Stuck in the mud together

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When put in a tough spot, people react differently. Some panic and make matters worse, some remain calm and search for a solution, and others resign in defeat. The first and third reactions only delay success. It’s the ones who remain calm, stay focused and work hard who get out of the tough spot the quickest. I typically transition between the three reactions based on how challenging the situation is. Luckily, he is one of the few people who is resourceful, persistent and doesn’t waste time panicking in tough spots. When Friday’s dilemma occurred, however, all bets were off.

I went to visit my boyfriend for the weekend. He and his brother purchased two jet-skies a month or two prior, and we planned to take them out on Lake Perry Friday afternoon. The weather was hot and sunny, and we knew the lake would provide the relief we desperately needed. After filling them up at the gas station, we cruised down the road toward the lake. Being an excellent driver, he backed the trailer into the lake just enough so I could board my jet-ski and hold the other in place while he parked the truck. Holding onto a jet-ski while holding onto the dock was no small task. The wind produced some small waves, which made it crucial for me to hold on for dear life so I didn’t float away with both jet-skis.

When he returned and jumped on his jet-ski, we took off around the lake. The waves, as I mentioned, were very active that afternoon. When the jet-skis made contact, water was thrusted into our faces, but we didn’t mind. Traveling at high speed, crashing into oncoming waves was exhilarating. Every time I hit a wave and was air-bound for a few seconds, I screamed! This was only the second time I’d been on a jet-ski. The first was several weeks before when we ventured up the river, connected to the lake, on the back of one jet-ski. After cruising around the lake, we decided to revisit the river.

We took off in that direction, crossing under the bridge, when out of the corner of my eye I saw him stop. Immediately, I slowed down and turned off my jet-ski. What’s wrong? He informed me that he couldn’t move. What do you mean you can’t move? He said he thought he was stuck on something. About a minute later, we discovered both jet-skis were stuck in mud. After he dismounted to check his jet-ski, I did the same. The moment my foot touched the water it sunk about 6-8 inches into the mud. At this point, I started to internally panic. I looked around. We weren’t close to land and there was no way anyone on a boat could help because then they’d be stuck too. We were totally alone.

The only thing we could do was start pushing. To no one’s surprise, the jet-skis were not light and the mud was not quick to lighten its grip on them. I felt like I was standing in quick sand. The mud was slippery and heavy, which made walking and staying upright difficult. For the next hour we pushed. At some point, my boyfriend walked back toward the bridge to see how far the mud extended. Let’s just say it was more than 50 feet. Once he got his jet-ski far enough, he came back to help me… the one of us who was truly struggling. I’d never felt so weak in my life. My arms and legs were burning, and I felt out of breath and exhausted. Having two people push one jet-ski was a lot easier, and once we got them far enough he checked the bottoms for mud and then told me to start mine. It worked. I waited in anticipation as he started his. It also worked. There was a huge sigh of relief from both of us.

We both took off toward the dock and loaded the jet-skis onto the trailer. With remnants of mud and lake water still stuck to our swimsuits, we returned to the house and jumped in the shower to wash off the horrendous afternoon. Exhaustion did not even begin to describe how we felt. We were both relieved it was over, but upset it happened in the first place. We never should’ve gone up the river. We should’ve stayed in the lake. Then he said something that made me smile, “This means we can get through anything together.” That was absolutely true.

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Falling victim to instant gratification

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Instant gratification. That’s what we want. It’s the thing we’ve grown accustomed to with the rapid growth of technology. We place an order, and we expect that order to be fulfilled whether in a few minutes (coffee shop) or a few days (Amazon purchase). The virtue of patience is becoming a distant memory and scarce trait. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to wait or enjoy free time. We expect our days to be stocked full of distractions, deadlines, and multi-tasking, especially at our jobs. We want to be busy. Without it, we’re left twiddling our thumbs and having a staring contest with the clock on our computer screen. The day passes by at the speed of molasses as compared to a furiously fast jet plane when we’re busy.

I’ve fallen victim to instant gratification. In the last several years, I’ve lived my life in fast forward. I was pushing myself to learn new things, go above and beyond on assignments, and continuously search for the next step. First, my focus was getting through the drudgery of high school, and then I quickly moved to a junior college environment and kicked butt in the academic reputation department. After that, it was choosing where to spend two years knocking out my BA. Then after that, it was all about job hunting and finding the first professional stepping stone. In the midst of all that, I ended and started relationships, celebrated milestones and experienced loss. I know I felt happy so many times during the past several years (I have photographic proof). The truth is, when we’re so busy living our lives in the fast lane, are we truly allowing ourselves the time to enjoy our lives? Or are we just focused on the next project, next deadline and next major step?

“When you delay instant gratification, you’ll experience long-term satisfaction.”

This week, I started my first job post-college. The first week of any job is always different. You’re getting used to your new surroundings, trying to develop relationships with your co-workers and impress your supervisor, and realizing you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. My first few days gave me nothing to occupy my time with… no deadlines, no projects, and no meetings. It’s been a lot of thumb-twiddling, ear bud popping and website reading. After the first couple days, I felt frustrated. Each day felt extensively longer than the last, and I was glancing at my clock way more than needed. Then I thought about the root of my frustration: that same privilege of instant gratification. In this case, it’s like I had placed an expedited order on some new projects to work on that had a delayed arrival date.

I realized that even though we live in a society of quick service, on-time delivery and fast-paced living – it doesn’t mean that we have to get agitated when life sometimes switches to the slow lane. Things are bound to pick up at work. After all, I am still the “new girl.” Soon enough I will be swimming in projects, and before I know it the clock will read 5 p.m. and the workday will be over.

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Key fit, knob turned and door opened

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Most of the time when we’re traveling down a dark, uncertain tunnel for long enough, it becomes impossible for us to imagine the light at the end. The same goes for rejection. The more rejection we face, the harder it becomes for us to picture what success will look like. Over the past six months, I’ve been slowly meandering through the tunnel of job hunting. At times, I felt like I was progressing, while other times I felt two steps back. Every door I approached took the form of an interview, I would try to use my key to open it, but the knob wouldn’t budge and the exit would remain locked. I didn’t possess the right key or in terms of job hunting, the right qualifications. The lack of a key forced me to try another direction. Pretty soon the tunnel transformed into an intricate, aggravating maze. I feared I would never reach the end.

I believe in trusting God’s plan, but after being stuck in this tunnel for months, I started to doubt and even worse, I grew angry and distant from God. I blamed him for not giving me the right key to access the right door. I doubted my skills and believed no company wanted to hire me. This constant rejection pushed me further from picturing what my life would look like when the right key came my way in the form of a job offer. I was so tired of walking aimlessly through the dark, confusing maze. I’d begged God so many times for a new opportunity. I told him I was ready to start working, but he didn’t immediately answer, and I was past the point of impatience.

Then a week ago, I received a follow-up email from a local recruitment firm regarding a resume I’d sent in. She met with me and set up an interview with a telecommunications company that shall remain nameless. At this point, I’d trained myself not to get my hopes up. None of my keys had worked so far, so what was going to be different this time around? Just like with every other interview, I prepped, dressed appropriately and showed up on time. The recruiter I’d been working with told me to call afterward and provide my feedback. Before I had the chance to call her, my phone rang. After rambling on for five minutes with my positive remarks, she said “Well Amy, I’m glad to hear that because they’ve already contacted us and want to make you an offer.”

Dear Lord, thank you for the assurance that when one door of opportunity closes, you will open a bigger and better door for me. Teach me to trust in you more deeply and lean not on my own understanding. Amen

My heart started racing. My interview started at 2 p.m., lasted about an hour and I’d just gotten home. How could they have already made an offer? I expressed my disbelief and she simply said, “They were looking to be wowed, and you wowed them.” It was at this moment I could feel the warmth of the light because I’d made it to the end of the tunnel. The key fit, the knob turned and the door opened. That night after the excitement settled, I knelt down by my bed and opened in prayer. I thanked God for this incredible opportunity and apologized for doubting him every step of the way. This position was everything I’d been looking for from the start: local company, great pay, collaborative team setting, creative department, writing-based position… and so on. Every door I failed to pass through hadn’t been a good enough fit, and at the time I didn’t see that. I was blinded by my frustration, but God had taken care of me, knew what I deserved and followed through.

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Reexamine, reflect and resolve

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Relationships are not rainbows. They are not covered in hot fudge and maraschino cherries basking in beautiful sunlight. Relationships are hard work. They involve compromise, active listening, understanding and forgiveness. Despite the first few months being simple, you’d be a fool to believe you could continue to sail through naively believing that everything will always be that easy. There are going to be speed bumps and misunderstandings that lead to rough patches. There will be times when you want to grab your partner’s shoulders and shake them because of how stupid you think they’re being. There will be moments when you’re fighting to win, not fighting for the sake of the relationship’s equilibrium. There are even times when you think there’s no way the relationship can continue, and you want to quit. These are the precise moments when you need to step back to reexamine, reflect and resolve.

Reexamine: Think about all the issues. All the reasons you’ve fought. Now dig deeper. What were you hoping to achieve during these fights? When tempers were raging, did you say something hurtful you didn’t mean to say? What was your motive? What did you want? Were you not being heard or were you not doing your part to listen to your partner? When reexamining the issues, it’s important to cast your ego aside and look at things from a neutral perspective. It is only then that you can see where you faltered.

Reflect: This is usually the time to bring God into the process. Pray for guidance, pray for him to open your heart to his wisdom, and pray for a change. A change to learning how to fight and present your arguments fairly. A change to listening first and then responding. And finally, a change to connect more deeply with your partner through God’s love. By casting aside your ego and praying for God to open your heart, that is when these good changes will happen.

Resolve: When you each have time to go through the first two stages separately, the conversation you have during the resolve stage will be all the more fruitful, insightful and connective. One issue at a time, the rough patch is smoothed over with understanding, forgiveness and love. Selfishness is brought into the light and destroyed with selflessness. You two find a new appreciation for each other through God and plan a new way to communicate and handle the inevitable speed bumps and misunderstandings that lie ahead. But this time, the fight will be fair with a new goal in mind: maintaining the relationship’s equilibrium.

“Relationships include: fights, jealousy, arguments, faith, tears, disagreements, but a real relationship fights through all that with love.” 

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Going the distance with God’s help

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For all 23 years of my life and even before I came into existence, my dad has been an avid runner. From light jogs around our neighborhood to hardcore marathon training, he’s stayed committed to this form of exercise. He’s been a member of the Olathe Run Club and has participated in 4+ marathons. Needless to say, his legs are hands down the most muscular part of his body. Running is his ideal way to exercise. It gives his mind a chance to relax and shifts his focus to the sound of his shoes rhythmically hitting the pavement. Unfortunately as the body ages, certain body parts don’t take kindly to the strain of excessive running.

Over the last couple months, my dad has been training for his next marathon. For those of you who don’t know, marathon training is extensive. You can’t just wake up the morning of and decide to run 26.2 miles. You have to condition your body and build up the necessary endurance to run nonstop for 2-4 hours depending on your pace. My dad told me that his favorite part of the marathon experience was the atmosphere and camaraderie. He loves the cheering from onlookers and presence of hundreds of other runners. After training for so long, you can only imagine his disappointment when he started battling crippling back and foot pain. The pain has gotten so intense that he fears he may not be able to run at all on Saturday.

The news was devastating. It sparked feelings of frustration, anger and resignation. He tried everything to help ease the pain from sleeping on the floor, stretching more, alternating ice and heat to visiting the chiropractor. When I heard him say he needs a miracle, I knew I needed some backup. I texted several friends to form a prayer army in hopes of easing his pain enough so he could at least run/walk the marathon. My dad thinks praying for this kind of thing is silly when there are so many other superior prayer intentions. I told him, “Dad, if this is important to you, it’s important to God.”

During a visit this morning, his chiropractor instructed him not to do anything until a follow-up visit tomorrow. He will be making his final decision based on how he feels after resting today and tomorrow. Luckily if he doesn’t feel up for it, because of the race director’s approval, he can defer his participation to next year’s marathon and not lose out on the money he spent on this year’s.

Lord please send my dad a new source of comfort, strength and healing for the marathon on Saturday. He loves to run, and he cannot conquer this challenge without your help. Please send extra blessings his way. Amen.  

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Easter with a surprise twist

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He is not here for HE IS RISEN as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. Matthew 28:6

This morning I woke up with a smile on my face and a light in my heart because we were celebrating Jesus’ resurrection! After scarfing down two delicious cinnamon rolls, I slid into a brightly patterned dress and finished getting ready for Mass. The five of us then piled into our car and headed for the 10 a.m. Mass knowing full-well it was only 9:15 a.m. and we lived only 10 minutes away. We expected this Mass to be packed in order to accommodate the “Cafeteria Catholics,” or those who only attended Mass on major religious holidays.

As we crossed the vestibule, my heart soared as I caught a glimpse of the altar. On Good Friday, the altar was stripped of all decorations including candles, plants, flowers, etc. Today, the alter was flooded with white lilies and beautiful candles. I was so excited to be there with my family, and then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and saw the mother of my ex (the one I dated for almost five years). Seeing her was not a surprise because I often saw her and her husband on Sundays. The surprise was her response to my comment: “I thought you’d be in Nashville for Easter.” My ex, had been residing in Nashville for quite some time. Her response was quick, “He’s here today.” All at once my mind began to spin. He was here? I was quick to ask her to clarify, “He’s here at Mass with you?” She replied, “Yes, he and his girlfriend should be here shortly.”

My mind continued to race. It had been over two years since our breakup, and in that time we had never been in the same place. My palms grew sweaty and my knees grew weak as we continued to walk toward the pews. “Well tell him I would love to say hi and meet his girlfriend.” I shuddered at the words my mouth had decided to spout out. I DID NOT want to meet his girlfriend nor did I want to speak to him. It’s not that I had anything against him or his girlfriend, I just knew it would be weird. She and I parted ways, and I went and collapsed next to my mom. I still could not believe what I’d said. I knew the minute he arrived, his mom would regurgitate my exact words.

I tried to put it all out of my mind as I entered into silent prayer before Mass. The church continued to fill and soon the opening song broke out. Easter Mass is one of my favorite services because of the music, homily and feeling of joy, and Mass today was no different. The choir’s sound was full and beautiful; the homily was insightful and inspiring; and joy was bursting from my heart and soul. My anxious feelings didn’t return until the final hymn concluded and everyone started moving toward the vestibule. It was then that I had to make a decision. Talk to my ex and meet his new girlfriend? Or run? Disappear? Fly away? I wished the last two options were possible.

My family and I remained in our pew for a few minutes while we waited for the crowds to vanish. I then followed my family to the vestibule for a family photo. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his mother point me out, but without acknowledging any of them I continued toward the vestibule. After we got our family photo taken care of, I scanned the vestibule to see if they were lurking around. With no confirmed sighting, I ventured out to the parking lot. I felt a strange knot in my stomach. It was a mixture of relief and regret. I was relieved I’d avoided such an awkward situation, but regretted not speaking to him. What would he have said? What would I have said? Would we have hugged or shaken hands? What would his girlfriend have acted like? All of these questions would go unanswered because of the choice I made: avoidance.

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Grateful for God’s artistic hand

Holy Week started yesterday, and at the end of this weekend we will celebrate the end of Lent with Christ’s resurrection. Today I watched the 36th video of my Lenten journey with Dynamic Catholic. The video, Blessed and Grateful, was about counting our blessings  when we’re feeling down during our journey. By counting our blessings, we’re inviting positivity back into our point of view. We’re reminding ourselves to focus on the good, which usually outweighs the suffering.

The Dynamic Catholic speaker said, “When I get discouraged or when I get down, the thing I’ve found that works—and works every time, and works the best, and works the fastest—is gratitude. 

Every time I sit down to pray, the first thing I say is, “Dear Lord, thank you for all the blessings in my life.” I have led a very blessed life that is filled with a loving family, good friends, countless opportunities, essentials (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.), a strong faith life and a functional body, mind and spirit. I’m grateful for the protection my guardian angels provide me, and I’m thankful for the guidance and unconditional love God gives me when I’m feeling lost or alone. It’s difficult to focus on what’s making your life tough when you start thinking about all the things that make your life wonderful.

Over the past week, I’ve had two nature-based experiences that gifted me a handful of amazing photos. I’m not a professional photographer by any means, but I enjoy capturing the art of nature. My favorite photos usually involve a sunset or interesting cloud activity. However, this week I focused on ground-level subjects. The first batch was taken during a walk last Friday. I’d been having a terrible day battling a sour mood. So I decided to take a walk to clear my head in some nearby woods, and here is what I saw.

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Then yesterday, my sister needed to go to Mill Creek Park in Shawnee, Kansas to perform an experiment with her Environmental Science class. While she was there, I walked along a shady trail next to the creek. I couldn’t believe how serene and beautiful everything was. The rain had transformed the bushes and grass and brought out several small flowers. I knew I couldn’t leave without snapping a few photos of the beauty I was surrounded by.

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As I look back at these photos, I can name one more blessing. That blessing is God’s continuous artistic talent. He paints the breathtaking sunsets, the colorful flowers, the soft grasses and the flowing streams. He will never stop surprising us with the copious amounts of wonder that surround us, and that is what I am thankful for.

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