Saturday, July 21, 2018

Two Pennies For My Thoughts

I've been absent for a bit with published posts, but I have half a dozen ones partially done. Lots of thoughts, not enough time. Life in New York feels fast and slow all at the same time. Days go by quickly yet weeks are slow. A New York minute can be both the blink of an eye or an eternity on a stuck train. Then a couple months ago I had a negative experience (I'll share later) in the city and I didn't want to post for a bit. But a couple weeks after that I had some friends come visit the city (Yay!!!) and it helped remind me of all the good things here.

***Side note***All you people thinking about visiting the Big Apple, I live here. Please come visit. You can stay with me. Or if you don't want to stay with me, we can meet up. I can give you suggestions or tips or whatever you want just please come visit***

Anyway, I had two thoughts in particular last night and this morning that impacted me enough to push me to write them down and share. And I felt like I wanted to be a bit more detailed than just a Facebook post would allow.

The first one came last night through the missionaries. I was having them over for dinner (most of my friends in NY are missionaries) and they shared a message about charity. I love this topic and they shared verses in Moroni 7, verses that I have perhaps read a couple hundred times. Starting in verse 42 it reads, "Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope. And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart. If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity."
And the thought that came this time was that often when we are seeking an answer but can't find it, or going through a trial with no end in sight, we sometimes attribute this to a lack of faith. At times this may be the truth- we need to hold on a little longer, trust a little more, believing that the Lord has a plan and the correct timing. But what if, instead of lacking faith, what we are really lacking and therefore preventing ourselves from recognizing an answer or relief -is charity. Without charity we are nothing. Without pure love, we are not acceptable before God. Maybe the Lord wants us to serve a bit more, open our hearts, forgive a trespass so that we can understand his answer. We can do a self reflection using verse 45- "And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." I know I have room for improvement in more than one of those, and just maybe acting on it will shift my heart to understand a bit more of Heavenly Father's love for me.

The second experience happened this morning while working at the Manhattan temple. Oh, how I love the temple. Recently, I was invited to become a trainer on my shift meaning that I have the opportunity and privilege to help train sisters as they start working at the temple and to help those already working to practice or refresh areas they want to work on. This morning I was assigned, along with my new trainee, to be a guide for a sister coming to receive her own endowment. As instructed we were down waiting in the front reception lobby a few minutes before she was expected to arrive at 6:30. When she did not arrive promptly at 6:30, I was not overly concerned. Travel in the city can be particularly difficult especially at that early hour. If they were coming from Queens or Long Island or New Jersey, perhaps they had delays in transit. As 7:00 came and still no sign of the sister, we began to ask the front desk and office if we should call or if they had already called. They said they would reach out, but that we should keep waiting in case they arrived. Meanwhile, the other sister and I continued to greet patrons entering the temple. In between we talked about the temple and spiritual thoughts. I was struck by the glass mosaic in the lobby- one I've seen numerous times, but perhaps not considered why it was here in the entrance to the Lord's house. It is a trifold pane of the Savior on the road to Damascus with two disciples after his resurrection. Upon reflection, it made me think that it was a great step tying our lives outside the temple to the temple itself. Just like the disciples, we do not always know when the Lord is walking with us. Though we may feel His Spirit, we do not always recognize it in our daily travels. However, upon entering the temple we realize that He has been with us all along and never leaves us, and we are now entering his house where we can always find Him. As the minutes continued to pass without any sign or word from this sister, my trainee and I said a prayer asking that they would be blessed and protected and that whatever was happening, it would work out. We talked about how hard the adversary works to keep people from taking important steps. The sister never came. Today at least. We waited the entire time we would have been with her, about 90 minutes. But I had the thought that just as we wanted to be there to receive this sister to the temple, even if she arrived late, how much more so does our Father in Heaven and our Savior wait for us? Though we may be tardy in repenting, or slow in getting our act together, the Lord does not walk away throwing his hands up in frustration that we are not coming. He waits for us. Granted, his waiting comes with a perfect perspective, knowing exactly what we need and when we need it to be able to progress and grow. Ours is a bit more limited, but we can still offer that grace to those around us. I have had the chance to be a guide on other occasions in the temple, times when they come early or a little late, sometimes flustered by obstacles in their path or apologetic for arriving late or without something they need. Other patrons come in from the city with the same urgency and frustration- not wanting to miss a session or having forgotten their recommend. We are reminded that we should wait upon the Lord ( a very active faithful choice), but we should also remember that the Lord waits for us.

Elder Jeffrey R Holland in April 2012 shared this powerful reminder: "However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.

Whether you are not yet of our faith or were with us once and have not remained, there is nothing in either case that you have done that cannot be undone. There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. “Come boldly [to] the throne of grace,” and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast “without money and without price” at the table of the Lord."

Friday, April 27, 2018

Letter To My Younger Self

In light of my high reunion on the horizon, reflections caused me to write this letter to my 17 year old self upon graduation.

Dear Kristi,
Congrats on graduating high school! But to be honest, it wasn't really a challenge for you. At least not the way it is for some. The challenge is on the horizon, but you don't know that yet. You are so ready for the next step, itching to move on and forward to whatever the next stage holds. You have a whole life plan, broken down into sections and goals with steps. Just barely in the last year, you started to realize that you are so much more than just your accomplishments, but you aren't quite sure what that means so you cling ever more tightly to these goals. Almost as if you believe that if you can just reach them, then you will understand. It doesn't work that way. It's a process, love. No degree or accomplishment or accolade will make you the woman you want to become. Don't misunderstand, goals are important and plans to reach them are essential. Yet the kind of goals you are making now are, well... cookie cutter, static, banal, predictable, and lacking individuality. They are the goals you think everyone else wants you to make. It's not true. Sure, others will talk about those categories of goals in general- education, career, financial- but the sooner you learn that you can set a goal for both the process and the end result, the sooner you will discover joy in the journey.

Up until now in your life, Success has been your tutor. But now Failure will take over. And it will hit you hard. You will failure gloriously Kristi and it will take you years to see the beauty in it. If I could give you just one piece of advice, it would be to not take failure as a description of yourself. You can miss the mark, but that does not make you a failure as a person. You are still learning, growing, still in process to become the kind of person you want to be. Not what, who. 

At the same time you are holding to these rigid expectations of yourself, you are trying to prepare and plan for having your own family in the future. So you try to define yourself by your relationships- by trying to be the best daughters, sister, friend, and girlfriend. And you will break yourself apart by doing so. I would not change what happened even if I could because it has brought us here. But I wish you would love yourself a little more, a little deeper, more unconditionally. Embrace your quirks and accept your flaws. The sooner you can love yourself, the sooner you will find that love reflected all around you wherever you go.

Knock-em dead Kristi. 

All my love. 

Of course, writing to yourself can be a great therapeutic device but I'm pretty sure I'd already done it before this letter. The point in sharing I suppose would be to put out this advice to anyone in that position. Anyone moving from one stage to another, anyone who is holding so tight to their plans and expectations, for anyone else who tries to plan for this unpredictable thing called life. As Maya Angelou once said, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ready for A Reunion?

Recently I got the news and invite to my 10 year high school reunion. Lots of emotions came with that. Excitement, disbelief, nervousness, all followed by some good reflection. I lay in bed that night comparing where am I now with where I thought I'd be, wondering if I am excited to reunite with my high school classmates, and if I'm able to own the journey I've been on.

I was so ready to graduate high school- to move on to bigger and better, that next step everyone kept talking about, and to take my first leap into adulthood. I was going to school across the country from the majority of my classmates and Facebook was still a new thing (I didn't get an account until I arrived at college my first semester), so it was mostly a solo journey into the unknown. I had all these expectations, goals, and plans for myself and for what I wanted in my life. Now I can look back and lovingly recognize how rigid those were for me. As if success in a certain area made me a successful individual, either all or nothing. Some of this reflection prompted me to write a letter to myself at 17, which you can read soon, but I want to finish answering the question. Am I ready for the reunion?

After a sleepless night, I came to the conclusion that, yes I am. I started envisioning how the reunion was going to play out. You know, maybe a slide show of graduates and a list of their accomplishments, current careers, etc, and I wondered what I would put on that slide. My educational path was/is not a straightforward one, I've found myself found myself working in several fields developing a host of talents and abilities while deciding which ones I wanted to focus on cultivating, and I've moved from place to place over the last ten years. I have dealt with serious health challenges and fought my way out of hopelessness. One of the best things I have ever done, though I never planned to, was to put life on hold to serve an eighteen month mission for my church. Through that experience I made some incredible friends, fell in love with the Spanish language and Hispanic people, and altered the course of my life. I have learned surprising skills and created my own business, only to put that on the back burner to work on something else I'm passionate about in the hopes of combining them in the future. I am learning to take risks and trust myself. I have written a book, but I'm still in the process of publishing. In short, my life is in progress; I am not a final product yet, and THAT'S OK. I discovered that instead of this stock photo future that I had desired, the reality is closer to a mosaic- perhaps incoherent or abstract when looking at just one piece, but incredibly beautiful and breathtaking in it's entirety. I have learned life lessons that I did not even know needed to be experienced. I am still learning to enjoy the journey and the moment and each individual stage of life. I have been brutally broken and put myself back together a few times now. I did the work to get rid of baggage and connect with myself, to heal myself and share healing with others. I have lost people I love and gained new friendships. With each new day and experience I am learning to love a little more, a little stronger, a little deeper. And I am really proud of that.

I know as I go to my reunion that some of my friends are in graduate programs, medical residencies, PhD programs, established in a career for several years now, have multiple children (while I still prepare for mine), etc. Simply, our paths divulged in the woods and they were all the ones we each needed to take. And I will celebrate every single one of them. Though despite my lack of conventional measures of success, I will go with my head held high because I am in love with WHO I've become and where I am, not just what.

Monday, April 16, 2018

White Girl in Harlem

A few weeks ago, I saw a post on Facebook asking if people ever find themselves as the only person of their race/color in any given place. The person asking is of Indian descent and I am, of course, a bean burrito- white on the outside and Latina on the inside. But for real, I am so white, Western European that it's a bit ridiculous. I got caught up thinking about her question that I never actually responded to her, but my answer is an unequivocal yes! I live in Harlem here in Manhattan- upper Harlem across the river from Yankee Stadium. So essentially, Black Harlem. I don't say that with judgment, because they call another area the "Spanish Harlem- it is simply what it is. Any given time I can walk out of the apartment building, go in any direction, and not see another Caucasian individual the entire time. At my school, I am the only white teacher (there is a Caucasian administrator there sometimes). I go on the train and more often than not, am the only Anglo-Saxon in the car. New York demographics claim that New York City (all 5 boroughs) has a population of 8.55 million people- 44.6% white, 27.5% Hispanic, 25.1% African American, and 11.8% Asian. While statistics claim that Manhattan in particular is 50% white, 15% black, and about 12% Hispanic, it all depends on what area you live in- Chelsea, SoHo, TriBeCa, Harlem, Washington Heights, Upper West Side or Upper East Side. Washington Heights, just north of Harlem on the west side, is a known as a hub for those from the Dominican Republic. I already knew that since so many of my friends from church are Dominican. Harlem is a historically large African American community since the 1920s- here blacks represent about 50% of the population. Most well-known for it's history of African American art and as a center of jazz in the 1930's and 40s.  Sorry, not sorry, for my little history lesson on the side.

Well, so what? Why am I going on about this besides describing where I live now? Because it is giving me amazing experiences and perspective. Though I grew up in many states from the West to the Midwest, mostly in suburban or smaller communities, I was always in the majority. I had and have friends of many races, but they were a part of our community instead of the other way around. I find myself in a position to see things as the minority in a particular community. Similar to my church congregation ( we attend a Spanish ward), I am being the gift of seeing a group from the inside. Though my skin hasn't changed, I identify strongly with the Hispanic community now. Not just because of my mission to Houston or my marriage to my Mexican mancrush, but rather because I have shared so much with that community and fell in love with them. Now, I am being given the chance to look at my opinions through a different lens. The jury is still out on what that will bring for me, but I'm excited to explore that. There are things I don't like about the neighborhood of course, but there are so many unique things as well. I can't wait to share them with you.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Life in the Fast Lane... I mean, Backup Care

I live in a city where people never stop working. I mean, lots of people come to the city for that dream job, or at least a better job to lead them to their dreams. Fast paced, demanding careers seems to be the standard for The City, and the teaching field seems to be no different. I had no idea that backup care existed before moving here. Basically, my company has full service (regular preschools or daycare) centers as well as backup and hybrid, or centers that are both full service and backup. Backup centers partner with a company as a benefit offered to employees. For example, my center is associated with New York Life Insurance Company. So as a benefit, employees with children get a certain number of days per year to bring their children to the center when school is out, their nanny is sick, parent has a commitment, etc. Literally we are the back-up child care for these parents. Kind of nice, right? I know lots of parents that would be so grateful for this wherever they are. It is a wonderful resource for these parents especially as we do a program to help transition infants after parents return from maternity leave, giving them extra days as they get back to work and finalize more permanent child care solutions. Definitely something that gives me comfort when I think about having and raising children in the city.

As a teacher in this environment, there are also lots of benefits. This atmosphere is never dull or boring. It is rarely predictable and I am always being exposed to a new issue or situation. It is also incredible to be able to work with so many children and see the development process as it differs in each of those children in the same age groups. However, there are lots of stressful and demanding aspects. While some parents plan ahead and have their child scheduled for certain days, spring break, etc, the very nature of the center leads to lots of last minute reservations making it hard to stick to even the most simple of lesson plans. I am still learning all of the children who come to our center since they don't come on a regular basis so it makes forming those relationships and trust with the children more challenging. Not impossible, but definitely challenging. Along with that, even though they complete medical information beforehand, we have many students with disabilities or challenges arrive and we have to recognize the issue and be able to respond appropriately. It's also a blessing to be able to learn about various special needs and situations, but can be stressful when a particular child may be new to the center and we are not yet familiar with how to help provide an environment that helps them be as successful as we would hope. Sometimes my husband asks me if I wouldn't rather be a bank teller or another 8-5 kind of job where the job stays at work, blah, blah blah. And though somedays that is tempting, I love those little moments of connection, of making a difference, of nurturing, guiding, teaching.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Black Coats and Green Mats

I live in a city of black coats and green mats.

I thought it was a joke when someone told me that everyone in New York wears black coats in the winter. I mean, really? A city known for it's individuality and fashion and the people mostly wear black coats? Well, my friends, it's TRUE! I am not sure if it is because black is stylish or slimming, if it's all they sell in the stores here or if it's harder to see dirt or smog on a black coat, but the city is a swarm of black on cold days. I own a maroon coat and a bright red one. Most of the time I am the only one with a colorful jacket in the subway car. And I'm ok with that. I like feeling that I'm not a New Yorker. Is that strange? I think in general, I personally like to fit in, to feel like I belong. However, growing up and moving lots of places, and now as an adult as well, I've come to learn that where I reside has very little to do with who I am. For some, where they were born or grew up or live now is a huge part of their identity. Not for me. I can live somewhere and find everything good and learn from experiences there while at the same time contributing everything I have to offer. I know lots of people here in the city who are proud New Yorkers and that is awesome. I have come to know many people who simply are here for a job, for family, for awhile.  And I reserve judgement on those who come and want to fit in and belong here. Put on that black coat- you will feel right at home. But I love to see those occasional individuals with their other colored coats- the rebels, those who refuse to change who they are under the pressure of this city.

At the same time that I say there is this almost unspoken uniformity in outerwear, I am reminded of the green mats. At my school, we use place mats for the children when having snack or eating lunch. Blue signifies that the child has no food restrictions or preferences. Red alerts us to an allergy. And green indicates a preference- something that we honor strictly but is not a medical allergy. It can be any number of things from Kosher to only food prepared by parents, no processed food etc. I have learned so much about traditions of the Jewish Passover in regards to food and restrictions, as well as during Lent for those students who had changes in their regular eating. Maybe it's a silly example, but it reminds me that there are so many complexities that we cannot see in people. These children do not "appear" any different that those children without any preferences. And even though I can't say that I know all the people I see on the trains everyday, I am sure they all have intricacies that are invisible to the eye. Maybe all I can see is a black coat, but everyone has a green mat. Those black jackets are just the tip of a very complex iceberg. New York is teaching me to look beyond what I can see, those first impressions, the tendency to judge quickly, and to give everyone a bit more grace.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tall Buildings and Tiny Spaces

I live in a city of tall buildings and tiny spaces. So much about New York City is larger than life, or maybe people seeing how large they can live or maybe it's just full of people wanting to be part of something larger than their own lives. You can walk around the city and sometimes only see up and down the street you are walking on because the buildings block your vision of what's just around the corner. One time I was meeting my husband at the Oculus downtown near the 9/11 Memorial and I knew I was close, but all the buildings around obstructed it until I almost ran into it. (It's not a small building by the way.) Perhaps because you can't see more than what is in front of you, it can be easy to feel disconnected from things that are near you. Manhattan is a small island surrounded by other islands- Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Bronx then mainland New York. Even though I know where I am geographically in relation to those places, they are so far from my view and daily life that they aren't really real to me. In juxtaposition to this, so many things are crammed together into smaller and smaller spaces. Rather than most storefronts being wide with several doors, so many are narrow and long. Small apartments are often split up even further as families rent out rooms, like where we were for the past three months. Moving into our own apartment last week was both exhausting and exhilarating since we finally have our own refuge in this overwhelming city. In our own little corners, sometimes it can still be challenging to block out the chaos around us. Ironic, isn't it? That the city shields us from seeing around the next corner, while at the same time we can't shut it out no matter how hard we try. On the other hand, when you ascend to the top of these buildings, you can see for miles. When you go up, you can see the connections- millions of intersections, people passing, etc. With some effort, you can step back or up to see how what appears on the surface to be isolated individuals are really thousands, if not millions, of connections. People come to New York City for lots of reasons and stay for others. They come with dreams burning inside, to learn, to achieve, to shine, to become who they want to be. Some come searching, some come fleeing. Everyone finds more than they thought they would. It's a place that demands the very best from you and gives you so many opportunities to give it. Amidst the tall buildings and tiny spaces, I live in a city of connections.