Cross-Cultural Field Experience

For my Cross-Cultural Field Experience, I attended an event called “Raising American Muslim Children with Healthy Self-Esteem” at the new Islamic Society of Greater Dayton Mosque in Bellbrook, OH.  I chose this event because going to a Mosque seemed to be the event that made me most uncomfortable.  My education has only occurred at Christian education Establishment (i.e. First Baptist Christian School, Portersville Christian School, and Cedarville University.)  During my high school education at PCS, one of my favorite Bible teachers taught my class that Muslims are taught to kill Christians in the Quran.  He warned of Muslims coming to the United States.  One of my extremely rich classmate’s father flew in a man from Kenya to convince my classmates and others old enough to vote that President Obama was Muslim and was essentially the anti-Christ.  I having no reason to doubt my Bible teacher and this Kenyan man, believed every word of it.  When President Obama became the president, I initially believed that he wanted to be sworn in via the Quran rather than the Bible.  All of this set me up to have a great deal of anxiety as I simply thought about going to a Mosque.

As I arrived at the Mosque, I was talking on the phone with my mom.  She asked me “Does it look like a Mosque?”  I responded that I have no idea what a Mosque looks like.  I brought a scarf with me in case I needed it, but I did not put it on as I got out of the car because I saw a female not wearing one.  Walking toward the entrance of the Mosque, I found myself wondering if there is a separate entrance for females.  Was it ok for me to go in this entrance?  Was it ok for me to be wearing jewelry?  Was it ok that my hair was braided and had a flower in it?  Not knowing what to do and being too shy to ask someone, I just tentatively opened the door and walked in.  A man looked at me and I softly said “Hi.”  I’m still not sure if men are allowed to talk to women.  I waited to sign in and when I got to the sign in sheet, I asked the woman sitting at the table if I should be wearing a scarf around my head.  She said no, so I kept the scarf in my bag.

In the gym, where the event took place, I stood awkwardly by myself.  I became keenly aware of three things: 1) I was not wearing a headscarf and everyone else was, 2) I do not speak Arabic, and 3) My sleeves were only three quarter length.  A few people said “Hi” and looked away.  One woman asked me how old I was.  When she found out that I am 24, she followed up with “Are you from Wright State?”  This reminded me of a previous cross-cultural experience from my undergraduate education.  I went to a black church in Dayton and they asked me if I went to Cedarville (University).  Last night, I went to a Mosque in Dayton and they asked me if I went to Wright State.  It made me smile a little bit.  I met this woman’s daughter who graduated from Wright State last year.  I explained that I was at the Mosque for my Multicultural Counseling class.  I felt when I said that people kind of seemed a little turned off.  I am not sure if it was because I was not interested in becoming Muslim or if I said the word “counseling” (some people seem to have an aversion to that word.)

When I finally saw a woman sit down, I also sat down.  Thankfully, I sat down on the right side.  Apparently, women sit on the right and men sit on the left. When I asked why, a lady told me that it was because that’s what they have always done so that everyone is comfortable.

Shortly before the speaker began, I met two white Muslim women.  Both of them grew up in the US as non-Muslims.  This gave us something to talk about as most of the other women were foreign born, particularly of Arab descent (hence the Arabic.)  I learned a great deal from the women I sat next too.  They wrote down a cheat sheet of information that would be useful as the speaker shared.  They added to it as questions arose.  The speaker shared a lot of information that I already have heard about child development.  I started to feel comfortable because I started to see similarities between myself, the speaker, and others around me.  This does not mean that I was “colorblind”, “religion blind”, or “ethnicity blind.”  Rather, instead of seeing Muslim people as entirely other from my life experience, the people became individuals with whom I could relate.  I learned a great deal of information.  When I asked my new white-Muslim acquaintance if the Quran teaches that Muslim people should kill Christians, her immediate answer was no.  However, she went further to do a little research on her cell phone which she showed to me.  It described that Muslims are not to be friends with people that hate Muslims.  That makes sense to me.  I might be respectful to someone that hates something about me, but I am certainly not going to let them into my inner circle.

Probably the most profound impact was the kindness of the white-Muslim women that opened themselves up to me.  They were not offended by my questions.  They did not scoff when I honestly shared my fears of coming to the event.  They encouraged me for coming to an event that made me so uncomfortable by myself.  These women did all of these things to help me and they did not know me at all before last night.  They went so far as to give me their phone numbers and encouraged me to call if I have any questions so that I can complete my paper or even just to learn more about Islam.  The two women I sat by were not the suicide bombers that I fit my stereotypes of Muslim women.  No, they were the Good Samaritans that saw a fellow person scared and alone and they stepped in to provide hospitality.  It was a very enlightening experience.

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On Dialectical Thinking

I like to think that I have the talent of finding what is wrong with most things and why there is nothing wrong with everything else.  Try me.  You can mention anything and I can tell you why it’s one hundred percent correct or absolutely wrong.  Sadly, the DSM labels this behavior as black and white thinking.

Recently, I found myself attending a class to learn very practical skills.  The teacher taught about a skill called “Dialectical Thinking”  The idea is that often times, two seemingly opposing concepts or viewpoints can find mutual ground.  For example, someone could give money or items to help people they have never met and other people build relationship with people and help through this relationship.  My mind says, “Ok i need to pick one OR the other…only one can be truly helpful.”  “Dialectical Thinking” says, “How can both of them work together?”  Thus, those who build intentional relationships likely need money from someone so that they can build relationships.  In reality, one depends on the other.

It’s interesting that I would learn this skill from my particular teacher.  When I came to her organization for a different group, she did my initial intake.  I took to her quickly.  She said something that impacted me in a way that still affects me 8 months later.  I saw her off and on throughout that first group.  When I moved to the new group, I gladly found out that she would teach me.  Over six months, I learned a number of different skills, including “Dialectical Thinking.”

On my last day, I came to class with a Thank You Card for her and a few other people who helped me.  However, she was not there.  The next week I learned that she had fallen from grace and the thud as she hit the bottom still rings in my ears.  As I tried to wrap my mind around what happened, I felt angry, frustrated, confused and sad.  Over the following weeks, I have learned that regardless of where my teacher finds herself or whatever she has done, she still helped me and I still respect how she did.

It Really is a Bumpy Ride

In my infinite wisdom, 23 years in the making (Note: Sarcasm), it seems that life is going to be one long bumpy ride.  The more I work in my real job pretending to have years worth of discernment from my 1 year and two months in the field, the more I realize that there is so much I don’t know.  Outside of my professional life, I recognize that there is so much room for growth.  Living in recovery, situations always seem to pop up that make me want to pull out my old bag of ineffective coping skills. Yet, a year and a half ago, Moving Forward sounded better than Stuck in the Past.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on here.  At work, I’ve moved past feeling like a kid playing dress up and going to work with the “big” people.  I have made really ineffective choices and I have made some really helpful strides with hope to make a difference.  At home, I’ve moved into a permanent place and am enjoying letting my roots settle in here.  I have also found myself getting a dime out of my garbage disposal as well as some other interesting situations.

There have been good days when the bumps seemed to be few and far between.  Other times, I have found myself stranded and surrounded by bumps and potholes.  Every once and awhile, I look at my surroundings and I think to myself, “Did I drive myself into a pit?”  Then I think of Jessica and I remember I can get out if I choose.

Why Storm the Castle?

I find myself trying to work the steps, remember my relaxation techniques and use other handy tools that I’ve picked up from various counselors, mentors and friends.  It really shouldn’t surprise me how they work.  Not only do they calm me down, but they also show me how my ability to be respectful and calm affects other people, particularly, my family.

A very wise woman told me to try and see my family and my past holistically.  In my case, that means recognizing the strengths and the good times.  I told her it would be really hard to remember good times with my sister, but then all of the funny and happy memories came back.   I thought when I went home it would be just as bad as I remembered it, but that was not the case.  I was not prepared for what I found.  I saw how my actions affected others… I saw that when I chose to live in recovery, my family, namely my sister showed me respect and kindness.

I’ll be honest, it kind of made me mad.  I am supposed to be the good one, the victim here.  While there is no excuse for the truly awful things that my sister has done to myself and my family, I’m beginning to see how my complete unwillingness to forgive and strong desire for only pain for my sister has influenced my sister to continue to act in a hurtful way.  I’m not taking responsibility for her actions, I don’t need that co-dependent sort of attitude, thank you very much.  However, I saw very clearly how keeping my mouth shut over the things I cannot control and asking forgiveness when I know I did something wrong (something I have control over) actually lead to a somewhat enjoyable weekend.  Now I’m not packing up my things and moving on over to PA…. sometimes distance really does make the heart fonder and the mind a little more sane :).

All of these good times only made it harder to shut the door behind me and drive back to OH.  I don’t like saying good-bye.  My sponsor tells me not to, she only tells me that she will see me later and she encourages me to do the same.

On the way home, wherever that is, I took a quick pit stop at The PEER Center in Columbus.  I love and truly miss that place.   While I really enjoy my current work, I found myself dreaming about what it would be like to be back at there again.  There are no words to describe the impact that the people at The PEER Center have had and continue to have on my life.  Every time I drive through Columbus, I remember that I left a part of my heart there.

But, then I thought, how could I leave Celebrate Recovery?  I have friends and a sponsor.  Multiple times each week, I interact with men and women who encourage, challenge and inspire me.  Like I’ve already said, I try to work the steps and I find that indeed they prove effective.

So, I found myself in this tug of war wondering, “Where do I belong?”  “If home’s where the heart is”, as the song goes, then I really am always “out of place”.  My heart is in Butler PA, Columbus OH, Cedarville OH, Centerville OH, and to be honest, in heaven.

While I love every place on that list, I also remember the struggle that occurred at every location.  At The PEER Center, I read every sign on the walls multiple times because I was so afraid to talk to the associates and the staff.  Then there was my supervisor… the woman has this presence… she commands respect and scared the crap out of me.

Cedarville was no walk in the park.  There are things I regret saying, doing, asking, etc.  I remember how many times I went in and out of counseling only to find that the problem had not been addressed.  My last CU counselor didn’t even make it through one session before I didn’t like her.  There were so many sessions that I left barely able to keep myself from crying.  I remember the absolute lowest moment from counseling where my world felt like it was collapsing in on itself.  Ironically, it wasn’t even close to the point where I finally started co-operating in counseling.

I don’t even need to explain all of the things I regret and have done or the things that happened to me in Butler as most of these things are the reasons I have been in therapy off and on for going on 6 years.

However, now I look at these three places with love, respect and fondness.  While I left part of myself there, parts of these places, good and bad, stuck to me.  I guess that it’s not that I left these places and they are gone forever.  While God has the power and authority to wipe these cities and the people in them off the map, the impact that they have had on my life cannot be erased.  Similarly, while God has taken my father off the map, so to speak, his impact on my life can never be taken away.

I am a fuller and better person for all of the struggles and triumphs that I have experienced in these places.  Now, to convince myself of the benefit of current and future struggles… Here’s to wishing that I could learn the lesson and gain the wisdom without facing the struggle… as once again I storm the next castle.

Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together

I don’t know if I can put it into words.  This morning, in church, I realized that my mom could die tomorrow while in surgery.  She could have a severe allergic reaction.  She almost died before because of an allergic reaction.  The doctors could make a mistake.  Dad died because his doctor made a mistake.  Sometimes people just don’t wake up from anesthesia. 

I found myself tearing up and thinking, “This is why I don’t get close to people.  I spend all this time alone so that I won’t be so broken by someone’s death or leaving.”

Before I went to church, I came across John 1:5 where it says, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”  I remember a lesson from a book I read in sixth grade… darkness never overcomes light.  When you open a closet door, the darkness doesn’t come out, but the light goes into the closet.  I also remember a lesson from a Sunday school lesson during college the teacher said, “We are not fighting for victory.  Rather, we are fighting from victory.”  Finally, I remember a quote from a story I read which states, “Without your wound, where would your power be?”

After I went to church, I watched Christmas movies.  Somehow, I ended up watching “The Christmas Blessing.”  In this movie, the following line struck me: “It is amazing how a pair of shoes could change a person’s life.”  If you don’t know anything about this movie, it is a sequel to “The Christmas Shoes”.  Basically, a bunch of people die and these shoes impact the living as well as those who die.

I also watched “A Christmas Snow”, which reminded me of a poem that my dad wrote for me on the day that I was baptized.  My dad wanted me to remember the values that I learned in my Christian home.  In the movie, the lady learns to love again even though her dad abandoned their family at a young age and recently died.

I already know that without dad’s death the circumstances would not have been set for me to experience what I did to become the person I am with the career I am in today.  However, all of this information didn’t quite make a clear picture.  But, then I remembered a quote which reads, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

I’m not there yet, but my cautious heart is listening.

 

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Hello, my name is Emily and I am a recovering college graduate

Hello, my name is Emily and I am a recovering college graduate trying to prove that the piece of paper framed on my wall and the letters after my name mean something.

I keep finding myself making all of the mistakes my professors in college told me not to make and a few of my own.  The professor’s pounded self-care into our heads so that we couldn’t help but dream about it.  They talked about the high rate of burn out in my field.  I thought I got it.  But then I got into my job, I find myself wanting to prove that my degree means something.  So, I bend over backwards and work through lunch or sometimes just don’t eat at all and I come home crazy hungry, grumpy and really tense.

I remember my professors telling me, “If you don’t know the answer, then admit it and tell them you will find the answer.”  I know that I don’t know everything, but I find myself trying to come up with answers I don’t have.  I finally am forced to the point where I have to either make something up or admit I don’t know.   Frustrated, I try to answer to my best ability and slide in that I will check with my supervisor.  I just want to prove that my degree and license mean something.

I want to jump in and do my job.  I listened to the person teaching me about my job and took copious notes.  I read my entire curriculum and prepared it to be ready to teach.  I paid attention in my training classes.  I finally got to write my first home study.  I want to do it correctly to prove that I’m really not incompetent and really my degree and “LSW” mean something.  But then I made grammar mistakes and missed important information. 

After four years of studying and writing, I want to prove myself.  As the youngest employee at my agency, I want to prove myself.  As a professional that is younger then everyone I am assessing to become a foster parent, I want to prove myself.  As a person living in recovery from mental health issues, trauma, addictions and co-dependency, I want to prove myself.  I just want to show all of these people that my degree means something… that the letters behind my name mean something… that I’m really not incompetent.    

I want to prove to myself that I am and can be a social worker… but even more so, I want to prove that I am good enough.

I guess I’m realizing that I’m trying to find my worth in my work when my identity has already been settled.  I am good enough not because of anything I’ve done but because Christ chose to love me and he deemed me priceless just as I am… end of story.

So… sometimes I

Make mistakes

Ask if a boy is a girl

Forget to ask important questions

Answer questions I don’t know the answer to

But, it’s ok, I can live, learn and just be me, because God loves me and cherishes me just as is.  I am free to be a flawed social worker.

A Place I Never Intended or Thought I Should Go

I’ve been thinking lately how I ended up somewhere that I had no intention of ending up.  While I praise God for landing me here, that’s not entirely what I have been thinking about.  I had this idea in college that there were places that I was supposed to end up.

When I took Urban Min., I hated poverty weekend.  I felt like the class was just repetition from my social work classes.  I heard the following message: “Rich people are bad.  The middle class hates poor people.  Only good Christians (and social workers) work and live in the inner city. ”  I know that’s not what any of my professors (Urban Min or Social Work) intended, but as a person who looks at life as black and white, it made sense to hear it this way.

I ended up in inner city Columbus for my senior internship.  All I can say is once I stepped in there and I talked with my potential field instructor, I knew it was where I was going to do my internship.  Throughout my time at The PEER Center, I learned a lot and I started to put together the difference between thinking I was bad as a middle class, country-loving Christian girl and recognizing the privilege I have as a middle class, country-loving Christian girl.

I thought I knew that I was going to live in the city in Columbus.  I thought I knew the best church for me would be an inner city, multi-ethnic, small church.  I thought I knew that I was going to work in mental health.

I sent out my resume and cover letters to all of these mental health agencies in Columbus.  I waited and waited until I knew I had to apply other places.  I applied to one place in Dayton and the day after I put my application in, I got an interview.  Although I did not end up working at that agency, moral of the story was that I knew I was supposed to stay in Dayton.

I found every mental health agency in Dayton that was hiring and I applied.  I heard nothing.  Finally, I started applying to agencies that work with populations that I enjoyed learning about and working with in college.  I got interviews, but nothing worked out.

As my summer job was coming close to ending, I had no job and no place to say.  Then a person at Celebrate Recovery looked at me and told me I just need to get a job.  I know, it seemed a little heartless.  However, it finally pushed me to apply for every job I could find.  As much as it hurt me, I applied to jobs entirely outside of my field (that I didn’t even need a college education for.)

I applied at a foster care agency, one of the last places I wanted to work.  I got an interview, an offer and a job.  Around the same time, I found the perfect apartment on the second try.  I just knew that it’s where I am supposed to be.

BUT…

I live in the suburbs.  You know, the place where all of the bad middle class poor hating white privilege missing people live (I didn’t forget my black and white thinking.)  I thought the only way to reconcile with my values was to find an inner city, diverse, small church.  I did find one and I sort of liked it.

However, the entire summer, I started going to this Celebrate Recovery.  I couldn’t help it, the people were so genuine and I could work on my issues.  I found support and people like me.

I wanted to get involved at this inner city, diverse, small church, but all of their events conflicted with my Celebrate Recovery meeting.  I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my Celebrate Recovery support.  I found a sponsor, who, praise God, is not easily pushed away.  I found some friends.  Plus, I wanted to continue to work on the steps.  To be honest, the ability to stay with this Celebrate Recovery played a HUGE role in my choice to stay in Dayton.

It took me awhile to put two and two together that Celebrate Recovery met at a church where I could attend and become a part of.  When I realized it, I pushed the thought away.  The only way I could keep my integrity was to go to an inner city, diverse, small church.  Do you know where I was going to Celebrate Recovery at?  Fairhaven Church… a suburban, scarcely diverse, mega church.  I said a long time ago that I would NEVER attend a mega church on a regular basis.

After a few weeks, I decided to try Fairhaven.  I thought I hated it.  Then I met with a friend for dinner and a movie.  She asked me, “Are you just going to this (inner city, diverse, small) church because you feel guilty?”  To be honest, the answer was yes.  I thought the only way I could be a good Christian was to go to an inner city, diverse, small church.

So, I tried going to Fairhaven again.  I recognized how critical I was the first time I went.  I was somewhat shocked to find that I really liked the church and the messages actually spoke to me.  I didn’t think a suburban, scarcely diverse, mega church could be anything but fake… but then they had Celebrate Recovery.

MY DILEMMA…

What if I end up in a place where I never thought I was going to end up?  What if what I thought was best, things I still believe in isn’t where I am growing?  What if I am supposed to grow and learn in a huge church, a foster care agency (that I really like) and a quiet (minus the fire department next door), suburban apartment complex?  What if the very place I was trying to run from is the place where God wants me to be?

Today’s Manifesto.

It hurts to feel that loneliness and feel like something is wrong with me… that no one could love me.

BUT… I am NOT

-an 8 year old whose dad just died.

-a 12 year old who just survived physical abuse.

-a 14 year old who feels hopeless and worthless after experiencing emotional abuse… from my own mouth.

-a 16 year old who feels completely out of control, that is tired of walking on egg shells and who thinks she know everything.

-a 19 year old college student hiding out in my dorm room.

-a 20 year old college student tripping over pride, fear of losing control, and afraid that my counselor would leave me.

-a 21 year old college student growing, but afraid to graduate.

I AM a 22 year old with coping skills.  I have a choice to engage in healthy behavior.  I am safe.  I have friends and family that care about me.  I have a college degree and a job.  I have survived and I am moving forward.  I am not stuck.  And when I find myself sitting in a pit, I can always choose to get up and move forward.