Wednesday, November 26, 2014

To See

Two days a week I work at a locked psychiatric hospital located in south Los Angeles.  Tucked neatly between Inglewood and Compton, it's not in an area you want to be after dark and I recently discovered that it's not a place I want to be during daylight hours either.  As I took my exit one day recently, I approached the intersection where I make my last right turn to get to the facility.  When I neared I saw a man running across the street to my left with several more men running after him.  The scene was ominous, but it wasn't until I directed my attention to the stop light ahead that I began to fervently pray.  Across the street from me was a group of at least five other males, one of whom was on the ground being beaten so mercilessly that I feared the others would kill him. I didn't know whether or not they had guns, but given the area I knew a shooting wasn't unlikely and I was sitting right in the crossfire.  With a car in front of me, behind me, and beside me, I felt trapped and scared.  In a panicked state I could only watch in horror and pray to the heavens as he lay there on the ground while a multitude relentlessly assailed him. The truth is, I didn't know what to do.  Not knowing how much more violent it was going to get, I took a quick inventory of my options, but wedged between three cars I could only wait and seek the Lord. As I tearfully watched the man being attacked, I begged God to make them all stop.  I could think of nothing else to do but pray, so I prayed. And prayed. And prayed.  I had no idea what would happen next as I examined the flailing victim on the ground and my own precarious position. My heart hurt for the entire situation and my mind raced with what ifs.  The scene reeked of gang violence and I couldn't understand why I was there at that exact moment in time.  I didn't know what the Lord wanted of me right then or why timing worked out perfectly for me to witness it all.  Was I supposed to help somehow, and if so, in what way? Though I prayed relentlessly, I felt useless and frightened.  I pleaded for God to intervene and then suddenly the car in front of me moved and I had the opportunity to go around him.  I took one last glance at the ongoing assault and sped away in fitful prayer. I sought the Lord's intervention, but also my own understanding. Why was I there? What was God's purpose in allowing me to see it all? It would be days later before I realized that the answer was in the question.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014


For the first time since I've been back from Vienna, I recently pulled out the notebook I kept while I was there.  Inside of it are countless recordings from professors on dream analysis, existentialism, and the general inner workings of Freudian psychoanalysis.  Mingled frequently within the academic jottings, however, were my own written prayers and pleas to God for understanding and deliverance.  I longed for insight into my purpose in being there, but more than that I often yearned to return home.  I missed my husband and son, and to put it simply, I was homesick before I ever even left home.  Since I've been back, though, I've had ample time to reflect on my time there and it now makes me smile.  I can still see Dimitri, a tiny Chihuahua that greeted me most mornings down in the breakfast hall.  I also remember finding immense comfort from the pages of my Bible while I nibbled on small, "schokolade" peppermint patties.  The two just seemed to go hand in hand.  Literally.  I can still smell the inside of St. Stephen's Cathedral, a place where all of my worries seemed washed away the minute I entered the magnificent structure. It's also unlikely that I'll ever forget the taste of the best vegan pizza I've ever had from a small pizzeria just down the street from my hotel. Reflection on these things continues to bring me immeasurable joy, but they are even more cherished because of the challenges and hardships I endured in order to experience them.  For me, it was an arduous journey that relentlessly tested the limits of my mental, physical, and spiritual strength.  I walked on foot for many long distances, stepping on glass along the way. I traversed bumpy roads to stand atop Am Himmel, and I endured nearly three weeks of intense sleep deprivation.  I got lost the first night there and I could scarcely converse with my family back home throughout my stay.  The dialogues were brief and the distance of time and space wide. In the city, I didn't speak the language, nor walk the pace.  I slept without air conditioning and ate what was available, and as I look back on it all now, it was in one word - beautiful.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On Facebook

My husband and I recently decided to close out our Facebook accounts, and while this elicited support from some, others weren't as understanding.  One person in particular let me know that, for him, Facebook was just a given and routine part of his day, a part of his life.  My initial unspoken response to this was "well, good for you, but that doesn't mean it has to be a part of mine." I didn't say it, but I was thinking it and I resented everything about the way in which he condescendingly presented his reasons for staying on it while belittling mine for walking away from it.  I felt like each individual should be able to make that decision independent of coarse objections from others.  Though I'm sure he was well intentioned, he nevertheless came across as judgmental and insensitive.  Absolutely nothing about the conversation made me want to talk to him again in the near future, and losing sleep over it the following night only irritated me more.  I was unable to shake the uncharacteristically pompous tone in his usually loving and humble voice, and no matter what I did I simply couldn't shake the feeling of annoyance and resentment.  In my prayers, however, I began to ask God if maybe I had made a mistake.  Was I supposed to stay connected so that others wouldn't feel disconnected?  Was I meant to ignore all the reasons my husband and I had for deactivating it so that a small few might not feel out of touch?  In the aforementioned conversation, the person also reminded me that my posts were inspiring to many and used by God often.  His point seemed to be that by me closing out my account, I was also shutting that door of usefulness in God's kingdom. This, too, I considered on my sleepless night of prayer.  Did God need Facebook to use me?  Did I need Facebook to be used by God? His answer was surprisingly unsurprising.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Purpose In It

I've been working on the proposal chapter of my dissertation recently and the progress I've made seems so small.  How much more can I say about the research methodology and design?  It's qualitative, it's phenomenological, and it's heuristic, yet the powers that be need me to elaborate on this all to demonstrate my working knowledge of the process.  I feel rebellious and annoyed.  While I should be researching, I find myself staring blankly into space while mentally going over my grocery list.  Sometimes I even get up to clean house. Unfortunately, my deflection accomplishes nothing and the project goes nowhere. Literally.  It remains here before me just waiting on the yielding of my stubbornness to submissiveness.  From the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of some notes pertaining to the phenomenon of abandoned faith among clergy and I scowl.  It's as if I'm angry that the burden has been placed on me, but then I remember one thing.  I placed the burden on me.  What's more is that I don't have to complete anything. I get to complete it. The burden is not a burden, but a privilege.  It has been said that only 1% of the U.S. population has a doctoral degree, and although I actually think that number has risen, the fact remains that it's a small percentage. What an honor to be given the opportunity to achieve something so rare, and yet most days I hear myself grumbling and complaining.  I'm aware that Philippians 2:14 tells me to do all things without complaining and arguing, but as lifetime groaners we usually learn this one the hard way.  Instead of expressing our dissatisfaction over a situation, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to "give thanks in all circumstances." While this sounds spiritually significant and sound, it actually has little to do with words like "hallelujah" and "praise the Lord," unless those words are spoken in both the good times and the bad. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A New Broken

I recently returned home from a two week trip in Vienna, and the warm welcome I had envisioned quickly turned dark when I was faced with a loved one's bitterly painful betrayal.  Less than 24 hours into my arrival back in the states, I struggled through sleep deprivation turned depression to process the unexpected unpacking of hurtful actions.  It all seemed so unfair given what I had already endured spiritually, mentally, and emotionally during the weeks I had been away.  I simply didn't feel strong enough to handle a single thing more. My first full day back, I walked through the hours mostly tearful as I asked God why He would allow something so heavy to be put on me at a time when I was already so weak and vulnerable.  Since then, 2 Corinthians 12:9 that says "My grace is sufficient for you..." has continued to make its way into my mind and heart.  Well "I can't do this," I told the Lord, but with every "I can't" He reminded me with Philippians 4:13 that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." This brought me to the bigger problem. I didn't want to.  Mine wasn't a problem of strength or ability because with the Holy Spirit, both were remedied.  Mine was a heart problem and I was only just beginning to see the shades of a new broken.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Boundary of Me

Part of what I love so much about writing is the eraser.  Before I ever produce something for publication, I get at least a hundred do overs.  I need those.  You wouldn't think I would have to erase or backspace anything in the meager lines you now read, but backspace I have indeed.  I would love to say that writing comes easily to me, but the truth is it doesn't.  Like most things in my life, I have to work really hard to produce anything of substance and to be honest, I'm not always sure what I write is "of substance." I try though and I hope it is, if not for all, then at least for some. In either case, I thank God for the eraser and backspace button.  It's like they were made just for me and I love them. Especially today.  As I type now, I sit in a hotel room in Vienna marveling over my current place in time and space.  I find myself torn between a bleeding desire to return home and a painful and curious determination to remain.  What will come of it all, I don't yet know.  I simply pray for the wisdom to recognize God's leading as it comes. And it  does come. Every fiber of my being knows He is directing my path, and so often it seems to be facing the opposite direction of where my feet aim to walk.  Sometimes run.  Have you ever walked backwards on a treadmill?  It's an odd feeling until you get used to the movement, and for me, being in Vienna has been a backwards walk on a treadmill that moves only forward.  To ease the feeling of inconsistency and incompatibility, I reach to turn it off, but the switch is just out of my grasp and I must continue.  My feet are somehow clumsily moving forward but facing what's behind, and I sense that in a way I'm stuck between two worlds. I have one foot out and one foot in, but into what?  I wonder still, but it seems the boundary is of me...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dare to Believe

When I woke up today my thoughts immediately jump kicked out of bed and began karate chopping away at the peace to which I so desperately wanted to cling.  In response I pulled the covers up over my head and purposed to fall back into a deep sleep.  Ordinarily I would be surprised if the burial of my head under pillows and covers worked post-sun rise, but lately I've been going two and three weeks without a day off so when I woke up another two hours later I wasn't surprised, just pleased.  Inevitably, however, I did eventually have to emerge from my pillow cave and let the day begin, but this time I reigned in my mental martial artist and decided to take the day off.  I've struggled with the decision ever since.  As I've unsuccessfully attempted to shut out thoughts of my next two psych report write ups, taping a case formulation on a client I don't yet have, and finishing the proposal chapter for my dissertation, my mind has also wandered to the doubt and insecurity I've felt over certain decisions I've recently had to make. While most people would see the circumstances I'm in as the opportunity of a lifetime, for me they have been a source of excitement and courage meets despair and cowardice.  In my last post I wrote about taking risks and being brave, and at that time I hadn't decided yet whether or not I could handle making the tough call to step outside the borders of what I know and trust.  To leave my comfort zone for even one day is a huge test of faith and undertaking for me, and as I've spent time trying to dig up the roots of my fears and anxieties, I realized something about the ill way in which I sometimes perceive God.  First, He's not out to get me for the things I've done wrong in my past. He truly loves me and wants what is best for me. The words of Jeremiah 29:11 that say His plans are to prosper me and not to harm me, to give me a hope and a future, really are true.  I just have to dare to believe...

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Work in Progress..
In the last few weeks I've been on a sort of mental sabbatical from the arduous demands of my life.  I allowed myself to get lost in a series of reflections and musings as I comprehensively studied the lives of others. Though I was physically present here in the moment, I was mentally and emotionally worlds away as I immersed myself in others' way of thinking, acting, and relating.  It was nice to somehow be a part of their life's picture even if from afar, and interestingly, when the time came to return to my own place in this world I was a colorful mix of melancholy and peace.  I was saddened by the goodbye to another time and place, but relieved to be back to what I know, even if what I know is almost nothing at all.  In a way I felt that the perspective I had gained in recent days somehow prepared me for what waits ahead, though I don't yet know what that is.  One thing, however, is pristinely clear - this life is meant to be lived, not feared.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Surrender Me

In the last eight months, my life has gone from busy to chaotic to nonsensical, or at least that's how it sometimes feels when I'm trying to juggle the demands between work, school, family, and life in general. I recall several weeks ago a supervisor at work kindly (seriously, he really was quite gentle about it) telling me and a few other Interventionists that he didn't know what else to tell us because "it just has to get done" with regards to one of our daily assignments. Bottom line - do it and leave the excuses at the door.  Around the same time, I sat in one of my classes listening to an instructor speak very similar words.  "I don't know what to tell you, it has to get done." Bottom line?  Do it and leave the excuses at the door.  The problem? I was three dissertation assignments behind, had practicum interviews coming up, a family to tend to, 30 hours of online continuing training for work, meetings to attend, clients to see, and three other classes with equally demanding requirements aside from midterms.  I started trying to calculate how much time I could shave off of my sleep to get it all done, but if you've seen me on less than six hours, you know this was a bad idea and I was already only getting about five and a half.  "How about four, God?  Can we make it on four hours?" I asked God with caffeine bulged eyes one morning.
  "What are you doing?" He asked me.  "I'm doing everything You gave me to do, Lord, but I think You miscalculated how much I could handle at once," I told Him. The miscalculation, however wasn't His; it was mine. While it's true that God gave me the workload, He never intended for me to go it alone, which, for weeks I had been doing just that and didn't even know it.  My own strength began to crumble and not even the supportive shoulders of my husband could hold me up under the weight of endless deadlines, tasks, and demands, so I eventually found myself sitting in our church parking lot crying.  "I can't do all of this, Lord, I don't even know where to begin," I whispered through choked sobs.  "You just began," His Spirit gently responded.  By finally acknowledging my own limitations I was able to receive His limitless grace.  All I had to do was just surrender me.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Amazing Grace

I started working on my doctorate last year in applied clinical psychology and the interesting thing about my cohort (see Hope Within Collaborative to view our developing site) is that I'm the only one without field experience, or at least I was when the first semester commenced and finished.  Most of the students I collaborate with are already practicing therapists or registered interns, so in a way I felt like the "baby" of the group, though my age assured me I was not the youngest of the bunch.  When I worked on my master's degree, my program didn't require me to do a practicum or internship, so I continued working in a completely unrelated field as an HRIS Analyst throughout my time as a student.  It's not that I didn't want to work in the field I was studying, but the irony of applying for jobs over the years has been that while everyone wants someone with experience, no one was willing to hire me to provide sought experience.  Until recently. A few months ago, I found myself casually applying for non-licensed therapist type positions, not really expecting or looking for a response from any one employer, and as I clicked on the Easter Seals job page, I applied for a couple of positions and then closed my browser.  Had I not received an email from my school within the next hour about an upcoming career workshop hosting none other than Easter Seals, I probably wouldn't have given my previous applications a second thought, but because it was so coincidental that I had just finished applying for positions with them, I began to pray.  "Okay, Lord, what's up? Is this from You? Do You want me to go to that career workshop?" I asked in curiosity.  It was two weeks away at the time and I marked my calendar to attend.  What happened between then and now is nothing short of God's amazing grace.