Archive

Archive for October, 2012

Imperfection

Today my neuroscience professor told me I don’t need to be perfect all the time.

He was talking about academics because he had witnessed my anxiety over my midterm and my continued anxiety as I’ve been debating whether I should switch this course to pass/fail or stick it out for the mark.

But I’ve been thinking about perfectionism and how this impacts my life..

i know I am not perfect. I am far from it. In the past few weeks especially, I have been seeing my own imperfection in deeper ways.

As an introvert, I keep many of my struggles inside my head, only telling a few trusted people the ins and outs and sometimes not saying it all. I care about people and can often set aside my own feelings and capacity to attend to needs. I am smart and capable and have read and done a lot of interesting things which can make me appear knowledgeable and put together when really I’m spewing off a bunch of bullshit. In my times of crashing, I have often been met with responses of how people had no idea of how much I am struggling or that they had no idea that I was struggling at all.

As a result of these things, people refer to me as a sweet heart. I am called a hero and people look up to me. I am told that I am strong and courageous. I’m told all sorts of lovely things actually – things that I honestly find hard to see when I look in the mirror.

But I need to be honest – I often feel that I am not allowed to be anything but perfect. Let me explain.

I am utterly and completely human. I have bad days and good days. Some days I can say pretty offensive things. Some days I can react poorly. Some days I’m too stubborn to see your point of view.

Often I feel like there is an expectation for me to extend grace and love when someone else is going through a rough time.  To react perfectly. To say the right things. To respond the right way.

And when I don’t, my words seem to be held against me. Words said in distress. Words said when I am not having the best of days. I am responsible for those things, yes, and I typically come to regret them. But I feel like so often my imperfection is met with anything but grace. And so is it really safe for me to be anything but perfect? I try really hard to understand where people are coming from and what factors have gone into comments. I do try to give the benefit of the doubt. Not always. but I try. But I often feel like I am written off without the whole of me being taken into consideration.

I get frustrated and angry – and say stupid things. I argue over mute points. I am sarcastic. I am impatient. I am judgemental. I can laugh at someone’s expense. I can fail to care. Oh how I fail sometimes – do you know how often I feel like a complete failure in life because of my own short comings? Sometimes this feeling of failure is skewed by depression. But often it is just a grief-stricken look at how I actually do fail to love, to serve, to care or to even try.

If I give off the impression everything is fine, then I’m sorry – for that is not the full picture. There is so much that I don’t share. Sometimes I feel like if I share I am complaining too much or people don’t really need to know. Sometimes the timing just doesn’t seem right. Sometimes I am in a bit of a dissociative state which is both a positive and negative thing as it allows me to get through the moment without being connected to my feelings. In a crisis, this comes in handy – but when it dominates it’s a real pain in the neck.

I am not sleeping much these days. Even with heavy sedating medication, it takes me hours to fall asleep. And then my sleep is disturbed by nightmares. Trauma memories have been coming up for me in really painful ways to the point that I’ve sought out additional support to help me get through this time. I miss my family dearly. Christmas is coming which is a season I hate and I tend to long for my family and end up crashing afterwards – something that I am trying so very hard to prevent from happening this year! I fear a retrial and going through that hellish experience again. I love school and my two jobs – but it is stressful…. and, this is what my prof was getting at today, I am wanting excellent (perfect!) marks and working my butt off to attain them… and I am, but I’m stressed. I’m grieving the loss of super close friendships that have changed due mostly to life circumstances. Finances, while they are on the up and up, are a continued stressor. I have friends that I am really worried about who are going through terrible times. I have random panic attacks throughout the day that can last from minutes to an hour or so and the triggers have been practically impossible to ascertain. i’m struggling with old patterns of self-harm urges that thankfully with God’s continued support I’ve been able to resist but I feel like I am at war with myself. I have several health issues that are becoming increasingly problematic and I’m waiting to see a specialist in a couple of months. Sometimes I can’t stop shaking and my heart is racing and the pain in my chest is fierce because of the amount of stress I feel. Typically tears come at least once in the day.

I am not asking for sympathy – people who know me well know that I balk at such things. I’ve kinda adopted an “it is what it is” attitude about everything that is going on in my life and striving towards wholeness in the midst of the insanity. Honestly, my relationship with God has only deepened through this intense time as God is the only constant refuge I have at the moment and he never sleeps or slumbers.

But I feel like I do need permission and grace to be imperfect.

I am imperfect. i say and do the wrong things. Often. I fail. I am not a sweetheart.

And yes – when I do or say or even think unloving things, I am wrong to do so.

But please love me and offer me grace anyways.

Cause I can’t be perfect all the time. Or even a lot of the time.

And sometimes, I am just as broken and messed up as the next person whose pain is all consuming and prevents me from seeing someone else’s needs or point of view. And sometimes I need a listening ear or love or a hug even if I appear on the outside to be fine. sometimes I need assurance that people love me and care for me and are thinking of me.

please see me trying to love. please don’t think the worst of me when I fail. please don’t write me off.

i need more love and grace than I can ever give even in my best moments.

for I am not perfect all the time

‘Expert’ Remixed

The highlight of my week was my seminar group for community engagement class. Oddly enough, it was a day that I was presenting which normally would make my knees wobble and my stomach flip flop. But I was so super excited for this class that I could barely wait! I knew that what was going to happen was something that typically doesn’t happen much in society or in universities.

So a bit of background: I had to present on what is called Participatory Action Research. A very simplified version of this complex and messy process is that it reverses the traditional roles of expert and researchees and puts the power back into the hands of the community members. Traditional research has the expert (the researcher) go into a community, define the parameters of research, analyze the data and compile it for publication. The research may or may not effect the community’s life. PAR takes the researcher and reassigns the position from expert to facilitator and makes the community members the experts and enables them to define the research question, methods and output. I think this is brilliant as it turns systems upside down (and I am rather anti-systems at the moment). PAR is also much about the process and not so much on the outcomes, aiming at a transformational experience for both.

However, this type of research has great limitations and this is something I wanted to bring out in my seminar presentation. One of the readings talked about experience as being more transformative than any textbook. So I thought that there is no better way for us to get talking about the ins and outs of PAR than to experience its limitations and complications.

So I invited Bob to my class. I’ve mentioned Bob before on my blog – he is a good friend. He knows how to make me laugh, he has provided me support in times of need, he entertains my cat and he has taught me more about community, honesty, humility and so much more than any book on such topics.

Bob has schizophrenia – and in his words, he is different from most people. He carries around old bags that are his security blanket – each one has a special purpose and there is a certain order in which they are to be carried. His jokes sometimes takes knowing him to understand – he’ll joke about wanting to commit random acts of violence around the city, but really he means random acts of kindness.

Bob also cuts things out of paper (see the pumpkin in the picture above) and he has a talent that I definitely do not have. He has great spatial ability (of which I have absolutely none!) and can make snowflakes of any shape and any number you can think of. Some of his stuff is pretty magnificent. So I invited him to come to my class and teach my fellow students how to make these cutouts.

I have to say, I was a bit anxious. With Bob, you need to expect the unexpected. You never know what he might say and sometimes he goes off on a ramble about topics that I have learned are signals that he is having a bad moment. My anxiety wasn’t eased by his phone call the day before that left me wondering if he would actually show up as he left his phone number and told me he is going out to get groceries.

Well, Bob did me proud. He taught with elegance, he was filled with patience making sure everyone was on the same page and he was beaming. It was beautiful to step back and watch what was happening – how many times does a sixty something old mentally ill person get to teach a group of young and bright students? And what was even more fascinating was how clearly Bob was the expert of his craft – the majority of the students struggled to do the activity.

Bob gave my TA a cut out witch and said it was specifically for him as he’s “nothing but a horrible old witch” – if there was any TA in the course of my academic career who could handle Bob’s quirkiness, this was the one!

Then Bob left. I had my fellow students talk about questions like how would you work with a community of ‘Bobs’ to come  up with research questions and methods? how would you get funding? what if you disagreed with what Bob thought was best? What are some of the challenges for researchers in dealing with people who suffer from severe mental illness? What about some of the challenges for Bob?

My problem with PAR is that it is very challenging to not take the power back that you are trying to give to the community members. Perhaps this is a systems problem – for our systems are not set up for people like Bob to be the expert. Also, I think it is very hard to have completely pure motives as the researcher. Having Bob teach my class was beautiful – and perhaps even transformational for some. But at the end of the day, I get a mark on the presentation and use it to go to grad school and start my career. Bob – who cares about Bob? I mean, I do – he is definitely a good friend in my life! But Bob will go around the city cutting out things and will not see the glory so to speak of all the effort he put into teaching my class… he is a nobody in a sense.

I ended the class by talking about whether ‘power’ is inherently evil’…. Is power necessarily a bad thing? There is a reason we send powerful people to meet with government officials or to endorse certain campaigns. There is a reason why educated people are taken more seriously than the random person that no one has ever heard of.

I found an awesome quote from Martin Luther King Jr. – I apologize in advance that I’m probably taking it out of context as I just found it on some quote page. But it’s message is beautiful and profound.

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

May we become people who not only see the expert in each person we meet, but be able to recognize our own power and privilege and use that power for love and change.

 

Beware

 

That just about says it all – you’ve been warned 🙂

Categories: Lessons in School Tags: , ,

The prophetic voice of Martyn Joseph

Literally after publishing that last post, Martyn Joseph’s song “Change your World” came on shuffle. And might heart smiled as it took in these words that for me at least were filled with God’s love, beauty and grace in my life. I love my Lord and Saviour – only God knows how to speak deeply into my heart to fill me with tremendous feeling of being completely and utterly loved in my humanity and sinfulness.

Are you down to your last ray of hope

Well they say that’s the moment things turn around

Don’t you give up the fight you can cope

You can be so amazingly strong

And you can’t let go

You have come so far

And I know that it’s been rough

But your patience has to pay

And it can’t be soon enough

And if I could have my way

I would change your world

I’d change it right away

Are you down to your last drop of love?

Even so you should give it away

Let it sail with your dreams to the sun

And return to you laden with promise

And you can’t let go

I won’t let you fall

And I know that it’s been rough

But your patience has to pay

And it can’t be soon enough

And if I could have my way

I would change your world

I’d change it right away

And you’re tired of chasing love?

‘Cos it never seems to stay

And it can’t be soon enough

And if I could have my way

I would change your world

I’d change it right away

Are you down to your last weary smile?

So put it on now, and wear it with dignity

It’s time to walk one more mile

Very soon there are going to be changes

And I know that it’s been rough

But your patience has to pay

And it can’t be soon enough

And if I could have my way

Yes I know that it’s been rough

But your patience has to pay

And it can’t be soon enough

And if I could have my way

I would change your world

Change it right away

I would change your world

There would not be a delay

I would change your world

I’d change it right away

Trying to be God

I have a confession to make.

Sometimes, I think I am God.

Now before you suggest that I am suffering from delusions of grandeur, hang on for a moment while I explain. I think this struggle is a common struggle for those of fallen nature – indeed, wasn’t the “first sin” by Adam and Eve not that they ate a rotten apple, but that they wanted to be like God and have their eyes open to both good and evil just like God? I can just hear the evil one right now going “You know, the only reason why God doesn’t want you to eat the fruit is that then you would become like him and God just can’t handle that. He doesn’t care about you – he just wants to keep you in the dark when really, you could be just like him.”

I fall prey to this temptation. I can think that God doesn’t really know me, doesn’t know what I need, and that I know way better. But I am realizing that it is deeper – sometimes I think I can replace God and do what only he can do.

God has given me a heart for people and that has been affirmed by Christians and nonChristians so many times that I cannot deny it. Believe me – I’ve tried to. I told my housemate that I want to go into data entry – we both agreed that not only would that be incredibly boring but that I would also completely hate it. My passion is to walk with people who are broken and vulnerable and to be a part of their stories. Any other hat does not fit. There’s no way around it – God has given me a gift and designed me to be fulfilled when I use this gift.

But there is a downside and a temptation – a perversion of this good gift, if you will.

I remember a few months ago, I heard a person’s story and my heart completely broke at the pain and brokenness. And tears formed in my eyes any time I thought of this person’s words – “I’ve never experienced the love or presence of God in my life”

And somehow, I thought I could make this happen. That I could show the unconditional love that this person longed so desperately for. I thought I could heal this person. I thought I could make a difference in this person’s life.

And who knows how God will use me – but my point is I put all the emphasis on myself – that I can do what only God can do for this person.

And the past few days, I have been faced with my utter and complete humanity and I am humbled.

Lord – have mercy – a broken and contrite heart O God you will not despise.

A week in my life

 

 

This time a year ago, I had begun a new life of living in community. I had the luxury and gift of time and used it to be involved with a homeless and marginalized community, playing music at a nursing home and offering hospitality and leadership in various aspects of my community. I had the time to spend an entire Friday cooking for my housemates, to read and reflect, to drink amble amounts of coffee at the numerous places around me with friends. And that year was a beautiful gift of time and learning.

But life has now changed considerably. This has been beautiful and wonderful and I feel very blessed. This radical shift in how I spend my time has had its challenges – for both me and for those who became used to my free schedule. I often feel stuck in a perpetual letting everyone down sort of feeling as the emails, phone messages and invites pile up and it takes weeks for me to answer them. I discovered the other day that if I don’t check my phone messages within 10 days my phone provider automatically deletes them!

It’s been challenging to create balance too and to learn when to say no and when to forget my to do list for a bit. I’m really grateful for a good friend who called me up last night saying that she was picking me up to take me out for dinner because I needed a break and to get out.

So here is a glimpse of my weeks…

Mondays I typically have free until my evening social psychology class. But don’t be fooled – “free” doesn’t mean I am free to do anything want. Rather, it means free to study. Social psychology is a fun class as I love the topic, although the professor is the author of our textbook and very rarely is there something in the lecture that is not in the textbook. I just stated to walk again with my housemate and a long time friend bright and early and evenings at our house end with prayer at 10:30pm.

Tuesday is my killer day. I have African studies, Neuroscience and an evening course on child development. I’m usually toast by the end of Tuesday.

Wednesday I have probably my favourite course and tutorial – community engagement. I love this course and am learning so much – and it taps into my interests in social justice issues. I lead prayer at 10:30.

Thursday I work for a few hours taking care of this beautiful 6 month old. He smiles when he sees me and makes me laugh along with him. He is such a happy kid. Each week – especially as I study child development – I am realizing over and over what a privilege I have to be a part of this child’s emotional, cognitive and social growth. The early few years of life are so important for a child – and I get to see him develop and to teach and encourage him. What a beautiful job I have! And then it’s back to the books, although I do have meetings sometimes to attend.

Friday is usually pretty free and then I babysit again in the evening which typically means I make sure the condo doesn’t burn down as I study neuroscience for four straight hours – and get paid for that – how cool is that?!

Saturdays are never the same except usually I am studying. (a common theme! my days of procrastination are long over! bring on the hard work!)

Sundays I work as the children’s sunday school director at a church. This has tapped into my creative side and brings out a lot of my life experiences. I usually leave there brainstorming ways to help the sunday school grow in numbers as well as spiritually. Sunday night we have a house meal together and a house meeting.

And then the week begins again.

In the mire of midterms, I frequently looked back to a year ago when time was open and free, longing for those days. But honestly, I don’t think I would trade what I have now for the world. I love being a student. I love learning. And I am pursuing my dreams and seeing results that reward my hardwork.

And I am realizing again and again that I STILL have the gift of time – just the gift is used differently.

Broken Wing’s Don’t always heal to fly

I’m not very strong when it comes to this

Deep in my heart I know its come

I guess I’d rather wait till the morning

Hoping that it would bring a brighter sun

Time has had a chance to do good healing

I must take these pieces as they lie

Offer them to You in my sadness

I guess broken wings don’t always heal to fly

And I need You – more than I ever did before

How I need to hear Your voice

And I will, if I will listen to the lesson that You’re whispering

Life is a painful journey

And You knew, so you took it for me long ago

– Martyn Joseph

Today, I was asked by my therapist how I am doing with everything. My answer was school is holding me together and I fear that it is too tenuous a thing. In many ways, I am thriving – I got 88% on my social psychology midterm and 93% on my community paper (see earlier post on the disempowerment of communities as I discussed Kim Rivera’s situation in light of course readings). I am pouring all I have into school and while some days it doesn’t seem like it is enough, the results speak otherwise. And indeed, I love my studies.

I’ve always felt that the healing journey is more like an onion than a linear series of events – you keep peeling away layers and some sting and stink more than others. But I thought I had gotten to the bottom and learned how to use the onions to make life flavourful and wonderful. And realistically, marks that point me in the direction of a 4.0 gpa while I’m working 2 jobs speaks to some stability that I haven’t achieved before. (Or perhaps they speak to greater insanity, but I like the other option better).

I’ve been having trouble accepting some of the realities I am now facing – that there are still more layers of the onion. Stuff is coming up for me in really fierce ways and I keep shoving it down because I don’t have time to deal with this – I have a gpa and two jobs that need to hold up or my future is screwed up. Again. I’ve started and stopped so many times that I’m sick of this pattern and doing absolutely everything I can to succeed. But I cannot control the memories, the nightmares, and the feelings come with them. I have a neuroscience exam on Tuesday with about 500 terms and despite my sudden appreciation for multiple choice exams as I prepared for this exam, I found out this week that it will be fill in the blanks, definitions and essays. Needless to say, I need to cram my brain with material and not let the stuff that is coming up for me take priority.

Today, yet once again, I am faced with the damage of years of sexual abuse. I talked about things I talk to no one about and the horror of my story is hard to deny or even ignore right now. And I am breaking inside partly because I simply don’t want to struggle anymore. I want to be healed. I want to live life to the fullest. I want to fly.

But maybe broken wings will never fly again. Maybe I am longing for something that will never be mine instead of hearing what God wants right now with my life as it is and not how I want it to be. Maybe I need to figure out new ways of being.

The simple song of Martyn Joseph – which I encourage you to listen to (it’s on grooveshark) – is my prayer today. I must offer the pieces of my shattered being to the One who loves me more than anyone could possibly offer me.

Maybe these broken wings will be used in some other way other than flying.

How I need to hear God’s voice and listen to the lessons that He is whispering as I offer these broken wings in the deep sadness I feel today.