The Privilege in My Job Hunt

I have spent a lot of time recently applying for jobs.  As I answer the plethora of standard application questions, I have started to realize how much privilege I have in this job-hunting process.  First of all, my mother has made it very clear that if I could not find work or enough work then I can always live with her.  Second, my mom and other family members support me financially, so I have never had to worry about going without gas, without paying a bill, without food or without shelter.  Don’t get me wrong, I still budget, a lot.  I am very careful about spending money and I always look for the cheapest deal.  However, if I needed or even wanted something, all I need to do is ask.  I actually have to tell my family not to buy some things because I don’t need or want them (and yet sometimes I still end up with these things.)

Aside from falling back on my family, I have a great deal of privilege.  I have a college education from a ridiculously expensive university (and I only have a relatively small amount of student loans to pay back.)  I could afford to pay for all that goes into getting my LSW.  As someone born in the United States, I have a social security number that I can just whip out.  I never have to worry about checking the US citizen box.  When it comes to driving records, I never have to worry about my driving history.  I don’t have a criminal record.  I don’t usually have to worry what people will think or how they will react if they know that I am white or a Christian.
I am not saying that looking for a job has been a breeze.  Just look at my Facebook page… you will see that I have been FREAKING OUT over how frustrating it has been to find a job and I don’t even have a job yet.

My point is this:  When it is this hard to find employment with privilege, it is that much harder for individuals who because of where they were born, what family they were born into or other factors that they had no control over do not share the same privilege that I do.

When we see someone struggling to find employment, feed their kids, stay off the streets, make rent… let’s not just tell them to get a job.  Instead, let’s work together to address the inequality and privilege in this country so that all people have the same opportunity to find meaningful and adequate employment.

My Seizing Savior

Most people who have known me for awhile are very aware that I am a tiny bit opinionated (an extreme amount of sarcasm intended.)  I will defend my point even once I am convinced that I am wrong (just so I don’t have to verbally admit that I am wrong.)  One of the issues is that I have trouble coming to a compromise.  Where many people see purple, I see red and blue.  It’s called black and white thinking.  It’s not because I am stupid or uneducated.  Between my wiring, my experiences and my personality, it’s just difficult to make out the purple.  When I do detect purple, I try very hard to tell if it’s more redish or bluish.  

Aside from not seeing and pursuing compromise (or purple), as I mentioned, I hate and often refuse to admit that I am wrong.  This can also be traced back to my inability to see purple.  If I do something right, then I am right.  If I do something wrong, then I am wrong.  Thus, there is a lot more at stake rather than just if the shredder is full enough to empty it or not.  For this reason, my self-image spends a lot of time swinging and it tends to take my emotions with it.

All of this is to partially explain the mood swings that I go through.  It’s not a thorough examination of my psyche, but I will leave that to the professionals.  What’s important to know is that I often have many mini-crises throughout the week or day.  I could make a pretty entertaining (and dramatic) one-woman circus.

As I was driving to church this morning, recovering from a mini-drama crisis, I imagined Christ on the cross.  I thought to myself, “Imagine him with all of my emotions going on inside of him.”  Then, I pictured Christ seemingly seizing on the cross and I couldn’t help but laugh.  Swiftly jerking from side to side accurately depicts my daily (and sometimes hourly) experience.

Suddenly, I started to tear up.  It is a very accurate depiction of my experience, but it is also a very accurate depiction of Christ.  He took on all of my sin… that which was handed to me in genetics and experience as well as that which I bring on myself through bad choices.  He fully bore everyone of my major, minor, and everything in between crises.  So, when I fight from drowning in the kiddie pool or an ocean by grabbing for healthy (and sometimes very unhealthy) coping strategies, I am not fighting for victory in my recovery.  Instead, I am fighting from victory.

When Forward Motion Gets Hard: Race and White Power

Someone recently asked me “As a social worker, what are your thoughts about the Trayvon Martin shooting?”  Now that is a loaded question if I ever heard one.  At the time, I was not really keeping up with the George Zimmerman trial.  So, I painfully admitted that I am not really knowledgeable about the issue.  However, if you know anything about me, I loathe being wrong or not knowing something, so I did bring up the little bit of information that I was aware of.  I indicated that no matter what the outcome, I would really like if this trial started some honest conversation about race.  Somehow the conversation came to a discussion about power.  Now you have to understand, I only had about 15 minutes before the end of my lunch break.  Nevertheless, in my always needing the last word and to prove my point (not my most endearing quality), I tried to explain the concept of the indivisible white knapsack.  After about 5 minutes of a futile attempt at explaining this knapsack with the explanation of an exercise from Intro to Urban Min, the individual that I was talking with had a pasted smile and mentioned an appreciation for exercises that explain difficult concepts.  While I should have taken longer to explain a hard topic to digest, I found myself banging my head off the “don’t talk honestly about issues of race” wall.

Not wanting to be caught unknowledgeable again, I sat down, got my hands on a number of reliable resources and I read everything I could about Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman.  By no means am I an expert, but I learned a fair amount of information from the resources that I found.  From my perspective, this case is dripping with racial tension.  My honest assessment is twofold.  First, regardless of who started the fight, George Zimmerman should have never followed Trayvon Martin in the first place.  Second, if the racial identities had been switched, there would be no question of guilt at all.

Now, why would I say that?  All race issues were fixed in the 1960s and now the real issue is reverse discrimination, right?  Had that question been posed to me 2 years ago, my answer would have been a resounding “Yes”.

What I didn’t know for the first 20 years of my life was that I had this devious superpower.  I knew that it was there, but I never thought about it.  I didn’t have to.  I went to school with people like me and teachers like me.  I took tests that were designed to test people like me.  I played with Barbies and dolls that looked like me.  Although I despised going to the hairdresser, I never wondered if she would know how to take care of my hair.  Although I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing makeup (stage makeup about did me in), I could easily find a number of different types of makeup to match my skin tone.   If I ever needed to find a church, I didn’t ever worry about finding one where I was of the majority if not the only race represented.  I never had to worry about language differences, because I grew up speaking some form of Americanized English.   I hardly ever stepped outside of my own culture.  All I knew was that there were not race issues.  Thus, when my mom came home from work one day, saying that she had to endure a painting of black women in the name of diversity that offended her as a woman, I learned about reverse discrimination.

I didn’t realize that people assumed certain things about me because I was a middle class white girl.  I didn’t know that I was being brought up to take part in a workforce and culture that belittles the poor, ignores social issues (other than abortion and same sex marriage), belittles or denies racial tension (always ready to defend the white individual) and rules with our ever-present superpower, white skin.

Someone once gave me very wise advice.  She looked me in the eye and said, “How long are you going to use that as an excuse?”  Although she was talking about me using the excuse of not knowing popular culture, I have since learned that it is good advice in a lot of areas.

Now, I realize that it isn’t fair that something no one has any control gives them superpowers or not.  My skin shouldn’t come with any more or less power then anyone else’s.  Yet, that’s not the world I live in.  I can get away with so many things because I have power in the form of money, natural autonomy because I am just one white person out of a million, and the list goes on.  I feel good about myself because I can give to you know, those in need, but never know what it is like to live in an impoverished situation.  I can go on missions trips and come back thinking the world is better because I was there (even though I spent a lot of time doing fun activities like going to a waterpark, the movies, the beach, etc.).

I don’t want to hate myself.  I am not a bad person.  However, everyday I wake up with this white skin and the superpower that comes with it.  I can’t help that I was born into a race that lynched people and considered it a family picnic affair.  I can’t deny that my racial group enslaved millions of people for hundreds of years.  I can’t forget that people from my majority culture used fire hoses on children and adults alike to stop the civil rights movement.  It would be a lie to say that my race wasn’t involved in bombing a church, killing children.  I can’t deny the fact that minorities such as black and Hispanic individuals are overrepresented in the prison and judicial system.  I cannot deny the fact that more threats to assassinate President Obama at his inauguration were made then for any prior US President (all of whom were from my racial identity).  I can’t deny that most people in positions of power share my same superpower.  I am part of a race that oppresses, ignores, stereotypes and belittles other races all the while denying that such things exist.

If I truly believe that all people were created equal and deserve the same dignity and respect as image bearers of the God I try to follow but often misrepresent, then I cannot fall back on unawareness, simply flow into the life that was set up for me, or sit back and do nothing but type (which I am prone to do and was convicted of when someone posted, “Does your twitter timeline match your lifestyle?”).  I will be the first to admit that this is hard for me.  As someone recovering from BPD, trauma, and addiction, I often have to deal with my own drama feeling like the world is going to end.   It’s hard to engage a world that I am desperately afraid is going to abandon me.  Reflexively, it’s hard for the world to engage me when I manipulate people trying to prevent them from abandoning me or frankly, when I just want to control them to get my own way.  Yet, I hear the words ringing in my head, “How long are you going to use that excuse?”

If it hadn’t been for Cedarville University

I know that I get irritated about some of the things that happen at Cedarville University.  Sometimes when I hear theological arguments about why a person should worship one way and who is really saved I cringe wondering why I hear so many things about these topics and very little discussion about issues like poverty, immigration and tolerance of people with different perspectives.  Someone actually told me that the reason why Christians focus so much on preventing same sex marriage is because it is explicitly discussed in the Bible, but immigration isn’t.  After this gentleman insisted that I really was wrong to say that immigration is clearly mentioned in the Bible, I was gritting my teeth swallowing the desire to smack him.

On the other hand, it’s becoming popular to be socially involved.  I’m not entirely convinced that this is a good thing.  Especially when things happen like: Let’s go collect our old, used shoes and send them to people who don’t wear shoes and still be the forever giver expecting gratitude from our ever-inferior third world country pet-project.

It’s not that Cedarville doesn’t step on my nerves.  However, I would not be the same person had it not been for Cedarville.  Many of my professors have shaped who I am.  My favorite professor freshman year was my voice professor.  She was so much fun and so nice to talk to.  My women’s choir director was such an encouragement.  She made me laugh and taught me a number of lessons that had nothing to do with music or theory (although she did teach me that I would survive through foreign language music.)

I was sucked into the Psychology major because I was fascinated by the human mind and I just wanted to get to know myself.  I was absolutely enthralled by Psychology of the Personality and Abnormal Psychology.

My first experience of engaging multiple viewpoints was for Biology.  I dreaded Biology only to learn that in Mayterm, it was a fantastic and a little interesting class.  However, the most valuable thing I learned in Biology was that there is a wonderful series of books in the library called the “opposing viewpoints series”.  These books share articles and essays from multiple different sides of one issue.  My ability to be able to juggle multiple arguments really began to form in this class.

Social Movements terrified me so much so that I dropped it (and instead took statistics…?)  But when I learned it was required for entry into the Social Work Program, I bravely stormed the castle only to find out that it was one of the most interesting and educational classes that I took in my entire time at Cedarville.

From my social work professors, my eyes were opened to numerous social issues including: mistreatment of individuals in the LGBTQIA community, immigration, race relations, HIV/AIDS, and the list goes on.  I learned to look at the world as a holistic place of different parts that work together and influence each other in intricate ways.

My major required Intro to Philosophy, which just took my mind and twisted it in about a hundred different directions.  I remember one point when my foundation was so rocked that I honestly thought that logically I could not be a Christian.  It was a moment like this when I understood why some people plug their ears yelling, “I can’t hear you” when someone tries to defend an argument against their personal belief.  It’s truly terrifying.  Yet, I learned to love that class.

My major also required an annoying amount of math and science (stupid bachelor of science degree J ) and so I took Bioethics.  Once again, I was amazed by a number of different issues that I had never heard about.   Between Intro to Philosophy and Bioethics, I learned how to think logically and analyze and argument.

My major sent me out into the “real world” for two internship experiences.  While I learned a great deal at my first internship, being somewhat thrown into social work with little experience, my world was rocked at my second internship.

Before I showed up on the doorstep of The PEER Center, I took a semester to prepare myself for my senior internship.  During this semester, two more professors started to open my eyes to Gender Role issues and Urban Poverty.  I said I would never take Urban Min.  Funny story… I did anyway.  I know that I highly disliked both of these classes while I was taking them.  I tried to reconcile with myself how I ended up in three Bible classes when I was pretty certain that I wasn’t a Christian.

Side Note: I was never criticized for questioning my faith.  When I asked if it would be ok to graduate from Cedarville as a non-Christian, I received the loving answer that Cedarville is a great place for a person to struggle with their faith.  In my case this was true, all three of the professors that I told about my doubts about my faith did not demand that I reconcile my faith.  Instead, they patiently listened and recommended books for me to read while I struggled.  Most importantly, I had a counselor that said that we could still work on me becoming a healthier individual even if I wasn’t a Christian.

Back to SIGI and Urban Min, these two classes ended up being extremely helpful personally and when I stepped inside The PEER Center.  I was thrown for a loop when I grasped the reality that I was in the minority as a female and a white individual.  All the talk and knowledge from my social work classes and urban ministry started making sense when I finally started talking with the associates.  Experiences like poverty weekend, the Civil Rights Bus Tour and countless discussions about the invisible white knapsack became opportunities for discussion and my ability to really see what was going on.

I began to recognize that it was one thing to talk to people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds at my internship but another entirely to make eye contact with a black man in my home area.  I am still working to reconcile who I am at when I am “doing social work” and who I am when I am “off the clock”.

But if it hadn’t been for Cedarville and it’s faculty, staff, job opportunities, educational opportunities, counseling staff, and experiences… I would not be the same person.

Thus, while I roll my eyes sometimes when I hear things that Cedarville does, I am still incredibly proud to call myself a Cedarville Alumni and I hope that many other individuals will get that same opportunity.

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Wisdom From My Father

When she grows up

And goes out on her own

Don’t let her forget

The values learned

In a Christian Home

These are the words of wisdom from my father for my adult years. I find it hard to name what specific values I learned at home.  As I think about it, I imagine God handing me gifts saying to my father:

“To Tom’s baby girl, Emily, I give….

The value of meaningful relationships.  She will know how important it is to say “I love you” and tell those close to her how much they matter because she will lose many people that are very dear to her early in life.

The value of not being overly satisfied and confident in who she is.  Some call it Borderline Personality Disorder, I call it being open to my molding.

The value of learning the incomprehensible nature of grace and forgiveness.  She will be deeply wounded by many closest to her and she won’t know how to forgive, but I will give her a glimpse of how much I have forgiven her and shown her grace.

The value of doing her absolute best.  Her mother will never settle for less and neither will I.  She will do great things in my name.

The value of experiencing deep sadness.  She will experience times of darkest depression, begging for death, but I will sustain her.  With this gift she will be able to sit with those deepest in despair and show them my love.

The value of respecting herself and others.  She will be told lies by others and herself, but I will continue wooing her and reminding her of the truth.  It is only from this personal experience that she will be able to truly grasp the importance of the dignity and worth of the individual.

The value of doing your best to raise your kids, no matter the circumstances.  Her mother will sacrifice everything for her and her sister.

The value of self-sacrifice.  She will see her mother come to the point of almost losing her job to take care of you, her dad, as you die from cancer.

It will be a hard and long road.  She won’t believe that she will make it, but Tom, I will not give up on her.  You will not see the day when she understands and appreciates these values, but I am preparing her and molding her.  One day she will see the opportunity and skills that these experiences and values provide.  You should be proud of your little girl.  I know I am. ”

I’m not sure I would pick these values on my own.  I would probably never choose them myself.  But, the more I mourn and learn to move on from the things in my past, I realize that the very things that hurt me the most were the some of the most beneficial training grounds to be who I am and where I am at.  I am beginning to understand that my wound is where my strength lies.

Thanks Dad.

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“Home”

I heard this song while I was coming back to Cedarville from The PEER Center: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9HUV2ZKWJw

I have a problem identifying a “home”.  If you want to send me mail, my address is to Custodial Services at the University where I work.  I pay rent to live at another address.  The home where I grew up is in PA.  My mom lives at another address in PA.  So, where is my “home”?  I thought as I was leaving The PEER Center that in some ways I was leaving a “home” of sorts.  This can be confusing when anytime I leave to go somewhere I say I am going home.

I sleep in Cedarville.  It has also been a place of significant growth.  I lived in Butler, PA for 18 years.  I find support, understanding and acceptance at The PEER Center.  All of these places thus qualify as a “home”.

Maybe I am crazy to want to define “home” as one specific place.  It’s just when I listen to the song “Homesick” by Mercy Me, I long for the home that it describes.  I get that the song may be referring to heaven, but I am talking about a home on earth.  Where is it exactly that I belong?

I epitomize being a 20-something trying to figure out who I am, where I am going, and what in heavens name I am going to do with my life.  I am in this transition summer.  I have this deadline in two months where I have to find an apartment somewhere and a job.  Yet, I have a job and I have a place to stay now.

I am torn between setting down roots and connecting with those around me and the knowledge that I intend to move in two months.  But, I feel that still small voice telling me to bloom where I am planted.  What’s with God asking the person who struggles to build relationships for fear of abandonment to build relationships where I know I will be the one leaving?

While I was thinking about the song “I’m Going Home” by Chris Daughtry, I came to the conclusion that maybe “home” is right where the Lord and I are at, at any given moment.  Maybe “home” is being satisfied and present in the moment, all the while recognizing that nowhere on this earth is truly my “home”. 

So here I go getting involved in connected with my church and other various programs in the local community…. being “home” where the Lord and I are at.

Perfectionism and Ungrace: The Art of Getting Stuck

Do you ever wake up in the morning trying to figure out what you did wrong or why you should feel bad?  I know I am not the only one because my counselor told me that she has asked her husband what she was worrying about the night before.  Most mornings, I wake up with this gnawing sense that something is wrong.  I should feel something negative.  I run through my list of sins.  Sometimes I gave in to one unhealthy coping strategy or another.   Generally, if I fail in one I fail in others.  When I remember what I have done, I start the self-bashing. which in counseling terms is “negative self talk”.  I know how to respond in this situation…. with my identity in Christ.  I am forgiven, a masterpiece, fearfully and wonderfully made, loved, etc.  In these times, I am reminded that my sin, although it is sin, does not change my identity.  Thus, I can put away my bashing stick.

Even on mornings when I can’t find any sin that I did wrong.  I should be grateful that I didn’t give in to my temptations, praising God for his faithfulness…. and yet, that’s not quite my attitude.  There’s just something in me that says, I am just not good enough.  Despite my knowledge that I am imperfect, I just want to prove that I can do something flawlessly.  Maybe I could be the perfect client… that one went down the drain.  Maybe I could be the perfect student… I am not the one who received the perfect GPA award.  Maybe I could be the perfect student intern… but then I didn’t finish my work and I have so much to learn.  Maybe I could be the perfect singer… but dear God, I HATE practicing and very few people tell me that I am good anymore.  Maybe I could be the perfect tenant… but sometimes my room isn’t perfectly clean.  Maybe I could be perfect at taking care of my car… but the gas idiot light is on, frequently and I didn’t change the oil for how many thousand miles?

Maybe I can’t be perfect.

Maybe what I really need is grace.

But then I want to go off saying, I have to read the book about grace, understanding everything perfectly and implementing every concept to my life, flawlessly.   If you want to see what I am perfect at…. ungrace.

All of this ungrace and desire for perfection, it’s all about control.  I lost control a long time ago in various situations.  I couldn’t control my sister’s actions, my mom, my dad’s death, my family’s financial struggle, my own movement toward puberty, or change, among other things.  I have tried to control myself and the people around me. The mental health world even has a name for it, Borderline Personality Disorder.  I have controlled myself right into the DSM.

I don’t have a happy ending to write here.  While I could say that I have been in therapy working on my issues, gotten somewhere and that I recognize God’s grace and will embrace it, that’s not really an honest assessment of recovery.  I am not Paul where I just saw a blinding light and immediately I followed Christ.  My recovery from trauma, BPD and perfectionism is and will continue to be a struggle with new and old struggles coming up.  I have experienced mountain tops: the day after I turned sixteen, when I passed my driver’s test, when I graduated high school, when I graduated from college, when I could walk away from the end of counseling with tears in my eyes but confidently moving forward anyways…. But I have also experienced the valleys in between:  attention seeking, suicide, depression, cutting, eating disorders, crying myself to sleep, begging God for death and being angry when he made me live.  So from my very limited experience, I know this is a journey and I am not done now.  I will fall and fail, but I will get up and continue to move onward focusing on the prize, which is Christ Jesus with the wholeness that he brings.