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

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.