For the Love of the Process

“Trust the process” you might hear me say, with a strong hint of sarcasm in my tone. A roommate once told me that she’s come to expect that I say everything with a hint of sarcasm in my voice (I’m obviously a great mental health counselor, if that’s true).
“Trust the process”.

This saying came around during my years in grad school, when both I and my cohort were in literal tears or having panic attacks because of looming assignment deadlines or major exams just around the corner. Our professors would see our strife and pain, and I suppose, in an act of mercy and encouragement they would say, “don’t worry, just study, rest, and trust the process.”
For the duration of two years, when things got tough, someone would say “just trust the process”, to which the response would be a big, fat eye roll.

Just a little more than a year removed from grad school, I find myself coming back to this saying. Trust the process.

I find myself muttering it as I craft, and the glitter is getting on everything and everywhere aside from where it needs to be.

I find myself almost meditating on these words when I’m just about drowning in my anxities.

On a small scale, in situations when I’m crafting or trying a new recipe, the saying helps me laugh off my frustration and enjoy the present creativity.

On a larger scale–whether I’m staring at my bank account and thinking about my upcoming bills, or when I’m looking at the physical distance on Google maps between myself and friends and family who I want to be there for, or when my heart is resenting the God who loves me deeply and I just feel stuck–“trust the process” seems more like a challenge than an encouragement.

Some days, I don’t feel up to the challenge. It’s reminiscent of high school fitness tests, staring down a row of seven hurdles knowing you’re going to eat it in the most ungraceful way in front of your crush. All you want to say in that moment is (excuse the language) “fuck this, I can’t do it, can I walk the track instead?” Which translates to, “I want the easy way out, and I want it now.

And first, most importantly, I think it’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to be frustrated and feeling face-down when life is hard.

To be completely candid: Right now, I don’t know where I’m going to live in the next couple of months. Right now, I want to be with my family in San Diego as they go through health complications. I want to go to a friend’s wedding in November (also in San Diego). I have no idea how I’ll make ends meet during the month of September. My anxiety that was through the roof during grad school has changed me, and I kind of hate myself for the shadow I am now. And above all, I find myself so, so angry at God.

I am neck deep in “the process” and all I want is just one minute to catch my breath, or better yet, I want the easy way out, and I want to walk the track.

I am uncomfortable, and I hate it.

But being uncomfortable is a sign of growing. The process is about growing, and recognizing my choice. I can choose to fall to the ground, or stubbornly find a way to walk the track, if I’m sticking with this high school fitness analogy. Or I can choose to trust the discomfort and know it won’t be this way forever.  I can choose to find ways to freely laugh, like when I’m crafting with unholy amounts of glitter, or attempting new recipes for my tribe.

I’m going to trust that I’m going to work through my resentment with God.

I’m going to trust that September will come and go, and things won’t be as bad as I fear.

I’m going to trust that I will find the perfect place to live when I need it.

I’m going to trust that my love for my family and friends in this time is enough, even when I can’t be beside them.

I’m going to do my best to trust this discomfort, and hope I come through on the other side, still standing.

I don’t usually write blogs like this. Meaning, I don’t usually write about the middle of the storm. I usually like to write in the aftermath, once things have reached their resolution or are close to being done. So for those who still read my blog (do people even blog anymore?!), thanks for being part of my process.

And maybe if you’re like me, staring down your own personal hell–seven hurdles with your crush in your P.E. class–I’m hoping for you. I hope you will find a way to first, be okay with your frustrations and calling them out. Give yourself grace. Secondly, I hope you choose to work through your discomfort for your well-being, and I hope you reach the other side, still standing like the badass human you are.

I hope you trust your process (no sarcasm intended).





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Filed under Encouragement, Personal

“13 Reasons Why”: A Response


Like thousands of other viewers, I’ve recently finished Thirteen Reasons Why and I was left reeling. While watching the show, I promised myself that I would write a blog about it. After taking some time to process my thoughts as well as hear from others, this is my response.

Be prepared for spoilers.

Thirteen Reasons Why (13RW) is a show based on a Young Adult book by Jay Asher that was published in 2008. In 13RW, a high school girl named Hannah Baker makes the decision to commit suicide. Prior to her death she records seven cassette tapes that details every reason she killed herself. The story follows protagonist Clay Jensen, a shy boy that seemed to know her, as he listens to her voice detailing accounts of bullying, sexual assault, and irreparable loneliness.

Removing my professional hat, Thirteen Reasons Why is excellent entertainment. It is well produced and well casted. In fact, it is so well done, that there will be a season 2. I believe this with some caveats. I would not recommend this show lightly. For many, I’ve learned, 13RW opens up a lot of old wounds and triggers that some might not have realized they had. For those who have not watched the show, I have one thought:

Please take the warnings seriously, especially if you have dealt with some of the issues the show portrays.

My ultimate favorite line in the show comes from Tony when he and Clay are playing volleyball. Loosely, he tells Clay, “you never know how your words will effect someone”. Of all the themes in 13RW, this simple sentence is what the show is about. We will never know how our words and actions impact the people around us.

It’s not until after Hannah is dead that people realize just how much she is hurting, which is, quite frankly unfair. There isn’t a chance for Alex, Zach, Sheri, or even Clay and Hannah to right the things that have gone wrong. Hannah’s untimely death doesn’t leave room for a second chance. That’s not to say it’s unrealistic. 13RW, is not a unique story, unfortunately. Bullying, self-harm and sexual assault, unfortunately, are common occurences. 13RW calls attention to the topics that people seem to generally shy away from discussing in such a public way. Thousands of adolescents struggle with being bullied, with being victims of assault, and the pain of growing up in general. Every day, there is a person honestly contemplating suicide because the pain their hold in their heart is greater than the hope that things will get better.

With that, I’ve decided to write notes to the characters that left the greatest impact on me.

Kevin Porter (The School Counselor): People don’t go into counseling for the money; they go into the field with the strong belief that they can make a difference in the lives of others, and I strongly believe this is who you are. You wanted to make a difference for the student body you served, however, you did not seem to have enough experience in mental health, which is different than in-school success. Yes, you managed to miss the signs that Hannah gave you, her flat affect, her hopelessness, and her suicidal ideation, and you failed to take the next appropriate steps.
After the tragedy of Hannah’s death, you and your principal should have offered grief counselors to your student body so they could work through their grief and shock with a trained professional instead of you being the one to work out of your scope of practice.
Still, I’d like to believe that while people can’t come back, everyone can learn from their mistakes. I believe that you should be a warning to other counselors and mental health professionals out there: always follow the signs, and if you feel uneasy about a person, say and/or do something. Never keep it to yourself.

Alex Standall, Zach Dempsey, and Sheri Holland: I do not doubt you are good kids. You want what everyone wants: to know they are loved and accepted for who they are without pretense. Each of you made life-altering mistakes, and nothing will change that, and that does not make you a bad person. What your mistakes and words make you is human.
It is not your fault that Hannah chose to end her life, though her tapes might have suggested otherwise. In an ideal world, we would always say and do the right thing, but we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where life altering mistakes happen. Sometimes we get the chance to fix them, and sometimes we don’t, and that’s the bittersweet truth of learning and growing. I hope you have the chance to continue to learn and grow, and I hope you learn from your past.

Clay Jensen: Oh Clay. It was incredibly painful watching you go through those tapes, tormented by the fear that you did something wrong. More than anything, I want you to know that you did all that you could for Hannah and so much more.

Jessica DavisLike Zach, Alex, and Sheri, I truly believe you aren’t a bad person. And you are incredibly brave. I hope you continue to own and share your story.

Bryce Walker: To people like you, whether you have one dollar or one million dollars, you have no right putting your hands on another human when they say no, or when they are incredibly vulnerable. No amount of talent or prestige makes you better than another person, and I hope you get exactly what you deserve.

Tony Padilla: Your character wasn’t even in the books. But I sympathized with you because it is incredibly hard being a secret-keeper. There is a certain weight that comes from knowing and seeing people in ways that others don’t. I will be honest when I say that I am not fond of the way you kept the tapes with such a heavy story, but I can respect what you did for Hannah, because I get it–it is your way of paying dues. And similar to Clay, while Hannah was alive, you did what you could for Hannah.

Hannah BakerMy heart breaks for you, so, so much. You did not deserve the things that happened to you, and more than anything, I wish you got the help you deserved. I wish you were able to tell someone about the things that happened to you and in return, received the appropriate responses. I understand the heart behind leaving your tapes to the ones who destroyed you, and I wish you could have lived long enough to see that there are other ways to be heard. People like you, Hannah, are so incredibly loved, and I wish more than anything people like you stay long enough to see the ones who love you so dearly.

Final thoughts:

For everyone else, for my readers who find themselves relating to the above mentioned characters and the ones I did not mention: I hope you reach out for the help that you need, unlike the characters mentioned. I hope you find the strength to see how brave you are, and how loved you are if you have been victimized. Someone is always willing to listen, and there is absolutely no shame in needing someone to talk to.

Or if you are a perpetrator, I hope you get the help you need, and I hope you get every consequence that you deserve.

For parents, educators, anyone in general: Thirteen Reasons Why is out there, and it will be out there for some time. The best thing you can do is be a listener. Listen to those around you, and become informed. The show does not accurately display what it means to have a mental illness (it doesn’t address mental health at all), so I encourage you to do some research on what mental health is, or talk to a professional about it.

For anyone who feels like they need someone to talk to, please see the following resources and know that you are not alone:

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line (United States): 741741, text “HELLO”

Other resources:

To Write Love On Her Arms

National Alliance on Mental Illness

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ+)

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)

If none of these resources work, and you still find yourself in need of assistance, please call 911 or visit your local emergency room.

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Filed under Mental Health, Pop Culture

It Takes a Village

This past weekend, I moved from my first “adult” apartment of two years into a new one. It’s a bit closer to my work, and it’s a fresh start. This week has been a lot of unpacking, donating, rearranging things to fit into a slightly smaller space, breaking down boxes, all while battling a stuffy nose.

There was a moment during the moving process when I sat in a half-circle with my friends, all of us with beers cracked open in our hands, when I realized these are my people–this is my village.

It takes a village to do anything well. “Well” is my operative definition. I will be the first to tell you, that we can do a lot of things on our own. We can shop by ourselves, and eat by ourselves (which is healthy independence). We can move homes by ourselves and refuse to ask for help. We can keep our own secrets, and we can keep our pain to ourselves (not so healthy). Ultimately, we, as humans, can survive on our own–but we are not living well.

But there is such a beautiful grace in vulnerability and asking for help.  I will also be the first to admit that asking for a helping hand is really hard. It reminds me of my shortcomings, and makes me realize that while I am a good survivor, I am still learning the art of living well. And the importance of creating a village is a topic I will probably write about later, but for now, the focus of this is recognizing your village.

This past weekend I had to move, and I had to ask for help. I had to trust that my friends would come to my aid when I asked–and they did. They came (one of them even showed up after three margaritas), and they drove (the one who drank didn’t drive), and they loaded and unloaded. They opened my bottle of beer, and sat and laughed with me and encouraged me when I felt the anxiety of relocating.

And that’s when I realized–when I took a moment to look up from survival mode to life-savoring mode–I had my village. My village of imperfect people, doing wonderful things.


I say imperfect because, ultimately, that’s what people are: imperfect. I can tell you some of the moments these people have hurt my feelings with their words, and in the same breath, I can tell you the moments their words made me feel like I could be irrevocably brave–and that’s what it is to have your village. Your village is the ones who are with you, growing you to be a better person and loving you each step of the way, even when it’s difficult.

Your village will be imperfect. They will be people full of faults, just like you. And they will be the people who will love you and help you when you give them a chance by giving yourself a chance to be vulnerable and asking for help.

It takes a village to do anything well. When you’re stressed, your village will hold you up, and when they’re stressed, maybe they’ll know they can turn to you, too.

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Filed under Mental Health, Relational, Uncategorized

Three Words

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Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

This time of year has always been the most important time of year to me, even more so than New Year’s. The end of December/beginning of January never really felt like much of a transitional time. Growing up, it was a time to attend a ton of church services, having to say no to friend functions (for the church services), and family gatherings (that often followed stomach-clenching guilt–but that’s another story for another day). As an an adult, New Year’s is more of a time to see friends, drink something bubbly, and watch the ball drop more out of habit than excitement.

Instead, this odd window of time between Summer and Fall feels the most renewing, as if anything between now and next summer can happen.

Perhaps this feeling comes from the back-to-school rush, as I’ve always been excited by fresh school supplies and the new school year, because to me it mean relationships, learning, and new memories. Or maybe I started to love it when I left California for the first time and my mentor, over coffee on a hot San Diego day told me “you can go to Washington and get a fresh start and be whoever you want to be.”

Either way, the end of August, the window between Summer and Fall is as good as holy ground.

Three years ago, two very important people introduced me to the author Shauna Niequist who I highly admire and respect. Niequist, in a blog, penned the idea of four words that she hopes to focus on for her New Year (find that blog here). The idea would be that these words would guide her throughout her year.

As for me, my new year always starts in August. And, instead of four words, I have three:
Dare. Savor. Honest. 

1. Dare
This will be the first time in my academic career in which I will no longer be a student, as I finished up my Master’s Degree this July. Earning that degree was probably the hardest thing I have ever worked on or achieved. In doing so, I had to say “no” a lot. No to friends wanting to go out because I had to study. No to being with family for the holidays because of my tight school schedule that interfered with the days I could work. No to taking care of myself because my anxiety dictated that school mattered more than my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Also, my anxious tendencies often result in me saying no to the things I’d love to try.

So, for this year, my word is dare. Dare to say yes. Say yes to being a twenty-something with a new full-time job, but reconnecting with old friends. Dare to take the chance on a new job (which ironically keeps me on the August-June school calendar as I will be a school-based therapist!) and leave comfort behind. Dare to be honest about who I am and who I am not and sharing my heart. Dare to do the things I only dreamed about. Dare.

2. Savor.

The past two years of my life have been strictly scheduled because of Grad School. With that schedule, I operated in a fast-paced motion of “go, go, go”, constantly working on a new project, paper, study guide, or getting chapters read for the next class…on top of working full-time (year one of grad school), or work and internship (year two). Eating was done while catching up on paperwork, and meal prepping was done while reading a textbook, and unfortunately, life flew by.

So this year, I’m focusing on savoring the present moments. Of enjoying every last minute of this life I get to live by being around people I love and doing the things I love. And for the difficult times that I know will happen, because life isn’t gumdrops and rainbows, I still hope to slow down and allow myself to be present in the moment, wholly committed to living the life I have been given, because, as Gretchen Rubin one pointed out: the days are long, and the years are short. Too true, Gretchen, too true.

3. Honest.

I want to be honest with myself and my feelings. I hope to be courageous in facing my limitations and acknowledging the things I am gifted in. I hope to show the people I love that I love them with honest action instead of keeping the words rolling around in my heart. I want to be honest about my responsibilities as well as hold people accountable to their own responsibilities. This year, I hope for more honesty, both my own and the people around me.

This will be a very big year for me, and I hope to see the words dare, savor, and honest, play key themes in my story.

What words do you hope will inspire your year?

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Filed under Christian Life, Memoir, Personal, Post Grad, Relational

Grief and Loss and Peace

I write this with vivid images in my head.

With images of the time I was in high school sitting in front of a loud boy with a purple shirt as he and his friends made nipple jokes because this boy likes to wear particularly tight shirts that always seemed to show off his nipples.

With images of the first time I left the United States for just south of the border–to seeing prostitutes standing along the wall of a shabby building, dressed like school girls, calling out to men to make money for the night.

Again to “nipple boy”. Now we’re at our first semester at community college. He’s still wearing tight nipple-showing shirts, and I’m still wearing black, and he’s walking around campus with me on a warm afternoon. We talk a little, but there’s also a good silence. And I think that this boy, this popular, football team and wrestling team boy spent free time with me, a girl who wore heavy black eyeliner and listened to screamo, teaching me that people are more than their stereotypes.

Another image to when I first left North America and went to Europe. When the man next to me rolled up the window blind in the plane and I caught a glimpse of the clouds–and suddenly my large world became so much smaller in the best possible ways.

And these images collide into today. Today, “nipple boy”, Frank, is no longer with us. Energetic, endless prankster, open-soul Frank passed away earlier this week. My beloved large and small world, full of cultures and lands I yearn to experience, hurts as humans decide hatred is bigger than love. I am grieving. I am grieving, I am grieving, I am grieving.

One day you’re 16 with a whole world to see and experience, and the next day you’re 24, you’ve seen things, you’ve loved things, and my God, you’ve lost things.

This post is about that grief and loss. That aching hollowness in your lungs and stomach and the undercurrents of anger that make you want to shout to God that none of this is fair.

And this post is a beg to consider love. Love things fiercely and passionately. Frank and I were never “true” friends. Perhaps we made each other feel a little more seen and a little less lonely for brief periods of time. And the foreign lands I got to travel will always be such fond memories. Love the people in your life very, very hard–the ones who you’ve known for years and the ones who are your “just for right now” people. Love the places you come from and will go to. Forgive others who wrong you–but if you can’t forgive, instead, empower yourself to be better than those who wronged you and live life–because honestly, the ones who hurt you aren’t think about you as much as you think of them.

I hope that you who are grieving with losses find peace. My heart is for you. I hope that you who are filled with anger  also find peace. My heart is for you, too. It is my prayer that you live passionately and love wholly.

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Filed under Culture, Personal, Relational, Uncategorized

Audaciously Adequate

It is no big secret that I love to read–even this might be an understatement. Specifically, one of my favorite genres to read is young adult (YA) fiction. Some of my favorites include, Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments series, The Infernal Devices series, Far From You, and countless others (shameless plug for YA fiction!!).

As I’m in my twenties, I sometimes get embarrassed that I read YA fiction. I tell myself I still read those teen novels because one day I hope to write them (which is true). I still read YA fiction because I work with kids and teens and I want to stay relevant on some front (which is also true). But plain and simply, I love YA fiction. Specifically, I love what YA fiction stands for.

YA fiction is ground breaking, and it pushes limits. Authors take hard issues such as addictions, sexuality, depression, family conflict, political stands, and personal insecurities, and weave a coming of age story that is both relevant and creative. YA authors push the envelope in ways that give readers hope, or allow readers the change to grow in empathy and simply feel.

As far back as I can remember, my favorite YA books have featured protagonists learning to overcome conflict and find they’ve always had the strength within to overcome all adversary through the power of self-belief and a kick-ass sidekick or two, not to mention some sort of romance. Most importantly, I love when characters realize they are worthy and strong and are audacious enough to act upon it.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve had this idea floating around in my mind that stems from a quote I heard earlier this year. The idea is: for some, our deepest fear is that we are stronger than we hope to dare.

It is also not a secret that I struggle so hard with vulnerability, and I think it stems from this place of believe that I am far too inadequate. I paralyze myself with the fear that I am severely lacking and attempt to make up for it by putting up walls on top of walls on top of walls to shield myself in order to stave off any type of external failure as well as create a self that constantly strives for personal perfection to fight my own fears. I know I’m not the only one to believe this (at least, I hope not!).

In YA books, the main character always goes through some sort of trial and tribulation and somehow, must save the day. Prior to the trial, the character often expresses the insecurity of being dull or terribly unworthy. Perhaps they become isolated. Or they must train harder than they have ever trained, or they meet wise secondary characters that speak truth and humor into their lives. Somewhere along the line, the main character must face their trial, either alone or with a band of merry helpers. As much as I love the climax of the story–it is the build up that stands out. Somewhere along the line, through pitfalls and despair, characters realize that somewhere, even through the ordinariness, they were perfectly aqeudate. The fire-breathing dragon or militant dystopian government could only be overcome by their skill, and their skill alone. They were more powerful than they dared to dream.


Clary Fray from “The Mortal Instruments” by Cassandra Clare

While I don’t hope to fight dragons or overthrow governments anytime soon, I do hope to get through grad school. I do hope to do an excellent job as a counseling intern. I hope to shakedown my own walls that I have spent years consciously and unconsciously reinforcing, and I hope to be the best human I can be in all of my relationships. Most days, even now as I type this, all of these hopes are tinted by the fear that I will never be good enough to overcome and accomplish these goals. But still, a smaller, whisper-faint thought in me reminds me that I just might be more powerful than I realize. Perhaps in order to overcome my personal trials, I have already been abundantly equipped with the tools necessary to slay my own dragons and dystopian governments.

And that’s what YA fiction does–it paints a good story (depending on the author), and it reminds its readers that they are stronger and more worthy than they will ever know. YA books reminds readers that while they may be ordinary by some standards, they are perfectly extraordinary for their particular story, and that they are the necessary component to the best story imaginable–they are perfectly adequate. 

Will I ever write a YA book and have it published? I don’t know, I hope so! I also hope that the kids and teens I work with will always think me relevant enough to create a good working relationship with. Until then, and even beyond these moments, I will continue to read YA fiction. I will read it because of the sheer audacity of a few talented writers. I will read it because I love a good story. And I will read it to remind myself that I am adequate, if only I allow myself to be audacious enough to believe it. And because I’m trying to fill the Harry Potter-shaped void in my heart.

Tell me, what’s your favorite YA story?


Filed under Books, Personal

Mess Is Mine


There have been two important times in my life when I was invited “to the table”.

The first time was when I was still in San Diego, and the college group I attended launched the idea of “The Open Table”. It was a place for college kids to meet and hang out with other college kids who loved Jesus (and eat food). Even if a person didn’t love Jesus and was simply searching for something to believe in or something to be a part of, the heart of the Open Table was this: that’s okay, come as you are. We want you here.

The second time I was invited to the table was during my year as a resident assistant during my undergraduate years. A few days before the housing residents arrived, I sat under the shade of a large tree in the Pacific Northwest amongst other resident assistants. It was there that our Resident Director read to us from a book that would quickly become among my favorite books. She quoted from Shauna Niequist’s book Bread & Wine (Shameless plug: If you haven’t read this book, please do!). 

“We don’t come to the table to fight or defend…We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with need, with fragility, with an admission of our humility. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field that many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.
Come to the table.”

Reflecting on these two significant moments, especially after Bread & Wine, I realized that living a life of inviting people to the table, and being part of a table, is exactly how I want to live my life–I never had the words to convey such emotions and desires until recently.

In recent days, I’m seeing a great divide in the world around me in big and small ways. Christians are becoming divided over issues to the point of slandering a certain population. Countries are at war amongst each other because differences are seemingly too great to overcome. Religions, and lack thereof, contend each other for who is right and who is wrong. Friends and family refuse to speak to each other over hurts. The list goes on. Many people seem to be in this mindset of “fend for yourself”. Overall, the act of living is extremely messy and when things get rough, we have the tendency of shutting down to everything around us, not being the open tables we need to be.

I will admit that at times I have not been the table I needed to be. There have been times when I’ve been so incredibly messy that I believed I had nothing but crumbs to offer to the people around me. Some days, that is still very true, but more often than not, it’s an excuse to keep from opening my heart to the needs around me as well as recognizing my own needs.

I’ve always been excited for Autumn, as this season has always represented new beginnings to me. As this Autumn slowly rolls around, I will be starting internship in a couple weeks. My second year (and last year) of grad school will consume my life, and I am entering this season with a heart that feels like such a mess. I am tired–working and studying within the helping profession leaves me drained in ways I never thought possible. I am navigating the waters with a friend I’ve been in a long-standing  stubborn squabble with. I’m learning to push through my natural inclination to shut down after a strange situation with an even stranger boy that abruptly ended. Finally, I am figuring out how to let the “real me” come through when all I feel is a deliberating sense of anxiety and low moods around the people I come in contact with–friends, family, and new people alike. And in spite all of my silly mess, I want to offer grace.

In spite of it all, I know I have a table to offer. At my table, I will not hide my mess and offer others the sacred safety and room to do the same. Regardless of the divides I see in the world in me, I want offer grace to allow people to come as they are and be nourished. I want to be a place where pretending doesn’t have to happen, trust can be built, and a place where both the people I love and the people I encounter can come to receive nourishment without judgement.

I strongly believe that the act of living involves messiness, and among the most wonderful things about living is that we never have to carry our messes on our own. Coming to the table should mean coming to a place of grace in which we carry each others burdens and receive nourishment for weary hearts regardless of backgrounds.

Come to the table.

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Filed under Relational

What I Learned Working in Mental Health

“That’s what associates do,” she said with a smile, her blue eyes crinkling at the corners, making her look carefree, “they form memories and become friends.”

I smiled to myself as my heart warmed and all feelings of my earlier apprehension faded as I watched this interaction between two mental health patients.

Yes, mental health patients.

For a little over a year, I’ve spent my time working at a mental health and behavioral hospital. Primarily, I work with adolescents, but in recent months, I’ve had the opportunity (often times, much to my dismay), of being moved around to several different units throughout the hospital—everything ranging from patients detoxing from drugs and alcohol to severely psychotic adults. As expected when working in the helping profession, I have had very high highs and very low lows throughout my job. In a few short weeks, due to a busier schedule which will involve interning as a therapist and full-time grad-school, I will be transitioning from working full-time to per diem—meaning I will pick up work shifts whenever I can.

It is a bittersweet feeling to know I will be spending less time at the hospital where I learned so much in such a short amount of time, but I know this change will be good for me. As I reflect on my time, I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned both from my co-workers and my patients as a mental health care provider.

mental health

What I learned from my patients:

  • People will be brutally honest. If I have learned to love anything, I have learned to love honesty. Working with mental health patients (specifically acutely psychotic adults), some days a patient will tell you that you look like a cow, and other days a patient will tell you your eyebrows are gorgeous. When working in mental health, you simultaneously learn to grow thick skin and to expect the unexpected.
  • Self care, self care, self care. If there is anything I have learned this past year while both studying to be a therapist and working in the mental health field is the importance of taking care of yourself while taking care of others. When you give most of your time to making sure that others are safe and well, it takes a lot of energy from you emotionally, physically and spiritually. If you expect to do a good job while taking care of others, always remember to take care of yourself. 
  • Some people don’t want to be saved. One of the hardest lessons I learned was this very lesson, and I am still learning it. I have a hero complex, I have come to realize, and I want to save everyone. Sometimes there have been patients have have reminded me of certain brown-eyed heroin addicts that I have loved with my whole heart, of past best friends that have attempted suicide, and of a very critical father I lost at a young age. Other times there are patients that have simply gripped my very soul and it became my personal mission to save them. However, you can’t help those that aren’t ready for help. Putting in more effort than your patient/client only exhausts you in the end. Instead, I have learned to remind my patients I am for them, but I will not do the work for them.
  • Boundaries. Directly related to the above bullet point, I’ve learned the importance of remaining empathetic while distancing yourself.
  • Humility. I have a degree in Psychology and I am in graduate school to be a therapist. Even so, there have been times at in which a patient divulges information and I have no idea how best to help that person. And when I expressed my loss for words, some patients have simply thanked me for listening and caring.

What I learned from my co-workers:

  • A job is just a job for some. During one of my lunch breaks, someone from upper management sat and chatted with me. She has a job in finances within the hospital. I asked her what interested her in the mental health field, and she told me that she does not have an interest in mental health, only her position. I guess, no matter where you are, for someone people, a job is just a job and nothing more.
  • Teamwork. I have learned what it is to be part of a team that works together cohesively and there is always support. Sometimes support looks like staff jumping in front of another staff member when a patient becomes violent. Sometimes it looks like letting another staff member cry on a particularly difficult day and letting them know you’re on their team. Sometimes a team looks like laughing together until you cry because you’ve been through so much and the only thing keeping you together are the people you work with.
  • Courage. Quite simply, I have learned courage. I have learned to have the courage to stand up for what I believe in, and the courage to try something new, knowing I may fail…or succeed.

Overall, I have learned the bittersweet beauty of humans as well as the ugliness of humans (the latter from other coworkers more often than patients…). I have learned both humility and strength, and I am truly grateful for this bittersweet experience.


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Filed under Mental Health, Relational

On Trust & Scars

After being away from the ocean for nearly half a year, I dipped my toes in the cool blue Atlantic ocean, and I was centered. Although it wasn’t the Pacific ocean that I grew up with, being among the waves was inexplicably cathartic. Around me, waves jaggedly broke across brown sand, and the sounds of laughter and voices calling from the group I was with filled my ears on a hot, Dominican day.

Carefully, I stepped over thousands of tiny rocks, going deeper into the Atlantic, pausing to hop over a wave as it crashed into me. Quickly though, I stopped wading into the water because of one ridiculous reason alone: I can’t swim. You’d think between growing up in Southern California and my insatiable love of the water, a girl like me would be part mermaid, but nope. I don’t know what happened there. It’s quite tragic.

So I stopped in the worst place possible–the place where the waves grow before they crash. Even so, every thing within me longed to go out further where my friends were–to the space beyond the waves, a place I’ve never ventured out to due to my inability to swim.

At one point, two friends swam back and offered their hands. First, they offered their hands reminding me that I was stupidly standing in a danger zone (but not dangerous for individuals who can swim), and secondly, they offered me their hands to take me to the space beyond the waves–to uncharted territory.

To these two friends, I don’t think they quite realized the gravity of their actions. To them, perhaps it was pity for a friend who couldn’t swim. But for me, it was a trust fall.

I don’t trust people very easily. More often than not, I don’t trust individuals–even those that have been in my life for years. It’s an issue I’ll be working on with my therapist, I’m sure, but for now, it is what it is. And in that moment, when those two friends came back from me, it was a do or die moment.

Standing in the middle of the Atlantic, beneath the Dominican sun, with two hands offered to me to take, what looked like a few passing seconds was agonizingly long for me internally. In that moment, my heart pounded as I hesitated, watching them carefully. My heart pounded as my mind raged, telling me it wasn’t a good idea to trust these people. My mind screamed that they would let me go, that if something bad happened, they wouldn’t help me. My mind screamed that it’s safer to go back to the shore than let these two people whom I haven’t known for a long time take me to where I want to go. But my heart whispered otherwise.

My heart whispered, “do or die. It’s now or never.” My heart grew bolder and said, “you’re going to have to trust some time. Trust them. If you want to change, start here.” And so I did, tentatively placing my hands–my life— in their hands. And I didn’t get very far. I might have ventured out a few more feet, but fear won over and I let go, deciding I didn’t need to die in the Dominican Republic. Even so, what matters to me are the few more feet I went deeper, and these friends didn’t let go.

And I think, that’s what trust is. Trust is, not knowing what will happen, but taking the outstretched hands that want you, trusting that they will take care of you as you would do for them.

Somehow, the waves that were breaking at chest height became bigger, and eventually too big for me to handle. Before I could make it safely to shore, there was a wave that was as tall as I was, if not taller, and it took my under. Realizing what was happening, I swore and held my breath hoping for the best. The force of the wave knocked me back to the shore, but I was lost in a swirl of blue saltwater, unable to regain my footing. As I was tossed back to shore, my legs and feet roughly kissed the thousands of small sharp rocks. Ouch. As quick pain pricked my legs, I inhaled a large gulp of water, still couldn’t gain my footing, and my legs scraped again.

(Excuse the bloated feet. My feet decided they needed to be bloated after traveling -__-)

Eventually I was able to get up and make it safely back to shore, away from the tiny rocks of death that also managed to attack other people who were taken by the wave.

Above is a picture of my scraped up legs and bloated traveling feet. Since then, my scabs are starting to fall off and I can see my ankles again, but I think I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience. 1. I need to learn how to swim and be a mermaid. 2. Trusting people may result in scars, but those scars will sometimes be worth it. 

Perhaps, if it wasn’t for the two friends that came back for me, I might not have put my legs through the trauma. As terrifying as it all was for me in those few minutes, the terror, today, gives way to monumental forward action.

I think I’ll be grateful for a very long time to the two who came back for me. To them, it might have been a small action, but for someone like me, in that moment, it was everything. Today, it gives me the courage to continuously say “now or never, do or die”.

My inability to trust others is incredibly painful, as I know that it not only hurts me, but others around me as well. The decision to put my hand in another’s, allowing them to walk beside me in spite of fearful uncertainties, is among the lightest feelings in the world. Sometimes trusting people will result in scars and pain, and you may cry from it, but it shouldn’t harden your heart. In fact, it should only make you wiser about whose hand you take, and the pain shouldn’t deter you forever.

As for me, I have a long way to go, but this is the first step. The next time I’m in the ocean, I’m likely to go into the water again–and hopefully I’ll be able to float beyond the waves. And the next time someone offers me their hand, hopefully I’ll take it in spite of the uncertainties ahead, as there are far better things ahead than the ones that hold me back.

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Filed under Personal, Relational

Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic

Two and a half hours from Santiago, Dominican Republic lies a dusty, enchanting town known as Monte Cristi. Here, there is a population of 3,000 people who live in sweltering heat. Here, the roads are mostly gravel with broken slabs of road, and the people will fit a family of four on a moped, and it’s completely normal. Here, in Monte Cristi–or “mountain of Christ” as Columbus called it, due to the fact that the town looked similar to the one Christ was crucified on–I spent one week teaching English to children through an organization known as Outreach360.

Outreach360 is an organization located in two countries: the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The goal of Outreach360 is to teach English to individuals, mostly children, in underdeveloped areas–and I spent my time in the Dominican.

From the moment my group (5 other ladies from my cohort) arrived at the Manolo Tavarez Center which would be “home” for a week, we were immersed in the sweltering hot culture that is Monte Cristi. Monday through Thursday we taught at one of the schools Outreach360 works with, and during the evening we participated in many different activities, including visiting Monte Cristi’s salt flats, learning the merengue and bachata. Every night we were sung to sleep by the sounds of endless roosters, mopeds speeding down a dusty road, and music blasting from vans with ridiculous sound systems. Showers were cold and asked to be kept as short as possible, and we were asked to be in dress code at all times except for when we were asleep. On Friday, instead of going to school to teach, we (during my stay, there was a high school group from Cape Cod as well as an individual from Boston) went to Dajabon, a Dominican/Haitian market place where prejudices can be put aside long enough for people to make a living, and El Morro, Monte Cristi’s loveliest beach.

We did so much more in one small week that I am at a loss for words to describe it all. I went into this trip with an arrogant mindset–I have worked with Spanish speaking children and I am used to hot weather. Even so, nothing I have ever done in my entire life would have prepared me for the Dominican Republic. I am thankful for my experience here, and thankful for the school project that made me immerse myself in a culture I might have never experienced otherwise.

A paragraph doesn’t quite cover all that I’ve done and all that I’ve seen in Monte Cristi, nor will an entire blog post. As much as I want to, I don’t think I can articulate the beauty of all that I am honored to have been immersed in. Instead, what I can do for you is offer you some highlights from the DR in the form of words and pictures.

A far away view of Monte Cristi nestled against the Atlantic. 

A pier overlooking the Atlantic ocean at sunrise. It has been on my bucket list for quite some time to see the sun rise on the east. 

The streets of Monte Cristi looked like this. It really puts life into perspective. Be blessed by how much you have. 

What made the DR so special weren’t the breathtaking views and the way a cool breeze lifted your hair during merciless heat, even if those moments were beautiful. No, what makes the Dominican so beautiful and special are its people. Here in Monte Cristi, a quiet, off-the-beaten path, and what seems like a forgotten town, live 3000 individuals. These 3000 individuals live in what can be considered a “developing country”. They have very little, and of the little they have, the quality can often be questionable. Yet, I have never seen a child smile so big or a person so warm-hearted and inviting in spite of what many would consider “poverty”. I have never felt so much love and authenticity in any city I have ever had the privilege of visiting. 

At El Morro beach. (I am convinced there is not a good picture of me during this week…and that’s okay.)

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Filed under College Years, Culture, Post Grad, Travel