And In Each Other: Rejoice!

The warm, squishy body wriggled in my arms for a few minutes. Penny, my aunt and uncle’s dog, let me snuggle her, and then looked up at me as if to say, “Dude, it’s loud in here.”

And it was. I was home for Christmas for the first time in years, and my father’s side of the family had all come together and raucously filled my aunt and uncle’s house. The number of cousins is in the double digits, and that doesn’t include their significant others, children or my grandmother and our aunts and uncles themselves. The dining room was packed full of people who have known me since my birth or theirs.

It was, to be honest, perfect. It is kinship of the clearest kind– forged through years of laughter and heartache, built on a strong foundation of finding love and joy within each other, even when it felt impossible.

I love Christmastime for lots of reasons. Beyond the surface-level, it’s a time to remember to love as puppies and babies do— without restraint or judgement, and with a full-hearted sense of wonder and awe.

This Christmas, though, I was in mass reflecting on the nativity. I was praying with imagination and imagining myself in the stable. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve normally seen myself in awe as one of the shepherds or wise men.

This time though, for reasons beyond my understanding, I imagined myself as Mary. Don’t get me wrong– I hold no lofty illusions about my own lack of sin or greatness in the world. I was just sitting in mass, thinking about her in that moment, and realized that Mary must’ve been so scared.

I mean, pregnancy is scary. Motherhood is scary. Doing all of those things, at a young age, when you didn’t even conceive the kid but instead because some angel showed up and said God wanted you to? Like, how even? Now, to top it all off, everyone in the neighborhood is being the worst and you have to birth this kid in a stable, one of the coldest and grossest places one could birth a tiny human? That is truly some shenanigans right there.

In all seriousness, though, I imagined how helpless I would’ve felt in a moment like that– how out of control everything would’ve seemed, how my body would’ve, perhaps no longer felt like mine.

And I got a little teary because I have certainly felt that way this year.

Then, in all that fear and helplessness and pain, I thought about how Mary looked up and saw people around her— a husband that stayed with her through the most ridiculous of circumstances, random folks from the meadows who were told that they needed to come through. And I remembered a line from Fr. Boyle’s book, Barking to the Choir: “If love is the answer, community is the context, and tenderness is the methodology.”

In the middle of the worst conditions, the birth of a child created a community of warmth and love. For one night, that stable was an enclave of joy, laughter, love, and light. In a time of struggle, tenderness rallied these people together to create something much stronger and more powerful. Much like the dining room of my aunt and uncle’s house, they found raucous, bubbling kinship in each other, even when the world outside felt less than hospitable.

In my own time of personal struggle this year, when I felt helpless and out of control, was it not my own community that made me feel like I could overcome and reminded me that I was loved? Was it not the friends consistently at my side supporting me, the people the universe conspired to bring into my life, the family who loved me unconditionally? Earlier this week, I spent time with people who I had no blood connection with, but who had known me for nearly twenty years. Some I am still very close with, some I hadn’t seen in ages, but no matter what I was welcomed with open arms and laughter.

Ultimately, what staves off fear and helplessness is connecting with and loving each other, even when it feels impossible, even when the connection may not seem visible. It may be your blood family. It may be your chosen family. It may be the dude who you were arranged to marry and some shepherds who followed a star.

You never know how and when community will emerge though. The question is, when it comes, will you be ready to accept it? Will you be ready to turn your back to the harshness of the outside world not to forget it, but to seek to improve it by turning towards each other and rejoicing in the presence and light of others?

So, as we move into 2018, I am eager to continue finding the communities of kinship, and rejoicing not simply in all things, but trying to rejoice in all people. I am hopeful to try and focus this year not just on love, but on community and tenderness too.

For a savior was born unto us for one real reason: because, above all else, we are loved.

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Love, Boundless and Unflinching: On Father’s Day

We are walking toward the crater. The wind is whipping and it’s cold— still a surprise in Hawai’i, even though I understand the science behind it.It is Christmas and, without thinking, I instinctively reach forward and grab my father’s hand.

The memory isn’t an unusual one for me, though later when I think bout it I suppose it could be. It isn’t some distant wisp of a moment from my childhood. It’s from this past Christmas. At 28, I still occasionally reach out and grab my father’s hand.

When I think about the myriad of reasons my father is special, this is one. Yes, all people show affection differently, but it less so the actual physical affection my father gives and more the unflinching openness with which he gives it. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that I could grab my father’s hand, rest my head on his shoulder, or go in for a hug and that my action—and, I suppose, my love— would be reciprocated without question.

I once had a coworker ask me what made my relationship with my parents special, or what I thought they had done right. I don’t know that I saw it as a kid, but it strikes me clear as day now: my parents loved us without question. It was not only unconditional, which I think most parents feel, but it was obvious in its completeness.

My father, especially with all the tropes that exist about Latino fathers having rule after rule for their daughters, never once gave me a reason to think I was anything but loved. There was never a doubt that the hand would hold mine, the shoulder would carry my head, or the arms would wrap around me when I asked for them.

This is the kind of love that breeds very brave souls, I think. It is the kind of love that sends me into the world, perhaps to my father’s vexation, with a big-hearted sense of vulnerability.  It gives me the strength to always reach out to others, instinctively take their hand, and love without bounds. Not only did it model what limitless love looked like, but it also taught us that we could love others and, regardless of their reaction, know that we would be unquestioningly loved by someone anyway. So many of us go out into the world seeking to be loved or cared for. There is a great sense of freedom that comes with the knowledge that no matter what happens to me, I am still a child beloved by their father.

Recently, I was reading the Prayer of St. Francis, and was struck by the following line: “O Master grant that I may never seek… to be loved as to love with all my soul.” This is the type of love my dad (aptly named “Francisco”) lives: a love without need for reciprocation or repayment, a love that exists as the air does— on principal alone.

So, thanks, Dad, for living a boundless and unflinching love each day. Happy Father’s Day. I know I can say always without question: I love you.

We Are The Adventurers: Thoughts on May the 4th

We have always been a family of dreamers.

My brother and I like to joke that growing up in our house set us up to be nerds. From a  young age, images of space, aliens, and other worlds were as much a part of my life as the introduction music to Reading Rainbow (and when the show visited the set of Star Trek: TNG, I nearly wept with joy).

My father loved science fiction, and I would often walk downstairs to find him watching an episode of The X-Files or Star Trek (TNG, then Voyager later). Sometimes, he would even pop in 2001: A Space Odyssey just for fun.

So, it should come as no surprise that Star Wars was, like many, a seminal part of my childhood. Empire Strikes Back was actually my parents’ second date. I can’t even remember the first time  I watched it. We had (and still have) a VHS gold box edition of the original trilogy that my brother and I would put on anytime our parents worked late or we were just looking for something to do. Our first “pets,” two tadpoles fished out of a grimy stream, were named “Luke” and “Leia.”

When I think, now, of why science fiction was such an important part of my upbringing it was because there was consistently a sense that magic was possible in our household. Growing up one of the few Latino-Filipino families in our upper-middle-class suburb, it would have been easy for our parents to err on the side of pragmatism. They had worked hard to ensure that my brother and I didn’t want for anything, and I have no doubt they wanted us to be successful and be able to take care of ourselves financially as well.

What they also did, though, was ensure that a drive for success never outweighed our ability to dream. When I wrote Star Wars fan fiction (no, you can’t see it, because I burned it) or we spent hours playing and collecting Star Wars cards, my parents never scolded us for wasting our time. When we poured over books to learn the mechanical and tactical differences between an X-Wing and  TIE fighter, they didn’t tell us to do something “better.”  When we devoured Star Wars novels to continue the stories in our head, they didn’t grab the pulp novels out of our hands, shoving “real” literature into them. They asked what we liked about the books.

My parents encouraged our imaginations, enabled our passions, and gave us space to think about other galaxies and imagine what it would be like to pilot the Millenium Falcon. When we watched Return of the Jedi together, my mom said she could understand the Ewoks (and since Lucas borrowed heavily from Tagalog, she could), and my brother and I looked at her with wonder in our eyes.

We were allowed to be weird, mind-adventurers because we lived in a household that fully supported not just the existence of magic, but also the discussion of what could be out there that was much, much bigger than us. 

So, when I hear John Williams’s opening credits, I still feel that sense of childhood wonder. My heart squeezes a little, and I can’t help but feel a smile spread across my face. Sure, in some ways it’s because I’m excited to see the familiar faces of Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie come on screen.

Even more affecting, though, is the memory of my magical family. When I hear the opening credits of Star Wars, I instantly remember the feeling of my family curled up in the living room watching with wonder, dreaming together, and imagining what it would be like to live in a galaxy far, far away.

For My Parents, On Their Anniversary

When I was a kid, I was scared of a lot of things. A naturally anxious child, I fretted about whether I was a good person, what I would be when I grew up, if anyone even liked me. Despite a pretty stable existence, the world often seemed like it could change so quickly that I was sure its inconsistencies would some day bop me over the head, turn my world upside down, and try and break me apart.

Then, I would see my mom and dad, and take pause. My parents, their love for us, and their love for each other are the constant, steadying force that often helps me find my center. When everything seems to be unraveling, that love pierces through as a reminder I can look at, thinking, This, this is a pure, holy, true thing.

That’s not to say I think it has been easy. My parents have gotten through things that, as kids, we just assumed they would handle. Health issues and long commutes to LA so we could live in a nice area and go to great schools. Jobs that were emotionally taxing and kids that didn’t always understand that (mostly me). My parents love is a love of perseverance and tough choices, of looking at problems and finding a way to joyfully move forward, however difficult. Theirs is the kind of love that faces challenges head on and can look back after and laugh about how they got over that hump or out of that hole. 

At a time when, honestly, I know two-parent households weren’t necessarily the norm, I marvel that I was so blessed to have not only that, but a childhood filled to the brim with this joyful, consistent, lasting love. I know it is the kind of love that, now, helps me face my own problems head on, and look back after and smile, because I was able to make it through.

So, thanks Mommy and Daddy. Your love story is one that teaches me more than any Disney movie or fairy tale ever could, because it’s one that I get to live through and witness every single day.

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5 Cool Things: 2015 Reflections and 2016 Resolutions

When I started this blog last year, I began it with the intention of forcing myself to write once a week. I had no idea whether it would stick– I had been on tumblr since 2009– and barely considered myself a writer.

A year and a day later, and the world has certainly changed since that post. In my early and mid-twenties, I was big on sweeping, long-form resolutions posts. Unfortunately, I have to get up in four-and-a-half hours to get on a plane, so here’s a quick summary before I forget.


 

Five Cool Things I Did in 2015:

1. I started seeing myself as an actual writer, and so did other people. I obviously didn’t need other people’s validation, but it certainly helped. Getting paid actual money to write for EdWeekTeaching Tolerance and other sites was the first time I felt like writing was more than a hobby and something like an actual part of my career.

2. I created space for myself, including buying this domain name! I was worried at first, but pushing myself to create that space lead to lots of opportunities for me.

3. I continued to love my job. It is so great. It feels like home. It also inspired me to find side-jobs that are not promo-girling and actually benefit who I am and my growth. I pushed my own line of thinking and began to understand my role as an educator.

4. I am still learning to love my body and that’s okay.

5. I HIT THAT SUB-4 MARATHON AND BACK-TO-BACK MARATHONED OHHHH YEAHHHH.

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Yay! Obviously, there are a billion other things: family time, friend time, falling even deeper love with my guy. These are just some of the things.


Six 2016 Resolutions

1. Make more connections, especially with local educators, but also continuing to deepen the ones I’ve found online.

2. Become a better and more diverse writer. I’ve written mostly about education, which I love, but I’m already starting to expand my writing horizons.

3. Make space and time for people I love. I tend to get caught up in the digital world and less so in the real world. Time to try and change that. I obviously love the people I’ve met online, but I don’t want to neglect the human people in my life!

4. Be a better teacher. Always. I’m already thinking about next year, but I still want to finish this school year strong! Time to make sure the things I talk about are more than words and truly part of my practice (I think they are but I think I could get better).

5. Deepen my relationship with Christ. I’m going to write more about this next week, but I’m committing to taking time in 2016 to truly refocus and strengthen my relationship with God. I’m already planning on trying to do an eight-day silent retreat at an Ignatian house this summer. We’ll see how it goes.

6. Run a faster half-marathon, but keep a healthy detachment from running! The past two years I had specific running goals: first to run a marathon again after my break, and then to sub-4. Now that I’ve hit that, it’s time to think a little differently.


I am very excited to move into the new year surrounded with so much love and joy. After a wonderful two weeks with my family, I’m excited to spend tomorrow with friends and my partner. Here’s to a restful, successful and blessed new year.

The Holy Act of Rememberance

Two years ago, my grandfather passed away. I rediscovered the below post, which I don’t remember writing, and found myself trying to re-learn the lessons he left.

Over the Thanksgiving break, I went back to California for a whole slew of events: a friend’s wedding, Thanksgiving, and my ten-year high school reunion.

I used to harbor a general dislike for my hometown, but in this trip I saw Southern California with new eyes. The city has grown more diverse, and my partner and I had an excellent time seeing family and friends.

The highlight, though, was Thanksgiving with my family. Between helping my aunt teach my mom’s family mahjong (a game I grew up playing with my friends in high school), and spending the evening looking through boxes of old photos with my dad’s side of the family, I was constantly immersed in the love of people who I knew, wherever I went, were a part of me.

In the past, I don’t think I was far enough removed to understand what it was to be away. When I first moved out to the island, my dad (who had lived in Mexico, away from home, for many years himself) warned me that moving away from what you thought was “home” is a painful, but important part of growing up.

I see now how right he was. Before, I was still wrestling with my own understanding of my place in the world, and I couldn’t appreciate the duality of a place being “home” and “not-home” all at once.

When you’re ready, though, going “home” has a way of resetting your equilibrium. It digs deep into your genetic makeup and lets you see the ridges and  bubbles that formed in your bones when they were growing. The journey to and time spent there help you understand where you come from. It’s the only real way to understand where you are now. 

So, my grandfather gave me another gift this winter and, in re-reading what I wrote a few years ago, reminded me to remember. When we seek new joy, we do so with the sacred wisdom gained by studying all the parts of you that are embedded deep down in old, weathered ways.


December 2013

Memory is a funny thing.

My grandfather passed away last Sunday. It’s been pretty hard. After the all-too-soon death of my aunt this past April, ending 2013 with another passing is just a lot.

I haven’t known how to feel the past week.We were fortunate enough to know what was happening earlier in the week, so I was able to get on the phone with him and say goodbye while he was still really lucid. I’m really happy I got to hear him say my name one last time.

Still, while that is what makes me feel much better, it also ripped my heart in half. Like I wrote last April, I don’t handle grief with any consistency. One minute, I am ok– calm, even– and with the belief that things will inevitably be ok. The next, I am doubled-over, ugly-crying in pain and frustration and anger at the whole world. I had felt fine when I started writing this post, for example, but my grandmother called me while I was writing and I’ve spent the past 10 minutes sobbing, “pero, se extraño.”

“Yo sé, todos se extrañamos, pero voy a ser fuerte contigo.”

So there’s the woman who lost her husband, my abuela, comforting me. Love, it seems, is always fully of limitless strength and always surprising.

Anyway, while there is love and strength, with grief always comes all of its stages. The anger is the worst part (though, fortunately, the most fleeting). I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know what exactly I’m angry at. I spent much of the past 6 years being incredibly angry at God, and I know that will probably get me nowhere. God is there for strength, love, tough questions, but when I want to rail at the unfairness of things, He has nothing but quiet patience and understanding– this is just the way things are, and His will or my confusion really aren’t the major players here.

Frankly, I was angry at the nature of life itself. By Wednesday of this past week, I was just mad at how fucking temporary it all is. At some point, everyone I love is going to leave. They’re either going to leave me or die. So why the fuck bother with anything?

Despite my faith, despite long nights of reading and prayer, despite a loving family and caring, understanding friends and coworkers, and PJ (who has been a saint in dealing with my pretty erratic mood swings that sometimes manifest as unnecessary anger at him before I start weeping, which is totally attractive), I hadn’t really shaken that question until today. If everything I love and enjoy is eventually going to end… this fucking sucks, I thought, and I’m mad I have to even be part of this charade. What’s even left? I angrily questioned God. If you are solitary, no one even knows you’re gone. If you had a lot of love, you just leave a lot of people really sad that you’re gone. WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL OF THIS ANYWAY THEN?

Ya. I was in a place.

On the flight out here, I was randomly watching whatever short film Hawaiian Air puts on. I don’t remember what it was about, but as if God was answering my frustrations, this phrase stuck out (paraphrased):

There are some times when we go to a place and, we don’t know why, but it speaks to us. We know yes, this feels good. We don’t have to know why. When this happens, we call it “ancestral memory.” When you feel it, you know somewhere, one of your grandparents is telling you this is what you need.

She didn’t say “aunt” or “uncle” or anything else. As if meant for me, the quote hung there, letting me marvel at it for a second.

I don’t necessarily have a lot of specific memories of my grandfather. I mean, I DO, but everything in my family’s history is so weaved together it’s hard to tell what are my memories and what has been embellished with the shared stories of my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I know my grandfather made me laugh a lot. I remember, once, when he sat me down at my aunt’s dining room table and gave me a book of Mexican folklore and spoke to me about history. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember the feeling of warmth and sanctity, of thinking this is an important moment for me to remember.

When I heard that quote, and in looking up photos when I got home, I realized that what I knew deep in my heart, in my DNA, in my ancestral memory, in my na’au, is that my grandfather loved me. He loved all of us, a lot. Even if the colors are faded in those experiences with him, the feeling of love, caring, joy– that always remains deeply embedded in us.

Appropriate, then, that this week is Gaudete Sunday, a day of seeking joy in our lives. It seems like it might be hard to find joy in this weekend, and it might– in the secular sense. Fr. Martin, S.J. though, recently published a great reminder about the Christian idea of joy:

Joy has an object and that object is God. The ultimate response to the good news is joy, one that is lasting and can endure even in the midst of difficulties.

While my grandfather is no longer with us, the lasting effect of his existence– the creation of my large, extended family, his thirst for knowledge, his quiet thoughtfulness, the fact that he is always present in my childhood memories when I think about “family,” and “love,”– that is the type of joy that lasts beyond the sadness of losing him. THAT is what we give to others by being here, despite our temporary existence in this form. The human connection to share love with others is transforming for those who give and those who receive.

So, perhaps that is my grandfather’s most recent gift to me. In his passing, he forced me to face the anger I’ve held onto all year and choose to let it go. He forced me to rip my heart open and grieve before using that pain as a reminder of how strong we all are. Now, he watches, and gives his wistful half-smile reminding me: Mija, no te preocupes. Nothing ends. There is always love.

Te extraño mucho, abuelo, y te amo siempre.

I Am (Also) the Blood of Warriors: On Veterans Day

I’ve been discovering a lot about family lately.

In doing so, some questions came up, but so did a lot of good stories I just didn’t know.

My grandmother, Rosalina, a 1st Sgt in the US Army during WWII, before she ever became a citizen. She met my grandfather while he was a guerilla fighter during the war.

My grandmother, Rosalina, a 1st Sgt in the US Army during WWII, before she ever became a citizen. She met my grandfather while he was a guerilla fighter during the war.

My grand-uncle Manuel and my great-grandmother.

My grand-uncle Manuel and my great-grandmother.

My grand-uncle Manuel, who is a WWII and D-Day Veteran. He flew in B16 bombers during the war.

My grand-uncle Manuel, who is a WWII and D-Day Veteran. He flew in B16 bombers during the war.

My abuelo, second from the right.

My abuelo, second from the right.

At a time where I am still trying to understand my place in this country, it is nice to have these stories: ones where my family grabbed life by the reigns and decided they would do their best to master their fate.

Still, they are also complex stories: they came back from the war and still struggled to understand what their lives here meant. They still worked themselves to the bone to ensure upward mobility in a system that, despite their veteran status, consistently tried to deny them of it. The resilience that helped them survive the war and the military had to be channeled into navigating a system that, while they had fought for it, was also in some ways not built for them.

If America is built on the foundation of stories like my family’s, then I am only more inspired to keep pushing this country towards true greatness. We have been warriors, problem-solvers, and risk-takers that fought demons externally for generations.

Now, it’s time to keep wrestling with our internal demons too.