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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

40 Days and 40 Nights!!

Well, friends, the season of Lent has been upon us for a week now which means it is time for that season of devotion and remembering the sacrifices that Jesus made for us. I have started participating in a Lenten book study at church and have really been getting a lot out of it so far. The book is 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and it has proved to be an interesting experience. The book requires prayer, meditation and journaling every day in Lent and I have so far been diligently doing my devotional every day right when I wake up. I am so far getting a lot out of it and if you have been reading my Facebook, you may have noticed that I have been occasionally posting Bible passages on there that come from that day's reading. I was unfamiliar with Bonhoeffer prior to starting this study and I am so far finding him to be an engaging and unique theologian. So far, it has proved to be a positive experience and I am just proud that I have been able to keep at it every day as that is something that I struggle with. I am really bad at that kind of stuff but I was determined to make it part of my Lenten journey this year and so far, it is working out wonderfully. I've even been waking up earlier to do my devotionals so that I will still have time to get ready for work and while I am by no means a morning person, I have found that starting out my day with devotional has proven to be a great way to start my day.
I've also been dedicating more time to writing than usual. By that, I mean that I have been spending 45 minutes a day working on my long-gestating screenplay. It's been in my head since I was a senior in high school and now nine years later, I decided this was as good a time as any to start putting it down on paper. It's been tough but I have found that the creative process is where I truly thrive and maybe by the end of Lent, I will have a finished screenplay!! As I have been devoting more time to writing, that means that I have been devoting less time to my TV and movie obsession. I know, shocker, right??!! I've been mostly watching TV on Sundays after I get home from church and last night was the first night I had watched a movie in over two weeks. I'm trying to make other things a priority such as time with God, time with friends and time with myself. TV and movies kinda fall by the wayside when you re-shift your priorities. I haven't officially given them up for Lent just decided to make other things a priority this time. I did give up using my debit card so for the season of Lent, I am cash only. So far, it's worked out pretty well and it is helping me sort out the difference between needs and wants. I don't need to order McDonald's on the way to work. I might want to because it is so convenient and easy but I don't need it. It is a want, not a need. I'm hoping to make this a permanent change if it goes well during Lent. I will keep you posted on that development. That's all I have to report on this front. What is everyone else doing for Lent? Let me know. I would love to hear how people are choosing to spend this holy season.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Love without End, Amen

"You see, daddies don't just love their children every now and then. It's a love without end, Amen!!"
-George Strait
I know this blog is supposed to be about me and my journey and what I am doing here in Chicago but I really wanted to take a time out from that today to bring you something a little bit different. You see, today marks exactly seven years ago that my father passed away. So, I thought I would just take a second to remember the man who gave me life and with whom I share a last name (and so much more).
My dad and I did not have the greatest relationship. To be honest, he really wasn't much of a father to me or my brother and he was not a very good husband to our mother either. Yet, in his own way, he really tried to be the best father he could be to his children. He didn't really have an example to look up to in that respect as his own father was never there for him when he was growing up. His father basically spent all his time at work and left his mother to do the raising up of him. So, bearing that in mind, it becomes a little easier to understand why he was the kind of dad he was. We learn how to be parents by watching our parents raise us.
Growing up, I was always jealous of my friends who had parents that were active and involved in their lives and actually did things with their kids. My dad never wanted to play catch or go to the beach and swim or those "normal" father-son things. His idea of spending quality time with his kids was watching the Cowboys or Rangers game and maybe talking during commercials. I will say, in his defense however, that things got markedly better once he was divorced from my mom and only got to see me a couple weekends a month. Those weekends I spent at his apartment became all about me. We would play board games together and watch TV together and he would buy me lunch and make me dinner and basically treat me like I was the most important thing in the world. Do you have any idea how good that felt? Unfortunately, at the time, I really didn't appreciate it all that much. I was always mad that I had to go spend time with him because it meant I couldn't see my friends or have all my games and such with me. Plus, his apartments were never as nice and spacious as what I had with my mom so I was upset that I had to live like a poor person for the weekend. I realize this makes me sound like a horrible human being and that I should have been more grateful to be getting to spend time with my dad but honestly, I was in elementary and middle school so what can one expect??
When my dad first became sick, it wasn't that surprising. He had been smoking for over 40 years by that point so it was inevitable perhaps that it would happen. I resent cigarettes for taking my dad away from me. I hate that if I ever have children, that they will only know of their grandfather from the stories I share with them. I hate the fact that during the last years of his life, he was too weak to play board games with me or take me out to eat or do any of those father-son things that were uniquely his (to this day, every time I walk into Subway, I get a smile on my face because that was our place that we used to go for lunch). I don't like the fact that I had to become intimately familiar with the inner workings of hospitals and nursing homes in order to spend time with him. Those last few years of his life, I only saw him a few times because it was just too hard to see him like that. This once proud, mighty man that I had known for all my life was reduced to a shadow of his former self with tubes running all over his body and such. I prefer to remember him healthy although now it has been so long since he was that my memories of him healthy have really started to fade. He just continued to linger for years before finally passing on while I was home for Spring Break during my freshman year of college. At the time, I honestly remember feeling a sense of relief because he was finally out of pain and I would no longer have to make the trek to see him. His memorial service was sparsely attended but was quite powerful and moving and the eulogies delivered did a good job of conveying the spirit of this man who had passed on.
Last summer, my therapist recommended that for Father's Day that year, I write my dad a letter putting everything in it that I needed him to hear that I could never tell him when he was alive. She wanted me to include all the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. It proved to be a truly cathartic experience for me and helped get a lot of my issues with the man out in the open. I hate that I can no longer go to him for advice or talk to him about sports or classic TV shows. I know that he was proud of the person I was then and so I sincerely hope that he would be proud of the person I am now. What bothers me the most is that I will never actually know. Would he still be proud of me and the decisions I have made? Would he accept and love me for the person I have become? Would he agree with the decisions I have made about my life and the consequences that come with those choices? I will never know and that truly saddens me. This bothers me, I want to know. I need to know that he would have accepted and loved me no matter what. I guess I just have to trust that he believed (as does my mom) in the idea that parents love their children unconditionally. That they never give up on their kids and always accept them for who they are. I have to believe that about him because the alternative is just not how I want to think of my father. I choose to remember him as the loving, proud, strong, accepting father which is also how I choose to picture God. I guess now that I think about it, my dad influenced my entire concept of God. Quick to anger but also full of love for his children and pride in their accomplishments. One thing I can say about my dad is that in spite of his faults, he was always there whenever I had a soccer game or an orchestra concert or a play performance and usually he was in one of the front rows much like God. One of the last things he got to do before he died was attend my high school graduation. He was really weak by that point and couldn't really talk anymore but it really meant a lot to me that others made the effort to make sure he was there to see me walk across that stage and get my diploma something he himself had never achieved. Now, he continues to come to all my events even though I can no longer see him. I still feel his presence every time I walk onto a stage or sing in church or give a speech. I can feel his presence near me at those times and that's how I know he's there. Much like God.
I want to ask a favor of all those reading this, if you are lucky enough to still have your father in your life, I want you to just take a minute to first thank God for allowing you to still have that mighty and influential presence in your life. Then, I want you to call or text or Facebook or Skype your Dad right now and let them know how much you love them. Make sure they realize how grateful you are to have them in your life. Maybe even take them to lunch or dinner. Really make that effort because time is too short and life is too precious. Your parents, whether you like it or not, are the most influential and important people in your life and need to be treasured. Believe me, I would give anything to be able to call up my Dad right now and just talk to him on the phone even if we didn't talk about anything important. Even if the entirety of our conversation consisted of him rambling on about the Cowboys and how they are looking this year or how the Rangers are definitely going to win the World Series this year, I would still treasure it. Why? Because when I had those opportunities, I didn't. I realize now, too late unfortunately, that family comes first. Give your Dads a big hug for me next time you see them!!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Retreat to Move Forward!!

So, I just got home from spending the weekend with my housemates and site coordinator at this church camp about 2 hours outside of Chicago. It was time for our vocational discernment retreat. To be honest, I was just looking forward to getting out of the city for a few days. The camp was beautiful and really reminded me a lot of some of the camps back home (Prairie Valley in particular) and we were the only ones there from Thursday afternoon until Friday night so definitely got the special treatment from the staff. The weekend was all about learning to be quiet and listening for the voice of God and discerning God's call for our lives. We watched videos and listened to audio clips of different prominent speakers (Rob Bell, Henri Nouwen & Elizabeth Gilbert) talking about the concept of discernment and learning to accept whatever might be calling you. We did some group exercises and some journaling on the subject and had plenty of free time to play fun games, read, sleep, and just enjoy God's creation. We even took some time to climb a rock wall which was a lot of fun and something that I proved to be quite good at!! Just call me Spider-Man!!
As for the actual sessions and what we discussed, we ended up having some really great discussions about vocation and call and discernment. We discussed the concept that vocation isn't just your job but also can refer to other aspects of your life such as buying a house, getting married and having kids. I hadn't ever really thought about it in those terms but it does make sense. Which is why I am starting to realize that I personally don't feel "called" (as it were) to own my own home, have kids or get married. I realize that this opinion could very well change in a few years but at least for right now, I don't really see myself as having that kind of life. To be quite frank, I am completely ok with that. Marriage and kids are really not that important to me and I would much rather rent than own as I don't like the idea of having a mortgage and all that that entails. Plus, those are all things that can tie a person down and I am just not one of those people. I don't like to be tied down. I want to be able to move every few years and travel when I want to and not have to worry about abandoning my responsibilities or whatever. Having kids or a spouse or owning a home would tie me down in a way that I am just not ready for. Again, I realize that in ten or fifteen years time, I may very well have changed my mind and want that for myself but until then, I see no reason to want it just because other people have it.
That brings me to the next point that we spent some time talking about: the concept of the "American Dream" and "Cinderella Story" and how damaging and destructive those very concepts are to so many people's emotional, financial & physical states. The American Dream perpetuates the myth that if you want to be satisfied and happy in life, then your ultimate goal should be to get married, have kids, buy a house, work, save money, retire and then leave everything to your children so they can do the same thing all over again. What about this notion is appealing to people? It also perpetuates the consumerist ideal that if you have more stuff than everyone else, you will be happy which I hope has been proven to be a false concept. The idea that if your next door neighbors have a new car, then you should go ahead and buy one too to save face is a dangerous and financially stupid move and is one of the many reasons why so many people are in financial trouble right now. The American Dream is an outdated and antiquated notion that frankly has very little to do with the new reality that we face here. It is meant to be something to strive for but instead is often used as a tool to shun and shame people who haven't achieved all of those milestones. People who don't want or can't achieve all those goals are meant to feel like there is something wrong with them because they are not achieving the American Dream. It leads to conformity which I'm pretty sure is not an American ideal, right? We're supposed to be a salad, not a melting pot.
As for "Cinderella Story", that notion perpetuates the myth of happily ever after. It promotes the idea that all you have to do is wait for a man to come sweep you off your mind and then the hard part is over. You never actually see or hear anything about what happens after Cinderella and Prince Charming marry. Marriage requires a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice and stories like these never even mention that. Women are led to believe that all they have to do is meet a guy and all their worries are over and their problems will be solved. Anybody want to back me up here and say that that is simply not the case?!? Also, has anyone ever noticed that it's always two white, opposite gender people in all these stories and they are always attractive?? That does not by any means represent the America that we live in nowadays. Yet, we still cling to these stories and tell them to our children and plant these seeds in their heads that can lead to heartache and disappointment when they get to the age of 50 and still haven't found their Prince Charming or found him but then discovered he was having an affair with the baby sitter.
We also discussed the concept of failure and what you do if you end up failing at whatever you are being called to do. That doesn't mean that your entire journey is invalid or that you made a mistake. It just means you have to shake off the fear of failure and keep going no matter what. It's very possible that something you think is quite brilliant will be absolutely loathed by everyone else and also possible that something you hate will be the accomplishment that brings you the most acclaim. Both are valid constructs so I need to learn how not to be afraid of failure. That's something that I struggle with quite frequently. I worry that I will go to seminary and then either fail out or finish but not find a call. Yet, I can't let my fear of failure keep me from doing something that I really feel an intense desire to do.
I don't mean to get political or go off on a rant here in this space but these were topics that we discussed and debated at length so I thought I would share. The weekend was also filled with us getting to know each other better and included my first ever time to try Steak n Shake!! For the record, I loved it and want to go back!! Also, had the opportunity to teach my housemates energizers because for some reason, several of them had never done them before which is just unfathomable and almost broke my little Presbyterian heart. So, of course, I had to take some time to teach them which brought back way too many memories of college!!
In the end, it proved to be a great weekend and very eye-opening on so many levels. It mainly was nice to just get away from the city and the hustle and bustle and stress of it all and enjoy some time in God's creation. Sometimes, all you really need is some time at camp to help ease your burdens and relieve your stress!!