Tuesday, March 28, 2006

a weighty issue

I've read a few blogs in the past few days about how women view themselves in light of their weight, their bodies, their looks, etc. It's a vicious topic, and a universal battle, as evidenced by the following quotes from other women:

I hope there is more sustaining your attraction for each other than just superficial looks. If a husband is going to be upset that his wife doesn't always look like she did on her wedding day, the marriage won't last beyond her first wrinkle. Controlling your weight for your spouse is one thing, but you can't control everything; eventually, age, kids, gravity, and just plain life will turn you into something other than the attractive 23-year-old you were on your wedding day. If your spouse has a problem with you gaining 20 pounds in your 20's, you should be prepared for him dropping you like a bad habit when the first gray hairs sprout in your 40's.Many bloggers eloquently responded to MIM's "false advertising" post. And more than anything, I was struck by how many women (and these aren't morbidly obese women ... they are women who have put on 20 or 30 lbs) said that their husbands ask/pressure/guilt them to lose weight.

Hub didn't want me to go to his office Christmas party, nor has he invited anyone from work to our house. When I joked that this was because I was "no longer a wife worth showing off," he got very quiet. Saying nothing at all was infinitely worse than anything he could have possibly said.

I met with my girls last night and we discussed a chapter from the book we're reading: "Captivating" by John and Stasi Eldredge. The chapter was about the spiritual attack women face, about how we never feel we measure up or we feel like were "too much" for the people we love. There is an excellent discourse on Satan's fall, that it was becaue of pride over his beauty as the angel Lucifer. The Eldredges believe that Satan, because of his fall, attacks women where it hurts most--our beauty.

We are created in the image of God--created to reflect his beauty and his nurturing spirit--and yet I have met so few women who are pleased with their self-image. We bear the mark of our creator yet we hate our hair or our thighs or our freckles or our nose. The list goes on.

How do we claim our beauty and the mark of our creator? How do we go through life content, not comparing ourselves to every Barbie-esque creature that walks by? I wish I had a good answer. For the meantime, I will continue to struggle with this issue and how I might be able to respond personally and also to encourage other women in my life.

Monday, March 27, 2006

adios, sayonara, goodbye

Inevitably, in the field in which I work, people leave. The turnover rate is high in social services probably due to high stress, low pay, and little vacation (but who's keeping track?) Last week a colleague announced that she is leaving.

As an adult, I know that she is leaving for good reasons, making a decision she needs to make at this point. But for our students, even healthy goodbyes are hard. Goodbyes are not easy when you've been left or abandoned by people you loved or trusted. Goodbyes are just more complicated for these kids.

She's been like a mama to many of these students, a safe haven, someone to have your back, someone to talk to, not afraid to give advice or criticism. To other students she's a good friend or an older sister. But one thing is for sure. She will be missed when she goes.

My students are all upset, all grieving the loss of someone they care about, some angry she's going, others feeling like they are responsible for her choice to leave. And other kids act like they don't care at all, because they learned long ago not to invest care or emotion in others, because everybody leaves at some point.

The other staff members and I are working crisis after crisis, defusing kids' anger, handing kids kleenexes while they process their grief, helping kids plan a meaningful goodbye.

When this co-worker came to me with tears in her eyes, surprised and overwhelmed by the force of emotion she felt, I could sense so clearly her ambivalence. She was second-guessing her decision, consumed by the grief of her students who so badly want her to stay. I encouraged her that sometimes the best decisions for ourselves aren't the easiest ones to make. I let her know that she had been such a powerful influence on these kids, and in her leaving, she had the ability to leave in an equally powerful way. She has the ability to model for these students how to positively end a relationship, how to say goodbye in a way that facilitates healthy grieving.

And, in a way, I am glad for them. I'm glad that for once in their lives, these kids will feel some sense of control, will understand a little more clearly how positive, healthy relationships handle goodbyes. I know it won't be easy, but it will be transformative.

The kids are planning all sorts of wonderful goodbye rituals and gifts. We're thinking of doing a candle ceremony to mark the end of her time with us, and the beginning of her time with her new job. At the end of the ceremony, we'll allow her to blow out her candle, to extinguish the time with us.

And smoke and ash will remain where once the flame burned. We will have to mourn her leaving. We will grieve the loss of her presence and her gifts. We will learn to let go of hurt and anger and sadness.

But my blog isn't called "as the noonday" for nothing. I know in my heart that these kids will go on, they will learn to follow the flame of their own candles, to see light past the darkness, and noonday will come after the long night. I wish all grief could be this uncomplicated. But then, I'd be out of a job.

Monday, March 20, 2006

zoom zoom

So we got a new car. Yippee! It's fun to drive, and I can't help but smiling and singing "zoom zoom" every time I'm driving around town. At least that was my experience until Monday.

What are your worst fears when you get a new car?

Hitting something.

Scratching the beautiful paint job that is so perfect, so unadultered by the wear and tear of life.


Monday, my first "real" day of driving the new car (more than a five-minute trip to the store), it was pouring rain and I was on my way to Target to get some art supplies for work. Boom. I hit the mother of all potholes. It wasn't even like I was messing up. I was driving slowly, not tailgating anyone, watching the road. I didn't even see it at the last minute and try to swerve but hit it anyway. It just came out of nowhere, in the middle of a totally normally paved road.

I say to myself, "no, it's okay. I'm sure nothing's wrong. Pull in the parking lot and check it out."

Flat tire.

Roadside assistance comes to put on the spare. (Hey, I've got it. Why change my own tire?) The guy drops part of the jack against the side of the car. Scratch. A little one, but the first scratch on our new baby.

Did I mention that I started clomid last week? Thankfully I'm not an overly emotional or weepy person. I didn't even quiver at the moment, but I felt that deep dread of having to call Ben and tell him that something very sad happened to the zoom zoom.

Ben: no problem, hon. These things happen. Just take it to Firestone on your way home and have them fix it.

Problem? You bet. A tear in the sidewall, not fixable.

Fast forward a day, a trip to Goodyear, a handful of calls to the warranty people, the dealer, and a Mazda repair shop, and all I have to say is this:

Cost of a Firestone tire repair job: $33

Cost of a new Goodyear tire replacment: $260

Cost of a tire, with the nice Goodyear people giving us a break on our warranty: $130

Replacement tire for half off, free scratch repair by the tow company, a hubby who understands, and my worst fears now behind me: Priceless.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

biopsy shmiopsy

Earlier in life, I wanted nothing more than to be a doctor. I was enthralled by science, especially medicine, and enjoyed learning about anything involving the human body. Cadavers? Cool. Close-up photos of surgery? Awesome. Giving my own blood? Loved to watch that big ole' needle find its way into my vein.

So fast forward a few years. My doctor ordered a bunch of blood tests last year and I ended up giving like 7-8 vials of blood after a long afternoon with no snacks. Totally fainted. They assured me it had nothing to do with nerves, but due to the large amounts of blood and little to eat.

A few weeks ago I went in for a "routine" biopsy of my thyroid. Turns out I have some larger-size nodules that the doctor wants to check out. It started out just fine. I wasn't worried at all. I was told to lay down on the table and wait for the doctor. And wait. And...wait. After about a half hour I was ready to fall asleep or freak out, laying there thinking about a needle in my neck.

The procedure started. Ultrasound of the thyroid? No big deal. Using a pen to mark the spots for the needle to penetrate? Child's play. Needle with lidocaine? Okay, a little bit of a burn. More burning. Ouch. Little needle to take biopsy? Up and down, back and forth, dabba dabba dabba. It's weird that your thyroid is just there all the time, but you never really notice it until the needle is stabbing it again and again to get a sample. The doctor turns to walk away and it happens. Sweaty palms, queasy stomach, clammy, clammy, "Uh, doctor? Feeling a little clammy over here." Spun around, head down, legs in the air, cool washcloth on my head, spinning room starting to slow down and come back to normal. Sweat break.

"A physiological reaction to the trauma of a needle in your neck," the doctor says. "Nothing to worry about. Not even related to nerves." Hmm. When did I get so wimpy?

My OB/GYN nurse practitioner recommended getting my doc to prescribe a little ativan (aka anxiety meds) for the next time it had to happen.

That was today. And I took the teeny weeny anti-anxiety pill (.5 mg) before the procedure. He even had to go in 3 times to get a really good sample this time. I did some deep breathing and finding of my happy place (on the beach with Ben and Hanalei). A little bit of blood, a few bandaids later, and I'm just fine. As the title goes, biospy shmiopsy. Maybe I'm not going to turn out as big a wimp as I thought!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

so much hurt

Today was a hard day. Not a busy day, like a few last week. But a hard day. My students are dealing with some major issues, some big stuff, and a whole lot of junk.

A student's parent told her she hated her because of her bisexuality.
Another student was raped last week and was afraid to tell her parents.
Two students have attempted suicide in the past and are starting to feel depressed again.
Another one has no one to talk to and so drinks and smokes out to numb the pain.
And a student was molested.

There is so much hurt in the hearts of these kids. They want so desperately to be loved, to be valued, to feel joy and meaning in their lives. Yet family, peers, teachers even have told them they are not lovable, not valuable, not capable of doing anything good with their lives.

And there I sit, trying to provide some sense of hope, some piece of love or goodness to hold onto. These kids are aching to be loved by someone, anyone. And I know they are loved and cared for so deeply by their heavenly father, by the one who sent his son that they might have life. At times, this is my only saving grace. My only hope. The only thing that keeps me in my chair after 8 hours straight of hurt. This man called Jesus, who came to earth to take away the pain of sin, to give companionship in the place of loneliness and despair, as a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow, as the source of living water that fills every last unquenchable desire, as the example of perfect love that does not hurt, exploit or disturb. Perfect love, perfect peace.

After work I went for a long swim to leave behind the day's frustrations. And as I moved through the water, I prayed for these kids. I prayed that the God I know and trust and believe in would be enough for me in that moment, would be enough for these kids with so much hurt. And I left it all there, floating into the cool night in splashes of water.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

they still surprise me/He still surprises me

It was a crazy week. My post from Wednesday was basically the template for the entire week. All students, all the time. That, and people running late to meetings, leaving me waiting 45+ minutes. More than once. Not fun.

By Friday, I hadn't nearly enough crises, so of course one needed to happen at 4:30pm, just as we were all preparing to go home. And of course, it involved my client. That's just how it goes. I didn't even get a chance to finish my paperwork from the week before I left for the weekend. I hate leaving unfinished business for Monday.

A few weeks ago a friend of a friend emailed and asked if we could meet to talk about my line of work. She's thinking of pursuing counseling/case work/social work and wanted to talk to someone in the field. You would think, given my week (and the fact that the smoke detector in our hallway decided to start chirping in the middle of the night--why is it always in the middle of the night?), I might have been feeling a little burned out, frustrated, and emotionally spent today.

But the longer I talked about my work, the more fired up I got. I found myself laughing one minute, moved to tears the next as I shared about the work I'm doing with these crazy/fun/ amazing/beautiful/sad/angry/creative teenagers. That, and I have learned so much interacting with my co-workers, and seeing those relationships struggle and grow and flourish.

At one point I was asked about the role of my faith in the work that I do. And honestly, I was able to say that this is my ministry. Hanging out with hormonally challenged, sexually active, drug-abusing, knife-wielding, ghetto-living, hip-hopping adolescents is the ministry to which I've been called. My faith is such a part of my work, because I could not do this work without total and complete reliance on my creator. I, myself, becky...totally incapable of handling these issues on my own. I'd crumble. Melt. Cry like a baby. Freak out.

Every day I thank God for my job. Every day I pray for some kid, for some issue that comes up in a session that I just don't know how to handle. I ask for guidance, for clarity, for divine intervention. And I see God at work. I see the connections that happen with kids. I experience the joy of allowing a student to see a way out, a second option, a different path.

Yep, given my week, given the struggles of being who I am in the midst of a very diverse work environment, given the misunderstandings of supervisors and the frustrations of a new position, I can still say I'm supposed to be there. I enjoy being there. The kids still surprise me, with all their drama and humor and strength and insight. And I'm grateful that God still surprises me, and shows up in a major way when I need him to, with joy and compassion and humility and goodness.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

all in a day's work

So, today.

Between the hours of 8:30 and 1 today I experienced:
  • counseling 6, yes SIX, students (3 scheduled, 3 crisis)
  • dealing with a kid ready to run away because her mom thinks she's trouble and tried to "commit her to juvy" last night for hanging out with friends after school
  • hearing the story of a girl who is being beat up by her brother (but because she's 18 and due to cultural issues, CPS won't get involved)
  • kicking a kid out of my office because he was being an absolute punk (lied to me to get out of class--big mistake)
  • internally celebrating the end of a controlling (abusive) relationship while empathizing with a student's mixed feelings about the breakup
  • sighing with relief when a student of color shared a story about being released without any trouble after getting picked up by the police for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and bearing an uncanny resemblance to the guy they were looking for
  • dropping my lunch on the floor of the staff room and then salvaging the top half that wasn't touching linoleum because I didn't have time to pick up anything else before my next session in a half hour
  • laughing with the girls in the hall over our "10 reasons to use protection" binder, complete with graphic close-up pictures of every type of STD and STI

The rest of the day wasn't nearly so interesting, so I'll stop here.

Monday, March 06, 2006

family planning

When we bought our house last year, it was in great move-in condition, other than a poorly planned back yard. It's a small lot, and the back yard consisted of an old, cracked tile patio, a large, rotting deck, and a few overgrown shrubs. When the hot August sun shone down, the patio and deck radiated oppressive, muggy heat. It was not the backyard oasis we wanted, nor was it even remotely hospitable. Living in California, you've just got to have a back yard worth hanging out in...300 days of sun call for outdoor living.

So, Ben drew up plans that we edited...and edited...and edited. Ben wanted a unique design that made the small space appear bigger. I wanted a cool, inviting, kid-friendly yard. We finally settled on a plan we both felt good about, for both adults and kids--plenty of green, a pergola with wisteria for shade in August, and a whimsical water feature.

All along it wasn't even a question in my mind that in this yard, in the future, we would play with our babies. When we rented in Houston, we had the most amazing koi pond in the back yard. It was calming and soothing and, best of all, a hit with the kids! When our friend Joe and Jodi came to stay for a few days, their two boys basically lived and breathed at the edge of that pond, dangling their feet in, splashing around, watching the koi, throwing in leaves and fishing them out.

We settled on a home-made design incorporating an old-fashioned farm pump with half a wine barrel. Ben rigged up the pump and voila! We weren't sure if it would be as big a hit as the koi pond, and then our friend Tyler came along to test it out:

Tyler tested, Tyler approved. For almost two hours on a February afternoon, Tyler played and played and played. This moment, captured by his mom Kelly, shows us that the planning and work pays off!

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Being a white girl from Danville working in a culturally, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse community, I run into all sorts of "isms." I am constantly keeping myself in check, wanting to know all I can about other races and cultures and communities in order to be as understanding and culturally proficient as possible. But I do run into snags, enter into misunderstandings, speak without thinking, and misrepresent myself.

In two very distinct conversations this week, persons of color threw at me the phrase "white anglo european model," stated in a way that grouped me with a history of oppression, intolerance, racism, hatred. And it stung. Isn't that what isms are about? Generalizations about an individual or a group of people based on the race/culture/class they represent?

In both situations, I found myself remaining decidedly quiet and resisting the impulse to enter into a conversation in which I accuse a person of color of making a generalization about me. Because as a person of white (I really prefer to say pink) color, as a woman, as a member of the (upper?) middle class, I do have significant advantages in our society. Regardless of who I am as an individual, I represent a system of hierarchical oppression that started long ago and continues today. That, and I am definitely a conflict-avoider.

Not to say that I haven't participated in conversations about race and oppression. I have discussed isms with friends of different races, attended multiple trainings on being more culturally competent in my work, even joked about myself and my culture (such as when a Latina co-worker asked me "do your people really eat fried twinkies?")

I am trying to figure out how I can bridge the divide between "us" and "them," how I can participate meaningfully in racial reconciliation without being afraid of saying the wrong thing or getting lumped in a group of which I would never be a part. That is what really exists at the base of my conflict avoidance. Fear.

I'll be the first to admit that I have racist tendencies in me. You can't grow up in a culture such as ours without making inferences or having prejudices based on your own families' beliefs, media portrayals, or a negative experience.

It's time I nip my fear in the bud, I stop worrying about saying something that might be wrong or racist or inappropriate. Because in neglecting to let these things out of my mouth, I don't allow them to be challenged or corrected. Instead of being afraid of what I say or do, I should be afraid of what I think. It starts with what's on the inside.

And there is the possiblity that racial reconciliation will not happen, that it cannot happen, that instead of reconciliation it might be transformation, rather than two sides coming to full agreement, two sides being transformed in the process of learning about each other.

And personal transformation really is the goal. As Gandhi so perfectly said,

"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves."

Friday, March 03, 2006

if i could change the world...

Today at one of the schools I work at, some kids put on an assembly for the student body for Month of Respect. It was awesome! The skits tackled major issues like violence, interracial dating, racism, stereotyping, respect...They took contemporary problems and stretched them out for students to see how prejudice begins, how it infects someone, and what can happen as a result.

"Just because my brother was in a gang, and is now in jail, doesn't mean I'm not going anywhere with my life..."

"Just because my friends use drugs doesn't mean you can label me as a druggie..."

"You don't have to live like your parents have. You can get your degree and get a real job, rather than working for a crappy boss in a crappy job that doesn't even pay enough to support the family."

It got me thinking about our small group discussion last night. About the role of poverty and racism on our culture. Growing up, we never had a respect assembly at my high school, but probably because most of us were working- to middle-class white kids. I could count on one hand the number of black kids who came through our district as I grew up.

But we were diverse in other ways, in our beliefs and values, our dress, the music we listened to, the people we looked up to, what we wanted to do with our lives. And because we were different, we clashed in our own ways. The best advice my mom ever gave me was "treat others as you want to be treated, no matter who they are or what they look like or where they come from." When it comes down to it, the golden rule is still pure bling-bling when it comes to respect.

If I could change the world, I would have it be a place where we all respect one another. I want a place where the whole picture is played out from start to finish like the skits in the assembly, so we all can see where people are coming from, and where they are going. So we can understand them for who they are. A place where kids don't know to recognize someone as "different" but just recognize them as somebody with their own set of values and beliefs and from a unique and amazing culture.

Racism, oppression, poverty, violence...it all stems from our sin and the inability to recognize every single person as Christ's beloved creation. Jesus was all about lifting up the oppressed, speaking up for the voiceless, giving strength to the weak...respect and love and forgiveness for everyone, no matter what society had to say about their value.

Out of the mouths of teens came an element of the truth of Jesus' message, and in a totally secular environment like the school assembly, it is still a powerful, life-changing message. Love one another. Have respect for your fellow man/woman. Treat others as you want to be treated.

I am humbled.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I'm so lucky (grateful)

I love my support system. I love that after my last infertility check-up yesterday, I had calls and emails flooding in. I love that I cried as I read an email from a friend, in which she included a prayer asking for a baby, for me. I am so lucky to be blessed with people who love me and encourage me and pray the prayers I grow tired of praying.

And so today is a new day, this month a new month, and the promise of life remains written with hope on my heart. Just when I need to hear encouragement the most, it never fails to come pouring into my life, filling up my cup to overflowing. For this, I am most grateful.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ahh...high school

Things haven't changed much since I was in high school (10 years ago, yikes!) Just this morning a co-worker and I were laughing about how boys interact with girls they like...basically it involves being as annoying as possible. Why is that? Why do hormonally-challenged teenage boys think pestering a pretty girl is going to make her want to hang out with them? Sometimes the guys act like little brothers, as if their sole intention is to totally freak the girl out. Is that some way of controlling rejection? Somehow rejecting themselves right off the bat?

A student I know pretty well dropped in this morning. She's in a rather controlling (aka abusive) relationship, and she knows it. She just can't seem to break the cycle and get out (which sounds so easy in theory, but we all understand it is really complicated). It's difficult to sit with her without wanting to yank her right out of a situation that I know is eating away at her self-worth and inner joy. I am really trying to work on my motherly tendencies toward my students, to resist the urge to be a protector, nurturer, mother-hen type person. So I just listen and empathize and reflect back to her what I hear her saying, helping her put organize stream-of-consciousness thoughts and expressions.

I know that I've been there before. We've all been there before--yucky, controlling, immature relationships. Knowing what I know, I want to tell her there's hope on the other side; that bad relationships make us truly appreciate singleness and good relationships and people who make us feel better about ourselves rather than worse.

Oh, and he called her fat and ugly. I want to punch this kid in the nose. Sometimes I act like their mother, and at other times I'm the ghetto-fabulous older sister with a mean uppercut. (For those of you ready to call protective services, don't worry, I don't actually act on my big sister leanings).

Shortly after her, another female found her way here, dealing with pretty much the same issue, and I found myself battling the same inner protective/nurturing/caring/guarding tendencies and saying the same comments to help her weigh the positives and NEGATIVES of being in a relationship without trust, without compromise, without understanding, without balance.

This isn't an unusual day. Every day I meet with students whose stories echo the ones above. And I'm learning each day what my role is as their counselor. So I'm just going to sit and encourage these kids, talk with them and give them a safe space to vent. I will show empathy and help them make sense of the senseless and hand them kleenexes when they cry.

And whenever they are ready, or fed-up, or their own ghetto-fabulousness takes over, and they finally move on, out of the poopy relationship...I'm gonna party it up in my back office, doing my song-and-dance routine "another one bites the dust." (door closed, of course). :)