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

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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

The First Day Of Christmas

I prepared my heart, and now I’m ready to celebrate!

Towards the end of the calendar year, Christians and non-believers alike get in the spirit of the holidays, embracing gift-giving, sweet treats, and time with family and friends. Neighbors exchange cookies, strangers hold the door for an extra moment, and friends remind each other how grateful they are for one another. Christmas time brings out an unquestionable difference in the overall demeanor of our society, largely for the better.

The popular trend has become to start celebrating Christmas the day after Halloween, or after Thanksgiving, or on December 1st, or anywhere after or in between. Decorations emerge, cookies come out of hot ovens, songs about Santa flood the radio stations, and quotes from Buddy the Elf become part of everyday conversation.

But regardless of when each individual or family decides to begin their holiday festivities, the intensity and excitement of the season builds up until Christmas Eve and finally the arrival of Christmas Day, the most wonderful time of the year! The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ pervades the world as we remember the silent, holy, and beautiful night that resulted from Mary’s “yes” to God. We remember the reason for the season and keep the Christ in Christmas on December 25th.

Then, December 26th bears an overwhelming abrupt end to the season of joy. Decorations come down, lights switch off, products go on sale, the last cookie gets eaten, family goes home, and people go back to work.

The world around me makes Christmas disappear, while I’m just getting started.

Within the Catholic Church, the four-week season of Advent consists of preparing, hoping, waiting, rejoicing, and beholding the Lord, which culminates in the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas! While we enjoy all the festivities surrounding the holiday, we choose to focus on remembering the realities of Jesus’ sacrifice in becoming a human to join us on earth. We gather together to adore His coming and celebrate this central portion of our faith. This begins a 12-day celebration that lasts until the appearance of the three Wise Men at Jesus’ manger at the Epiphany on January 6th. The song The Twelve Days of Christmas isn’t just a drawn-out silly song describing a bunch of gifts between two lovers; the premise is based on the real length of Christmas.

The day that everyone forgets about Christmas is really only day two.

While the cookies, lights, and decorations bring much cheer and Christmas spirit, we can celebrate even while they come down around us. We can do our part to carry on the celebration by turning on our Christmas lights until the Epiphany, continuing to gather with friends and family, attending Church services, and wishing one another a “Merry Christmas” with a joyful smile. With all of the stress finally gone from shopping for presents, last-minute wrapping, and making tons of treats, we can finally fully immerse ourselves in celebrating the holiday, which benefits our hearts and souls as we enter into a new year. We each can remember the purpose of this Christmas and celebrate it in its entirety – until the Epiphany of our Lord.

Let’s embrace the joy for the full 12 days, and as long as we possibly can. Merry Christmas!

In Joy, Monica

The shepherds went in haste and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Luke 2:16-17, 20

Where The Ocean Meets The Sky

Two masses of vastness collided into an expanse that seemed to go on for eternity.

After taking off on an early morning flight and finishing reading through all the pamphlets in the seat back pocket (I forgot to bring a book to read), I turned my head and gazed out the window with the clouds floating below me. As the sun rose, I spotted local landmarks and watched miniscule cars cross long bridges below me. Buildings shrunk as I flew upward, and tiny dots of humans became imperceptible. My eyes followed the shoreline next to me, until suddenly everything was gone, and I saw nothing.

Varying shades of blue and white spread out in every direction. The only discernible place my eyes could find was a thin navy line where the ocean met the sky. I thought about nothing.

At many points in my life, a great wide expanse such as this represented nothingness. Looking at the extent of a blank forever indicated that I had nothing ahead of me – no goals, no future, no purpose. I could see the emptiness around me, and felt stuck not knowing what to do or where to go, with no direction of how to proceed. I could only see what was in front of me, and sometimes it truthfully seemed to be absolutely nothing.

Looking out the window of this plane at the spread below, above, and around me, I realized that I was not looking at nothing, but instead I was looking at everything. I could not see the ground below me, and the clear sky above me disguised all else, yet my eyes could see more in that moment than they ever could before.

I started to be able to see beyond me, and I recognized the world of possibilities that could emerge out of that “nothingness.” Instead of being stuck with no direction, I realized that my life begins here, where I am, and can extend outward in any direction with a plethora of opportunities.

All this choice may seem overwhelming at times, but God grants us delightful freedom so that we may use our free will to choose to love Him in our uniquely human way. Centering my life around Christ’s will for me guides me in a direction through the expanse of possibility. We are not limited by just the ocean or the sky, but have opportunity ahead of us far greater than we can imagine.

I can see the same exact image from the window seat on a plane, and have a wildly different understanding of it based on my mindset. If what we see ahead of us seems or feels like nothing, we must change how we view the situation.

We often talk about the vastness of the ocean, or the magnitude of the sky, but we are not limited by just the ocean or the sky. When the two expanses meet, it opens up possibilities and freedom greater than we can comprehend. When the openness of our minds matches the expanse in front of us, the wide stretch suddenly changes from signifying nothing, to signifying everything.

God gives us such an array of opportunities so that we may find our purpose in life and engage in the things that make us and the world a brighter place. In return, we can give that openness back to God to allow Him to direct us in the way He has destined for us. The vastness of our life gives us opportunities to live out our vocation, with no limits.

God created the world out of nothing, so imagine what He can do with us.

In Joy, Monica

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

The Signing Sub

I left work with a smile on my face and a jump in my step.

This year, I started working as a substitute teacher in the local public school system around my University. Within just a few weeks of venturing back into the worlds of elementary, middle, and high school, I had subbed for every grade from Kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade.

In each class, I try to learn a little bit alongside the students. In an Algebra class, I re-taught myself how to factor equations and then helped students who got stuck. I practiced comprehension skills in a 5th grade reading class. I taught Spanish to Kindergarteners, and brushed up on my vocab for colors and animals. In middle school band, I practiced sight-reading and explained rhythms to students. I engaged in little moments of teaching and witnessed small epiphanies as students understood new concepts, but these experiences remained pretty inconsistent. I also found myself in many classes where the students got a free period to work on assignments for their other classes, which is pretty much code for them to just hang out with each other and goof off.

Each assignment provides new opportunities and challenges, and ample room for growth. After a particularly tough run of substituting and feeling slightly depleted and hopeless about this work, I found myself praying for some guidance about what to do. I knew that I didn’t have to be powerless, but I didn’t know what that looked like for me, at this time, in this situation. I started to think about how I could possibly find more fulfillment in this endeavor, as well as actually provide something beneficial for the wide variety of students I work with. I considered the skills I have and the gifts that I have been blessed with, and thought about how I could try to incorporate them into substitute teaching.

I did some research, and found out that a few nearby high schools offer American Sign Language as a foreign language option. As this was my minor in college, I became excited at the idea of perhaps getting to work in some of these classes. I drafted an email to a few of the ASL teachers, said a prayer as I hit send, and within two hours I received multiple responses and scheduled a few new assignments into my planner.

On my first day in an ASL classroom, I did not use my voice to speak. I used only American Sign Language to communicate and teach the day’s lesson. I fingerspelled the students’ names to take attendance so they could practice receptive skills (and as a plus, I didn’t have to try to pronounce all the names!). I got to use my abilities to help facilitate the learning environment, as well as practice a language that I find astoundingly beautiful and fascinating. I actually left work feeling hopeful and eager, a strong sign that I was on the right track.

The ASL teachers now refer to me as “The Signing Sub,” and I honestly embrace that nickname wholeheartedly. By finding a niche where I feel confident and valuable, I became more effective at my job and found greater personal fulfillment in the work.

Like my newfound specialty, we all can contribute to the world around us in our own unique way. God has given us each gifts designed for a specific purpose, and no one else can do the things that we are each designed to do. Situations in our life may seem impossible or hopeless at first, but through prayer, trial and error, taking risks, and self-advocacy, we can find creative ways to use our skills. To do this, we must work on fostering and recognizing our talents and abilities, honor their value, and use them for good. Then, by sticking through and learning from the hard times, we can figure out ways to make situations better for ourselves and the people around us.

What we do may be something simple or it may be something big, but it is all meaningful.

In Joy, Monica

As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4:10

Three Became Twelve

My mind is scattered, I want a thousand naps, and I had a cookie for dinner.

Yep, it’s finals week.

In the midst of all the craziness going on at the end of my first semester of graduate school, I noticed my list of priorities sitting on my nightstand, the one I made with my counselor back towards the beginning of the semester. (Refer back to this post.) I paused for a moment to read through it again, and as I read each line, a bigger and bigger smile stretched across my face. While looking at the list of everything I value, I realized that I have steadily managed all 12 of them. I have balanced each and every thing that I hold dear.

Just a couple of months ago, I struggled to maintain even just three of the priorities on my list, forgetting about myself while swimming in the depth of all the new transitions and responsibilities involved with beginning graduate school. I accomplished the aspects of my life that I absolutely needed to, and neglected everything else.

Since then, I have learned how to orient my life so that I fulfill all of my various roles and engage in the things I value in my life in a way that works with my new graduate school lifestyle. That sentence makes it sound simple, but let me tell you – it took a ton of work, mountains of patience, and a whole lot of grace from Jesus Christ.

While many things have helped me reach this new point, including my many valued and supportive relationships, the largest instigator of change during this time has been my inner recognition that I am worth my time. Before, I pushed and pushed and pushed myself, working to fulfill all of the roles that I deemed important, neglecting my own needs in order to be “successful.” While I may have appeared put-together and on top of things, my emotions, spirituality, and mental health steadily declined as I continued to sacrifice my “me” time for all of these other areas of my life.

As I emphasize repeatedly, self-care proves to be utterly important as we journey throughout our lives. No matter how much we strive to give of ourselves and help others, we must do things that replenish our own energy so that we actually have something to pour out when we try to share from our cup.

To get to this point, I followed a series of difficult, yet healing steps.

I started by reaching out for support from the people closest to me, who helped me determine places in my life where I could temporarily cut back. Through their encouragement, I addressed my immediate needs, and just from this, I started to gain back some of my health. Then, I slowly, and one-at-a-time, reincorporated each aspect of my life that I had previously neglected. While doing this, I reevaluated the amount of time and energy that I could realistically engage in in each category. My nature is generally to reach for the highest standards in everything I do, but I had to adjust my expectations to align with what truly brings me fulfillment, not what I thought would fulfill me. Once I did all of these things, I found myself naturally re-integrating all 12 of the valued portions back into my life.

Throughout all of this, I placed extra emphasis on self-care. My mid-semester breakdown awakened me to the fact that I needed to do some serious readjusting in the ways I cared for myself. I started taking breaks during work, scheduling out time to spend with the people I care about, grocery shopping for healthy ingredients, finishing my work in advance of the deadline, going to therapy regularly, and coloring with my favorite markers, to name just a few of the things I started to do to value my “me” time. I realized that I am worth it.

Miraculously, while taking the time to work on myself as a sane (or somewhat sane) human being, I found that my ability to intentionally engage with others rose dramatically. I had more energy to invest in good causes around me, and more brain space to listen to friends who needed someone to chat with. As I prayed more, I found more time to serve the people around me. While rising from the beginning of poorly managing three priorities, to now positively handling twelve priorities, I started to live a freer, more giving, and more fulfilling life.

There is always hope, and we can always improve. Where we are at any one point does not determine our future, and we have the ability to invest in the things that are important to us in order to bring health and happiness to our lives. Whatever is on your list, fight for it. It’s worth it, and so are you.

In Joy, Monica

Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.

1 Timothy 4:16

Turkey Takeover

I furiously scribbled the instructions on a pad of post-its.

When a sudden situation arose on Thanksgiving morning, I found myself faced with the task of making the turkey for a dinner gathering of more than a dozen guests. I have grown immensely in my cooking abilities since moving into my own apartment, but a Thanksgiving turkey is a level to which I had not yet ventured. While I have helped prepare dishes of this grand meal in years past, making the turkey is a right of passage of which I was not yet prepared to embark. It’s a ton of pressure!

After a moment of panic realizing what I was about to do, I took a deep breath and rolled up my sleeves. With a 12-pound turkey sitting on the counter in front of me, I jumped into the task of cleaning, dressing, and seasoning the bird. I started a pot of gravy on the stove, adding veggies and herbs to the mix. Constantly referring back to my almost hieroglyphic scribbled notes, I was unsure of several aspects of the process, but I used my best judgment, and I wound up with a foil pan filled with something that actually looked pretty good. I carefully placed the turkey into the oven and returned every so often to baste it and check on the progress.

After a few hours of roasting in the oven, I pulled out an aromatic, juicy, golden brown bird! I proudly presented this dish to all the guests as they arrived, and have already been delegated this task for future Thanksgiving meals. So I guess it went well.

When tasked with a new situation and little time to prepare, I accepted the challenge and did the best that I could with what I had. When doing something that I didn’t know how to do, I used what I did know to guide my efforts.

When we face tough situations, especially those a little more intense than a turkey in need of cooking, our bodies help us rise to the challenge. We experience a fight-or-flight reaction, in which our sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones. We become alert and very aware of the happenings around us, and we can either choose to stay and face the situation, or flee from the threat. Our Creator made our bodies in this way, to enable us to do what seems impossible – if we accept the challenge.

There are stories of heroes who lift vehicles off of people in car accidents, swim miles to shore from a shipwreck, or run into a burning building to save others. When tested, by the grace of God, we humans can do so much more than we think.

I could easily devalue my turkey ordeal as insignificant, comparing it to some of these greater feats. There will always be something more difficult, another trial more testing. But whatever seems big to us at any given moment, matters. Accepting little challenges, working through them, and gaining confidence in ourselves helps us face bigger challenges in the future.

On Thanksgiving Day, a 12-pound turkey became a big deal to me, and embracing the challenge showed me that I am even more capable than I believe. Regardless of the outcome, the process reminded me of the many blessings that God places in my life, and all of the things that I am thankful for.

We are all living wonders, capable of so much more than we can ever know.

In Joy, Monica

Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

Row 90

We walked up, and up, and up to the very last and highest row.

My family traveled to get together to go to a college football game. Our tickets placed us in Row 90, so we took a series of stairs, winding ramps, and steep bleacher steps to reach our numbered destination, immediately backed by the bright orange-colored wall surrounding the stadium. The players, cheerleaders, referees, and band members dotted the field as they prepared for the game to begin – distant, but distinct.

The number of patrons thinned as the height increased. The fans wanted to be as close to the action as possible, so fewer seats were filled as we made our way to the very top. We lined the outer edge of the action – part of the energy, but slightly removed.

My family had joked beforehand about the fact that our seats were so far away; that we’d have to walk a ton of steps to get where we needed to go. But once we found our spots in Row 90, I just took in the view. Without even needing to turn my head, I could see the full scope of the 90,000-person stadium.

While the game started down below, I got a view of the event that I would not have had if my ticket had designated a lower seat. I got to view the great effort of Section 49 as we sent the wave powerfully around the corner of the crowd, staying strong for several rotations around the field. I saw the sprinkling of twinkling phone flashlights as the sun dimmed. I watched everybody stand up with arms around one another and sway in semi-unison song.

I got a perspective wildly different from that of the view from the field, or Row 12, or Row 55.

While training to become a mental health counselor, I feel as if I am viewing my life from Row 90.

I have been spending my whole life on the field, fervently planning out plays, running defense, and carrying the ball as far as I can run. I’ve taken a few time-outs just to then return back to the field to keep on pushing and giving my all. I have lost a few games, and I have won a few games. I have given it my all up to this point in my life.

While so engrained in what is happening within and immediately around me, I have rarely had the opportunity to take a step back from the field and look at life from a wider perspective. Earning my degree in psychology, and now studying counseling, I have now gained a deeper understanding of the wide array of human experience, yet I know that I have still only scratched the surface of an impossibly-vast spread of humanity.

I have been taking time to reflect back on my life experiences from a wider perspective, and am now able to put things together that I never had before. From this view, I see moments that pushed me to be where I am now, things that held me back, people that helped transform me, blessings from God that molded me, patterns that trapped me, struggles that propelled me, and Heaven that guided me. These big-picture realizations just did not happen for me when I was caught up in the play-by-play decisions.

So much happens that we don’t see. Yes, being present on the field and working with what we’ve got is incredibly important, but we can’t see everything from the ground floor. We can choose to live our whole lives this way, and many people do, but we severely limit ourselves if we never stop and look around at all of the beauty and wonder and life that makes this world a beautiful place, and makes our lives possible.

To help ourselves understand our influences and direction in life, we can take moments out of our busy schedules to look around from a wider view. We may be surprised at what we see.

The view from Row 90 isn’t so bad after all.

In Joy, Monica

Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Colossians 3:2

Turn Back Around

26.2 miles just wasn’t enough.

I stood at the end of a marathon finish line, cheering on the runners as they hurtled down the final stretch of the race. The atmosphere tingled with the energy of the crowd, and I became enamored by the incredible range and diversity of the marathoners and half-marathoners. I saw couples running while holding hands, parents pushing strollers, groups of friends in matching shirts, and men dressed up in Elvis costumes (the theme was Rock n’ Roll). I watched some people gain a last burst of energy and sprint their way to the end, while others walked the last portion while giving their last bit of energy. A few runners limped with a hand on their thighs and calves, clearly struggling to make it to the finish line. I saw faces of determination, perseverance, and victory in each person that kept pushing forward.

With all of this going on, one particular moment resonated in my heart. The announcer exuberantly introduced one man as he neared the final point of 26.2 miles, having run the entire marathon as the leader for the four-hour pace. He crossed his way to victory, and then immediately turned around. He ran back the other way so that he could go help other runners cross the line too.

As someone who struggles with running, I could not even imagine the feat of finishing a marathon, let alone finishing a marathon and then turning back to run some more. I started to get down on myself a little bit with realizing that this type of moment of awesome was beyond my capabilities. I would never be able to help people in the same way as this man. But after a quick moment of this thinking, I snapped myself out of it and realized that, yeah, I won’t help people like he does. Because I’m not an athlete. But I am so many other things.

While not everyone chooses to be a literal runner, we all have some sort of metaphorical marathon that we have run, are running, and will run.

As a student, I often feel like these marathoners, running a race towards the goal of a Bachelor’s Degree, an internship, a Master’s Degree, a good job, licensure, the list goes on and on.

In the midst of all of this, as a counselor-in-training, I find that I actually do in fact feel like this four-hour-pace man, running my own race just to turn back around and help others along their own journey. A mental health journey.

While working through the most difficult of my own mental health concerns, I never even imagined a finish line. I ran a metaphorical marathon that I never thought would end. I limped my way through, staggering down wrong roads, in desperate need of refreshment. It wasn’t until I recognized the other runners around me, embraced the encouragement of the cheerers standing along the sides, and accepted the help of the people monitoring the race, that I was able to progress my way towards health and fulfillment. With determination and trust in God, I crossed the finish line.

Having made it through a few of these mental health marathons, I now find myself in a place where I am starting to be able to turn back around and reach out to people struggling along their own journey. But it’s so much more than simply turning around. Learning to help myself was one thing, and helping other people is so much more intense.

I am learning empathy, vulnerability, ethics, development, theories, therapies, assessments, diagnoses, interventions, and so much more that I don’t know how it’s all fitting in my little brain! But in the short bit of time that I have spent in my graduate program thus far, I have learned the most important thing, the overarching main goal of the helping profession: Empower people to reach their own goals and find their own fulfillment. Wherever we all are in our own personal marathons, we can work towards this goal by listening to each other, giving unconditional support, and encouraging positivity.

I’m turning around to help, and I’m ready to run.

In Joy, Monica

Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us, and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.

 Hebrews 12:1b-2a