Six Months Later…

I just completed my first semester of graduate school. I’m holding down a job, a full course load, a social life (yes! I actually have one of these now!), a relationship with Jesus, self-care, and I’m still making As. In some ways, this is no big deal – millions of graduate students across the world are doing this. But when you consider where I was six months ago, this is pretty darn miraculous.

Six months ago, I was only halfway through my stay in residential treatment. I was preparing to spend my birthday in treatment – again. I had just barely hit my weight goal, which was adjusted downward because my therapist and dietitian didn’t think I could psychologically handle any more increases to my meal plan. I was in weekly physical therapy for the hand I had broken the month before because I didn’t know how to cope with emotions. 

In contrast, I’m remarkably stable these days. My therapist actually sent me home after only half of our scheduled appointment this Monday because I am doing well and there is nothing to process. My sessions with my dietitian go something like this:

Me: I’m really freaking out about my weight!!!  OhEmGEEEEEEEEEEEE!
RD: Your weight is exactly the same.
Me: Okay. I guess I’ll keep eating.

I’ve been given permission to increase my exercise. (This time last year, I was on full exercise restriction. Not even yoga. Or walks.) I eat fast food at least once a week. Oreos are a major staple in my diet. My eating disorder thoughts and compulsions are the lowest they’ve been since high school.

Are things perfect? No. They never will be. 

But they are so, so good. 

I can’t wait to see what the next six months have to bring.

Conscious Consumerism

Due to the nature of my field of study, no small amount of time is dedicated to the consideration of oppression of minorities. Especially since I am of the majority (white heterosexual Christian female of middle class SES), it is important to at least have knowledge of what my future clients might have experienced. More than that, I think it is important to know where I am oppressing those future clients of diverse backgrounds.

I sent an e-mail to a friend last week in the context of a conversation we were having about how companies treat their special needs employees. She had said that the company she used to work for treated their differently-abled employees equitably, but when pushed, admitted that they were all treated pretty horribly. I referenced an assignment I had to do for my multicultural counseling class and said this:

Well, after I did my sexual orientation task I looked at ways I am contributing to the oppression of the LGBTQ community. Where I spend my money says a lot, I think. But it is definitely hard to reconcile all my beliefs and values in this capitalist society. Regardless of where I shop, I am going to be denying some part of my moral obligation as a citizen of the world. I just have to prioritize my obligations and pick the lesser of evils. Shitty, but true.

That said, I won’t give a certain national big-box store my dollars, even though they do score a 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. Because even if you do treat x, y or z portion of your employee population equally, when you are consistently treating your workers poorly, that doesn’t hold much street cred with me. (But really – if your full-time employees are on public assistance because they don’t make a living wage, something is wrong. Anyone with a question about who this retailer is can contact me afterwards.)

My friend agreed that there are multiple issues that drive where a person shops: personal finances, convenience, the reality of capitalism, beliefs and morals, and plenty of other things. She stated that she places a lot of weight on what she calls “convenience” because she is very committed to reducing her use of non-renewable resources (like gas). So what happens when the store that is within walking distance (score!) has dirt-cheap prices (score!) but….also a tendency to treat their special needs or LGBTQ employees like crap (boo)? Or contribute to lobbying groups that you disagree with (boo)? Or…whatever.

She stated the crux of the problem perfectly:

Unfortunately, the way it all works is that the “cheaper” stores tend to be the ones with the most moral issues, but they continue to offer low prices because people continue to ignore those issues, whether out of necessity or not knowing or maybe not caring about how the company operates.

So this blog post isn’t a call to stop shopping at particular vendors or join the protests outside of stores. It’s a call to inform yourself. Where are you shopping? And where does your money go after it leaves your hands? In a capitalist society, the point is to turn a profit – but do the companies you support turn a profit at the hands of their employees? Or the third world manufacturers of their goods? Or the animals their products are tested on?

For me, I place a lot of value on where my goods are coming from and how much their manufacturers are making off these goods. And when I refer to “manufacturers,” I mean the people who are physically making the items — not the corporations that are employing them. Another friend made the point last night that while we may be providing jobs to those in developing countries, when we pay high prices for goods, the money isn’t going to those people. It’s going into the pocket of CEOs and other business men at the top of these companies, who are making millions each year. So yes, we’re providing much-needed jobs, but the people who are working those jobs are not be treated equitably – the business men in these companies are more concerned about turning a profit than treating their workers with respect.

Every time that I can, I try my best to support fair business practices. This might mean buying fair trade items, buy from local farmers (seriously, y’all – the farmer’s market is where it’s at!) or bakeries or dairy producers, buying secondhand (you’re not getting my money, American Eagle/Gap/Banana Republic/Whoever!  Even if I do love your clothes!), or buying from small businesses.

So when you’re looking at all those Black Friday ads, I’m just asking you to think. Your money sends a message. What message are you sending? And can you find a way to support people over corporations?

A couple of resources for you as you consider the holiday season:

Find Your Local Farmer’s Market

Fair Trade Gifts and Crafts

Forget Black Friday and support Small Business Saturday

Hit up your local thrift shop — a lot of them also fund local ministries or non-profits

Etsy, the ultimate small business – I can’t even tell you how many neat items I have found for gifts there.

Or, for this Christmas season, say “screw it” altogether and take part in the Advent Conspiracy

*****

Let’s be real – do I follow all these rules all the time? No. It’s practically impossible. I’m just saying where you can and as often as you can, shop places that align with your values. We  don’t live in our own private vacuum. Our choices affect others.

I’m [not] an Artist

We did an installation piece yesterday in a combined class (our 2013 fall cohort joined the 2012 cohort in Intermodal Therapy).  We focused specifically on community.  Each of us was given a tile and twenty minutes with an array of art supplies to craft our idea of community and what we bring to community.

Y’all, mine looked like a three-year-old did it.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the 13-month-old that I work with could have put together a similar piece of art.  (While I love photos, I will spare you a photo of this particular monstrosity.)

I had forgotten that a lot of the people I am in this program with are legitimate artists in their own right.  Artists who want to take their talents into the therapy field.  I’m not an artist.*

I’m sort of backwards.  I am a person who [has been through a lot of therapy herself and] believes that creative expression can be valuable to the therapeutic process.  Therapist first, moonlighting as an artist.

*But I don’t really believe that I’m NOT an artist.  One thing I picked up last summer in Utah from our recreational therapist is this: EVERYONE is an artist.  That was her first rule, actually.  (1) Everyone is an artist, and (2) because art is an expression of an individual, no art is “good” or “bad,” and (3) your art shouldn’t be compared against others’.

So you can see how setting those conditions made me a bit more comfortable in the art room, when I swear, all I could do was draw a circle.  Every expressive art group ended with me labeling what I created as “crap” and throwing it away immediately.  Then Leigh challenged me to keep a piece of art.  It took weeks, but I finally did it.

It was the May 15, 2012 and I think I created something like 10 pieces of art that day.  Van Gogh it was not.  But I found my rhythm. I found my medium (at the time, oil pastels). And I found out what was in those recesses of my heart and mind – both good and bad.  Things that I couldn’t quite explain with words came out on paper.  Most of my emotions that summer were communicated not through words, but through the work I did in the art room and brought to therapy sessions.

Through time, it has become easier to label my emotions with words.  Which, as it turns out, is really helpful to friends and family, because if I tell them, “THIS IS HOW I FEEL!” and show them a picture of random melting colours (yes, I have one of these) they’re not as likely to understand as if I say, “I’m feel overwhelmed.”

My art now is calmer, tamer.  Often times, it not even used to express what I can’t say, but it’s used to cope with what I KNOW is anxiety/shame/anger.  I draw or paint or doodle to calm myself down before I decide how to react.  Meaning, instead of doing something rash, I draw or paint for a while and let myself consider my options.

So, I’m not an artist.

But Leigh taught me that I AM an artist.

I can’t wait to teach other people that they are artists, too.

And it all started with a tree.

...and it did.

…and it did.

 

 

 

We are the Easter People…

…and Hallelujah is our song. –Pope John Paul II

This quotation has been nestled in my heart the past few weeks.  I can’t seem to escape it, though I am certainly not complaining.

To believe this statement – to believe that we ARE the Easter people – changes the way we see the world. If we are the Easter people, if we believe that Christ rose again and defeated all sin and shame, then mishaps and mistakes and “screw ups” aren’t the end of the story.

Almost one month ago, I discharged from a residential treatment facility that almost undoubtedly saved my physical life. In two days, I will begin graduate studies in expressive arts therapy. Who saw that happening? I certainly didn’t.

But now I see it as a gift – as precious as the gift that God gave me that first Easter Sunday. If you look for it, God is constantly giving us gifts. When I moved into my new apartment last weekend, I knew absolutely nobody in this [adorable and quickly growing on me] town, no idea what I was going to do for work, no idea how I was going to keep it all together. And, while it seems silly, I had no idea how I was going to fit all my toiletries and cleaning supplies into the tiny cabinet under my vanity.

I went to a new church last Sunday, one that I had “short-listed” while doing my research before moving. It is a church that values expressions of worship, however they might present themselves – in song, in dance, in art. I walked into the church and sat in the most non-descript place possible, unsure of how this socially anxious person was going to handle a room of entirely new people.

A young woman asked if she could sit at the end of the row I was on. I welcomed her with a smile and we quickly began talking. She, too, is a grad student at ASU, but in her second year and doing her internship in Nutrition. After worship, the pastor invited us to take five or ten minutes to get to know and welcome the people around us.

FIVE OR TEN MINUTES?! I love the Catholic Mass because there is a script for this part: “Peace be with you” – “And also with you.” No awkward questions about how old you are, how long you’ve been attending, if you’re married (because at 28, you’re sort of expected to be). Let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to the next five or ten minutes.

But I was welcomed by a group of senior girls who told me a little about themselves and about the church and campus ministries and ways to get involved. I met another woman who was really interested in my degree program and we talked for a few minutes (and led to another connection with one of the coordinators of the art ministry). At the end of that time, as we were sitting down, the nutrition major beside me offered me some trail mix.

I had forgotten to pack a snack.

Hallelujah.

worship Him in spirit and in truth

Art created during worship 18 Aug 2013

After church, I took out some recyclables to the dumpster area at the end of our parking area. As I was approached the recycling containers, I noticed a metal shelf sitting next to the green bins. I put my own recyclables into their appropriate containers and then took a look at the metal shelving in front of me. It seemed structurally sound. It was clean. It could be covered in lead paint or asbestos, I’m not sure, but I do know that I took that shelf and walked it right up to my third floor apartment.

I placed it in my bathroom and found that everything fit with space to spare.

Hallelujah.

I had applied for a few jobs babysitting/nannying and heard back from one of the families almost immediately. I met the family (2 professors at App with a 13-month-old son) on Monday at 1:45. They had interviewed quite a few candidates and said they would be in contact in a day or two. At 4:00, I got a phone call offering me the job. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. Opposite days from classes, leaving me plenty of time to read and study.

And I would be working with an adorable little boy, not waiting tables or stocking shelves.

Hallelujah.

We discussed the pay. And here is where I see the hand of God more clearly than anywhere before, assuring me that He has come before me and prepared my path.

What I will make each week babysitting this sweet boy is exactly enough to pay for one therapy appointment, one dietary appointment, and groceries each week. And probably some gas, too.

Hallelujah. Hallelujah. HALLELUJAH.

I won’t have to dip into my student loans to pay for therapy and dietary appointments. I can continue to see my dietitian and therapist weekly as needed to maintain my recovery. I get on well with my roommates. I have a church home. I have finally (sort of) figured out how to get around this town, including how to get to classes in the most expedient way possible.

There are many, many reasons for my heart to sing.

If you look closely enough, there are dozens of reasons to sing “hallelujah,” Easter people.

Jars of Clay

We are all broken people.  We are fragile, needy members of a fallen race.  

 
2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
 
Sure, there’s something to be said about jars of clay being plain, not ornate, vessels of use, not for decoration.  But they are also extremely fragile.  
 
On one trip as a child, my mother bought a beautiful piece of pottery from a local artisan in Iowa.  She was so excited to bring it home and display it.  As we were unpacking the car, she handed me the bubble-wrapped package, telling me as she did what it was.  I reached for it and our grips didn’t quite overlap.  The package slipped from my hands and as it hit the ground, even the protection of the bubble wrap couldn’t muffle the deafening sound of the shatter as it hit the ground.  Ruined.  This jar of clay would never fulfill its purpose.
 
Thankfully, when we, as human jars of clay, shatter and break, that’s not the end of the story.  One of my favourite quotations of all time is, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)
 
And it’s not just that it allows the light to get in, but it allows the light to get OUT.  All the good and beautiful things that God is doing in our brokenness are visible to those looking on.  Sure, they see the brokenness, but they also see the light and Spirit inside us making beauty from ashes. 
 
I’m not ashamed to say I am broken. The shameful thing would be hiding behind facades and letting people think I’ve got it under control and never letting them see what God is doing in that brokenness 
 
Because He is doing a lot.
 
Join this little jar of clay, yes?