An Interpretation of Accepting Acceptance

Today’s guest post is by Jenica Brittingham who is an English Literature and Theatre teacher originally from Normal, IL and currently living and working in Shanghai, China. Jenica shares wisdom on accepting our choices, coming to terms with different cultures, and living our dreams.

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For the last five years, I have been living in a foreign country.  Now this isn’t just ANY foreign country, but China, a land of a different language, different morals, beliefs, religion, but mostly, culture.  Anyone who has seen me or even talked to me about my experiences would know that on a general basis, I have not been a fan.

Most days, I will rant about the inconsiderate individual, a strange, and sometimes gross custom or stereotype (like spitting in the street or defecating in a trash bin, which yes, a large part of the population does do), but some days, I will have a moment of pure wonder as I glance outside the window of a taxi at a city, like any other, that is full of people with traditions, and on the occasion, magic.

While it can be difficult to find among the blaring horns of drivers and among some of the locals arguing (or possibly laughing, I can’t always tell) about the price of something, that magic can still be discovered, usually on a warm spring night, much like this one, when the air is somewhat clean, the lights of the city are shining like a beacon, and just a few stars are visible about the skyline of the city. It’s moments like these that create a sense of contemplation, moments that bring me back to my thoughts overall.

While living in China, I have had the privilege of teaching some amazing students who have reignited and re-inspired my passion for theatre and performing, causing me to actively pursue and perform in plays and musicals once again.  As I am nearing the end of my five year stint, I am faced with questions and options.  As I am preparing to leave, I am faced with the possibility of once again being a “leading lady” in a musical theater production, something I haven’t gotten to be since I was 17!  So, I must decide if this rekindled passion is enough to convince me to stay in a “world” and culture I have not always gotten along with, or if I should let go of my new-found community and family and start a new journey of self-discovery.

While facing this dilemma, I am reminded of my grandmother Dorothy, who taught me to always follow my hear, my passion, and to always believe in myself.  She was always one of my biggest fans and I continue to take her words of wisdom to heart.  However, the trouble is while living in China, I have constantly doubted myself and have consistently struggled to continually believe in myself.  So the question is, should I return to America where I have more confidence and self-esteem for myself in general, or should I remain a bit longer to continue to fight and strive for my passion?

Either way, I both win and lose a little, which doesn’t seem to bother me.  What does seem to give me pause is the thought of having to make a decision overall, and then accepting my choice, as well as embracing it full on without looking back or having any regrets.

Having now written down all these thoughts, I find I am not any closer to making a decision.  Still, having it truly out in the universe (or at least out on the internet), I am finding that I am accepting that a decision is going to ultimately have to be made. So, thank you China for your obscure five years and the potential few months more that may still occur.  You have been both a challenge and a blessing, but don’t tell anyone I said that!

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Lessons Learned from Starting Over

Today we a proud to feature a post from our writing intern, Nermine Mohamed.

I was never afraid of change or starting over. I love beginnings; the fresh, blank page ready to be filled, the glowing eyes, the perky heart, anticipation of what the new road holds for me, the chance to do it again and to do it differently, the hope and faith in a better tomorrow. I live with the “start over” button always ready to be pressed at a whim, on a hunch or simply out of boredom. I don’t settle or compromise in how I want to live my life, so I’ve hopped between different jobs, changed careers, learned new things, with different people coming in and out of my life, and I, personally, have changed quite a few times in the process. But with each new experience, I felt I’m getting a tiny bit closer to finding who I am, what I want to do, and the person I want to become.

Almost four months ago, I’ve decided I need a drastic start over, so I packed my bags and moved to a different continent and started school. Away from the life I’m used to and the people I love, I began to look at starting over differently. I’ve learned a lot about myself; my flaws, my strengths.

I’ve also learned that starting over can be hard and exhausting. Some days I go to bed weary and beaten up by everything that’s not working, by everything I thought would happen but did not. I ache from the bumps in the road, the disappointments, the losses, and I yearn for any sign to assure me that this is the right track. That’s why starting over means doing it every single day. With every morning, I must start over and I should never give up.

Starting over has also taught me to appreciate not only what lies ahead, but also what I’ve left behind; the little things I’ve always taken for granted, the family and friends who always have my back, the people with whom I’ll probably never cross paths again. Everything matters and every person I left behind was a part of shaping who I am now. Starting over means appreciating the “here” and the “now”, and the moments that led me here. I means telling people how much they mean to me, as I might not have another chance.

I’ve realized how blessed I am, and how I should be thankful every moment of every day, for all the second chances God has given me, for the new experiences and the new people coming into my life. It is important to be thankful for the hard times when the world was tight and doors were closed, and for how suddenly everything change and how generous and unexpected God’s blessings are. But mostly I have learned to be thankful for the little hints that appear every once and awhile that assure me that it’s going to be alright, that it’s all worth it, that starting over was the right decision.

A Prayer for Starting Over

Here is a prayer for those of us who are starting over now, or who know someone who is. Feel free to make any adjustments to the prayer as you and your faith deem necessary, and feel free to send us your prayers too!

Dear Spirit of Wisdom,

Starting over is really hard.
I had a dream, a plan, a hope, a relationship,
but not it is gone–now I must begin again to find my own way.

In these confusing times let me find wisdom,
in my faith, in those who support me, and in myself.

As I struggle to press forward,
help me find strength and perseverance.

As I am healing the wounds of loss,
let me find comfort and care.

This journey is fresh and new,
and so I pray to find some joy,
in starting over.

Amen.

Writing On A New Page

By: Jenni Taylor

If you want to engage in a vibrant conversation with the wisdom that dwells just a hair below your conscious awareness, write. –Janet Conner, Writing Down Your Soul

My journals are packed away in a cardboard box in my parents’ garage, a million and one miles away from where I am now. There are more than 10, less than 15, 3 subject notebooks filled with pieces of my life. Upon my death these notebooks will go to my brother, who will understand.

Since the notebooks, and when life got harder, I scribbled on scraps of paper, nameless, illegible, hard words that I wanted written down but also thrown away as insurance the memory would fade faster. I would type and delete, still omitting the names and places that made my writing too real, the memory too solidified, the feelings of guilt too tangible.

I then entered a time of rest in my life, a time of change and a peaceful uncertainty about the future. The chaos came seldom and far between. I stopped writing. I didn’t know what to say. I thought maybe I could hide from this new person I was becoming until I understood her and liked her, then I would consider her worthy of documentation. I stopped trusting myself, thought my small daily life frivolous and not good enough for ink, even private ink meant for myself and no one else.

Next thing I know, years had gone by with my adventures undocumented, untold, unsung. Moments were lost, moments of growth and wisdom, pain and excitement. Christmas came, with New Years on its heels, and I realized I had nothing to show for my recent life.

I took a yellow notebook, clean and empty. I found a place, one with pillows and a window and a warm light instead of a cold one, and I began to write.

I often pray for wisdom, and it wasn’t until my pen hit paper did I remember wisdom can come from my fingertips. The more I wrote, the less I consciously thought, the more questions spilled onto the page and seconds later some sort of answer from the depth of my being would be in the next paragraph of scribbles. My writing became a flowing prayer, a thank you for the things that had happened that day, that month, that undocumented year, and a searching for a responsive voice to my questions of “why” and “how” and “what comes next?” I discovered wisdom in starting over this holy ritual of listening to myself, considering myself worthy enough to be heard and then slowly discovering I wasn’t just talking to myself, but connecting.

The Courage to Start Over

We’re pleased to share a guest post from Aya Nejim who is a young English teacher with zeal to feed young minds and her own passion for knowledge. Aya lives in both Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Cairo, Egypt and currently pursuing her Master’s degree. Aya shares with us how starting over is all about the courage to write and rewrite your own story as you see fit.

Many of us live our lives without asking or thinking about things that make them happy, until something catastrophic happens to derail that happiness. I mean something that blocks the everyday course of action, in which we are usually robots functioning without stopping for a second to think.

Sometimes it is a loss of a friend, or even someone we don’t know; the mere saddening theme of death or loss. The notion that you know something or someone is gone and will never come back. Other times it could be something more trivial like a farewell scene in an airport or train station. It is in such moments that we actually stop for a second and start to ponder, to engage in a profound contemplation about our lives and suddenly all our dreams float to the surface. Right there, we feel as if we are floating through million clashing thoughts just like waves in a roaring ocean.

Well, for me the wakeup call was a very harsh year in which I lost almost everything; my job, my belongings, my income, almost everything, even my dad I was on the verge of losing him. He suffered from a severe heart stroke; I was alone with him in the hospital, watching him suffer while life being sucked out of him. There were moments when he didn’t recognize me or know where we were. I saw my whole life shatter in front of me, while all I could do was stand there in the middle, watching it all fall apart. My dad was my whole life.

There was a time when his heart actually stopped and I had to stand outside and watch while the doctors revive him back. I will never forget that moment in my life, I never felt so vulnerable or weak before. I started to contemplate on what meant the most to me in life and why? My dad is recovered now, but I looked around me and examined the lives of those close to me and realized I didn’t like nor want any of their lives. That was the moment I realized that I deserve better.

I wanted to start over but I was afraid. I fear it because starting over requires change and I have come to realize that I fear change more than death because I don’t know what lies ahead and thus don’t know how to act. Now I know that as much as it is scary to start over, it is also liberating and fruitful. So, I am not going to be afraid anymore to start over. If I won’t be the writer of my own story, who will? I feel I owe it to myself to be happy, to try and explore myself, to look beyond all these years that passed and re-live my life again.

Some of us are fortunate enough to realize in their moments of contemplation that they are on the right track and actually pursuing their dreams or that they are happy and content with the lives they lead. However, for some of us, tragic moments make us ponder about the “why”, the “how” of our lives. They make us wonder “what happened” to all of our dreams and what makes us keep postponing our plans. For a moment, I thought, what if tomorrow was my last day? What would I do? I could not stop thinking and that’s when I overcame my fear and decided to be free, to be alive, to start over.

The Back and Forth of Starting Over

By: Autumn Elizabeth

By some ways of looking at my life, I have spent the majority of the last few years starting over. Starting to reclaim a new spiritual path after my church refused to marry me and my partner, starting over with a new life in Europe after that unsanctioned marriage ended. But the truth is, I am not sure starting over is even possible.

Starting over spiritually has not meant giving up my lifetime of faith and starting fresh. On the contrary, starting over has led me both forward and backwards. I have rediscovered some of the beauty and radical justice buried in my Catholic heritage, and I have found deep wells of solace and a place to pray in my yoga practice. I have also kept a deep admiration for my church as they struggle to more radically embody the love of Jesus and move to embrace all types of love.

I think starting over is always about moving both backwards and forwards simultaneously. No matter how much someone hurts us, no matter how broken our hearts, none of us really forget, we keep tiny pieces of all the people we love in our hearts forever. For me, in times of heartache, starting over often looks a lot like going back to the people who knew me before my heartache, and it also often involves finding new relationships of love and support. So it seems, for me at least, that starting over is more a process of growing in wisdom and love than a process of erasing our past.

For me starting over has been a process of going back and moving forward. I am blessed to have found solace in both places. 2015 stands to be a big year for me in both directions. Looking to the future I will graduate from my master’s program, and I will celebrate entering a new decade of wisdom. Looking back, this site will turn two and my oldest friendship with turn 21. To me, this is what starting over looks like—it is the growing of new branches while my roots grow deeper too. This January, may your new year be rooted in all the blessing of your past, and all the possibilities of the future. Here’s to staring over, and to keeping all the wisdom we’ve already gained.

Starting Over After Charlie Hebdo

By: Autumn Elizabeth

IMG_0524I had a totally different post written for today, but then I had to start over.

I had to start over because journalists and cartoonist, as well as those who worked with them and to protect them, were killed and injured yesterday, about ten minutes from where I am writing these words.

The news, and the news media, which are two very different things in my humble opinion, will reveal plenty of details in the coming days and weeks, but what matters to me as I sit here, writing a new post for today is that people were killed, were injured, were frightened because of their ideas, their words, their humor. What matters today for me personally is that violence has once again disturbed a place that I call home.

Today, like many days recently, I am forced to face the reality that this is the world we live in. A world of bombs in front of NAACP offices, of genocide, of police brutality, of terrorism, of xenophobia, of hate crimes. This scary world is not simply a generalization of global problems, it is personal. I live in a world where my friends get teargassed for speaking out against racist systems, where people who share my profession get murdered for making jokes, and where violence and fear are used to create and maintain power.

This is a world that needs starting over. We can begin to start over by seeking new systems for justices and new methods for peace. We can continue to start over by speaking up, standing in solidarity, and living with love.

I titled this post “Starting over after Charlie Hebdo” but the truth is, there is no “after Charlie Hebdo”, just like there is no “post-Ferguson”, because these things are still the reality of all our lives, or at least they are the reality in mine because #JeSuisCharlie, because I still believe that #blacklivesmatter, and because I refuse to stay quiet about either.

Millennial Activist United started a powerful tradition of using a quote from activist Assata Shakur as a rally chat, and so standing in solidarity with them and that movement, I will leave you with these words as my prayer for everyone here in Paris, for journalist and cartoonists all over the world, and for all the other activists for peace and justice.

It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.   –Assata Shakur 

Amen.

15 Ways to Start Over

By: Jenni Taylor

  1. Be thankful. Journals, happiness jars, or even just an alarm set to remind you to be thankful for something for 10 seconds every day.
  2. Don’t be thankful, but be honest. The voice listening to those socially-unacceptable emotions is not worried about your piety or your artificial gratitude. It wants to have an honest conversation. Honesty in hard times is still just as worthy as the thankful thoughts in the good times.
  3. Set schedules. Scheduling will help you stop feeling guilty when you know you have set aside time for the important things. You can breathe a sigh of relief that there really are enough minutes in the day to do what needs to be done.
  4. Don’t set schedules. Time is not set in stone. There are days when freedom is more important than detailed plans, and when these out-of-hand, wild days happen, be accepting. Need ideas for a wild day? Here’s 14 ways to start a new journey!
  5. Dance. There is no “don’t dance” option here. Find music you love, guilty pleasures galore, and dance your butt off.
  6. Find a place. A place filled with comfortable knickknacks or one completely bare- whatever works. Make that place yours, make it uninterrupted, and make it holy. What you think, feel, write, and dream in that place is sacred.
  7. Practice forgiving. Forgiveness is like yoga- it’s an ongoing practice that never becomes perfect, but gets better with time. Forgive in small ways. Forgive the dishes for being dirty when washing is the last thing you want to do, forgive the messy children who ruined your dress, forgive the trains for being late and the meetings that scheduled themselves at an inconvenient times. Forgive, and let go, and then try to do it again.
  8. Only compare yourself to the person you were yesterday. Comparisons are sneaky and ruin…pretty much everything. Stop. You are still just as important as you always have been to the universe, no one else and their successes can change that. You are growing, you are learning, you are changing, and that is beautiful.
  9. Hug trees. Walk by a lake. Look at animals and learn from them. Connect yourself to nature, listen to what it is trying to tell you, protect it as best you can and I promise more peace will come to your soul.
  10. Read. Seriously. Need a suggestion…try one of our longer posts or check out NPR’s Book Concierge
  11. Memorize something. Something funny, something inspiring, something classical or not- but memorize it. Say it out loud, hear how beautiful you sound, feel the accomplishment of doing something poets and storytellers used to do to create magic for yourself and others. The words become your own, second nature, and a strange comfort to say at very surprising times in your life.
  12. Be passionate about something, and then be active about it. Even if it’s just once, like attending a protest for the first time or helping out at a prison. You will never forget it, you will grow, and it will make a difference.
  13. De-clutter. Keep the good stuff, and toss as much as you can of the rest. This goes for thoughts as much as for things.
  14. Write. Type, find a journal, use a pen you like. Share it…or don’t. Fiction, free writes, poems, words anything that lets you see the authentic you.
  15. Be wise. Learn something new this year, from both victories and mistakes, and share it with us here at Sophia’s Pockets. We’re listening.

Introducing The Interns

Yesterday, we announced the addition of two amazing interns to the Searching Sophia’s Pockets team. Now it’s your chance to meet them for yourself. Their names will be popping up on posts through out their time as our interns and they will also be helping out with all the behind the scenes stuff that keeps this site so full of wisdom and love. They each have their own distinct styles, and interests, they come from different backgrounds and speak different mother tongues and yet their journeys share interesting points of overlap that we can’t wait to explore this year. So without further fuss, it is our pleasure to introduce…

Our Writing Intern

Our Writing Intern

Nermine Mohamed

Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”. Nermine currently studies in the southern part of Germany and here is what she has to say about herself:

I am a person who believes in possibilities, in alternative realities, in the so many different sides of the coin. I believe in contradictions and that logic is a myth. I love literature and I believe in the power of words, which can give hope to the hopeless, and power to the powerless. I like to think of myself as a spiritual and a religious person, although I have my moments of doubt and I do not always live up to my beliefs. But faith is always what keeps me going; it is what I hold on to amid all the injustice, all the hate, anger and violence in this world. It is this faith that keeps me going every day; the faith in a just, loving, caring, all giving, and all forgiving God. So, I still believe that there is order in all this chaos, and that there is still love and kindness. I totally believe that there is a bit of God’s light inside everyone and that one should always try to find it, in others and in one’s self.

Will O’Brien

Our Social Media Intern

Our Social Media Intern

Will is Christian, and member of the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) denomination, although he says his favorite place to worship is Castlewood State Park near his hometown of  Manchester, MO. He will be spending the next several months studying in Morocco and here is what he has to say about himself:

When people ask me about my long-term plans or what I want to do for a living, I lie. I often deflect the question with a quick witted comment about humanities majors being baristas – a position I have held in multiple coffee shops – and tell them I plan to go to graduate school. These things are not inherently false; they do not however paint the full picture. I want to write the great American novel, own a craft brewery, refinish classic roadsters, set foot on every continent, teach, ride a unicycle, cook incredible food, taste better food, and make people smile. These are certainly not categories that I have found as college majors, don’t even get me started on graduate school. These goals cannot be summarized in an elevator speech, on a resume, or in a 500-word statement of purpose – but they encompass a passion for experiencing and influencing the world that is present in all aspects of my life.