Turning 30 Part I: New Decade, New Name, Same Girl

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This past week was my 30th Birthday. Now, I know the drill. Women are supposed to freak the eff out about their 30th because we’re old or whatever. But if 60 is the new 40, then 30 is the new teenager, right?

To be honest, I am so excited for this new decade. My twenties were a shit show to say the least, but I know that my third decade is going to rock.

My 30th Birthday is a big fucking deal for a couple reasons:

  1. Until about a month and a half ago, I was seriously suicidal. I hadn’t gone more than a couple days without obsessively wanting to die for two years—since the big breakup.

  2. During the aftermath of the aforementioned breakup on my 28th birthday, C made the suggestion that the world would be better without me in it. And you know what, I’m still here.

So, in celebration of the fact that I’m still here, I made a huge deal about this birthday. Like seriously, I was the most extra person that I can imagine. And that’s so awesome.

My thirtieth birthday and the year following are all about reclamation for me. Reclaiming my birthday, reclaiming my joy, reclaiming my life. It’s also all about defining and openness: defining who I am, defining what I want to be, openness to the changes that are coming. I’m trying to take on this next decade with intentionality and openness and I’m so grateful for the friends who are already helping me make this possible.

But the reason for this post is not just that. One thing I’m doing—the biggest thing I’m doing—to celebrate my 30th is to give myself a gift—something that I’ve wanted for a long time.

As a part of this process of reclaiming my life, I’m giving myself a new name.

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There is power in a name. In different cultures around the world the act of naming a child is considered sacred. The word chosen for the name and the meaning behind the word are meant to imbue that being with those characteristics.

As a writer, scholar, and recovering philologist, the importance of words in my life cannot be overestimated. My life is dedicated to teaching others how to put words in different orders to communicate more clearly with those around them. I write about words, what they mean in certain orders, how that impacts the world. My faith even involves calling God ο λογος, “the Word.” I’m kind of a word person.

I am blessed to be part of two separate communities that value names as I do. In these communities, names are not just identity markers. The act of re-naming is also connected to taking on a new life. I think of my friends who have become priests or sisters, my friends who are non-binary or transitioning. They each took on these new names at important parts in their lives, showing that this new name symbolizes not only their identity but their choice to make a change, a commitment, a new life.

I’m taking on a new life. It might not involve any vows, but I’m making a promise to myself to love myself, to value myself, and to honor myself. I’m choosing to live. I’m choosing to be honest about who I am, to be authentic and real, to not hide behind my relation to other people. To be known not just as an aunt, a friend, a daughter, but as me—a unique human being with a name that symbolizes who I am and who I want to be.

This isn’t a decision I’ve made suddenly, or without a great deal of thought, or without talking with people I admire and trust. I’ve thought about changing my name since I was a teenager. I have never connected with Kaitlyn. I don’t hate it, it’s just not a name that suits me. I have made peace with Kait for quite a while, but still it’s not me.

The name I have chosen is Aurelia. It’s Latin for “gold.” It was my name in Latin class when I was in high school, so I’m already comfortable with it. Aurelia is a reminder to myself that I have intrinsic value—as scripture would say, we are worth more than finest gold (Is 13:12). I’ve struggled to feel any value in myself for a long time, especially since what happened with C. By calling myself Aurelia, I am reminding myself that I am rare, beautiful, and valuable—regardless of anything else. Gold makes me think also of the sun—of something bright, vibrant, shining. I want to be those things.

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The nickname I’ve chosen and that a few close friends are already using for me is Ari. This is a common Jewish name and I love the meaning. It’s Hebrew for lion, old Norse for eagle, and Armenian for brave. I think that all those are qualities I want to embody. And it’s a mostly vowel-based name with only two syllables and super easy to pronounce and remember. Three letters. You can write them on your hand if you can’t remember them at first.

Now, for personal reasons that I don’t want to talk about publicly, I’ve made the decision to change my middle and last names along with my first. I’m happy to talk about this privately, but it’s a decision that I’ve made after a great deal of thought, prayer, and meditation.

For my middle name, I am taking my mother’s middle name, Ann. St. Anne is the mother of Mary, the grandmother of Jesus—a woman who I have always felt closer to than her daughter. Ann is also a form of the Hebrew name Hannah, meaning favor or grace. Hannah is also the first name of my childhood best friend and the last name of my dear friend, Corbin. So, to honor my mother, keep a powerful saint close, and connect with my two best friends—my name is Aurelia Ann.

Photo from http://www.sanctuairesquebec.com/en/shrine-of-sainte-anne-de-beaupre

Photo from http://www.sanctuairesquebec.com/en/shrine-of-sainte-anne-de-beaupre

For my last name, I am taking my paternal-paternal great-grandmother’s maiden name, VonTress (some family stories say Tress, some say VonTress). This name still connects me to my family and honors my connection with my father. It reminds me of where I came from, it reminds me of my dad, no student will ever come up with an inappropriate joke using it, and it sounds good after Doctor. It still shows that I belong to my family and, despite my desire otherwise, it still keeps me at the end of the alphabet.

I know this might seem selfish or confusing and I’m sorry if that is the case. I know some people might refuse to use my name, although I hope not. I know some will struggle to remember it at first and that’s okay. I know my true friends would never mean to hurt me by using the wrong name. I hope that everyone will accept this and embrace it as my choice to honor my individuality, my sacredness as a person with the right to define myself.

So, this is it, friends—my new name: Aurelia “Ari” Ann VonTress. Nice to meet you.

BE: RECLAIMED, TRANSFORMED, and CONSISTENT.

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Welcome to 2019. It’s only 9 days old, but let me tell you: I’m already loving it so much more than the three years before.

New Year’s Eve has been a time of grief for me these last two years. It was on NYE 2016 that my world turned upside down and NYD 2017 that by best friends abandoned me. So, it’s not really surprising that, given the meaning of New Year’s for me and the fact that I had gotten a little off on my med schedule, I had a minor breakdown this year on NYE. My poor mother was terrified, but I knew that I was really fine. I was crying and shaking, but I knew that this wasn’t me, it was a disease that I hadn’t properly worked with for a couple days. I fell asleep around 8 or 9, knowing that sleep would bring the stability that my limited neuro-transmitters couldn’t provide. When I woke up around 3am on January 1, I celebrated by myself the beginning year that I have decided will be my year.

I think it’s kind of fitting, this less than auspicious beginning to 2019 because I think it’s the story that I’m going to tell myself over and over this year. This disease is not me. This trauma is not me. I’m okay. I’m alive. I’m held in the palm of His hand.

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Every year I choose a word for the year. To be honest, as a general practice, I’ve failed at embracing my word in the past. 2017 was obedience and trust, but I failed to obey or trust or even want to be alive at all that year. 2018 was focus, but my main focus became getting well and healing from not one, but two bouts of mono. I tried, but failed. This year will be different, I can tell already. My word is BE and I’ve chosen three subwords: RECLAIMED, TRANFORMED, and CONSISTENT. I’m reclaiming all those pieces of me that I lost during the break up from hell. I’m reclaiming hobbies, friendships, and dreams that I lost. I’m transforming them and my life into the life I want—my best life. The really hard part, the part I’m scared of and know I will struggle with daily, is being consistent. I struggle with consistency, mostly because of my illnesses mentioned above. I want to be a consistent teacher, grader, blogger, artist, friend, etc., but it’s hard. It requires rest and time management and energy. But I know I can do it. I have an accountability system that will hold me to it. (Love you, chicas.)

I have a long list of goals for the year, mostly the same goals from my 30 by 30, which I’ve decided is really 30 by the end of 30, not the beginning, because who knew a year ago that I would have mono? Not me. I’ll probably share some of those goals later this year, but for now I’m focusing on my words.

BE: RECLAIMED, TRANSFORMED, and CONSISTENT.

What are your words for 2019?

Life Update III: Back to the Woods

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A few weeks ago now, I was blessed with the opportunity to go home to my Woods.

If you’ve been following me since before the big breakup, you know that I am very close with a group of Roman Catholic Women’s Religious, also known as Sisters (not nuns! Look up the difference!): the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, located just outside of Terre Haute, Indiana. I have discerned with them, become an associate in the Providence Associate relationship program, lived in their novitiate house for many weekends, led retreats to their motherhouse in hopes of bringing more people to the woods, and even spent my MA comps summer working at their White Violet Center for Eco Justice. When I lived in Indiana, I would make trips to the Woods fairly frequently, but even during my first three years in Texas I made it home 1-2x per year. My trips to the Woods, along with most of the things I treasured in my life, were impacted and temporarily put on pause after the breakup and breakdown and my life falling apart.

I promised myself in the midst of the worst part of my depression last year that this year I would get home to my sisters for our annual meeting no matter what. My sisters and their love and prayers were a huge part of my recovery. My love for them was a huge part of my staying alive. I knew that I needed to get home as soon as possible and I’m so grateful it actually happened. That I ended up spending this summer in Cincinnati—only three hours from my beloved woods instead of the 14 from Texas—was purely Providential. That this year we received enough donations for the PAs to offer a scholarship for associates to come home was also Providential and a huge blessing, as I could never have come home without it. Gary’s becoming a service dog sealed the deal because I knew with him, I could make it through if things became painful or triggering, given that my last two trips home were with her.

When I drove onto campus, I felt a combination of relief and anxiety, thinking about the fact that some of these people had seen the darkest part of my breakdown take place. Yet, as soon as I walked into La Fer hall and ran right into my friend, Mel, everything but joy emptied itself from my body. Pure, complete joy. I went through the check in process, greeted by my dear Peggy, and took my stuff up to my room after chatting with even more friends. It was in some ways like I had never left and in other ways like I had been gone for a millenia. It was strange to see my friends with more grey in their hair, and sad to note the absence of dear ones whose celebrations of life I had missed when so far away. But overall, I was hit over and over with waves of relief, contentment, and love. I was truly home.

Gary loved having so many aunts to love on him and so many woods to walk around! 

Gary loved having so many aunts to love on him and so many woods to walk around! 

Over the weekend, I got to spend time with people very dear to me, though not enough time to be sure. I ended up sleeping through almost every social event, my body suddenly so relaxed and my mind so at peace that I could sleep in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. I missed out on spending time with my closest, dearest sisters because they were busy and I was busy and sleeping and overwhelmed. But still, the peace at being in meetings and looking around and seeing so many people I love so much—it’s something I haven’t had in a long time. Lately in Denton I’ve been surrounded by so much toxicity that this space of love and generosity and non-violence was just so much sweeter than I even remembered. During my time there, I suddenly felt more myself, more alive, and more happy than I have since January 1, 2017. It was a pure gift.

It’s only been a few weeks since my weekend at the woods, but it already feels like a lifetime. There’s a lot of work to do here in Ohio and I’m behind—simply because there really was never enough time to begin with. I’m blessed with a compassionate community of support here—the wonderful doctor, my dear roommate, and several kind and loving patients and workers that I spend time with at the office. The work I’m doing here is complicated—there is the literal work I’m doing for Doc, then there is the physical work being done to my body both through treatments and my (often failing) own job of being active and eating clean. Then, there is the much harder work of my emotional-mental-spiritual-self work, including using new techniques for processing false beliefs. In addition, I’m working on growing my Etsy shop, in the process of starting my own LLC, taking classes to become a life coach, and researching for my dissertation. Life is full and complicated and the ongoing transition that my body and soul are experiencing causes some discomfort and anxiety. But I’m okay and I’m surrounded by love—both from the people here and my sisters and fellow associates at the Woods. For right now, that is more than enough.

On New Years Goals, My Birthday, and the start of a year that I’m planning to rock!

Photo by  NordWood Themes  on  Unsplash

2018 Goals

So, it’s January 16th. Yes, people, that means that we are halfway through the first month of 2018. Stressed yet?

I haven’t written yet about my 2018 goals, but I do want to share those with you. 2018 is going to be a big year for me and I’m planning to rock this year so well that it makes up for the absolute disaster that was 2017. Good riddance, year of awfulness.

So, 2018.

My word for 2018 is FOCUS. I want to focus on the things most important to me: my family and friends, research, teaching, self-care, and creativity.

My goals this year fall into three categories: Adventures I want to have, Projects I want to finish, and ongoing goals that I want to work on.

Photo by  Matthew Sleeper  on  Unsplash

 

Adventures:

  • See family in Rolla
  • Attend SP meeting in June
  • Attend Go Wild 2018
  • Go to a museum
  • Go to zoo with H, M, and V
  • Go to one non-ALR reading
  • Volunteer 6 times

 

Projects:

  • Interview dad
  • Read 10 nonfiction, non academic books this year
  • Etsy
  • Submit article for publication
  • Apply to a job
  • Finish a draft of my dissertation
  • Digitalize all my files
  • Declutter my apartment
  • Get rid of 300 things in 2018
  • Curate a capsule wardrobe
  • Supplement regimen
  • Stamp inventory
  • Books organized and database updated
Photo by  Andrew Neel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Ongoing goals:

  • Keep up with grading and teaching work
  • Find a spiritual community
  • Become a budgeting badass
  • Master the art of Meal prep
  • Re-immerse myself into the liturgical year
  • Year-long spending fast (oh, yes, I will write about this in another post)

In addition to these, I have a few daily, weekly, and monthly rituals I’m trying to turn into habits, most notably a Bible reading plan with my soul-sister, B.

Operation: Birthday Reclamation

Photo by  Luca Upper  on  Unsplash

Photo by Luca Upper on Unsplash

Given that it’s January 16th, most people who know me know that it’s the day after my birthday. And this was an important one for me, given that it was one year ago on my birthday that someone I really trusted said something awful to me—the worst thing I could imagine and the worst she could probably have said at that time. So this year, I set out with a few good humans to reclaim my birthday.

First, I went to Starbucks with my friend, M. Then, my close friends and I celebrated by going to a favorite restaurant, walking around favorite shops, and sharing gluten free crepes at a new favorite place recommended by my dear friend and adopted brother, T. It might sound like such a simple thing, but for me it was a huge blessing. At one point during the meal, I looked around and saw the faces of my beloved friends and thought—these people care enough about me to sacrifice their last day off before the semester, drive 30 minutes, pay for an expensive meal, and walk around a stationery shop all just to celebrate my birthday. It’s humbling to be loved so much and I’m so grateful.

Genuinely the best friends I could ask for. So sad B. wasn't able to make it! (Photo by random lady at Daiso.)

Genuinely the best friends I could ask for. So sad B. wasn't able to make it! (Photo by random lady at Daiso.)

It is also a reminder to me that we can never know what God has in store for us. A year ago, I thought my life would never get better, that I would never heal or be able to trust again. A year ago, I did not even know three of those friends. All three of them were brought into my life during 2017—and our friendships cemented largely because of Gary. And the rest--even though I knew them—have become so much more important to me in the last year. It’s been a long, hard road and there were many times that I wasn’t sure I would make it (and neither were they), but I’ve finally hit a stride where I feel strong and healthy and—dare I say it?—happy. There are still many struggles ahead and I still have rough days, but I just keep thinking about that saying—it’s a bad day, not a bad life.

2018 will be my year

Photo by  Garrhet Sampson  on  Unsplash

This is what I keep saying. When my friends and I are stressed, I repeat it over and over. 2018 will be our year. I’ve seen that celebrities have claimed it will be the year of women. I’m not sure about that, but I fully believe that something is going to change for the better for me and for my close friends. And it’s going to change because we’re going to work hard.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve become a lot more into planning and the planner community. In case you didn’t know, I even founded the Denton Planner Girls group on facebook! We have regular meet ups and it’s so much fun. I’m really getting back into my creative side and I’m finding bullet journaling to be particularly therapeutic. I definitely think that getting into planning has made me more confident—and for good reason! When I’m constantly seeing words like “Hustle,” “Boss Babe,” and “Goal Digger,” it’s hard not to start thinking in those terms. This led me to invite M. to join me in the Wild Sisterhood—my first year back since I came to Denton. I have a lot of plans for this year beyond me goals above, including starting my own business, and I think that becoming a Wild Sister will help me with those goals. You’ll hear more about that in the future. But for now, just know—2018 is going to be my year. I hope it’s yours, too. 

 

And, in case you missed it on my social media:

Photo by Heidi Cephus. 

Photo by Heidi Cephus. 

30 by 30: Looking towards the future

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So, as you might know, I turned 29 last week. I made a pretty big deal of this birthday because, honestly, it was a big deal. But I’m also thinking about the fact that I’m one year away from 30 and I’m not really where I wanted to be by that landmark year.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of life I want to have and what kind of person I want to be when I hit 30 and I’ve set some goals to get me there.

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1.     Read the Bible all the way through: I mentioned before that I’m doing a bible reading with my friend, B. I’ve really lost a lot of my relationship with God this past year since I stopped going to Incarnation. So, I’m doing this bible reading to bring me back into the faith I love and grow a deeper relationship with God as well as growing closer to my best friend. The reading plan we’re using is from Bibles and Coffee by Jackie Rau, whose stunning Bible art is enough to make me almost consider buying another Bible/owning more than my main Bible. Almost.

2.     Read all of Anzaldua’s Published Works: Okay, yes, this is kind of cheating given that my dissertation is on Gloria Anzaldua, but I also just want to read her because she’s so inspirational and challenging and such a bad ass Xicana that I want to be just like her.

3.     Visit the Anzaldua Archives: Given that the archives are in Austin, Texas, there’s just no reason not to go while I’m still living so close.

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4.     Walk 1,000 miles: I used to walk 3-5 miles per day, then I had the bronchitis that would never end. Then, when I adopted G., we used to do 1-3 miles each morning. I’ve definitely gotten out of the practice and want to get back into it because it makes me feel happier, more awake, and makes my body stronger.

5.     Lose 30 lbs/ go down 2 sizes: So, this is like the most American goal ever, right? I have it worded this way because my friend, M., told me I should focus on size instead of weight because muscles weigh more than fat. But honestly, the real goal is to feel stronger and healthier. The last year of depression eating has taken a toll. While I’ve lost weight rather than gained it since all this started, it’s mostly been from being tired/depressed/unable to get out of bed and, therefore, unable to eat—and I feel weaker because of it, even if my clothes are more loose. I need to feel comfortable in my skin again.

6.     Get a tattoo: I’m still working out what I want, but this is the year. I’m one year from 30. I no longer believe the people who said I’d regret it.

7.     Dye my hair lavender: Because I can and I’m one year from the job market. So, last chance for a while.

8.     Learn how to do makeup: Because even though I’m a low-maintenance feminist, I’m also a freaking adult.

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9.     Capsule wardrobe with a style that suits me: I’m almost 30. I still have clothing items from high school and college. I really want to find a style that makes me feel myself without being unprofessional. Also, I’m currently living in running leggings and maybe I need to find something else so that I’m no longer wearing athletic wear 100% of the time I’m not teaching. But most of all, I have more clothes than any three people could possibly need and most of them don't make me comfortable. 

10.  Create and stick to morning and evening rituals: I seem to never have time to do the things that actually make me happy, like reading, writing, snuggling Gary, meditating, and creating art. I should be doing these things every day. I’m working on a new daily ritual. I’ll tell you when I figure it out.

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11.  Do forgiveness on the people who harmed me: My friend, M., has taught me this method of forgiveness that is really helpful in moving past wounds. I want to do this not only because forgiveness is part of a non-violent and Christ-centered life, but because those people do not deserve to maintain power over me. My anger keeps me connected to them. Let’s sever that connection.

12.  Go through stuff in storage: When I look around my apartment, I am horrified by the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated. When I think about my grandmother’s garage in Missouri, it’s enough to give me nightmares. I can guarantee, if I haven’t seen it in that long, I probably don’t need it. Except the books, but even those are going to be pared down.

13.  Get rid of 300 things: But really, though, if I go through storage, it should be like 3,000.

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14.  Find someone to finish my t-shirt quilt and get it done: I’m all about letting go of past projects or finding someone else to do them. This is one thing I don’t want to feel guilty about.

15.  Digitalize and recycle most of my files: Because I have two filing cabinets full that I don’t want to have to move all over the country.

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16.  Master budgeting: I’m working on this one hard core and meeting with a financial advisor for help. I want to get control over my debt in a big way.

17.  Interview my dad: I have a long list of questions I’ve been wanting to ask and get recorded. I really need to do this.

18.  Get published: I really want to get something published in an academic journal—especially because my chapter is still on hold while the collection editor is dealing with health issues.

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19.  Finish a draft of my dissertation: It might sound insane, but I really think I could have drafts or rough outlines of everything by next January. It would be so good to have this off my shoulders.

20.  Start my own business: More info to come!

21.  Learn how to build my own brand: see above. :)

22.  Master SEO

23.  Increase my blog readership to 500

24.  Make 100 sales on Etsy

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25.  Take a trip somewhere fun: I haven’t done this in a long time. It would be nice to go somewhere not for family or a conference.

26.  Do 5 things on my DFW bucket list: I’ve lived in the DFW area for 7 of the last ten years. Why have I still not seen these things?

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27.  Visit a TX winery: See above. Also, wine.

28.  Take a cooking class: I’m not a bad cook, but there are things I’d like to learn to do.

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29.  Work with G. until he is really well trained and passes the tests: Just because he’s an official service dog doesn’t mean the training should end. I’ve been really lazy with it lately and it’s starting to affect relationships with others, not to mention our relationship. He deserves better guidance.

30.  Enter a calligraphy project into a show: This will, of course, require me to start doing calligraphy again. I deserve to enjoy my hobbies and creating art brings me joy.

So, that’s my list. I think that 29 is going to be the best year yet and I fully intend to get all this done. I deserve a better life and I want to be a better person for the people (and dog) that I love. So, let’s do this thing.

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P.S. If you're interested in other goals I have, check out my bucket lists

The Three Types of People

Image by Timothy Muza

Image by Timothy Muza

On Sunday at Mass, I started thinking about the same thing that has been on my mind for months now: how could people who I loved so much and who said they loved me treat me the way that they did? Even though I know the answer is simple (they were using me), I am still stumped at the thought of what would lead someone to treat another person like this. I mean, it was serious stuff. They encouraged me to kill myself. Humans don’t do that.

But I’m trying not to be angry—or at least not to be bitter. I’ve forgiven them, I’m praying for them.

But such brokenness—how do we get so broken?

Well, I started thinking about something that my good friend and mentor, Mike Brooks, always said when I was in high school. He phrased it as a lesson (or a warning) about boys for us girls in youth group, but in all honesty I think we all know it’s true about all humans. And certainly I have learned that we sometimes need to be warned (or at least reminded) about other humans.

So, Mike would tell us that there are three types of people. And in order to understand the three types, there’s something you need to know about humans (or, as he would say, boys): we’re all defective. Call it broken, sinful, fallen, human, etc., but it all comes down to the fact that we’re defective. Mike used to talk about the “defective male chromosome,” but in reality it’s the defective human tendency to sin, to harm others or ourselves or to act against the greater good in our own selfishness. It’s that darn original sin getting to us, and there’s no way to escape it. We’re just defective. As we grow in life, we can choose to become more like Christ, but we’ll never escape our humanity.

So, of us defective humans, there are three different types. Mike refers to them simply as the ones, the twos, and the threes.

Ones are the people who are defective but they don’t know they’re defective. A one can become a two or a three or just stay a one for life. These are the emotionally immature people who are like a bull in a china shop with other people’s emotions without even realizing it. We’ve all met a one. Heck, we’ve all been a one. As Mike used to say, “You can date a one, but you can’t marry them.” A one is never going to be mature enough to make commitments or to be a good partner or friend. They have to grow up first.

Ones are like the classic C. S. Lewis example in Mere Christianity where he talks about the child who plays in the mud, making mud pies, not knowing that there is a feast set for him by a king. They don’t know. This means that there’s always hope that they will someday leave the mud pies behind and sit in their rightful place at the feast.

This reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13:11-12: “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” There is the opportunity still to know fully the goodness of God.

Then, there are twos. Twos, unlike ones, know they are defective. They relish their defectiveness, enjoying every minute. Now, here’s the thing: a two will never become anything other than a two. You can’t change them. This was something Mike used to stress (as a high school teacher, principal, and youth minister, he saw a lot of this): “Girls, you can’t save a two and make him a three. You can’t stay in a relationship hoping to change them.” As obvious as it sounds, I had the same conversation with a 29 year old maybe three days ago. We want to believe that we can change people. We see their potential. But we can’t. That’s not in our power.

Twos are like a child making mud pies knowing that there’s a feast and preferring the mud. Even a pig will choose to be clean over lying in the mud, but a two will stay defiantly (even happily) in the mire.

I’m sure we’ve all met people like this. There are the gossipy girls whose greatest pleasure is in tearing down another—not because of insecurity (a one), but because they really think it’s fun. They’re the people who plot and scheme for no real personal benefit other than the satisfaction of hurting another person. I think some people want to see the good in them, want to believe that these people aren’t really a two. How many times have I heard someone say, “Maybe they’re just a one and they’re insecure and I can fix them.”?

No, you can’t. You can’t fix a two. They are happy broken. They do not want to be whole. Maybe the Lord can heal them, but remember: they know the Lord. They just don’t want him. They have already turned against Him. And while it’s easy to see twos as being these evil archetypes and scary monsters, the best image is probably Satan in Dante—perpetually frozen in tears being turned to ice by the beating of his own wings.

Twos are the kind of people who others will make excuses about them being “only human,” but in reality they are the least human people you will meet. To be human is to be what we were meant to be—to go against that humanity, that’s what makes us broken. Twos are happy to go against their humanity. They’re pitiable, but you shouldn’t waste your time trying to change them or endanger yourself trying to love them. I made that mistake.

Lastly, there are the threes. I think we all want to be a three, but I wonder sometimes if people who think they’re threes are really just ones. It’s a solid question, but I’m afraid I’ll have to be enjoying the beatific vision to find the answer. Then I might not care.

A three is someone who, like the two, knows they are defective, but a three will spend the rest of their life trying to overcome their defectiveness. Whether they realize it or not, they are seeking to become fully human, fully like God, fully in imitation of Christ. A three can never become perfect or overcome their defectiveness, so sometimes they will sin. But they will try, each and every day, to get as close to perfection as they can.

Now, Mike never told me this, but as I was thinking about this on Sunday it occurred to me that it’s sort of like a spectrum. I think threes sometimes forget and slide back towards being a one. That's sin. But the farther you go on the spectrum towards being a two, the more lost you are and the less able to approach the three end. It’s like there’s a point of no return. I even drew a picture to show what I mean. 

Three types of people_edited-1.jpg

So, those are the three types of people. And I think that, as much as I feel anger towards the people who hurt me, only one was a two. She took pleasure in it. The others are all ones. They’re just too easily manipulated. Maybe it’s the aspie in me or maybe it’s because my primary strength is context, but being able to label it, being able to classify the difference, it helps. I hope it helps you. 

Image by Suhyeon Choi

Image by Suhyeon Choi

Unbreakable Willy Women: With Love to our Littlest on your Graduation

It’s finals week and I have a paper due tomorrow (tonight?) that I should be writing, but I’m tired and fried and needing sleep. So, while I wait for the coffee to wear off, I’m reflecting and writing this. And, because it’s late and I’m tired and I’m writing about my family, I’m writing in my own, real, Missouri voice. Read with accent, more as you go along. Last weekend I went home to Missouri for my mom’s graduation. It was an awesome trip and I loved it, even if I did have to drive 24 hours in three days and then come home to research and write 40 pages (still in progress)...

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A Month of Letters: InCoWriMo review

Anyone who follows me on here, or on Facebook and Instagram, knows that I have participated in the International Correspondence Writing Month during the month of February. What this entails is basically writing a letter each day during the month of February. That’s it: just write the letter. 

I decided that this year, I would participate partially because one of my New Year’s goals last year was to write more letters. I did it, but “more” was basically like, “Oh look, I wrote ten letters over the course of twelve months.” So, I decided that 29 letters in 29 days sounded like a good challenge. I wasn’t sure I would make it, but I thought I would try. Well, it turns out that I did it.

He might not be the hero Gotham needs, but he's the stamp I needed for this project! My post person probably thought I was crazy with the amount of letters I was mailing out. 

He might not be the hero Gotham needs, but he's the stamp I needed for this project! My post person probably thought I was crazy with the amount of letters I was mailing out. 

For the entire month of February, I sent out, on average, one letter every day. Sometimes I had to write five or six to make up for missing, but I got it done. Sometimes it was a struggle to think of what to say or who to write to, but over the course of the month I kind of figured it out. At the beginning, some of my cards or letters felt awkward or forced, but I think that by the end they just started to flow.

I have a few tips for people who are interested in participating in the future: 

First of all, the best thing I did was print out a calendar and write down the names of people I wanted to send letters to. Some were birthday cards, some were letters to dear friends, and some were letters to complete strangers that I found on the Pen Addict InCoWriMo list (there’s nothing like writing to other people who will appreciate your love for fountain pens).

Another great tip for finishing InCoWriMo is to promise yourself that the letter doesn’t have to be long. While I can always go on for pages when writing to certain friends (that would be you, Daniel Orazio), sometimes I have a hard time thinking of precisely what to say to family members or older friends who might not really care about what’s going on at UNT or how startlingly beautiful the sky is today. The point is to send a letter, not a novel.

Lastly, if you have trouble thinking of who to write to, check out the organization The World Needs More Love Letters. Each month, they send out a list of people going through a rough time who need to receive love letters. It’s kind of fun sending these strangers messages of hope—and frequently, it brings me peace because I can relate to part of their struggle and it helps to do something. Check it out!

Here are some of the letters I sent out to TWNMLL. 

Here are some of the letters I sent out to TWNMLL. 

All in all, I’m so glad that I participated in InCoWriMo. I’m trying to continue my letter writing, so if you want to be a pen pal, just let me know. If you receive a random letter or card in the mail from me, know it’s not me being weird. I just love writing letters and I think most people love receiving mail. It goes well together. 

Thoughts on Academia and a Plea for Help

As many of my friends know, I have been accepted to present at the International Ecopoetics Conference in Perpignan, France this June. I have applied for funding from the University and have received some, but not enough to cover a trip to France, even a simple one. For those of you who don’t live in the great ivory tower of academia, it might seem strange to you that we travel around the world for the sake of presenting a 20 minute paper and receiving comments from our peers.

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An Open Letter to my Dad on His 80th Birthday

Dear Dad,

I don’t know if I have told you this often enough, but you are my hero. It’s not because you’re a soldier or because you used to go to work with barrettes in your hair and glittery stickers on your work shoes or even because you would watch videos and read books (long before the age of YouTube) to learn how to fix my hair in intricate and interesting ways. You are my hero because you were there—all day every day during the summer and every day after school. You weren’t just physically present but emotionally and mentally as well. You never checked out of the Dad job....

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2014: A Year in Review

I came home tonight from an afternoon and evening spent with my best friend in Dallas, Mark, cherishing time together and reflecting over the last (couple of) years, the things that have changed, the things that are the same, and how we feel about a number of different things. When I got home, I found numerous Christmas cards filled with letters from friends, updating me on their lives. I don’t usually send those kinds of cards and I’m writing this blog in place of that.

Every New Year’s, I spend time in reflection over the last year and thinking about where I want to go in the new year. Since last year, I have added using Leonie Dawson’s amazing books to my New Year’s retreat (thanks, Hannah Bagnall, for introducing me to that!). The time in reflection is good for me. Usually, I keep that private, but this year so many things have happened and changed that I want to share some of them with my friends.

This time last year, I was actually in Irving, visiting dear friends and family over my Christmas break. I knew then what I had told very few people, that I would probably be leaving Indianapolis. I had just finished my application to UNT and after such precious time with loved ones, I found myself praying that I would end up at UNT over any of the other places I had applied to.

My last semester at Butler was complicated, but beautiful. I enjoyed a Nun Night where my beloved sisters came to visit my girls and we played board games. I took several students to the Woods for Alternative Spring Break to work at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice (where I lived as a volunteer for five months in 2013 while preparing for my exams at Notre Dame) and they fell in love so much that we went back for the Earth Day celebrations. I told Father that I would be leaving Indiana and I faced his disappointment. I told my students that I was leaving and my heart ached as I watched some of them grieve. I dealt with the frustration of working with the Archdiocese to find my replacement—they were slow to move and Father and I lived in fear that the community we had built would be left without support. I was included in interviews and listened to students talk about their fears for the future. It was a true practice in humility and detachment, and I am grateful for the growing experience of leaving a ministry that I continue to love and miss very much.

I know some have heard me talk about the negative aspects of my ministry at Butler and I want to take the chance to explain some of that. If you already know all this or simply don’t care about why I left Butler, you can skip the next few paragraphs.  While there were many parts of my life in Indianapolis that I hated, my students were never one of them. I loved them immensely and continue to love them and pray for them, but I am glad to know that they are under the wings of someone much more suited to that life than I am right now. In Indianapolis, I struggled to make friends because of my crazy ministry schedule, my need for introvert time with an extremely extroverted job, and my inability to find many people outside of my sisters and friends from Echo that had similar interests. I am infinitely grateful for the friends I did have—my sisters, friends from Echo, and ministry friends at Butler as well as St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. I never could have made it through that last year without them—and not only did I survive, I enjoyed moments of great happiness. Please do not think I lived my whole time there miserable and alone in the world.

My last year in Indianapolis, I lived alone. That was a great decision, because I was coming out of a very negative and hurtful community experience and needed space to heal. Sometimes I was lonely, but fortunately I had the community of the Retreat in Daily Life that I was participating through Providence Center at St. Mary of the  Woods (which included two sisters, one who is 92(!), and two other young women about my age). My friend Annie, who was brave enough to embark on this 30 week retreat with me, would come to my office and together we would skype the other women. I treasured the time we would spend after the meeting, talking and dreaming together.

The diocese of Indianapolis, while it succeeds with some social justice issues and the larger parishes work to address poverty, is an overwhelmingly conservative diocese. Because every person who works for the diocese signs a paper stating that we will not “promote or support any ideas contrary to Church teaching,” I found it hard to be myself and be open, even with my friends outside of the office. My first two years in Indianapolis, I lived in fear of my community because the members of my community had expressed disapproval of my spirituality (including not only my prayer style, but my relationship with the Sisters of Providence) and “concern for my soul” on a regular basis. My last year, I lived in fear because if someone took something I said offhand and reported it to the diocese I could lose my job and have no recourse. So, when I wasn’t with my sisters or the limited number of friends that I felt completely at home with, I was generally living with a mask. I loved my students and I enjoyed and appreciated my ministry friends, but I needed something else to add stability to my life. I am an introvert and can thrive on my own, but I am also a community-centered person. While loneliness is an inherent part of the human condition, it was the degree of my loneliness (and the depression I started to experience) that made me realize I needed to make a change. Added to this was the added strain of maintaining my diocese-approved mask, which made me feel like I was being dishonest and lacking integrity.

It wasn’t all like that, though. During my time in Indianapolis, my sisters were my saving grace. Their support and love through my times of confusion and pain were my source of strength. Their constant reminder to trust in Providence and meet with people where they are (as Jesus did), made me a better minister, person, and friend. In answer to the ever-popular question, yes, I have on many occasions thought about applying to become a Sister of Providence. I love being an associate and my relationship to that community is the most important in my life. The idea of growing old with my friends, living in community, and taking on a greater role in the community I love so dearly is certainly appealing. However, student loans and a predisposition to need autonomy (I would struggle greatly with a vow of obedience at this point in my life—we will all see what comes in the future) made it evident that path is not right for me, at least now.  I am not certain it will ever be my path, but only time will tell. I am happy with my life.

At the same time as my loneliness and frustrations were becoming evident to me, I realized something else. With the distance that a year without study (if you ignore the comprehensive exams I took in July 2013, as I did for almost the entire year before I took them) could provide, I realized that I missed being in school. I spent a lot of time in reflection about what I would want to study if I went back. I knew that I didn’t want to deal with another Classics department—I had heard too many stories about the cutthroat attitude in upper-level classics. Besides that, I would only really want to study Greek, but most programs require study of Latin as well. I also knew that theology is not for me. My experience of God is more relational and spiritual than rule based and, after my experiences at Notre Dame, I didn’t want to deal with theology people. This is not to say that I disrespect Theology or people who study it. On the contrary, one of my dear friends in Dallas is a theology professor and I have a lot of friends who are doing continued theology work. I just knew I didn’t have the patience or proper disposition for further study in Theology. I considered a D Min or a PhD in Spirituality, but knew that I would likely encounter the same issues as I did in ministry. I also considered simply applying for another ministry position (and did so), but I came to realize that I need time away from ministry and theology to heal and get myself together. I believe wholeheartedly that I will someday end up back in ministry for the Catholic Church—but I need time.

When I thought about it, I realized that the only thing I could really see myself teaching long term (and as my friend Greg Roper says, a PhD is just vocational school for teaching) is literature. After being prompted from my friend and mentor, Dr. Sommerfeldt, to consider my deepest passions, I realized that what I would really love is to study agrarian literature (think literature about farming and farm culture—The Georgics, Wendell Berry, Faulkner, that sort of stuff). I wasn’t sure that agrarian literature was actually a thing, but I quickly found that environmental literature, which includes agrarian literature and can include literature of the American South, was in fact something one can get a PhD in. And, miracle of miracles, the University of North Texas, only 40 minutes from my community of friends and family back in Irving, offers such a degree.

So, back to 2014. In March of 2014, I received the hoped-for acceptance letter to UNT along with an offer of a fellowship to teach two freshman comp courses each semester. I walked home, my heart pounding, and shared the news with my next door neighbors—the only people at Butler I could really tell until I formally resigned. After discernment and talking it over with my mom, my best friend, and my sisters, I sent back my response: an overwhelming YES.

While on ASB at the Woods, two different sisters let it slip in front of my students that I would be leaving Butler, but the official announcement was saved for April. By that time, most of my (very astute) students had already figured out that I was leaving. Some shed tears, others tried to hide their relief (hey, I never said I was popular with all of them!). All in all, they were supportive. Some even said they wished they could be in my classes.

I left Butler in June and packed up my house, which I had hoped to be living in long term and therefore had brought a lot of childhood mementos and things. My mom and a friend moved my belongings to Missouri while I drove to the Woods. As I drove onto the campus of Saint Mary of the Woods, I felt a huge weight leave my shoulders. I rested with my sisters and enjoyed our Annual meeting. I witnessed my dear friend Arrianne take her first vows and reminisced about how I had met her at a “Come and See” weekend before she even entered. I cherished time with my best friend, Hannah, and was grateful as my sisters, who were sad that I was moving so far away, were also supportive, happy, and excited for me. After the Annual Meeting was over, I left the Woods and drove to Missouri, where I spent an entire month anxious about this big step I had taken. I almost backed out of moving to Denton several times, but fortunately where I lost faith I had friends and family who had enough faith for two. (Besides that, where else would I go?)

I had searched for a roommate or place to live for a couple months while still at Butler and was relieved when a guy in UNT’s Environmental Philosophy PhD program asked me to move in with him. My students obsessively stalked him online (sorry Fabio) and my mother worried about her daughter moving in with a complete stranger. It turns out that her worries were in vain, because Fabio is wonderful and is literally the best roommate I have ever had (no joke). Our problems have been very few and I consider myself blessed. It was truly Providence that we got connected. I’m so grateful. I am also grateful that when I arrived at our tiny little house in August, my family (the Parent/Ponikiewskis) and my bestie, Mark, showed up to unload my car and my mom’s car.  My car was full and my mom’s car had traveled from Rolla, Missouri to Denton, Texas with my bed and mattress strapped to the roof (something I will never do again and don’t recommend). Mark, Mark, and Trevor quickly unloaded, Patty hung up hangers and clothes, Rachel helped everyone, and Randi mostly entertained us with Ranger, her dog (which was more important and necessary than you might think). I don’t know what we would have done without them. My mom stayed with me long enough to help me unpack and shop for the random things I needed. Then, she left and I became a UNT student for real.

Since I moved in, the last six months have been a blur. I went to Orientation with the English department, where I made my first set of friends at UNT. I settled into my desk in the Teaching Fellow office and got into a rhythm of going to class, teaching, grading, and studying. I have found that the people in the English Department are awesome, really without exception. I enjoy the friendly banter in the office and hope to continue to develop friendships with many of the other TFs, PhD candidates, and MA students.

I started going to Mass at UD after I found that the local parish wasn’t comfortable (it’s really big). It turns out that, for me at least, going to Mass at UD includes sitting with the Sommerfeldts, weekly hugs from Dr. Norris, and regular lunches with Anna, Andrew, Joe, and Irene. So, for the few people who would care enough to judge me for going to Mass at my undergrad instead of making a local parish my home, you’re doing it wrong. Be jealous instead.

I spend a lot of time with my UD friends and family, while still getting to develop a community at UNT, and having time alone. I am finding a balance, or as much of a balance as anyone can have.

This year I also started SpiritualUprising Magazine and UP Ministries with Molly and we’ve kept it going through our transitions. This semester I started the habit of walking daily, joined the Tone It Up nutrition plan, walked a 5K, taught my first semester of classes, wrote 2 twenty page papers and cited the Sisters of Providence in both of them, watched multiple movies and spent time with friends, and so many other wonderful things. It’s been a great semester and a great year. Things aren’t perfect—I’ve had bronchitis for 2 months and am still relatively sick, my uncle was just diagnosed with leukemia, and my dad’s health continues to go back and forth. I've struggled to find time to write and do things I want to do and at the beginning of my time in Denton, I was still trying to shake the issues from Indy. But, through it all, I have had people who love me. I had a friend wiling to drive me to the ER when my fever hit 104 and bring me food while I was recovering. I had professors who were supportive and understanding. I have a roof over my head. I am blessed with the opportunity to continue my education and teach truly wonderful college kids, which is more like ministry than you would think. I come home to a roommate who doesn’t steal from, judge, or demean me.

I am happy.  

I hope that you and yours are, too.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2015.