November 4, 2016

wake up america

There are a lot of concerning things occurring in the world right now. It seems like everywhere I turn, there’s a new, stressful issue to pay attention to. We have an upcoming political election steeped in controversy, little kids are cutting other kids hair in school (Unbeknownst to the child with the new 'do. Don't believe me? Ask my school counselor sister), and Grey’s Anatomy has gone a season too long. How much more can Meredith Grey take?!

It seems that amidst all of the above scandals, we’ve missed perhaps the most horrific one of all: new American Girl Dolls.

Nothing gets my blood boiling like being confronted with the arrival of new American Girl Dolls. Apparently historical dolls are called “BeForever Characters” and are described by the website as: Courage, smarts, and spirit- that’s what the BeForever characters show in every story as they bring America’s history to life for girls today.” 

Hold on whilst I regain my composure. Stop trying to rebrand the original gals (OG’s as I like to call them). Not only is there a complete rebranding of the girls of yesteryear, but there’s so many new ones. Perhaps the most painful thing of all is that you’ll notice the disappearance of some of America’s favorite gals. Upon perusing the website, it was brought to my attention that Felicity, Kirsten, and Molly have been laid to rest. You’re telling me that little girls don’t need to know about the Revolutionary War? Okay Benedict Arnold. Kirsten is a brave girl who helps her family settle on a new frontier. That’s not important anymore? And Molly?! Sweet, sweet Molly. You just wanted to help support your country during World War II and you were repaid by being archived. 

The corporate turd ferguson’s over at American Girl dolls have laid true, American heroes to rest in order to make room for new girls like Julie. Julie? Please. She’s described as a “groovy” girl from the 60’s. Julie probably drops acid. 

Don’t even get me started on Mary Ellen. She’s deemed kind for befriending an Italian girl in the 50’s. Uh, news flash. That little Italian girl, whoever she was, was doing Mary Ellen a favor because homegirl is the EPITOME of vanilla. Mary Ellen’s favorite food is probably white bread. 

Melody is dumb too because the only thing her story talks about is how she likes to sing. We get it Melody. You like to sing. Cool, me too. What else, Melody? What else do you like to do? Who even are you? Does she even have any idea?! Plus, Melody was JUST released this year so I feel like if she’s going to try and take up space amongst the OG’s, she needs to prove herself and so far, no dice. 

I’m fine with Kaya and Josefina. Josefina first made her debut in 1997 so even though she’s not an OG, she’s close enough that she gets a free pass. Kaya’s cool too because she represents a unique population and from what I have gathered in my research, her story is really moving. 

It is astounding to me, and frankly I find it wildly offensive, that Samantha still exists on the market but Felicity doesn’t. I’ve always had major beef with Samantha because she just seemed so dang spoiled. I had Felicity (objectively the BEST one to ever be created, God rest her soul) and my little sister had Samantha. Samantha had a fancy bed with fluffy pillows and everything about her was just showy. I believe that Samantha never had to fight for anything in her life. She was just handed everything by her rich Grandma. Felicity, on the other hand, was stubborn, headstrong, and brave. She was a caretaker of animals and had no problem standing up to bullies like Jiggy Nye even though he was really scary (I remember that from the books- he was not a pleasant human). 

While I always gravitated towards Felicity because she was the most beautiful, smartest, and brave (proven by science), I was always drawn to Kirsten. She had beautiful blonde hair and even wore candles in her braids on special occasions. I know that’s super dangerous but that just goes to show what a bad ass she was. Do you think Julie would put candles on her head? Actually, she probably would because she’s so doped up that she probably makes a myriad of poor decisions. For Kirsten, it wasn’t a poor decision, it was her bringing pieces of her Swedish culture to the new world. Molly falls in difficult territory for me. I avoided her like the plague as a child because looking at Molly was like looking in the mirror. She’s fine though, she’s in the club, she’s just not my favorite. Addy is also pretty bad ass. She  was a champion for unity and incredibly self motivated when it came to education. She’s a fabulous role model for girls everywhere. 

The definitive, unbiased ranking of OG’s is as follows:
1. Felicity. If you disagree with this- you’re wrong. She’s the best. We’ve settled that. Long live Felicity and shame on American Girl Dolls for retiring her. 
3. Addy. Brave. Educated. We need more girls who are like Addy.
4. Molly. Doppleganger. Can’t get over it. 
5. Samantha “born with a silver spoon in her mouth” Parkington. 

Wake up people, the best American Girl Dolls are slowly but surely being retired and replaced by girls with no personalities who do drugs and just like to “sing.” Is this what we want our future daughters to be like? I SAY NAY. We want Addys. We want Felicitys. We want Kirstens with candles in their hair! 

October 1, 2016

when the fear creeps in

You know the hip hop trio Naughty by Nature? Well, I'm essentially "Nervous by Nature." I have never been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, but being a counselor, I've experienced enough to know that I definitely struggle from situational anxiety. While most people have a healthy level of anxiety and fear (from an evolutionary standpoint, these things are what can keep people alive), I know that my levels of fear and anxiety tend to go a little above and beyond what is normal and healthy. Need an example? In my senior year of high school, we had to do a fifteen minute presentation in front of a handful of teachers, community members, & district personnel. I thought about crashing my car on the way over to get out of it. I was so nervous for it that I thought I would walk in there and vomit all over. It went fine and I was able to graduate high school (I know, I know, you were really wondering how this story ended!) but the fact of the matter is, that level of fear and anxiety wasn't isolated. It happened whenever there was something big going on and I've realized that it originates from one common place: a fear of being exposed.

When I finished my degree in March, I knew that eventually, if I stayed in Idaho, I'd need to pursue licensure. That meant spending $300 dollars ($70 application fee, $230 test fee) and taking a really big test to determine whether or not I'd receive my license. For a lot of positions, you don't have to be licensed, but for what I want to do and where I see myself going in the future, I'd need it. As soon as I started to think about taking such a big test, I started to feel sick. Eminem stated it well, "His  palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti."If I were to rewrite that to fit my situation better it would read: Her palms are incredibly sweaty, like an abnormal amount, knees weak, arms are heavy and armpits are tingling in a very uncomfortable way. There's vomit on her sweater already, Los Betos taquitos." TMI? Sorry not sorry. I had resigned myself to failing the test before I even took it. I have becoming very good at convincing myself that I don't deserve to be where I'm at. I struggle heavily with Imposter Syndrome. It's this terrible, horrible thing that means I have this persisting fear of being deemed a fraud. I sort of live my life waiting for someone to discover that I don't deserve any of the things I've accomplished, that somehow, I've been handed everything in my life without me really knowing. That's absurd, right? Well, not to me. Over the past five years or so it's gotten increasingly worse and every time there's something big at stake, I convince myself that I'm undeserving to accomplish it and that if I do, it's a fluke. Getting my job at the university? Handed to me. Getting into a competitive masters program? Only because I worked at the university. Being inducted into the honor society? Easy program, not a real accomplishment. Current job offer? Because they'd rather hire me than interview people. Ya'll, give me anything at all and I will explain the heck out of it until it has nothing to do with me working hard and everything to do with me pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. It's almost as if I've been living in fear of being asked "who do you think you are?" and not having an answer for it.

When I was preparing to take the test, I convinced myself that this would be the thing to expose me. I wouldn't be able to pass it. No amount of studying would prepare me. I shouldn't be where I'm at and this would be the thing that would let it all come crashing down, my perfectly crafted insanely unreal reality. Every time I cracked open the study material, I would feel sick and as the test approached, the anxiety and fear I had sort of overtook me. My original plan was to take the test without telling anyone so that I could fail, retake it, and no one would be able to know that I was a failure. I prepared for this test alone and avoided all concrete questions of when the date was. I had to tell a coworker when I was taking it about a week before the test and it made everything more real. I couldn't focus, I wasn't sleeping well, I was either not really eating or eating really unhealthy food (talk about unhealthy coping mechanisms), and felt wildly unsteady. I started to tell a few people when I was going to take the test because it seemed like maybe I needed to share the burden. If I failed, I would have supporters and if I passed, I would have celebrators. I went out to brunch a week before the test with a group of my dearest girlfriends and after telling them about they test, they reassured me that not only did they believe in me, but they would stand beside me regardless of what the results were. They were confident in my abilities when I had convinced myself that I had no abilities to believe in. There are so many people who had been incredibly supportive of me the week leading up to the test: people who helped me prepare (thank you forever Roberto), people who brought me chocolate and talked to me on the phone while I avoided a nervous breakdown (Lacey gets a gold medal for being the best friend of all time), and people who committed to praying for me and spoke reassuring words (it's a great spot to be when your pastor is also your friend).

Panic attacks are a doozy and I've had maybe one or two in my life, but felt as though I was on the verge of one the entire day before the test. I tried to study, tried to relax, tried to focus my breathing and engage in other healthy self care methods, but I just couldn't seem to find that space of peace and calm. At one point, I walked to the bathroom and started weeping. I was overcome with the fear of failing. I didn't want anyone to believe that I was an imposter, didn't want anyone to think that I was stupid, and didn't want to feel incompetent. I looked at myself in the mirror and very affectionately said, "Get your shit together, Novello." Nothing like a good, 'ol fashioned pep talk to make things better.

I showed up to the testing center on Friday morning an hour early. I didn't bring any study material but found myself googling the difference between Schizoid, Schizotypal, and Schizoaffective. I took a practice test and struggled with understanding the questions and audibly said, "You are going to fail this thing, you have no idea what any of this means." Have you gathered that I'm incredibly gracious and gentle with myself? I took the test and passed. Not just passed, but passed well and as soon as I get a little piece of paper, will be able to add another letter behind my name. When I pressed submit and saw my results, I was overcome by relief and started to get weepy. Weepiness is my spiritual gift. While I wish the story ended at, "Jess passed and never doubted her abilities again and her sense of self sky rocketed after proving to herself that she really CAN do it," it obviously doesn't. I'm relieved to have passed and I know that the reason I passed was because I have been preparing for this test for years. I've been in direct client contact for almost two years and I do know what I'm talking about. I'm a competent social worker who works hard at what she does. Deep down, I know these things to be true, but somehow, I always let the fear of failing and being exposed take over. I started seeing a counselor (thought that it was time to practice what I preach) a few months ago as these bigger transitions started happening in my life. I wanted someone to talk it through that I paid, had to be objective, and would hold me accountable to my irrational thinking. She has been really helpful in calling me out when I fall into these negative, harmful ways of thinking. She stops and forces me to examine what I've just said. She's the worst and I hate her but I'm beyond grateful for how she's helping me grow.

What I'm learning right now, more than anything, is to be gentle and gracious with myself. I left myself a note in my desk before leaving work on Thursday that would remind me on Monday that passing or failing that test doesn't change my inherent worth. On Thursday they just seemed like words that I wrote down to try and find some peace, but deep down, I know that they are true. I wish I could tie this story up with a bow and have some lovely resolution that makes everything seem perfect and wonderful. Unfortunately, I don't. I'm a work in progress and I'm learning that it's okay to be that. I'm slowly but surely working through this whole Imposter Syndrome and self worth thing. If you find yourself feeling this way too, just know that you're not alone. We're going to be alright, we're going to make it.

August 29, 2016

just like that

Last time we chatted (and by chatted, I mean I typed and you read), I shared how God was moving in my life and I felt drawn to walk away from something known, comfortable, and good because sometimes I am a crazy human. When I made the decision to step away from my last job, I had no idea what would come next. My worst case scenario plan was to just pick up and move back to California. I'd live with my parents and look for work. The only thing about that situation that would be a worst case scenario is the bed in my parents guest room. It is the worst. Everything other than that would be totally fine because my parents rule, have cable, make delicious food, and live in a beautiful place. 

To understand how I ended up exactly where I am, we need to rewind to January of 2015. I had found myself at the part of my graduate program where I had to do a clinical internship. I applied to a couple of different agencies, interviewed, but one day drove past this little place that piqued my interest. It was an organization centered on recovery so I called the number on the sign outside and met with the clinical supervisor. I found out that not only did all of their programs center on recovery (which I care very much about), they had a program in which they contracted with the federal government to provide services to inmates in transition (another thing/population I care a ton about). Insert all the heart eye emojis here. You know that's my jam. I spent roughly nine months working with the most unique individuals and had some triumphant moments and truly devastating moments. Several months into my internship, I was offered a job upon my graduation. I wasn't interested. Thanks but no thanks.

When I started to feel the nudge to leave the university, that offer was in the back of my head but I didn't really want it. I remember telling a friend that it was flattering, but I wasn't interested. I started to look at jobs all over the world essentially. I looked at a school counselor position in Seoul, South Korea, a case manager position in Nashville, a slew of different jobs in Seattle and California, and a job at a school in Washington DC. After applying to the job in DC, I received a letter that they were going in a different direction for hiring and thought to myself, "Uh okay, nice try but you're a small little Quaker school so you'd BE so lucky to have me there." A couple months later, I found out that was the school that President Obama's daughter went to. I take it all back, I would have gone a different direction too. No hard feelings, little Quaker school. I even pursued a couple of positions in Boise, but had my heart set on Seattle or California. Slowly but surely, everything I had pursued failed to pan out the way I wanted it too. 

Meanwhile (I know, I know, I should have seen it coming too), the agency I had interned for started mentioning again that they'd love to have me if I was interested. I politely refused again. I'm not sure why I kept refusing. I'm not sure if it was pride or fear, but whatever it was, it kept me thinking that I needed to continue looking elsewhere. Things kind of clicked in mid July when I thought back to a conversation I had with a dear friend as we were walking at Lake Lowell months prior. I said to him, "I think I'm being called to work with the incarcerated population and that scares me a lot." He asked me why it scared me and I told him, "It's really hard work. I want to be called to something more gentle, something easier, a population more receptive..." As I thought back to that conversation, I realized that my next step had been right underneath my nose since January 2015. A few days later, I asked my supervisor there if they were still looking for someone to come on staff and he said yes. I asked if I could be considered and was given the job right away. I started two weeks later. 

I told my roommate the other night that I keep waiting to hate my job because I've had a few people tell me I wouldn't like it full time or that I'd get burnt out so quickly, but everyday, I leave loving it. Don't get me wrong, it is hard work. It is messy, emotional, and can sometimes seem hopeless, but for some reason (hey Jess- it's probably because God is good and ordained this and loves you so maybe just lean into that, ok?) I come back excited and grateful every single day. I don't know if this is something I'll do for the rest of my life or maybe it's just for a short season, but here I am. 

As I type these words, I'm overcome with gratitude. It is in not lost on me that I have been given such an incredible opportunity to pretty much run my own program and oversee my own clients. I have flexibility, a supervisor who believes in me and trusts me, and clients who trust and respect me. When I think about whether or not I earned this or deserve this, the answer is a resounding no. Of course I don't- there are probably people who are far more qualified than I am or smarter, but again, here I am. Obedience has had an incredible way of opening my eyes to blessings and creating a strong sense of gratitude in me. 

I'm confident that there are tough days to come, days where I probably wonder if I made a mistake by leaving my own job, days where I cry and don't want to come back the next, or even days where I contemplate cashing out my savings and driving straight to Mexico to start a new life (yes, I have entertained the thought before..). Even if, nay, even WHEN those days come, I hope that I'm able to remember all of this and see that I have been so incredibly blessed by God's providence. 

August 15, 2016

when i move you move

This is a hard post to begin because I have so many thoughts about so many things and want them to be well formulated and eloquent, but I'm not sure how well that will work at this point in time.

Let's go back four years to the spring of 2012. I was living in Korea. I found myself in a place where I knew that my teaching contract would be ending soon and I'd need to figure out what came next. The whole notion of "what comes next?" has always stressed me out. I wish I could convince you that I'm one of those free spirited, go with the flow gals, but anyone who knows me knows that I'm a not so secret control freak. I don't need to have absolute control over everything, but I like direction, planners, consistency, and comfort. I received an email from Karen Pearson who is the Director of Residential Life at my alma mater. She was looking for someone to fill a graduate assistant/internship position in Student Development. I had found my direction. I would spend the next year learning/living alongside some wonderful people while beginning to work on my graduate degree. During that year, two Resident Director positions opened up. There was a long period of unknown where I had applied and interviewed, but was waiting to hear back from the big dogs (bow wow). When I was hired and given the official stamp of approval, I was ecstatic. I had a plan. I knew what I'd be doing. I had direction.

I've spent the last three years of my life living alongside anywhere from 130 to 175 freshmen woman serving as the Resident Director for Ford Hall. This position has been the most incredible, difficult, beautiful, and growing experience of my life. In three years, I have had the pleasure of journeying with young women who are experiencing everything imaginable. I should have started writing down these moments long ago because some of them are so peculiar that I don't think anyone would believe me. There are sentences I've had to say with a straight face that I never imagined ever having to say. It has been a wild job- in all ways imaginable. I am so incredibly grateful for it. As these freshmen woman have grown up during the year they've spent inside of these brick walls, I have also grown up alongside them. My capacity for empathy has increased, I've learned to balance gentleness and boldness better, and I've become far more patient than I was several years ago. I've also learned so much from the people that I've worked with. The Student Development team is the best team I think I'll ever be a part of. It is a strange little family- one that I'll forever be grateful for.

In December of this past year, I was writing about how I felt like this chapter of my story might be coming to an end, but I wasn't sure why I felt that way. I wasn't dissatisfied with my position, I loved the people the that I worked with/for, and the year had been going so smoothly. This feeling didn't make any sense and I tried to ignore it. Why was this happening? I couldn't make sense of the nudging. I communicated about things with my bosses, but ultimately decided to stay. I tried to ignore these strange feelings and committed to another year. I picked a new team, seven fabulous young women who I was incredibly excited about working with, and started dreaming up what the next school year would hold. I had the opportunity to accompany a group of twelve students on a trip to Europe in the spring and while on that trip, realized that the nudging I felt wouldn't go away regardless of how many times I tried to ignore it. It seemed as though the plans I had laid out for myself, however pure my intentions were, were no match for responding to the nudging of the Lord. I'm not a person who can distinctly say I've heard the audible voice of God, but I've felt his nudges. They start out very gentle and the longer you ignore them, the more intense they get. Basically, that had been my last seven months. What started out as a faint whisper (side note: I hate whispering mostly because my mom tries to do it and it's so loud just like when my Grandma tried to whisper plus it's usually so breathy and warm and I'm just getting the gross chills thinking about it not that my mom is gross or anything sorry mom.) turned into a steam roller. Thanks Jesus, you know I'm not one to be in tune with subtlety.

Even when the steam roller came, I still tried to discern if it meant what I thought it meant. Oh, it did and it was terrifying. I'm a creature of habit. I crave being known and understood. I decided one morning that the day had come and I needed to resign from my position. There was no other position I was going to, I wasn't sure what I would do or where I'd go, I just knew that I couldn't ignore these feelings any longer. I called my mom and filled her in on what I was about to do. She was incredibly supportive and so I went to go tell my boss. I got to her office and several other coworkers were there so I totally chickened out. I am many things but brave is not one of them. I mustered up the courage and came back later that day. I knew that every moment I waited, it would become increasingly difficult to do what I knew needed to happen. My boss was both incredibly gracious and encouraging which helped make me more comfortable than I could have imagined. I was able to tell my VP that day as well. He thought I was crazy and I don't blame him because I felt crazy. There was no reason to leave other than "I think it's time and I have no idea why because I'm not unhappy but I know if I ignore this feeling then I will die a little inside." Side note: My inner monologue frequently communicates in run on sentences. That whole experience was a blur. It's almost like I wasn't in control of my body, like I was watching this calm, cool, and collected human make such a big decision. But, I did it. Well, the Lord did it. He drenched me in peace and gave me the calm I needed in order to leave something good and step out into the unknown, having to practice what I preached about trusting God (isn't that the worst when you have to do that???).

So that's the story of how I became a crazy person who trusted God. I'll have more to share about where He led me but that's enough for now.

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