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10 in 10 seconds

Both Father Ron Rolheiser and Matthew Kelly have reflected on the practice of gratitude in their work. On the Monday of Holy Week, Matthew Kelly discussed gratefulness as a spiritual exercise, mindfulness practice and way of life. We were asked to list ten people, things, or situations for which we are grateful. If I were to spend the recommended five minutes writing, I would have generated a list of 100 instead of 10. I wrote my list in about 10 seconds: My life, my health, my daughter, shelter, food, knowledge, faith, work, my parents, and my friends.

I practice gratitude on a daily basis. As someone who has taken part in various therapeutic approaches to mental health, gratitude is a key practice to overcoming anxiety and depression. Being grateful builds your strength, health, and faith. I’m grateful for life. I’m grateful for my good health; que bonito no tener ninguna operacion this year. I am grateful to move my life forward and to care for my health.  I took  my health for granted for many  years; without life and health, I could not enjoy the many blessings like my daughter, my family, my friends, new  professional opportunities, basic necessities like food, shelter, running water, clean air, human rights including freedom.

On the same day as the gratitude reflection, my staff at work took part in staff development training on burnout and self-care. It’s a theme we explore consistently. As folks in a helping profession like education, we preach self-care but do not always follow through. Our trainer went over major areas that indicate burnout. One is cynicism. That may be more damaging than the physical or emotional symptoms of burnout.  Cynicism taints your worldview and your daily attitude and behavior. I’ve reflected in the past on my failure to understand those who seem to be negative in every moment I encounter them, (My choice). Pero no es que no entiendo; it’s that I have rejected that way of being. I spent many years operating from a pessimistic view of the world. I lost many opportunities. Those losses taught me to enjoy my blessings. I will not ever live my life that way again.

It’s difficult to curb my self-righteousness. I empathize but I judge those who have chosen to live with negativity. As someone who has learned to manage anxiety, I fall prey to judging those who cannot or choose not to heal. It’s a vicious cycle. If you engage in negative self-talk and you are not working towards healing through professional help or spiritual direction or family, you continue to create situations that make you feel depressed or anxious. I know because I lived it. By shunning those who suffer from these issues, I protect myself.

I’m grateful that I overcame depression. I’m grateful I can manage my anxiety. I’m grateful to be able to change my mornings.  M and I are collaborating on a daily behavior chart which will assess how I’m doing with my tone of voice.  I’m grateful for faith, discipline, and for the lessons I’ve learned to help me become the best version of myself.

gratitude-piglet

An anthem

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For Throwback Thursday, I revisited one of my favorite gospel songs, “Looking for you” by Kirk Franklin.  “Looking for you” went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Gospel charts in 2005. It samples the great Patrice Rushen song “Haven’t You Heard” which was also remade as a house music hit. The sample is a great backdrop for an uplifting song.

“Looking for you” gives honor to God for being present in dark hours. The song takes me back to my past experiences. I have undergone intense mental, emotional, and spiritual changes that reshaped my life for which I am grateful. This song takes me back to those times and the hope I feel in working with God and depending on Him for everything.

A few days ago, I was not in an optimal situation to be taking part in a job interview. I was nervous and I thought to myself that I would fail.  (This happens every single time I have a major job interview. I have had laryngitis each time I’ve interviewed for a leadership position. This week, I had my voice but my head was not where it should have been due to personal issues.) Yet I shine in those moments. I reach within and find resilience, strength, and clarity of purpose. I had to do some positive thinking. In all honesty, I literally put my hands together and I prayed.  I prayed for strength and guidance. I put myself in God’s hands (Giving it over to God) I was successful in that I was called back for a follow-up interview.

I feel encouraged. Hearing this song again makes me realize it’s a good anthem.  As I go through changes, I take on challenges to grow into the best version of myself.   I am looking for Him.  That is the key to my success.  I hope everyone has a song to guide you and to make you strong, happy, and positive.

Year of milagros

“They don’t always happen when you ask

And it’s easy to give in to your fears…

A small but still resilient voice

Says hope is very near…” From “When You Believe”

Nearly five years ago, I organized a musical variety show with dance performances by family and friends for my 40th birthday party.(Turning 40) Originally I had planned to do a lip sync duet of one of my favorite diva power ballads, “When You Believe” but the number was eventually shelved. mariah-carey-whitney-performed-when-you-believe-duringThis particular Oscar-winning song is a favorite not only because it features two great singers, Whitney and Mariah, in all their diva glory; it’s also an uplifting anthem from one of Rambo’s favorite Bible-inspired films, The Prince of Egypt. The movie follows a young Moses as he realizes his call to deliver his people. The lyrics adequately capture the struggle to remain faithful to your mission and purpose in the face of challenges. It isn’t a theme song for a 40th birthday; it’s a theme song for any year and any occasion.

I have been pondering those song lyrics in the last day or so. Because despite moments straight out of the Twilight Zone 15727206_236100280160973_5711380463324119652_nand the very real tears I shed for Prince and Juan Ga, 14191976_10154684379132784_285972347186439489_n

this was a year of miracles.  It is a miracle I didn’t undergo major surgery this year. It is a miracle I didn’t put these hands on certain individuals. It is a miracle I fought and ultimately vanquished an enemy.15676564_10155117829802784_4985360818320789856_o This is not hyperbole. It is real. It happened. Prayers were answered. I experienced miracles. 191-jesus-casting-out-demons

No fue fácil. I can’t deny this has been a year of new challenges, ones I continue to confront daily. There are days when I weep, curse, and waver. As I have shared in previous posts, I pray. I pray at my desk at work. I pray in doorways. I pray in my car as I pull into parking spots. I pray before phone calls or face to face conversations.  Prayer will continue to be a source of strength. As the title of this blog indicates, I push myself.  I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone personally, professionally, emotionally, even physically this year. When I’m struggling to lift a weight or run that length, I think of my challenges, of those people and situations that are testing me. I push like hell. I may not be as strong as I want to be but I am not weak.  I refuse to be.

I can’t get on the forget 2016 bandwagon. Every phase of our lives brings us pain, sorrow, success, and joy. It is my choice to receive and make miracles.

Revealing relapse

“There is trouble in the air, destruction is everywhere
And men are being trampled beneath the soil
And nations, great and small, have now begun to fall
Oh come let us go back to God, go back to God”  written by Thomas Dorsey, as sung by Donnie McClurkin

When I talk about backsliding, I often mean it negatively.  When I backslide, I’m going to back old, often negative, habits and ways of thinking. Like every normal person, I have times when I’m disciplined, motivated, and therefore feeling and being successful.  If I “relapse” into past behavior, it is usually because I’m exhausted, demoralized, and struggling physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.  Life goes in cycles.  It’s never a journey of point A to point B.  So why do I hold myself to that unrealistic black and white thinking?  What if “going back” has its benefits?

Para los que me conocen, y’all know I’m often goal-driven. I take on reading challenges, savings challenges, and prayer challenges. I train for half-marathons and for street performances of various choreographies.  I do weeklong class hops, novenas of daily masses, 40 day fasts, and multi-week fitness programs. But I don’t always complete these goals to the best of my ability.  Sometimes I don’t complete them at all.  Then I spend some time beating myself up about those failures.  Fortunately, time and life experience has taught me to seek humility.  Life has taught me that failure is a good time to turn back to God.

I said it.  As important as my faith life is to me, God doesn’t always come first. “Well, I guess we won’t go to Mass Carnaval weekend because I’m not about to sit in church in my costume.”  God doesn’t always fit on a busy schedule.  While I thank God when I’m succeeding, I spend less time with Him while I’m busy working towards that success.  I’m going, going, going.  Literally and figuratively running.  A quick grace over a rushed meal. Half a rosary done on the commute from one family activity to another.  I don’t build in time for devotion.

It is in times of struggle and failure that I truly give myself over to God.  When I’ve been diagnosed with illnesses, I have stood with God.  When I’ve struggled with work situations, I have had long, emotional conversations with God.  When I have lost loved ones, I have found comfort from God.  Where human motivation and individual goals waver, God is constant.

I know I have lots of work to do in the next few months. I will make my faith life part of that work.  Going back to God is wonderful.  Staying with Him must be a goal. 2eec7f06e6a3add42dfda620cb60b94d

More than a parade

Last year, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, I rose before sunrise and began to get dressed for Carnaval.  I had asked to be able to sit on the float in full costume, my Wound-Vac covered in our theme colors.  I began the long process of applying my makeup.  As I applied the beautiful shades of color to my face, I began to feel sad. I had wanted so badly to be off the Wound-Vac.  True, I had never finished learning all the choreography. But the best part of performing in Carnaval is feeling a part of a body, a body of alegria and axe, a body which exudes grace, strength, and pure joy.  With the little machine literally attached to my body, I knew I exuded pain and weakness. I burst into tears and called my mom. “No puedo hacerlo. (I can’t do it.)”  She understood and plan B, which was to sit in the grandstand with M and my mom, went into effect. I took off my beautiful gown and donned my samba school tee.   I stopped crying, grabbed my camera, and headed to the parade.
The morning of SF Carnaval 2014

I cheered loudly for SambaFunk; they were magnificent.  I also cried. I consider it one of the more painful moments during my recovery from surgery. That was nearly a year ago.

I came to SambaFunk through a lovely woman I met on Dance Party. A brilliant dancer, she had asked me to check out her samba community sometime. I expressed mild interest; I had taken two samba classes prior to my difficult pregnancy and had always wished I continued.  A few months passed before I finally took initiative and asked when I could join her in class. On a cold January evening, I walked into the second floor studio of the Malonga and within two hours, I had found a second home. King Theo’s wisdom, love, and positive energy inspired me to take on this new creative and physical challenge.
After my first SambaFunk class in January 2013. Photo by Elise Evans
At exactly this time, I was preparing for a job interview. I would be competing for a vice principal position in a different district. I am convinced the energy I received through my dance class helped boost my confidence. I got the job. I was learning how to be a carnavalesco at the same time I was learning to succeed in a new work environment.  SambaFunk has been more than a dance class. The energia it provides has been a blessing.
Taking part in Carnaval has tapped into so many aspects of my personality.  I rediscovered the superhero in me as a Funky Gogo Love Bomber. I also learned half-marathons are nothing compared to parading nearly two miles in 6-inch platform boots.
GoGo Bombers doing their thing, SF Carnaval 2013. Photo by Yvel Sagaille.
As I struggled with illness, I reexamined the grace and power that is inherent in being a woman, beautifully heralded in my incarnation as a regal Star Mother.  While I didn’t get to parade in Carnaval last year, I was able to take part in the San Diego Brazilian Day parade.
SambaFunk, Brazilian Day San Diego 2014. Photo by Soul Brasil.
My mother and M traveled with me and stood proudly on the sidelines cheering for us.  With each Carnaval, I learn more about costuming and parading.  I also realize it is more than a parade.

Obrigado SambaFunk for welcoming my little family into your embrace.

Rambo and M, Pan-African Film Fest 2014
w M on the red carpet at the Pan-African Film Fest 2014
Thank you for the prayers and love you gave me when I feared the worst about my health and for your loyalty and support during my recovery. Thank you for helping me become the best version of myself.
Preparing for SF Carnaval 2015, M’s first Carnaval

Emancipation

“…The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul…” Walt Whitman
“No tears, no time to cry
Just makin’ the most of life” As sung by Mariah Carey
“I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free…” Civilla Martin and Charles Gabriel 
Lately, I have received good news about my health with little fanfare. No jumping and down. No shouting. No fist-pumping or high-fiving or end zone-dancing.  I think about it.  Instead, I take it in and breathe.   All that training in mindfulness is put into practice for several moments of serenity.  It has made these milestones sweeter somehow. 
In the last two weeks, I took on a new role.   While resuming my professional duties, I also became my own nurse. My morning routine once again shifted to include a wound care session.  Every day, I gathered my supplies: mirror, scissors, gauze pads, wound cleanser spray, and a Muppets bag M got at Subway containing skin protectant film, swabs, large Band-Aids, and Aquacel dressing.  I would remove the previous day’s bandage and shower (oh the joy of a real, warm shower without the incessant beeping alarm or the soggy plastic bags). Then I’d pack my own wound and tell my body to heal, heal so I can be cleared to travel and cleared to exercise. Once a week, I would take measurements as my home health nurses used to do and I began to see rapid progress.  Even before yesterday’s appointment, I knew I would hear good news.  Still, it was nice to hear my nurse say, “You’re free.” 
Of course, this journey is far from over. I will continue to dress my wound with topical ointment. My wound will close in a week or two. The scar from my surgery won’t heal for several months. I will have to be aware of any changes in my body, to see if the IGM is responding to my daily medication. In the immediate future, I will resume exercise to regain muscle and cardiovascular fitness.
I know I could have tied on my new running sneakers last night and gone out for my first run since February’s Superbowl Sunday 5k.  I know I could have worked out this morning.  But as with the removal of the Wound-Vac, the removal of the wound packing felt odd.  As before, I felt vulnerable and exhausted.  I slept better than I have in a few weeks.
 This morning, Rambo and I watched a movie about the end of the world and how one family faced it with serenity and with love.  Because along with wound care technology and the quality medical professionals I am fortunate to work with, I know I have made it through this experience  because of my will, the love of my family and friends, and the serenity that comes with accepting God’s grace. 

All is blessing.  

A big bear hug

I did not samba in the parking lot when I left the hospital yesterday afternoon. In my mind, I pictured myself joining the roda. That celebration will come in time; perhaps after these first two weeks of being Vac-free.  But my good news wasn’t real until I saw my daughter. The look on her face was one of genuine joy, hope, and gratitude.  Our hug was one of homecoming. 
After 44 days, I’m no longer attached to Mr. Backpack. I will be slowly resuming my normal routine.  I will return to work Monday. I’m still restricted from exercise: half-marathon training and SambaFunk classes are on hold until the doctor sees more progress in my healing. My wound is not closed but is 1.5 centimeters close. The surrounding skin, sore and blistered from weeks of adhesive tape and air-tight sealants, will need to heal.  As for the cosmetic healing, that will be a longer process, six months or more and one I choose not to ponder for now. 
Strangely enough,  after the Wound-Vac was turned off, I felt exhausted and experienced a level of pain I hadn’t felt in weeks.  I didn’t let it intimidate me. It is my body’s turn to take over the healing process. I will continue to take my recovery one day and one moment at a time.  Lots of bear hugs won’t hurt. 

Fifteen reasons to pray

What I miss:
Bear hugs with my daughter
Running
Dancing
Feeling completely clean
Getting up from sitting without having to carry the vac
What I won’t miss:
Bandaging
Blistered, irritated skin
Pain
Knowing my daughter is suffering from stress
Being disappointed by others  
What I appreciate:
Being infection-free for five weeks
A renewed sense of humility
The love of my immediate family
The unflagging and unconditional support of my close friends and dance community

The opportunity to value the blessing of health

Measure of a year

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?” “Seasons of Love” by Jonathan Larson, Rent

I had big plans for 40. I was going to reach my weight-loss goal.  I was going to sign up and train for my first triathlon.  I was going to write more, perhaps weekly.  There was a time in my life when I might look back on this year, realize I didn’t meet some of these goals, and feel a sense of disillusionment or wistfulness.  But my true goal, the one that has been central to my daily life since my recovery, has been to live and love as much as possible. I met my goal.  

In this wonderful year, I revisited Rome,

 helped my daughter begin and grow to love school, 

ran three half-marathons, 

made a major career shift in returning to administration, 


and performed in Carnaval. 


I gained a niece, 

a godson, 

and a stepdaughter.  


I couldn’t help but grin while preparing to blow out the candles on the cake at my pre-birthday family dinner last night.  I smiled because I don’t really have any wishes.  I have everything and that has nothing to do with material objects or bucket lists or even goals. 
I have love.


  And that is my life. 

On missing Roma

“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearnings.” Giotto de Bondone


“…the grandeur that was Rome…” from “To Helen” by Edgar Allan Poe

I am finally recovering from my bout of blues. I slept for seven hours last night, in fits and starts as has been my habit since I became a parent, but much better than four or five hours for sure. My appetite has returned. Yesterday was one of my typically busy days: exercise, work, socializing, shuttling my daughter to class, cooking dinner, spending time with our new puppy. I am home, nearly a week after I boarded several planes to make my way home.

When I visit any destination for more than a couple of days, I do experience homesickness. I find that I also experience a sort of vacation-sickness once I am home, that I do feel a temporary sense of loss and yearning to be back in my home away from home.  The longer I stay, the longer I may miss that other place, that different life. 

My third visit to Rome was nothing short of transformative. Almost as soon as I stepped into the humidity and heat of a Roman summer, I felt a great sense of relief, freedom, and possibility. Granted the trip was a 40th birthday present to me and my little family, so it makes sense that it would feel like a milestone and/or emotional journey. It was both. 
















I do miss the cobblestones beneath my feet. The heat. The crowds on the trains and on the city streets. The expanse of sky.  The dark coolness of little churches and immense cathedrals.

But I’m no longer sad.