What does life look like post graduation from graduate school? I am about to find out!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

How Do You Measure A Year in the Life?

Well, folks. We have reached the end of another year. Today marks the last day of the year 2011 and tomorrow starts the beginning of another year, 2012. I'm actually a little sad to see this year end. 2011 was a very good year for me as loyal readers of this blog will be aware. Granted, it did have some severe downs and some times when I wasn't sure how I was going to make it through but somehow I did. Now, here I am at the end of another year looking forward to starting the New Year off right.
In the last year, I've moved three times: from Chicago to Texas to California. I'm really tired of moving and so am hopeful that I am done moving for the foreseeable future (or at least the next three years or so!!).
In the last year, I've traveled on an airplane more times than I care to even think about. Never intended to fly as much as I did this year and hopefully I won't be flying nearly as much this next year. I love to travel but flying really wears me out.
In the last year, I've continued the process of taking better care of myself and being more aware of my body's needs. While this hasn't always given me the results I've wanted, I am hopeful to continue this good habit throughout 2012.
In the last year, I've become better aware of who I am and who I want to become. I've come to grips with the fact that my imperfections (such as they are) make me me and me is pretty fantastic. I've accepted myself as who I am and I've learned to love myself just as I am.
In the last year, I've come to see who my real friends are. I've discovered that there are plenty of people in my life who will always be there for me no matter what. I've also discovered that there are others who might claim to be my friend but really when all is said and done, I'm more of an acquaintance. I can't really elaborate on this any further than I have as it is something I need to work out more in 2012.
In the last year, I've had my calling affirmed by myself, God and others. I finally feel like I have a sense of purpose and direction in life and that where I am going in life is someplace important. I feel now that I might actually make a difference in this world someday.
In the last year, I've become more comfortable with being able to say that I am a Christian. This is one that I really had struggled with a lot in the past. I was so afraid as being labeled as a Christian because of how Christians tend to be perceived by outsiders. However, I've realized that it becomes vital for people to know that I am a Christian because it will hopefully open their eyes to see a different perspective on Christianity. We're not all bad, really??!!
In the last year, I have been exposed to different ways of reading and interpreting the Bible. This has really helped me a lot with the issues I've had with the Bible over the years. I've been better able to see it and read it in a new light; one that is more palatable and easier to handle.
In the last year, I have learned the power of forgiveness. I've also learned that just because you forgive somebody doesn't necessarily mean you ever want to see them again. It simply means that you are no longer going to allow them to take up space in your heart. Forgiveness is a very healing and important process although it is never easy. I've been able to let go of all the hurt and anguish and bitterness that I had held onto for far too long although, like I said earlier, that doesn't necessarily mean that I have any desire to see certain people ever again. Just that I'm no longer going to allow them to dominate my life and my thoughts anymore.

I think that about covers everything I learned this year. It was a year full of incredible highs and extreme lows. I dealt with some of the most depressing things imaginable this year but also experienced great beauty, love and grace. All in all, I think 2011 was one of the best years I've had yet. Bring it on, 2012. Bring it on!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is You

I couldn't let the Christmas season pass without acknowledging the simple fact that for many, the holiday season is a time of pain and sorrow and not joy and gladness. I wish for everyone that this season of the year may indeed bring them "tidings of comfort and joy". Sadly, however, I fear that that may not even be enough for many.
I pray for all those who are hurting this Christmas and are having to spend it without a loved one. For many, Christmas marks a time when they grieve for the ones they have lost over the past year whether that be a parent, child, sibling, spouse or partner. I hope that they feel the enveloping presence of their loved one all over them this holiday season. May they know that they are being watched over and loved by so many and may that thought bring them some form of comfort this holiday season.
I pray for all those who find themselves either unemployed or homeless this holiday season. May they be able to find something comforting these next few days as they face a possibly bleak 2012. May those who are seeking employment not get disheartened as they face rejection after rejection. May those who are homeless find some way to get through the holiday season without fear of death or harassment.
I pray for those who are unable to spend Christmas with their loved ones this year whether that be by choice or by design. May they find ways to keep in contact with their family in spite of the distance and may they be able to make a family wherever they are to help them celebrate the holiday season.
I pray for those who are in abusive living situations. I pray that over the next few days, things improve for them. May they receive guidance and strength and courage to stand up for themselves and if necessary remove themselves from the horrible situations they are in. May they not let their circumstances change who they are. I sincerely hope that they find a better situation for themselves before it is too late.
Lastly, I pray for all those suffering with addictions this holiday season. Those who would rather spend the holiday with drugs and alcohol than actual people. Those who are willing to sell their Christmas presents for cash for that next hit. Those who are even willing to resort to stealing other people's Christmas presents for drug money. Addiction is a terrible disease. It really does affect so many people. I just pray that they are able to break the cycle of addiction and get back on the right path before it's too late.
These are the prayers that are weighing on my heart this holiday season. While you're busy opening gifts or carving up a ham or watching the football game this Christmas, I hope you will take a minute to just silently pray for these people. Perhaps you know somebody that is struggling with one of these issues; if so, pray for them specifically. Even if you don't know anybody, though, that doesn't mean you shouldn't pray at all. Just take a second amidst all the gift-giving and cooking and football to acknowledge that for so many, there will be no gift-giving. There will be no home-cooked meal. There will be no football watching. For many, their Christmas will be filled with nothing but fear and abuse. Let's remember that in the midst of our revelry. There's so many who could use the prayers. Let's make sure we send them some.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Fall Semester is officially over and done with. Took my last final Thursday morning and flew back to Texas Friday night. There was homemade cheesecake waiting for me upon my return and now there's homemade pumpkin bread and peanut butter cookies. I love the Holidays!!
I'm in town for about two weeks with absolutely nothing scheduled for me at all this time. Should be a nice break from the busy-ness of Fall Semester. It's nice to have a bit of a break from papers, tests, lectures and studying. I'm sure I will be bored soon enough but for right now I'm enjoying the down-time. Today, I decorated the house with my family and it felt really nostalgic to be getting the house ready and going through all the old ornaments that have been in our family for years. Christmas is my favorite time of year and so I'm very glad to get to spend it at home this year. Granted, last year not going home for Christmas was exactly what I needed that year but this year, I really wanted to be home.
Finals went really well actually. Looks like I will end up with at least a 3.4 this semester for my GPA which is pretty good if I do so say myself. I don't actually know my grades yet so that is a complete guess but based on how I've been doing in my classes this semester, it seems pretty likely. I'm pretty impressed myself and it just proves that my fears about failing out were unfounded. I really need to learn to trust myself more. Overall, this semester went really well and is really making me look forward to next semester.
Anyway, I'm in the Lone Star state until the 2nd of January so those of you who would like to see me, please let me know. Also, if you happen to know of any babysitting/housesitting/petsitting opportunities while I'm here, please let me know. I've been unemployed for a while now which has severely hit my bank account so I need to be really frugal while I'm here. I've been looking for part-time work up at school but will need to be hitting that in earnest when I get back to campus. It's gonna be a rough few weeks until I manage to locate something.
Anyway, that's all I have to report. I hope everyone has a very merry holiday season. Best wishes for you on this most festive of occasions. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Final Countdown

Well folks,
We have come to that point in the semester. Finals are right around the corner. This also means that my first semester of seminary is almost over with. Seems like I just started last week. Weird how fast time flies. All in all, it's been a pretty great semester and has only affirmed that I'm in the right place in my life. Hard to believe that in just a few more days, it will all be over and I will be on a plane back to Texas (again) for a few weeks of rest and relaxation before I head back to start classes again.
This next part might sound odd to some of you but I have always loved finals week!! In undergrad, it was one of my absolute favorite things and I always looked forward to it every semester. Here, it's no different. I just really enjoy having a lot to do and spending all day studying and cramming as much knowledge into my head as possible. Plus, the fact that all you have to do in class is take a test. There's no actual learning that goes on that week and it's just a really chill and fun time of studying and paper writing etc. I know I sound so weird for admitting that I like finals week. Did I mention I'm a Type A? That could have something to do with my love for it. In undergrad, my system was usually take a final in the morning, then reward myself by watching a movie when I got home and then start studying again for another final or writing a paper etc. I think I might try and implement that system once again here. We'll see how that goes. I have gotten ridiculously behind on my movie watching so finals week could be a great excuse to catch up on some I've missed.
In other non-finals related news, the seminary choir had their annual Lessons and Carols service this past weekend and it went really well. We sounded really good and got lots of compliments. I even had one of my friends from Oakland come and see it and spend the night at my house and it was so great to see him and catch up some. I really needed that time to catch up and connect with a non-seminary related person. It's so rare that I get those moments so when I do, I treasure them. It's important to maintain relationships with people who knew you prior to going to seminary. It's important to have people that you can talk about non-seminary related stuff with. It can sometimes feel like all I talk about these days is theology and Old Testament studies and schoolwork and while I do sincerely love that stuff, it's good to every once in a while talk about something not related to this world. It's important to remember that I have outside interests. Seminary can often feel like a bubble and every once in a while, it's important to make sure that bubble gets popped. While I absolutely love my classmates and my studies, I need to make sure to re-orient myself occasionally with people who are not classmates.
To that end, it was so great to get to spend Thanksgiving with my extended family. I was definitely nervous as I walked to their front door because I wasn't sure what kind of reception I would receive. After all, this is family I hadn't seen in over ten years and a lot has changed in that time. My reservations disappeared as soon as I walked in the door. I was greeted with hugs and well-wishes from the moment I walked in the door and that feeling lasted the entire time I was there. I am so glad I got to re-connect with them and I ended up staying the night at my cousin's and having breakfast with my uncle, a man who I have long admired and looked up to. So much food and fellowship and fun. Playing in the annual Ping-Pong Tournament, meeting my 17 and 13 year old cousins that I had never met before and being shocked at how old they're getting, petting the cutest little 4 month old kitten I have ever seen. Yeah, it was definitely a holiday to remember and definitely one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had. I'm only two hours away so am gonna try and see them more than just at Thanksgiving. After all, its been ten years so gotta maximize my chances to see them when I can!!
I'm gonna close this off now and head to bed. I have got a very long week ahead of me. I've gotten behind on Final preps in a couple of my classes so will need to spend this week focusing on catching up so I will be prepared for the finals next week. Otherwise, Finals week won't be fun for me and that would be a real tragedy!!
PS: I'll be back in Texas starting December 16th so if you want to see me or otherwise know I exist, drop me a line and I will pencil you into!! I get booked quickly (the perils of being a star) so let me know ASAP!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Save Me, San Francisco

Hello all my loyal readers, sorry for the lack of posting but it has been absolutely crazy in my world the last few weeks. The post-fall break, pre-finals time is absolutely insane. As of tonight, though, I am officially on Thanksgiving break which is nice. Granted, it's not that much of a break as I have a paper to write and a LOT of reading to do but I am done with class time which is nice. I am planning on spending Tuesday and Wednesday in the library getting all my work done so that I can have Thursday and Friday to myself. I really need to take a breather and spend some time just relaxing and de-stressing from the last few weeks and prepping myself for the last leg of this semester. This semester has just flown by and it is really hard to believe that I am already almost done with my first semester of seminary. Almost doesn't seem possible. Yet, here it is.
In my last post, I mentioned that I would be spending part of the week in Texas. That trip ended up being a really good one and I had a great experience seeing old friends and making new ones and just generally enjoying my time there. I was really glad to get back to school, though, to the wonderful community I've made here. I've never lived in such a supportive, affirming community before and it really feels quite wonderful. I feel like this is a place where I can truly be myself and have that self affirmed and supported by the community. That's very hard to find and something I have searched for for a long time. I feel so blessed in so many ways to be here.
As to my own betterment, that's been steadily improving. I have started working out in the gym two to three days a week. I'm even waking up early to go to the gym which is so uncharacteristic of me in so many ways. I've been mainly focusing on improving my muscle capacity and such and while I absolutely hate working out and especially despise doing anything involving weights, I've found it to be a tolerable experience so far. A chance for me to just prepare myself both physically and mentally for the day ahead. It's become an important part of my day and I'm actually to the point where I look forward to doing it which is an even bigger shocker. A few weeks ago, I voluntarily agreed to go on a hike with one of my classmates. That's something that you would have never seen me doing just a few months ago. Yet, somehow, in this environment, it just felt like a good idea and something I wanted to do. So, I woke up early on a Saturday morning and hiked up a mountain of my own free will. The view was beautiful and it was a really great bonding activity so I am glad I did it. I am finally becoming the person I have always wanted to be. The kind of person who cooks and bakes and eats healthy and exercises and voluntarily goes hiking. That is the kind of person that I have wanted to become and living out here has allowed me plenty of opportunities to do it. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy my random lazy days on the couch watching a movie or my late nights at the bar but I am also realizing the joy and subtle beauty that can be found in the outdoors. It's something I hadn't really picked up on until moving out here.
As far as my spiritual life is concerned, that's been an interesting journey as well. I haven't yet found a church yet that I want to start attending every week but instead have been church shopping and have gone to a different church every Sunday I've been here. I've met some incredibly warm and generous people at all the churches I've visited. I've also been regularly attending the chapel services at school almost every day and they have been very life-giving and nourishing in completely different ways. Seminary can, in many ways, actually be a crisis of faith time and can really shake your beliefs. While I haven't struggled with that as much as some of my classmates, there are still some times when I have questioned why I am here and what I am learning and how can I possibly apply it to my future path. In those moments, I find that chapel sustains me and gives me the nourishment that I need to go on and continue. My spiritual life has so far been enriched and nourished by my time at seminary. I'm enjoying my church shopping and so far don't really feel a need to find that one church that I want to attend for the rest of my time here. For right now, I'm perfectly content with hopping around every Sunday and getting my fulfillment from chapel each day. That's enough for me right now.
I'm still doing well academically even though the work load seems to have really ramped up the last few weeks. I've found myself being able to keep up and even stay afloat in spite of everything. My favorite thing about seminary is that it is absolutely perfect for my Type A side!! While others feel overwhelmed and stressed with all the work, I find myself thriving with having so much to do. My YAV year was great but my Type A personality really struggled with it. Now, however, my Type A-ness is allowed to shine and it is a very happy person right now!! Yes, I have lots to do and yes sometimes it can feel like a lot but that is when I am at my best. Not letting the stress of school get to me. I know I can do this and I want to do this. I had my ministerial purpose and such re-confirmed for me when I went home last month as I met some people who thought that the things I want to accomplish with my ministry were great and much needed. I realize I'm being cryptic and vague and that's because I want to wait to clarify it before I commit to writing it on paper, so to speak. Eventually, there will be a blog post dedicated to that very topic but we are not there yet so just hold on!!
Well, I think it is time to close this off. I've been told that my posts are too long and I guess that is true. Something I might need to think about for the future. Anyway, I hope everyone reading this has a lovely Thanksgiving. I will be driving out to Sacramento to spend the day with my cousins and my aunt and uncle. It's the extended family that I haven't seen in over 10 years so I'm very excited about re-connecting with them and meeting the family members that have been born since the last time I saw them all. I think there will be about 8 of us there which might make it one of the bigger Thanksgivings I've been to. I've always loved Thanksgiving because of the simple fact that it is a chance to spend time with family or those you consider family. I sincerely hope that everyone reading this gets the chance to spend the holiday with the people they love, whether that be your biological family or those who have become like family to you. Remember, family is how you define it so please spend the day being with the people you love regardless of who that may be. There's something sacred and indeed special about the feast and the sitting at the table. Cherish it, nurture it and most of all, enjoy it. Play with your 8-year-old cousins. Watch some football with your brother. Have a genuine, grown-up conversation with your father. Help your mother in the kitchen. Whatever you do, though, remember above all to just enjoy yourself. It's increasingly rare to get to spend that time together with the people you love so whenever we do, we really should cherish it more. Forget for just one day about everything else you have going on in your life and just breathe. Relax. Don't stress. Remember the sacredness of the feast around the table and treasure it. Honor it, give it the attention it deserves. That's what I want to leave you with as we head into this holiday season.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Want To Break Free

Hello, everyone. Just wanted to give everyone a brief update to say that I have made it to the half-way point of my first semester of seminary. I'm on "Fall Break" this week which means I have no classes but I still have some work to do to prepare for next week. The school's official name for it is Reading Week as we are supposed to spend the week reading and prepping for the return back to classes next week. I've done some of that but have mostly been relaxing and enjoying the calm. It's been pretty quiet around campus as a lot of people take advantage of this opportunity to get away for a few days. I, myself, will be leaving tomorrow for another brief trip to Texas. My last trip there didn't go so well and I left feeling very angry and frustrated. However, I think this trip should be much better and less stressful so that's good. My schedule is pretty booked up during that time so if you haven't already made plans to see me, let me know ASAP and I will do my best to fit you in. I am also going to be back at Christmas for two whole weeks so if you don't see me this time, there will be plenty of time at Christmas. I'm going to be up in Sherman a good part of the weekend but other than that, I will be in Denton so just let me know.
It's been really nice to have this break from classes and such. On Saturday, I spent the entire day at the beach with some of my classmates and it was absolutely one of the most perfect days I have ever had in my life. The weather was gorgeous, the company was great, the food was delicious and the beach was beautiful. I've fallen in love with Northern California and I don't see myself ever wanting to live somewhere else anytime soon. I feel so thankful to be here and so grateful to God for getting me here. It was a long, hard road to get here but it has so been worth it. This is a great part of the country to live in and the school is absolutely so incredibly supportive and nurturing and welcoming and just all those other superlatives that I can't really name right now. I'm truly blessed to be here.
Classes have been going very well for me, surprisingly. I set myself a goal at the beginning of the semester that I would make a 3.0 this semester. That was a pretty lofty goal, I thought, for someone who never had above a 2.7 in undergrad. However, it is looking like I might make at least that or maybe better which I'm so happy about. I managed to do extremely well on both my midterms (B+ on both my Hebrew and Church History midterms) and I am starting to do better in Old Testament which is still my most difficult class but now that I have found my groove, I am doing much better in it. It's such a good feeling to know that I can do so well at school. In a previous post, I mentioned about how my biggest fear was that I would flunk out my first semester and not make it through. Well, barring some major upsets, it looks like that fear won't come to fruition which is such a relief. I think I will easily meet my goal of a 3.0 this semester and might even have higher than that. Not bad for somebody who never managed to make above a 2.7 in undergrad!!
So, as you can see, things are going exceedingly well for me here. I am in a really good place now and feel so happy and confident about myself. I look at where I was just six months ago and where I am now and I feel so happy to be where I am now. I loved Chicago and still do but I know now that Northern California and seminary is truly where I'm supposed to be now. I absolutely love it here and constantly am amazed that I actually live in California, a lifelong dream come to fruition!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hold On

Hello everyone, just wanted to let you guys know that I am still alive!! Classes are still going great and I am still happy I'm here. I almost had a minor meltdown last week as I was really letting the stress and work load of one class get to me. I did seriously consider dropping a class but I ultimately decided against it. I would have to take it eventually anyway so might as well tough it out and get through it this semester. Plus, I've started doing a lot better in that class which makes me feel good about not dropping it. I even managed to make a B+ on my first paper which just proves that I am doing ok!! I mean, really, a B+ on my first ever grad school paper. Never saw that coming!?! I'm feeling pretty proud of myself right now which is how it should be. I know that I can do this and I do constantly tell myself that but it feels really good to get some sort of affirmation of that from a professor. I'm even managing to do ok in Hebrew. It's a fascinating language to study and so I find myself really enjoying reviewing the material and doing the homework. Such an interesting language with so much history behind it. Things are finally starting to click for me in that class which is a good feeling. Think I'm gonna be ok in there and might even manage to pull out a B or B- which are considered good grades in seminary as As are very few and far between especially for Hebrew. As for the rest of my classes, they are going really smoothly as well. I added an Improv class on Wednesday afternoons and that has proven to be a great decision as it really has been fun to have to think on my feet. The class is also hilarious and so I leave every week with a smile which is so great. I was really bad at improv in high school so it's good to know that I seem to have improved significantly since then. Choir has been an incredibly supportive and nurturing experience which is the complete opposite of my previous choral experiences which left me feeling very bitter and negative toward ever doing choir again. We are super short on guys which means I am one of the more knowledgeable and experienced members which always makes me feel good. The first couple of weeks of it were really stressful for me because I really let myself get worked up over the fact that I wasn't able to hit the right notes. I tend to be super self-critical when it comes to my singing voice (I'm pretty sure my voice teacher would agree with me on that, right Jenny??!!) which is really silly since I've been told numerous times that I have a great voice. Now, however, I've let that self-criticism go and am focusing on why I sing: because it is a way to praise God and thank Him for the many ways that he has blessed my life over the years. With that in my focus, I'm now better able to enjoy myself during choir and have fun with it. We sang for the first time at chapel this week and got great reviews. We really do sound great considering how few of us there are.
I've finally gotten a routine down for school work which is really helping to relieve the stress level somewhat. I'm able to block out chunks of time each day to work on school work and still have some time left over at the end of the day usually for free time that I can spend either watching TV or hanging out with classmates or whatever else I might wish to use it for. I really need my down time if I am going to stay sane around here. I need to have that time where I can just relax, chill out, watch a movie or whatever else I might want to use it for. As long as I still manage to get my school work done and stay afloat in all my classes, I don't really think anybody can really begrudge me if I want to have some time to watch a TV show or whatever. School is my first priority and will always be but I also need to allow myself some me time. I recently got elected to several student government positions so am eager to get started working with them to make my voice heard on this campus. I'm very lucky to be here at this school at this moment in its history and I am really excited to represent them in so many different capacities. I was elected to the Student Government Council and the Community Life Council so I will be heavily involved in the governing of the campus but also in planning the events that happen on campus. Yeah, I think it's a pretty big deal and I am really looking forward to sharing my voice and my ideas. Event planning was something I was heavily involved with in college so I am looking forward to doing it again here. I also agreed to serve as an editor for the soon-to-be launched student online magazine, an effort for the students to have their work read and seen by an audience. I'm really excited about that opportunity as well as it represents something new and different for the school to try. Interested to see what stories and articles we end up using to represent the student body.
As for non-school related stuff, that'a all going well, I guess. I recently decided to set a new goal for myself as I am about to start another year of life. In the four years since college, I have lost a significant amount of weight (about 20 pounds or so) and I have decided to make my new goal gaining most or all of that weight back. To that end, I started a new workout regime today that involves more muscle building and less cardio training. I'm also going to try and up my calorie intake every day although since I don't really count calories, I'm not really relying on that method as much. I know you probably almost never hear of people actively trying to gain weight but I am. I want to emphasize here that this does not mean that I hate my body or how I look or anything like that. Wanting to gain or lose weight does not necessarily mean that one is unhappy with how they look. It can simply mean that they want to get back in shape or get healthy so they don't die young or whatever else. In my case, it's an acknowledgement that my current weight is not really that healthy for someone my age and height. There is absolutely no reason why a late-20s almost 6 foot male should weigh barely more than 100 lbs (112 last time I weighed myself). I'm not exactly sure how I managed to lose 20 pounds but I did. I still like myself and I still think I look good but I'm also concerned that I might potentially be too skinny which could prove to be bad news later on down the road. So, it's a health issue for me. Also, I'm tired of being a weakling who can't lift anything. If I can develop some muscle, that will add weight and allow me to be able to lift something heavier than 5 pounds so it's a win-win as far as I am concerned. I'm going to attempt to do this weight gain in a healthy and gradual way as it's very tempting to return to my eating fast food every day method of gaining weight. However, that method will also lead to high cholesterol so not really a very good option for me. I think if I stick to building muscle and increasing my caloric consumption, I should be able to gradually add on some pounds. It might be a while before I notice anything significant but that's fine too. If you have any hints or suggestions for me, please do feel free to let me know. I'm always up for trying something as long as it's healthy and not too expensive or extreme.
The only other thing I have to share is that I am planning on being back in Denton for part of next week so if you want to see me, let me know. I'm not going to be back very long (flying in Wednesday night and leaving Saturday evening) so do get back to me ASAP. I have a very important meeting I have to attend Thursday afternoon that could determine my entire future so that's why I'm coming back into town. Yes, I'm being vague on purpose. I will have more details to share on that later after it's over. I'd rather not jinx anything by mentioning anything about it on here so that's all I'm going to say on that matter. Anyway, next week also marks the beginning of my 27th year of life so I'm going to be back those first few days after my birthday. I'm considering hosting a shindig or get-together of some sort to celebrate if anyone's interested and available to do anything. If not, no big deal. Anyway, I will keep updated on those plans if/when they develop.
Yeah, like I said, things are going really well for me now. It was rough there for a little bit but with your prayers and God's help, I managed to make it through. Here's hoping the hardest part of this semester is over although since next week I have two midterms and a quiz, it's not looking likely!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This IS the Moment

"Let the rains go. Let the healing river flow.
Let justice roll like waters. Let the day begin when new life enters in
And let your kingdom come."
I got the chance to spend this past weekend at the beautiful Ghost Ranch in New Mexico as part of the final stage of my YAV year that I recently finished. Here, at Ghost Ranch, was where the program decided to hold its transition retreat. A chance for those of us who just finished our year of service to come together once again and learn about how to transition back into regular life and what that transition might look like.
I had been looking forward to this retreat ever since I started my YAV year last August. It was a chance to see some of my fellow YAVs, most of whom I had not seen in over a year. As we were gathering at the airport, it felt so great to talk with them again and reminisce about the past year and share stories and adventures that occurred to us over the last year. I was really struck by just how many of us had similar stories to tell. Different locations of course but the same general stories about helping the under-privileged or fighting the system or feeling like a complete and utter failure at what you are doing. Good to know that the world is actually a lot smaller than we think and that people everywhere are struggling with the same issues.
The actual retreat itself was full of positive but emotionally draining sessions that talked about all the different transitions that would be necessary from this past year. We had small group time which allowed us to tell our stories to someone else free of judgement or comment. It was really good to hear that upon ending the year and returning "home", many of us experienced the same feelings of disorientation and confusion and even a sense of loss. It made me feel better to know that I wasn't the only one who dealt with those feelings.
Later in the weekend, there was a special service of healing and wholeness in which we were invited to let go of everything from the past year. All the hurt, all the pain, the anguish and grief and bitterness was brought forth, named and given up to God. It was really powerful and honestly, really healing for me. This past year was great in so many years but there was also a lot of anguish, grief, pain, bitterness, anger, fear and even some hate. It felt good to be able to release that and give it up to God. I genuinely felt like a huge burden had been lifted; one that I had been carrying around for far too long. All that pain is gone and I feel like a different person. There was also a special session during the weekend for those who had experienced some sort of trauma over the past year. If you have been reading this blog at any point in the past year, you should hopefully be aware of the kind of trauma I went through last year. It felt really healing to attend a group therapy session and hear other people's stories about the trauma they went through. I've always been a big advocate for therapy (might need to start going again while I am in school) but this was the first time I had ever done a group therapy session. So much better in so many ways. Having that safe space where I felt I could speak my mind and not be judged was so vitally important to me. It felt good to publicly say some of the things that had been weighing on my mind over the last year. Things I can't even post on here because too many people view this thing. Yet, in that safe space, I felt like I could be open and honest about everything and say what was on my mind.
The last sessions dealt with the concept of new beginnings which was really important to talk about seeing as how I just started a new beginning by moving out to the West Coast for school. After this weekend, I feel a lot better about school and have a renewed sense of purpose. I feel very refreshed and re-invigorated and am ready to get back into the swing of things. I'm not going to let school stress me out anymore. If I need to drop a class because the stress level is getting to me, then I am willing to do that. I can always retake a class but I can't always recover from having a nervous breakdown or going crazy or whatever else could potentially happen to me if I let myself get too worked up. I know that this is where God wants me to be and that with his help, I can do this. I need to remember to practice good self care and recognize when my body is telling me that enough is enough. That's gonna be the hardest part. I've mentioned before that I am a hard core Type A and seminary is the perfect environment for that as there is always so much to do. Of course, that also means there is a danger that I will do too much and burn out like I did in high school. So, I just need to know how to listen to my body and accept when I have enough on my plate. While I'm still sometimes questioning my decision to come here, I have to trust that God has a purpose and a plan for my life that includes me being at seminary.
This past weekend was spent in an absolutely beautiful part of the country with some of the most amazing people I know. It was exactly the break I needed and helped give me the motivation I needed to start school again. Here's hoping I can keep that momentum going throughout the rest of the semester.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I Will Survive

Well, folks, I have made it to the third week of classes. So far, so good. I'm managing to keep my head above water but just barely. Grad school is a lot of reading, who knew??!! No, in all honesty folks, I'm finally starting to find a routine and a rhythm that works for me so it should hopefully get easier for me from here on out. I constantly need to remind myself that I can do this. There have definitely been some days when I have really wondered if I actually can do this. Can I really make it? Am I meant to be here? Is this really the path God is calling me down? I still really love it here and have found myself so blessed to have found this community. It's so incredibly supportive and nurturing and that is so great to have. Through the difficult times, people have been there for me to help lift me up and offer me support and let me know that I really can do this and that I will make it through. I'm trying not to lose sight of the reason I came to seminary. I'm trying to keep at the forefront of my mind all the ministry goals that I have when I get done here. I'm trying real hard to hold it all together and not let the stress and difficulty and everything else wear me down. It can be tough though. Hebrew is really proving to be a challenge and it's frustrating me because I want to learn it. I really want to have that knowledge in my head but I am just having difficulty. All my classes are so fascinating and so interesting that I look forward to going to class every day. That's how I know I've found my place. I'm happy and that's the most important thing. Yes, classes are stressful and studying is not fun and I find myself sometimes overwhelmed by the workload but what keeps me motivated is the knowledge that I genuinely want to be here. This is one of the few times in my life that I can honestly say that I am following God's plan for my life. With that knowledge, it's enough to get me through. This is where God wants me and I am willing to accept that and honor it.
I think I should take a moment to explain a part of the reason why I am sounding so drained and distraught today. I just got word yesterday that one of my very good friends (I would even go so far as to say that she was a best friend) from high school died yesterday. I was quite shocked by the news as I had been out of the loop and didn't even know that there was anything wrong. I think that's what I lament the most: the fact that it had been almost six years since we last connected and now I will never get the opportunity to re-connect with her. I'm a very loyal friend but I am terrible at keeping in touch. I will be the first to admit that. I have lost contact with so many people just because I didn't really have time to stay in touch or got busy or just plain didn't feel like they would want to hear from me anymore. This is not the first time that I have been reminded about just how bad I am at staying in touch. She is about the third or fourth friend to die on me after not keeping in touch with them. Once again, I get a reminder that I need to really improve myself in that regard. I have very few good memories of high school but she was one of the few bright spots from that time period. She was always so upbeat and perky and full of life and hilarious and somebody that could cheer me up no matter what was going on in my life. That vibrancy and zest for life was contagious and it was impossible not to be happy when she was around. She was also an incredibly gifted actress and a very loyal friend. She loved her friends so much and since she was always so happy, it was impossible not to be her friend. Everyone that knew her loved her. It just couldn't be helped. I saw her almost every day for four years. Then, college happened and we went our separate ways and didn't really speak much after that. I think that happens to a lot of friendships. People drift apart and move away and it is the rare friendship that is able to withstand all that. To be honest, I think I drifted apart on purpose. I really needed to distance myself from high school and the painful memories of it. I needed to grow up some and the best way to do that at least for me at that time, was to distance myself from the people who knew me then. Was it the right decision? That's debatable but I know that it is what I did and consequently there's less than a handful of people from my high school days that I still actively keep in touch with. Do I regret that? I'm not sure about that either. There's not much I can say about it now other than it happened and I did it and I can't go back and change it now. I will just say this: my life is richer because I knew her and I will never be the same.
As for me, I'm keeping my head up and trying my best to focus on school. I've been feeling kinda numb all day today and not really sure that I actually processed everything that I learned today. This weekend marks the YAV Re-Entry Retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and while I am really looking forward to it, I'm also not really sure that's where my head is right now. Going to Re-Entry this weekend means I won't be able to attend my friend's memorial service which means I will miss the opportunity to say goodbye to her in person and to re-connect with people that I haven't seen in years. This is one of those times when moving away from home really sucks but I just have to accept that I am where I am needed to be. I need to be at Ghost Ranch this weekend. I need to be with my fellow YAVs sharing the stories of this past year and reminiscing about our experiences. I need that support system to help get me through this emotionally. I've been looking forward to this weekend for over a year and so I plan to go and enjoy myself and have fun and spend time with my friends that I love so much but on Friday, my heart will be back in Texas as I think about her and her service. Just highlights what all I left behind to come here.
Please don't be worried about me. I'm not depressed or distraught or anything like that. I'm actually really happy even if it doesn't come across that way on here. My heart is sad and I am struggling with a lot but overall, I know that where I am is where I'm supposed to be.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Through It All

I felt it only proper to use this blog post to reflect back on the events that happened ten years ago today. It seems a little hard to believe that it's been ten years since our country was shaken to its core. It certainly doesn't feel like it's been that long. It doesn't feel that long ago at all. Yet, there it is. I'm going to try and keep this post about the theological aspects of that day and try my best to avoid the political as I know that many people might strongly disagree with my views on the matter. I don't pretend to have all the answers or even to know what God or Jesus would have to say. I do, however, know what I believe and what I remember.
I think it's really easy for us as a country to want to have somebody to blame or to demonize for the events that happened. It's perhaps a little too easy to do so. Believe me, it's always nice to be able to blame someone else when something terrible happens. Yet, what purpose does that really serve? Does that heal any wounds? Is that really the best way to grieve for those who died? Is that the kind of response that Jesus would have advocated? In the days following it, I know there were a lot of threats made against the Muslim people. Harsh words were exchanged and even back home, a local mosque was fire-bombed. The American people were looking for someone to blame and naturally found it in the Muslim people living among us. It seemed like the easy thing to do, of course. We were attacked by Muslims so naturally the thing to do was to retaliate against Muslims, as if the entire religion was responsible for the actions of a few of its followers. That concept has never sat well with me. After all, Christianity has done some really terrible things over the centuries but that doesn't mean that all Christians should be attacked or persecuted. Doesn't the same hold true for Muslims as well? To blame the many for the actions of a few is not what I would consider to be the right course of action.
What I remember seeing in the days following it was the complete and total unity that the American people had with each other. For those few days, we were no longer Democrat or Republican, Christian or Jew, white or black. We were Americans and that common unity and harmony has, alas, seemed to vanish in the ten years since. Now, it's all about attacking and blaming each other for various things and dividing people up into different groups: white, black, rich, poor etc. Where did the idea that we are all Americans go? What happened to us all bonding together and pledging unity with each other? Sadly, we may never have that sense of unity again. I miss it. It was nice to think that for once in our nation's history, we could come together as a country and forget all our differences and be the UNITED States of America. Sadly, that era has ended and it saddens me.
What is the Christian thing to do when something like what happened on this day happens? Many would say that the appropriate thing to do was to respond with soldiers and tanks and weapons and kill lots of innocent people the way they did. I know that is how the United States did respond to it. However, I'm not convinced that that was the right response. I know to some it may be comforting to attack our enemies and kill them so they can't kill us anymore. If that is what helps them sleep better at night, then so be it. I don't think that is the way to go about it, however. I think that the God I believe in calls us to lay down our weapons and love our enemies. Love is stronger than hate and indeed is the only thing that can end hate. Many people ask: why do "they" hate us? I don't think it is quite that simple to say "they" hate us although I do wonder who is this "they" they speak of? I think what we, as Americans, tend to forget or choose to forget is that what happened wasn't just an attack on Americans or an attack on Christians. It wasn't just Christians in those planes. It wasn't just Americans either. There were people of all different nationalities and faith backgrounds on that plane just as there are on the vast majority of plane flights all over the world. It's very exclusionist to say that only Americans or only Christians died in the attacks and a complete untruth. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists all died along with French, German, Russian, Eastern European and African people as well.
What happened on that terrible day was indeed a tragedy and a horrific event and I am truly sad for those who lost loved ones on that day. However, and I say this merely as a way to put things in perspective, what's really a tragedy and something that should be lamented but isn't is the fact that by the end of the day today, over 16,000 children will have died due to hunger or hunger-related causes. By the end of the day today, over 5,000 people will have died due to complications from the AIDS virus. Yet, how often do you see newspaper headlines about them? How often do you get breaking news feeds alerting you about this fact? How many relief concerts or benefits have you seen about these causes? The world didn't stop on that day. Far from it, in fact. Small children in villages in Third-World countries still went to bed hungry, a mother with AIDS died leaving her two small children behind to fend for themselves, a father somewhere in the world beat his son for daring to disobey him and that same father then sexually abused his teenage daughter. All this is to say that we should be mourning for all these losses every single day rather than grieving for the 3,000 or so that died on that day ten years ago. I hope I'm not sounding insensitive as I do not mean to come across that way. However, I really think it is important to put things in perspective and recognize and acknowledge that tragedy happens every single day in every single place in the world and that the world really doesn't revolve around the United States. Losing 3,000 people in a single day isn't a random event and in fact in many parts of the world, it's quite common.
In the ten years since that day, over 100,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and the United States has personally spent over 3 trillion dollars on an un-Christian attempt to get back at the people who dared to expose our vulnerability and make us feel weak and insecure. Would Jesus bomb people? Not the Jesus I worship. The Prince of Peace invited us to turn the other cheek and to love our enemy. That's the Christian response to acts of violence. Anything else is following a path that I personally do not want to follow. We have seen enough violence and bloodshed in our world. Let's not add to it. Let's instead use this anniversary as a chance to make a pledge toward non-violence and peace. Let's remember those first few days afterward when we came together as a nation and promised unity. Let's return to those days. Only then can we start to heal the damage that has been done. Revenge is no way to live and does not bring comfort and peace. Together, we can make a difference. Let's make that difference one of peace this time, shall we?

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Whole New World

Today marked the last official day of our orientation activities. It was a pretty good week, all things considered. It started off being a bit overwhelming and a lot to process. So many new faces to meet and names to learn and I had to introduce and talk about myself so many times that I just wanted to go sit in a corner and not move for a few hours after it was all over. By Wednesday, though, I was feeling a lot better and things went much smoother for me. I've really started to make connections with my classmates and have already made several new friends that are going to help me on this journey. I am one of the youngest people in the incoming class which is an awkward and very new position for me to be in. I've been so used to being one of the oldest everywhere that now I get the opportunity to be young and feel like a kid again, in a sense. There's one other girl in my class that is younger than me so we have been hanging out a lot this week. She's pretty cool and I am glad to have gotten to know her this week. At the beginning of the week, I looked around at my fellow classmates and felt very out of place. However, now, at the end of the week, I feel a bit better about everything. I realized that my feeling out of place or uncomfortable was more a result of my personal prejudices than anything else. I was letting my personal issues cloud my judgement. This is a great group of people that I have in my class and I am glad that I realize that now. I've already found some surrogate moms and have made several new BFFs so that tells me that I am in for a great time.
Orientation has been full of informative sessions that are designed to help us adjust to this new experience. The professors and current students here have all been great. This is such a warm, nurturing, supportive community. I really feel like a part of the community now and that tells me that I made the right decision. Classes don't start until Tuesday so I still have a few more days to relax before I have to get right into the thick of things. Tomorrow is the annual hike to the sea in which those who wish go on a 12-mile hike up a mountain to the Pacific Ocean. It's gonna be a challenge and just might be the death of me but if I survive it, it's gonna be an awesome experience and something to truly remember. Once I get there, the school has a party all set up for us at the beach and we get to swim and eat and just hang out and visit for a little bit. It sounds like it will be a great bonding experience and even an opportunity to meet some of the students I haven't met yet. Other than that, I have nothing else going on.
For those who want to know, I am officially registered for classes which I am officially a seminary student. Here's my schedule for the next three months:
Pentateuch and Former Prophets: T, F 8:30 - 10
History of the Old Testament: T, F 10:20 -11:50
Hebrew: M, Th 10:20 - 11:50
Intro to Ministry: M 1:30 - 4:30
Seminary Singers: M 5:15 - 6:45
So, as you can see, my Mondays are gonna be pretty full but I am really excited and looking forward to each of my classes (even Hebrew!). As you can see, I've decided to join the choir which I've been told is a great choice and one that I won't regret. I've had negative experiences with choir in the past so am hopeful that this time will be more positive. Plus, I get class credit for it so might as well give it a shot. I need to nurture the gifts that God gave me and singing just happens to be one of those gifts. Plus, it will be a good way to end my day and de-stress from the busy and full day that is Monday. So, there ya go. I'm trying to be very conscious of my time and not over-burden myself with too much. They say that it is better to burn out than fade away but I know from experience that that is not the case. My first semester, especially, I am going to be very aware and make sure to have adequate self-care. I'm already looking for yoga buddies and I plan to start working out again once classes have started. I'm going to continue the good work I did this past year and improve upon it. This journey has already led me so many places that I never expected myself to go and it will continue to take me places that I would have never seen myself going. Hope you will continue to follow the journey no matter where it leads. I hope everyone has a lovely Labor Day weekend and enjoys themselves. Please pray for me as I begin the process of going back to school and back into the rhythm of classwork and tests and papers and everything else. Best wishes to you all.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"I Will Go, Lord, if You Lead Me"

Well, folks, I have arrived in California to start seminary. As such, I have made some changes to this blog to reflect this new journey. New name, new look but still the same blog.
First off, there may be some people who will be coming across this for the first time so I suppose I should introduce myself and explain a little bit about what's happening. I am originally from North Texas but recently completed a year-long volunteer service program in Chicago, IL. During that year of service, I realized that I could no longer deny the call to Seminary that God had placed on my heart. Now, I am living in San Francisco, CA about to start my first year at San Francisco Theological Seminary pursuing ordination as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. That's the brief synopsis of my life and why I am here. Welcome to all my new readers.
Anyway, I got here yesterday afternoon and spent most of the afternoon getting unpacked and settled in to my new place. My housemates gave me a tour of the house and it is nice!! The house is 8 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms with some half-baths as well so there is plenty of space. It's got a dining room, a huge living room, plus a kitchen and all the other amenities you would expect a house to have. There are currently six of us living here this year: 4 girls and two boys. I am the only first year student living in the house which is nice as the others have already experienced everything I am about to go through so will be able to help me through it. Orientation doesn't start until Monday so I have some time this weekend to just relax and get myself acclimated to a new environment. The time change has been the hardest adjustment for me. I've never lived outside of the central time zone so that is proving to be a big adjustment for me.
My room is really big and has so much space for just one person. It is nice to have a room to myself again although two people could easily fit in here. I have two closets, a big double bed, an armchair, a desk, two big bookshelves and a smaller bookshelf plus roof access where there is a nice sitting area that I may take advantage of when the weather is nice and I have reading to do. My housemates have all been super welcoming and nice and so far, everything has been great. I have yet to meet any other students here besides my housemates but I am sure that will happen once orientation starts.
So far, I am really liking it here. The weather is absolutely beautiful and the campus is gorgeous. It's close enough to the big city that I can go there whenever I need to but it is located in a small town so I get the small town experience as well. Plus, I have family only two hours away and several friends that live in either Oakland or San Francisco so won't ever have to feel too lonely. I'm ready for orientation to start and I'm even more ready for classes to begin so I can start the next chapter of my life. By the way, for those who would like my mailing address, please let me know. I would prefer not to publish it on the Internet so just ask me for it. The postal service is apparently really reliable out here so if you send me something, there is a great chance that I will actually get it. So much different than last year's experience in so many ways!!
Anyway, I will have more to write about once orientation actually starts. I just wanted to let everyone know that I made it here safely. I promise I will post pics soon (once I figure out how to do that as I honestly have no idea how to do that on here). Technology is not my friend and I am not the best about taking pictures but I know people are going to want to see pics of where I am living and studying so I figure I need to accommodate those requests or I might get some very angry emails!! Best to all of you. Remember, God loves You (and so do I).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Everything's Changed

Hello everybody,
The past three weeks have practically flown by and it seems almost unreal that I now have less than a week left here before I leave for California. Being home has actually been really great. It's been so much fun to see some of my friends again and hang out with my family again. My days and nights have been quite packed as I have been busy with lunch dates, dinner dates, movie dates etc. It's weird to realize that I hadn't seen any of these people in a year. It's almost hard to believe that its been that long. Strange how you can go from seeing the same people almost every day to not seeing them at all.
Adjusting to being back home has been a process to say the least. I've been slowly getting used to the idea that here they have Wal-Marts and Sonics and I have to drive everywhere. Granted, I am not at all trying to say that the kind of culture shock I've been experiencing is anything compared to the culture shock that certain other YAVs are experiencing. I can only imagine what some of the ones that were in more rural parts of the world are going through. Still though, there is a bit of an adjustment to being back in my homeland that has taken its toll.
A major project that I have taken on while I have been back has been downsizing my life. I'm basically getting rid of the vast majority of my stuff. I've sorted through my clothes and decided what to keep and what to get rid of. I've thrown out my magazines (some of which I've had since I was a small child so getting rid of them was a bit like saying goodbye to my childhood). I've been sorting through my books and deciding which ones I want to sell to the local used bookstore and which ones I want to take with me to school. It recently hit me that when I move this time, it's going to be a more permanent move. I won't be coming back much at all and Texas will simply become a place that I spend a couple weeks a year in while I am on vacation visiting family. However, for the next 3 (or 4) years at least, California will become my new home base. That's what has made the downsizing necessary but also hard. It's hard to again say goodbye to all the people and places that I have loved for so long. The idea that I will be moving halfway across the country and this time won't be back after a year is really hard to accept and grasp. Yes, I am definitely looking forward to this new journey and this new adventure. I am so ready to start school. However, that doesn't mean that I can't also recognize that I am leaving behind so much. I know previous posts of mine have sounded pretty harsh about Texas and so some of you might be surprised to hear me expressing these thoughts and feelings. I think it shocks even me. However, I think being home during this brief period of time has just clarified to me what I missed about it but also why it is necessary for me to leave. I will always look back fondly on my home state (no matter how much bad press we might get, much of it deserved). However, I have also come to realize that it's time to move on and start a new life elsewhere. I literally have nothing more to gain from being here.
Pretty soon, I will be on a plane to California and a new adventure will begin. I will continue to blog during my time in seminary as I know so many of my loyal readers want to continue to hear how I'm doing. Keep an eye on this page over the next few weeks as it will be undergoing some changes. All will be revealed soon. Thanks for following me and my adventures all throughout this past year. I do hope that you will continue to follow me during the next part of my journey. It's sure to be an exciting and grand adventure. I know I am interested to see what God does to me over the next three years of my life. I hope you are too!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Yellow Rose of Texas

Well, friends, in case you haven't heard, I made it safely back to Texas. I got in very late Monday night and pretty much all I've done is do laundry and sleep. It's been weird being back actually. Almost doesn't feel real. Can't believe it's already been a year. Seems like just yesterday I was about to board the plane for orientation and now here I am back already. How did a year go by so fast?
To be honest, I've been feeling really overwhelmed and slightly disoriented. I am definitely experiencing sensory overload which I didn't even think was a real thing but apparently it is. I had church last night and while it was good to see everybody again and to be in that building that I love so much again, it was also very overwhelming and awkward for me. I haven't really had enough time to process everything yet so I am glad that people so far have been respectful and haven't bombarded me with questions and such. I don't think I could handle that right now so I am thankful that I haven't had to be put in the awkward position of having to answer lots of questions right now. I need my time to process everything. It might take me a few days before I am ready to talk about my experiences and everything that happened to me over the last year. I promise you that that will happen but please just give me some time. I'm honestly just feeling so overwhelmed right now. A lot has changed back home in the year I've been gone and so I am having to process all that as well. I guess you could say I'm experiencing what they call culture shock. Being back has been much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be. Yes, I am very happy to be back (which might surprise some of my loyal readers) but it just feels weird probably this marks the longest time I have spent away from home ever. A year is a long time to be gone. Lots of changes happen in that time. People die, children grow, babies are born, new businesses open, others close, and people change.
At any rate, I am back in Texas until August 26th. If you are in the area and want/need to see me, let me know. My schedule is getting booked quickly, though, so you better let me know ASAP or else it may be hard for me to fit you in my schedule. Keep in mind that I am very broke right now(as in, I have zero dollars in my bank account) so if you want me to go out to eat with you or whatever, you may have to pay for me. I know that could create a very awkward situation, potentially, which is why I am putting it out there now so everything is clear. I'm starting school in the fall without a penny to my name so just be conscious of that when you ask me to join you somewhere. I really do want to see as many people as I possibly can while I'm here so please do let me know if you genuinely want to see me. I haven't seen anybody here in almost a year and some of you, maybe even longer than that so please give me an excuse to get out of the house for a few hours.
The next three weeks consist of pretty much nothing. I've got a pretty clear schedule other than "back-to-school" shopping and all that entails. I'm just enjoying the freedom of having nothing to do for a few weeks. I did consider getting a temp job while I'm here to make some extra money but the more I think about it, the less appealing it sounds. This is the longest (and possibly only time) I will be spending at home this entire year so I really don't want to be spending part of it working. I might change my mind on that but for right now, I am just going to enjoy the freedom and the peace. I'm not going to let myself get stressed out or worried about money or how I am going to pay for school or the fact that I need to somehow come up with almost $7,000 in the next few weeks in order to have fall semester paid for. I'm simply putting it in God's hands and trusting that he will provide. He knows my needs and he will make it all work out in His (and my) favor. I'm really trusting God on this one so here's hoping he doesn't let me down.
Right now, things feel really weird for me. I have my own bedroom again in a house with air conditioning and there aren't five other people in the house all the time. It's weird how hard it is proving to be to readjust myself to the old life that I had before moving. Guess that just proves how much this past year really did change me. I'm not gonna lie, I'm really missing Chicago and my fellow Faith House people and my co-workers at the church and the people I met and the many, many friends I made there. I'm trying my best not to dwell on what I left behind and instead live in the present and appreciate my time here among family and friends and all those who have supported me over the last year and also looking forward to the future and what I have coming up, namely California. It's gonna be a great experience, I know it is but that doesn't mean I can't still "mourn" for what I left behind. I will always carry a part of Chicago with me.
This brings me to my last point. This is not my last blog post. I will still continue to blog during the duration of my time in the Lone Star State. However, I do have some big plans for this blog so you may see some changes to it over the next few weeks. Keep following me and I will keep you updated on that. Trust me, you are gonna want to keep reading this blog even though my time as a YAV is officially over. It will be worth your time, I promise you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For Good

"Who can say if I've been changed for the better but because I knew you, I have been changed for good." -Wicked

Well folks, my time in Chicago is rapidly coming to a close. In just a few short days, I will be on a plane back to the Lone Star State and my time as a YAV will be officially concluded. It's hard to believe that a year went by so quickly. Seems like just yesterday, I boarded the plane for orientation in New York and now I am about to board a plane back to Texas. It's been a year full of challenges, growth, struggle, disappointment, tears, laughter, rejection, acceptance, love, hate, doubt, faith, despair, hope and lots of hours of watching Buffy and Arrested Development. I think what's been most shocking for me to witness is just how much personal growth I've done this past year. I came in as a rather reserved, shy individual with a host of self-esteem and self-loathing and body image issues that I had only recently started to deal with and accept. I had never successfully lived with people my own age and had never actually cooked for anybody, including myself. While I know that I will still struggle with issues of self-loathing and body image probably my whole life, I think this year has more than anything else, put me on the path toward a better, fuller acceptance of myself and my abilities. I can now look in the mirror and say "I like myself" and actually know that I mean it. My imperfections make me who I am and who I am is pretty darn great. I'm eating better now that I have learned how to cook and can even make a wide variety of dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. I've even dabbled in baking and that has proven to be a success as well. I always told myself that cooking just wasn't something I ever saw myself doing. I had a lot of self-doubt and resigned myself to just living off TV dinners and fast food the rest of my life. If I hadn't done this YAV year, that may have indeed been the case.
I've also finally discovered some clarity and some direction in life. In case you weren't aware, I'd basically been drifting along in life working a variety of dead-end jobs that didn't pay well and living at home and not really doing anything good or productive with myself. I was content to just drift aimlessly through life. Now, however, my life has a sense of purpose and direction. I have a clearer idea of what it is that I was put on this planet for. I have a better sense of where God is calling me to go and what he is calling me to do. I've even begun to see how the seeds for my new life direction were planted so many years ago and are just now starting to bear fruit. I've realized all the myriad ways that the gifts and talents I have developed can be used in my new life plans. I guess that just goes to show that God sure does have a funny sense of humor, doesn't it??! Now, I can honestly say that where I am going in life is exactly where I should be. I once had a good friend of mine ask me, "Is where you're going where you want to be?" I never really had a good answer for that until now. Yes, now I can say that where I am going is where I want to be.
This has also been a year with a lot of struggles. That's to be expected, though, I think. I think if you were to ask any YAV about how their year went, they would be hard pressed to not mention something about struggles. Whether it be being separated from family and loved ones during the holidays or dealing with bad days at work or being attacked or coming to terms with themselves or facing rejection after rejection, every single one of us has a story to share about the struggles that we have had to face as YAVs. Anybody who tells you this is easy is either a liar or incredibly naive. There's nothing easy about doing this program. There's nothing easy about being away from family during the holidays or watching a friend you've known for a long time die suddenly or hearing about a death of someone close to you back home and not being able to be home for it and having to grieve from afar or being rejected and thinking that it means God doesn't love you. However, what helps is having a community there to support you. Whether it be the people in your own house or people back home or even other YAVs from far away, it's good to have that support network to turn to in times of struggle and grief. Yes, I've had to deal with my fair share of trouble this past year but what has been a blessing is seeing how much love and support I have received from my Chicago community to help get me through it. This year has really shown me how much we rely on others to get us through those hard times. No, it hasn't been easy but its been made easier by knowing that I always had somebody up here to turn to when I needed help.
It's gonna be really hard to say goodbye to this place and these people in just a few days. I've been slowly saying my goodbyes already and it has been an emotional process. I never thought I could get so attached to so many people in such a short period of time. When I reflect back on the past year and the people I have met, I have nothing but smiles. I honestly cannot imagine my life without these people now. My life has been so enriched by meeting them and now I have to leave them behind. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end as they say and I guess that is certainly proving to be true.
I think my final thoughts are just to reflect briefly on the past year and how much I have been shaped by my experiences here. I'm going back to Texas as a completely different person than I was when I left. I only hope that I can keep it up and maintain the growth while I am there and then continue to grow once I leave again to head for California. This has been such a transformative and instructive year for me. While I may not have been changed for the better, I know for sure that I have been changed for good!!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pride (In the Name of Love)

This past weekend was Gay Pride weekend here in Chicago so I thought I would take a second to share my thoughts and reflections on the weekend and what it meant to me. Working as I do with so many gay youth and at a very gay friendly church, Pride weekend was a big deal in my book and one that I was determined to experience. What I experienced over the course of the weekend was a powerful and life-changing expression of God's love and support.
Here's the thing: I come from a part of the country where being gay is not very accepted or supported by many people. Where I come from, you are liable to be teased, picked on, told you are worthless, disgusting and sinful and that you will burn in Hell for your "choice". That was why when I found out I would have the opportunity to march in the parade with my church, I jumped at it. I knew this would be a way that I could potentially show God's love and maybe even heal some long-festering wounds for many people. It's no wonder, really, that so many gays turn away from God and the church. You would too if you were constantly told that your lifestyle was wrong and sinful and deviant. The church (and here I am referring to the whole church, not individual churches) has not been the most welcoming and accepting toward their GLBTQI brothers and sisters. So, small wonder that many gays feel that the church has nothing to say to them and only wants them to repent of their ways.
Marching in the Parade representing a church was my way of coming to terms with that aspect of the church's history. It has long been the one that has been the most troubling to me. It was important to me that I convey to my LGBT brothers and sisters that there are churches out there that love them and accept them for who they are. I think sometimes that message can get lost in the shuffle as so many of the most vocal churches out there are the ones that proclaim their messages of hatred. There was quite a large contingent of churches that marched in the parade, actually. It was ultimately very heartwarming to see how many churches were willing to be identified as gay friendly and welcoming.
Ultimately, however, the thing about the Parade that really got to me the most was seeing the huge crowd of people that were there to watch it. Many of these people did not know a single person in the parade. So, to see so many people cheering and high-fiving and showing their love and support for complete strangers was quite moving. The fact that they were there to cheer and celebrate a lifestyle that is denigrated by so many was really powerful to see first-hand. All these thousands (and yes, I do mean thousands) of people were there to show their support and love for their gay brothers and sisters and friends and strangers. Some of them even brought their friends, relatives, kids, grandkids with them to the parade and that made me happy. Especially to see so many children along the parade route. That will hopefully be one less child that will grow up thinking being gay is wrong or sinful. That's ultimately how it should be. Teach your children at an early age to be welcome and accepting and they will stay that way their whole lives. Hatred and bigotry are taught, not innate.
Anyway, after the parade was over, the contingent from LakeView walked back to the church and were greeted by parishioners who had stayed to watch the parade from the church lawn. What happened also was that we ended up having several people come up to us and thank us for participating in the parade. There was a lot of healing that was hopefully accomplished with the parade. People saw that there is such a thing as churches that believe that God's love extends to everyone, gay or straight. For many, that is an eye-opening revelation. The idea that there could possibly exist a church that believes that gays are beautiful just the way they are is perhaps a foreign notion to many. That's why it was so important to me to participate and march in the Gay Pride parade. Those wounds have been allowed to fester for too long.
The last point I want to bring up for discussion is the issue that some people (even ones who support gay rights) have with Pride Parades. I have heard people make the argument that Gay Pride Parades are just an excuse for gay people to flaunt their sexuality in front of everybody. Isn't who you sleep with supposed to be a private matter and not something that needs to be flaunted in front of everybody? Why does everybody need to know about it? To be honest, until this past weekend, I never really had a valid answer to those questions. Now, however, I do. The reason why Gay Pride Parades need to exist is for kids like Tyler Clementi and Asher Brown and Billy Lucas. Recognize those names? They are just three of the many youth who have killed themselves over the last year or so because of bullying. These three (and many more just like them) were teased, picked on, beaten up and generally disrespected because of their sexuality. They were told that they should be ashamed of themselves for feeling that way and that their sexuality somehow made them less human and less worthy of love. What Gay Pride Parades do is send a message to those scared, brutalized youth that they should be proud of who they are, not ashamed. They should love themselves for who they were created to be and live that life and be proud to live that life. When everyone around them is telling them to be ashamed of their feelings, Gay Pride tells them to instead embrace their feelings and accept and love themselves. Yes, who you share your life with is a private matter but being gay is not about who you sleep with. It's about embracing and loving yourself just the way you are and not being afraid to be that person. It's about accepting yourself as a gay person and taking pride in that fact. If the Gay Pride Parade saves even one life or prevents one teen from hanging himself or shooting himself or mutilating himself, it is worth it. Perhaps if there were Gay Pride parades in the cities where those teens who have killed themselves lived, they might not have done it. That's the real reason why Gay Pride parades exist. To show other gay, scared teenagers that they have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. That being gay is something that should be embraced, rather than shunned. That there are people who will love and accept them for who they are even when their own family and friends won't. There is no shame in being gay and it doesn't mean that something is wrong with them or that they need to be "fixed" in some way. Gay Pride is about all that and more. I only hope that those kids who most need to hear that message actually do. Sadly, I fear many of them don't.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Born This Way!!

Note: The following blog post reflects the opinions of me and does not represent the Presbyterian Church, the YAV program, or any other organization affiliated with those groups. Just wanted to make that clear before we get started.

A few weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church (USA) ratified an amendment to their constitution officially allowing openly gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgendered persons to be ordained as Elders, Deacons & Ministers of the Word & Sacrament. This is a huge shift for the Church and one that has been full of controversy. Many churches have already threatened to leave the denomination in light of the ratification and there could be a huge split over the issue.
With this move, the Presbyterian Church has become only the fourth mainline Protestant denomination to allow the ordination of GLBT folk (the other three, for the record, are the Episcopalians, the Lutherans and the United Church of Christ). By opening up ordination to all, the Presbyterian Church has taken a step in the right direction toward fully embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the openness and acceptance that he preached.
Here's the thing (and a rather controversial point, I might add), God made people the way they are. Nobody chooses to be gay or lesbian or bisexual. Indeed, I think if you were to ask some of them, they would say that they would rather be straight. It's a much easier and more accepted lifestyle. However, just as nobody chooses to be straight, so also does nobody choose to be gay. That's just not how it works. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God and He alone decides who we are and who we are attracted to. I know many people argue that God hates gay people and would therefore never make somebody that way but that just begs the question: when did they choose to be straight or white or Asian? Here's what I have come to learn and believe over the years. The simple truth is is that God is love. God is not capable of hating anybody and indeed loves us for who we are even when we don't love ourselves. God meant for diversity to be a good thing and we should embrace that diversity rather than trying to suppress it or change it in some way. Only when we begin to accept people for who they are and who God made them to be can we ever truly begin to fully enter God's kingdom.
As to the subject of ordination, here's my two cents on the matter. "God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called" therefore who are we to deny ordination to those who God has chosen to lead His church? We aren't God and therefore shouldn't act like we know who God would call. Only God is allowed to make that decision and if he has determined that a person is worthy of accepting the call, then the church should embrace that decision instead of denying them because of some arbitrary standards that we have determined make a person fit enough to do God's work. When God decides that someone is good enough, that should be enough. To do anything less than embrace that decision is unjust and unacceptable in God's kingdom.
Jesus Christ preached love and acceptance of all people, regardless of their personal deficiencies. He routinely ate with lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and other unsavory characters. He was roundly despised by those in power because he chose to associate himself with the "dregs" of society. I think the church could learn a lot from Jesus and his ministry. Are we choosing to open our doors to everyone or are we instead saying that only certain people are worthy of our love and attention? Are we denying people the love of God and the fellowship of our company because of some arbitrary standards that are made by man, not God? Are we choosing to deny certain people the ordination process because of how God made them instead saying that they chose that lifestyle and can therefore choose to turn it off? If people are choosing to leave the Church because the Church is doing the right thing and following Jesus's teachings, then in my personal opinion that's fine. I would rather people leave the church because it is doing the right thing than leave because it continues to do the wrong thing and lets injustice prevail.
You may disagree with me on some of these points that I've made here and that's fine. However, nothing is going to stop me from proclaiming what I have come to believe. Embrace who God made you to be and don't try and suppress it. Claim it as your own and make your life better because of it. If God is calling you to the ministry, do it. Churches, please open up your ministry to everyone that God has called to it. Don't let others tell you that God doesn't love you or that God hates you. That's not the truth. God loves all His children, no exceptions. You were born this way and don't ever let anyone try and convince you otherwise. Remember, straight people didn't choose to be straight. Finally, keep your head up and remember that no matter what, God loves you and wants nothing but happiness for you whatever that might entail whether it be marriage, kids, ordination or whatever else. Embrace that life and live it to its fullest!! Remember, "I'm on the right track, baby, I was born this way!!"

Saturday, May 14, 2011

California Dreamin'

Well, folks. I made a major life decision yesterday. One that I feel confident was the right decision for me. Let me backtrack a bit here for those of you who haven't been keeping up with my adventures. In my last blog post (way back in early April), I wrote about how I was feeling very angry and upset with God for not getting me into Seminary. I thought that I was finally following God's path for my life and was being denied like I wasn't good enough to follow his path. It felt like such a personal rejection and my self-esteem hit a real low.
Funny thing happened on the way to the bottom, though. I picked myself up, cried all my tears, and resolved that I wasn't going to let this setback keep me down. I discovered that San Francisco Theological Seminary had a much later deadline than all the other schools and so I applied on a whim not really knowing anything about the school except that it was in California, a state that I have a long history with. I decided that the third time would either be the charm or the clear sign that I needed that seminary wasn't the right thing for me at this time. I told myself that no matter what, I wasn't going to allow myself to get beat up over the outcome.
To my shock, I actually somehow got into the school. I was completely floored and ecstatic but also very grateful to God for providing this opportunity for me. However, I knew that that wasn't the end of the story. I knew that in order for it to work out, I had to get a sense of the school and whether it was the right place for me. So, this week, I flew out there to visit the campus and see if I could genuinely see myself there. I knew that I needed to get a feel for the school and see if there was a place for me before I could officially commit to going. Literally, less than five minutes after setting foot on the campus, I knew that this was where God wanted me to be. The campus is absolutely gorgeous and is located in the small town of San Anselmo which is 30 minutes from Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco so prime location. It is a fairly small student population but I really got the sense that the students and professors all know each other and there seems to be a really strong sense of community there. The students that I met all seemed really enthusiastic about meeting me and genuinely seemed interested in my discernment process. The faculty and staff as well expressed genuine enthusiasm and excitement upon meeting me and it felt good to be wanted. I really felt special during my visit as I was treated like a very important person and had all of my questions answered in a very gracious and kindly manner. The theology class I sat in on was absolutely fascinating and the discussion had me riveted.
There are so many reasons why I feel God calling me to school there. There's a reason why I didn't get into the other schools. San Francisco Theological Seminary is where I am supposed to be and where I am supposed to deepen my theological education. As to that major life decision, well if you haven't guessed it by now it is this: I officially committed to attend there starting this fall. Yeah, that might be anti-climactic but that's it. I've made peace with the decision and am trusting that I have made the right decision. I have a lot of family in the area so it will be nice to get to see them more. That's one thing that has been hard about being up here in Chicago is the fact that I have no friends or family up here so can sometimes feel pretty lonely. Granted, I have made friends since I have been up here but it still would be nice to on occasion visit with somebody who's known me longer than a few months. It's a different kind of relationship in that case. Now, by moving to California, I get to have that kind of relationship again. My aunt and uncle are two hours away which is close enough that I can go see them occasionally but still far enough away that I feel like I can have my own space. The school offers me so many opportunities that I wouldn't necessarily get anywhere else. I feel this is the right decision for me at this time in my life. Did I mention that there is a bar, a good mexican restaurant and a frozen yogurt place all within walking distance?? If that's not a sign that I am supposed to go there, I don't know what is!! I will be able to get around without a car which is one of the best parts as I literally haven't missed driving at all.
Now that I have made my decision, I am trusting that the Holy Spirit will provide for me. Going there is not the cheapest option so I am hoping that scholarships and such will work out in my favor. I am hoping to avoid loans as I have more than enough of those from undergrad and really would prefer to not pile on more since who knows what the job market will look like when I get done in three(+) years!! I am just so grateful that I have been given the opportunity to study there and I intend not to squander it. I hope it all works out for me and that I am able to thrive there. That is my biggest fear: that I will fail out or not succeed at it. I would hate to disappoint God and other people who are all going to be putting their hopes in me to do well and come out of seminary. I've always wanted to live on the West Coast and so perhaps this is God's way of getting me there!! All I know is that God gave me a happy ending to my story which proves beyond any doubt that he is a good and loving God. Thanks be to God! Hallelujah!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

All for the Best??

"Don't forget that when you get to heaven, you'll be blessed. Yes, it's all for the best."
"God is a sadistic prick. Worship me and I'll treat you like shit."
-Rabbit Hole

So, here is a blog post that I was hoping never to have to write although I had it prepared in my mind for the past few weeks just in case. I've blogged on here before about how I was finally feeling called by God to head to seminary. I was really excited about finally having some sense of direction and some sort of purpose in my life finally. I was so looking forward to starting seminary in the fall and couldn't wait to finally be back in academia. Well, I sadly have some bad news to report on that front. Apparently, God decided to play yet another trick on me. I found out end of last week that both the seminaries I applied to rejected my application for admission for the fall. When I first got the letters, I have to admit I felt completely dejected and saddened by the news. I cried for a good 20 minutes and still find myself on the verge of tears sometimes over it. You better believe I said some very harsh things to God and may have even called him some very offensive names in the process. However, all that is over with. I've finished crying all my tears and I am now trying to see the good in this situation.
Perhaps God determined that I just wasn't ready for seminary. Maybe I still have too much self-loathing and haven't done enough growing up to adequately prepare me for the ministry. Maybe I'll be ready for it next year. Maybe in ten or twenty years, I will be ready. Maybe I'm not meant to go and I have been misinterpreting God's call. Maybe I wasn't meant to go to the schools I applied to. Maybe God has an odd sense of humor and thinks screwing around with me like this is some idea of a colossal joke. He does seem to have a sick sense of humor after all. I admit to having no idea why God has put this obstacle in front of me.
As I always do, I took the rejections pretty personal and blamed myself for them. As in, if I had just written better essays or had a better transcript or chosen different references or applied to more schools or the list goes on and on. Yes, I'm very angry at God right now. I think I have every right to be. I mean, I finally think I've figured out what he wants me to do next with my life and then He has the audacity to say no!! What gives??!! I'm ashamed to admit this but there was a brief moment when I contemplated suicide. I know, I'm so ashamed of myself for even thinking those thoughts as I really thought I was past that stage of my life. Apparently not, which really upsets me. However, I was so emotionally distraught that night I got the second rejection letter that my thoughts were so full of hurt and pain and anger. It's hard not to see it as a personal rejection. It's hard not to read those letters and see it as them saying, "We're sorry but you are simply too fat, ugly, stupid and gross to come to our school so please go away and don't ever come back". It's like I'm the kid on the playground once again being picked last or told I couldn't play with the cool kids. I know I shouldn't see it that way but I can't help how I feel. I'm just so tired of being rejected from things. It hurts.
Anyway, I've had a few days to process everything. I'm now able to see it more as their loss than mine. If they don't want me, then they don't even know what they're missing. I've started exploring other options for next year but would prefer to keep a lid on them until I have more to report. Let's just say I always end up having to implement Plan B and I am getting really tired of it. Trying to stay positive and optimistic and realize that God doesn't close a door without opening a window. While I am still very, very bitter and angry at Him, I am having to learn how to continue to rely on Him for guidance and assurance. I know that He will lead me down the path that is best for me but I just wish that path was the one I want to take for once!! I've joked with friends over the last couple of days that I'm going to change my name to Job as that really is how I feel sometimes. I know that everything will work out for the best but I just hate that I always have to hit my lowest point emotionally before that can happen. Prayers for me during this time would be greatly appreciated as I try to once again discern where God is leading me next. Hopefully, I will have an answer to that question soon but I'm learning to wait on God's time, not mine!!
"It's all ok in the end. If it's not ok, it's not the end."