Bespoke

Image via Broadsheet

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Maybe it’s the southern side of me, but I like looking at personalized things. When I was young, there was a fad where girls had purses with their initials on them. I craved one of those tiny pink “G” marked baguette bags. (Thank God my parents knew better than to spend money on the cheap vinyl purses). Cheap materials aside, monograms and personalization are always in style. Here are some fun ideas I liked, whether it’s for a gift or just starting the new year off with a little more personalized vavavoom.

*[None of this is sponsored. Just genuine picks].*

The Towels

Amazon towels are fluffy and personal.

Image via Amazon

The Accessories

Image via The Daily Edited

I eventually in life got myself a little monogramed bag. One of the brands I have found that is lovely is Lily and Bean London. They have occasional sales and also offer other leather items that can be personalized. The Daily Edited, an Australian brand, also offers personalized cell phone cases and accessories. If you are looking to shop with a cause (funds go to charity), check out The Shop Forward. They have their iconic “4 Things” tote. I love this company.

The Shop Forward’s 4 Things Tote; “Life Goals” Tote.

The Clothing

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren is known for its monogram shop. Also, Sezane offers monograms on some items like jackets.

The Stationery

Image from Etsy

LauraRowStudio is my favorite on Etsy. She is delightful, and her items are always so carefully and intentionally packaged. There are so many designs to choose from. Smythson is also known for stationery, invites and planners. A bit pricey, but it’s the brand.

Image via Smythson

The possibilities for 2022 are endless. Monograms remind us that there is nothing better than being you.

Winter Scene

By: Gabriela Yareliz

When you see a cardinal, it means angels are near. I saw that at a garden center, recently. I thought it was cute. I feel like angels are always near, but it’s a nice reminder. A cardinal on a winter day is a popping apparition.

We all have different scenes that flash through our minds related to different seasons. When I think of winter, I recall preparing to walk down to my bus stop. My mom winding the teal knit scarf I had around my little head until only my eyes were peering out. My breathing making the thick knit moist to my annoyance. I remember my thick blue snow pants, and my friends who would clip their mittens and gloves with a string through their coat sleeves.

I remember walking down the street, swooshing through the tall snow. Sometimes, only to find out, by the time I reached the bus stop, that the snow day notice had flashed on the morning news screen. I remember the glittering lights in downtown Grand Rapids, and a small mart near the house that we would sometimes stop at to get milk. I remember sitting in the parking lot waiting for my mom to run in and out and the Christmas Shoes song coming on the radio, the winter darkness offering the world a memorable stillness. I remember the silver tinsel loaded on my great aunt’s tree, shiny, while I would watch Univision’s Sabado Gigante.

A good snow fall meant the boys at school would play football at recess on the concrete slab, and the remaining kids would head out to the fields to start rolling snow balls. We would have snow ball fights, but better than that, we would roll these balls for days until they were bigger than all of us. We would make teams to push these enormous balls into circles that would become the icy walls of our snow forts and igloos. We’d play inside of these forts and have our own spaces and “rooms” until the warmth would melt these structures away. They were magic. We were wildly resourceful and creative.

I have vague memories of winter camping in Michigan (I am not even kidding). It was that time when McDonalds was doing the Flintstones mugs. I remember little raccoons stealing snacks in the night and the sparky bonfires. Sparks floating up toward the star-lit sky.

What memories come to you with winter? We are only about a week away from the winter solstice.

Seasons and the scents and feelings that expand in their spaces can take us back. It was the best of times; it truly was the best of times.

Come With Me to the NYC Post Office

Photo by Alex Perz on Unsplash

By: Gabriela Yareliz

New York City post offices are their own animal. They are fortresses of bullet-proof glass, disgruntled employees and long lines.

I am not kidding when I tell you that in law school we would read the Yelp reviews for nearby post offices where we had bad experiences and laugh so hard. It was a mix of personal entertainment and vindication of our woes.

I am lucky the employees in the Brooklyn ones don’t hate their lives like the ones in Manhattan, but still, you can typically walk out with a good story.

The other day, I had three batches of gifts I still needed to send off. I also needed a smaller box for one of the batches. I walked over to the post office with two large parcels hoping to use the postage machine to print labels for them and get the smaller box. When I arrived, the machine was, of course, broken. I just used this days ago, I thought to myself, mourning the little machine that saved me time. I looked at the line of 60 people ignoring the useless and arbitrary tape on the floor for “social distancing”. Three entire Middle Eastern families waiting to do their passports and everyone else shipping gifts. I am not standing in this line twice, I thought. So I grabbed the smaller priority box I needed and ran home.

As I start taping the last box together, without warning, my packing tape is done. Think fast, I think to myself. At this point, I am sweating in my three layers. I take off a sweater and throw it on the couch, with two remaining.

I run down the block, coatless and one sweater down, to the Chinese dollar store. When I walk in, I realize the snow globes I had seen at the cash registers at the grocery store were from there. Focus, I whisper to myself. When I look at the store, it looks like Christmas had vomited all over with some birthday stuff hanging precariously from some hooks above and then hardware items. I walk past the clear shower curtain separating the cash register from the surrounding disaster, toward the hardware items and start scanning.

I find the tape on the floor and run to the register where the man wants me to give him a dime as exact change. I keep telling him I don’t have a dime but can give him a quarter. He looks peeved behind the hanging plastic. I don’t understand why he doesn’t want my money, and I can’t believe I am arguing with a man standing behind a shower curtain. I slap the quarter on the counter and yell keep the change, as I run back out on the sidewalk. Still sweating.

I get home and finish taping the box. I scratch the address on the label and slap it on. I run into my mailman in the lobby of my building, who is a kind soul but can’t take the label-less boxes (even if they had labels, these guys don’t take outgoing mail—- I hate that about NYC).

I get to the post office. Still 60 people. One passport seeking Middle Eastern family left. I get in line, realizing I have to hold my boxes or put them on the floor and kick them. The floor is gross, so I decide to hold them. A woman with an Italian-American accent gets behind me and starts speaking loudly on her phone.

Her first conversation revolves around how Desitin cream is child abuse (according to her) because it leaves white residue on the skin. Then, she proceeds to hold a call about how excreting black waste like tar is not normal and how the person is probably dying of internal bleeding. “It’s not normal,” she insists loudly. She then answers another call where she discusses our mayor’s latest edict on vaccines and calls Joe Biden every expletive in the book. At this point, the whole room is eyeing her— many in annoyed solidarity. I am sweating and holding my boxes while trying not to laugh to keep from crying. If I react to her, she will murder me, I am sure.

A man walks up to the label machine that is now to my left. He taps the screen and then starts kicking the machine like a vending machine. I tell him, “Sir, it’s out of service. I tried it earlier. Now, it’s frozen.” “Oh f***ing hell no.” He looks at the line and then looks at me, “Thanks. I’ll come back.” And he leaves muttering to himself curses for us all.

Someone who tried to cut the line and should have known better in the back gets cornered into the PO Boxes. Finally, it’s my turn to get to the window. The worker shuts the bullet-proof door. I open it on my end and slide the packages in. I shut the door on my end, and then she opens her door and starts typing away, asking me to certify that there is nothing dangerous in the packages. I look around at the letter slot with the broken handle, the chipped floor tiles, the walls with scuff marks and the mold in a corner of the ceiling. Thank God they fixed the shattered window, I think to myself. The line is still long, but thankfully, it’s now behind me. I look at the clock which is frozen at the wrong time like most other things in the building.

Forty minutes of my life in that post office communing with my community. “Thanks for waiting,” the worker tells me, sliding the receipt in the window hole toward me. I smile and thank her. I walk out and rip the mask off my face the minute the cold air hits me. My last visit for the season, I think to myself. Until we meet again, USPS. Until we meet again.

Here I Come A-wassailing

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Searching for Memories

I can see myself holding the Christmas carol book, fast-forwarding the little white cassette in my purple boombox past that one song, “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In.” I found that song to be boring. Not sure why. Skip. My favorite one was “Here We Come A-wassailing” (there was a weird sadness to the melody that I liked) and there was also the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” I annoyingly knew all the lyrics. When I would bust out that little white cassette, it meant one thing– time to put up that tree. I think all those years of loud singing are being repaid by my neighbor who just discovered the echo feature on his karaoke machine… sigh.

These days, I have started out my mornings a bit all over the place. Sometimes, I feel as distracted as a cat playing in a tangle of garlands and ornaments. In these early mornings, after I do my Bible reading, I’ve been reading Calm Christmas, by Beth Kempton, which includes many of her beautifully described Christmas memories. It has made me reflect on how Christmas has evolved for me over the years. Different brackets of time in my life held different traditions. No two Christmases are alike, as Ms. Kempton points out, but many have or had similar ingredients to them. My Christmases were magical as a young kid. So magical, I wish I had some sort of magic wand that could transport others to them, so they could feel the emotions and magic I felt. As I got older, Christmas grew to hold more emotion, negative emotion. I associated that winter darkness with some dark moments in my life that unfortunately sort of ruptured for me on a distant Christmas Eve. But, as I have settled into adulthood, I’ve tried to shift away from that, and as Ms. Kempton does, I want to cling to the magic I knew was there. I hope I can encourage you to do the same. Reflect on good times. I firmly believe we all have at least one. It may not be like anyone else’s, but that doesn’t matter. And if you really don’t have anything joyful to look back on, I hope we can inspire the future. Nothing wrong with orchestrating a little magic. After all, Christmas magic seldom happens without any planning. In a way, this post is a post of gratitude to everyone who made these magical moments happen for me.

Christmases Past

Michigan

I am one of the lucky ones. Christmases were wildly festive for me as a kid. I have my parents to thank for that. I don’t remember my first Christmas, but photos reveal it was an awe-filled morning for me. I got a little kitchen set and many toys. I look ecstatic in the photos with all my little treasures.

Another aspect of the Christmas season that was magical was where I lived. I moved around a lot, but a huge chunk of my early childhood was experienced in Michigan. A state that is BEYOND beautiful. Pure Michigan, if you are looking for an ambassador, look no further than me. I am forever proud of being a Michigander. There are plenty of photos of me in tiny snow pants crawling through the snow like a tiny Michelin man, wandering under enormous droopy pine trees whose branches hung down like curtains with my long-haired young mother and my dad wearing his little green Michigan State trucker cap. I will never forget a time we were driving on the highway at night, and I saw a Coca Cola truck with the polar bears and Santa on it. There were lights on the truck’s side mural, and it looked mystical through the snow globe that was that night. Michigan Christmases never disappointed. I lived in suburbs worthy of television with kind neighbors and snow days. Our fireplace going. Me, sitting on the couch with a large red Christmas stories book. I still remember how that book smelled. I loved the story with Santa’s journey and the little illustration of the mouse in the corner.

Somehow, part of our tradition included reading The Christmas Box, by Richard Paul Evans. It’s a book that still moves me to tears– just the thought of the burgundy and ivory cover. I’d make myself warm whole milk with load of cinnamon or hot Ovaltine. Sometimes, we had the fun hot chocolate packets with the mini marshmallows. When we moved to Ohio, we lived in an older house, and I sometimes felt chilled, so I would sit near the floor heating vent and read. That Christmas stories book never got old.

American Girl

Looking through American Girl catalogs and making my list for Santa was a big deal. I was a huge believer of Santa. As Wilson from Home Improvement says, the spirit of Saint Nick lives in and through all of us. I am grateful that my parents allowed me to experience that. One of the most magical Christmases was when we were moving from Michigan to South Carolina. We were moving right around Christmas break, and we’d be staying at the Air Force Base temporary housing for Christmas. Just before we left, my 4th grade teacher had been reading to us the Addy American Girl book series. Addy was the doll and character that had escaped slavery. I loved Addy. Her courage fascinated me. In my head, as I was preparing for this big move (we had moved before several times but not out of Michigan), I mentally told myself I needed to have courage like her and embrace my new home. Somehow, unknown to me, my parents had ordered the Addy doll for me before we left Michigan. I can’t imagine my mom’s stress of hoping she would get there on time before we left. On a warmer-than-I-was-used-to Christmas in South Carolina, a place rich in Southern history, I opened that box and found the doll of the character whose courage had filled my mind for so many months. I didn’t understand how something like that was possible, but it was one of the most magical gifts I have ever received. It made the new move easier. I felt like I had a friend. Addy was with me.

The School Shopping Experience

The school also played a role in the season. I remember schools would give us catalogs where I guess if we sold something the school would get a cut. It was pointless stuff. Usually, my dad would order some peanut brittle. The school would set up a little shop in the gym, and we could come with money and buy gifts for our friends and family. I always loved that. I often had my eye on a little Cabbage Patch doll (which were popular and expensive), but I never got one for myself because I had a little budget to keep, and I knew I wasn’t there to shop for myself. I hope schools still do that. I doubt it, but it taught me something. It also gave me the opportunity to be giving. It’s hard for kids to get presents for their parents.

Puerto Rican Flavor

Being Puerto Rican, the period of Christmas to Three Kings Day (Jan 6) was always super festive. I have always remembered turron blocks and the Banco Popular annual special, which always came with a certain theme. Watching it was a family affair after we would open the box from my abuela who would send them to us.

We’d usually wait until after Thanksgiving to decorate. That white cassette would get popped in the player and probably annoy my parents as I would start helping assemble the tree. Growing up, we had a white Christmas tree with ecclectic ornaments, including the little creations I would make in school out of popsicle sticks and yarn. I loved doing those crafts. Our tree had a little train we would assemble around the skirt. Once we had finished decorating, one of my favorite things to do was to lay under the tree on my back with my head toward the middle, and I would stare at the spirals of colorful rainbow lights as the living room would get darker.

Night was always a special time, in the winter. Puerto Ricans love doing parranda. This is when you go from house to house taking people with you, singing and surprising people at home. When I was young, I remember my parents would go with friends’ parents and church friends, which meant a sleepover at my grandparents’ house. I would hear about the fun stories and who brought the stereo on their shoulder that time, the next morning. When I got older, a group of church folks would go, and I was able to go along and spend the whole night singing and eating with my parents and other friends. One year, in South Carolina, we brought an American friend of mine tag along from the church, and she probably thought we were nuts. We would drive up to the next house. Everyone quiet and tip-toeing to the door, and then we’d start singing loudly, asking the homeowner to let us in.

When you would get to the last house, that meant food. We’d eat, there were movies on, people on the couch talking, and it often meant an air hockey game between me and my dad. One time, it got so competitive we almost broke a window when the puck went flying.

The Christmas Services and Parties

The Christmas season also included lots of lights and hayrides. Often, these were family church friends who would do the hayrides or we’d go with them to a festival of lights. One of my favorite things were the church services around this season. The services often had special music and lots of candles or poinsettia flowers. Ahead of time, I would think about what to wear, and wear my Christmas best. I’d help out in the church kitchen putting eclairs on trays. A golden glow coming from the ground floor of the victorian looking old church that our church used to rent, snow swirling outside in the Ohio streets, as we’d prepare before the Christmas service.

There was a lady at our Ohio church, who would be in charge of the children’s service. She would stage these odd productions where people would huddle around the baby Jesus in the manger and sing Feliz Navidad to Him. I’ll never forget the year my friends were roped into being the three wise men. The photos are hilarious. They weren’t exactly thrilled. Three gangly 13-year-old wise men. Ha.

The Small Things

There are so many small things that brought me big joy; and so many stories that filled my heart in this season. Sometimes, it was cutting snowflakes out of foil, decorating my American Girl Dolls’ Christmas tree in a corner of my room, and other times, it was the Arthur Christmas PBS special (I never missed it). The joy and anticipation of the season was always abundant.

It was the connections, the laughter, the scratchy velvet dresses with weird plastic net lining, the tights that rip and the shiny shoes that scuff, sitting in that Michigan house window staring at the snow accumulating on the porch with no sign of stopping. It’s that white little cassette and my chorus of one.

I still believe in the season’s magic. It’s the light that shines in darkness that will never be extinguished. The love that generously blankets us like thick Michigan snow.

Finding the Roots

Opening credits to The Shrink Next Door

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I have been intrigued lately by the unfolding Ghislaine Maxwell case (the trial is happening here, in the Southern District of New York). You can find neat updates at @houseinhabit on Instagram. (She is in the courthouse, these days).

Something else that has captured my attention is the Apple TV + series called The Shrink Next Door, the true story of a controlling, gaslighting but charismatic shrink who ends up unethically enmeshing himself in the lives of his patients, Marty being the one patient showcased on the show. Dr. Isaac (“Dr. Ike”) isolates Marty (who was vulnerable from the start) from his family and starts to steal from him and control his finances. It’s a wild story. Even wilder still that this happened for years and he only just got ordered to surrender his license this year, in New York. (There is currently litigation around this, and it all came to light when a neighbor started digging deeper regarding the ownership of the house next door to his).

Dr. Ike (left) and Marty (right).

On The Shrink, one can often figure out the theme of the episode because the opening credits happen with a vine that starts wrapping itself (to the point of suffocation or covering) around something theme related for that particular episode. So, for example, in the episode that covers Dr. Ike’s family history and the death of his father, the opening credits have family pictures and a vine covering them on a wall.

Something I find interesting that Dr. Ike and Ms. Maxwell have in common is that they did unthinkable things. One was helping traffic minors (or at the very least was very aware of what was happening to them), and one was profiting off of his patients in unethical and self-agrandizing ways.

Spoiler alert: The episode about Dr. Ike’s father revealed that his father was a holocaust survivor who had a family prior to coming to the states. If I remember correctly, his wife and son were killed at the concentration camps, and then later, he remarries and becomes a father to Dr. Ike. It’s clear Dr. Ike resents his father and has some deep wounds of neglect. His father was unable to connect with him well due to the trauma and loss he had endured. Dr. Ike also resents their poverty.

As I have been researching Ghislaine Maxwell, I learned about her father Robert, who escaped the Nazis by joining the army. Robert then left Czechoslovakia and moved to the UK, where he changed his name and started new. He ends up earning and creating a lot of wealth through media, but then gets himself involved in ponzi schemes and fraud to maintain the wealth. He stole pensions, and things crumbled. Some say he was a spy. It was all like a house of cards waiting to implode (and it did). Sources say Ghislaine’s father was very controlling and would control her interactions, who she showed affection to and who she was photographed with, etc. She would accompany him to many events. Weirdly, her name means “pledge” or “hostage”. It’s still unclear how Robert Maxwell died, but Ghislaine told people she believed her father had been killed. Shortly after this dysfunctional figure left her life, she became entangled with Jeffrey Epstein.

Ghislaine and her father Robert.

Here’s the deal, I don’t explain these people’s backstories to justify their deeds. Never. People choose how they behave and there are consequences to that. Both need to reap what they have sown. I do find interesting that both figures did atrocious things and have a common link, family dysfunction that stemmed from parents who had endured and survived the Nazi period as Jews. This is a simple illustration of how, when we don’t heal from certain things and when we endure certain things, we can pass the harm down and help equip what may be future monster behavior. Our lives become chain reactions.

I just recently wrote about the long-term effect of values, and how we can feel the impact of people’s values even after they are gone. Trauma works the same way. Unhealed trauma is something that acts like that vine in the opening credits of The Shrink Next Door. It covers us in darkness and wraps its tentacles around us, sucking the life out of us.

I get that not everyone has something as dramatic as the holocaust in their family (though many do), but there are many past experiences (slavery, migration, communism, neglect, divorce, sexual abuse) that can affect how we behave and family dynamics. Every flawed human has holes that he or she yearns to fill with something, and this impacts how we choose our relationships, who we entagle ourselves with and who we choose to victimize, if anyone (hopefully not).

Trial sketch from Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial.

The one person who is responsible for healing and choosing well is you, my reading friend (and me, in regards to myself). We are responsible for our lives. We can live in a weird retaliation mode of anger, hurting others and dysfunction, but if these recent cases teach us anything, it’s that they end in our self-destruction and in the harming of others. Self-awareness can go a long way. Our own healing can mean the liberation of generations that come after us and safety for those around us. People like to say that people do the best they can. That may be true for some, but we also need to realize that what is “the best” for one person may not be good enough. Make sure your best is good enough. We need to stop pretending like certain people are monsters in isolation and realize that their lives, and our lives have baggage. The baggage justifies nothing but reveals everything.

Secret Santa

Image via iStock

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I heard someone at the entrance of Bath and Body Works talking about how he needed a Secret Santa gift under $35 when the employee asked what he was looking for. It has been a while since I had heard about Secret Santa, but now I hear the phrase floating around more, given the season. People aren’t always fans of this whole draw-a-name-from-a-bucket situation. It really sucks when you get someone you don’t know well or aren’t fond of.

I recall when I was a kid, my church was doing it. I don’t remember the details because I was probably seven or so, but I had an adult assigned to me. Some Sabbaths, we would get a token or two, and then, on the date closest to Christmas, we would get the final gift. I remember that I received a Play-Doh set on that final day. I was enthralled. I remember that the person who was assigned to me wasn’t someone I normally interacted with much, but after that display of generosity and thoughtfulness, I saw them differently. Long after that exchange, I remember exchanging smiles with this person and saying hello. He was no longer a stranger.

Regardless of how you feel about these gift exchanges, I was reminded by this memory of how an act of generosity or thoughtfulness can change the tone of an entire interaction. Giving changes things. Let’s remember to give generously.

Resting in Feminine Energy

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I felt an extra layer of familiar exhaustion, this past week. I realized that a big part of that was not just workload, but it was more the type of work and type of energy it demands. The work I do requires a very masculine energy. I love and get amped by it, but it can also be draining. I am still trying to figure out how to put my own more feminine spin on it. (It’s hard when you are trying to survive in between the old boy’s club and attorneys who have no respect for rule of law). I spent the week fighting with moronic people and making sure nothing fell through the cracks due to some people’s ineptitude or laziness. I realized today that something that was missing from my week was a good dose of feminine energy. For women, there is something restoring about femininity. I would even dare argue that men reap something good out of it too when it comforts them perhaps in the form of a well cooked meal or a cozy home. It’s a form of relaxation and rest. Maybe it feels that way because it was what we women were created to be. It’s a sort of home base. I find that when we operate out of masculine energy, we are in fight mode.

I think the power of femininity is why I am drawn to people like Lydia Millen, Anna Bey (my etiquette instructor), and Fiona Ferris. Being feminine doesn’t mean being impractical. We can be feminine while doing housework and cooking– it’s about the energy with which we approach our tasks. So, if you are like me, often going like an Energizer bunny with no stop button, then this post is a short and quick reminder of a way in which you can find rest.

Some of the ways in which I feel more restored and feminine are through:

Unhurried household tasks and errands.

Listen, not all of us have housekeepers or get everything delivered, but something I have found that makes the day-to-day needs more fun is planning out an amount of time where I don’t have to be hurried. A bit of a wander through a grocery store might be just what the soul needs. Sometimes, part of the wander will mean picking up something that you don’t normally buy. Reminds me of scene in The Holiday, when Amanda arrives in the UK, and she dumps a bunch of random stuff in her cart and the cashier is like, “Someone’s having a party tonight!” Meanwhile, everything is just for her. Ha. Listen, that’s not the way to shop every time, but once a quarter won’t kill you.

Reading.

I’ve seen some people confess on IG that they aren’t big readers. I don’t quite understand that. So if you aren’t, maybe this one isn’t for you, but I think that there is something for everyone in the world of books. If I can spend a morning in bed reading with the sun shining on me, that is bliss. It’s the best way to start my day. Reading, to me, equals a slow morning.

A soothing sound.

This might be jazz or bassanova or a relaxing podcast, like one of my favorites, Calm Christmas, by Beth Kempton. On Calm Christmas, you get to hear poetry, soft music and a soothing voice. It calms the nervous system. This might sound odd, but I became less and less of a music person as I grew up. As I continued to learn about how heavily music influences how we feel, I just sort of stayed away from it, so I am much more of a podcast person. You won’t catch me listening to Adele on repeat.

Photo by Uby Yanes on Unsplash

Self-care.

Whether it’s moisturizing (which I need to do better at), washing your hair in a timely way (I’ll admit I use dry shampoo on beanie days), or maybe it’s a face mask (the skincare type, not the ones that COVID-19 brought upon us), there are different things that make us feel more feminine and more cared for– less abandoned. Encouraging you to do one of those tonight. Wear some perfume. Paint your nails. Try a new eyeliner.

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

Eliminate.

Elimination feels good, whether it’s crossing something off a to do list, throwing out or donating something that doesn’t serve a purpose for you anymore, or let’s face it, using the restroom– elimination means we let go of something, and we can create more space for what matters or what is next. I saw on Beth Kempton’s alternative advent calendar that today’s challenge is to cut something out of your schedule. Do it. I already did. Feels liberating.

Reminder.

Remember, if you find yourself drained, it may not just be the fact that you are tired (though admittedly, certain seasons can require more from us). It could be that you need to recalibrate your feminine energy and make sure you are taking the time to rest in who you really are. Make some appointments with yourself, this week.

Feel like a woman.

The Values that Stand the Test of Time

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I keep thinking about how much values matter. When children are tiny, parents do their best to try to instill manners and certain values in their children. Every family reflects a values system, whether it realizes it or not. Some are unbiblical values that are learned, such as: “Lying and cheating aren’t a bad thing; you do what is best for you.” Some reflect more selfless values. I think the most important values that can be instilled in a generation have to do with how it relates to God, which in turn affects how we treat one another.

Teaching a child about the love of God and the inherent value each person is born with because he/she is created by a loving Creator truly changes things.

I have been thinking a lot about impact and time. Values impact far past the point at which we are gone.

Here is an example that has come to mind lately, given our current political climate in the U.S.: The United States was formed by a ragtag bunch that believed in freedom from tyranny (to the point of risking their lives), inalienable rights, and the fact that all men are created equal. They didn’t believe in self-victimization, in pointing fingers or defeat, but in man’s ability to shape his own destiny. These men were flawed, and it’s no secret many failed to live up to some of their held values, but they did their best within the ethics of that past era. Their flaws don’t make them evil, just as the flaws of the people we see in Scripture didn’t make them evil as they kept learning along their journey with God.

These founding fathers were courageous enough (and smart enough) to devise systems, draft founding documents and create rules to safeguard what they valued and what they wanted this country to stand for, regardless of their personal imperfections.

These days, it’s the values of these men that are safeguarding our liberties as our politics seek to control that which it cannot. If we relied on the values (or lack thereof) of our present day, we’d be in so much trouble, to put it lightly. Look around you. We have a society that wants to control all and remove people from the consequences of their own actions. We have a desire, these days, for crummy policies that have been proven to fail in other countries. (Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result). We have a desire to appear virtuous without the character to back up the appearance.

We are hanging by a thread.

I am grateful every day for the fact that the values of people who lived years ago have a long-reaching and lasting impact. The values of our founding fathers are acting as a faith net that catches us as we are free falling into mandates, discrimination of the disabled, the stripping of livelihoods from those following conscience, Supreme Court justices who want to decide cases, not on the merits, but to keep status quo out of pride and to not admit we were wrong in the past to “preserve the legitimacy of the court” (you have lost it, Hon. Sotomayor).

These founding values of the past were correct. Whether the execution of them was perfect is a separate issue— that doesn’t delegitimize the values. One only has to look at the deep hypocrisy of today’s leadership to understand that… people can profess something and live very differently from the profession. It’s called the sinful human condition. The imperfect lives of the people in Scripture don’t invalidate the life-changing principles contained and memorialized there. Instead, there are lessons there for all of us on our walks and journeys. The choice remains with us, always.

The fact that these values from past generations are holding us now reminds me of how important our values are today. How we behave, the choices we make, whether we can put away our pride and choose the right thing (even if it contradicts our past), caring for and respecting others enough to give them freedom, caring for the least of these— these values will shape generations after us. This is why we are in such a precarious place. Who we are today will be felt long after we are gone. I hope we can be a generation who helps strengthen the faith net that has kept this country from reflecting the fascism that is so evident around the globe right now. I hope we can cling to what is right despite our imperfections. If we choose wrong, the repercussions will be felt, not only by us, but by those who will come after us.

Eyes On You

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Welcome to another day. A new variant. A new state of emergency. More fear being vomited onto us. (If only we reacted to it as the vomit that it is). That’s what seems to be heaped on us, like a bad record on repeat. It’s the day after the worst day of the stock market in 2021. But, I am not here to talk about that, specifically. You get plenty of that noise everywhere. Instead, I am here to try to articulate something that filled me with hope, this morning.

I want to talk to you about James chapter 5. Lizzie and I are finishing up a Bible study called Make Your Home a Haven. It has nothing to do with making your home a haven (ha), but each time we open the Word, we walk away blessed regardless of the off-theme Scriptures featured.

Some of the headings in James 5 include, “Patience in Suffering” and “The Prayer of Faith.” These are topics that feel close to us in these weird uncertain times. I guess all times are uncertain, even when we don’t realize it. But we really feel it, now.

I know there are families struggling. Countries struggling. People on fixed incomes not sure how to afford that next grocery haul. People of valor who have been dismissed from long-held jobs, pensions lost. People who are sick and alone. People who live in countries where people are being taken off to quarantine camps or being locked down by national armies and police. I see you. We see you. Overall, I think many are grappling with a sense of deep loss and grief. That said, I see so many miracles happening around me. I almost said small miracles– but in my opinion, there is no such thing as a small miracle. All miracles are holiness exploding in our midst. They shake us to our very core. Their light temporarily leaves us blinded to all other distractions. They are never forgotten.

The tail end of verse 16 states, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” No matter how hopeless your situation feels, don’t stop praying. When you don’t know what to do with something, just take it to Jesus and offer it with open hands. He doesn’t ask you to solve everything that comes your way or to light up every dark corner. He reminds us that is His job. Our job is to believe He can.

It’s comforting to hear this. We know that God hears us, and it’s incredible to remember what a tool prayer is. I read somewhere that if you say that all you can do for someone is pray for them, then you have the wrong idea of what prayer is and what it is capable of changing. Prayer is not the last line of defense, but the first. Prayer summons real divine power. Real divine power disrupts. The real divine power comes from a God who is and will remain undefeated.

In challenging times, where oftentimes we pray persistently, it’s easy to focus on our anguish, our fear of the unknown, our fear of mere mortals or simply the unfavorable circumstances staring back at us, unblinking. We focus on all the useless things, instead of focusing on an all-powerful God. Today, Jenifer Daley said, “Jesus is still the light of the world. Bless His name for He is good.” We forget. We so easily forget. The anxiety that wraps our souls to suffocation reminds us of all we forget too often. Our fears push our heads underwater in a place where we can’t swim, but prayer is the hand outstretched. God never rejects the call for help. His hand is the one that lifts us to life. To new heights. To all we hoped was possible but could not achieve on our own.

The King of the universe loves us. He seeks us out. He fights for us. He saves us. Let me rephrase this– The King of the universe loves you. He seeks you out. He fights for you. He saves you.

The verses that caught my eye were:

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

James 5:17-18

Elijah has an interesting story. He plugs into the story of Israel at a time when they have an evil king and queen, and the people are worshipping idols. The kingdom is cloaked in darkness, though they didn’t feel it or know it. If you know anything about Elijah’s story, it’s that there is a God-ordained drought when Elijah is prophet because God is displeased by Israel’s turning its back on Him. In fact, James points to how the drought came about– the fact that Elijah prayed fervently that it might not rain, not for three hours or three days, but for three years God answered this prayer. James stresses that Elijah was a man with a “nature like ours.” We see his flaws in his story like any other person in Scripture, apart from Jesus who had none. Elijah has his own moments of isolation, depression and he flees for his life out of fear after tremendous victory. Queen Jezebel wanted his head. (And she was a crazy one).

The story of Elijah would be incomplete if we don’t remember when he went to the mount to show the people who the true God is; he prays for fire to come down from heaven and consume a sopping wet sacrifice. Then, he prays for rain.

Elijah was flawed and a loner. He wasn’t in the “in crowd,” but God chose him. Elijah was a man like the rest of us, and when he prayed, God honored his faith. Sometimes, we wonder where our prayers go or we pray so often we aren’t sure if we should keep asking. At times, we fail to realize that some of our prayers don’t just affect ourselves, but they send a message to and impact the community at large. James gives us a picture of a God who honors the faith of imperfect people who pray and strive to honor Him with their lives.

God answers prayers through supernatural interventions. It’s His M.O. I would dare you to think about Elijah’s story even past this point. Elijah was faithful. Despite his imperfections, exhaustion, his deep sadness, he never bows down to evil. He is a friend of God. Scripture tell us Elijah was taken to heaven without seeing death (ironic, given that death by the hand of psycho Queen Jezebel was what he most feared). Talk about leaving this dump.

Why do I tell you all of this? Yeah, after reading those verses in James 5, my mind sort of wandered down the timeline of Elijah’s story. Elijah lived in some crazy times with a dark and for lack of a more appropriate word, evil leadership. He lived in a time where to stand for truth meant standing alone. The country was off worshipping created things rather than God. As we have discussed, he was as flawed as they come, but the man had some serious cojones. As I was looking at his life and his daring way of approaching God, I was reminded of the song from MOSAIC MSC that says, “Eyes on you; you have all my attention. Eyes on you; you hold all my affection. Always you. Forever, I will keep my eyes on you.”

This reminds me of Jehoshaphat’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 20:12, where he prays and says, “We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.”

Whether we feel like we are sinking in the sea like Simon Peter, or whether we are walking through the sea like Moses. Whether we see a sea on one side and Pharaoh’s army on the other side; or whether we know an army is coming and we don’t know where to look. Whether we sit in brokenness like Elijah in hiding or whether we are at the mount like Elijah kneeling before a consumed sacrifice– we keep our eyes fixed on Him. If there is an answer to any of life’s troubles, if there is a way to keep faith steady when the world around us is being consumed by a tornado of insanity, if there is a way to know He is listening and reaching out to grab us– it’s by keeping a narrow, undistracted gaze fixed on Him.

If you haven’t felt it yet, you will someday. Things will feel like they are disintegrating around you. But remember this: when you feel it, fix your gaze, and tell Him, “Eyes on you. Always you. Forever, I will keep my eyes on you.”

May your prayer of faith make you rise like a phoenix. May you see His holiness and love in your life. May His light illuminate every darkness. Joy comes in the morning. Gaze steady.

A Moment in the Mirror

By: Gabriela Yareliz

No two Thanksgivings were the same for me, growing up. Maybe it was all the moving around. I don’t know. We had some great ones in Florida, maybe three years in a row we had Thanksgiving at some church friends’ house. They would invite more or less the same group. We ate well, had fun outside playing all kinds of games, including Red Rover. It was nice. There is something to be said about a get-together you can count on. That said, there are two Thanksgivings that stand out to me. They were out-of-the-ordinary but magical.

The first was a cold and frosty November in Michigan. My great grandmother had just passed. My great aunt used to take care of her, and I remember my grandmother flew in from Puerto Rico for her mother’s last days in early November. She stuck around, and I just remember that old Michigan house was steamy. The kitchen and dining room were busy– everyone making their best dish. I remember the snow falling, and me glancing out the window through the condensation and water dripping on the interior of the windows. That year, I learned what a pumpkin roll was. My grandmother would make these incredible rolls (you can make them in different flavors), and it had a cream inside of the roll that wasn’t too sweet. It was perfection. My favorite rice with vienna sausages was in the gray aluminum pot, and turkey galore (this was before I was plant-based). My favorite dish, at this tender age of eight, was stuffing and turkey. My twin brothers were babies. I would keep a watchful eye on them and try to help in the dining room. I felt very grown up that winter. When my mom was helping the family coordinate all the funeral details, I had done my best to be a good babysitter to my twin brothers who were little dweebs. My dad was away training for the Air Force. It was a hard season. I had never seen my mother that distraught. My great grandmother raised her, so she essentially lost her mother. And while there was a heaviness in the air that winter after such a big loss of the matriarch of the family, there was also a unity that was palpable. It was a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving in snowy Michigan that I will never forget.

The second unforgettable Thanksgiving was one where we were already in Florida (after my parents separated). We traveled to Charleston, SC, one of my former hometowns, to visit our Charleston pastor and his family, who were dear family friends. When you move around as much as I do, one often doesn’t get the opportunity to go back to an old familiar home. Going back to Charleston and hanging out with old friends after a wild and demoralizing year prior, it was what the soul needed. I remember we got junk food and rented Mean Girls and Elf (I fell asleep when Elf was on at like midnight– but I do remember Mean Girls). (Don’t worry, I finally watched Elf for the first time (wide awake) at the age of 28– ha!) We played games, saw lights, sang at the church, slept on the floor in front of the TV like a giant sleepover… it was memorable. I have this distinct memory of getting ready for church. The Jessica Simpson Christmas album was playing in the background. I was stuffing my little baguette purse with all the unnecessary necessaries. I felt grown up. A different kind of grown up. I had just survived my hardest year. I looked at myself in the mirror with my purse on my shoulder and beamed at myself. I was learning to carry myself differently. It was a spontaneous and incredible weekend with friends who were family in a time when we really needed it.

I’ve come to discover that some of our best holidays are the ones where things are unplanned, and it’s simply about being united with those who make you feel supported and blessed. Sometimes, it’s family, and sometimes, it’s friends. No matter how or with whom you are celebrating, I hope you have your own moment in the mirror. Be proud of all you have come through and all you have bounced back from. It’s those intense years of resilience that give us the most for which to be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Sending you love and joy. xx