Friday, March 7, 2014Tweet
Reposting this post from a year ago because I think the message about dietary abstinence during Lenten Fridays is still relevant!
During the season of Lent, Roman Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays. I'm not going to go into all the specifications of what is and isn't allowed and why (or how this compares to other denominations), but I do want to talk about my own experiences with this particular practice and how it's changed since I became a pescetarian.
I think that criticisms around not eating meat on Fridays, particularly things like complaining that fish is allowed because of historical/economic precedent or that it's not a real sacrifice when there are so many good meatless options in America, miss the point of this Lenten practice.
I mean, if you feel like not eating meat or fish on Fridays brings you closer to God, then certainly do what you need to. But the point of all this is not that you are made holier by what exactly does or does not go in your mouth. Jesus already shot that idea down in Matthew 15:11.
Think about it this way: When practicing Catholics do eat meat on Fridays during Lent, what is usually the reason?
In my experience, it's typically not because they're going, "Screw you, God, I eat what I want!" just before shoving a bacon cheeseburger in their mouth. (If that were the case, I'd say there's a bigger issue there than precisely what they're eating.)
It's because they forget.
They forget it's Friday. Or they forget it's a Friday during Lent, and forget that they're not supposed to be eating meat.
Which means that when people do keep the practice and intentionally abstain from eating meat on these days, they do it out of mindfulness. It is an intentional action, a concrete display of faith, and it is connected to a reminder about one's religion, one's identity, and about Jesus's Good Friday sacrifice.
For those who regularly eat meat, intentionally abstaining from it requires that moment of reflection in which you think, "I am a Catholic, and I choose to follow this practice of my religion, so I will choose to eat something without meat."
Which brings me to being a pescetarian.
Although it was a slow process, I'm now in the habit of never eating meat. I don't have to think about it anymore. I don't forget and buy or order something with meat. I'm used to scanning menus for seafood and vegetable options.
Does the fact that I never slip up and eat meat on Fridays make me a better Catholic? I don't think so.
If anything, I'm missing out on this Lenten practice. It's not a sacrifice for me. Choosing what to eat doesn't require reflection on my faith identity. Aside from how much to eat (fasting is a separate issue), Lenten Fridays may as well be any other day for me.
I mentioned this to a friend last week, and she suggested I choose something else to abstain from eating on Fridays during Lent, which I think is a good idea. I'm not sure if it's equivalent to abstain from eating seafood, since I don't have it that often to begin with, but that's what I'm going with for the moment. Since we're on a Catholic campus, the dining hall offers more seafood and fewer meat options than usual on Fridays, so it may actually require more consideration for me than for some others to choose a meal.
My hope is that it will bring back some element of mindfulness to the food choices I make on those days. Because that, I believe, is what the practice of not eating meat is really about.
Do you abstain from eating meat or other foods during Lent and/or on Fridays? What does that mean to you?
I will be at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference in Newberg, OR, tonight (3/7/14) and tomorrow. Please tweet me if you'll be there!
Friday, November 29, 2013Tweet
Thank you for all of your supportive comments when I shared I needed a break. It turned out to be absolutely the right decision, and sadly I am not planning to return to a regular blogging schedule anytime soon. However, I told you I might pop back occasionally if I had something to say, and at this moment I do!
Mike and I started the adoption process in early October and have made it through most of the steps on the pre-activation checklist. I won't bore you with the long list, but it's included lots of paperwork, writing a profile about our life, taking pictures and filming video of our everyday life, getting fingerprinted (twice), asking for reference letters, and launching a fundraising page.
Throughout this process, I've heard a number of different comments, mostly well-meaning though not always. I realize that most of these comments come from a place of ignorance about the adoption process. So I thought, well, I've got a platform for educating people -- let's use it.
Below are some of the various things I've heard, and what I think but usually don't say.
It's ridiculous how hard they make it to adopt a child! Any person can just have sex and have a child and nobody checks their credentials!
People share this complaint with me all the time. Guess what? As the person actually going through the adoption process, you will not hear me complaining about the many steps we have to go through. There is not a single thing we've been asked to do to which I've said, "That's stupid; I don't understand why we have to do that."
In our case, we are doing a domestic private adoption, meaning someone who is pregnant (or has a child they've decided they can't parent anymore) is going to have to actively select us as the family to raise their child for the rest of their lives. If you were that birth parent*, would you feel comfortable placing your child with someone who hadn't had a background check to see if they had a history of committing child abuse? Someone who hadn't had a professional review their living situation to make sure it was safe for a child? In almost all cases, a birth parent is not making an adoption plan because they don't care about their child, but because they care so much that they want their child to have good life opportunities. In order to feel certain about that choice, that requires being confident that the family in question has been reviewed to be mentally stable, financially secure, etc.
And from the agency's perspective, who is helping to make these matches between birth parents and adoptive parents, their reputation is on the line. They're matching complete strangers with one another for a lifelong relationship. Of course they want to make sure that the families they're providing birth parents with information about, as options for forever families for their children, are going to be capable of caring well for that child.
There are additional concerns when you talk about something like international adoption. Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan, who has adopted children from other countries, has written a number of great blog posts about the importance of adopting through a reputable agency. There are too many cases of people separating children from their families through deception or bribery and passing them off as orphans, either as a money-making scheme or through a misguided savior complex. Of course there need to be safeguards on these processes. And when adoptive families are not screened carefully enough (or even when they are) and tragic things happen, a country may shut down its entire adoption process, making it impossible to connect available families with children needing homes.
Finally, even though we personally are not adopting because of infertility issues, you better damn well not say to someone who is adopting for that reason, "It shouldn't be so hard to adopt when anyone can just have sex and get pregnant." Way to pour salt in someone's wound. (And yes, this has been said to me by people who don't have any idea why we're adopting.)
I wish every single person had to go through a process like this before they could become parents! I know too many people who shouldn't be parents.
No, you don't really wish that. Do you really, actually want to live in a country where every single person has to be screened before they can reproduce? Aside from the general impossibility of that kind of biological regulation, I don't think anyone would want to live under that Brave New World type of control. And we certainly don't want to end up with more abortions or more children shuttled into foster care than necessary. We already have a terrible model from China about what happens when the government tries to control reproduction.
Also, whose standards would we follow for this kind of setup? There are already horror stories from adoptive parents of social workers conducting home studies and then denying people the opportunity to adopt for bizarre or trivial reasons. Many times those people can reapply or go through another agency to be approved. Would you want someone to be sterilized because one other person said they were unfit to be a parent? I don't think so.
The truth is that there are a lot of different ways to be a parent, and most of them result in the child being more or less fine, despite the raging debates about every aspect of how a child should be raised. If we have a good social worker for our home study, we will be approved even if they disagree with us about things like co-sleeping or babywearing. Making a judgment that another person shouldn't be a parent at all is a very serious judgment to make.
And even though this country doesn't regulate reproduction, this doesn't mean that people can continue to parent their children indefinitely no matter what. Child Protective Services departments exist so that there are consequences if people actively harm their children (no matter whether those children are biological or adopted).
So when you say "these people shouldn't be parents," do you mean, "I think they are abusing or neglecting their children and should receive state intervention"? Or do you, more likely, mean, "I disagree with these people's parenting approaches"? Guess what -- in the second case, even if those people did go through the whole long process we are going through, they might still have been approved to be parents.
Interestingly, I often hear these first two comments together, from the same people, who are effectively saying, "You should not have to go through this long, time-intensive process -- but I wish other people did." That's not really a comment on the adoptive process, then; that's just your personal opinion that we will make good parents and some other people you know (or know of) are not good parents.
It should not be so expensive to adopt when there are so many children out there who need homes!
OK, first of all, when people say this, they seem to be thinking about children who are already born and in foster care, which is an entirely different ball of wax, as I'll explain in a moment.
But more importantly, it drives me nuts when people say this because it makes it sound like there's this giant cage o' babies somewhere, and someone's standing between it and us with a key and setting some arbitrary, astronomical number in order to unlock it and hand us a baby. This is not even remotely close to how adoption works.
What we are paying for, when we pay for adoption, is services. We are paying the staff at our agency, which includes 1) people who walk us through the adoption process, 2) people who counsel birth parents, 3) people who market the agency so those who are planning on placing their child for adoption can find them and subsequently us, and 4) people who edit our adoptive family profile to help us communicate to birth parents who we are and why they might want to choose us to raise their child. We are also paying the staff at the local agency that's doing our home study to review lots and lots of paperwork (see above about the need for safeguards), and to take the time to come out and visit our home to make sure it's a safe place to raise a child, and to interview and counsel us to make sure we're completely prepared to become parents and have thought about the things unique to raising an adopted child. We have to pay the places that fingerprint us and run background checks. We may have to pay medical costs for the birth if the birth parent(s) are uninsured. We have to pay for our travel to where the baby's being born. We have to pay the lawyers who make sure that the adoption is totally legal and finalized.
We are paying for services associated with matching us with a child and making that arrangement safe and legal. That is what we're paying for.
We intentionally chose to go with an agency whose fees are a little more expensive than some. In exchange, we get our hand held through the entire adoption process (with people regularly checking in on us and going above and beyond to help us out with every step), and we also have a very good chance of having a child within the next year, not waiting multiple years like many people. That is because they are a very large and well-established organization, and higher fees allow them to have more staff members who specialize in different tasks. In the future, we may choose to go with a smaller agency with lower fees where we have to be more proactive and may have a longer waiting time. If we'd wanted to, we could have tried to do everything on our own -- designing our own marketing and using our own networks to try to find a birth parent who would entrust us with their child for life -- which might have saved us a lot of money in agency fees, but also would have added a lot of stress and could have taken forever, and we would still have had medical, travel, and legal costs.
In case you're wondering, some agencies (including ours) do have lower fees associated with adopting African-American children. This is not because it costs the agency any less to facilitate that match or because any of the other costs are less. It is not because the agency is assigning arbitrary numbers to different babies. It's because it is more difficult for the agency to find families who are open to these children. So in order to make as many successful matches as possible, the agency is willing to subsidize these adoptions by asking slightly more from the families who are not open to African-American children, and then using that to cover some of the costs for families who are open to these children.
It makes sense that adoption would cost so much. Children are valuable! They shouldn't be cheap!
Again, we are not paying for a child. We are paying for services that are going to match us with a child and make that arrangement safe and legal. In some cases -- for example, with some foster-to-adopt situations -- a family may pay nothing at all. Does that mean that those children are not valuable? Of course not. Nobody is setting a price on children. Only on the amount of work a family is asking other people to do in order to help them adopt a child.
Have you considered foster-to-adopt? It would save you a lot of money.
While I appreciate the concern, it strikes me as a little ridiculous that someone would think we'd entered this very expensive and time-intensive process without researching and considering all of our options first. We have a lot of reasons for choosing a domestic private adoption for our first child, and we may very well go a completely different route in the future as we continue to expand our family.
But private adoption and adoption out of foster care are two very different things. In the first case, you have a birth parent or parents intentionally deciding that they want another family to raise their child, typically playing a large role in choosing who that family is, and often having an ongoing and mutually beneficial relationship with the adoptive family and the child. In the second case, you typically have a situation where the birth parents are determined by some outside organization to be currently incapable of parenting their child(ren) for one reason or another -- the child(ren) may be taken out of the home as a result of abuse or neglect, or the parent(s) may be in jail, for example -- and it's likely that the parental rights will be completely terminated, making the child(ren) available for adoption.
Children in foster care need a loving and safe home just as much as children do whose parents decide before they're born that they won't be able to give them the life they want to. But children in foster care are more likely to have suffered abuse or trauma and are often older than children intentionally placed for adoption (who are generally newborns), and the relationship with the birth family is likely to be more difficult. That's something that needs to be entered into with a lot of thoughtful intentionality and preparedness as an adoptive parent. It's not something you do just because it's cheaper or because "the kids are already there and need homes." It's a very different way of growing one's family than private adoption, and not the way we've chosen right now.
Additionally, saying this to us when it's clear we're already well underway with the adoption process is a little bit ridiculous. We've already spent several thousand dollars in various fees and are more than halfway through the approval process to become an active family with our agency. If someone you knew was pregnant and realized they were going to need help paying their medical bills, you wouldn't say to them, "Have you considered fostering to adopt instead? That might save you money." It would be absurd.
In general, anyone who hasn't contributed to our adoption fund but wants to sit there and pass judgment on the cost of adoption / the cost of the particular adoption path we've chosen can just shut it.
Is there a reason you're going with an out-of-state agency? People in this state are looking for adoptive families.
This was actually said to me by someone at a local adoption agency whom I'd contacted about doing our home study. Our main agency is a national agency and not licensed to conduct home studies in all 50 states, so we needed to find a local agency to do that portion of the process. I contacted several and explained the situation to see if they'd be willing to do the home study for us.
This response irritated me for some of the same reasons already mentioned. Yes, of course there was a reason we selected the agency we did. We didn't just pick them randomly out of the phone book. And even if we had, I'd made it clear that we'd already selected and were well into the process with this agency, so disparaging our choice to go with a national agency wasn't going to cause us to switch to the local agency. It only ensured we wouldn't use that local agency for our home study either.
With a national agency, our profile is going to be shown to more birth parents in a shorter period of time. The fact that the pool of other adoptive families is also much larger doesn't really matter that much. It's not a competition; it's a matchmaking process, and the more options, the closer the match can be between a birth parent's ideals and the possible families they're matched with. Working with such large numbers is also one reason our agency has such consistency that it can tell us that most placements happen within 12 months of when a family's profile is activated. Again, there's no right or wrong option here -- many people have very successful adoptions with local agencies. But for the kind of situation we wanted for our first adoption, from depth of hands-on help to average length of wait time, this was the right agency for us.
I don't mind questions about the adoption process (assuming they're real questions, and not "Why didn't you do things the way I think you should have done them?" questions). I enjoy talking about it because I'm excited at the genuine possibility of our becoming parents in 2014. But I get frustrated by hearing these kinds of comments over and over, especially when people seem to assume I'll agree with them (about the process being too complicated or expensive). I'd be happy to answer any questions you have, to the extent that I can, in comments below.
By the way, if you're interested in learning some things not to say to a birth parent, I recommend this post from The Happiest Sad.
*I choose to use the term "birth parent" because it is the most common and most well-understood. I recognize that there are some who prefer to be called a "first parent" or some other term, while others think these terms are silly and that "birth parent" is most accurate term to describe them.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013Tweet
I've had this blog for almost four and a half years now, and it's changed a lot over that time. It was originally launched as a way to track my goals the summer I finished my master's degree and was looking for a job, looking for an apartment, trying to solve a health problem, and planning my wedding, all in the span of about two months.
After all those pieces were in place, I started blogging about marriage, life as an adult, and, of course, how my faith fit into all that.
In 2011, I did a happiness project and used this blog to track my monthly goals, and starting reflecting more about my life purpose. I also committed to a regular blogging schedule, which has changed over time but has meant blogging 2-3 times a week for more than two and a half years.
In August 2011, I attended the 20SB Summit and got more serious about blogging. I bought a domain name, hired a web designer, and set up a Facebook page.
I starting writing more regularly about LGBTQ issues and their intersections with Christianity. I branched out my reading of other blogs from reading about the lives of other 20-somethings and other married couples to learn more about privilege, feminism, and other big topics. I had more conversations with people about these topics, which changed what I wrote about.
I developed the Three Books on Thursday and Blog Comment Carnival linkups, neither of which ever really got off the ground. I started tracking my stats two years ago and watched them go slowly up and then plateau. I guest blogged. My stats went up a little, then down, then plateau, plateau, plateau.
This blog has always been a place for conversations and learning, and I've continued to have wonderful, loyal readers and commenters. But I've wanted -- and tried -- to start conversations I just don't have the audience for. I've struggled with how to build the audience while continuing to have quality posts that will sustain them until we can have those bigger conversations. I've wondered who, exactly, I even want to have those conversations with. And what it means when people continue to say they love my writing but then never share it with anyone.
And then I've gotten fed up with watching bloggers I respect oversimplify and mock each other's arguments, and I've wondered if this is even the realm I want to fight for a place in. And I've gotten frustrated with commenters who misunderstand and attack me. And I've been hurt when out of 400 Christian blogs not one person thought to nominate this one. Or when I put questions out on Twitter and, only occasionally, one person out of 188 followers responds. Who am I talking to? Who am I writing for, after four and a half years?
So I'm taking a break. I need to take some time, where I don't feel pressured to put out content, to figure out what I want this blog to be. What do I what to write about and who am I writing for? What, exactly, am I trying to accomplish here? Or is it maybe time to put this project to rest once and for all, and focus on the many others on my plate? Make an impact in some different ways?
I don't know what this break will look like -- I may pop back in and write something when I have something I want to say, or thoughts I need to work out. I just know that right now I need to take off the pressure to write that is paired with ambiguity about why and for whom I'm writing.
Thanks to those of you who have taken the time to join in the conversations I've started here. I've learned so much from those conversations, and that more than anything is why I hope I don't end up putting this blog to bed permanently. But then maybe it's time to learn only by listening for a while, and not by talking first. Even if I don't come back to it, I'm proud of what's here.
Friday, September 6, 2013Tweet
Content Note: Sexual assault, victim-blaming, gender binary
Our school recently announced that a local martial arts place is going to offer free self-defense classes on campus. I think this is a great idea. I took a self-defense class in high school and I think another one through Girl Scouts. Just knowing that I have at least some tools at my disposal in the event that someone should ever try to attack me or take me somewhere against my will makes me feel more confident, which tends to be a big selling point for these types of classes.
Here's the problem: The classes are only offered to female students, faculty, and staff.
There are actually a number of problems with this, and I want to go through them just to put my thoughts out there. You may disagree with some of these, but I hope that overall you'll see that maybe this isn't the greatest idea.
1) This contributes to a culture of victim-blaming, particularly female victim-blaming.
When a self-defense class is offered to all genders (or to men), the tone tends to be, "Here are some skills so you'll know what to do if you're ever attacked." When a self-defense class is offered to women, the tone often is, "If we teach women self-defense, they won't get raped so much." The female self-defense classes I've attended before often include the standard "safety tips" like "Don't walk alone at night" that equate limiting women's freedom with keeping them safe. This is based on the problematic assumption that rape (or other violence against women) happens not because people choose to rape, but because women just don't know how to act. It's based on an assumption that if women just did something differently or learned more (putting the burden on the supposed potential-victims), there would be fewer assaults.
To be fair, our school has taken a proactive approach against sexual assault with a campaign that focuses on the responsibility of the entire community to prevent sexual assault. But I can't help but feel that whoever arranged for these female-only self-defense classes thought, "Maybe the number of incidents of sexual assault will go down if we can teach all the women on campus self-defense!"
2) This presumes that either men don't get attacked or that they can protect themselves if they do.
My husband does not have a great deal of physical strength. We have friendly arguments over who is stronger (I think he is, he thinks I am). His build is fairly skinny. If an intruder were to come into our apartment and we for some reason needed to fend them off physically, we'd be evenly matched -- except for the fact that I know more self-defense than he does. And ironically, because men generally are not warned constantly throughout their entire life that they're going to get attacked if they walk home alone at night, they may actually be more likely to be in a situation to get "jumped" by someone (which tends to be the focus of the self-defense classes I've attended) and thus in need of knowing how to defend themselves.
3) These self-defense classes tend to have an unhelpful "stranger in the bushes" focus.
Again, this is only based on my past experience, but the self-defense instructors I've had tend to present the material in a way that's like, "Here's what you should do if someone comes out of the shadows and tries to pull you into their car" (or some such scenario). If, as I suspect, the purpose of offering these classes is to reduce the incidence of sexual assault and violence against women, then it would be helpful to have them presented more realistically, with information about domestic violence and date rape, and without all the "keep your eyes up and don't walk alone and don't carry a purse" context. And given that domestic violence and date rape (as well as the less common "stranger in the bushes" attacks) affect men as well, there's no reason they shouldn't have the opportunity to learn these things.
4) The defining factor for inclusion is gender (rather than on a factor like bodily strength) and potentially erases non-gender-conforming individuals.
If classes are limited to women because of the idea that "women are weaker and need more skills to defend themselves," this is a case of letting an average drive a rule. If the school wants to empower its weakest members, it could do that most effectively by letting people self-select whether they feel they need self-defense skills rather than by allowing participation based on gender. There's also no indication of what the definition of female is. If someone was assigned female at birth but identifies as genderqueer or male, they have the same "biological disadvantage" that ciswomen do, but can they not attend?
I could see someone rationalizing grouping self-defense classes by gender if there is going to be partner practice, since men do have more bodily strength on average and some women might be intimidated by being paired with men. However, I think this is somewhat of a weak excuse because people of the same gender can still have vast disparities in size and strength (I would be intimidated being paired with a strong, athletic woman), there are no comparable classes offered for men, and the problem of a simplistic binary category is not addressed.
Also, people within the same class could be taught together and then paired for practice based on a particular factor (gender, strength, etc.) -- this doesn't require limiting the entire class to women. Not to mention, if I only ever practice releasing from a woman's hold, then how do I know I'm able to do the same on a large, strong man?
I think offering free self-defense classes is a great thing to do. I think limiting participation in those classes to females is problematic.
What do you think?
Thursday, September 5, 2013Tweet
The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.
I've read a number of good books lately, and the three I want to share with you today have something interesting in common. They take place in three different eras (mid-19th century, mid-20th century, present-day) and three different countries (China, Canada, and the United States), but they all tackle in a substantial way the experience of growing up female. All three have first-person female narrators whose gender not only is an important part of their emerging self-identity but also directly affects their opportunities and how they are perceived by others. The first two also delve into the complexities that undergird many female friendships.
Whether you're seeking a book to give voice to your experience growing up female, or you want to better understand what that's like, here are three books for you:
In rural China in the 1800s, it is not just gender but social class that rigorously dictates one's opportunities in life. Lily is given the opportunity to someday marry above her family's rank by careful foot-binding and being matched with a laotong, a best friend for life, at the age of seven. The novel explores the development of Lily and Snow Flower's friendship over their lifetime, but more than that, it gives a detailed picture of what it was like to be a woman in China in Lily's day -- how utterly powerless women were, except over each other, and how stories and sayings women passed down to their daughters reinforced acceptance of this low place. As horrifying as the descriptions of foot-binding are, you find it hard to blame Lily for doing the same to her own daughter. The writing and the plot development in this book are fantastic, and the glimpse of history is valuable.
This book has more passages highlighted than any Kindle book I've read so far. Central to the plot is young Elaine's experience being bullied by her friends under the guise of "improving" her, though naturally she can never measure up to their impossible standards. It is clear how even young girls quickly internalize the message that to be female is to be compliant and pleasing to others, and that this goal takes precedence over all others. Throughout the novel, we see glimpses of both the small and large disadvantages women face as the novel flashes between Elaine's experiences growing up and her present-day experience as a controversial painter in the 1980s. But it's never heavy-handed; it's simply true. From Elaine's childish observations as a young girl to her cynical ones as an adult, the descriptions of life as a woman ring painfully true over and over.
Frankie Landau-Banks, 15 years old, is brilliant and ambitious. But that means nothing when it comes to joining her private school's secret society, because she doesn't meet the one requirement for entrance: being male. She finds a way to secretly work the strings in the background so the guys in the society start pulling off spectacular, clever pranks under her written orders, all while they (including her boyfriend) continue to treat her like she's harmless and adorable. Lockhart beautifully illustrates the dilemmas faced by being an intelligent woman, trying to avoid being seen as overly aggressive, meek, sexual, or anything else that might box her in. It's also clear from the descriptions of Frankie's father just how much all-male secret societies and other "old boys" clubs perpetuate male advantage in small and informal ways, and how much harder Frankie has to work to achieve her ambitious goals. Plus it's just a very fun book.
What are your favorite books about the experience of growing up female?
Click here for other 3BoT posts, or check out my Goodreads account for more in-depth reviews and recommendations.
Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!
Tuesday, September 3, 2013Tweet
The year is two-thirds of the way over, so it seems an appropriate time to check in again on my One Word goal for the year. (Here's the first update.)
My word for the year is "peace." I was seeking this back in January because I was at a job I hated that made me feel both worthless and unsettled. When I checked in last time, in May, I felt I was getting closer to peace -- not all the time, but more of the time than previously. But I still felt a lot of anxiety about my life path, and having tons of unstructured time made it hard to go to bed at the end of each day feeling at peace with what I'd accomplished that day.
Finally landing a job has made a larger impact on my overall feeling of peace with my life than I could have anticipated. I think there are a few reasons for this, but the biggest one, surprisingly, is how busy the job is keeping me. I have a great desire to work hard and steadily, something no prior job has been able to offer. I have a feeling I will be less busy further into the semester, but right now I love that the day flies by. And because I'm an hourly worker, I refuse to stay late, take work home, or check my e-mail at night. It's an amazing feeling to work hard all day and then be able to put it behind me for the night.
Working on campus has also made a big difference for me. The simple combination of getting more sleep, feeling less rushed, and working among people I know has had a calming effect overall on my life. And of course, having an income again (plus my small meal plan) has made our financial goals once again seem attainable, which is hugely important for me. Not to mention that just knowing what my days will look like day in and day out into the foreseeable future makes planning the future seem like a realistic thing to do again.
I went back to the notes I took after reading 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam, and it was gratifying to see the pieces fall into place. I had answered the questions about how I wanted to spend my time with a kind of amorphous blob of "work" in my mental picture, unsure whether I would actually be able to fit in the things I wanted to do with my time. But now that I know my real schedule, I know that fitting in exercise, choir, and reading on a regular basis is entirely reasonable.
I don't want to say, "OK! Mission complete! Check 'peace' off my to-do list for the year!" It's not that simple. I've still run up against some anxiety spirals. I still wonder and worry about the future as things will change, like as we start looking forward to having kids. I still have to deal with frustrating people. (Don't get me started on the horrendous conversation I had with TIAA-CREF customer service the other day.) But I do feel that overall, I have succeeded in moving my life toward a more peaceful state of being.
Gretchen Rubin talks about four components to a happier life: Thinking about feeling bad, feeling good, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. It seems that, unintentionally, I've been systematically tackling these four aspects of my life in my attempt to cultivate more peace. First, I eliminated what was making me feel bad: My job. Then, I started from scratch and added in the things that make me feel good: Reading, choir, spending time with Mike, spending time with friends, exercising, prayer. I decided what deserved to have priority over my limited time. Then I landed a job that makes me feel right: Working hard continuously during the day and fitting together the other elements of my life in the rest of my time.
My focus for the rest of the year, then, is on growth. To me, this means using the foundation of peace in my own life to look outward toward serving others. I believe that self-care is vital, but it's only a first step. The Gospel challenge I come back to again and again is living out love and serving others.
In my job, for example, I spent the first week or so just learning the basics so I didn't have to put every person on hold to answer their question. I'm at the point now where I can answer maybe 85-90% of the questions I get on my own, so I can confidently say, "Oh, you need to talk to X office or fill out Y form to do that." Now, I'm starting to think about what extra steps I can take -- calling over to an office to get an answer so a student doesn't have to walk across campus, or setting up my iPad so the dozen people who come in asking to change their meal plan can do it right there.
The end goal of seeking peace in my life should not be for my own gratification, but so that I am able to radiate peace and love and kindness to others.
What changes were you hoping to make this year, and how are they going? And perhaps most importantly, what do you see as the ultimate goal of making those changes?