20 Questions to Finish 2012 (a little late)

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Life has been, well, for lack of a better word, happening these past few months since I last wrote here.

I’m tired, and I’m rusty, but I’m trying to fall back into rhythm with my own written voice, and so here I am. As a way to get back into the swing of blogging, I’m going to steal an idea from the blog of my dear friend Laura, and do a reflection on 2012 in the form of 20 Questions. I hope she will forgive me for my laziness😉

1. What was the single best thing that happened this year?
Grad school, without a doubt. I have grown from a small sapling into a sturdy oak here, and being able to look back on that change happening in such a short period of time is nothing short of a miracle.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
This was a year full of challenges, but I don’t think any of them were so hard to endure as my work schedule this past summer. Juggling two jobs that were both emotionally and physically demanding on their own left me constantly drained and miserable. I lost my love for life, and had no energy to do anything but crawl into bed when I got home. I have so much respect for the people who have to push themselves to work a job schedule like this every day, because the only thing that got me through those few months was the knowledge that I was quitting in August.

3. What was an unexpected joy this year?
Being there to watch two of my closest friends get engaged in Washington D.C.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
This shouldn’t have been unexpected, but surviving on my AmeriCorps budget was extremely challenging. It gave me keen insight into how poverty in America works, but I am very glad that that experience is behind me.

5. Pick three words to describe 2012.
Perseverance, blossom, passion.

6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2012 – without asking.

AmeriCorps, grad school😉

7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2012 – again, without asking.
Challenging, dream-filled

8. What were the best books you read this year?
Ohhh… I read so many brilliant ones. One of my favorite parts of this year was my ability to read so many new books. My favorite “fun” books this year were The Perks of Being a Wallflower, World War Z, The Poisonwood BibleThe Night Circus, and The Dovekeepers. My favorite “serious” books were A People’s History of the United States, Scripting the Black Masculine Body, and Killing the Black Body.

9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
In addition to books, this was also the year where I really saw my relationships with others blossom. I’ve tried hard to reach out more to the people I love, instead of taking them for granted, and I’ve felt it this past year. Other than Chad, my grandma (our relationship has become so precious to me over the past few months), and my cohort (who have been my steady rocks in the storm of grad school- but not the kind of rock that dashes you to pieces (; ), I can’t pick any individuals by name, because you’ve all been so special to me. And I know that sounds like an excuse to get out of hurting people’s feelings, but I really mean it. I actually did make a list here, but I had to delete it, because it just ended up being a list of all of my closest friends, which kind of felt like it defeated the purpose of the question.

10. What was your biggest personal challenge from January to December of this past year?
Coping with where I was in life, and learning to be content even in the darkest places. Also, on a much less elegant note, putting up with the idiotic drivel that inundated Facebook during election season without going postal.

11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?
I came to terms with my depression, and got the help I needed to come out of a very bad place emotionally. I also embraced my inner nerd with full enthusiasm (thank you Tumblr!), and I am happier and more self-confident because of it. I feel so full, and so alive, and I cannot wait to keep this up.

12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?
I think one of the healthiest things for me to do spiritually was to cut off my ties with some very poisonous schools of thought about God. Taking power away from the people and thoughts that have scarred me in the past, and letting myself grow spiritually in a healthy environment, has been one of the most revolutionary things I’ve ever done to myself. I am so sad I haven’t done this sooner.

I also really was able to meld my love for Christ and my love for social justice, and become much more passionate about both of them. I cannot wait to read Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist, as I’m pretty sure it’s going to talk about just such a union, but in a much more beautiful way than I could ever put into words. She’s the best.

13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?
Other than my weight? Haha, I have taken baby steps towards a healthier lifestyle. I cook from scratch more, I try and buy as much organic food as I can, I’ve tried to substitute fruits and veggies for less healthy snacks, and I’ve started doing a lot more yoga.

14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?
I think I already answered this question, but in a nutshell, I feel so much closer to people in my life now than I did at the start of 2012. I don’t know if they feel the same way; maybe this was just a shift in my own perceptions. Still, this has been a great change for me.

15. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
Working with my students in AmeriCorps was the best work experience I’ve ever had. They were joys to be around, and I loved getting to work every day because I knew I’d come home that night with a new story to tell Chad about their precociousness. Other than that, the time that a student in class asked me if I was a professor was pretty exciting.

I love to cook, so finding new recipes and testing them out on Chad would definitely be the best part of my housework.

16. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
At work- everything about being a summer camp counselor. There was a learning curve that I was not at all prepared for, given my angelic students in AmeriCorps, and I only started to get the hang of my job at the end of the summer.

At home- Laundry. I’m convinced that the need to do laundry was an invention of Satan.

17. What was the single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
The Internet- 110%. Specifically Tumblr and Facebook.

18. What was the best way you used your time this year?
Reading, writing, and investing in my relationships.

19. What was the biggest thing you learned this past year?
That I am good at grad school, and a PhD is in my future. That was the big question- and answer- of the whole year.

20. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2012 for you.
Money and possessions pale in importance to relationships and experiences.

advice on writing well

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One of the things that I “knew” before I started grad school, but am only now having beaten into my brain, is the importance of being a good writer if you want to succeed in academia (or life). Almost all of my education from here until I’m Dr. Gilmore will consist of reading and writing- ad nauseum. So making sure that I’m as good at these skills as possible is one way I can keep my life from becoming hell.
Which shouldn’t be too hard, considering reading and writing have always been two things I’ve been exceptionally good at. I’m not particularly talented in many fields, and I would definitely say I’m not creative, but I’ve always been able to put my ideas on paper in a way that, if it won’t be earning me any Nobel prizes in literature, will at least communicate my ideas effectively.

Plus, I love to write. In the same way that a musician is always thinking about melodies and lyrics, or a painter is drawn to the colors of the world, I can’t help but express myself with the written word. I’m drawn to words and sentences with an uncontrollable need to use them as my soul’s outlet to the world. Which means going into a field that requires almost nothing but reading and writing was probably a good idea😉

But I can always be better, and tonight in class, my professor gave us some extremely helpful advice on how to improve your writing skills. These tips were mostly for academic writing, but I’m sure they could be tweaked for artistic writing, and since I am good friends with many kindred writers, I figured I’d share what I learned.

1) Writing is the sociological imagination in action- it is the perfect embodiment of the tenuous divide between public and private. Learn to embrace this relationship.

2) Write with your audience in mind, even if that audience is yourself.

3) Writing should not be a linear, nor a rushed, process.

4) Look for a mentor in writing who will allow you to make your own mistakes, while showing you how to correct them.

5) If you are struggling to write, it may be because you don’t actually know what you’re trying to say.

6) Trust your mind’s creative process, even if it feels like procrastination. You may think you’re just doing the dishes, watching Netflix, or walking the dog, but if you let your mind simmer on the assignment, insight will come.

7) Learn to let go of a passage if it needs to go. Don’t get so attached to your writing that, if a word/sentence/paragraph/chapter does not serve its purpose, you are unable to excise it from the work. It will be hard, but the final product is worth it.

8) Along those lines, make sure nothing is in your paper that doesn’t need to be there. Go through your paper sentence by sentence, if necessary, to make sure every word serves a purpose.

9) Never repeat yourself (unless you’re in the intro or conclusion, then it’s pretty much necessary). Make sure every sentence contributes a unique, necessary point for your paper; don’t make that point over and over again with different words.

10) If you get to a place where you’re not sure what to say next, put a period. There’s nothing wrong with short sentences.

Does anyone else have any tips on writing that they would share? Strategies for jump-starting inspiration, or ways you make sure that your writing is as polished and effective as it can be?

two years

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How do I put this last year of our marriage into words?

People said that the first year of marriage is the best, nothing beats the honeymoon phase, but I disagree. Maybe it’s true for them, but we’ve always done things a little differently, haven’t we? For me, this second year was not only better than the first, but in general, it was the best year of my life.

First, there was AmeriCorps. You were so gracious all year, while I was bringing nothing into this household but smiles and gushing stories, to not ask for me to contribute more financially. I talked to other married women in the program and their husbands were not as understanding. So every month that we scrimped, and did without, and panicked about the rent, I just knew you were resenting my inability- or unwillingness– to make our life easier. But if you ever had those thoughts, you never revealed them, even when I poked and needled and practically tried to drag the truth I was expecting out of you. I was happy, and fulfilled, and to you that was enough. And there are no words in the English language that would sufficiently convey the gratitude I have for that.

Then came this summer. The fact that I still consider this year to be the best of my life, even after accounting for those three months, is a testament to how exceptionally wonderful the rest of the year was. I’ve never experienced exhaustion or frustration quite like what I experienced working as a camp counselor, or as an FCAT tutor in the summer “reading camps”. It wasn’t all bad, but when I think back on that period of my life, the emotion that rises to the surface is oh God don’t make me go back, please, please don’t make me go back. So there’s that. But through it all, you were there for me, reassuring me that I didn’t have to do what I was doing, but that you respected my stubborn insistence on sticking it out. Despite the fact that your job is consistently harder and more exhausting than even my worst days at camp, you never rubbed that in my face as I cried about how miserable I was. You just held me, and told me you loved me. What more could you do?

And now graduate school. You’ve been with me through so much, academically-speaking. The IB programme, college, my honors thesis, the god-awful application process for graduate school, and now the program itself. And you’ve always been my most stubborn cheerleader, even when my anxiety got on my own nerves. You’ve believed in me, my intelligence and my capabilities, far more than I’ve believed in myself, and I have to admit that there were times when your own faith kept me going even when I had none for myself. And when I was diagnosed with depression, you took it in stride, making jokes about it to keep me from wallowing in self-pity and yet taking it seriously enough that I knew you would stand by me no matter what.

And that’s just the emotional support. I see how hard you’re working to support us financially, to keep us debt-free even while I’m getting a very expensive graduate education, and I am constantly amazed at how lucky I was to find a man like you. Rather than insisting that I stay home and be a good little housewife, you value my education and career so much that you are willing to put your own dreams on hold to help me achieve my goals. I just can’t wait to return the favor.

I can’t say what this last year, or our marriage in general has meant to you. But I know what it has meant to me. I love you, so much. For the big things, for the very small things, for the things I have already mentioned here, and for the things that will always stay between you and me: thank you. I hope we have a lifetime more of these things to come.

Dangerous Women

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I found this on one of my extremely rare study breaks today (can’t you just feel the sarcasm?), and I just had to share. I want to turn this into art and hang it around my office, if I get the time.

 

Dangerous Women Creed

Dear God, please make us dangerous women.

May we be women who acknowledge our power to change, and grow,

and be radically alive for God.

May we be healers of wounds and righters of wrongs.

May we weep with those who weep and speak for those who cannot

speak for themselves.

May we cherish children, embrace the elderly, and empower the poor.

May we pray deeply and teach wisely.

May we be strong and gentle leaders.

May we sing songs of joy and talk down fear.

May we never hesitate to let passion push us, conviction compel us,

and righteous anger energize us.

May we strike fear into all that is unjust and evil in the world.

May we dismantle abusive systems and silence lies with truth.

May we shine like stars in a darkened generation.

May we overflow with goodness in the name of God and by the power of Jesus.

And in that name and by that power, may we change the world.

Dear God, please make us dangerous women. Amen. –

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I want to be a dangerous woman.

Quick update

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My third week of grad school is winding down, and I just realized that I still haven’t written anything about my experiences so far. So I figured I’d take a quick study break to share a little about how things are going.

First of all, yes, I have been studying for about an hour so far this morning. Everyone who warned me about the workload in graduate school was almost completely accurate. This week, I have probably spent about six hours a day, every day, reading and doing research, in addition to actually going to class. And honestly, I feel like I’m not doing enough. There is always more research to familiarize myself with, more theory that I need to learn, more papers I could write for potential publication. I suspect that I’m going to have to get comfortable with the guilty weight of a perpetually unfinished to-do list.

But while the workload is every bit as heavy as I was led to believe, it’s not nearly as unpleasant as I was expecting.  I think that’s because all of my professors have done an excellent job of tailoring the workload to be practical, so that I feel like every assignment I complete puts me that much closer to being a successful professional. It also helps that I’m studying subjects that I would choose to read about in my spare time anyway, but now it feels like I’m actually being productive. I’m finally reaping the rewards of my nerdiness.

Getting to know the people in this department has been such a joy. The professors are all so helpful and encouraging, and I truly feel like they want my cohort and I to be as successful as possible. And my fellow students, both my cohort and the more seasoned graduate students, have been a big part of why I feel so well-adjusted. The older students have  given me more encouraging advice than I know what to do with, and deserve most of the credit for helping me shift my perspective of this program from oh my gosh I’m going to be miserable and fail and life is going to suck to this is going to be challenging, but I am more than capable of tackling that challenge head-first (most of the rest of that credit goes to Chad and my parents).  And my own cohort is full of fantastic people who recognize that we’re all in this together, like a band of brothers and sisters, ready to tackle the relatively-unknown.

I think the best, and simultaneously most intimidating, part of graduate school so far has been my freedom to study whatever interests me. I love the idea of contributing to the field, and hopefully creating knowledge that will serve people outside of academia as well. I finally feel like I’m using my talents and passions to their full potential. Unfortunately, when you’re interested in everything, it’s hard to figure out what you want to focus those talents on, specifically. When someone asks me my research interests (which is the grad school version of “What’s your major?”), I have to make a conscious effort not to spend the next five minutes listing off every subfield of Sociology. Also, my response changes every time I get that question, mostly because I feel like cycling through my long list of answers.

(In case you were wondering, my biggest areas of interest are in religion and gender, followed in no particular order by education, victimization, criminology, racial inequality, politics, et al.)

I won’t lie, there have been days when I’ve seriously questioned whether this was the right call for me, or if I should be teaching instead. But those days are getting rarer as I overcome my insecurities about the program. I actually feel surprisingly well-adjusted, which, like I mentioned earlier, is probably because I was fortunate enough to be encouraged by the older students before I started the program. And I don’t know if it’s because of my hiatus from Facebook, the medication I’m on, or the fact that I am getting more comfortable in my role as a grad student (it’s probably all of the above), but I’ve been happier and more productive in the past two days than I have been in a very long time.

So my verdict as of three weeks into the program? Life is good.

ranting rant of rantiness

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The internet has become a toxic place for me.

Well, Facebook specifically.

There’s just over two months left until the presidential elections, and it seems as though the social media site has gone mad. Don’t get me wrong, I love politics as much as the next person, but what I’m seeing on Facebook is just ridiculous.

Logging onto my Facebook account has gone from being an enjoyable addiction to being an act of masochism. It triggers my depressive episodes, which leaves me incapable of being productive in the real world or finding joy in almost anything (I seriously wish I were exaggerating here, talk to Chad if you don’t believe me). Thus, I’ve decided to deactivate my account, at least until the elections are over. I enjoy Twitter and Tumblr much more anyway, and it’s not like I need any more social media sites to distract me from my schoolwork.

But I do want to say just a few things, before I deactivate. Actually, I’m going to rant, because this has been building up inside of me for a while now, and I need to vent. So if you’re not in the mood to read a lot of angry liberal diatribe, I’d stop reading now (you’ve been warned😉 ):

1) We’re at the end of his first term, and Obama still hasn’t taken away anyone’s guns. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has given President Obama an F on their gun control report card because of his kow-towing to gun lobbyists. So please stop using this fear of being disarmed as an excuse to vote against him?

2) Obama hasn’t forcibly converted anyone to Islam, or done ANYTHING to suggest he’s a Muslim. Let me be clear: I would have no problem if he were. There are plenty of intelligent, compassionate, hardworking Muslims who I’d much rather see in the White House than many Christians I know, and Islam is no more inherently problematic a faith than Christianity is. That being said, it’s also a very works-based religion, and not even Fox News or Glenn Beck has been able to find Obama praying towards Mecca (which he should have been doing five times a day, every day, for the last four years), or fasting during Ramadan, to name two of the more conspicuous pillars of Islam. So either he’s the Christian he says he is, or he’s such a bad Muslim that the title is pointless. That, and I am still just as free to worship like I choose as I always have been. So let’s move on from that, too.

3) Please, please, please stop using “We Built It” as a motto, Republicans. It just makes you look ridiculous, because the whole premise of using that as your catchphrase is based on a clip of the president that was edited to make him look bad. You don’t want to hang this election on a catchphrase that requires deception in order to work. And good LORD can we get some Sociological imagination up in this country? You’ve all clearly demonstrated that you do HAVE imaginations, because you were totally fine with watching Clint Eastwood talk to an empty chair for fifteen minutes, and because you are still finding ways to convince yourselves our President is a foreigner.

Because no, you didn’t build your business by yourself. And this quote from Elizabeth Warren perfectly explains why not:


4) Social immobility is becoming a fact of life in this country at the same time that gross income inequality is becoming calcified in our class structure. We’re no longer the land of opportunity, the land where anyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps to become a rags-to-riches story. (And, let’s be honest, even in the past, the institutionalized sexism and racism that can still be felt in our society meant that almost all the rags-to-riches stories were written by white men anyway.) Does it still happen? Sure. But we need to face facts, and stop acting like the only barrier to insane wealth for everyone is that poor people would rather drink than work. People are often poor, not because they’re lazy, or stupid, or deserve to be, but because they have been held down by institutionalized problems that need institutionalized solutions. And until you accept that, your hollow “concern” about the poor isn’t going to feel like anything but a slap in the face.

5.) You don’t get to insist that this country’s laws be based on Judeo-Christian values, then whip up a McCarthy-esque fear that Muslims are trying to do the same thing with their religious values. It’s hypocritical, alienating, and dangerous. Also, there’s plenty of Christians (myself included) who don’t want a government based on your reactionary interpretation of Christian values, which focus on a narrow interpretation of a few verses about homosexuality (and none on abortion) while ignoring the hundreds of verses that call for us to care for the poor.

Corrollary- You don’t get to claim that taxpayer-funded charity programs are bad because morality should not be mandated by the government, and then turn around and try to mandate morality through the government with pro-life and anti-gay laws. You just don’t.

6.) Facts are not debatable. That’s the whole point. You don’t get to construct an alternate reality just because that reality is easier to swallow than the one everyone else lives in. Also, please stop hating on science, education, and critical thinking skills. It leaves one wondering why a political movement would feel the need to hate on things like education and critical thinking, and there aren’t a lot of good answers to that.

7.)  Everything in this video:

Actually, just watch everything Jon Stewart’s done for the past week. It’s worth the time.

The world is a good and beautiful place, full of good and beautiful people, and I need to step back and appreciate that. Facebook has been turning me into a person I don’t want to be, and this is the best next step for me to take. It’s nothing against any one person, but I just need to immerse myself in a positive environment right now.

(That being said, positive comments are highly encouraged for this post. Seriously. I’m not fishing for compliments, but genuine words of encouragement would go a long way right now.)

And there’s no better way to get positive than with puppies, so here we go:

sehnsucht

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This is one of those days when I can’t help but think about the proverbial roads diverging in the yellow wood, and the places my choices have taken me to and from.

Today was always going to be my first day of school, but had I made different choices, I might have been the teacher today instead of the student. I might have had a classroom set up with maps of the world as understood in various time periods of history. I might have had posters hung around the room reminding my students of the virtues of hard work, or why it’s so important to study history as a discipline. I would have tried to decorate and arrange my classroom in a way that would entertain and engage my students, without being too distracting. I probably would have recruited my closest friends and family to spend an afternoon decorating with me, and celebrating this new phase in my life.

I might have spent last night nervously checking and rechecking my lesson plans, wishing there were some way I could fool-proof what was almost guaranteed to be a terrifying first day of teaching. I almost certainly would have been nostalgic for the days of waking up at noon for afternoon classes in college, since primary school hours aren’t fun for anybody. I would have, with almost no doubt, second, third, and fourth-guessed my decision to go into education.

Today, I might have spent all morning and afternoon trying to earn the respect of my first-ever students. I would have tried to portray myself as the teacher you wouldn’t disobey, either because you feared her or just didn’t want to disappoint her. I doubt I would have gotten to any social studies, because I’ve read that the first day, if not week, should be spent getting your classroom managed properly. But I would have preferred it otherwise. I probably would have cried, more than once, because I tend to cry when I’m overwhelmed with any sort of emotion. I would have fought to get through period by period until the last bell rang and I could collect myself at the end of a hard-won day.

Instead, I’m spending today, my birthday, embarking on a completely different journey. I woke up this morning when I felt like it, walked Loki, took a spinning class at the gym, ate lunch at my leisure, and will have the rest of the afternoon to myself until I go in to meet with my professors and take my first graduate course. I will throw myself into Sociology, reading, writing, and researching nonstop for the next two years at least.

I am more than ready for this- I’m thrilled! But it’s hard not to be sentimental for my other choices. Hence this post.

That being said, I wish, from the depths of my heart, a wonderful, exciting, brilliant, happy first day of school to everyone who is going to have one this year. Education is such a wonderful privilege, and I hate to see it treated or experienced as anything else. From my baby cousins just starting preschool to my teacher friends stepping back in front of a classroom, I wish you all the best!

Update ~~~ I just got the best news. Instead of TA’ing Statistics, like I was slated to, the professor said he’d rather my assistantship be fulfilled by co-authoring a paper with him that I could present at a major Sociological conference. So not only will I not be fielding questions from undergrads about a subject I am horrible at, but I’m going to be getting paid to publish and present original research about religion in America. Bazinga.

One last update for a while

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I went to my final grad school orientation today, which was followed by a welcome back party for all of the faculty and graduate students in the sociology department. Honestly, I couldn’t ask to be in a better place emotionally and spiritually. Everything feels right.

Today, I was able to meet most of the people that I’m going to be spending the next two years of my life with, and I can honestly say that I haven’t met a single person that I even have the slightest reservations about. The professors all seem personable, down-to-earth, and genuinely interested in making sure every graduate student succeeds. I’ve had a fantastic time getting to know the ladies in my cohort (haven’t met any of the men yet), and I can already tell we’ll be a support system for each other rather than cutthroat competition.

The returning graduate students were beyond helpful, not only in confirming my initial impressions about the professors and the supportive nature of the program, but also in allaying my fears about grad school in general. Hearing them describe the work ahead of me in detail, rather than just giving me the general “you’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life” gives me the confidence to know that I can do this. Especially after meeting a fellow IB graduate, who  calmly promised that nothing I do in my Master’s program will be nearly as hard as what I did in high school.

I spent the afternoon drinking wine and eating chocolate cupcakes with a group of people who love Feminist Ryan Gosling (and Paul Ryan Gosling) , who get the Sociology Student Sheep meme, and whose eyes light up when you talk about researching religious behavior among Millenials. After months of reading grad school horror stories on the internet, I can’t believe how fortunate I am. I really can’t. If I was ever unsure about whether or not I’m meant to be here, to be doing this, those doubts are gone.

I’m going to try to update my blog while I’m in grad school, but I can’t promise that it will happen regularly, at least not until I get my bearings academically. But I do want to make sure that I thank everyone who has supported me in writing this so far. Putting your thoughts and fears and hopes into writing, and then putting that writing on the internet, is a very vulnerable feeling, but I’ve been astonished and humbled at how encouraging everyone has been. With complete sincerity, I want to thank you all for taking the time to read this blog, and for being so kind about doing so🙂

Until next time,
Lauren

My day of Ramadan

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Today, as part of the 30 Days Challenge, I fasted for Ramadan. This meant waking up before sunrise to eat and drink the only food or liquid I could take in today until the sun set again. I’m doing this to show solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters, to empathize with those who go without food on a daily basis, and as a spiritual interaction between myself and God.

It feels weird to blog about this, especially when I strongly believe that fasting and sacrifice are most holy when they are done without being publicized for affirmation or praise (see Matthew 6:16-18). But this is more than just an average fast- this is, like I said earlier, an act of solidarity, and I felt that such an act would be more powerful if people actually knew about it. So here we are, my diary of today’s fast, in all it’s highs and lows.

6:40 AM- I’m up before the sun, cooking suhoor, which is the breakfast that’s going to get me through today. For me, that’s two hardboiled eggs, a whole-wheat bagel, and a slice of cheese. Oh, and lots of water, because that’s off-limits until sunset today too.

I’m not going to lie, I’m nervous. I’ve never fasted for this long, or with such a  stringent set of rules before. Part of me wonders why I’m doing this (and I can only assume that voice is going to get stronger as I get hungrier and thirstier), but then I remember the mosque that burnt down in Joplin, the attack on the Sikh temple that I can only assume was meant for Muslims, and all the other Islamophobic attacks and speech that have been brought down on Muslims since 9/11, and I know this is important. Even if it’s purely symbolic, I want to show my Muslim friends and neighbors that I stand with them, that they have allies who aren’t driven to hatred and fear by the acts of a few extremists.

And so I fast.

It turns out the eggs weren’t ready in time (I really need to check my recipes before I wake up), so breakfast was 2 1/2 tall glasses of water, a wheat bagel, and lots of cheese, to supplement the protein. I’m completely full, and I hope that lasts a while! I was going to try and get a picture of my suhoor for the purposes of documentation, but I ended up running way behind and had to scarf my meal down to beat the sun.

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard (against evil).-
Qur’an

“When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. – The Bible (I have my reservations about broadcasting this fast, since that seems to be the exact thing that Matthew warns against, but since this fast is in solidarity with another group of people, I think I can make an exception here. But I will try my best to avoid complaining about my hunger and thirst all day, since that isn’t at all glorifying.)

10:45/11:00 AM – This is when I first started feeling hungry. Thankfully, I was volunteering with AmeriCorps at the time, so I was able to keep busy and distract myself from the hunger. Some people were eating snacks around me, but that bothered me much less than I expected it to. I made the choice to fast, and that choice applied even when I was around people who had made a different choice. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere…

2:00 PM– The hunger has been getting steadily worse, while my thirst hasn’t really been a problem yet. I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer today, which has helped me keep my mind off my stomach and on God, which was the point of today anyway. I know this sounds cliche, but my hunger has been a powerful reminder that there are people around the world for whom this lifestyle isn’t an option. They’ve been especially prominent in my prayers this afternoon.

Have you seen him who belies the rewards and punishments of the Hereafter? He it is who drives away the orphan and does not urge giving away the food of the poor. Qur’an

If a brother or sister lacks food and one of you says, “go in peace,” and yet do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  Faith if it has no works is dead.– Bible

4:45 PM– I’m getting a little discouraged, to be honest. Helping Chad move furniture into our apartment (yay Craigslist!) + the heat of a Floridian summer afternoon + a body that hasn’t had food or water in ten hours is a recipe for disaster. I have a headache, I’m exhausted, my stomach is angry with me, and I’m ready for the sun to set. I feel bad complaining, because I’m only doing this for one day, but I figured that I should share all of my experience today, good and bad. It would be dishonest to present this challenge like it was anything but a challenge. Mastering my body is harder than I thought it would be.

Through every difficulty there is relief. Verily, through every difficulty there is relief-  Qur’an

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy- Bible

5:30 PM – The hardest part of all of this is watching Chad eat chocolate. Have not had a temptation so strong today as that bag of gourmet milk chocolate sitting on the table next to me. I should probably stop even writing about it…

7:00 PM- 8:00 PM The last hour was surprisingly easy, especially now that I can look back at how I felt during the rest of the day. Watching the sun set as we drove to a local Lebanese restaurant for iftar was such a victorious time for me; it felt like God, nature, my mind, and my body were all at peace with each other after a day of struggle.

8:10 PM Breaking my fast was not at all like I expected. I thought I’d morph into a ravenous monster as soon as I stepped foot in the restaurant, but it didn’t feel much different than any other night of eating out. The tea and the food were much more gratifying, and I ate my meal with pride, but other than that, it all felt surprisingly normal.

9:30 PM It has been a long, challenging day. I wish I could end this post with some deep insight that I gained from my hours of self-denial, but I don’t know that I have much that’s particularly insightful to say. I am proud that I was able to do this, but so very humbled by how much I struggled, considering that billions of people do this for weeks on end during Ramadan every year. Keeping my focus on God and those less fortunate than me helped put my own times of weakness into perspective, which is a lesson I think I’ll carry on past today’s challenge. And this might sound weird, but successfully mastering my body, if even for a day, helps me feel like I can overcome other challenges, which is a mindset I’m going to need in about a week.

Other than that, all I can do is pray that this day of fasting will be of some benefit beyond my own life. I’ll end with an excerpt from Rumi’s poem on Ramadan, which is such a beautiful expression of what it means to fast:

The lips of the Master are parched
from calling the Beloved.
The sound of your call resounds
through the horn of your empty belly.

Let nothing be inside of you.
Be empty:  give your lips to the lips of the reed.
When like a reed you fill with His breath,
then you’ll taste sweetness.

Sweetness is hidden in the Breath
that fills the reed.
Be like Mary – by that sweet breath
a child grew within her.

life of late

I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve subconsciously checked out because I know I only have (at the time of this posting) two days left of work at camp, or if it’s the kids sending me off with one last barbaric yawp, but I am exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally, everything.

It’s even worse because there were a few weeks there at the end when things had begun to improve. The kids were generally behaving, the few incidents we had were easily manageable, and several of them even latched onto me as their “favorite counselor”. Which means that this week comes at the end of a beautiful demonstration of how things should and could be.

I’m going to be honest, this job has sent me running into the open arms of my graduate program. It’s opened my eyes to the ugly, frequently brutal world that is childcare work, and I don’t know that I’m cut out for it. AmeriCorps left me with warm fuzzy feelings of making the world a better place, one educated child at a time. Summer camp has left me with nightmares and far too many days when the best I can do is keep crises at bay.

Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned this summer. I’ve become an excellent multi-tasker (I know everyone my age says that, but seriously, when you have five kids demanding your attention at once, you quickly learn how to deal with each person well enough to get everything under control as quickly as possible), I’m very good at conflict resolution (I constantly feel like King Solomon dividing the disputed baby between its two mothers), and I’ve learned how to work under pressure and how to think on my feet. Also, if I’m going to come to terms with my lack of desire to make a career out of managing large groups of children, I’m glad it happened now and not three months into my first year of teaching in a classroom.

And this was the perfect real-world experience that so many people advised me to get before going to grad school. When the readings are at their most confusing, and the papers are at their longest, and the professors are at their most frustrating, I can look back on this summer, and know that I soundly ruled out my best second option. The what-ifs, those dangerous poisoners of grad school commitment, are gone, at least for right now.

I’m not saying that, in the future, a career in the classroom is out of the question. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I honestly have no idea where I’ll be after my Master’s program, and I’m slowly becoming more and more okay with that idea (I’ve bought myself two years, I can almost guarantee I’ll be panicking in a year and a half). I’m trying to learn to grow from every situation I find myself in, and I’ve done a lot of growing this summer. But I’m tired, and I’m sore, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t ecstatic about having a job for the first time in a year that lets me dress like a big kid.

With that jumbled mess of a confessional post, I’m going to bed. Tomorrow is another day.