the beach.  Jaco is a special place for us.  It’s the first beach we visited together.  Bryan drove to a spot where he thought we might watch the sun set over the water, and we ended up on a totally secluded shoreline.  It was pretty magical, I must say.  Being near the ocean inevitably makes me feel small in a really good way and completely awestruck by the vast splendor of God’s artistry.  Can any of you relate?  Sharing that beach sunset with Bryan was one of those delicious, rare moments where time stands still.IMG_4132

When we returned to Texas, it was well into June.  Our plan was to stay with family in the area while we looked for a place to live and start a lease somewhere July 1st.  We moved our things to my aunt and uncle’s house very close to Bryan’s workplace and began our respective first weeks.  Bryan’s went well.  Mine was a bit more chaotic.  Though my aunt and uncle are geographically quite a bit closer to my office than my parents’ house, the roads are not great.  I’m embarrassed to say that it took me more than two hours to find my way back to their house through the traffic and construction after that first long day at the new job.  I might have even cried.  Low point number one.  We did enjoy having some time with my sweet family.  Some of the cousins were home, too, between jobs and degrees.  We went for walks in the neighborhood, played board games boys against girls (girls won, obviously) and enjoyed family meals together.  I wish I had a picture of my two red-headed cousins with their two red-headed dogs.  It was the cutest thing ever.  We moved back to my parents’ house the next weekend to stay there with my brother while my parents were away this week.

The saga continues in the next post…

Taking the Leap

It’s been almost a month since I’ve posted.  I’ve had some thoughts, of course.  Things have just been busy at work and with my family.  I’ve been helping struggling students and listening to webinars about campus safety and doing Q&A sessions with rooms full of PhDs.  Yikes.

We’re in the final stages (Lord willing) of the process of getting a green card for this guy.  I would really like it if he could stay in this country and work here, etc.  I’ve grown fond of him.anniversary trip

We made a trip home to celebrate the birthday of this lovely lady (my cousin, Zannah, in the middle).zannah's birthday

Now I’m settling into the semester a little bit and feeling ready to write again.  So, hello!  I’ve missed you.  I really love working at a university and having a work calendar that revolves around the academic year.  The rhythm of the semesters is comforting.  And I am a nerd.  I occasionally go to the library to be near books while I work, and it’s blissful.  My love of libraries needs it’s own post.  Anyway…

It’s true what they say about time passing more quickly the older you get.  Sometimes I’m talking with my college girlfriends or sitting in a meeting, and I think, “When did I become an adult?”.  It seems strange to me, still, that I am allowed to have responsibility.  People ask me questions and expect that I will know the answers.  Sometimes I do!  I pay bills and wear slacks.  I am a wife.  A WIFE.  Someday I might even be a mother.  I have been blessed personally and professionally, and it occurs to me that my confidence in my abilities in these areas is not always what it should be.  I’ve always been a bit timid, but there is a fine line between humility and low self-esteem.

For instance, having a blog is something that I pondered for a long time.  I put it off because I was convinced that no one would want to read about my little life.  It would seem self-absorbed, I told myself.  Now I wonder…To whom?  I love reading blogs of friends and family and strangers.  I am not bored by the life events of people I’ve never met.  I don’t find the fact that they write about their lives to seem overly self-important.  It’s fascinating, particularly if they are good writers.  I find myself empathizing with their struggles, cheering them on in their goals and relating to their experiences.  If people don’t want to read about my life, they don’t have to click on the link or type in the web address.  Blogs are not obnoxious.

My hope is that anyone who happens upon my writing here will find something that resonates, encourages, inspires or uplifts them.  Some of my favorite blog posts to read are earnest descriptions of the struggles we have trying to figure out our lives.  I think we can glean wisdom from sharing our struggles with each other.  I see beauty in the struggle.  I see God working in our hearts.  When I think about how my perspective has changed over the years, I can’t help but smile and think about how my future self will be smiling this same smile thinking about how I am now.  If that made any sense to you, then we must be friends.  🙂

I know I’m not alone in feeling ill-equipped to be an adult at times.  The truth is, no matter our age, we all have valuable experiences and stories to share.  Please keep sharing and believing that you have something worth saying, and I will try to do the same.

Self-care Isn’t Just for Social Workers

When I lived abroad for the first time, I started to see our culture through different eyes.  Now, having married into a family from another culture, I am able to observe the U.S. from the outside looking in on a regular basis.  One thing is for sure.  In the U.S., we work really hard.  I’m all for using our gifts, doing our best, bringing glory to God, etc.  Working hard is not an inherently bad thing.  The problem is that we tend to take it too far.  Hopefully this is a timely post for many of us.  I know that the beginning of the school year does not effect all of us at this point in our lives, but I wanted to share some thoughts on self-care as we prepare for the fall.

In my field, burnout is very common.  Social workers, like other helping professionals, are at risk for secondary/vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.  I like the term “compassion fatigue” because I think it describes this ailment perfectly.  In social work education, we obviously focus on practice theories, program development, intervention strategies for various client populations, etc.  But you know what?  I happen to believe that self-care, as simple as it may seem, is worth writing into the curriculum.  I’m so thankful for professors who discussed it with us and equipped us for what was inevitably to come.  It is all too common to graduate and join the professional world…and gradually (or abruptly) forget to take care of ourselves.  For some, the problem escalates.  Suddenly we’re not sleeping well almost every night or crying at the drop of a hat or shutting out people who care about us because we just can’t deal with the intensity of what we hear and see working with people in crisis everyday.  When you get right down to it, you can’t effectively help someone if you are not okay.  In this fast-paced world, I think we could all use a lesson in self-care.  Accountants and taxi drivers and veterinarians and soccer moms and everyone who does anything, basically.  So here’s some encouragement from me to you.

1)  Try to work on being really self-aware.  Monitor your anxiety level and know your limits.  Love yourself enough to change something if you are consistently feeling stressed.  You don’t have to say yes to everything.

2)  Find out what is therapeutic and relaxing for you and make time for activities like this on a regular basis–like at LEAST once a week!  For me, it helps to recognize activities that allow me to quiet my mind.  It’s usually going a mile a minute.  Some are easy, non-time consuming things that you can do anytime, anywhere, like taking a few deep breaths or drinking a glass of water very slowly.  Others require setting aside some time.  I’ll give you a few personal examples.  Above all else, time in prayer brings everything into focus.  I love to cook, to watch a sunset or a storm, to hold a baby (or a baby animal), to go for walks outside when the weather is nice, to write letters to God, to read a good book, to watch a favorite movie or TV show, to take an exercise class like yoga or water aerobics.

3)  These things should be done proactively.  Don’t wait until you have a complete breakdown before you try to take care of yourself.  Believe me, life will be easier for you if you listen to that voice inside that says “Don’t do it!” or “Slow down” or whatever your inner voice says.  If you ignore it on a regular basis, it will catch up with you.  And you will wish that you had made better decisions for yourself before it got to this point.

4)  Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself.  It wouldn’t be constructive for someone to read this and then get frustrated when they can’t put it into practice perfectly the first week that they try.  Think about celebrating small victories and taking baby steps.  With any lifestyle change, what will work better for most of us is starting small and slowly progressing.

Thank you for allowing me to get on my soapbox for a few minutes.  I hope and pray that this is a year of much joy for each one of you.  Thanks for reading…and namaste.  🙂

Making Lemonade

Saludos!  Today I want to talk about something that many people can probably relate to.  I’ve been working in the adult world for about three years now.  For so many Americans, myself included, this entails sitting at a desk for approximately 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.  Occasionally you leave your desk to get some water from the cooler or walk to another building for a meeting, but the majority of your day is spent sitting in front of a computer.  This rigidly sedentary way of life can have a shocking effect on one’s metabolism and mood, and I’m no doctor, but I don’t think it’s good for our heart health either.  There are probably articles about this, but I’m not going to bother to do the research right now.

Since we can’t all work as fitness instructors and most of us are not independently wealthy without an 8 to 5 job, I have spent some time thinking about creative ways to work through this issue. Let the record show that I have never been nor will I ever be referred to as an athlete.  I have short legs, freakishly tiny feet and very little hand-eye coordination or spatial awareness.  However, you don’t have to be an athlete to have an active lifestyle.  Thus, being active has always been my goal.  Husband and I have been going to the gym more recently, and that certainly helps.  I push for evening walks, but that becomes a battle once the temperature rises above 85.  Costa Ricans don’t deal well with the Texas heat, or at least mine doesn’t.  I’m taking a water aerobics class and thinking of returning to yoga as well.  But what could I do about the actual sitting for so long so many days a week?  It seemed an overwhelming reality that my thighs would continue to expand as long as I remained employed.

Then, inspiration struck.  One of my coworkers sits on an exercise ball.  She is one of those amazing people that wakes up before the sun to exercise and has already accomplished more by 8am than most of us will do all day.  I admire her energy level, so I decided to give it a try.  Now every day I come in and fill my coffee mug from the water cooler (coffee must be consumed before I get behind the wheel of a car, so I drink water at work), start up my computer and plop down on my bright purple exercise ball (very gently, of course).  Nothing says serious social worker like sitting on a giant plastic ball, right?  The first week, I had to take breaks and go back to the regular roll-y chair for a while every couple of hours.  Now I can go almost the whole day perched on my new “chair”.  I focus on engaging my core and relish the sense of pride I feel in this new venture.  I leave feeling like I spent the day building muscle while sitting at my desk.  So far, I feel it mostly in my lower back, but I have hopes that eventually I will be able to tighten my abs, too.  So the next time you feel sad and hopeless about the sedentary nature of your job, get inspired and try something!  If you have an idea and it works for you, please share.  My thighs and I would be eternally grateful.