Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How God Put me Right Where I'm Supposed to Be

Last year, I had my dream job. You could not have written a job description for a social work intern that was more geared toward my career goals and interests than the job description I had. In my field application, I wrote that my long-term goal was to work in a school setting, but particularly with adolescents with disciplinary problems. I also wrote that I had a strong interest in violence prevention. So they put me here, as a school social worker at Passages Academy - the school that serves the kids in the Horizon Juvenile Center. I had been really nervous about whether or not choosing NYU was the wisest decision - because ya'll, it's expensive. Like, really expensive. I had just taken a class at church on how God wants us to steward money, and I felt like I was ignoring that... but somethign in me just kept telling me, after all of my prayer, that this was the right decision. Getting that placment sealed the deal. The things I learned there are another post for another day - but suffice it to say, I'm more passionate about improving the juvenile justice system than ever.

So when Spring rolled around and it was time to start talking year two placements, I was like "Seriously, I already had my dream job, put me anywhere." My faculty advisor couldn't believe this. You see, most people's first-year placement is kindof a flop. They don't usually cater your first year to your goals, and I listened to story after story of colleagues of mine who had bad supervision, didn't learn anything, were working with a population that did not line up with their goals or gifts, etc. So for me to say "I had my dream job, my supervisor was amazing, and I loved every second of it," was completely unheard of. Your second year they let you cater your goals a little bit more to what you want to do, and people are generally very pleased.  I had no goals to cater to, I'd already done it. I wanted a new experience just to broaden my horizons.

We decided to request hospitals. Many of the jobs out there are in healthcare, and I have ZERO experience in healthcare, but a TON of experience in education.  Seeing as how education jobs are hard to get but healthcare jobs are a-plenty if you've got the experience, I thought it'd be worthwhile, for practical purposes.

At first, my supervisor insisted I work with adults, because, if you don't know I DONT LIKE WORKING WITH GROWN-UPS. For real. It's terrifying. Not to mention my patience runs really then when I have to repeat myself and explain basic things to a grown person. I don't mind doing it for kids, but you're an adult, grow up. THEN, we decided that, since my long-term goals involve schools, I need to be better at working with parents (seriously, I really really used to hate the parent-invovlement aspect of teaching becuase I was terrified of parents...) So we requested pediatrics. Kids are not in the hosptial alone, so much of the work in pediatrics is with FAMILIES.

LITTLE DID I KNOW that pediatric internships are incredibly rare. Most hospitals are afraid that it's too much for an intern. It's intense, so they simply won't assign you there. They feel like it's not for the inexperienced. So, I prepared myself that there was a good chance I'd end up in a normal grown-up hosptial setting.

Then, I started to have friends going through some pretty serious losses. Two good friends lost babies in their second trimester. One friend had an early miscarriage. I also had a bazillion friends who were pregnant (like, for real, everyone got pregnanat at the same time). I prayed about how God could use this in some way. When you're twenty-seven, and want babies, and everyone around you is having babies, and you're still waiting for your first boyfriend, like a twelve year old, it can be pretty hard.  So, I prayed about it. Then it came to me: WHAT IF THERE ARE JOBS IN OB/GYN OR NEWBORN SOCIAL WORK?! I immediately started researching. Is this a thing? If so, do they take interns?

The first two hospitals that came to mind were New York Presbyterian, and Mt. Sinai. So I started browsing their websites and found out that, yes, it is a thing, and as a matter of fact, there are even social workers in the NICU!  What?!

So I emailed my faculty advisor. I'd been awaiting a placement for about a month at this point, and was getting anxious, even though I knew it could still be two or three months before I got one. In my email, I asked her to add an additional request, if that was even possible, for a job working with pregnant or new mothers. She told me she didn't know if it was available, but she'd forward my request to NYU.

And then, within twenty four hours, I received a call.

"Hi, Danielle, this is [important professor of field placement at NYU], I'm looking over your resume and requests and I wondered if you'd be interested in me sending your resume to New York Presbyterian?  particularly in the neonatal intensive care."

My response: "YES YES YES YES YES!"

[Important professor]: "You know, this isn't a placement we just give away, it's tough, so I want to make sure you're okay with that. Typically people aren't as excited about it as you were because it's a hard field, so I was a little surprised at how enthusiastic you were."

Me: "I take it you got my email from [insert facutly advisor]"

[Important professor]: "No, I haven't received any emails from her today."

WHAT?!?!?! Ya'll God is amazing. Again, reinforcing just how awesome he is at directing us to where he needs us to be. Long story short, I interviewed, I was taken on a test-run through the unit to see just how I handled seeing all of those adorable little tiny babies in their little isolettes with little tubes, and I passed. I got the job. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE it.

I met with important professor in person last week for the first time, and she had me recount to her just how this placement had come to be because she said "I place a lot of students, and I know that I won't just place anyone there. We're very selective with who we place in pediatric units."

I am complely floored by how God has moved through my graduate school experience, and placed me in all the right places, and used tough experiences to shape me and change my vision.

I will follow this up with an update on just WHY I love my job and what my days look like, but this post is really long, so I'm cutting it off here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Disenfranchised Grief": Mourning the Loss of the Things You Never Had

Today I read what is quite possibly the best explanation of what it feels like to be single and Christian that I've ever read. It was one of the first times I've heard SOMEONE ELSE voice some of the things I feel GUILTY for feeling. I highly encourage you to read it before reading what is, in essence, my response to it. Check it out here.

I won't echo her post by going on about how the church unintentionally puts married life on a pedestal and makes the rest of us feel like aliens, but I will note how much I resonated with one of the comments on that concept. There are tons and tons of sermons and messages about marriage and family out there. There are not NEARLY, not by a long shot, as many about being single. So everyone's like "Don't be discouraged though, I mean, you can find ways to apply anything to your own life, and it never hurts to learn more about marriage if you someday hope to have one." You're right. I do listen to plenty of these messages and gain a lot from them. I also listen to many of them and cry because it makes me want to be married more than ever. One of the comments on this post essentially said that, married people and pastors tell us that all the time, so let's flip the tables. How about we start having churches focus their sermons on what it's like to be SINGLE. Lets start bombarding our bookstores with books on being a single Christian, with very few resources for marriages.... and then tell them "It's okay, you can find a way to apply it to your life." Not so easy huh?

Anyway, that's not the point of my post. The title of this post is "Disenfranchised Grief" because I feel like those words FINALLY summed up the feelign I've been trying to express to my friends for YEARS.

Very often when I'm having one of my truly horrific lonely days, I express to my friends that I feel like my husband has died. That sounds extreme, for sure, but that's exactly how it feels. The kids I've never had, I mourn them. I see other people have kids and I grieve. I am no less happy for my friends that they have children, but for myself, I feel like my dreams have been stabbed in the heart. Every time a friend of mine posts a picture that says "Date Night," I cry over the dates I've never had (considering I've NEVER once been on a real date, ever).

Then, I feel guilty for feeling this way. Because I'm told I should be hopeful. I'm told I should be so happy for the "freedom" I have. On that note: NO ONE WHO KNOWS ME WILL LOOK AT MY LIFE AND THINK I'M NOT ENJOYING IT. When it comes to finding silver linings and squeezing out every ounce of living that life has to offer, I'm your authority. But that doesn't make the pain of not having the one thing I've prayed for and asked for since I was a kid go away.

Everyone says to simply look at the blessings you have and be thankful for those, because why dwell on what we DON'T have. You're right, and trust me, as noted above, I AM thankful for every single blessing I have, but I've asked for ONE THING, repeatedly, for years upon years, and I'm getting everything BUT that, and I have ZERO control over that, and it's not okay. It's like, at Christmas, when year after year I ask for Saints tickets, and I'm given a bazillion other awesome things that aren't Saints tickets, and I'm never disappointed, and I always feel like I've had a great Christmas, but just one year it'd be nice if I actually got Saints tickets - and I'd be willing to trade in all of the other things I might have gotten instead. Except, it's so much bigger than football tickets, obviously.

I'd trade so so so so so so so so so many of the blessings I have to have a family of my own. Each year that passes is one  year I get closer to it being impossible for me to have that family. And that scares the mess out of me.

I've made the comparison before to the barren woman. I've had many people try to tell me that's not the same, but then no one can really articulate WHY. Because it IS the same. I am just as unable to have kids as any of my friends who can't. I've had several friends have miscarriages in the last few years. That is a truly painful experience. They're mourning the baby they never had.  But when trying to comfort a woman who's dealing with infertility or miscarriage, would you ever say to them "Oh, it's okay, you're young, there's still plenty of time to have kids"? or "Maybe God wants you to focus on him right now instead of a baby"? or to the woman who's been trying to get pregnant for several years "It's okay, it'll happen one day. All in God's timing"?

If you would, you are insenseitive, and you should stop trying to comfort people because you're bad at it.

So why do people feel like it's okay to say that to single people? Every time someone says to me "Stop worrying about getting married, you're young, you have plenty of time." I want to punch that person and let them know that YOU ARE NOT HELPING ME!!!!! AT ALL!!! SO STOP!! 

In the comments of the blog someone made the following comparison: "It's like telling someone who hasn't eaten in a week 'It's okay, your body can go six weeks without food.  You have plenty of time to eat before your chances die out'" while they sit in front of you with five pounds of crawfish, potatoes, corn, and a Purple Haze (okay, the exact food they compared it to was different.... but you get the point).

Also, people don't tell women who haven't been able to get pregnant for years that they will someday have a baby because THEY DON'T KNOW IF THAT'S TRUE. It's dangerous to set such expectations on something both you and they have no control over. Same thing with being single. I've never ever had a boyfriend in 27 years. I've barely even skimmed the surface of coming close to it happening. Time and time again I watch as I meet new great guys and they somehow immediately check off the "Friend only" box and leave me there. I've had guys who were in every way shape and form perfect for me, even one in particular who I just KNEW was actually interested and we had everything in the world going for us and this was most-definiely-certainly-going-to-turn-into-something-no-doubt-100%-yes, and everyone agreed and then. it. never. happened. THEREFORE I have ZERO evidence that this will ever change. So don't be confused when I run into a corner and cry after you tell me "He's out there somewhere." Because maybe he's not.

So bear with me when I mourn these things. When I meet a little girl whose name is that of one I'd planned to name one of my kids and I cry the same way a mother who lost a child with that name would cry becuase I don't have MY little girl in my arms (or when a close friend or family memeber actually names their child the name you've always dreamed of and you realize it is now off the table). When I see a little boy in a Saints jersey and I have a breakdown, because I don't have the little boy I just knew I'd have by now. When I see people holding hands walking down the street and I mourn the hand that I've never gotten to hold. When another guy friend gets engaged, and even if I was never interested in him as a husband I question, "Why didn't he ever consider me?"

Bear with me when I ask you over and over "What am I missing?" "What am I doing wrong?" "How did I screw this up?" because I cannot fathom any reason why I've never ever had my affections for someone reciprocated, but there must be something. Some grand secret someone's not telling me. Bear
with me when I start crying because you're telling me just how "incredible" and "beautiful" and "smart" and "fun" and "such a prize for any guy out there" I am because that's NOT helping the fact that THEY aren't seeing it. And especially bear with me when I get upset because you tell me I've just got so much going on that it "intimidates" guys, because that's a bunch of BS.

It is soooooooooooo incredibly frustrating that the struggles of single people are seen as petty. That they are seen as a problem to be remedied. That the church avoids addressing them because frankly, it's just too hard.  It's so frustrating that almost every book about being single is written by a married person, or that every sermon preached aobut singleness is preached by a married man - because so few churches are hiring unmarried pastors. It's frustrating that I've actually had people tell me "You know, maybe you're dwelling on this too much, and honestly, I'm kinda tired of hearing it from you," when you know good and well that you would never tell someone who was grieving an actual physical death or loss that they were "dwelling on it too much." It is a loss. A painful one, and one that may never have an ending or resolution.

I'm not writing this to get a pity party. Because I'm a pretty happy person, with a pretty awesome life. I'm writing this because I read this post, and, it was one of the first times I've felt truly VALIDATED for feeling GRIEF, and not felt guilty for it. Her next post is about validating feelings, and I highly encourage you to read that.

On that note, I'm going to try to get some work done and then start reading her book, which I totally downloaded right after reading that post.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I love my body, therefore I respect it. You should too.

I love my body.

This is not me trying to make some bold declaration about body acceptance. My opinions on body acceptance could be a post of of their own. Or two. Because I think, as much as I love that women are being confident in who they are, there's a fine line between accepting the way one LOOKS, and taking care of one's HEALTH  (and on that note health ≠ skinny).  But this not the the subject of today's post. I'll gladly write one on my opinions on that if anyone actually cares that much about my opinions.

Back to where we started.

I love my body because I've worked really really hard to get it to where it is. I've also worked really really hard to accept the things about it that aren't "perfect." I've worked through a lot of my own confidence issues and annoyances and have learned to be thankful for the cruddy metabolism, large thighs/hips, and annoyingly-in-the-way oversized bra size I inherited. I'm thankful because if I was one of those people who could eat whatever I want and never excercise I probably would be, and I'd miss out on all of the awesome rewards that come along with taking care of one's health for more than the sake of weight.

So, because of all of this hard work, when I look in the mirror, I like what I see. I'm happy with this shape and every little curve of it.

Because of this, men of the streets of New York,  I EXPECT YOU TO RESPECT IT.

I've always been annoyed by the men who shout out cat calls on the streets. They yell their little "Hey baby"s and "have a nice day"s and I keep walking. They're usually pretty non-threatening, just annoying - like the cabbies who see me dressed for work and honk incessantly assuming I'd rather ride with them than take the bus.

Two nights ago I was walking to the gym, backpack in tow from having left a coffee shop where I was working on a paper, and all of the sudden I hear this man yell, "I like your pretty a**."  Typically I'd have just kept walking. I hear things like that on the street, and they annoy me, but I move on. For whatever reason though, on this particular night, before I could even think otherwise, I turned and yelled "WHAT?!" and he REPEATED, "I said I like your pretty a**." To which I responded "That's not okay," and kept walking. He continued to yell his thoughts on why I would not be accepting of his "compliment" and I just kept walking.

On that particular night, because I was going to the gym, I was wearing a pair of tights, which naturally show off my curves more than the clothes I wear on a regular basis. Even so, I had a t-shirt on with them, which was long enough and loose enough to essentially cover up most of the curvy parts. I've had more than one instance lately in which I've been wearing fairly conservative clothing and had similar things said to me. I don't know the motives behind these men, why it is they feel the need to shout these things at women they don't know, but it's not okay.

Why is it not okay? If they aren't harming me, what's the problem?

The problem, for me, are the women who aren't so confident. Particularly young girls.

When I was a teenager, I wasn't cute. Seriously, I know we're all awkward as teens, but I was never a girl that stood out from the crowd in terms of looks or my body. When people talk about "oh, if only I could go back to my 17 year old body, or my 20 year old body, and I thougth I was fat THEN" I cannot sympathize. I have some clothes from high school still laying around that are actually too big for me now. The best shape I've ever been in was at age 23, and I'd say right now I'm very close to where I was then.  So when I was a teenager, I was not getting cat-called. That, and I didn't live in a big city so there really wasn't anyone to "cat call" me. But still. It got me thinking: If I was a teenager with a cute figure, and I had low self esteem (as many teenage girls do), would I respond differently to these street "compliments"?

I don't know, but there's a big part of me that thinks maybe I would. Lot of the girls I have worked with are not taught to respect themselves or their bodies by their families for whatever reason - and these men, THEY KNOW THAT.

The other day, I was on the train, and TWO different teenage girls got on at different stops. One was wearing a hot pink lace bra, one wearing a black lace bra.

You might say, "Danielle, why were you looking at their bras?"

I wasn't. They were in my face, bright and clear, as these girls both had on shirts with the enitre sides cut out. On their way to school.

If I'm getting cat called and yelled at when I'm in conservative clothing, HOW ARE THESE GIRLS BEING TREATED??

I honestly could go on and on about this on so many levels but I'm already getting way off topic.

Now, I'm not for "slut-shaming" and saying that girls who dress inappropriately are "asking for it." No one is asking for it. BUT I do think that our bodies are very precious. And that we need to respect them, and that we need to recognize when they are being disrespected by someone else.

I do not work ridiculously hard to take care of myself so that you, Mr. 168th street observer, can tell me it looks good. I don't need your approval. I know what I look like.

TRANSPARENT MOMENT I love my body so much that sometimes I WISH it was socially acceptable to show it off, and that no one would react, trust me! But you know what, that's pretty vain of me. And thats not what my body is for. Lord willing, someday I'll have someone to show it off to whenever I want, and any man that yells things at me now or then is stepping on that one special guy's turf. Not cool dude, not cool.

When I look through instagram, and I follow my teenagers, and I see the pictures they post of themselves, and how they fish for "likes" and beg people to follow them and post picture after picture of themselves dressed provocatively or making sensual expressions and seeking the approval of others, IT MAKES ME SO SAD. It breaks my heart. Where are we failing our girls? Why are we letting this be okay?

I recognize that this will likely not be read by any of these street-calling men, or young girls, but seriously, MEN - start respecting women. You may think your calling out is harmless. You may not even have any expectations from it, but it's not okay. It's just not. We women are not flattered by it, we're annoyed. and GIRLS: don't let them disrespect you! Don't stop to talk to a strange guy because he compliments you on the street - even if he's your age.

Recognizing I have very little authority to give dating advice, I CAN testify that it's better to let a man get to know you based on the beauty that shines THROUGH you than because he looked at you and liked the clevage you were showing.

To me it's a no brainer: when I dress myself in a flattering yet modest way, it eliminates a whole slew of crazy-characters from the men who show me any attention. It doesn't 100% weed out the perverts (I've had my fair share of "nice guys" in my life who turned out to have no respect for my body), but it sure does weed out the crew of people who disrespect my body from the get-go.

I'm saddened that this even needs to be said. Who is teaching these men to talk and act this way? Who is teaching these girls to seek out all of this approval? I get it, when I take a cute picture of myself and post it online, I look for the compliments - it's what we do, but I don't take provacative or revealing photos of myself and ask total strangers to rank them (oh man, don't even get me started on the "ranking" posts on IG). We need to be sending the message to our young women that they are special, and are beautiful, and they don't have to dress in revealing clothing or post sensual photos to get that approval.

(on a side note - I love Dove models, and if I thought only the women of the world who need to learn body confidence would see them, I'd totally volunteer to be one. I like the message of beautiful ≠ size two and perfectly proportioned, but I don't like that having pictures of women in the underwear for just anyone to see is the way to go about it...)