Tuesday, June 3, 2014

And now for something completely different: A note on transition and continuity

In the fall of 2012, God confronted me with these questions: "If I were to take these things away from you, would you still love me? Would you still call me good?" No surprise here but these questions continue to be huge in my life.  In the fall of 2012, I was in the midst of struggling to stay in the Master’s program due to financial struggles. I was working three jobs and barely making it. God provided for me abundantly and I was able to continue on because of His grace.

Fast forward to April/May 2014. The same fear of losing my status in the program creep up. This time it is not for financial reasons but for academic. I started to question my ability and I get into this same emotional struggle for control. God again provides for me so abundantly, giving me one of the sweetest moments of peace during my presentation before the history department. It was surreal. I had barely eaten or slept for the two weeks leading up to this thing. I had sought God but found Him to be silent at this time. He knew that my desire for control was killing me. Literally killing me. The anxiety I felt, the fear, the depression was so great that I couldn’t stand it. I prayed for death more in those two weeks than I had in the years I have struggled with depression altogether. It was ridiculous.

So at this point in the story, some people might talk about how their lives have improved or how their struggles have ended in this area. That is not how my story has gone. I have always struggled with the concept of control and letting God have control of my life. I love controlling every aspect of my life. I do this a number of ways, whether it is by planning my weeks out in detail or thinking about different scenarios that may happen in the day and planning various responses. When things do not match my expectations, I tend to feel lost or confused. This has definitely improved over the course of time but I still struggle to some extent.

After finishing my presentation, I experienced extreme relief. I still am currently working on edits to my paper so that I can advance to candidacy, but I have not had the time to think about it lately. I am currently preparing for summer teaching job with the Institute of Reading Development. In this new job, I will be creating a positive association with reading for students ranging in ages from 4 through adults. The training has been crazy and demanding, but I have found so much joy in preparing for this job.

The first phase of training produced a lot of anxiety that I was not expecting. I had anxiety over ruining children’s lives, having my students hate me, and being an ineffective teacher. I also began to feel the need for community more than ever. Spending close to ten hours a day in front of a computer with no social interaction nearly killed me (or at least it felt like I was dying). As I felt alone, I began to realize that the source of my anxiety shifted. I am starting to see that my anxiety is the result of a time of transition. I have been in this period for some time, but the reality of it has just now begun to manifest itself fully.

I am in limbo. I do not have a set next step. I still have things to accomplish, to be sure, but I am in a state of waiting. I am in a place of not knowing what exactly comes next. This may be ok for some but I think the majority of the human population can relate to feeling some sort of sorrow or brokenness during these periods of change. 

But it is not an anxiety that is foreign to me. This is just another aspect of my struggle to control. I argue with God constantly, stating that if He let’s me in on what is next, I will be content. But He doesn’t want to let me in just yet. He wants my trust. He is more than deserving. Looking over the past years of my blog and notes, I can clearly see that He is active and He is providing. But I still want control. What is worse is that I am beginning to realize that I project this anxiety into my life and my relationships. I feel like I am constantly losing ground each day and that I am no better than where I started.

My supervisor for the summer has been extremely helpful in directing me to truth. In one of our first conversations about these anxious feelings he told me I was normal. Can you believe it? Me? Being normal? It is true though. Someone out there is responding to the world just like I do. Someone out there feels alone. Someone out there is broken and in need of healing. The power in solidarity is not to be underestimated. 

His words did not stop there. He asked me, “What story are you telling yourself Athena?” This is the same thing that I have heard in church my whole life, but for some reason, Ben’s words struck where others had fallen flat. God had seen me miss His message so many times and continued to seek a new way to reach me. It was life giving.

I am in this awkward phase of not knowing what is up. I am not fully ok with it yet and maybe I never will be, but one thing that I am going to try is to think about what I am going to achieve and not what I want to avoid. The self-destructing cycle has to stop and I think this may be the way to go about it.

So you are probably wondering what you just read. I am wondering what I just wrote. It is perfectly normal. I am not sure what is next, but if there is anything I have learned this semester, it is to just do life and God will provide all else. He has done pretty darn amazing so far.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I know I planned to update you all on a daily and then on city basis but things got to be kind of crazy with lack of sleep and the pace that this trip went. Three weeks is such a short amount of time and the constant switching of cities made things a bit more difficult to process. I do not think I have ever felt so exhausted, so uncomfortable, so vulnerable, and so thankful in my whole life.

After the great time I had in Berlin we headed to Prague. It was not my favorite city last time and the heat caused it to be the bane of my existence this time. The architecture is great when it is not boiling outside. I developed a cough on the first day in the city and a few heat rashes. I could not sleep the majority of the time there because the heat reached unbearable temperatures. The last day we were in the city, the temperature dropped a bit and was tolerable. It also happened to be the day that we went to Lidice. This is a town that was completely destroyed and wiped off the earth. Nothing remains except the foundations of a few buildings, not even graves. I was struck by the fact that some women survived but were not represented in the memorial. It seems like the only way to be remembered is to be a victim and die.

My depression was also a struggle this trip. I was constantly feeling worthless, unwanted, and unloved. I felt like I could not relate to anyone and that no one wanted to relate to me. It was so hard that many nights I would blow up at my fellow students and Dr. Blutinger. They did not understand nor do I expect them to. I do not even understand what I am feeling most of the time.

Vienna was a great improvement from Prague. It is such a cool city with great food and coffee. We went to Mauthausen concentration camp, which was a hard hike. I seriously felt like Dr. Blutinger was trying to kill me. I did not really notice much within the camp because I was tired, but I plan to look at the history of the brothels within the camp and see what I can find on women. On our free day I finally got to go on the Riesenrad and see the whole city. It is a giant ferris wheel that is similar to the London Eye but a lot older and smaller. We also walked quite some distance in the rain to get to the zoo, which I did not enjoy because I was soaked through and my umbrella decided to commit suicide.

Budapest was wonderful. The city is absolutely stunning and one of the cheaper cities we stayed in. I felt so weird though because I felt like the city still has not learned from it past and continues to choose right-wing extremist ideals. The fact that Roma are still actively persecuted in Hungary is terrible and I just cannot believe that antisemitism and other forms of extreme prejudice is on the rise. Do we learn nothing from our past?

We stayed in two cities in Poland: Warsaw and Krakow. I love Warsaw because I love the big city feel it gives and the variety of things to do. I got to go out to some hipster bars and see the zoo where Jews were hidden during the Holocaust. I also got to know the city more and have wonderful food. I really love sour rye soup so whenever I had the opportunity, I ordered it.

I think Krakow is where I finally got to share how I was feeling with at least two of my group and things started to get better the last night I was there. I kind of sort of feel like we ended the trip in Auschwitz. I felt that way last time too. It just seems like when studying the Holocaust all roads lead to Auschwitz. I am still not sure what this means for me.

The title of this blog reflects very much how I am feeling. I am processing everything that has happened in the last weeks and it is still weird to think that a few days ago my life was in Poland. As I process more, I will update my thoughts.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Berlin Update

So updating everyday just cannot happen. I post the photos of the day but I am too exhausted when I get back to the hotel each night. But to keep y’all up to date as much as possible I will sum up each city. We are currently on a four hour train to Prague and I am sad to leave Berlin. From the second we landed, I was at home. I love hearing the German language spoken and being around good food all the time. After the first night and hanging out with Kortnie and Laine, we spent the day walking basically all over Berlin. We did not finish until probably 7am or 8am after starting at 9:30am. We started with the Topography of Terror museum, which I saw the last time. It gives the same general overview of the Holocaust as all the others but I decided to see how women were portrayed or what languages was used to describe them. I am not 100% sure what I really can come with yet, but I notice that the word “innocent” is used with the killing of women more often than with men. 

After that we took a walking tour with this laminated pictures of an artistic installation from 1991. It was weird to be confronted with these three times periods all at one time. Then I got to switch off with Dr. Blutinger and teach my fellow classmates about a few memorials. It was fun to share this information with them and to see their reactions to the memorials. Jack actually pointed out the fact that the Rosenstrasse Memorial, while dedicated to women, has like no women on it. I may end up writing about that. I am just obsessed with the gendered language within Holocaust memorialization
We conclude the tour and grabbed dinner at anarchistic/punk pizza place. The pizza was so good and the company was even better. I am enjoying the group but I still feel like I am not really accepted. I try to get things going and no one wants to join. I find what is even more frustrating is the fact that Dr. Blutinger is so willing to spend time with everyone. Last time he was trying to escape from us at every turn. 

Monday I had to be at the archive at 9 so I headed out earlier than the others. It was a good experience and taught me to be brave when asking for directions from Germans. I did get some good information on how to prepare for my next archive visit and the archivist said she wanted me to come back and do more research. She was so nice!

After the archive, I went with some of the students to Café Einstein Stammhaus for Apfelstrudel and whipped cream as well as a wonderful iced coffee. We also went to KaDeWe to look at the toys and ate döner kabap at Mustafa’s. It was fun to drink beer in line and then eat delicious food.

Yesterday we went to the Wannsee Conference house and I got to walk in the backyard. I want to live there so badly. I then broke off from the group to just see Bonhoeffer’s house. I got there not expecting the guide to be there but he was. He was a wonderful archivist who let me see the whole of the house and gave me such great information for my thesis. I was also asked to come back to do research there as well.

I need some coffee so I went to Fassbender und Rausch. I had an iced coffee with a tiramisu tort. It was freakin bomb. I loved it so much and did not want to leave the cool of the café but I had to meet with the class. We toured the information center under the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We discussed the museum but one thing people do not seem to notice is the voids that are created intentionally within Holocaust memorials. Broken space meant to represent broken relationships. It is one of the things within studying the Holocaust that always points me back to the need for Christ. 

We concluded out day with dinner near the hostel and packing. Berlin is such a wonderful city but I am looking forward to seeing the Disneyland-meets-a-frat-party that is Prague. Will update in a few days.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I have found the place that I wish to call "Heimat"

Hello all! I have survived the crazy flights and severe case of jet lag that has gotten me to Germany. I felt, just as last time, that I was at home, walking the streets of LA and spending time with friends. This time was a little different because I had friends who have been studying in Germany this past year come to visit. We went out to dinner at a traditional German place and then got coffee after. While we did these things, we had such great conversation about what is going on in each others lives. I love being able to be vulnerable with these women and they have been the same with me. We may not agree on everything all the time, but we love one another and are able to encourage each other regardless. Parting with them was hard, but luckily for me they come back to the states in about two months.

Yesterday was insane. We had a full schedule that included basically a walking tour of the whole city, visiting various spots and memorials. I had the opportunity to share some of what I have studied, which is such a blessing, and introduced a few of my fellow students to doener! The day was amazing and tiring so we all came back and went to bed. Today is going to be an extremely different day for me. I am going to an archive in Kreuzburg and then a cafe with my classmates. I am hoping to convince some of them to join me on an adventure to Bonhoeffer's house and a memorial center to resistance movements. We shall see!

I will write more in detail later today. I am still really tired and my body is not cooperating. Keep prayers coming for me. I think it is the tiredness but I keep getting extreme feelings of loneliness and low self-worth.

PS: Heimat means hometown.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ich bin nach Deutschland gehen!

Hey all! I am leaving TODAY! I am pretty excited about this trip and all the possibilities that it may hold. I am trying to be prepared but not be so focused on my expectations. I would ask you to pray for me as I am abroad as well as pray for the students I am with. I get to actually do some teaching on this trip, which is incredibly exciting for me and I will be sharing as much as I can with you each day. I have about an hour until I leave for the airport so I will leave it here for now but please be praying. The next time I update, I will be in Germany!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

And I'm preparing every part for you

So it has kind of been a while. I have had so much going as of late that I have not been able to update as frequently as I would like. That is probably for the better though. The past few weeks have been some crazy hills and valleys. As most of you know, I struggle with depression and anxiety. Now I can add insomnia to the mix. I have not been sleeping very well or very much. It makes for an even more caffeine-dependent Athena. God has shown Himself in ways that I could have never imagine and I am incredibly grateful for this. I have been learning more and more how to rely on Him and His strength, but I still see myself fighting for control.

I was talking with Dr. Blutinger on Facebook and told him things out of my anger with God. As I result, Dr. B became concerned, which resulted in me having to talk with the department chair. Dr. Quam-Wickham is so incredibly awesome and so encouraging. She understood where I was coming from and even though she might not have understood how my faith plays into these things, she helped me out a lot. Since then I have been trying to regularly get time with God. I have not been consistent with it this semester and can feel it. I started a study a week ago that I am calling "Who am I?: My Identity in Jesus Christ." It takes a list of different things that God specifically calls us and the verses that go along with these identities. I look at the definition of the word and then read through the verse to see what God has to say about me. It is amazing how I feel after these things. I am still struggling with giving God full control in my life but I am working on the foundation. Last year I told everyone that I did not want to live in the identity of depression. I did not want to label myself as someone with depression. I want to know what God sees in me, and what He finds is beauty.

The title of this post comes from a Sufjan Stevens song called "All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands." Sufjan gets the title for the song from Isaiah 55:12 which states, 
"You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands."
The song and verse have been very relevant to me lately. They both talk about how we have to surrender to the knowledge that we cannot be everything for ourselves. I know this is not a popular notion. The fact is I cannot heal my broken mind; I am not capable of stopping my depression; I cannot control everything in my life. God is everything and is more than capable for everything.

 God has also shown me so much encouragement and love through others. I went to the History Department Awards Night last night and received the Chinski Award for excellence in Holocaust scholarship. Dr. Blutinger introduced me and the words he said made me cry. It is incredibly hard to see these things within myself and for another person to remind of my identity, I am stunned. The things He pointed out are a direct result of Christ working in my life. He may not agree but it is true. I had professors congratulating me which felt awesome. I had one professor, Dr. Kelleher, come up to me and tell me that she felt my paper was exactly what the donors would have envisioned when they established this award. I was so shocked by the kindness. I walked back to my car praising God for these sweet gifts that reminded me of my true identity. 

I have so much to learn. Thankfully, I serve a God who never tires of my progress for He knows that I will be in progress as long as I am on this earth. I am still broken--mentally, spiritually, physically--but He is healing me. He is showing me more and more how He is responsible for the plan and the result, I just have to try. Thank you for stopping by to read this post!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The View of 23

Well, I am officially 23 years of age now. Just like every year I feel no different, but I have had a delightful time celebrating with so many wonderful friends who, by the grace of God, love me. I am beyond blessed to know so many wonderful people and this past week has been amazingly full of His provision: receiving travel grants, scholarships, pay increases, free food and drink, and many other things. God has truly shown that I am limited, but He is infinite and will provide.

I just want to thank you all for your prayers and your encouragement. I feel so overwhelmed with joy.