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.

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A Prayer to Keep Us Rooted

Roots are our foundation, our past, and all the things we have buried. Here is a prayer for those special things that keep us rooted.

Dear Spirit of the Past, Present, and Future,

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Photo of “Submerged Motherlands” by Swoon

No matter what kind of past I have come from,

I know the spirit of universal love still surrounds me.

Some days I feel blessed with strong roots, strong support,

and some days I feel disconnected and disheartened.

Help me to add to my foundation only that which will make me stronger,

help me feel rooted to faith, love, and community.

I know that as I explore the spiritual mysteries of this world,

I am finding deeper connections to everyone.

Help me explore the present with grace and mindfulness,

help me find the wisdom and let go of the pain in my past,

help me breathe love into the future.

 

Amen

A Prayer As We Work For Equality

Dear Spirit of Glorious Wisdom,

Give us the strength, love and wisdom

to stand for something more than ourselves,

to believe in a world of justice here on this planet,

to act with love in the face of inequality and hatred.

Let us reach out to the people that society has persecuted.

Let us live towards a better world,

where equal rights are a certainty, not a just the dream of a great man,

where no one is beaten because of who they love,

where no child’s life is worth more than any other’s.

Let us continue to work for equality for all the people of your earth.

Let our actions reflect your wise spirit and your vision of a more just world.

Amen

Strength to Endure

By: Autumn Elizabeth

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I love the Ramones. Their music has always spoken to me, so it is no accident that the title of this post is also a title of one of their songs. I have been honored this past month to see the amazing post about the strength of people around the world to bear burdens, to survive hardships, and to live with grace and laughter. Yet I cannot help but notice, that most of these posts deal, in one way or another, with the burden of womanhood.

Since I was a very small girl I have been aware that there are burdens many women know that many men will never face. I have been aware that it requires a special strength in order to endure the label  “girl” and the labels that come with it like “whore”, “sweetheart”, “bitch”. The recent tragic events in Santa Barbara, California, have only made me more aware of what can, and does, happen when patriarchal ideas are taken to a violent extreme.  (For an intelligent summary of this check out Laci Green’s video on Elliot Rodger and the media reaction to this tragedy. It is worth watching but may be quite disturbing for anyone who has a brain and a heart). In light of this, and other tragedies, both personal and global,  it seems that we all must be more aware than ever of the strength it takes live in this world.

But here is what this month has taught me: we women, we who have endured  more than our share for so long, we have the strength to endure. Moreover, I have seen proof that despite tragedy and suffering, the strength of the human spirit, across all genders, sexual orientations, races and religions,  will always endure.  We all have the strength to continue to walk along the  never-ending road toward justice and equality.

Which brings us to this month’s theme of Equality. This month is not just about gender equality, it isn’t just about LGBTQ equality either. This month is about how if we all have the strength we can create of would that treats people with an equal love, equal respect and allows everyone equal rights. So show the world your strength, your commitment to equality and submit now! I, for one, can’t wait to see the hope and strength of spirit this month brings. And let’s all remember the wise words of the Ramones:

I have the strength to endure
And all the love so pure
I have the strength to endure
Because… because…

-The Ramones, Strength to Endure

Asking for Strength

Today, we have the honor of posting a piece from the amazing writer and journalist Alex McAnarney. Alex is a native of El Salvador and former resident of Mexico City. Her work focuses on migration, youth, gangs, and health and can be found at perishmotherland.tumblr.com.

Her post today, though longer than what we usually publish, is a testament to strength, wisdom, and love. We ask you all to take a little extra time over the weekend and experience all the beauty and honesty this post has to offer. We ask you all to recognize your own triggers, and take care of yourselves while reading, and as always, we ask you all to honor the wisdom we are blessed to share with you today.

When Friederich Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he developed the idea of the “Overman” (übermensch). While the concept of the Overman remains up for debate, several interpretations fall along the following: guided by individually crafted values, the Overman lives with purpose, possessing the power to impact others around him (or, I controversially interject, her). The Overman attempts to go above and beyond the human

In stark opposition to a strength that surges from the individual will to transcend humanness, morality, and likely— given Nietszche’s struggles with migraines and neurosyphillitic infections— illness, I’ll quote Psalm 46:1-3: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

I can’t say I know what the meaning of strength really is. To ground yourself in the absurd, greyness of life and live with a measure of creative dynamism to carve out your own rugged path independent of others—a life of perpetual overcoming— is a type of strength. Yet, to relinquish yourself and your trust to someone else when the cacophony of “mountains falling into the sea” becomes too deafening, that too is a type of strength. One thing about strength is clear: I ask for it. A lot.

June 1994
Abue, my great-grandmother, is dead. I find out three days after they bury her. They didn’t want me to see her when she was in the coffin because they thought I wasn’t strong enough. I think it would have been nice to kiss her forehead and say bye like I did when she was going to sleep. I get mad at mom for deciding for me. From the back seat of the Toyota, I see that Tita, my grandma and Abue’s daughter, is sad. Her chin whiskers quiver but no tears come out. When my mom pulls at my hair when she brushes it I think of Abue and how she brushed my hair, expertly, gently. It makes me sad, but I think of Tita’s quivering chin whiskers and tearless eyes to suppress the waterworks. When she comes to visit us, I ask her why she doesn’t cry.

“Tears are how bad things stain you. They’re hard to wash out and forget,” she says.

I shroud myself in this. When the other girls at school pick on me because my hair is like a beehive, I try hard not to cry and get mad instead, catching bees in empty butter containers and letting them roast in the Mexican sun. When I get in trouble for telling made up stories about sleeping in a dungeon to my classmates, I really, really try not to cry. But my parents are really, really mad. When I get an egg accidentally thrown in my eye at a party, I don’t cry. I just scream and scream and scream and try to punch the boy who did it.

June 1997
When Dad leaves, I try my hardest to only cry once. It’s really hard because mom is crying and the kids at school suck, especially the boys. Daddy doesn’t cry. I know he feels bad, but I guess he’s strong? We always say Dads are strong at school. I want to be strong and not cry because I’m sad or because mom cries. I grab my little prayer book which I read every night and squeeze it in my hands trying to draw out a few drops of meaning. I only get half burnt flakes of pages. The book belonged to my mom, and before her, Tita. I don’t know if I should ask the fading doodle of a girly boy with a yellow hat on his blonde head. I ask him anyway, “Give me the strength to never cry.”

June 2003
I don’t tell anyone because I was passed out, drunk and possibly drugged. I hide the bruises. I don’t mention his attempts to keep me in the room after, calling me his Latina Lolita. I claim him as a notch of conquest achieved on a fun weekend in Key West. I don’t need to be a victim, I can keep saying what I’m saying: He was a 25 year old Marine my 16-year old self managed to seduce. I shove every shred of despair into a tightly sealed jar and lock it away in a mental cabinet, never to be explored again. Individual responsibility is strength, after all. In the meantime, I ask the 500 mg of ibuprofen I just swallowed “Give me strength to walk straight tonight.”

January 4, 2005
There is pain. There are rivulets of blood pouring from somewhere that I cannot locate. My vision is a pinhole of post-Grand Mal seizure confusion that envelops the world in a blissfully anesthetized miasma save for one little opening through which I can see blood, a stretcher, a worried fat man.
“-hit you?”

The pinhole is slowly stretched by halogen lights into a gaping, heaving asshole of reality I’m not ready to enter. My arm lifts heavily to wipe some drool that feels embarrassingly chunky. Through the asshole I see: bloody chunks of teeth and lip clustered on my hand.

“Did somebody hit you?”

“I had a seizure,” I mutter.

My shoes are off. My hand is holding an empty pillbox. My shoulders are shrouded in a brown EMT blanket. My mouth is red, dripping, and toothless.

I must have collapsed in the parking lot. I press my nose. Not broken. No plastic surgery freebie for me. It’s funny. I laugh with a blood choked gurgle.

A male EMT looks at me funny. I keep laughing and trace the remaining bits of canine and fronts with my index finger. Jagged stalactites hanging in anticipation of the next earthquake, because the aftershocks always happened. Little bastards, won’t get the pleasure I begin to try pulling out the bits with my own hands.

“Don’t do that!” the resident advisor sitting next to me swats away my offending hand.

You don’t understand. I think to myself, they need to go. They were weak!

I don’t cry. I try my hardest to be hilarious even though I have no idea how or where I am. As I do that, I keep trying to pull my bits of teeth out. To my fingers, I plea “Give me the strength to pull this weakness out of my body.” Continue reading

A Prayer for Strength

 

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Dear Universal Source of Strength,

We pray for the strength to listen to the burdens of others, and the strength to bear burdens of our own.

We ask for help in negotiating the fine line between personal strength and public aggression.

We hope the we show our own strength in the wisest of ways.

We pray for those who must summon strength all too often, those who battle, those whose suffering seems unfairly immense.

We hope that their strength is honored, not exploited.

We ask that you continue to show us the ways we can support the strength in those around us.

We ask for strength that comes from a friend’s hug, a warm cup of tea, and a good meal.

We hope that we find this strong support easily.

We pray for those for whom the strong support of loved ones is not available.

We hope that when we search ourselves for strength in times of trouble, we are able to find it.

We pray that when we cannot find it ourselves, someone does us the kindness of showing us our own strength.

We ask for the wisdom to recognize our own strength, even when it comes in quiet forms.

We pray that the strength of this world, this time, be a strength of compassion, love, and tenderness toward all things.

Amen.

More Than Just Godliness

Today we are delighted to feature our second post from Alexa. In her first post this month, Alexa talked about the strength she sees in her mother’s face. Today, Alexa looks at how her travels, and her passion for  travel as a means of personal growth and self-fulfillment, have given her wider perspectives on the strength people can derive from faith and religion. Check out more of Alexa’s writing on her blog, Past the Horizon.

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My First Communion

My mom has always said that if there were a gift that she could impart to me before she dies, it would be her faith in God. It is this faith that gives her strength and has kept her afloat throughout life’s tough moments. She believes that God works in mysterious ways, and though there are challenging moments in life, that pain and suffering isn’t pointless. It’s all for a reason. So perhaps when you are going through a rough moment, what you’ll learn from that experience will help make you a more compassionate person towards others in similar circumstances, or make you a better friend or parent in the future.

All of my life, I have seen and admired my moms’ faith for what it is, but for whatever reason it is something that I have just never felt in my being.
At this moment in my life, I would most aptly describe myself as an agnostic. Despite personally not feeling this faith in a higher power, I do recognize the strength that it can offer individuals when dealing with life’s many knocks.

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At the Blue Ridge Mountains with Different World Views

I don’t think; however, that this strengthening faith has to necessarily be constricted to the realms of godliness. I think that if you marvel at the mystery of life, nature the cosmos, the world, existence, and how the world works in cycles…you can see that nothing lasts forever, and whatever you are going through, it will change eventually.

I think there is solace in knowing that even with you lying perfectly still the world still revolves and life continues. Everything happens for a reason and faith in God, nature, and even other people’s faith is something that can be comforting and offer you added strength when you have none to spare.

The Strength to Survive with Grace

Today’s post is again about the strength of mothers. Sharon Thomas, who has been a church planter and pastor for many years throughout Chicago and the Midwest writes about her mother’s strength to survive, to endure, and to do it all with grace. According to Sharon, this where she gets her strength from…

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Sharon’s mother as a young woman

In honor of my mother who went to be with Jesus when she was only 44 years old. I wrote this several years ago for a college composition class. Mom I love you. . . .
 There are many ways to measure success. I doubt my mom would have considered herself successful, no matter how you measured it. My mom’s success can only be measured in intangible ways, like her unselfish devotion to her family and her godly character that she knowingly or unknowingly passed down to me.
 Mom would have thought of herself as rather ordinary looking, but now when I look at the old black and white photographs of her, I can’t help but notice how pretty she was. She was quite tall and rather large boned. She had a strong, slender body and long, lanky arms and legs. Her face had a pure, clean look, like she had just scrubbed it with fresh, cold water. When I was going through adolescence, my mom diligently instructed me to never pick my pimples, because doing so would cause unsightly, permanent scars, and since she had none of these unsightly scars, I figured she knew what she was talking about. She also urge me to sit up straight. I never did that as well as she did. She sat with her long, slender back straight and her shoulders up as if she had just seen her date arrive at the senior prom.
 A person could not tell by the way she carried herself that she had a hard, difficult life, and that she was raising eight children with none of the modern conveniences enjoyed by most people during the ’50’s and ’60’s. The only tell-tale sign of her hard life was her rough, calloused hands. I can see her now as she would go out the back porch to hang up the heavy, wet laundry with the cold, north wind howling around her like invisible arms trying to whirl her around and her ungloved hands fumbling to get the clothes pins in place. Several hours later, she would hurry out again to take the now frozen clothes off the line. They were freeze dried and looked like they could walk in by themselves, and I could not help but notice her red, chapped hands.
 In the late evening after the dishes were washed and put away, mom would sit on the worn, faded couch between my sister and me with an old, frayed hymn book in those rough, cracked hands, and we would sing up a storm. The singing and laughter filled the house like the aroma of mom’s fresh baked bread, and it made us feel warm and secure. The memories I have of her bringing in laundry, kneading her bread dough or rubbing Vick’s mentholatem on my chest when I had a chest cold instilled in me the knowledge that her hands were an extension of her heart.
 A difficult life seems to have a way of making us bitter or better. Mom was successful at focusing her life on what she could change and not on what she could not. Her inner strength and joyful spirit enabled her to live above her circumstances and thankfully she passed that strength and spirit down to me. It was her nature to think the best of every situation, so I have learned how to respond to unsettling and difficult situations in my life by watching my mother. Mom was successful because she lived her life for something that would outlast it.

The Truth about Strength

By: Jenni Taylor

There are easy truths that take no strength at all to believe.

These are the truths about yourself, the ones that start as a germ of an idea and worm their way into very official-looking file cabinets and folders filled with examples, proofs, quotes, and graphs.These are the truths that may have started with a mistake, an imperfection, or a failure. They are often truths that began as someone else’s words, and those words became tattoos etched on skin.They are easy.

It’s easy to look in the mirror and be critical, self-deprecating, and mean. It’s easy to put on the blinders and only see faults, shouting, “This is me! I am ugly! I am worthless! I am unloved! I will never change!” It’s easy to open those file folders and prove how right you are about how wrong you were made.

It is much, much harder to speak the truths that take strength to believe. Strength you might not be sure you have anymore. Strength, and a little faith (about the size of a mustard seed is usually enough) to see what else is there.

“I am a runner.” This is a fact. I run. The days when the endorphins kick in and I’m on top of the world, I can shout out this truth complete with fist pumps. But there are days, many days, when
I am slow. I am tired. Everything hurts. There are mornings when I creak out of bed and can’t manage to stand up straight, and saying I am a runner sounds like a hilarious joke in my ears. But I
say it, and I do it, and no matter what I feel, it is true.

Some truths require belief and action. “I am a writer” is only true if I write, and I have the strength to do so. Others require nothing but belief, and can rock the ground under my feet if I actually hold them tight.

“I am important.”

“I am beautiful.”

“I am loved.”

The truths get harder. Identities are easy to lose in the face of circumstance. We spend years in high school and college building up our personality tests telling us that we are good at something,until the real world hits and we realize we might not be that good after all.

But who we are doesn’t go away. So, today I pray for the strength to believe the truths about myself- the truths that bring life, hope, healing, and return to strength once again.

Strength is My Mother’s Face

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Mother and daughter dolls made in Colombia 

Today’s post is from Alexa, and it is the first of two she has written for us this month. Alexa was born in Colombia, South America but raised in the States. Today’s post focuses on the strength Alexa finds in her mother, and how as she has traveled the world, she has come to appreciate her mother’s strength even more. You can read more of Alexa’s writing on her blog, Past the Horizon.

Strength manifests itself in so many different ways. But for me, strength has always worn my mother’s face. Though it’s not a face I always recognized in the moment, as the years have gone by and my understanding of events has expounded, I have come to recognize this face more easily, and admire the woman who meets life’s challenges with grace and faith.

At five year’s old I boarded a plane only to arrive in the U.S. a couple of hours later. You can imagine my vast disappointment when I realized that the United States is not synonymous with Disney world, as I’d previously been led to believe.

The first few years in the U.S. were really difficult. I didn’t understand why my mom had to work so hard. We lived with roommates, sometimes I had to be left alone, and though I was with my mom all the time I really missed her. Those were the days when I would be the first person dropped off at daycare, and the last one to leave minutes before they officially closed.

I missed my dad and all of the family members we had left behind in Colombia.

Why had we left our country for this? In Colombia we belonged to a higher social class, had many luxuries, were comfortable, and had all of our family. Why would my mom leave all of that behind to come to a new country with her little daughter? Why had she come to this country whose language she didn’t speak very well? Her title in business administration hadn’t even carried over from one country to another, and for a while she worked as a waitress at restaurants.

Like many immigrants before her, my mom came to this country in the hopes of a brighter future. Though we did have many luxuries in Colombia my mom had the strength to leave those comforts behind and work for something better. She loved my father, but she had to leave him to his vices in the hopes that by creating distance I wouldn’t have to grow up exposed to such things.

The older I get the more I find myself asking, “How did she do it?”. When I lived in France and China, being an immigrant, even a temporary one, was so difficult. There’s a language barrier, and even when you know the language you don’t know exactly how to say the right things, there’s a different culture and way of doing things, figuring out healthcare and where to go in case of emergencies is a pain, and creating a support system takes time.