Sunday, August 20, 2017

Gaining The Courage To Press The Button

I'd be lying if I said I've sat down multiple times to write this post. I've thought about it multiple times but decided I didn't have the energy or that I wouldn't have anything of substance to write about. I took it upon myself to decide that you, the reader, wouldn't want to read any more about my troubles in the last few months. But this morning, as I sat in bed drinking my coffee, I thought about how much I missed Uganda. The busy streets, the work I was part of, the few words I learned in Luganda, and mostly the people I got close to. Missing them made me realize I needed to finally get my thoughts down.

Physically, I am healthy again. I didn't suffer from any huge disease. Malaria wasn't what sent me home. But after a series of treatable ailments-a stomach bacteria and an allergic reaction to some sort of bite, I decided with those who know and love me most that my body needed to be back in the States. What kind of social worker would I be if I didn't take into account my health while working for a health organization? Ultimately, I am glad I came home. I gave my body the time it needed to recover- not only from Uganda, but from Germany, from graduation, and the seemingly endless weeks of finals for grad school. I realized I was so focused on getting to the next task or destination that I didn't let my body heal from the previous one. Yesterday, I admired with a friend that for the first time in two years, maybe six if we're being honest, my nails were healthy. They weren't chipped or frail because I wasn't picking at them. Sure, it's a small detail, but to me it means the world.

The post could be over. I could summarize for everyone reading that I am officially graduated and on the job hunt and all is good in the world. That I am confident that my degree will land me a fantastic job and I can start movin' on up. That is a lot of what I have been telling people who ask because it's easy. It's expected.

Those things aren't totally false, but it isn't the whole truth. The whole truth is that I am extremely anxious that I won't get a job I'm proud of or am excited to go to every day. Most days I wish that I had a few more years of work experience before jumping into grad school. I often question if I should have gone to such an expensive school-will it really pay off? I'm anxious about having to come home halfway through my practicum experience. I felt like I failed my organization because my body couldn't take what my mind wanted to accomplish. I see friends and family members doing incredible things and I am both proud of them and envious. I feel stuck.

Being stuck with anxiety feels like being trapped in an elevator with someone who won't stop talking. They say all the things you don't want to hear and bring up worries you didn't know you had. It starts to get stuffy because they are sucking up all the oxygen and you just keep looking up, praying that the elevator starts moving again. Sometimes you scream hoping someone will hear you. Hoping they will find you and that you aren't forgotten about. People on the other floors are moving on with their life, doing what they planned for the day, not realizing you're stuck somewhere in the middle, unable to move. Unable to do what you planned.

In that elevator, there is an emergency button. One to push to let someone, even if it's not anyone you know, come rescue you. For a long time, I knew I needed to press that button, but I was too stubborn. I thought if I just keep looking up, just keep praying, just keep thinking of ways to pry open that door, I wouldn't need outside help. But it got really stuffy in that elevator. The voice of anxiety got louder and more convincing. Keeping me from sleep, taking away my own voice.

A few weeks ago, I pressed that button. I decided it was time to admit that prayers weren't enough. I needed someone else to hear me. I found myself in the offices of a counselor and a doctor asking for help in quieting the voice of anxiety. Rationally, I knew it was anxiety and not truth speaking. I knew that it's normal for someone in such a transition period like grad school to be stressed. I was fully aware that my experience in Uganda triggered a lot of nervous thinking. But I didn't think I would need to push the button. Social workers are normally the ones who respond when that button is pushed, but we have a very hard time being the ones to do it. I know I've mentioned that in this blog before.

I still feel like I'm in that elevator most days, but I've pressed the button and know help is coming. It isn't an automatic response by any means, but man, do I wish it was. I am finding out how difficult it is to talk about my own problems because all I want is to be seen as put together. Sometimes I don't even have words for how I feel, which is incredibly frustrating. How can I not even express why I'm anxious? Why I wake up in a panic at night? It's a vicious cycle. But I'm slowly learning that I need to listen to myself, even if I don't have the words. Just like I did with my physical health, I need to take an outside look at my mental health and trust one day, I will be healthy again.

I write this blog not to elicit comments or reassurance. Like I mentioned, rationally I know that my education will lead me to fantastic opportunities like it already has. I am proud of my accomplishments and know I won't live with my parents forever. I write this for anyone reading who still hasn't pushed the button. If you need help, if you feel like you are stuck in an elevator or however else you view anxiety, it is okay to push it. You don't have to let the voice of anxiety take up all the oxygen in the room. You have a voice, too.

Friday, June 16, 2017

"Nothing is more critical than life"

Things I've done while I've been in Uganda:

  • I've put my hand in the Nile River.
  • I've tried some local foods-motoke (mashed plantains), posho (dense grits of sorts) and loved them
  • I've watched a little gecko crawl out of the top of my toilet and tried not to freak out
  • I've battled with a few crickets in my room-and won
  • I've contracted malaria in record timing (and will be finished with medication tomorrow) 
  • I've played with children, listened to them call after me "Muzungo" which means "White Person"
  • I've met Mayors and very important district officials
  • I've played endless rounds of skip-bo with a good friend, Sumayah
  • I've needle-pointed and thought endlessly of home
  • I've begun to learn local greetings-which I'm learning only get me so far
I've doubted if this was the right way for me to spend the summer. I've cried for my boyfriend,my mom, my niece. I've cried for everyone in my family. I've sat and just listened. Listened to the early morning or the late night. I've sat in the back of a van full of 10 people and simply admired the beauty of this country, the acres upon acres of fertile land, the kindness of individuals and bravery of animals trying to get a stray piece of maize on the other side of the road.

I wish I could say it's as glorious of a start to the summer as I imagined. I thought I would be able to adapt to the weather, culture and job seamlessly. I've spent the last two years of grad school imagining this trip. I just knew I was cut out for international work and I could jump right in. That didn't happen. 

The first two weeks have been filled with frustration-not with the people or my job or the country, but with myself. First, because I am so incredibly terrible at being dependent. Two days in I was mad at myself for not knowing how to navigate the town. I hated that I had to (get to, really) be driven around my my organization's van. It is of course for my own safety while I learn the city but I HATE that I was so reliant on the van. I didn't know anyone other than fellow interns and staff members and I was frustrated that I didn't know everything yet. The end of last week felt much better than the start. We had a pool day-which always cures a bad mood. We walked around a new city, Jinja, and ended by a pool, then a sunset boat cruise on the Nile. I was absolutely exhausted by that point, but energized to start the next week with greater assurance that I knew I would find my way. The next day I walked the whole town with Sumayah, a godsend of a friend here in Uganda. She showed me shortcuts, where to buy food at the market, what the best fabric store was and how to get from my hotel to the office. Finally. 

Monday was a typical day at the office, settling into my job, beginning my responsibilities here as a practicum student. On Tuesday I woke up with a migraine-I figured from dehydration, so I called and told my bosses that I wouldn't be coming in. I would work from the hotel. Hours later, I woke from a nap with a fever and body aches-things that don't come with my migraines so my wonderful friend who works at UDHA graciously took me to the health center that is practically connected to our office. In what I think is record timing, I had contracted a very low-grade case of Malaria. (For those reading, don't worry, I was treated) The typical time it takes to contract Malaria is between 10 days to 4 weeks. As of Tuesday I had been there 10 days...

(A break for people unfamiliar with Malaria. Many travelers to countries with high rates of Malaria will take anti-malarial drugs each day. However, these drugs are like a flu shot-they only protect against certain 'strains'. So even though I did all the things I could've done to prevent it, "One stubborn mosquito" as my doctor called it, did the trick. It is typically treated with shots and/or pills and the recovery time is relatively quick-about a week.)

So here I was, already frustrated with being dependent on others and wondering how I was going to make it the next two months and I'm bogged down with a stupid illness caused by one dang mosquito. If God was quietly hinting at a lesson the first week, he was screaming it the second. Asking people for help doesn't make me any less dependent. Any less of an adult. It shows vulnerability, sure, but it doesn't take any part of "Abby" away. Everyone who has been sick away from home-be it from their mom, their partner or even just their own bed, knows how miserable it is. For me, it's also frustrating that I'm not better yet. I've never had this illness and already I'm telling myself I should be better. I should go back to work. 

This morning, one of my supervisors, Michael, came to check on me. I told him I would do some work from the hotel today and he shook his head and said, "Nothing is more critical than life, Abby". That's it. The silly lesson that I couldn't see. No matter how frustrating it is to be vulnerable or dependent on someone to make me eat or make sure I'm drinking fluids, it is to make sure I keep on living. Keep living so I can keep learning. I didn't ever feel like Malaria was going to kill me, but I thought my boredom might. Instead, I am trying to be grateful for recuperation. I am immensely grateful for the people who have taken care of me, offered prayers and acted as a source of comfort while I am away from home. Even if it was just a smile that inferred "it will be okay", I noticed and appreciated it. 

I am appreciative of the people who love me back home. I didn't tell many people outside of my family and boyfriend of being sick or even admit that the first few weeks here have been tough. I still felt like I had an image to maintain-though I don't know who would see that image-seeing as I haven't been great at posting on facebook or sending emails. It has been bittersweet to be relatively disconnected. I miss the constant photos of Hadley, though they have been increasing since I'm sick and I miss regular talks with my boyfriend and my family. I miss the laughs of my friends and know there will be major changes to adjust to when I get back. But it is also nice to wake up in the morning to the sound of a chicken clucking in the garden outside of my room. To go sit in the restaurant area of my hotel and read a good book before work. So far, Ugandans have taught me the power of kindness and hospitality, and how to enjoy downtime. For that, I am grateful.

Oh, and for anyone out there reading this with the thought "What is Abby going to do after Uganda?" the answer is extremely unknown. 

Oh, Oh, for anyone who is wondering what I'm actually doing in Uganda: The organization is called Uganda Development and Health Associates. It is in Iganga district and I am working on the Health Systems Strengthening project. It aims to train Community Linkage Facilitators to go into various districts and encourage residents to access health care and figure out how to make it more accessible. UDHA is also working with other Community Based Organizations in those districts to increase access and educations surrounding major topics like HIV, TB, Malaria, and Maternal/Child health. Pretty cool stuff. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Not just another post about Lent

I could make up an excuse as to why I haven't blogged in a while, but we all know you'd see right through it, so I'll just get to typing. 

One of the things I love to do most is looking back through my blog, especially the posts about the posts during Lent. It is a good reminder of where my head and my heart were at the time and looking to see if I still feel and understand what I posted. So here goes another post about Lent for me to look back on in a year:

I struggled with what to give up for Lent this year. I normally take pride in thinking of something both creative and challenging, and I was at a loss up until I was at church on Ash Wednesday. The gospel for that day read: 

"...And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you..."
Matthew 6: 5-6

This passage used to confuse me, especially when it is read on Ash Wednesday, where we wear ashes on our head, proclaiming our faith. But it made me realize that I shouldn't be giving up something just to be creative-or to impress those I tell. It should be something to remind me of God's love, the sacrifice Jesus made and to bring me back to my faith. So I decided to add 30 minutes of reading my Bible each day. I'll admit-there have been days when its been 19 minutes or that I forgot all together. I won't use the excuse of grad school or being tired either, because I could have found time in the day. 

The first day, I sat with my Bible open, reading all the notes or highlighted passages but I didn't have much of a plan on how I would spend my 30 minutes each night. I started reading Proverbs because it's been on my list of books I haven't read all the way through but want to. Boy, did I choose a tough book to get through. Not because it's heavy, but because it is filled with so many little pieces of advice, often written in a metaphor (what I love most is that when Solomon discusses Wisdom with female pronouns!) Since it is so complex, I later chose to read one chapter each night. Two nights ago I read chapter 13 where it states:

"Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice."
Proverbs: 13:10

It is such a great reminder that being right isn't the only thing that matters. I LOVE being right, anyone who knows me knows this. But it can also be dangerous to get so confident in myself that I don't look for or accept advice when I need it. I act as though accepting advice would hurt my pride, when it would only increase my wellbeing. Sure, there is some bad advice out there, but there is also some really good advice. Like what Matthew 6 says-I don't need to stand prideful at the street corners telling everyone how good of a Christian I am, sometimes I need to go in my own room and listen for God's advice. That sure is harder said than done, though. 

With all the anxieties that come with finishing grad school, like finishing coursework and finding a job, I haven't done a very good job of seeking help. My focus is so much on being able to do these last papers on my own and job searching and preparing for graduation, that I am overwhelming myself. I am not asking for help or advice because I don't want to seem like I'm not put together-and that is just what the Proverbs passage is cautioning. 

Moving forward through the Lenten season, I am really going to try to ask for help or advice on things that feel overwhelming. Areas of my life that could use an outside opinion, rather than trying to maintain my pride. Because there won't be much left to be proud of if I can't get to the finish line. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Convos with Hadley, my Goddaughter!

I'm overdue for a post, I know. I didn't keep to my monthly commitment and I'm sure I am not the only one who had a crazy November so I won't use that as an excuse. I'll just promise you that there are pictures of the most perfect baby in this post and hope that you will forgive me.

My November started out in the most wonderful way possible. I got home after a long day of both school and work to a little envelope on my bed. It was addressed to me in Kelley's unmistakable handwriting. I immediately tried to remember what gift I had given her that warranted a thank you (Kelley has always been on top of thank you notes). Little did I know that inside the envelope was a gift for me! Hadley personally asked me to be her Godmother! I immediately started crying, with no one to hug because it was close to midnight and my parents were long asleep.

I am not a big crier, but this little girl has my heart. Since our alone time in the NICU, while Kelley and Matt caught up on sleep, to the conversations we've had snuggling on the couch, I have tried and failed to convey how much love I have for her. Hadley will never know, but I won't stop trying to tell her what she means to me, her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles (both literal and figurative). It is my privilege to be her godmother and make sure that not a day goes by where she doesn't know she is loved.

Two days later, I woke up in a panic. I read my CNN updates and I immediately thought of my sweet Goddaughter. I went into my parent's room and cried in my mother's arms because I didn't know what else to do. I, along with many other men and women, walked through that day numb to whatever came our way.

A month later, I realize that having Trump as president is our new reality as a country. It has been a rough month, but I came across a quote that stuck with me. I have shared it on Facebook and with friends and family and received mixed feedback.

"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences." -Audre Lorde

I want to be clear in saying that I do not condone, accept or celebrate any act of oppression, hate or bigotry. This quote, however, helps me to realize that a person who is different or opposite of me does not necessarily approve of those things either. Sure, there are racists and bigots out there. Believe me, I am working damn hard to decrease the amount of ignorance in the world, but I don't want to condone hate or exclusion on my end because of what a person calls themselves. I don't want Hadley to grow up thinking that because a person is opposite of her, they are bad or wrong.

I had a talk with Hadley the other day about God. Not the first, and most certainly not the last. I talked about how God created her exactly how He imagined, and that He has plans for her that she, nor I, know about. I encouraged her to wake up every morning, thanking God for another day in His creation, just as I do.

I don't know what the future holds for my dear Goddaughter, but I do know that it will be filled with love and many more conversations. I admit, these last few months the conversations have been a little one-sided, so I cannot wait to hear her input in the future.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Learning to Thaw

In keeping with my commitment to post monthly, I want to post some of a personal essay I wrote for my Domestic Social and Economic Development Policy class. The prompt was simple: write about the Black Lives Matter Movement. I wrote it as if I was writing a blog post, and it ended up not being so bad. It doesn't have any explicit reference to my faith, but I'm realizing now  that my faith doesn't have to be explicit in my thoughts and actions. God is in all that I think and do. Enjoy.

    I am a proud Saint Louisan. Or at least I thought I was until August 2014, when I learned there were pockets of St. Louis that I knew close to nothing about. Sure, I had a basic understanding of my hometown. I’m technically from St. Louis County and growing up, there were only a few places in the city my parents allowed me to go to. The ‘city’ was really only worth going to for a baseball game, Soulard for the farmer’s market, and University City was okay if I was home before dark. I knew some of my high school classmates were bussed in from the city, but I had no idea where from and it never crossed my mind to ask.

In 2008, when I was a sophomore, Charles “Cookie” Thornton shot and killed five people in a town hall meeting, before being fatally shot himself. I woke up to the news that among others, a classmate of mine lost her mother, an officer I worked with in the past was killed outside the building and our mayor was in critical condition. I went to school, but quickly realized there would be no academic education that day. I did learn, however, that racial tensions run deep in our quaint little town of Kirkwood and the surrounding area. It was the first time I realized that my town needed to hear that Black lives matter.

I traveled south for college where it was easy to point out racist comments, ideology and practices. I boasted that I was from a much more diverse city.  I majored African and African American Studies to make sure no one could call me ignorant to our country’s history. I felt like I could be a part of tough conversations surrounding race, and knew these conversations were not something to shy away from. If we were going to improve as a country, we had to have these conversations. I was looking at the big picture, but hadn’t applied this to my hometown. I was still a proud St. Louisan.

August 9, 2014 was the first time I was scared to tell people I was from St. Louis, not because of the shooting, but because I had no idea where Ferguson was on the map. For the first time I felt like I knew nothing about my city. Two weeks later, I left for a volunteer year in Philadelphia. I left the 24-hour news coverage on channel five. I left the nightly vigils and confusion. I was able to leave.

When I landed in Philadelphia I felt both relief and anxiety. Stepping off the plane, I watched the news that the rest of the country saw, not the local news. I saw what was being included and knew what was being left out. All of a sudden, I became the spokesperson for St. Louis for the 30 people I worked with. I tried my hardest to sell them on the idea that despite what was going on, St. Louis was still a great place. I made sure to mention that Ferguson is a fraction of the larger St. Louis area. I still wanted to be proud of the city that I just left.

Then I came back. I came back after the jury chose not to indict Darren Wilson. I came back after the Black Lives Matter Movement arrived in St. Louis. I was home to recognize the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death and I happen to be in a racial justice training at the time. It was a hard homecoming. I was coming back to a city that I wasn’t truly proud of, but I didn’t want to admit it. I wanted so badly to erase the racist history of St. Louis, at the same time jump on board with the Black Lives Matter Movement. I wanted to take what I learned in my undergraduate classes and explain to people that not all racism is overt, but I was frozen. I was frozen with the fear of not having a place in the Movement. I still am.

In that same racial justice training, I was confronted with my Whiteness. I understand that People of Color and Native People face both explicit racism and systematic oppression that I will never have to experience. I understand that changes need to be made not just on the personal level, but at the policy level as well. What I could not grasp during that training, and what I have been working on for the last year, is how to both own my Whiteness and contribute to the Movement.

The Black Lives Matter Movement existed before Michael Brown’s death and grew larger after the jury’s decision not to indict. It exists beyond St. Louis City and County limits. I know this, however, St. Louis is the lens through which I see the Movement. It is where I can reasonably participate, more than just the discussions in an academic setting. Yet, I admit, I haven’t done much.

I am frozen because I don’t know what my role is. I left St. Louis at one of the most crucial times to stay, to raise awareness and fight for change. I was able to leave, not just geographically, but because of my Whiteness. I am able to turn off the news and I don’t have to fear for my life when I am pulled over for speeding or a stalled car. I have stood in solidarity for pictures and posted on Facebook that Black Lives Matter and that we need to stop killing our neighbors, but it does not feel like enough. At the end of the day, I go home and choose what news I want to see or read, while my Black peers are not able to get away from it. It is their reality, not mine.

In another racial justice training, the facilitator used a metaphor. She said the fight for social change is like rowing a boat. Often, White people stand at the shore and yell commands or provide ‘encouragement’ to the Black people in the boat doing the work. Instead, we need to swim out to the boat, climb on board and start rowing. I struggle with this metaphor because, on one hand, it makes perfect sense. On the other, I wonder how I can get on board without taking someone else’s seat. I know that White people have a place in fighting for racial justice, but I am deathly afraid of looking like the White Savior. This may be my own insecurity or an excuse for my lack of involvement, but it is where I currently stand in the Movement. I want to figure out how to use my voice, my privilege, to amplify the voice of others.

Hope is not lost, though. In trying to move from my frozen state, I’m realizing I do not have to write a law or make a speech to have an impact.  Being a White person involved in the Black Lives Matter Movement does not automatically make me a White Savior. Actions of a White Savior are ones that highlight their own hard work and sacrifice. I have never enjoyed the spotlight and that won’t change now. Moving forward, I am starting to see the impact of simple conversations with neighbors, or what it means to share a post on Facebook. Sure, these are small steps, but they are steps nonetheless.

It is an interesting time to be a St. Louisan right now. More than two years after the killing of Michael Brown it feels like we’ve made little progress. The media has moved on from Ferguson to the next terrible killing, the next poor family, the next victim. The Department of Justice has performed an investigation but significant changes are not yet apparent. I cannot say I’m a proud St. Louisan at this point, but I’m not giving up on my city either. The only way St. Louis can improve its history of terrible race relations is if we bring it up from under the rug and start talking, which is why I plan to stay here for a while. My contributions may not be officially related to the Black Lives Matter Movement, but they are keeping the conversation going. Through my education at Washington University, personal reflection, and discussions with friends and colleagues, I am finally thawing from my frozen state, and ready to do more.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Brave to be an American

There's a lot going on in our country right now, isn't there? Is it just me or do other's feel like an election year lasts 10 times longer than a regular year? I can't say I am proud of everything going on and I am still trying to figure out where I stand on certain events. Rather than write a blog about the confusion of what it is to be an American today, I am going to talk about bravery.

My practicum is at the International Institute of St. Louis this semester, where newly settled refugees come for assistance in all areas of life, from health and housing assistance to employment and education. It has been around since 1919 and does incredible work. I know that's a pretty broad statement, so if you want to learn more let's grab a coffee and chat about it!

Anyway, last week I was able to sit in on a citizenship ceremony for 39 new Americans. Those who know me well know I don't get emotional about much, except for Hadley Marie, who moved me to tears the first time I saw her perfect face, and the movie Remember the Titans-I cry during the final scene every time. Last week, however, as the court choir sang America The Beautiful and the 39 new Americans stood up to say their names, where they were from, and how long they've been in the States, I could've used a tissue.

I sat there in almost disbelief. In a time where certain politicians and media personnel are telling citizens who are unhappy with their country to leave and want to place restrictions on entire ethnic and religious groups from entering the country, they still wanted to call America home. They believe in the freedoms promised in our Constitution and believe in the opportunity for success.

I sat in disbelief not because I think those 39 people are fools, but because they reassured me. It has been so easy to complain about the state of our country. So easy to say I'm turning in my passport if Trump gets elected.  These 39 people are brave. They know the power of their vote and their voice. They acted as a reminder not to wallow in my own disbelief that our country can't change because, for them, it has to. It has to be better because they gave up everything to put their hand on their heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance to The US.

Not every person standing at the ceremony last week was a refugee or came from a Third World country, but every person standing gave up citizenship from another country. They believe so much in what the American flag stands for, that they held it proudly with their certificate of citizenship in a picture.

This post isn't without its concerns. I struggle with the idea that the American flag and the Constitution carry the same meaning for everyone in this country and abroad. I have seen people strive for the American Dream and are heartbroken to discover inequality in our country. I still say that I'll turn in my passport if Trump is elected, but I am encouraged by those 39 people to keep working. To keep pursuing a career where I can make new Americans feel welcome. To keep educating others of the benefits to welcoming new citizens. To keep exploring better ways to do certain things I was once sure of to better serve those around me.

I am so proud of those 39 people I never met. They'll never know who I am, but I hope my applause from the balcony of the room meant something to them that day. I hope they realize just how brave they are to embark on a new life as an American.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Self-Care, Don't Care

I have no idea where the summer went. None. I am back in the thick of training for my fellowship with Residential Life at WashU and soon enough I will be back in the classroom for one last year of classes before you can call me Abby MacDonald, Master of Social Work!

Yesterday, we had one of many tough conversations surrounding racial justice: how to discuss the negative racial narratives in today's society and share counter-narratives to influence social change. During a time when many people feel uncomfortable discussing race and how it impacts the way an individual moves through life, Res Life has been clear about the need to have tough conversations. The talk yesterday shined a light on a lot, and while we didn't solve all the world's problems, or come up with a solution for institutional racism (which I think would solve MANY of the world's problems), it got everyone at the table thinking.

I've written about the need for self-care on this blog before and last night, I listened to my own advice.  I lit a lavender (supposedly calming?) candle and got back on my yoga mat. Normally I watch a video at home as a guide, but this time I just did what felt right. I realized I am not at all ready to lead a class, but I listened to what my body needed which was a lot more difficult than anticipated.

I love the fact that I can do yoga at home for many reasons: 1. It's free. 2. I can do it in my sports bra and underwear should I choose to (sorry if that was too much information). 3. If I want to do some yoga at 2:30 in the morning, I can. I haven't ever done that, but should I find the need, I can. 4. When I make a mistake, or take a risk and fall on my face, no one is there to laugh. Today, though, I put some pants on and went to a yoga class at the local YMCA. I love my Y because I am usually the youngest person in the room so I don't feel intimidated or judged. Nor do I feel the need to compare myself to the 70 year old man wearing khakis on a treadmill.*

Getting on the yoga mat has always been both a challenge and a blessing for me. It forces me to concentrate on my breathing, an intention, and on balance. I often look at yoga as a connection to my faith. Many of my intentions are just prayers to God. It is where I can be fully present and contemplate what His plans are for me. Today, as I packed my mat and waterbottle for a class, I realized that not only is my personal time with yoga a reflection of my faith, but going to a class with a teacher is comparable to heading to church.

I love going to church with my parents and family each week. I'll admit there are more days where I choose sleep over church, but each time I return I am reminded why it is worth going. As a good Augustinian alum, I go for the community. I know that my faith is my own journey and the church is a reflection of a man-made religion, but I discovered during my volunteer year that immersing oneself in a community directed towards the same end goal-to be closer to God, can strengthen faith.

I went into this class today pretty confident. I knew how to do the balance poses, I could touch the ground with straight legs, and I could anticipate the next pose the teacher would ask of us. Toward the end, I didn't really feel like I was pushed very much. I thought I would just go home and work on some other poses. Then a funny thing happened. As I was rolling up my mat, post-namaste, I realized my legs felt well stretched, my body was calm and my arms felt a little noodle-y. The class had an impact on me, even though I thought I was above it.

All this work I do on my own, be it on the mat or for my faith, can only take me so far. I eventually need to find a class or a church to find inspiration or comfort in the community. Even if I think I'm better than my classmates or stronger in my faith than those around me, I am learning. I am improving as long as I push myself to do so. It takes an effort on my end to go to that class or get out of my pjs on Sunday and go to church, but I am reminded time and time again, that I still have plenty of work to do.

I am writing this out so that everyone reading can hold me accountable. I am ashamed of how little I blogged last year, especially since it is one of my favorite self-care activities. My goal for this year is to post once a month. I have put a reminder on my calendar for the 25th of every month to write. Feel free to publicly humiliate me if you do not see any posts for more than a month at a time.

*Sorry if you're a 70 year old man wearing khakis at the gym. I applaud your determination to stay fit, just not your outfit choice.