Wake-up To Makeup

I took off my makeup before my date.

My relationship with makeup has been a rocky one. I have had problem skin for years, which began to worsen when I started college. I would never leave my dorm room without at least putting on some foundation, concealer, and powder to cover up my spots, redness, and oily skin. More often than not, I would do those basics, and then continue to add on more products to enhance my appearance. After evening out my skin, I had no color to my face, so I’d add on just a bit of bronzer and a tad of blush. Then, my eyes would look sallow, so I’d brush on some eye shadow and follow it with some liner. With that much going on, I’d have to swipe on some mascara and fill in my eyebrows, and then top it all off with a swatch of color on my lips to balance out the whole look. Before I’d know it, I unintentionally put on a full face of makeup.

The thing is, I do enjoy makeup for all of its merits. I enjoy getting to play around with colors and fun products. It helps me feel more put together and ready to tackle a new day, and a bold lipstick gives me an extra boost of confidence. I don’t touch my face as much, which helps keep away icky germs. It also gives me some time in the morning to pamper myself and think about my goals for the day.

However, even with all of these positive qualities, I often slide into the mindset of makeup no longer being a choice, but a necessity. And that’s where things go wrong.

At my most insecure times, I feel like I need to wear makeup so that when people look at me, they don’t automatically see my blemishes. I cover up my skin and carry around my grab bag of go-to products for quick fixes throughout the day. I can’t even run an errand with bare skin.

I vividly remember the first time I went out since starting college with zero makeup on my face. About halfway through my undergraduate schooling, I left my room with clean skin. I pulled into a parking spot at the grocery store and felt nervous and self-conscious. I convinced myself that I was overreacting and just got out of the car and went inside. I picked out some produce, searched around for my favorite cereal, and grabbed a few snacks. People saw me with pimples and blemish scars and red spots. And no one cared. I received no disgusted looks, no lengthy stares, no snide comments, nothing.

This was a big turning point for me; a sort of wake-up call in realizing that make-up is a choice. Other people are so caught up in their own lives and honestly don’t have the time or energy to care if I’m wearing mascara or if my concealer is smudged. What I wear is up to me.

I’ve noticed myself slipping back into the habit of covering my skin every time before leaving my apartment, so this week I put this back into action. While getting ready for a date, I took off my make-up. When my boyfriend opened up the car door and looked at me, he said, “Wow, you’re beautiful!” and in his loving and genuine response, I saw Christ.

In Scripture, God reminds us over and over again that we are beautiful just as we are. We all have some way that we cover up our insecurities and perceived blemishes, whether it be makeup or something else, but the Bible says that God cherishes our hearts more than we cherish our appearances (1 Samuel 16:7), and outer beauty is fleeting anyway (Proverbs 31:30). He has made us wonderfully (Psalm 139:14), and without flaw (Song of Songs 4:7). Our Creator made sunsets and mountains and daisies and puppies and shooting stars, and with all of this, He decided that the world needed to be a bit more beautiful, and He made you.

However we choose to present our bodies, it gives us the opportunity to honor God’s creation. We can walk proudly with a bare face, or we can choose to enhance the features that God chose for us. With or without makeup, we are beautiful because of who we are.

In Joy, Monica

God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The Lord looks into the heart.

1 Samuel 16:7b

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The Roach Approach

I never wanted this to happen, but I have become proficient at killing cockroaches.

As first-floor residents in an apartment building, my roommate and I have experienced our fair share of bugs that find their way inside our humble abode. I’ll spare you the details, but every time a new one appears, after building up a bit of courage, we manage to get the bug out of our home.

However, recently, we’ve had a cockroach problem. Since we moved in, we have had a few stray ones here and there that somehow managed their way into our place. We’ve dealt with them in some pretty creative ways that have involved an upside down cup, peanut butter, a dust pan, several shoes, a vacuum, and even a washing machine. We have set traps and have had pest control come visit our apartment. Although even with all of that, now their presence has become more frequent.

When we experienced four roaches in less than 24 hours, we knew we had to do something. We alerted our apartment complex, researched extermination techniques, asked friends if they had any tips, bought traps, gel bait, and spray, and placed/applied them around the apartment together.

We now check for bugs in every room we enter, and keep our weapons of destruction (roach spray that also has a fresh floral scent) in a central location. I keep my phone on high volume just in case my roommate calls for backup. It may seem like we’re overreacting to just a few cockroaches, and that these actions are a little bit excessive, but we have the mindset of wanting to stop the issue before it gets any worse and becomes more difficult to handle.

While driving home after purchasing this array of interventions, I considered my approach to this problem and how I tend to address other issues in my life, particularly related to self-care. When a concern appears, in that I am not taking enough time for myself, or I am not allotting time to cook nutritious meals, or I am stressing excessively about my work or school work, I tend to just push it to the side. I ignore the warning signs and significance of each circumstance and avoid addressing the concern, under the idea that I can just work harder and make things better. I often push and push and push myself until I am face-to-face with an issue I can’t avoid.

I take roaches more seriously than myself.

When one cockroach appears, I drop whatever I am doing and take care of the situation. I check the rest of my home for any other immediate concerns, and then return to what I was doing. However, when I notice my stomach rumbling because I’ve been working all day and haven’t had time to eat, I tell myself to grade five more papers before getting up.

When four cockroaches enter my home sequentially, I promptly research solutions and arrange measures to stop the situation from getting worse. I know the importance of catching an infestation early on. However, when I find myself in a pattern of staying up too late working on school assignments and struggling with a lack of sleep, I accept that that’s how it has to be and that there’s not much I can do to remedy the situation. I let the problem grow and get worse.

To be honest, personal issues within ourselves and our relationships are a whole lot more important than some cockroaches. So let’s treat them that way. From now on, we can implement The Roach Approach to the concerns in our life: recognize the issue, seek guidance and resources, act appropriately, and understand warning signs to employ preventative measures for the future.

When a problem arises or we find ourselves struggling with something, we can recognize it as important and worth addressing. Little issues often turn into big issues. We can ask our friends for support, find resources within the community, and research abounding information on the World Wide Web. We can talk to a counselor and become empowered to tackle the problem. We can take those suggestions and ideas and implement them into our life, and then be aware of causes and triggers to prevent the same issue from coming back in the future. However, if it does return, we are already armed and know what works.

Just like my growth in facing each cockroach that invades my home, we can grow in our ability to address the issues in our lives before they become bigger and harder to fight.

We don’t have to let the roaches stay.

In Joy, Monica

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

I Will Talk

I talked about it, and they said, “me, too.”

I recently presented a talk at a women’s retreat. My topic, and only guideline for the content, was “trust in God.” So, naturally, I talked about mental health. If someone asks me to give a talk, regardless of what the topic is, I am most certainly going to find a way to connect it to mental health. It’s kind of my thing.

While prepping for this retreat and contemplating my topic, I kept coming back to the times in my life where my trust in God was essential to my ability to persevere and remain faithful. I thought about the influential turning points that led me towards freedom.

My faith story is largely centered around my experiences with mental health, not really because of the mental health itself, but because of all of the ways that I have grown closer to the Lord through inviting him into my suffering. Because of this, I often reflectively understand God’s movement in my life in relation to where I was in my struggles. By connecting these experiences together, I spoke about Trust In God by using my personal mental health experiences as a witness. No matter how many times I do this, I always get a little bit nervous, but after I finished, some of these women said, “me, too.” That helps make it worth it.

In my Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, all of the students are encouraged to engage in their own personal therapy. As we learn about and practice counseling, we have created an environment where we can freely talk about our own therapy, counselors, and mental health without reservation, and let me tell you – It is awesome. It is beautiful. It is freeing. It is empowering.

When I come to class and say that I had counseling that morning, some of my classmates say, “me, too.” When I share about a diagnosis that impacted my life, my classmates can say, “me, too.” When I laugh about being able to identify techniques and skills that my counselor uses, almost all of my classmates say, “me, too!”

When we hear someone speaking about something we relate to, we learn that we are not alone. When we speak about what goes on in our own lives, others learn that they are not alone.

Talking about struggles in a candid way breaks the silence and allows others to follow suit.

Our world has so many topics that need to be addressed and conversations that need to be engaged in, and while I choose to focus particularly on mental health, we all have our own unique experiences that can open up a plethora of much-needed dialogues.

To actually do this, we can move in small steps. When starting from silence, we can begin by gaining self-awareness through journaling, meditation, or prayer. We can then converse with a close friend or family member, and then a small group of people. We may choose to talk with a professional. We can share positive content on social media, and educate people who show misunderstanding. We become more comfortable with ourselves and our experiences, and ultimately change how we engage with the people around us. As a community we can do our best to reduce stereotypes and stigma, and create an environment that reaches out, advocates for health, and uplifts one another.

As for me, I will continue to trust in God, and I will continue to talk about mental health, because every “me, too” is another person who feels a little less lonely and a little more understood.

In Joy, Monica

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Doing My Best

The drive there took five hours and fifty-two minutes.

On my way to a long-anticipated weekend trip, I drove south joyfully and excitedly, making only two necessary stops for coffee and gas. I prepped my phone with podcasts, songs by my favorite Christian artists, and cast recordings of my beloved Broadway musicals. I wore my comfy driving shoes, and brought my favorite car snack – gluten-free pretzels (the twisty ones, not the sticks). I felt energized and prepared for the journey ahead of me, and faced no obstacles until just before my destination, where I navigated the busy traffic and made it safely!

The drive back took nine hours and thirty-one minutes.

After an action-packed weekend full of smiles and little sleep, I packed my car to drive back north, a little reluctant to leave so soon. I became overwhelmed thinking of this return trip in its entirety, worried about how I would make it back without falling asleep. I felt discouraged knowing that I would need to stop, and frustrated knowing that my trip would inevitably take longer.

Tired and sad to part so soon, my energy levels quivered at a minimal level. I acknowledged this reduction in capability, purely a matter of living life and not of any fault or wrongdoing, and created reasonable expectations for myself. I started to view this journey in segments of about an hour at a time – I would drive, stop to go to Sunday Mass, drive, eat lunch, drive, stop for gas and a snack, drive, stop and do some homework, drive. Framing it this way made the trip seem much more manageable for me as I set my GPS and pulled out of the parking lot.

Just two days prior, I had managed this trip with ease, but the same trip, just reversed, was much more difficult for me.

A few hours after making it home, I started to reflect about the drastic difference in my driving ability in the span of just three days. Why was it so much harder for me to drive home? Why did it take me so much longer? After some thought, I realized that the difficulty wasn’t even really about the drive itself. In reality, I likely spent almost the exact same amount of time actually driving each way, and the difference was in me!

In the end, my success for each of the trips looked completely different. In this time where I am addressing my priorities and self-care more intentionally, I began each of the two trips by looking at my goals and current state, and forming a realistic plan. On the return trip, I had a comparison to view, so I became tempted to do as “well” as I did before: If I did the drive in just under six hours previously, I could do it in six hours again, right? Well, maybe, but not necessarily.

When I started to think more clearly, I recognized that I would not be able to make as good of a time as I did earlier. I had to accept that and then address how to help my experience be as positive as it could be, given the circumstances. In this case, that included stopping frequently, sipping on dark roast coffee, reciting many prayers, and eating some nutritious snacks (okay, and some m&m’s). Then, three hours and thirty-nine minutes longer than my first trip, I made it back home.

Far too often in my life I encounter a similar predicament, yet continue to hold myself to the same standards of my past experience. I compare myself to what I did before and disregard what I need to do now. I travel similar journeys over and over again and end up worn out trying to race against my own personal record.

Every journey we embark on is unique, no matter how many times before we may have traveled the same path, because WE are unique and always changing. Our “best” varies from day to day and moment to moment, and our capabilities fluctuate depending on SO many factors: age, mood, time, stress, sleep, and social support, just to name a few. Before tackling a new project, class, activity, or trip, we must check in with ourselves, be realistic with the expectations we set, and ask the Lord to take care of the rest.

Sometimes our best on one day looks a whole lot different than our best on another day, and that’s a-okay. Your life is not a race against yourself or anyone else. Do what you need to do to do your best, and you will eventually make it to your destination.

In Joy, Monica

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Priorities

I forgot about myself.

In a whirlwind of newness, transition, and responsibility, I prioritized the most imminent facets of my life, focusing all of my attention and energy on them. After a while, the unattended portions of myself started to cry out, and I listened.

My counselor and I formed a list of all of the things I presently value, and I began to explore ways to increase balance and structure in my life in order to healthily address them all. While reviewing the list, I realized that out of 12 items, I am currently successfully accomplishing only 3 of them, barely scraping by on another few, and neglecting the majority.

And my name wasn’t even on the list at all.

I can’t give anything if I have nothing, so I am reorganizing my priorities and taking some time to tend to my spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health.

I am praying for you, and I ask that you pray for me too.

In the mean time, write down your priorities, and make sure to add yourself to the list.

In Joy, Monica

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?

Mark 8:36