Coming Clean

I walked out smiling, mesmerized, and rejuvenated.

To really enter into this season of Lent and prepare myself for the upcoming Easter celebration, I arrived to Church early in order to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before Mass.

As a Catholic Christian, I adhere to the teaching that God alone can forgive sins, which He does through commissioning Priests with the same call He gave to His apostles, to receive the Holy Spirit and forgive the sins of others through Him (John 20:22a-23; CCC 1439, 1485). In order to receive a renewed soul with God’s never-ending grace, I must examine my conscience, contritely confess my sins to a Priest, receive absolution, and fulfill a penance as restitution.

I try to go to confession at least a few times every year because of its importance to the maintenance and flourishing of my soul. I often get weighed down by the faults of my humanity, but God wants to give me abounding graces, so I’m going to take Him up on that as often as I can!

When I walked into Church and saw the little green light that signaled that the Priest was available for someone to enter into the confessional, my heart started beating quicker. I have been to Confession countless times and marvel at the beauty of this sacramental redemption, yet the human part of me still gets nervous when I think about admitting my failures and wrongdoings to another person. Saying them out loud. Owning them. No explanations or excuses.

I opened the door and sat across from the Priest wearing his purple garments, and began my confession. I stumbled through describing my sins, taking deep breaths as the reality of my offenses brushed past my lips and into the ears of the man sitting across from me in persona Christi (Latin for “in the person of Christ”). After finishing up, I looked into the eyes of Jesus through the Priest and saw something so extremely counter-worldly. I had just admitted the worst parts of myself, yet I deeply understood Jesus’ profound “I love you,” through the simple gaze of the Priest looking at me with the unconditional love and mercy of Christ. No judgment, no admonition. Just pure love.

Within just a few minutes of talking with me, the Priest identified and spoke to some of the most relevant struggles in my life currently. He spoke truth into my heart to counteract the lies I tell myself and the realities I find difficult to believe. God reminded me of His truth in a tangible, vocal way that I cannot possibly deny.

Heaven entered into that little room as the Priest held up his hands and Jesus wiped my soul clean.

Once again, God reminded me of His wonder in a gentle, profound, and glorious way. He knows me as an individual, and speaks to me in a way that He knows I will understand. He speaks into each of our lives in a unique way, with His breath flowing through the life around us, and His mercy reflecting through our daily interactions. He desperately wants to live in us and us in Him, and waits patiently for us to reach out to Him.

I asked, I reached, and I received. God wants to do that for you too.

In this time of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, the three main facets of the Lenten season, the best way we can begin to serve the Lord is by allowing Him to wash us clean from anything that holds us back. The sins we cling to, the bad habits we don’t want to let go of, the material things that seem just too good to live without – all these hinder us from fully entering into union with Christ.

In writing this, I struggle to describe the beauty and reality of something so beyond the capabilities of our finite humanity, but my refreshed soul wants to shout out the glory of God, and wishes redemption for all souls weighed down by hurt, pain, and sin.

We are never too far gone to be saved. So long as we have breath in our lungs, we can ask God for forgiveness and receive a second, third, fourth, hundredth, and millionth chance. His love has no restrictions, and fortunately, Heaven is not bound to the limits of humanity.

When we attune to our inner desire to be in union with Christ, we no longer need the passing things of this finite world. We mess up, we make mistakes, and we sin. But we can receive God’s mercy over, and over, and over again. He’s waiting for us.

In Joy, Monica

If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.

1 John 1:9


Catechism of the Catholic Church (Click for link)


The Profession of Talking and Listening

I took a good step back to reflect.

Due to personal qualities that correlate strongly with a helping profession, I found myself drawn to the field of mental health and counseling. Pre-college, I had the faintest idea of what a career in this field looked like, and my many hours of online research were only slightly helpful in figuring out the differences between a counselor, therapist, behavior analyst, mental health technician, psychologist, counseling psychologist, psychiatrist, and social worker, and it all sort of started to blend together. They all seemed so similar, yet also so different!

I have now learned the distinctions between these important professions, and their varying focuses on advocacy, medicine, behavior, assessment, and personal growth. Each one follows a different route towards reaching a goal related to human wellness. Due to this variability between professions, and even more variability within each profession, there exists much nuance in the field of mental health in terms of theories, settings, diagnoses, multiculturalism, interventions, treatment strategies, and so on.

As a counselor-in-training, I often find myself overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the things I am learning and practicing. I find my textbook material fascinating, and rousing class discussions stimulate ideas I had not previously considered. Relationships with my classmates introduce me to wider perspectives of the world, and I constantly self-reflect on my identity as both a counselor and as a client seeking my own counseling. I read, think, write, edit, re-write, re-think, and re-read so that I can gather as much knowledge and ideas as I possibly can.

I love to learn, and have been self-motivated throughout all of my schooling, but now I am even more motivated knowing that in just a few short months, this learning is going to directly impact clients sitting across from me in a counseling room. As the person walking with them towards wellness, clients will expect me to be trained and knowledgeable, and I want to be prepared. While this drives me to push myself, this mindset can be detrimental sometimes when I get bogged down by the extent of my growth in such a short amount of time and all the pressure I place on myself to meet unrealistic expectations.

While speaking with a Professor recently, he made a comment that has pervaded my thoughts ever since.

We are in the profession of talking and listening.

This one simple sentence revolutionized the way I have been feeling towards my learning. Yes, the differences in mental health professions, the varying theories, the types of treatment strategies, and the many other nuances that exist are relevant and important, but everything in this entire field boils down to two avenues of treating human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors: through talking and listening. A simple idea, yet a complex follow-through.

While especially relevant to me as a future counselor, we can all benefit from this notion.

We so often become overwhelmed by all of the stimuli around us, pushing us in different directions, with the world’s varying opinions of how we should act, what we should do, and who we should be. Our personal views are beaten down by opposition, and we feel hopeless that we cannot ever know as much as we should, do as much as we should, or be as much as we should. We lose the sense of connecting with the people around us through the impact of self-centeredness, suspicion, and violence.

It can become extremely difficult to know how to navigate the world around us that contains so much complexity, but in those moments, let us remember the simple power of talking and listening. Our words make an impact, and we have a choice in how we use this power. We can lift each other up or tear each other down, and I really pray that we all choose to do the former. Arguably even more important, our simple act of listening conveys so much more than we can with our words. Really listening shows someone that we care, that we are with them in their experience, and that we want to understand them. It tells another person that they have something valuable to share, and you find them worthy of your attention. We crave this type of validation, and we can use ourselves to empower other people in this way.

Sometimes things don’t have to be quite as complicated as they seem. Like when I become overwhelmed with the magnitude of my graduate school studies, we can return to the root of our greater purpose and foster those qualities within ourselves.

Talking and listening may play different roles in each of our lives depending on our relationships, our professions, our responsibilities, and our calls in life, but they remain powerful tools that we can always return to in order to communicate, connect, and love the people around us.

In Joy, Monica

 Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.

Colossians 4:5-6

From Failure to Freedom

I nervously posted an update announcing the lack of a blog post.

I have had a very eventful and exciting past few weeks, and when it came time last week to post my weekly smattering of thoughts, I didn’t have anything ready. As the time crept closer to Monday at noon, I considered how quickly I could come up with something to post just so that I would keep my perfect streak. Bombarded with other obligations and responsibilities, I knew that a post was just not going to happen.

Ever since I started this blog the week that I began graduate school, I have intended it to be reflective, purposeful, and a form of self-care. I wanted to post things that were meaningful and that I would be proud of. I originally placed no pressures on myself, and zero expectations of the result of my writings. I wanted to just try it out and see what happened. I deliberately came up with these non-parameters for my blog so that it would not just become one more thing to add to my plate, but rather something fun and freeing. And, oh what an experience it has been!

Although positive in many ways, I anticipated that my sometimes-perfectionistic attitude might cause an issue for me down the road. And I hit that last week. With a perfect track record of posting a blog every Monday at 12pm, the idea of missing a week felt like a failure. The “no-expectation” attitude slipped away when I began to get into a routine and figure out my writing style and structure. The pressures built back up, so that when I became unable to live up to my goal, I felt like I had really messed up.

But the pressure was unnecessary, and the expectations unfounded. I was the only one putting this pressure on myself.

Throughout our daily lives, it is important that we hold ourselves to high standards. This helps us recognize our own worth, dignity, and importance as human beings, and push us towards doing positive things. We become motivated to grow and reach worthwhile goals. These are all wonderful and important things, but this mindset can sometimes extend towards things where it becomes unhelpful. We begin to attribute these meanings of importance to things that really don’t deserve to hold such value.

We all probably hold some expectations for ourselves that are not really necessary. We may desire to achieve certain things, or complete something, or reach a goal, which can all be good, but when we begin to attach unfair meanings is when things become a problem.

For those things in life that trap us in a mindset of evaluative self-worth, let’s take a step back. Whatever this looks like in each of our individual lives, we can find a way to test this out. Afraid of seeming a failure, I skipped a blog post, and although a flurry of negative thoughts raced through my head, everything turned out fine. The world did not implode, a choir of singers did not show up at my doorstep chanting a song about failure, and I did not get kicked out of graduate school. None of the fatalistic possible results building up in my mind became reality. I simply moved on.

Succeeding or not has no bearing on our personal worth. Our value is defined solely by our existence as children of our beautiful Creator, and this value can never be taken away or defiled.

I desired to write a weekly blog post because it is something that has become very meaningful to me. Laying out my experiences and thoughts and an underlying message from them, and then sharing them with others has been extremely fruitful in my life. While I can strive to do my best and make the most out of this blogging endeavor, doing well or missing a week does not change how I feel about myself or my abilities as a person. The blog does not represent my worthiness, success, or goodness. Sometimes a blog is just a blog, and that’s very freeing.

In Joy, Monica

I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.

Psalm 139:14

Decision Trial Run

I spoke to others, but forgot to apply it to myself.

As an imperfect human continually striving for health and wellness, I go to therapy every few weeks (10/10 would recommend!). As I sat in my most recent therapy session, I talked with my counselor about some decisions coming up that seem a bit daunting. In my graduate program, the professors constantly emphasize that they “guarantee safety, not comfort,” in order to foster our growth as future counselors, so with these upcoming decisions, I know that I likely will not remain in my comfort zone. However, I do want to be holy, happy, and healthy, and I really struggled with knowing how to achieve this.

While talking things out, I came to the realization that I already knew the answer to my ramblings.

Only a couple days prior, I had visited a local school to give a talk to their students about making moral, prayerful decisions. Each time I gave the talk, I detailed several different ways to make decisions while listening to God’s call, and the importance and implications of doing so. I referenced ways that I had used these strategies in my own life and how they had proven beneficial for me as a young Catholic. I had literally spent the beginning of that week praying, thinking, writing, and preparing for how to speak to these students about this topic, yet here I was in therapy struggling to know how to proceed with decision-making.

After forgiving myself for my lapse in memory (if I can even call it that), I became newly convicted to practice what I preach. I thought about the suggestions I gave those students, and applied them back to myself.

Any decision can be made prayerfully, but one strategy for making some of life’s bigger decisions has proven extremely effective for me over the past few years. It’s something I call the “decision trial run.”

This strategy works when we have a few different options of something where none of them is necessarily more holy or more good than the other, and they may each result in a positive outcome, but we still have to make a decision. How it works is we lay out all of our possible options, however many there may be. We then designate a series of days to test out each of the options, one per day. On the first morning we wake up and live through our day as if we had already made the decision and chosen one of our options, to the greatest extent that we can. Throughout the day, we take special notice of our thoughts and attitudes towards having made that selection. On the next morning, we wake up and try out the next option of our decision, doing the same thing as the day before. We repeat this until we have tested out each of the options. Throughout this whole time, we pray especially for the Lord’s guidance and for Him to lead us toward the option that will bring us to the greatest fulfillment and use us for the greatest purpose. We remain open to each of the possibilities in front of us and listen to the stirrings of our heart.

In my experience, after completing a trial run of each decision, I just know which choice is the right one for me. I don’t know how to fully explain it, but testing out the decision allows us to make a more educated decision about what might be good for us. We will never fully know God’s will, but we can make the best choice we can with the knowledge we have at the time, and then stand by that decision. Try it out. Trust your heart.

While we all have a plan set out by God, we also have free will given to us by Him so that we may choose how we live our life. This can be overwhelming and daunting, but placing trust in our Creator allows Him to inspire us and use us in ways that we might never expect.

As I found out through temporarily forgetting about my message from only a few days earlier, it can be difficult to live out the words we speak. But the phrases we use to uplift and encourage others should reflect back into us in the way we live out our call in the world. The decision is yours.

In Joy, Monica

And your ears shall hear a word behind you: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or the left.

Isaiah 30:21

It’s Never Too Late

It took me too long to ask for help.

I went on my weekly grocery shopping trip, and reached the end of the last aisle after snaking my way through the store. I checked my list, which to my surprise had one item remaining un-crossed-off. I thought I had found all my items while traipsing through the shop, but I realized that I had not come across one essential item – gluten-free pizza dough.

Standing at the shelf where this item usually resides, I scanned the products from top to bottom, to no avail. Figuring I must have missed it somewhere in another aisle, I pushed my cart back towards the baking section. No luck. I determinedly weaved through each possible aisle (figuring that it wouldn’t be with the cleaning supplies or pet food), on the lookout for the final product to complete my grocery adventure. I spent about 20 minutes scouting the aisles in search of the small tan package, and re-searching when I came up with nothing. Exasperated, I finally searched for an employee who appeared able to help me.

Within 30 seconds of getting this employee’s attention, asking for assistance, and bee lining behind him directly to the product, the pizza dough was in my cart and I headed towards the checkout counters. He knew what he was doing, and I realized that I could have asked him for help a loooong time ago.

I’m sure that if I searched each aisle diligently enough and really focused on each box, bag, pouch, and jar, I would have found the pizza dough eventually. But the thing is, I didn’t have to do that.

As a counselor, my job is to help people in a shockingly similar way to my pizza-dough-finding savior. As we work towards self-betterment in the ways that we know how, we may eventually work our way to healing and find things that help us thrive. If we commit to pushing through lots of trial-and-error, we can make improvements over time. But counselors can help make this process SO much quicker and easier. Trained to understand human thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, mental health counselors can recognize patterns in our lives and guide us through interventions to increase our overall health.

While I wish this could be a perfect analogy, I do recognize that there is a bit more nuance to mental health than the layout of a grocery store. There is no one-size-fits-all for mental health, and there are countless options for things that might help someone, including meditation, a change in diet, behavioral reinforcement, thought replacement, medication, and the list goes on and on and on. So, while counseling still largely consists of trial-and-error, it is done intentionally, with evidence-based practice and immense support of someone who truly wants to see us succeed.

In my experience, something that has taken me years to discover within myself has been noticeable within one session with a counselor. After describing all of my futile or only somewhat successful attempts to improve aspects of my life, my counselors have been able to help me figure out new thought processes and impactful strategies that actually work for me, tailored to my unique individual experience. It astounds me every time!

I waited 20 minutes to reach out at the grocery store, but we can ask for help at any point. At the beginning of something new, we may feel more comfortable having a support system help us navigate through the experience right from the start. With something we feel semi-confident about, we may want to first try our hand at the task, and then reach out for assistance if we need it. We may push through something right to the end, and then decide that we want to talk about it with someone. It is never too late to ask for help.

Like the grocery store employee who dropped what he was doing to walk me to my gluten-free pizza dough, counselors are available to help us wherever we are at, with whatever we are going through. All we have to do is ask.

In Joy, Monica

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

My Choice

This decision changed my forever.

The end of January always brings about a time of reflection for me as I contemplate the many changes that have occurred in Januarys past. Throughout my life, the first month of the year has contained a variety of momentous occasions, both positive and negative, that cause me to take some moments to slow down and be grateful for where I am today.

One such occasion falls on this particular day, January 29th, which holds extra special meaning in my heart. Seven years ago, I stood in the front of my Catholic Church, and confirmed my faith in God. As tears of overwhelming joy formed in my eyes, the Bishop anointed my forehead with oil as I received the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Making the choice to commit my life to the Lord, completely of my own free will and desire, set my life on a radical path that I never would have expected for myself.

Thanks to the faith of my amazing parents (hi mama and papa!), I grew up in the Catholic Church learning about the love of Jesus Christ and enveloped in the joy of the Gospel. I was baptized at two months old and received First Communion in second grade. I sang in the Church choir, attended youth group, and volunteered in a variety of ministries. I loved all of these experiences and continued to grow in my own personal faith through the beauty of the Mass.

In all of this time, I was still learning about the beliefs of the Church and growing in my understanding of God. Then, seven years ago, I got to pronounce my decision to embrace the fullness of this religion, wholly recognizing that I could only comprehend the smallest percentage of the greatness of the Lord. I accepted the full responsibility for my own faith, placed my trust in God, and committed my life to a journey following whatever path He would lay out for me.

It’s taken a lot for me to be able to give up control of my own path, but the Lord’s plan is so much better than my own. At my Conformation, my life became filled with so much more radiant joy than I could ever even begin to describe! This joy transcends circumstance, and emanates into every single aspect of my life. The Lord’s goodness seeps into my life in mundane and profound ways, and He provides for me in accordance with my own individual needs. In choosing Christ, I received His ultimate companionship, which has never ever failed.

Consequences also followed this choice that have included ridicule, heartache, and loneliness. This is what comes when living in a countercultural way in a society that doesn’t always understand virtue and sacrifice. I have been mocked, belittled, and isolated because of my beliefs. I have been called a hypocrite because I am a sinner and make mistakes. I have struggled to remember the reasoning for my commitment and fallen into doubt and sin. But to be completely honest, through my relationship with the Lord and His infinite mercy, my suffering evolves into blessing because I know that it is worth it.

While we are all free to make our own decisions and live our lives in unique ways, we are bound to the consequences of those choices. The consequences of confirming faith in God can include struggle, pain, and ridicule, but it also includes immeasurable joy, peace, hope, and love. This is a choice that we must make not just one time, but daily. With every thought and action, we must re-make the decision to live as Jesus requests of us, because this is something bigger than just ourselves.

Confirming my faith in Jesus Christ was the best decision I have ever made, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In Joy, Monica

And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

I’ll Pray For You

I thought about it and I couldn’t remember.

I’m a person who writes everything down, recognizing the busyness of my brain and the relief that comes from not needing to remember every little detail of my life. My planner is a prized possession, containing all my schedules, assignments, deadlines, appointments, birthdays, errands, and everyday to-do lists. I find that making these notes and lists frees up some of my mental space for other things, and then I can always refer back to my notes for things that I need to remember. I have a set of notecards and scrap paper on my desk for similar purposes, as well as a notebook in my car just in case I find myself needing to write something down while driving around town (when I’m stopped, of course!).

During a recent time in prayer, I remembered that I had told someone that I would pray for them. I tried and tried to remember who it was, or what their situation was, and I simply could not come up with the name. I felt dismayed at my inability to remember, but I prayed for the person anyway, trusting that God would know who the prayer was for. This tactic works when needed, thanks to God’s omnipotence, but I felt distraught when I recognized my lack of intentionality in sticking to my promise of praying for this person.

I find that as a Christian, I often tell people, “I will pray for you,” or “I will keep you in my prayers.” Interacting with others allows me glimpses into their lives, including their triumphs and their struggles. I offer support and encouragement where I can, and usually end with one of these promises of prayer, whether they uphold a faith belief or not, adding them to my long mental list of people and causes to pray for. In doing this, I find that it’s hard to keep track of all of my intentions and make sure that I spend time praying for each one properly, and I will honestly admit that I have failed to live up to some of my commitments.

I decided that I no longer wanted to fall short on my promises of prayer, so I decided to make a change. I write everything else down in my planner or on scraps of paper, but for some reason I had yet to do this with my prayers! I pulled out a bright green notebook about the size of my hand, opened it up to the first page, and began to write each of my prayer intentions and the names of people to whom I have promised prayers. During that same day, I carried the little journal with me and added intentions as they came up, quickly filling a few pages.

A friend shared a struggle with me, so I wrote her name in the book. The news presented disheartening reports, so I inscribed the name of my country on the next available line. A family member felt sick, so their name went in the journal. I wrote my own name in there too, for good measure (I need all the prayers I can get!).

That night, when it came time in my prayer to offer up my intentions, I held my little green notebook and slowly read each inscription line by line, saying, “Lord, hear my prayer.” Deliberate follow-through of prayer felt so much more meaningful than my generic requests, and I ensured that none of my intentions went forgotten. I felt God’s presence wrap around me and a peace that I know comes only from Him. This simple change completely revolutionized the way that I aim to approach supplication from now on.

I plan to carry this little journal with me at all times, so that when people ask for prayers, I can immediately add them to my list and bring their names to prayer with me, making sure I stick with my commitment.

“I’ll pray for you,” is not just a way to wrap up a conversation or offer a bit of comfort. That phrase is a commitment to call upon the Creator of the Universe for the sake of another person. It is a vow of humble service and trust that the Lord will provide in the way that He knows best, beyond our human understanding. Prayer is our most powerful tool, and we must make the best use of it that we can!

It’s easy to make excuses for the things we fall short on, or to settle for just average. However, Heaven is not a place for mediocrity, and we cannot afford to be wishy-washy. We must stick to our commitments, whatever they may be. By continually reflecting on ourselves, finding the places we need to grow, and praying diligently, we can move closer towards eternity.

So let me know your intentions, and I will add them to my little green journal. I’ll keep you in my prayers!

In Joy, Monica

I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:1, 3-4

Doors Are Heavy

I didn’t expect to become inspired while sipping my chai tea latte.

I sat on a small burgundy couch in my favorite local coffee shop reading the introduction of one of my textbooks for the new semester when an elderly woman slowly walked past me using a cane for support. Her husband left the shop to go get the car, and a few minutes later she approached the door to leave the building, so I popped up and got to the door before her, holding it open as she made hew way outside. A smile emerged on her face as she looked up at me and exclaimed, “Oh, thank you, doors are heavy!” I wished her a lovely day and then returned back to my little couch.

Her comment stuck in my mind. I put down my textbook and began reflecting on her statement and why it struck me in such a deep way. To me, this coffee shop door was like most other doors. Sure, I find some doors particularly heavy and surprisingly hard to open, but they generally don’t present any sort of challenge for me. I simply open them and I go through. However, for this delicate woman, the door presented an obstacle that most other people might not think twice about. She could have managed to open it on her own, I’m sure, but she was quite delighted to receive help with something difficult for her to conquer.

Everyone has different things in their life that they find heavy. Things that are easy and mindless for us may be the most difficult trial for someone else, while the things we find challenging for ourselves may be quite simple for someone else. That doesn’t make any of us right or wrong, or better or worse, it just makes us unique humans with different abilities and strengths.

Our individual experience changes over time, and even day-to-day, and depending on our experience, the heaviness we encounter in our life can take many forms. Maybe we carry a spiritual burden, an emotional weight, a mental load, or a physical hindrance. Perhaps we carry a combination of these, or all of them.

Whatever weight we carry with us while we strive to be our best selves, we need not carry it on our own. In one moment of carrying the cross 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ bore all of the burdens of the entire world through the wood upon His shoulders. He walks with us every step of our life, blessing, inspiring, and supporting us. The community we build around us shares even more in carrying our burdens through friendship, prayer, and resources.

In recognizing the places in our own life that feel heavy, we can recognize that every single person around us also has a unique experience of this. Every single person we encounter carries their own combination of burdens and faces things that feel too heavy.

If we open our eyes and heart, we can become aware of the things that might be extra heavy for the people around us, and we can work to help alleviate some of the weight. Even if we feel incapable and unworthy, we can allow Christ to work through us and use our own abilities to reach the places in the world that prove too heavy for others. We can humbly offer ourselves to make a difference in the lives of other people, and humbly accept their help in return. Even Jesus Christ needed help carrying His heavy cross, and Simon of Cyrene came to His side to help make His burden a bit lighter.

Gratefully, we all have different abilities, and what proves heavy for me remains manageable for others. I know that I can reach out for help when I need it, and the people who love me often reach out to me before I even ask. I can also use my strengths to alleviate some of the burden for others, which helps spread love and joy throughout the world. Every act of service makes an impact, and nothing is too simple. Opening a door might seem small to us, but to someone else it might mean so much more.

In Joy, Monica

Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Sharing Socks

Crew-cut socks work best with ankle boots.

The weather in Florida took a huge downward spike last week, getting into the low 20s and 30s – I know, crazy. The rest of the country might scoff at us as they experience their own bomb cyclones, severe snow storms, and below 0°F weather, but us Floridians and our surroundings are simply not prepared for such weather. Schools shut down, roads closed, and officials advised us to stay inside. We can withstand intense humidity and heat at the top of the thermometer, but the low end is just not our thing.

After wearing my tall, cozy boots for a few days in a row, I went out to the store to buy a few extra pairs of snuggly socks to keep my toes warm. As I perused the sock section with a small variety of different colors and styles, I chose a few pairs to add to my collection. As I was about to leave and go purchase my items, a woman nearby caught my attention, and she looked nervous, almost embarrassed. She step towards me and stated that she was from South Florida and therefore new to cold weather. She then asked me to explain the different types of socks.

Relieved that this was a question I could answer, I turned to the rack beside us and began to explain the different styles of socks and what types work best with which types of shoes. I described the difference between ankle socks, crew-cut socks, knee-high socks, and over-the-knee socks. They sound pretty self-explanatory, but this overwhelmed shopper showed visible relief and gratitude after I took a few moments to help her out.

It was something so simple. I mean, really, really, simple. And it made a difference.

I have been a student for my entire life since preschool. I love to learn, and I keep choosing to attend more school. But what I love even more than learning new things, is sharing those things with others. Up until the end of my college undergraduate schooling, I felt like I was learning so much new information every day, but could find few ways to share that learning with the people around me. My classmates were learning the same things as me, and not many people really wanted to hear about classical conditioning, z-scores, or the difference between convergent and discriminant validity (understandably).

Since starting my graduate program, I feel like the tides have completely shifted. As I learn about how humans work, communicate, and function, I find myself sharing my learning about mental health with the people around me at every chance I get, and they actually want to hear about it! I still have a long way to go in my own learning, but my growing understanding of emotions, thoughts, actions, and the influence of one’s background already helps me make an impact in the world around me. The concepts that have become so natural and understandable to me can make such a difference in someone’s new revelation or understanding of themselves, a relationship, or a loved one.

When we share what we know, we can help uplift the people around us. As simple as it may seem, with all of the information in the world there is no way one human can know everything, so sharing our knowledge and listening to others enables us to live a more full life. Whether we have a high school degree, a PhD, a certificate, trade school learning, job experience, or even just life experience, we all have something that we can contribute. It may take some deliberation, creativity, and courage to find effective ways to share what we know, but we each hold something valuable worth sharing.

Our roles in the world all look different, designed by our Creator who knows us better than we know ourselves. He gives us gifts and experiences so that we can grow as individuals and then grow as a community, all the while using what we have to honor Him.

I think it will be a long time until I really feel confident in my abilities as a mental health counselor, but as long as I share what I know and do my best to help the people around me in the way that they need, whether it be types of socks or something much greater, I know that I will be doing my part alongside the Wonderful Counselor.

In Joy, Monica

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD.

Isaiah 11:2

Puzzle Pieces

My family did a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in one and a half days.

I usually shy away from participating in my family’s puzzling activities due to the mass amount of pieces that all vaguely appear to be the same and the frustration that arises from a challenging section. I might occasionally go over to the designated puzzle area and search for a piece or two that fit together, but then move onto another more do-able activity.

In quite a change of events, I actually enjoyed this puzzle! The image consisted of a collection of books bearing shiny gold foil lettering and emblazoned details along the binding. With the ability to separate the numerous pieces into sections first based on color, and then by individual book, the magnitude of the task became much more bearable.

While working on putting together the pieces of one book at a time, I searched through the pile to find each individual piece, noting the details and shape of each unique one. Although many pieces looked very similar and almost identical, each one bore something special that marked its place in the grand picture.

To my family’s slight amusement/annoyance, I followed each successful match with an excited “aha!” Each movement towards creating the grand image felt like a little victory.

As we transition into the new year, we reflect upon our 2017 and look forward with hopes of a new 2018. We recall the happenings of the past 365 days, focusing on the things that felt most significant. This is a beneficial activity, where we can evaluate our goals, both short- and long-term, and make a conscious effort to work more fervently towards those goals, whatever they may be.

However, a general trend appears where we wish away the struggles of our year, emphasize our successes, and readily push the year into the past, optimistically wishing that the new calendar will somehow bring about bigger and better things.

Our year has been a puzzle (possibly in more ways than one). Each little thing that has happened to us fits somewhere in our life, connecting to other moments and forming the great picture that makes us, well, us. The wonderful things stand out in bright shiny gold, and the more mundane things blend together in a span of monotony. Hope and optimism and moving forward are beautiful and valuable things, that’s for sure. And so are struggles and trials and failures. It is easy to forget that the difficult parts of our life have their place in the puzzle as well. They fit into their spot and make up a portion of our overall experience, whether we like it or not.

While we can certainly hope for a better new year, we cannot undermine the significance of the trials of the year past. Whatever we have gone through, it has allowed us to learn, grow, and make decisions about who we are as people. Wishing away the experiences we view as negative leaves us with a bit of emptiness and undervaluing the lessons we can learn by embracing our struggles.

If you’ve ever done a puzzle, you know the frustration of finishing the whole thing and realizing that one piece is missing. That one piece and the hole it creates becomes the most important thing, until it’s found and placed where it is meant to be. We sell ourselves short by undermining any part of our experience. In saying that, when we recognize all areas of our life for what they are, we can choose to leave the past in the past and move forward with positivity and virtue, empowered and driven.

Things in our life may not fit where we want them to or where we think they should, but everything does fit into its place in the grand picture of our life.

When we think about the entire puzzle of our 2017, let’s acknowledge all of the things that pushed us, shaped us, and motivated us, and embrace the moments that helped us become more ourselves. Let us also remember the moments where we did not shine our brightest, and choose to improve those areas of our life in the new year. May we embrace our humanness and resolve to understand and embrace our true selves, this day and every day.

In Joy, Monica

God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.

Ecclesiastes 3:11