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All my crosses

Approximately five months ago, during Lent, I had a negative reaction to a photo a friend had taken of me during that time.  I had been dreading seeing it. Once I did, it struck me in a terrible way, a mixture of anger, disappointment, and indignation.   I often say physical appearance shouldn’t matter but it does. How we look reveals a lot about lifestyle and health. Seeing myself made me feel I had really let others and myself down.  It is a struggle to take better care of myself. It always is and when times are stressful, it is one of the first priorities to shift downwards.  

That night after seeing that photo, I took a mile walk with my dog. I haven’t always felt my age but I do feel older.  It can be disheartening to experience these feelings. That night, I prayed on it. The walk helped me feel better. It was an opportunity to focus on breathing and moving. 

That struggle with my fitness was in keeping with my Lenten journey and in keeping with my personal life journey.  Lent isn’t the only time I assess and reflect on where I am in my life. Reflection isn’t always positive. I don’t always feel that I am growing and evolving. I also ponder why I’m not evolving the way I did two, five or ten years ago. I am my own worst critic and the person with whom I am constantly competing.  My main point of comparison is the person that I once was. I achieved a certain goal in my fitness and I was so proud. Then that level of fitness fell away as I failed to maintain that achievement. I allowed work to wear me down. I was derailed by feelings of inadequacy, fear and failure. But I had enough of the excuses. I knew how to help myself. I had to push through that doubt and fear. The morning after my night time walk, I went to boot camp for the first time in several weeks.  I felt supported by my coaches. It was good to be back in community and encouraging other people who were struggling. It was a powerful return to routines that nurture me.  

 I always have the capacity to change. I don’t always have the will.  It becomes a vicious cycle because then I want to hide and not push myself; this wasn’t the first time I’ve fallen away from being healthy. For example, my prayer life continues to be an area of growth.  I used to waste mornings on social media though I knew it kept me from daily prayer. This choice to bypass discipline frustrates me. I have to consciously work on my willingness to be transformed. 

Discipline is the answer. Since that time, I have consistently worked out 5 to 6 days a week by lifting weights in our home gym, taking samba, hip hop, and kickboxing classes, and working out at my training gym.  I have been praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the rosary daily. There are days when I’m not feeling motivated or forgiving or close to God or even close to myself. But I keep pushing. I am taking up my cross. It is not easy nor will it ever be. At times, it can be painful and inspire tears or anger. But I committed to taking up all my crosses during Lent. All these months later, I’m still moving forward through and past those struggles. When I look at myself in photos, I’m trying to be more compassionate and loving to that ever evolving mujer.  

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Thank you LIzzo for inspiring this costume!

Mama’s Touch

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I had an important presentation at work this week.  Of course, I had to stay late past my regular working hours; that is how the educational world rolls(two years ago, I did a major presentation after 11:30pm.  Te imaginas?) I had prepared my PowerPoint slides. I had practiced aloud. I had printed out notes. I brainstormed potential questions. Since I had planned to stay at the office, I worked on other pending items.   

Though she doesn’t yet have her own phone, M sometimes borrows her nana’s or grandma’s phone and sends me texts via WhatsApp. I look forward to these exchanges. They brighten my day. After all she is the reason I work as hard as I do. As part of getting ready for my late work night,  I had to make sure she had rides to and from dance class. I also reminded her to feed her dog and practice her piano. Imagine my dismay when she asked me if her dance shoes were at Grandma’s house. I had left my office and driven to a nearby shopping center to pick up some dinner for myself.  I turned around , looked in my backseat and saw her dance bag. I jumped out of the car to grab the bag. All the shoes that she needed were there. While I was annoyed, I didn’t hesitate to come up with a solution. I told her I would drive home to bring her shoes, possibly drive her to the dance studio and then drive back to my presentation. Because I’m her mom and that’s how I do.

I’m hard on myself on the way I parent. I believe all parents are. I have written in the past about how I question where and when I spend my time. I have reflected on the decisions I have made as a mom. I have questioned how my career and my passions affect my ability to be a truly engaged and compassionate parent. When M needs me, I will be there. An extra commute Is nothing. The thought of my daughter missing out on what she loves to do was something I didn’t want.  I can sacrifice the time. I’m usually rewarded with a big hug, smiles, and sweet words of gratitude. I love all that but I didn’t need it. What I needed to know was that I had provided for my child. I have done it before and I will do it again. I may make a sarcastic remark and maybe give some side eye. No matter what, I will always come through for M.

I did make it to my presentation on time. M made it to her class on time with the right shoes. That’s not the Midas touch; that’s the Mama’s touch.  

Year of change

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Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change, into something rich and strange…Shakespeare, The Tempest

Two weeks ago, one of my dance sisters asked us on Facebook to share highlights from the past year. I shared that I celebrated 10 years with my boyfriend and that I walked away from toxic personal and professional situations.  In a year of change, I struggled with the latter the most.  It’s never easy to walk away from people or relationships, even those that hurt us. We hang onto to what’s familiar. Pero es necesario para seguir adelante.

Quien soy yo para decir que algo es dañino?  Welp, that’s it. I decide what or who is toxic to me. If I can no longer grow within a relationship, whatever kind it may be, it’s harmful. This is not to say a toxic situation cannot have positive aspects. I loved my last job; there were only a few toxic individuals that I could no longer tolerate. It is my right to say enough already. More importantly, it was time to test my confidence and leadership. Best decision of 2017! In my personal life, I made the decision to distance myself from a group with which I had worked for many years. I created beautiful memories and felt great joy during most of my time with them. But the cons greatly outweighed the pros this past year. So I made the decision to walk away.

The second half of last year was tough due to adjusting to all the changes. I experienced grief over the loss of familiar faces and experiences. Yo tuve que hacerlo por mi. I have to live with myself. I have to get up every morning and feel good about who I am. I choose to do the things that are going to help me grow and make me feel good about myself.

Though I took a break from writing, I have been doing what feeds my soul. I have continued to dance. My samba teacher is nurturing and loving. She was exactly who I needed at this time. It is so important to be seen, heard, and encouraged.  I needed that one-on-one support, not only in dance technique and style, but as a woman.

I have exercised every day during the winter break. I admit I can be an emotional eater and also that I can lose motivation when anxious or sad; this time of transition tested me and won.  Pero se acabo.  I will get back on track with my physical fitness; I will do the work. But I don’t want it to happen because #carnavalsooncome. I want to stay fit because it will be best for my overall health.

I ended the year with the friends who have been in my life for decades who know, love, accept and embrace me. Al fin y al cabo, I alone choose who and what will help me grow. Sea changes help me see changes.

Greener grass

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I started my new job approximately a month ago. I am energized, excited, happy, and hopeful. These are positive feelings which bode well for my new start.   This is my 22nd year in secondary education.   It is my first year as principal.    During the summer, my friend, fitness and leadership guru @dymeetworld (find her on Instagram!) posted that “the grass is greener under me.” I really liked that post and idea. So often, when we change jobs, end relationships or move locations, we do so out of the feeling that the grass will be greener in a different situation. The grass can be green, yellow, or non-existent, no matter where you go.

My mindset is what I bring to every experience I have. I go into a new situation with an open mind and hopeful heart. To be happy is an action, not a feeling. It’s not about feeling bitterness and resentment about the past; it’s about challenging me to take new opportunities. I consistently aim to be my best self.  The grass is always going to be greener because I’m always looking for the best in even the darkest situation. I feel lighter. I feel free. I feel younger.  My last experience prepared me well for the job I now hold. No hay mal que por bien no venga. All experiences are for my growth and progress. Change moves me forward.  The grass is green underneath me.

*Thanks, dear friend, for sharing your positivity and wisdom with us. You will continue to inspire me in this new phase of my career.

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A very Good Friday

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I had the privilege of serving as a Eucharistic minister at Holy Thursday Mass. Ministry has been a gift. I have difficulty forgiving myself for the sinful choices I make and I wonder if I will collapse on the altar someday. It is a blessing to be able to offer Eucharist to my fellow parishioners. Those intimate moments when we look at one another and sometimes share smiles are beautiful. I feel small and humble. I am reminded of my call to service.

All the Eucharistic ministers were asked to take part in a procession during the transfer of the Eucharist. It was a simple procession around the church. We walked in lines of two. I was so proud to show reverence. As we approached the Blessed Sacrament, I sensed my loved ones who have died: Brett, Don, Charlene, David, both of my grandfathers. They were there as all the candles were gathered around the Blessed Sacrament. As we knelt, I felt the love of everyone around me including those who have crossed over. It was a perfect way to end Lent.

I am truly grateful for these last 40 days. Despite my struggles, I gained so much. I recognize the blessing of being M’s mother and to model love the way God loves me. Listening to music that promotes spiritual reflection and speaking and speaking daily about my faith and experiences has been transformative. Writing for 40 days has changed me. I will soon be announcing a major change in my life. That would not have been possible if I hadn’t been in the middle of my Lenten journey. I’m more aware of who I am and of who God intends me to be. I am grateful to God.  This is a very Good Friday.

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Storm

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This #transformationtuesday was one of setbacks.  As I commuted through a rainstorm, I felt hopeless and helpless.  At work, I was in charge for the day while managing ongoing crises and beginning the annual round of state testing.  After having been horribly shrill with M for the second morning in a row, I cried as I drove through traffic over the East Bay hills.

Those moments of feeling completely overwhelmed make me question my plans and goals. I don’t know if I should pursue them. I don’t know if I’m ready for a bigger leadership role. I want to feel like I’m making a difference for the community I serve. But there are other goals that are closer to my heart. I want to write.   I want to be a good mom. I’m in the middle of the storm. I’m trying to seek the eye and maintain hope. It’s hard for me to believe I can move forward calmly, peacefully, and successfully; I don’t know that I have the strength.

I accept that I will experience these trying moments.  Like the day when I pictured myself sitting in the desert with the sun bearing down on me, I feel the rain pouring down on me. It makes me feel cold and unsure.  Entiendo que son cosas de la vida; knowing that doesn’t make those times any easier.

Best Laugh

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An old opponent resurfaced last week in a serendipitous way. This person misbehaved in typical fashion. I had to laugh. There’s comedy in someone intentionally acting spiteful to no avail.

In the moments that I experienced with this person, I felt great fear. (Lessons from The Exorcist) It was the deep intense fear of the devil I felt as a six year old watching The Exorcist. (Boy, bye)But I can now discuss my experiences and even find them humorous.  It could be the beginning of feeling at peace with what happened. Someday I may forgive the actions taken.  Life shaped this person into who they are; I often wonder if the behavior can be helped. This is someone in great need of prayer so, despite my history, I offer prayers.

ede47e0b262582d8c554c67c61c55b56I have to be able to laugh at my past trials. I have withstood physical, mental, and emotional health challenges. Now I’m pushing myself to be physically stronger. When I’m sweating and panting during my workouts, I am empowered by that struggle. I laugh because I’m joyful. I have often prayed to God to soften my heart and the hearts of others. We have to be inspired to open ourselves to light, love, and laughter. We have to be willing and brave. I was a very different person internally ten, twenty, thirty years ago. We all age and mature. I made the effort to change. I opened myself to becoming a better person. I pray that this person find the strength. It’s transformative.

I laugh because I came back from the dead. I laugh because I continue to look evil in the face and stand, possibly not as tall or as strong as I would like, but I stand. I feel indebted to God for being my shield in those awful moments when I wanted to run or hide. I laugh, despite my enemy. I laugh because I survived.

The 365 day a year challenge

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Tank says it all: Better sore than sorry

As I move forward with my 4 challenges in 40 days, there is a goal I didn’t set for the 40 days. An ongoing goal is my fitness challenge.

I have struggled with my weight and my relationship with food for my entire life. As experienced by many people, food has been an emotional outlet. This continues to be an area with which I struggle but over the years, I’ve gotten control of it. I eat healthy and cook regularly despite my busy schedule. It’s easy to cook two or three meals on the weekend. Often I haven’t had time to go to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Sometimes I forget to get that one ingredient that’s going to make a meal hearty or tasty. In the past few years, my weight has yo-yoed.  Since joining my new gym, I have maintained my weight loss and made gains in muscle tone and strength.  I didn’t always have those specific fitness goals. I always wanted to lose weight and be fit. This is the first time I care about being stronger and being toned, not simply because of Carnaval or other performances but because it’s good for my body.

I have struggled with health issues. Last year was the first year in three that I didn’t have major surgery. The summer before that, I was diagnosed with gallstones and had my gall bladder removed. Before that I had a rare inflammatory condition that affected my breast tissue and required  invasive surgery. I medicate for IGM daily. It was frightening. I continue to be very scared. I’ve lost a lot of family members to cancer and heart disease. Health fears are constantly in the back of my mind. My daughter is the reason I wouldn’t want anything to compromise my health. Being a mom inspired me to become more healthy in my 40s than I was when I was younger.

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Walking lunges with Bulgarian bag.  Photo by M.

In December, I joined a new gym. My samba sisters, specifically those who’ve attended this gym, inspired me. I had often flirted with the idea of taking on a fitness challenge there but I was intimidated. I am not a weight lifter. During my first two years in college, you could find me at the gym lifting weights. When I first started teaching during my 20s, I did weight training with a personal trainer. So it had been decades. It’s not been something I’ve been drawn to do. I like to run. I like to dance. I like cardio. My new workouts have required me to change my way of thinking and to push myself hard. It’s not easy. I struggle. I am smaller and slower and weaker than a lot of people. I gauge myself against myself so that if I can do something I was never able to do before then that is meeting my goal. This week at samba, we did abs and pushups and other muscle work. In the past, I would cringe and groan, “I can’t do this.” It came much more easily. My teacher passed me and said, “Well you train all the time.” One of my samba sisters who inspired me in my fitness journey told me I looked great. She is committed to fitness so her compliment meant so much to me.  It felt good to receive reassurance and validation from those I respect and love.

Fitness is not a 40 day challenge. It is a fun mental and emotional outlet which will extend my life. While I like that my clothes fit more loosely, I love that I am modeling health and wellness for my daughter.  She comes to the gym with me at least once a week and watches me sweat it out. Getting a thumbs-up from her is great motivation. Fitness will continue to be an everyday challenge and a lifelong goal.

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Literally back on the mic

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Though I began writing fiction at 9, I started writing personal reflections in my monthly column in La Voz de Berkeley when I was at Cal. I then created a blog, Mujer Hollering, inspired by that column, and more recently, my blog, Mujer Evolving. While writing fiction is a long-term goal, my #40blogsfor40days challenge is a great opportunity to share my work and honor my voice.

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I have suffered from writer’s block for many years partly due to time management. So am I going to complete this writing during Lent?  I decided to solve the problem this year by beginning my blogs as voice recordings. During my morning commute, I have been recording five minute voice memos to capture my thoughts. There’s plenty of writing material whether it’s personal experiences, music, TV, or themes I have pondered.  The commute has allowed me time to do some uncensored reflecting. When I’m at the computer, I get stifled by the desire to wordsmith or produce a clear and concise piece in a short amount of time.  Drafting differently gives me a chance to voice my ideas.

Then it is time to transcribe. I don’t type it word for word. I do some revision as I go. Sometimes I stop the playback as I tend to speak quickly.  I don’t want to lose any key ideas. Once it’s transcribed, I read it. I start the editing process. I take out repetitious phrases. I rearrange paragraphs. I add topic sentences, details, commentary, and transitions. I was an English teacher for thirteen years so I have those skills to help me produce a polished piece of writing. The verbal rough draft and more intense editing process has allowed me to produce work that is much more coherent. I’m excited that this may be an opportunity to fully commit to writing on a more regular basis.

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Gospel truths

On the First Friday of Lent (and Flashback Friday), as I listened to one of my favorite gospel music artists on my morning commute, I thought back to my discovery of gospel music.  I first heard Cliff Petty during the opening service at LA Congress in 2010. He was leading the psalm. My head snapped in that direction so quickly I almost fell over. I turned to my church sisters and repeatedly asked, “Who is that?” as I searched the program for his name.   I was so impressed by his voice that I listened for it during the remainder of the service. Immediately after wards, I went to the exhibit hall to look for his music company. I purchased his first CD and even spoke with him briefly. I’ve been following his career ever since. I went to his concert at LA Congress in 2013. I have taken music workshops he has presented including one in which the attendees were divided into choir sections. I was a “joyful noisemaker” as I don’t have a very good singing voice.  Cliff’s music really opened my heart to hearing the Word in a different way.

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My autographed CD; Cliff’s 2nd release

Part of being Catholic is the traditional aspect. The music is traditional and sacred-sounding such as masses in Latin, Gregorian chant and old hymns. The music is beautiful, formal, and ceremonial. Para ser franca, at times, it can be lacking in energy and joy. Gospel music has been a way to bring joy into my worship, faith life, and prayer life. The songs are based on scripture, psalms and on people’s reflections on their relationship with God. People sometimes associate gospel music with different denominations. That is silliness. Music is universal. I talk to many people who say Mass is boring and that they get nothing out of it. They are going out of obligation, not passion. Music enriches that experience. Even in the most boring of settings, I will sing. When I sing in church, I continue to reflect on the Word and my love of God. Singing allows me to do so in a way that is more creative and expressive. Because of my love for gospel music, I appreciate the liturgy and the songs chosen more.  I am familiar with different hymns. Gospel music has been a blessing which expands and enriches my faith life.

In the past when I have struggled with myself, even in those dark moments, my faith has sustained me. My faith has not been repressive, oppressive, or depressive. However,there are times when faith wavers; the busyness of life can shake me. A song can bring me back to myself. Gospel music has been both soothing and uplifting. It has been with me through times of poor health. When I’ve been so angry and I need to clear my head, gospel music has been the soundtrack. When work has been hectic, choosing the gospel station on Pandora has helped me to refocus. I’m grateful I have made listening to more gospel part of my prayer challenge.  I know it will give me more time to reflect and honor this sacred time.

Find W.Clifford Petty on Facebook at Cliff Petty’s music