and so I'm offering this simple phrase

When I walked into the sanctuary on Sunday morning the band was still practicing – I was early.  I sat my stuff down, picked up the orders of worship for the morning and sat down to look over them.  I didn’t even hear the doors open or the approaching footsteps.  It wasn’t until I heard the cheerful “Good Morning” that I even knew she was there.  I looked up and smiled, genuinely happy to see her.  I stood up to give her a hug and as we embraced she said, “Welcome home”  with a tight squeeze.
Last Thursday I sat around the table with the seven most important people in my life and as we went around sharing our thankfulness, I had a hard time coming up with mine.  Partially because the littlest of them was sprawled across my lap trying to usurp my turn as her own.  But even more so because there were just so many things in my life for which to give thanks.
First of all, there were those seven people around the table who have stood by me in this last year as I uprooted my whole life and moved.  Those seven people who, while in the midst of their own life struggles, took the time to listen to me, process with me, pray for me, encourage me, help move me and helped me to see where God was moving.  These seven people who make up so much of who I am – a daughter, a sister, a niece, a Godmother, a Tia.
There are all the privileges that I cannot take for granted – a place to live, clothes to wear, food to eat and the ability to provide for myself.
Friends near and far who have sang my song back to me in so many ways when I thought I’d lost it.  Friends who call me out on my crap, who take the initiative to care for me in ways that are meaningful and intentional.  New friends who are taking note of who I am and how I was created.  Seasoned friends who are taking the extra steps to be in my corner even when I get so wrapped up in myself that I forget to tell them that I moved to Minnesota.
But mostly – I am thankful for the places God has brought me through and this place he has brought me to in this last year.  For someone who has moved as many times as I have, the bravery that it takes to embark on a big adventure is a little lost on me.  I got caught up in the movement, the excitement of something new and shiny.  But the shininess eventually wears off and what you’re left with is the reality that you have moved to a brand new place where you don’t actually know anyone and people don’t know you – not like you had it before.
For me, the brave thing isn’t the move.  It’s not the packing up all the things you own, it’s not the searching for a new place to live, it’s not in creating the new routines and finding the new coffee shops.  For me, the brave thing is what comes after all of that.  When all the hype wears off and it settles in that you are in a new place, surrounded by new faces and it’s on you to find your community.  Building your life in this new place – that’s the brave part.
Thankfully, this place that God brought me to makes even the scary part that requires my bravest movements easy.  So this advent season my anticipation is for this new life – the beautiful pieces are already starting to fit together, like a puzzle that I’m putting together without the box.  I can’t quite see the image yet but I’ve found the corner pieces and the outer edges.
And it’s that framework that gives me the ability to hug back and respond, “It’s good to be back” and mean it.
*title from the Christmas Song

step out of the sun because you've learned

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind.  Starting on Christmas day, I was in Denver for a week soaking in some much needed family time with my crazy crew.  Then it was off to New York with the Goddaughter for her first trip to the Big Apple.  Then she came back to Chicago with me for another few days of R&R in my abode.
Now here we are, two weeks into 2017 and no new posts over in my corner of the internet.  But no worries my dear friends, I have been making some big plans for this space.  I’ve been dreaming and processing over what 2017 is going to bring to this blog and I’m excited for the future and the type of posts I’ll be bringing to ya’ll.
But before we move forward into the new year, I always feel the need to spend a little bit processing the last one.  This year I found a great resource through Lead Stories Media  called “Hello, Goodbye.”  So today’s #TuesdaysinLeadership is going to be talking through how this process went for me.  (If you go to their page and subscribe to their newsletter you can download this great resource to process your last year and the new year alongside me!)
As I listened to the first episode of this season’s Lead Stories Podcasts I realized how great this tool is.  Jo Saxton has been doing it for years and explained the history about it, so go listen to it if you wanna know more about it.  But the basic idea is to spend some time with God and ask Him what you should be saying Goodbye to from the last year and what to say Hello to in the coming year.

Goodbye 2016

fullsizerender-2 Overall,  2016 wasn’t bad for me.  I never posted this Best Nine thing to my Instagram, and it’s not entirely representative of my year but I guess it’s what people most resonated with in my feed.
But even this slightly misrepresented collage makes me remember that this year was filled with the highs and lows of life.  I know a lot of people for who 2016 was a heartbreakingly painful year.  Saying Goodbye to 2016 wasn’t a sad thing for them.  But for me it was a mixed bag.  I had some great moments, some life changing moments, some career defining moments and some great personal highs.  But I also had some hard truths that I had to face, some painful decisions that I made or were made for me, I walked alongside of some grieving friends and grieved the loss of those who have made my community home.
Overall though, there are things that I’m saying goodbye to in order to move forward in my path toward Shalom.  Among the things I say goodbye to are:
I’m saying goodbye to insecurity.  Through my time with God in the last few weeks I’ve realized how much I’ve held myself back because I think that others can do it better than me.  But as I continue to process who I am and how I was created I’ve realized that it’s time for me to own this story that I’ve been given and start stewarding it a little better.
I’m saying goodbye to bad habits.  Procrastination is a real struggle for a lot of us.  I am saying goodbye to being disorganized and not prioritizing my time well.

Hello 2017

As I move forward into this next year, one of the things I would love to do is to write more.  To start documenting this life I live both here on Striving for Shalom as well as in a private document that could some day take the shape of a book.  Insert shocked emoji face here.  I’m serious, I think I want to write a book.  It’s taking shape in my head, we’ll see where it takes me.  But for now you’ll see some things popping up here that have more of a semblance, a relation to one another.
I’m saying hello to my word of the year : Fall.  There’s this verse in Job, that I discovered through Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect:

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.  He says to the snow, “Fall on the earth,” and to the rain shower, “Be a mighty downpour.
 – Job 37:5-6

Shauna expands on the verse in her book and talks about how God doesn’t ask the snow to do anything other than fall.  And to the rain shower to be a mighty downpour.  She encourages her readers to find the thing in life that falls out of them, something so enjoyable, so easy that it just pours out of them.  This next year I want to focus on the things I’m so passionate about.  I want to let go of the idea that I have to be everything to everyone and simply be who I’ve been created to be.  The thing about snow is that it does it’s one thing and it doesn’t need to do more because God also created rain and sunshine.  Snow just gets to be snow – to fall from the sky simply and beautifully.
Last year I spent a whole year looking for where God was alive in my life.  Watching what he was doing and now that I’ve seen how much he is at work in my life and the life of others around me, I feel like now my focus is on filling the space that was created for me.  If I believe God is alive and at work, then he is alive in me and has created me to fill a space in this life.  I don’t need to fill the space of others, but rather just my own.  So my word for the year is Fall.  We’ll see what/how that takes shape this year.  But I’m excited to say hello to being present in my life and in my ministry as exactly who he created me to be.
So there you have, we’ve said Goodbye to 2016 and we’re ready to say a big Hello to 2017.  Let’s see what you have in store for us in this year.

so if it matters, Let It Matter

FullSizeRender.jpg.jpeg I woke up this morning and followed my usual routine.  I checked my social medias, always ending with Timehop – that app that shows you what you’ve posted this day on years past.  Before I even tapped on that little yellow blue square I knew what I would find.
Today’s the 7th anniversary of the day he passed away.  I knew that I would scroll through those pictures posted on this day over the last several years.  Always a family picture with some caption on how much I miss him.  But this morning as I contemplated what to share – what picture, what story, how to convey the ache in my heart that feels a little deeper today.
But I couldn’t quite figure it out.  I couldn’t figure out why planning my usual Instagram post wasn’t making me feel better.  So instead I got up, got ready, slid my dad’s old watch onto my wrist and went about my day.
But I still felt off.  The thing with grief is that it never really plays by the rules.  There isn’t a time table or a playbook that you can consult to know what is the right course of action. So you just try to keep going and hope you’ll find the way.  Today felt a little like that.  If I’m honest, a lot of days feel a little like that.  The weirdest things will trigger that pull of loss.  And it will knock me off my axis.
Over these past 7 years I’ve found a few ways that help me get back on track when I’m feeling the tug.  Instead of completely shutting down, I’ve learned to cope.  Here are a few of my methods –

Invite someone into the pain

I think that’s what I’ve always tried to do with my “tribute” posts.  Maybe even what I’m trying to do with this blog post.  A lot of people around me have experienced loss.  God has placed people into my life that have similar grief to my own.  Those people have entered into my story with me: asked questions to know more about my dad, given me space to not be 100%, prayed for me, not pressured me into moving too fast.  Grief looks different for everyone, those that have entered into my grief with me and allowed me to feel it however I need to in a specific moments are the friends I continue to turn to on this day every year.

Do something that brings you joy

Today I started a mentoring program that our church is doing at a local elementary school.  It was our first day, so I met my mentee for the first time today.  I’m a long time fan of mentoring and have always seen the fruit of spending one on one time with a child or youth.  That simple act today – getting to know my mentee brought me a kind of joy that helped me see how the pain of my past could be used to help someone else.

Take your mind off it

Sometimes what I need is to occupy my mind.  To remind myself that the world around me is still turning even if my heart is broken.  I’ve learned to recognize that in myself, especially more recent years, that I am strong enough to close the box on the grief.  Somedays I need to remind myself that grief is real but it’s not in control.  I am in control of my emotions.  There were countless times today that I had to refocus myself, to not let my grief mess with what I was doing.  It’s a skill I’ve learned over time but an important one that I’m glad I have now.  No longer do I have to let grief completely shut me down.

When all else fails – Let it matter

There’s a song off of JOHNNYSWIM’s new album called Let it Matter.  Both members of the couple lost one of their parents and they wrote this song in their grief.  One of my favorite lines is – “I don’t wanna feel better, I don’t wanna feel good, I wanna feel it hurt like losing someone should.”  If my last one was knowing when I need to take my mind off of it, this one is about knowing when I can’t take my mind off of it.  As they say in the song – “if your heart is breaking let it ache.”  Some moments I need to let it matter.  I need to cry or vent or feel the depth of losing my father to an awful disease that robbed me of several good years and half a lifetime of memories.
I loved my dad.  I still miss him, I will always miss him.  He left this life too soon and it’s not fair.  Grief is never fair.
If you’ve lost someone you love, maybe this resonates with you.  Maybe my words can help you on the road to figuring out what makes you feel normal again.  Because that’s what grief does to you – it takes away your normal.  When the world around you is still spinning, still planning, still going on as if there wasn’t a gaping hole in your heart, you have lost your normal.   Then you’re left figuring out a new normal, but even trying to find a new normal reminds you that you lost your normal.  And the cycle continues.
There’s no way out of the cycle.  But, dear friends, you are not alone.  We’re in this together.  We’re walking the road together.  Let’s find some ways to cope together – I’ll share mine if you share yours.

the daylight's wasting

(I’m trying to get in the habit of writing more – which I am not doing so well – which I feel like I’ve been trying for a year now!)
My mom and I have been having a lot of heart to hearts lately.  A lot of hard conversations about our family life and what has transpired in it.  We’ve talked about the root cause of a lot of pain in our family and how (or if) it could have been avoided.
You see, growing up in a family like mine, there are certain messages that get ingrained into your brain.  Into the fabric of who you are.  Messages that are like a broken record, skipping, stuck on short sentences that cut deeper and deeper every time they repeat.  One of the biggest problems is that these repeating messages are reinforced by other messages we hear in our everyday lives.  And when that happens the cuts get deeper, reopening wounds.
I used to think that if I just had enough faith.  If I tried taping over those messages with the Truth of how God feels about me that I would never feel insecure again.  That I would get to the place where I would never have to struggle with those hurtful messages anymore.  I just needed to get strong enough.  Block others out more.  Look towards God more.
But I am starting to think that those messages are there forever, regardless of what I’m doing – they will always be playing in the background.  But that each day I can choose to hear the reassuring words of my Savior and Lord over power them.  That my faithful response is to acknowledge them but not let them take over.
Because the person that I am cannot just pretend those things did not happen.  I cannot just choose joy over the pain, that would be fake for me.  It’s not fake for everyone but it would be fake for me.
Instead I choose Truth over lies.  Daily I choose to believe what my Almighty Father has said of me instead of the lies that I have been told about myself.
Because those cuts are real.  And because we are sheep being sheep – others will say similar things about me in the future.  The only way to move forward is to acknowledge the message, stop pretending they aren’t hurtful still and then choose Truth.

we're the diamonds rising up out the dust

Whenever I have time to kill and my phone in my hand I almost always end up on BuzzFeed.  It’s such a time waster and I try to only tap that little red icon when I have nothing else productive to do.  When I’m early at an appointment or in a waiting area for the DMV for example.
The other day I found myself scrolling through the Feed and I came across a quiz that peeked my interest.  It was entitled “How Latino/a Are You.”  I feel as though I have been asking this question of myself for 20+ years.  And for most of those years I feel like that’s the question (or statement) on people’s minds when they meet me.
So I couldn’t help myself.  I clicked the link.
There was one question: “Can your roots be traced back to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, D.R. or any other South or Central American county?”
So I clicked yes and the results simply said “You are very Latino/a: and you’re awesome.”
I’m not sure I can really explain the sense of relief that I felt.  It might sound ridiculous that I was placing any stock in an online quiz on a social media website.  But on some level I think I thought it would reveal what I’ve always feared or what some people have told me all along – You don’t fit in our box of what Latina looks like.  (or on the flip side – you don’t fit in our box of what Caucasian looks like.)
For many biracial or multiracial people, this is a struggle that is very real and very misunderstood.
I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries to do some writing on topics such as this one.  And topics that have nothing to do with this one.  I have been encouraged to take these opportunities and to try and embrace all the pieces of me that seem to not fit together.  But the mere fact that they are all pieces of me means that they do fit together.
So here’s to vulnerability and to allowing myself to be myself in attempts to become a diamond rising out from the dust.  Albeit an imperfect diamond, but a diamond nonetheless.

I still need you and you still need me

“You know this feeling, don’t you?”  Something inside of me turned fierce.  “How you laugh that way.  Why you love us all.  This is what you live by, isn’t it?” … Pain and sorrow never end.  Nothing we do is enough.  It’s always been this way.  “But joy,” I whispered to Irwin.  “This joy.  It’s boundless too, and endless.  So hold on.  This isn’t theirs to knock out of you.  It’s not yours to lose.  It’s not mine either.  But it’s making the trip.  It’s coming.  So please.  Just hold on.”  – The Brothers K David James Duncan

I just finished this book.  I’m not going to give you too much context behind this quote but just know that it comes from a place in the book where the narrator (Kade) is sitting in the bathroom whispering a conversation to his brother Irwin.
One of my seminary friends suggested that I read this book at the beginning of the summer.  He leant it to me promising me that I would love it.  And I’ll be really honest … I wasn’t sure I was going to like it.  But I decided to give it a try and low and behold – I loved it.
While I’ve been reading, I have had several people ask me what the book is about.  I have a hard time responding.  Sometimes I say it’s about a family of boys and baseball.  Other times I just say it’s about baseball.  Still other times I say it’s a coming of age story set in the 60s in the midst of the Vietnam war.  Still other times I’ve said it’s about a family coming to terms with growing up and growing apart.  It wasn’t until I read the last words of the book that I realized just what the book was about –
It’s about life.  It’s about love, heartbreak, growing up, values, faith, family.  It’s about the life of a family.  A family with four boys, two girls and two parents.  A family with varying faith stories.  A family who fought and loved.
It’s a beautiful story of a family’s life.
You should probably run out and get yourself a copy and read it.  Although only if you like completely genuine stories that struggle through big life questions in one chapter and then make you spit water out your nose in the next because of the completely realistic brotherly fights.

if you ever wonder if you are in my mind

My new favorite picture of Bizzy.
I wrote a blog a while back about how I thought we needed more females like Mindy Kaling. I wrote about how I desperately wanted more people in the public eye that were better. That I wanted more people that I could point to for my nieces and goddaughter to want to be like. That I could say to them, “like these women, not Ke$ha.”
When I was home for Christmas I realized something important. My nieces and goddaughter, they don’t want to be like Ke$ha. They aren’t looking for their role models on TV and in magazines. They are looking at me. On Christmas Eve, we were all rushing around trying to get ready for church. I was in my room getting ready when I heard the door open just a crack. I look over and see a tiny little eye in the crack, my 6 year old niece, Benny. I motioned for her to come in and she burst through the door, all dressed for church. She twirled around in her dress and looked up at me for approval. I told her she looked very pretty and asked her if she needed something. She looked up and in her shy little voice that means she wants something she said, “can I watch you get ready?”
Now, I wish that I could say I was a star aunt and said yes. That I let her watch me put my make up on and we had one of those Parent Trap moments where I pretend to put blush on her. But for whatever reason, I was annoyed at something else and I told her no and sent her back upstairs.
Looking back at the moment I realized I missed out on a major Tia-Benny moment. I missed out on a precious time between us because of whatever was bugging me. When you only get to see your family 3-4 times a year you have to make those times count, and that night, I did not.
Now, our whole Christmas wasn’t like that and we had plenty of Tia-Benny times to warm my heart but I will never forget the one moment I turned her down. (just like the fact that the goddaughter remembers the ONE time in 4 years that I forgot to pick her up from school…).
But the thing I learned most from this last trip home is how much Benny and the goddaughter look up to me and see what I’m doing. Their eyes catch everything, and some day Bizzy’s will too. The question is, am I living a life that I would want them to follow? Am I being an example of a women that I want them to be?
It’s not whether or not I am a role model to them, it’s am I being the modeling the right life?

eight years old – down by the river was the best place you could be

 I’ve been oddly nostalgic today.  I’m not really sure why, but it is happening so I’ve decided to go with it, see where it takes me.
Most of you know that I have an older brother.  Two and a half years my senior, my brother was always my biggest rival and confidante at the same time.  We raised all sorts of heck together as kids.  He suckered me into a lot of probably dangerous things in our childhood, things that I look back on now as some of the dumbest things I did as a child.  He got me into a lot of trouble with our parents, his motto was always, “send the cute one.”  So whenever we were up to something, he would send me in because of course, I was the baby of the family, I could do no wrong.  He always thought of me as the little princess that could melt my parents hearts with one smile.  I always thought this was absurd.  I was no princess and I was never spoiled, he made it all up in his head.  (well, probably not, he was probably right).
But growing up as the little sister to a big brother has it’s drawbacks.  Without a big sister to teach you how to be a girl you’re stuck playing in creeks with frogs, knowing how to throw the perfect spiral and knowing how to tackle someone twice your size.  You become better at Super Mario Brothers than painting your nails, better at applying eye black than eye liner and better at wearing sneakers that are too big than high heels that are too big.
Since becoming an adult I’ve retrospectively learned most of these things that I never learned as a kid.  I’ve even held onto those skills that he taught me too.  But sometimes I look at my life, the things I love to do and I can draw a line straight back to my brother (and my dad).  I look at who I am and think about how it occurred.  I still have that wild sense of adventure instilled by my older brother.  I still love sports.  I’m still oddly fascinated by frogs.  I am still the little sister to a big brother.
Even though that big brother is all grown up now with two little girls of his own.  And this little sister lives 1200 miles away from him, in a grad program neither one of us would have imagined for me.  It’s funny to think back to where we’ve come from in order to see why we’ve become who we’ve become.
The picture above, of course, shows my brother and I in matching Ghostbusters sweatshirts.  I mean, duh.

if only you would keep me in your thoughts

Last night my brother sent me this video my niece Bizzywho is now 7 and 1/2 months old:
There are two things that I love about this video, and one thing that I only think is so-so.  The first I love is that I have no idea what she finds so incredibly funny.  She tries to crawl, instantly falls down and just starts this deep laugh that I wasn’t even sure was possible at such a young age.  And yet there she sits, laughing her little heart out.
Secondly, I love that about half-way through the video she pauses, looking into the camera and at that moment you hear my other niece, Benny (5 and 1/2 years old) yell out, “Bizzie!!” which makes me think she’s doing something silly to cause her sister to laugh.  And Bizzy starts all over again.
The last thing that I only think is so-so (but would admit I think I love it too), is the fact that Bizzy seems to have inherited my laugh.  I’m not sure if that’s really something that is inherited, but if you have ever heard me laugh, you know it’s true.  I have one of those laughs that I kind of hate because it is so loud and I just cannot help it.  Isabella has a laugh like that.  However, on a baby it’s SUPER cute.  Or maybe I just think it is cause she’s my niece.
I love that my brother sends me videos and pictures like the one above of Bizzy eating a french fry (which I’m pretty sure she shouldn’t be eating).  I love that he tries his hardest to keep me in the loop.  But on some level, it’s just not enough.  I miss both of these little girls with my whole heart.  I pray for them every time I think about them, which is often.  Some nights I just wish I could tuck them into bed or read stories with them instead of seeing them on a computer screen or saying good night on the phone.  I miss them so much it hurtsat times.
And yet, I know that I am here for a reason.  I get that confirmation every few days and I’m glad to be here.  I just wish that here and there were just a little bit closer.  At least close enough that I could see them every couple weeks, instead of every few months.  But until that is a reality again, I will keep looking at pictures and videos.  I will keep praying for them and the women they will become.  I will keep calling my house in hopes that Benny will be in the mood to talk to her favorite Tia rather than watch iCarly.  I will continue to love them from 1000 miles away.