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

Advertisements

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

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

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

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