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

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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

Water Through the Ceiling

My upstairs neighbor overfilled their bathtub.

I stepped in a puddle of water that dripped through my ceiling. Looking up at the drops of water falling rhythmically down and off of the fire detector and spreading into a nearby water stain on the ceiling, I grabbed a mixing bowl and placed it on the floor to catch the water that splattered onto the ground.

But beyond simply catching the droplets, I realized that I had no idea where to begin addressing this problem. I am not trained in plumbing or electricity or literally anything even remotely related. I could see the result of something I knew was wrong (although I didn’t know the cause of this particular problem until a little bit later), but did not know how to find the source of the problem, how to go about fixing it, or how to clean up the consequences.

I knew this was way out of my scope of competence, so I called my apartment management office to have someone come help me tackle this watery issue.

With an array of tools, a stepladder, and a wet-dry vacuum, a very nice maintenance worker travelled back and forth between my apartment and my upstairs neighbor’s apartment, working to clean things up. He removed the fire detector from the ceiling, took off a small piece of drywall, and delved into the inner workings of the structure of the building in order to remedy the damage.

The reality of the situation was a little less dramatic than I’m making it seem, but the process of fixing this bathtub-induced water damage caused me to think about how I go about correcting other issues that arise in my life. I often catch myself slipping into the mindset that I should be able to know how to do everything and how to fix everything. I want to be able to fix things on my own. And I am always so, so wrong.

There is a lot of stuff that I can do, and things that I have worked for, and pieces of myself that I am proud of, but I cannot possibly do everything. I cannot handle everything on my own. And that’s okay.

Life concerns often start just like this overfilled bathtub. A situation, thought pattern, or stressor becomes a bit too much to handle. We use our limited knowledge to try our best to handle the situation, or we ignore the problem, hoping it will go away. The issue gets bigger and bigger, filling up other aspects of our life. It finds its way into the inner workings of ourselves, until the point where it starts to leak out in ways we never intended. It worsens to the point where we have to call for help and address the consequences.

Beautifully and humbly, we as humanity consist of a mix of different and talented people that can solve problems. We have engineers, dentists, artists, lawyers, clergy, farmers, architects, parents, hair stylists, teachers, pilots, wedding planners, soldiers, writers, police officers, gym instructors…the list goes on and on.

Even more beautifully and humbly, we have a God who is all of these things and more. The Creator of the Universe often acts as our Maintenance Man, who we can call out to for help when we’re unsure of how to solve a problem. He helps us find the source of our concerns, address them with virtue, and delicately heals our wounds. We can seek Him routinely when we enter into the Mass, and allow Him to work on us in the ways that He sees necessary.

We so often expect ourselves to be able to tackle problems on our own where we have no training or experience. We want to be capable of things that we realistically shouldn’t be able to do. We can use the tools we have gained through our life experiences to help in whatever way we can, however, gratefully, we don’t have to be able to do it all.

When water drips through your ceiling, it’s okay to call for help.

In Joy, Monica

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:2