More Than Ships Passing In the Night

Lean into the pain: the fear-tension-pain cycle

I didn’t want to be in the hurting place again — that in-between place of sadness and confusion, and painful healing, and trying to find my way again. It made me angry to find myself there. To be left there — again — against my will, powerless.

I am angry still. Angry at what feels like injustice. What feels like betrayal. I’m angry to be hurting.

“God of mercy, sweet love of mine, I have surrendered to your design” — and yet I don’t understand why this is happening.  And because of that, the only words that speak comfort to me right now are these words that tell me to lean into the pain rather than fight it. These words that do not minimize or dismiss or condemn the pain.

Taken from Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist:

The Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle

“Because we are afraid, we naturally hold back and tense up, and then there is more pain, so we experience even more fear, and on it goes, around and around, building with intensity on every turn. To interrupt the cycle, we need to surrender to what is happening, right now. We must lean into the pain instead of resisting it. […] It seems counterintuitive; we should run from pain, right? […] Believe this: I have learned to lean into some pain — to let the pain be there, part of me, without fear, without judgment, without refusal, because this is all part of the struggle of birth and life.

And the pain will, somehow, eventually, give way to blessed release and relief and, hopefully, joy.

I’ll avoid the prescriptives and how-tos for both our sakes. Instead, if you are struggling to break that cycle of fear-tension-pain, I’ll tell you a bit more about the God I love so wild but remember, the subtext for all of it is this truth: lean into it.

Lean into the pain.

Stay there in the questions, in the doubts, in the wonderings and loneliness, the tension of living in the Now and the Not Yet of the Kingdom of God, your wounds and hurts and aches, until you are satisfied that Abba is there too. You will not find your answers by ignoring the cry of your heart or by living a life of intellectual and spiritual dishonesty. Your fear will try to hold you back, your tension will increase, the pain will become intense, and it will be tempting to keep clinging tight to the old life; the cycle is true. So be gentle with yourself. […] Talk to people you trust. Pray. Lean into the pain. Stay there. And the release will come.

[…] Hurry wounds a questioning soul.”

___

Bessey, Sarah. Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women. New York: Howard Books, 2013. 51-52.

80/20 Culture Shock

When I took Randy Fujishin’s Improving Relationships Through Communication course as part of my Communication Studies certificate in Fall 2007, it expanded my understanding of communication and gripped my interest with a preoccupation that has continued to this day.

People ask me what led me to pursue a master’s in counseling psychology. It’s a challenging question to answer, because there are so many reasons. But I think the interest was first ignited in that elective communications class in 2007. The intersection of communication and relationships continues to fascinate me, challenge me, perplex me, and frustrate me.

The other day, a friend made a very insightful observation about the “culture shock” of communication in relationships. Just like the culture shock we experience when visiting another country for the first time, there is a similar disorientation (and orientation) that happens in those first months of getting to know someone new. We are so used to our patterns, our ways of thinking and communicating, our views on the world, that we experience a shock to the system when we discover that another person is, in fact, a different person. It’s like discovering that both 2+2 and 1+3 equal 4. The end result is the same, but the process of getting there is different. Or even discovering that 2+2=4 and 3+4=7. Two different and equally correct end results.

Successful, healthy, growing relationships are predicated on a willingness to experience that culture shock and walk through it. What makes sense to you may not make sense to me because it’s different from how I’ve always thought about it. But as I learn to understand why it makes sense to you, then I can appreciate a new way of thinking about it.

In my experience, it is incredibly sad when one or both parties in a relationship are not willing to embrace the “culture shock” of learning how to relate to and communicate with the other person. It is a kind of rejection that chooses ignorance over insight and willingly pushes others away rather than drawing closer in an effort to understand.

The initial culture shock wears off, if you give it time coupled with a patient heart and an open mind. But to truly become a “native” of someone else’s culture takes long-term effort and a willingness to be surprised later on down the road as unexpected new information is gained. Relationships have the potential to be life-long learning processes – if you are just willing to sit with the process, even when the unknowns are uncomfortable or even scary, and embrace the changes as they come:

“One certainty I can guarantee you about any relationship is this — relationships change. No healthy relationship remains the same forever because people change. We get older, more experienced. We learn new things about ourselves and life in general. Our comfort zones expand to encompass new territory, and things that used to frighten or intimidate us no longer pose the same threat. Because we have changed, the morning of a relationship is much different from the afternoon of the relationship. It changes still in the twilight of life, because people change. Whether it is changing jobs, changing diapers, or changing opinions, each of us will continue to rethink, readjust, and reshape who we are.

Flexibility will make your journey through relationships more enjoyable and successful. Your willingness and ability to bend and adjust are essential in providing your relationship with the room to grow and develop as it should. Without flexibility, you will suffocate and strangle the bond that holds you and your loved one together.” (Fujishin, 2003, pp 6-7, emphasis added)

One of my favorite take-aways from that Improving Relationships class was the 80/20 rule. For better or for worse, I’ve used this rule to give friends perspective about their relationships and to maintain my own perspective. In fact, I’m such a fan of it, that I started to wonder if I’d just made it up, or reinterpreted it to mean what I wanted it to mean, and there wasn’t actually any basis to it. So, when I was doing my reading for class today, and I got to a paragraph that talked about the 95/5 rule, which is basically identical to the 80/20 rule, only even more optimistic, I felt like this kernel of knowledge that I’ve been carrying around for the past 8 years, dispensing to whoever will listen, was finally validated.

Here is Professor Fujishin’s definition of the 80/20 rule:

“Although no relationship is perfect, I believe that 80 percent of a healthy relationship is working at any given time and only 20 percent of the relationship is not. I call this my 80/20 rule. The trouble is that we tend to focus our attention on the 20 percent that is not working and ignore all the wonderful aspects of a relationship that are working. We sabotage the relationship by choosing to focus on the negative. A healthier choice is to concentrate more of our attention on the 80 percent.” (Fujishin, 2003, p. 5)

Here is my textbook’s version:

“Couples with relationship difficulties can be helped if they focus more on the areas where things are going well — what remains good about the relationship. Many couples focus on the 5% where they disagree and fail to note the 95% where they have been successful or enjoyed each other. Some couples respond well when asked to focus on the reason they got together in the first place. These positive strengths can help them deal with difficult issues.” (Ivey, 2014, p. 174)

This has become so ingrained into how I view relationships that when people toss around justifications like “incompatibilities vs. compatibilities” or that “checklist” they have to determine the right person or “different ways of communicating,” I kind of feel like this.

And then I want to ask them, “What is the percentage of incompatibilities to compatibilities?” and “What if they only fulfill 80 out of the 100 requirements on your checklist?” and “Since when did you expect everyone to communicate the same way you do?”

And then I start spouting Tolstoy: “‘If one loves, one loves the whole person as he or she is, and not as one might wish them to be'” (Tolstoy, 1998, p. 610), and people give me funny looks. Whatever. That quote was definitional for me the first time I read it, and it has continued to be the lens through which I seek to view my relationships.

When I was reviewing Randy Fujishin’s book for the 80/20 rule, I came across another section that goes hand-in-hand with the 80/20 rule. It speaks to this same principle of recognizing that no one is communicating perfectly all the time, and then reorienting your focus to the positive rather than the negative.

Forget Yourself

“Most people think in terms of how communication affects them personally. They ask, ‘Is that right or wrong (from my point of view)?’ ‘How does that affect me?’ ‘What will others think of me?’ ‘What do I think?’ ‘What do I feel?’ and ‘What should I say or do?’ The focus of these questions is on them. Is this necessarily bad? No. We need to evaluate the communication of others and explore our responses to the words and behaviors of others. But it is unhealthy to overemphasize a self-centered stance to all  communication, especially when you remember that we are all imperfect human beings with a limited time to live and love. When we always ask self-centered questions, we tend to see more negative than positive, more wrong than right. This affects how we see and feel about ourselves. Instead, we need to disengage from ourselves and focus more on others, shift the spotlight from ourselves to others. When we replace our self-centeredness with other-centeredness, our inner questions change correspondingly. Instead of asking how everything affects us, we ask questions such as: ‘How does that affect him?’ ‘How does this make her feel?’ ‘What does he think?’ ‘What does this say about her?’ ‘How does he see this situation?’ and ‘Who is this person?’ By shifting our focus of attention to others, we tend to forget about ourselves. In this forgetting is freedom from our usual preoccupation with ourselves. James MacNaughton said, ‘Maturity begins to grow when you sense your concern for others outweighs your concern for yourself.'” (Fujishin, 2003, p. 18, emphasis added)

And yet the paradoxical question remains: why do I still struggle so much to communicate well in relationships?

Because it is a process. Because it is culture shock, over and over. Because I am self-absorbed. Because I am learning, and will always be learning. And until I find someone who is willing to sit in the unfamiliar spaces with me and learn alongside me and be patient with the process — until I find that person who will struggle with me, I will continue to find myself in situations of struggling against. Against unrealistic expectations. Against ideals of perfection. Against unwillingness to understand or be understood.

After all, relationships are like one continuous lesson in communication. And the key to success starts with a willingness to learn.

_____________________

References

Fujishin, R. (2003). Gifts from the Heart: 10 Ways to Build More Loving Relationships (2nd ed., pp. 6-7). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Ivey, A., Ivey, M., & Zalaquett, C. (2014). Intentional Interviewing and Counseling: Facilitating Client Development in a Multicultural Society (8th ed., p. 174). Pacific Grove, Calif.: Brooks/Cole Pub.

Tolstoy, L. (1998). Anna Karenina (p. 610). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

“First day of school!” (recap)

In the final days leading up to my first class, I was increasingly nervous about what I had gotten myself into. Coming back to work was even harder than I had anticipated and I was struggling to get back into the routine of Not Break. The thought of trying to balance work and school again gave me rather unpleasant flashbacks to last spring, compounded by the realization that I was committing to being a student for a very long time. All kinds of doubts about my ability to handle this undertaking started cropping up, to the point where people would ask me if I was excited about starting classes, and my response would be “…….yeeeeeah…….” which is Kattiewampus for “I know I’m supposed to be excited and I’ve been talking about how awesome this program is going to be so I feel obligated to be excited about this, but I do not in fact actually feel any sense of excitement right now and the truth is I’m quite nervous about this and am pretty sure that I’m going to royally fall on my face, but I feel compelled to answer in the affirmative, because I know that’s what everyone is expecting and if I try to explain how I’m actually feeling, they’ll just dismiss it with a cheerful ‘You’ll be fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!!!’ which admittedly is what I want to hear but also kind of what I don’t want to hear at the same time because I’m very conflicted about giving up the freedom of not having additional stress and time constraints and, well, homework for the next. five. years.”

Sometimes a succinct response is easier.

SO. That was my state of mind going into Wednesday’s class.

And then I got to class and it was love at first handout.

Not even joking. I’m familiar with and have experienced the phenomenon of syllabus shock many a time throughout my collegiate days. Therefore, it is a rare and beautiful moment when going over the syllabus fills me with excitement and wonder at this amazing journey upon which I have embarked.

All I can say is that, after reading through the syllabus, my internal reaction was something along the lines of “OKAY. LET’S DO THIS.”

But wait, there’s more!

The last part of the class consisted of a role-playing session. The professor had told us earlier in the evening that there would be a role-playing session every week. My first thought was “Ugh.” Because I hate role-playing. I’ve had to do it in a number of classes before and I find it largely contrived and unhelpful. I had already mentally prepared myself for the reality that a counseling psychology program would necessarily entail a lot of in-class role-playing. And this particular class is about developing communication skills for conducting effective counseling sessions. I mean, they basically could have called the class “Role-Playing 101” instead.

But then as she described the nature of the role-playing session, my curiosity got the better of me. It was re-creating a client-counselor situation (with a student as the client and the professor as the counselor). The ‘client’ could talk about whatever they wanted. No scripts. No prompts. The class was bound by the code of ethics to maintain the confidentiality of whatever was discussed during the role-playing session.

And the realization hit me: this really wasn’t role-playing. This was free therapy!

And suddenly, I really wanted to participate in the role-playing. So when we got to that section of the class and the professor asked for a volunteer, I waited a beat – because I didn’t want to be That Student – and then said, “…Sure!”

Hermione

And that was how I found myself in an actual therapy session in front of an entire class. It was weird and not weird all at once. I’ve been in therapy for almost two years now – I know the drill. And I, somewhat alarmingly, have very little reservation when it comes to talking about personal things in front of perfect strangers (a fact to which this blog testifies on an ongoing basis). My professor and I sat in front of the class, facing each other. We went through introductions, informed consent, etc., and then she asked me what I wanted to talk about. I just went with the first topic that came into my mind.

Then, in front of a class of complete strangers, I embarked on a candid no-holds-barred discussion with my professor, as if it was just the two of us in her office. I answered her questions and shared my story with complete honesty, recognizing that the only way for this role-playing demonstration to be effective for the rest of the class was by treating it with a corresponding level of value and seriousness. My professor treated it with the same approach, which in turn made it easier for me to take it seriously. We were building off of each other’s commitment to respecting the process.

Because of that mutual commitment, we progressed through several stages of therapy. We didn’t arrive at a solution to the issue, but my perspective about the issue slowly changed over the course of the session, as I gained new insight and perspective by talking through it with my professor-therapist. It was thought-provoking. At the conclusion, the professor observed that even though I had not come to a conclusion about what my next step would be, I had gained the ability to wonder about what my next step could be, and that was progress in itself.

Afterward, the professor opened up the floor for questions from the class. They asked her questions, they asked me questions. They asked a lot of questions. And their questions were real, thoughtful, and insightful. They examined the session as if they had just witnessed an actual therapy session (which they had). They were given permission to ask me questions that had occurred to them as questions they would have asked, had they been in the counselor role. It was this bizarre-yet-glorious moment where my learning environment and my personal life completely merged and I knew I had made the right decision about doing this program.

Since Wednesday, people have been asking me about how my first class went. I don’t have to force or fake my excitement now. Instead, I have to reign it in, otherwise I get sort of giddy and euphoric and start babbling incoherently. I suppose that’s a good sign.

Two Zero One Five

I started writing this beautifully self-indulgent retrospective about 2014 a few days ago. And then I was like, “I’m kind of over 2014.”

I’m not a big New Year’s resolutions person. For a while, I was into doing New Year’s “goals” because that made more sense to me. A goal is something you are always working toward. A resolution is something you break or fail at.

But since I’m constantly setting goals for myself throughout the year (not because I’m actually accomplishing them, but because I’m impatient and can’t stay focused on one thing), the practice of setting them at the beginning of the year became somewhat insignificant.

Maybe I’m being noncommittal, or maybe just realistic. But I think I’d rather just approach 2015 by reflecting on where I’m at, what I’d like to do, and what I’d like to not do this year.

Where I’m At:

Guys, I start grad school next week. NEXT WEEK. By this time next week, I will have attended my first grad school class. My text book came in the mail a couple of days ago and I am geeking out over the table of contents. I’m taking “Psychology of Interpersonal Communication.” I get butterflies just writing out that title.

That’s really the only hard and fast thing I can point to about where I’m at right now. Everything else is “in process,” and I’m quite okay with that.

What I’d Like to Do:

Um, finish “Crime and Punishment” for starters? Seriously. I’ve been stuck in the blasted epilogue since May 2013.

TRAVEL (?). I’ve got the itch to go places. Anywhere and everywhere, really. The parenthetical question mark is because I’m really not sure how feasible traveling will actually be this year, because grad school. On the other hand, I do get breaks and I have a bunch of vacation hours stored up, so… this could work out really well.

Move. I was recently reminded that I like to be active. “An object at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by another force.” In this case, that other force took me hiking, and then dancing, and it was wonderful, and I realized I haven’t felt that alive for a long time. It made me want to keep moving.

What I’d Like to Not Do:

Get sick. Since 2009, every odd year, in February, I get horribly sick. Like, bedridden with the flu for days. Historically-speaking, I’m due for my February plague this year. I’d be pretty okay with bucking this trend. No, I’m not getting a flu vaccination.

Phone it in. I’ve seen this cycle over and over in my academic life. I psych myself out over what I’m trying to do, fixate on getting good grades, go into autopilot/rote memorization mode, and mechanically ace my classes only to forget everything I learned within a month. What scares me about this grad program is that what I’m learning, while incredibly fascinating to me, is not just for “personal enrichment” (read: kicks and giggles). These classes are preparing me for my career. What I get out of them will directly impact the people that I work with later on down the road. I need to keep that big picture perspective and not lose sight of the long-term purpose. I want to invest into this learning process and extract from it as much as I can – not for the sake of getting a good grade, but so that I can internalize what I’m learning and retain it down the road.

Have a nervous or emotional breakdown. So, I don’t handle stress well. Yet, I also tend to catapult myself into stressful situations. Such as this scenario for instance: starting grad school while working full-time and still covering my former co-worker’s position until we hire a replacement (A, if you’re reading this: come back. That is all) and apartment-hunting with the hope of actually finding a place, which will then necessitate the stress of moving.

Yay!

But I’ve just decided that this time around, I’m not gonna lose it. I am so chill, so zen right now. Through a magical combination of self-talk, loose-leaf tea, and my MassageEnvy membership, all under the umbrella of a LOT of prayer, I plan to take on (or over) the world.

~

I love January. I always forget about it until it comes around again, but I really do love January. I love the way it is so crisp and cold and clear, so fresh and full of new life. I love the pale, slanted light and the sense of beginning, the feeling of a whole, blank canvas year ahead of me. I think it is absolutely glorious.

New Year’s resolutions may have an element of trite silliness or inevitable failure to them, but I like marking the new year. I like pausing and appreciating the significance of the expanse that is ahead of me. I like feeling excited and empowered to face the next adventure, to seize the day, and to make the most of what has been given me.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

Advent: we remember and we hope. We look back and we look forward.

We remember when Jesus Christ came to earth, born into humanity in order to become the perfect sacrifice for our sins – the only offering that could truly restore our relationship with God.

We watch for the second coming of Jesus Christ, whose return will mark the end of this world and the beginning of a new world of peace, joy, and freedom in the presence of God. In this new world, the suffering that we once experienced will be no more. We will be healed, restored, made perfect as we reflect the glory of God.

During Advent, we light candles. These are a symbol of remembrance and hope. For Christians, Christmas is not just about remembering what happened 2,000 odd years ago. It also points us toward the blessed hope which we await. During winter, it gets dark earlier and stays dark later. We light candles: lights in the darkness. Hope in a hopeless world. We light candles and we remember that Christ came once, as he promised, and that he has promised to come again.

Advent is about hope – a word that I find paradoxically beautiful.

I say ‘paradoxically’ because I am prone to hopelessness.

I need a light in the darkness.

I need hope.

I need my Savior.

That is why I love this verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I consider these words to be one of the most beautiful expressions of the hope that Advent promises us:

“O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

I wanted to see how “dayspring” is defined today – not in a religious context, but simply a general context. This is what I found:

Dayspring: 1 archaic :  the beginning of day :  dawn 2 :  the beginning of a new era or order of things (Merriam-Webster)

This reminded me of a few times when I drove from L.A. to the Bay Area at 4 am in the morning. The first couple of hours were pitch black. But then, the sky would start to gradually pale. And then, then. Over the mountain ridges. Glowing red and flooding, drenching everything in pure golden light. A glorious sunrise: the dayspring dispersing the darkness and filling the world with light.

I love thinking about this imagery as it relates to internal darkness: Jesus Christ as a light in my own darkness, a paling dawn that grows into a beautiful sunrise, filling every shadowed crevice within my soul, warming every frozen chamber and burning through the fog of gloom, the dark shadows that immobilize me. I love the idea of the darkness fleeing from the light.

Jesus himself speaks to the longing expressed in that verse. He answered the cry for relief from the weariness and suffering caused by the darkness:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

And he did what he said he would do. He did disperse the gloomy clouds of night and drive away death’s dark shadows. In bringing to us the grace of salvation and reconciliation with God, Christ defeated the darkness:

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Christ defeated the power of death, and yet today there is still death in the world. There is still suffering. We still look for the second coming, when the victory of Jesus Christ will be fully inaugurated, freeing us not only from the power of death, but from death itself, and suffering and darkness.

Emmanuel means “God is with us.” Understanding the meaning of that name for God underscores the significance of Advent. The refrain “Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel” could be understood as, “Rejoice! God is with us, and shall be with us, people of God.”

Right now, I’m holding a flickering candle of hope. Its light doesn’t make the darkness go away, but it holds the darkness at bay, it warns the darkness of a glorious dayspring that will come: a new order of things, a new day that will destroy the darkness with light.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Rejoice: do not lose hope. God is with us, and will be with us.

No one “suffers well”

I read an article recently about “the most overlooked characteristic of who you want to marry“. The article’s grand conclusion was:

“When choosing a mate, choose someone who suffers well and you will never be sorry.”

And I was like, “What.”

I mean, to be fair, the article made some good, valid points. But the overall message seemed slightly misguided and I’ve been stewing on it, trying to figure out why. It reminded me of this post I wrote about suffering back in the spring. As I compared the article that inspired that post with the article above, I started to isolate my issue with the above article. In short, I have two objections to this article:

1) The article’s conclusion is based on a selfish premise.

2) No one suffers well.

My argument for objection #1:

The article’s position is that you should choose your mate based on how they suffer. The main problem I see with this is, why should you be so focused on how the other person suffers? Think about the amount of pressure that brings into a relationship: “P.S. I’m evaluating our potential compatibility based on how you deal with things when your world comes crashing down completely and the pain is so bad that you’re not even sure you can get up in the morning. I’m basing my decision on whether or not I want to be with you by how you behave in incredibly difficult personal situations that have the potential to bring out THE WORST in you. No biggie.”

I, for one, would fail that evaluation 100% of the time.

The pressure to “suffer well” so as not to alienate a potential mate (and for  the record, that expression “potential mate” makes me cringe. Like, what, am I shopping for health insurance or something?) would doubtless produce all kinds of psychological and emotional repercussions, all of which, I’m sure, would be detrimental to my overall health and well-being, and none of which would actually be conducive to helping me respond well to suffering.

When a person faces suffering, that is when they need grace more than ever, because that is when they are more likely than ever NOT to handle the situation gracefully.

Instead of focusing on how they suffer, you should be focusing on how you suffer and on how you respond to their suffering.

The article lists a bunch of characteristics that you would want to see in another person if you were suffering. Again, it makes the basis of evaluation all about self: Is this person someone who will take care of me when I am going through something difficult? How can they help me? What can they contribute to the situation? What do they bring to the relationship?

Here’s my take on the situation: in order to be less self-absorbed in your relationship, think more about yourself. No, that’s not a typo. What I mean is, rather than focusing so much on what the other person is bringing to the relationship, think about what you are bringing to the relationship. Theory: if each person is being mindful of how they can support the other person during hard times, then neither of them will ever need to stop and think about how they are not being supported, because it will never be an issue!

Generally speaking.

My argument for objection #2:

The article over and over reiterates the phrase “suffer well.”

I maintain that there is no such thing as suffering well.

You can respond well to suffering. But suffering is something that happens to you. You cannot control whether or not you suffer, or how you suffer. You can only control how you respond to it. And let’s be honest, most of us don’t instinctively respond well to suffering. You have to learn how to respond well. And usually the best way to learn how to respond well is by simply wading through the difficult times. That’s all you can do.

Again, it’s about grace. Showing grace to others who are suffering. Giving yourself grace in the midst of your pain. Receiving that grace from others.

You have to be able to give yourself permission to suffer, and you have to be able to give others permission to suffer as well. Otherwise, you compound your suffering, and you compound theirs. Otherwise, you push away those whom you need and who need you, rather than drawing close for support and strength. Otherwise, there will be no healing, and there will be no growth.

But there is nothing glamorous, or elegant, or even necessarily inspiring about suffering. It is not about how you suffer. It is about how you deal with it, and how you come out on the other side.

Don’t look for a partner based on whether or not they can “suffer well.” You may not even have an opportunity until later on in life to really get a sense for how they handle suffering.

Instead, be someone who seeks to respond well to the hard times – to bring grace and understanding to a difficult situation, and cling to hope and trust in the midst of the darkness.

And then look for someone who is also seeking to do the same.

“See? I knew you were a genius!”

In my role in faculty support services, I work with some incredible people. I provide assistance to law professors whose brilliant minds work  at speeds and comprehend things on levels that are far beyond my meager grasp of knowledge.

And yet, they sometimes have this uncanny ability to make me feel extraordinarily clever for the silliest reasons.

Case in point – the other day, one of my professors approached my cubicle with something in his hand.

Professor: “Okay, everyone says you’re the genius around here.”

Me: “Ha, I don’t think that’s true.”

Professor: [shows me the object in his hand] “Can you tell me what this is?”

karina-tortoise-thick-hair-clip-278x278

Me: “It’s a hair clip.”

Professor: “Are you kidding me? That’s a hair clip? See, I thought it was like a pencil holder or something.”

Me: “Oh, yeah – I could see that! Or it could be a business card holder!”

Professor: “…It’s a hair clip? Really?”

Me: “Yep.”

Professor: “See? I knew you were a genius!”

Yes, sir, I’m a regular savant.

Plot twist! (sort of)

Grad School

“Welcome to the School of Education and Counseling Psychology! We are pleased to inform you that you have been granted admission . . .”

~

Remember when I announced that I was applying to a master’s program in music & human learning at UT Austin?

Well, I pulled a classic Kattiewampus.

See, other people are smart and like to keep major life decisions to themselves, at least until said decisions become realities. I, however, like to keep the world updated with my latest ideas, even if it means being judged for my inability to stick with one path when it comes to planning out my future.

I call this “Operation Knock On All the Doors.”

Or maybe, “Operation Kick Down the Door” (Munchkin, anyone? …Anyone?)

Back in the summer, it hit me: as an employee of an institution of higher education, I have the incredible option of pursuing a degree at said institution and having my tuition waived. So, then I had to ask myself, why am I not taking advantage of this incredible option while I’m here? And I considered how I’ve always gone back and forth between whether I should pursue music or psychology as a career. And how, in my free time, I’d rather read articles and books about psychology, and think about things related to psychology, and have discussions about psychology, and write papers about psychology. And how I feel called to help people who are hurting, whether that is through music or counseling. And how much of a positive influence my therapist has been in my life, and the conviction that if I could have that kind of positive impact in even one other person’s life, then I would be doing something worthwhile.

The fact that my therapist was incredibly supportive and told me I would be a fantastic counselor really affirmed my decision to pursue this. After all, if anyone has insight into my craziest and darkest times, it’s probably her. So, the fact that her reaction was immensely positive made a huge difference in my level of confidence moving forward with this.

And since the institution at where I work happens to offer a master’s in counseling psych (and incidentally does not offer any sort of master’s in music), it suddenly became clear to me. This is the next step. So I applied (after the application deadline – oops). Got wait-listed for the program. And then got my official acceptance letter this morning.

I’m so excited, I can hardly breathe!

Turn signal communication: use that blinker

Raise your hand if one (or more) of these scenarios resonates with you:

You’re on the freeway in rush-hour traffic. The car in the lane next to you suddenly jumps over and cuts you off. You manage not to rear-end them, but you’re still a bit shaken and annoyed: if they had just signaled that they wanted to get over, you would have been happy to let them.

That same scenario happens and, as they pull into your lane, they turn on their blinker after the fact.

You’re on the freeway in rush-hour traffic yet again. The car in the lane next to you has their blinker on, signaling that they want to be in your lane. You’re trying to be a courteous driver, so you leave a space open in front of you to let them in. They have plenty of room to get over but, for whatever reason, continue to stay in their lane. Eventually, you get frustrated because you’re holding up traffic behind you by trying to leave a space open for them, so you accelerate and close the gap.

You’re coming up to a stoplight intersection. The light is green, but the car in front of you is easing off the gas. The light turns yellow and the car continues to slow so that it can turn right, never once signaling their intention. That costs you the precious seconds you needed to accelerate through the intersection, and now you’re stuck at a red light.

You’re driving through the main street of a neighborhood. The car in front of you starts to slow down for no apparent reason. Without bothering to signal or even move to the side so that through traffic can go around them, the car eventually makes a right turn. The line of accumulated cars behind them finally starts to accelerate.

How many times have we been behind or next to a driver that seems determined not to use their blinker? Or even found ourselves in the car with a driver like that? I have seen instances first-hand where the driver wanted to get over into a lane of heavy traffic and complained that no one was letting them over, even though they had not put on their blinker to alert the cars in the neighboring lane that they were trying to get over. In these instances, it seemed almost as if the driver wanted to wait until they could be sure that there was a space for them, and then use the blinker.

Now, maybe I’m behind the times here, but I’ve always understood the blinker as a way to communicate your intentions to other drivers around you (“intentions” referring to intended actions that have not yet occurred). I’ve never considered the blinker to be an after-the-fact form of explanation. Am I crazy here?

I’ve decided that it would be an awesome research project to study the link between people’s communication habits and turn signal habits.

Maybe you can tell a lot about a person by how effectively they utilize that turn signal. Do they take the initiative in communicating? Are they clear and up front about their intentions? Do they make it clear where they are going? Are they courteous to those around them? Are they focusing on their own safety as well as the safety of those around them? Or are they just looking to get ahead as quickly as possible, without paying attention to who gets hurt in the process?

Are they pushy?

Are they totally oblivious?

Are they too busy checking their phone to see what’s right in front of them?

I seriously feel like I’ve stumbled upon something big here: predicting the success of your relationships based on the correlation between your driving patterns and communication patterns. I’m going to conduct a case study, write a book about my findings that will quickly become a best-seller, retire early, and travel the world.

Meanwhile, the next time you’re driving, think about what your driving habits might be indicating about your communication and relational awareness.

“What miracle has made you the way you are?”

On Thursday, I had the administrative assistant version of a day from hell.

Remember how I talked about the changes in the office that resulted in our office being comprised of me and our two new-hires?

On Thursday, the new-hires both had all-day HR training. Which meant that for the day, the faculty support office was . . . me.

The ironic part is that the absence of the new-hires had virtually nothing to do with the day being out of control. All of the craziness came from people and programs that I already support.

And we are talking about the kind of craziness that has me on the phone making hotel reservations while a frantic professor with no internet tries to send an e-mail from my computer, and someone else is trying to call me on the other line, while a staff person is standing on the other side of my cubicle waiting to talk to me about something or other, and another professor is e-mailing me about contacting a student who never submitted their assignment, and then the people working in the suite at the other end of the hallway keep sending me print jobs because their suite printer happened to break down on this particular day. Meanwhile, another professor is sitting in my cubicle having a sit-down chat with me about room reservations and concocting an entire complicated plan which I have to enact so that they can get the rooms they want. Another professor needs help figuring out a function in Word, a publishing rep is making the rounds and keeps stopping by my desk, a professor needs help sorting out a discrepancy with their budget statement, and every time I print something out for the suite at the other end of the hallway, I have to walk it over to them.

So then, in the middle of all of this madness (and what I’ve described above is merely a cross-section of the whole enchilada), I found a fortune cookie in my purse, and this was my fortune:

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I MEAN, REALLY. THE NERVE OF THAT FORTUNE COOKIE.

Nevertheless, the day proved to be very enlightening.

See, I had the satisfaction of making it through the entire day without losing my cool. And not just in a “I’m holding it together but barely and everyone knows I’m stressed” kind of way. I mean, I went through this day exuding cheerfulness, warmth, and sociability, whether that meant joking with my professors, commiserating with other staff members, making conversation in the break room, taking a few minutes to hear about a colleague’s recent trip abroad, catching up with my student worker, or even just welcoming every request with a smile, regardless of how difficult or inconvenient it was.

And then I had an epiphany toward the end of the day.

I realized that, underneath all of the depression and insecurity and anxiety, I’m actually a really happy, friendly, caring person who likes to be with other people, take care of other people, and do whatever I can to make everyone else’s day that much better.

I had forgotten those things about myself.

It was like I suddenly remembered who I really was, and I was proud of that person . . . I was proud of being myself.

On Friday morning, I soothed a frantic, sleep-deprived professor who was stressing out about getting an assignment back to her students that day and who was worried that I wouldn’t have time to help her because of multiple competing projects. I told her not to worry. I assured her that I would take care of it, that everyone’s projects would be completed in the time frame they had requested, and it would all be fine. And I was able to say that to her with complete sincerity, because I knew of myself that I would be able to follow through with that promise, because that’s just part of who I am.

As I was calmly assuring her that everything was going to be okay, she looked at me incredulously and said, “What miracle has made you the way you are?”

She was quoting a line from Gigi, but still. In terms of amusing compliments that I’ve received since working here, it was up there with the time one of my colleagues told me that I’m one of the nicest people they’ve ever met, and with being compared to Schrödinger’s cat.

It’s moments like these that remind and reassure me that underneath all of the hard stuff and all of the ways that I feel like I’m not doing enough or just doing everything wrong . . . God isn’t finished with me; he’s doing something with my life, and he is bringing good out of it, even when it doesn’t feel that way or when it’s not what I expected to be doing with my life. When it feels like I’m not going anywhere, I’m still going somewhere.