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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Oh Hey!

Over the past year, I have been humbled, surprised and honestly downright flabbergasted to see this blog continue to accumulate followers in spite of the radio silence. I’m thrilled if anything I’ve written here has resonated with you, and I appreciate you taking the time to read. I am admittedly not great at being disciplined and organized. I manage my life sufficiently well most of the time, but I look at bloggers who are churning out new posts several times a week with awe and amazement. I’m not sure how they accomplish that. I like a sporadic but steady rhythm of writing—as inspiration comes to me, and it feels really good to be writing here again after my long hiatus. I have a lot of ideas (always), but today I thought I’d share about what I’ve been doing this past year. I wrote this about two weeks ago when it was fresh on my mind…

This morning, I did the token walk out of an office building carrying a single box of picture frames and notebooks—the walk that indicates to passersby that your job has just ended. In this case, it was amicable, but I still felt a little sad. I left my full-time social work practice when my son was born. When he turned one, I started casually looking around for something part-time and remote. This job fell into my lap, and I am truly grateful for the almost year I was able to contribute to an organization I believe in AND be a stay-at-home mom.

When I found a job working fifteen hours a week, mostly from home, at a nonprofit (working in my field?!), I thought it was too good to be true. Social work doesn’t lend itself to remote work where I could log on during my toddler’s nap each day. I was literally going from MOPS, story time and playdates in yoga pants in the morning to serious, professional woman in the afternoon. I was living the dream, until they asked if I could increase my hours significantly. Turns out it was too good to be true, after all.

This is complicated road for women to navigate, and I think we each have to figure out what works best for our family dynamic, individual personalities, etc. I’ve known families with almost every possible combination of work and childcare divisions, and I’m glad to be parenting in this era when we are able to think outside of the box. What a gift to have choices! This is not something that I take for granted. For my little family, my very supportive husband and I both wanted me to be the primary care giver for our kids while they are small. Part of what makes this work for us is that we have a team mentality—when he gets home from work he changes diapers and entertains the child while I cook. We share household chores. He also works in the tech industry and has a lot of flexibility with his job.

I have loved getting to be there for my son. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a big adjustment to become a mom and leave my job at the same time, and I was glad to have the opportunity to process all my big feelings about this at home like the introvert that I am. However, when we hit the one year mark, and my little angel was consistently napping three hours a day, I began to wonder if there might be a way for me to use my professional skills during this time. It sounded way more appealing than cleaning, and I could contribute financially to our household and feel good about that, too.

I had only just started looking when I got this job through some accidental networking, and I found myself swept up in a pleasantly busy rhythm of putting the baby down for his nap and opening my work laptop to correspond with volunteers, write grant applications and post agency happenings on various social media channels. One afternoon a week, I would meet my dad, who is semi-retired, for lunch, and he would transfer my son’s carseat to his car. Off they would go to play together until dinner. I would go to an office in professional clothes and fill my water bottle in the break room. I had meetings and planning sessions with my supervisor. I wrote the newsletter and negotiated for advertising and donations for events. In direct opposition to my mothering job, I felt productive and appreciated in concrete ways. When you accomplish something in your house, it’s likely that your toddler will soon destroy it. Also, they don’t give you performance reviews, no matter how much you nailed it this quarter. At my job, I conversed with adults and had a fancy title on my business cards. I had the opportunity to learn new skills and make some friends along the way.

I learned a lot about motherhood and about myself by dipping my toe back into the fast-flowing waters of the working world. Based on my experience and many, many conversations with friends, I’ve realized that becoming a mother instigates an identity crisis of sorts for most of us. This job lifted my professional confidence and got me out of that aimless funk. That is not to say that I have it all figured out. Oh, no, no…no. But I needed to be reminded that I can still be a professional woman. Working part-time suited me, and I relished the challenge of learning new skills—dusting off a part of my brain that hadn’t been used as much recently. I know myself well enough to know that three days in the office would have been too much, but I will look for something else. Being with my son brings me more joy than I can describe, but I like knowing that there are still other parts of me, too. After all, he won’t be this small forever.

Day Twelve: Pen Pals

I picked up this book about Julia Child and her pen pal, Avis DeVoto, at a bookstore recently.  I didn’t buy it, but it did get me thinking.  I had a few pen pals throughout my growing up years and always loved the concept of exchanging letters.  I still find it so gratifying to read and write handwritten letters.  There is something to be said for taking the time to sit down and write a letter—an update, a reflection, a thank you or show of support in a tough time.  Receiving a letter like this makes me feel special.

People are always concerned with efficiency these days.  It’s become a cultural norm.  But what if we took the time to write down our thoughts on nice stationary and send them to our confidants?  It’s a tradition that I’d like to recapture.  I think there’s something almost magical about it.  One thing that I appreciate about Avis and Julia’s pen pal friendship is that they didn’t just write thank you notes for gifts or sympathy cards when one of them lost a loved one.  They wrote back and forth regularly just sharing about their day to day lives.

I talked earlier in this series about long distance friendships.  It’s remarkable to think that these two women were able to maintain such a close friendship without any of the technologies that we enjoy today.  Letter writing feels very personal, and it kept them connected.  They sustained a strong friendship, felt free to discuss topics that they might not broach in public, and ultimately supported each other over the course of many years and seasons of life.

Julia and Avis

photo credit

I think I’ve just inspired myself to get some new stationary.  🙂

Day 2: The Friends Who Help Us Get Where We Need to Go

I think God knew that I would need Jordan with me in Costa Rica.  When she found herself with a few months to travel before joining a law firm and I found myself wanting to study Spanish again after a missed opportunity following college graduation, we booked our tickets and set off on an adventure.  She and her cousin, Shannon, are the reason I met my husband.  (You can read that story here, if you’re interested. ) And she is a big part of the reason I dared to hope that we could be together.  

Taxi in San Jose

Jordan is vivacious, spontaneous, outgoing and smart as a whip.  She set up our first meeting and affirmed my attraction to him along the way.  She encouraged me when I doubted that I should open my heart and celebrated with me when I started to realize that I had found something very real and special.  Jordan and I traveled and studied together that semester and talked about everything.  I trusted her, and having her support gave me confidence in my desire to spend time with Bryan.  Along with him and his two best friends, we had a blast exploring and practicing our Spanish.  When my rational side started to battle with my heart reminding me how crazy it would be to get involved with someone from a different country, Jordan was there to remind me that he was a really good guy.  She saw something between us, and she knew that it was worth pursuing.  Before too long, I couldn’t deny it, and the rest is history.  

I owe Jordan so much gratitude for her encouragement during what I now know was a very important time in my life.  It was incredibly cool to share in the joy of her wedding and have her there to celebrate with me at mine a few months later.  

Jordan and Shannon

When I think about what she did for me, it makes me want to be that person for my friends.  I want to really engage in conversations with the people that God places in my path and pay attention to what is going on in their lives so that I can help them identify goals and desires and give my encouragement.  I think a lot of us need a little nudge or validation or show of support during those crucial crossroads moments.  Obviously, I know firsthand what a gift that is, and I want to pay it forward.  So, friends, if you need someone to listen and walk with you through a confusing time, please know that I’m here.  🙂

31 Days Celebrating Friendship

wedding blog-10 copy

Good evening, friends!  Tonight begins a writing experiment that I’m really excited to participate in for the first time.  I’m joining The Nester and company in her “31 Days” challenge.  We will write on one topic of choice every day for the month of October.  I encourage you to click over and check out the other posts.  I’m looking forward to reading as many as I can.  My word for this year is celebrate, so I wanted to incorporate that idea.  As for what to celebrate, I went with my gut and chose a topic that’s been on my heart for a while.

Over the years, I’ve lived in different places and met some wonderful people.  I like to think about the lifelong friendships that have grown and blossomed and enriched my life immeasurably.  I’m sure we all have friends that have known us for long enough to remember our awkward years and friends that we’ve wept with and squealed joyfully with.  We have dear friends that we can go without seeing for a year or more and still feel close to and comfortable with when we are reunited.  And we have kindred spirits that we are drawn to and seem to click with right away.

I am an introvert who tends to have a few close friends and hold others at a distance—keeping them at acquaintance status.   Going off to college really challenged me to open up to people and get out of my comfort zone.  It was a challenge I accepted begrudgingly at the beginning.  Now, my girlfriends from this time in life are women that I still consider some of my closest friends.  We have walked with each other through heartaches, illnesses, job losses, tragedies, marriages, births, graduations and moves.  Their sorrows seep into my heart and their joy is my joy.  We live all over the US (and Italy and Canada, depending on the month), but when we can’t get together in person, we email and text and video chat and have phone dates.  And we pray for each other.

Since getting married, I have noticed myself slipping back into my homebody tendencies a little more than I would like.  I can’t imagine what college life would have been like if I hadn’t made myself leave my dorm room and get to know those wonderful ladies.  We have just moved to a new city, and I feel like this is one of those times where I need to get out of my comfort zone again.  I have an opportunity to open up, meet some new friends and reconnect with friends in the area that I haven’t seen much of in recent years.  So, this month I will be celebrating friendship here.  I’d like to tell some stories and maybe ask you help hold me accountable to be more open and engaged in my friendships new and old.

The photo above (taken by the very talented Renee Booe) captures the prayer we said in the bridal room on my wedding day shortly before I walked down the aisle.  I don’t have to look at it for more than a second to feel the love and support of those friendships.  I hope you’ll join me celebrating friendship in October.  🙂

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.

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!  🙂

Here we go…

Greetings!  It seems strange to say that to the unknown and mysterious community that is the “blogosphere”.  I’m not sure if anyone will really read this other than my family…when they remember.  For me, writing is enough.  I have kept prayer journals since the age of sixteen.  I write letters to God about anything and everything.  I didn’t think I would be nervous starting this new form of journaling, but I am a bit jittery and feel surprisingly vulnerable as I write this.  I love reading blogs.  Cooking blogs, creative writing, home decor, faith and ministry, etc.  Some of my favorites are folks just sharing their thoughts about life experiences–speaking from the heart.  I’m not planning to attempt a theme here.  As my husband loves to point out, the inside of my head is a scary, discombobulated mess of thoughts and ideas.  I will write what’s on my mind when I sit down at my computer.  I expect that it will be a random mixture of light-hearted stories and more serious discussions of my internal struggles.  If you’re reading this, thank you for joining me here.  I’ll do my best to keep it interesting.  🙂