What to Do with Privilege?

A sweet coworker gave me a Temporary Goodbye Card today, and its cover read, “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing,” which is taken from Genesis 12:2.  It resonated with me because it touched on something I often feel – guilt about my privilege.

There’s the fundamental guilt I feel about working at a recovery program for women who have been sexually exploited and trafficked.  They’ve been through hell on earth, and that is something I have never experienced.  I can easily lose myself in a spiraling trail of “why not me”s, so I usually avoid the mental topic altogether.

There’s also the daily guilt I feel when I go on weekend trips or go out to a fancy coffee shop.  I have a hard time with self-care, no matter how obvious it is to me that other people should prioritize it.  Why do I deserve to go to Bucharest for the weekend?  Why should I have any extra spending money at all?

It’s very easy for me to believe in the truth of the martyr’s complex.  The only way I can serve God is through suffering, or so I thought for many years.  But this verse in Genesis touches on something more nuanced:  Sometimes God blesses us so that we have the strength, energy, and ability to bless others.

I’m a big baby, unfortunately, and the smallest life misstep can make me fall off the mental ledge, doubting every decision I’ve ever made.  In a lot of ways, I feel like God leads me gently, offering me just enough of the things I find lovely and restorative so that I won’t go crazy.

It’s worth mentioning that the person God is talking to in that verse is Abram.  Sure, Abram was blessed immeasurably, but this is also the guy who was told to leave his hometown forever, who lived without children for most of his life and endured the social scorn of that, who  was tested and failed regularly.  His life was definitely not perfect.

Mine isn’t either.  I love traveling, but giving up the dream of living in my hometown and doing the normal marriage and babies thing with my friends is pretty gut-wrenching.  I don’t know if I’ll even get to the do the abnormal marriage and babies thing, and having a home that could change drastically visa to visa is not my idea of security.

But despite that, I have no doubt that I’m blessed.  I’m privileged.  I’m a white, middle-class, able-bodied, educated woman with many people who love me, and many more who give me their hard-earned money so that I can live in Greece and work with women who have endured the worst life has thrown at them.  I’m so grateful that God has blessed me, because if he hadn’t?  I wouldn’t be here.  And because he has blessed me, I can be a blessing to the women I work with and serve.

So with that in mind, I’m going to start looking eagerly for more blessings.  I want to be full, so that I can fill others.

 

Are You a Cat or a Dog?

A roommate conversation at the dinner table:

Me:  I just read an article about how there are five cat personalities, and Hans Harrison is definitely a “human cat” because he loves snuggles and invading personal space.

Roommate #1:  A guy was telling me today about how men are dogs and women are cats.

Me:  Okay, but there are five cat personalities, so, gender binaries are restrictive.

Roommate #1:  He said that men fall in love very quickly, and women are more hesitant.  They evaluate a guy before liking him.

Me:  No, that guy is totally wrong!  It’s not a man/woman thing, it’s just a personality thing.  Think of all the girls who see a guy and fall head over heels in love with him.

Roommate #2:  I evaluate.  It takes me a long time to decide if I like a guy or not.  Don’t you?

Me:  No!  It doesn’t happen very often, but when I do fall in love with a guy, I go from meeting him to realizing we are soulmates within 24 hours.

Roommate #2:  Okay, but don’t you like it when men pursue you and convince you to give them a chance?

Me:  NO.  That is a huge turnoff.

Roommate #1:  Huh.

Me:  Oh no.  Am I the DOG in the house with three cats??  That is so unfair!

Roommate #2:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Me:  Or maybe it just means that I am attracted to cats!

Roommate #1:  HAHAHAHAHA.

Me:  No, not like, cats, but like you, but not like you

Roommate #2:  We are learning a lot about each other.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #12: BABIES and WEEKEND DAY TRIPS

Last weekend, one of our women at HD gave birth to a baby boy.  I went to visit them on Tuesday morning with one of our volunteers, and mostly I sat around asking questions like, “Is it weird to think that he used to live inside you?” while the volunteer did actually helpful things like help her breastfeed and tell funny stories of how she’d messed up as a mother.

Another weird workday occurred on Thursday, when a coworker took me to the police station to get fingerprinted.  No, I am not (yet) a Greek felon!  This was the last step toward getting all the paperwork necessary to apply for a volunteer visa when I return to the States next week.

I also did all the case plans and monthly reports and prepared my replacement with as much information and pre-done work as possible.  (12 Steps conversation:  “Man, I put so much value in my competency that I’m working super hard to make sure I leave my replacement well prepared!”  “Yes, but…that is your job.  You should definitely be doing that.”  “Oh, right.”)  The upside of being a good planner is that I think I’ve got things pretty much settled at work, and I can spend this next week just enjoying things.

Speaking of enjoying things…Luciana’s old roommate Mark visited her from Northern Ireland, and she invited me to join them on a weekend extravaganza of day trips.  We went to Mycenae (founded by Perseus, formerly ruled by the Agamemnon that led the war against Troy) and wandered ancient ruins.  There was a museum at the site that held the Mask of Agamemnon, an art history staple that I have seen in many a textbook, and now also with my own eyeballs!

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We drove a bit further to Nafplio.  I accidentally told them that you could either drive to the fortress overlooking the cute town OR walk 857 steps to the top, and once she knew there was an athletic option, Luciana refused to do anything else.  Knowing we were the weak links, Mark and I started walking up while Luciana and Giorgos ran ten minutes to the car and back to drop off our coats, and they STILL caught up with us when we were only halfway up the stairs.  When we got to the top, we discovered that it cost €8 to enter the fortress, so we just walked right back down those 857 steps.  We then walked along the waterfront, so by the time we reached a taverna, we totally earned the right to gorge ourselves on cheese, mushrooms, turkey burgers, chicken, salad, and wine.

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We drove back late, so everyone slept in on Sunday.  Giorgos had to work, which is a tragedy because it was a BEAUTIFUL day.  Luciana took us to Porto Rafti, a seaside town just outside of Athens near the airport.  The water was clear, the sky was so blue, and we bought drinks from a kiosk and sat on rocks jutting out into the sea.  We left one good thing for another when Luciana drove us up a mountain to a newly constructed castle that serves the BEST desserts and overlooks an absolutely stunning view of the Aegean.  I went to the bathroom and walked back out to the porch where we were sitting and had to catch my breathe because I’d forgotten just how amazing our view was.

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It was the sort of day that you imagine life in Greece must be like all the time.  I hope by this time (year 2, week 12), you realize that that is not the case.  But holy cow, do days like these make the culture shock and language learning feel worth it.

 

What I Read | MARCH 2017

Recommended books are italicized!


674749The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye

What a cute book!  I want to give this to all little kids to read as an antidote to classic fairy tales.  That is, after all, it’s entire point.  What if a princess wasn’t perfect?  Could she find love, acceptance, and joy anyway?  Of course!  This is a charming and funny book that teaches us to love ourselves as we are and wait for someone who loves all our imperfections and ordinariness.

9780141357058Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I’m a big fan of the YA trend of delving deep into minority issues, and in this book, Niven deals with two.  In alternating chapters, we get to live in the shoes of the former fattest teenager in America as well as a young man with undiagnosed prosopagnosia.  Don’t know what that is?  I didn’t either, but reading about how he coped with the inability to recognize faces was both heartbreaking and fascinating.  I also really liked how the story juxtaposed external vs. internal “problems” and how that affects the way people react to them.

28217831Buffering by Hannah Hart

I expected this YouTuber memoir to be fairly lighthearted.  Instead, Hart actually gives her fans a glimpse into her life, even though that means covering topics like schizophrenia, foster homes, and trauma flashbacks.  That is exactly its strength, because it is uplifting and powerful to know her story: where she comes from and what she struggles with despite the outward trappings of fame and success.

Robin_Hobb_-_Assassin's_Quest_CoverAssassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb

This final book in the Assassin’s trilogy was so hard to get into, but when it all clicked…I couldn’t put it down!  Fitz’s world expands as he travels inland and into the mountains, and we get to meet more Witted folk (more of this, please!), minstrels, and DRAGONS.  The story really soared when Fitz stopped traveling solo and reunited with his friends and/or monarchs.  I need to take a tiny break from this world (they take a lot of time to read!), but I’m definitely going to return to it in Hobb’s other trilogies.

51niH6CC-pL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

I listened to the audiobook, which is quite good, but I would NEVER recommend doing so unless you have already read Stevenson’s graphic novel.  It is, after all, a story designed to be express through pictures, and a lot is lost when it’s only audible.  Through any format, it is a beautiful story of a monstrous girl who remains a monster…but finds love and community anyway.

51FJbzqwMYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Anyone who is a workaholic, or who simply puts a lot of their self-worth in performance, will benefit greatly from Niequist’s vulnerability.  Through a series of lovely vignettes and essays, she constantly reminds her readers (and herself):  “Your worth doesn’t come from activity.  Slow down.  Focus on relationships.  Ground yourself.”  Exactly what I needed to hear during this phase of my life.

“Be Still and Know Me.” “But That Sounds Scary!” : Two Conversations with God

I’ve been learning a lot about myself in 12 Steps.  I learned that I hugely fear people that threaten my sense of security, and I try to avoid this potential threat by withdrawing from people who might hurt me or else being so competent that no one will ever want to hurt me.  Then I realized that I was playing out this exact pattern with God, and that my distance from him these last few months has largely been because I’m very scared he’s out to hurt me.

The other night, I decided to bite the bullet and open myself up to talking with God in a real way for the first time in a long time.  I had this imaginary conversation (some might call it prayer, but I’m a doubting doubter who doubts, so there’s all my cards on the table):

Me:  I TRIED to get close to you, God.  I was going to read through the whole Bible, but Leviticus, God?  It sucks!  You’re awful to your own people!!  What are you going to do to me?  If I make one mistake, are you going to send my family members after me with machetes?  You want too much!  You just want and want and want, and it’s never enough!

God:  …

Me:  Okay, fine.  You tell me.  What DO you want?

God:  Be with me.

Me:  That sounds like a fake thing that I just want you to say.

God:  Be still and know that I am God.

Me:  Just be…and know you?  For what purpose?

God:  This is a relationship, Tricia.

Me:  So knowing and being known is the whole point?  So…who are you?

The next step is about getting to the root of my character flaw (believing that I can prevent myself from harm by either withdrawing or being competent).  I pretty quickly remembered a conversation from childhood in which a person who didn’t usually show me attention DID show me attention because of something smart that I said.  I’ve been chasing people’s attention through being smart ever sense.

Again, this led back to God.

Me:  I just want everyone to love me!  And the only way I know how to do that is to be so smart and useful that they have to.  I don’t think I can have their attention any other way.

God:  …

Me:  …You’re right.  I don’t believe that I can have your attention unless I perform well for you.

God:  Why?

Me:  Because it’s usually true with people!

God:  What if it’s not true with me?

Me:  That feels way too scary to risk, because if I’m right about this and I try another way, then you’re going to hate me and punish me.

God:  Who am I to you?

Me:  Fickle.  Impossible to please.

God:  Is that true?

Me:  I honestly don’t know.

And that’s where I’m at!  I still don’t trust God, but we’re finally talking about it, so that’s major progress.  Ugh, listen to that.  “Progress”?  What an action-oriented word to describe a relationship.  I want everything to be progress and growth and productivity.  What I’m trying to learn is that maybe I can have a loving relationship with God even without all of those things.

It’s a hard habit to kick.

 

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #11: BIRTHDAY PT. 2 and WORK BURDENS

On Sunday, I skipped church to meet up with Rosie and cheer on Kendra as she finished the Athens half-marathon.  Sometimes I feel the urge to want to want to be a runner, but that’s only ever as far as it goes.  I was much more excited about the second part, which was when we got lunch at Avocado, a vegan restaurant in the city center.  I was spoiled with pretentious food in Dallas, and I’ve missed it!  Yay for niche markets!

Monday was a loooong day.  After a full work day, I had two hours of Greek lessons, and then I had a Skype meeting with our supervisors/bosses in Vancouver.  I’m starting 12 Steps with them, and it is SO GOOD.  By which I mean, SO HARD, because pretty immediately he got to my core issues “You fear losing your purpose and your safety, and when people threaten those things, you react by either controlling them or more likely, by withdrawing from them.  Why are these coping strategies doing for you?  In what ways are they failing?”  I was left making faces at my webcam, desperately unhappy that I couldn’t come up with pre-packaged answers.  But I think that is exactly why it will be so good for me.

On Tuesday, I had my second birthday party!  Luciana was out of town over the weekend for Beauty and the Beast/food, so she and Giorgos threw me a littler party at their apartment.  My two gifts were champagne and lemoncello, and combined with ordered pizza and homemade tiramisu, we had QUITE the extravagant evening.  Especially when they revealed their Super Mario World setup and we played video games to celebrate my birth.  Perfect!

On Wednesday, I did some hard work things, and then crashed at our weekly K-Drama Club.  I’m so happy that this is actually a consistent thing!  I’m realizing more and more why k-dramas are so wonderful for me at this time of life in particular.  I’m pretty stressed most of the time, so watching a show in a foreign language with silly or emotionally heightened plots is just the sort of disconnect from reality that I need.

Let’s talk about that stress, yeah?  So on Friday, Anthi and I had a meeting with a woman who wants to attend our Day Program.  We talked before and were prepared to tell her no, we can’t really offer that to her now, but after she shared her story, we both were just heart puddles.  We wound up offering a week trial so we can see how seriously she will commit to the program, but here’s the thing.  THIS IS TOO MUCH RESPONSIBILITY.

Last year, when people asked if working with women who had been trafficked was difficult, the true answer was, “Not really.”  Life sucks, and I was content to sit with people in their suckiness.  But now that I’m the Program Coordinator, I’m making decisions.  I’m not just sitting with people…I’m telling people where they can sit and for how long.  Is that metaphor falling apart?  What I mean practically is, the stakes are too high!  Should I enforce punctuality rules, even if that annoys women so much that they leave the program?  How can I be the one to decide whether or not a woman can join our recovery program or not??  I’m just a baby!  Why is everyone treating me like an adult?

I’m looking forward to returning to America for training/visa renewal.  I’m starting to feel the burden of the job too much, and I think it will be very good for me to see that HD will continue just fine without me.  I’m useful and necessary, but I’m not God.

In that same vein, I was purposefully as lazy as possible today (Saturday).  It’s the only day all month that I had zero plans, and the eagerness with which I anticipated staying in my pajamas was honestly ridiculous.  But it was SO GOOD.  I finished a book, I played through an entire computer game (The Silent Age – a really creative puzzle game!), and I had a deep conversation with my roommate over food that we ordered online so that we could avoid a phone conversation.  Now I’m blogging with a cat on my lap!  Self-Care Complete.

 

Year 2| A Week in Greece #10: I TURNED 29!

I had a pretty amazing week, mostly because I gave myself a lot of downtime to socially recover.  I mean, I think I did, but when I look back on my calendar, I realize that I had a GEM work dinner on Monday, Greek lessons and K-Drama Club on Tuesday, and went to Cap Cap with Ellen, Olga, and Luciana on Wednesday.  Honestly, I think the biggest rejuvenator was Thursday, which was one of the BEST days I’ve had at HD yet.  All of our participants were present, plus two interpreters, and I used my (failed) argument with my landlord over an electricity bill to be the example for my anger management class.  We acted out the scenario according to various ways NOT to handle conflict, and we were cracking up with laughter throughout most of the lesson.  It was such a great way to see our individual anger issues with grace and humor while also seeing how counterproductive they are (“How did you feel when she interrupted you?” “Like I wasn’t ever going to help her with her bill, and maybe I was going to kick her out of her apartment too.”  “So interrupting…?” “Does NOT work.”)

But the real highlight of the week was my birthday on Saturday!

Ellen and I were going to start the day by getting manicures, but since we hadn’t thought to make an appointment, we wound up getting tea instead, discussing effective activism and the benefits and costs of labeling mental disorders.  Real light birthday fare!  My serious side was satisfied, which meant it was time to go to the movie theater to see Beauty and the Beast.

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Short story:  it was SO GOOD.  This movie created all of the feelings that Disney inspires at its best.  It made me believe that with courage and sacrifice, a world of magical adventures is possible, and that with love, the ugly and the ordinary can be transformed.

Long story:  it was SO GOOD.  I giggled througout scenes, I gasped in delight at the slight changes (“G-A-S-T…I think there’s another T…I’m just realizing I’m illiterate and have never spelled it out loud before…”), and I watched with tears in my eyes as the story I know so well was played out in front of my eyes exactly as I remembered it…only bigger and bolder and NEW.  Disney was cashing in on nostalgia, and I don’t care.  They can take all my money.

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After the lights came up, I clapped out “It. Was. So. Good.” multiple times at my friends, and yay!  I now have friends in Greece who are familiar enough with my obsessiveness that they allowed me to spend most of our mall wanderings elucidating my theory that Gaston is a perfect character for young girls to see…because he is the embodiment of toxic masculinity that initially looks charming and buffoonish but, when its pride is struck, quickly turns violently aggressive.  More light birthday fare!

We headed downtown for dinner on a rooftop garden.  Several more people joined us, and we got meat platters and salads and wine to pass around, all while sitting beneath the lighted Acropolis.  After we ate too much food, the introverts scattered, leaving me and the extroverts to head through Monastiraki to Da Vinci, my favorite ice cream shop in Athens. We ate and talked until late, at which point I headed home to enjoy the USian well-wishes on Facebook.

This was everything I love in a birthday – I forced friends from different parts of my life to hang out together, I had profound and silly conversations, I ate a lot of good things, and I felt…at home.  These friends are real friends.  I feel comfortable with them, and that oft-repeated refrain this time last year (“No one really knows me – I have to hide the silliest parts of myself!”) is now officially retired.

That said:  BEAUTY AND THE BEAST WAS SO GOOD.  Go watch it!