Category Archives: Personal

Thoughts pertaining to me.

Three Words

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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

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?

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Filed under Books, Personal

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

New Year, New Eyes.

Today, I took a good look in the mirror.

The neurotic female in me saw imperfections.

The Mexican in me saw my Asian eyes, and the Asian in me saw my Mexican skin. The grad student and full-time employee saw tired eyes and a wavering smile.

Stripping all of those thoughts away, when final, resounding thought bubbled to the surface: I am proud of who I’ve become.

Here I am, 23 years old, single, full-time grad student, and full-time employee. Undergraduate years, although I graduated barely a year ago, feels like lightyears in the past, and high school feels like a different lifetime. Growing up, I’ve always had this idea of the person I wanted to be: beautiful, successful, good, well-loved, strong, and so much more, the list constantly fluctuating with what was more important to me at the given time. There was always something, in my mind, to improve on and to work towards. But, here I am. Here I am, and I am proud of myself and who I’ve become.

By saying I am proud, I’m not saying I am complete. I am far from complete. But I am saying that, looking back, I might not have become the “Serena” younger Serenas wanted me to be. I am not wildly successful or popular or beautiful. But I am happy with what I have (more or less–don’t get me started on my salary -.-),  I am happy and honored to be well-loved by the ones that love me most, and I am okay with the way my face looks with and without make-up. More importantly, I am proud of my empathetic heart and intelligent mind. I am proud of my artistic soul, and my indomitable desire to help others, to continuously choose compassion over chaos and grace over rigidity. I am glad Jesus made me to be who I am.

There will come days this year, 2015, when I forget this. Days in which I will want to lie on the couch for hours on end and give up on everything I’ve declared in this post. But for right now, this moment, I want to embrace this new year, with these new eyes, with hopes and prayers that I don’t forget this feeling of peace in a storm.

image

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On Trust & Being Brave

costume

It is a general rule of mine to keep others at arm’s length. To erect my walls and let them down at a speed of zero miles an hour. We can sit here and analyze this all we want: my mom told me not to trust others, sour friendships and familial instances, emotional abuse, whatever. Maybe each blip of the aforementioned moments solidified my mistrust–the glue between the layers of my brick walls. Still, I am my own person, and although the ideas I have learned are firmly in place, I am my own person. My lack of trust should not come from the “trust lessons” others may or may not have have shown me.

I desired to keep this thought without analysis, but I digress, and I am a psychology major through and through. At the end, I believe my root is fear. The more I let others into me, my heart, my private thought process, my very being and crux of my soul little by little, there is fear. I’ve been pleasantly surprised in the past few years. Therefore the problem lies in me. Within me is an ugly ball of fear telling me I will drown even if I just wade in. Fear that keeps me from even learning how to swim (figuratively and literally).

And still. I find myself loving words pertaining to the idea of bravery. Brave. Courageous. Lionhearted. Dauntless. Sure. Gryffindor. Risk-taking. Change.

Both in my professional and personal life I can and do tell others to be these things, with hopes that others will be willing to take a step into freedom, believing I am these things too. Yet, the more I examine it, the more I find I am not brave. I am full of paralyzing fear that disallows me opportunities to let bravery shine.

All I want is to be brave without a second thought. To kick fear in the ass and never look back. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be afraid, it would just mean that finally…

…finally my stupid, strong walls will come crashing down once and for all. And, I will be brave.

And I will trust.

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Filed under Personal, Relational

Change vs Structure

I find in recent days I am a fan of change.

In most cases, I need structure.  For other Meyers-Briggs nerds, I am an INFJ. I was fairly moderate on all, except my “J” which was high. I need closure and structure and concrete plans. Even so, within the lines of my well-defined system I attempt to create in my day-to-day/5-year-planned life, I find myself fidgeting for something new and unexplored. I cannot remain in one place for too long. I cannot watch the same things happen over and over. I need change.

Well, since my last post, a lot of change has happened:

I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Psychology.

I went to Europe (Italy and Austria).

I moved into a new apartment with a friend.

I started a new job which I really like.

BIG CHANGES in a span of a single month!

In the next few months I will start Grad School–which will be hell. I’ll probably want to die every day as I will also be working a full-time job that takes all of my energy (if you think of me, pray for me!).

As I find myself yearning for more change and more chances to see the unknown, I will always love my structure.

As I need to stretch my wings and fly to new places, I’ll always come back to my nest and read a good book, or another addicting show.

As I start  new academic program, I will still be studying the same subject (counseling psychology).

As I live in a new place, I know I will never be in a place without some large body of water near me.

So, I raise a toast to structure and change.

A toast to another new life adventure.

A toast to the next step.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii, Italy

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Filed under College Years, Personal, Post Grad, Travel

Strawberries & Chocolate

#GPCFamily 2013-2014

#GPCFamily 2013-2014

For Lent this year I decided to give up sweets.  It was a spur of the moment decision (probably not the best way to do it), and sweets were the first thing I decided to give up.  It was stupid.  I love ice cream.  Tonight, I broke Lent.  Before I dive into why I gave it up, let me tell you what I learned about myself in these last few weeks:

  • I mindlessly eat sweets too much
  • My life without sweets isn’t that bad; it’s the knowing that I cannot have them which is the worst.
  • Lent, for me, had become a legalistic practice.

I have never participated in Lent before, and I wanted to do it just once.  However, somewhere between resisting a muffin and taking my first bite of delicious “Jesus-moment” chocolate, I realized Lent had become a legalistic practice for me–I was completing this more out of religious pride than reverence and remembrance of Jesus.

So tonight I broke Lent.  I ate wonderful, sweet, juicy strawberries (fruit didn’t count as “giving up sweets”) and a square of delightful milk chocolate. As I ate the chocolate, I looked around the room. I was surrounded by the sweet faces of my res life team–the people that have become so dear and familiar to me this past year.  These people, these friendships, these moments…all of these moments will be held dear to me for the rest of my life.

I saw their faces, enjoying the fine sweets before us, being totally present in the moment and laughing together.  In that moment, I felt Jesus.  He was in the faces of His followers that sat around me.

In that moment of breaking Lent I was reminded more of Jesus than I ever was during the weeks of Lent I participated in.  I don’t know if I’ll ever try to do Lent again, and if I do, I hope it will be for all the right reasons.  But I do know I want more moments like I had tonight.  Moments in which I will look around the room, breaking bread (or eating strawberries and chocolate) with the people I love so much, laughing, living, loving, and seeing Jesus.

chocolate

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Filed under Christian Life, Christianity, College Years, Food, Personal, Res Life, School

To Love and Be Loved

To loved and be loved is a vulnerable thing.

To loved and be loved is a vulnerable thing.

Last week, my res life team celebrated my half-birthday.  My AC LOVES to celebrate, so it’s only natural that birthdays (and half-birthdays for those that are summer babies) are appreciated.  Per tradition, we are to wear Mickey Mouse’s wizard hat and have the res life team bless us.

On the night that it was my turn to allow my team to bless me, I sat on the floor, wishing I could disappear into the strange hat, and trying to melt away into the ground, making myself as small as possible.  My arms were wrapped around my legs, protecting myself as the words of my dear, sweet team started flowing over me.  As their words came to me–calling me loving, sweet, genuine, sincere, quirky, courageous–I found myself lost in my tears.

Their words rolled over and around me, like a crashing wave, and my tears fell, blinding me as I sat paralyzed in my spot, I realized the full extent of how hard it is for me to believe I am loved.  I know that I deeply love others, but I can’t allow myself to be as deeply loved–because it hurts.  Because it requires letting people see me, and I’m afraid they might not like what they see and leave me.  Because I don’t give myself permission to love me.

I don’t give myself permission to love me.

That’s the weirdest thought. I need permission to love me? What?

I know that God loves me.  The Bible says it. He has told me.  Pastors, counselors, mentors, friends, family, etc…they’ve all told me.  You can tell a person something a million times, but when does it finally hit home and become real?

It became real the other night.  The other night when I sat across from someone I often feel the need to prove myself to.  I found myself hunching over, hiding myself, making myself smaller because I felt so unworthy–and he hadn’t said anything.  Then somewhere it clicked.  A still, small voice echoed in my mind.

The voice called out from the dark place I was heading to, “Why are you doing this? Why are you hiding? Sit up straight because you have confidence, you’re not the same girl you used to be.  You have authority, and you are just as worthy as anyone else in the room.  You don’t need someone’s permission to love yourself.  Give yourself the permission to love yourself.”

I wish I could say that in that moment, I was healed of every last insecurity in my heart, but I know I’m not. I know I still have a long way to go–and I give myself permission to say that’s okay.

I don’t know if there’s another girl (or guy) reading this, thinking the same thing–believing in your “unworthiness” and refusing to let others love you.  I wish I could give you three simple steps in loving yourself, but I can’t because I’m still figuring out this journey. I can suggest this:

Look in a mirror.

Look yourself in the eyes.

Remember the love others have for you.

Remember the love God has for you.

Finally, let yourself love yourself.

Give yourself permission to be loved.

Love yourself the way you love people–wholly, with everything, unashamedly.  Allow yourself to be seen through the eyes of God–as someone worthy.

To love and be loved is a vulnerable thing, but it is well worth the effort.

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Filed under Christian Life, College Years, Personal, Res Life