2 Years in a Box: Grad School, Teaching, and My Last Year as a Twenty-Something

Where do I begin?

I should’ve known better. According to my blogging history, my “real” update was written two years ago. I wrote a couple of poems last year, but I guess those don’t actually count.

After (under)graduation I had two paths unfold in front of me: to take on a graduate assistant position at A&M, or to teach math full time to seventh graders. I ended up teaching middle schoolers, mainly because I wanted to experience what I spent four years preparing for. A year later I decided to keep teaching, but also, to go back to grad school and pursue my M.S. in [pure] mathematics. I am now in my fourth semester and taking two classes. After this semester, four comprehensive exams, one class, and my research will stand between me and my diploma.

Going to grad school is so much different from attending undergrad. Not the proofs. There are always proofs. In fact, there are more proofs. Harder proofs. Crazy proofs. Scary proofs. Still, they must be conquered. Grad school is, of course, more specialized. I have been taking two classes each semester instead of the normal five in undergrad, and because of this I am able to focus my energies more on each subject. And I have to. The coursework is no joke. Professors expect students to be, in some ways, “experts” at what they do. (It’s not always true, but the expectations and standards are definitely higher.) You can’t whine. You can’t be immature. You can’t be unprofessional, because at this level everyone is a professional.

This semester I am taking my favorite class: number theory. It’s exciting, really, because when I was in undergrad I pondered about concentrating in number theory once I get to grad school. Now, it is one of the last classes I will take, and I am taking it all in just before I work on my research. It’s funny, this college life. There is no knowing where the roads will take you. Who would’ve thought I would take this route? I honestly thought I would be married by 25.

Does anyone actually graduate with the degree they initially intended to obtain? Of course, probability says yes, but sometimes I wonder.

What’s been keeping me busier than grad school, however, is teaching. This year, I was offered the math department head position. I hold weekly meetings with my department. I meet with administrators at least once a week. Sometimes they look for me, but most of the time I look for them. We talk about everything under the sun: students, safety, discipline, curriculum, school activities — there is always something to talk about. Teaching is probably one of the most dynamic and demanding careers ever created by mankind.

I also started a math honor society this year: Mu Alpha Theta. It was one of my favorite clubs when I was in high school, and I told myself that if I were ever required to sponsor a club or school activity, it would have to be Mu Alpha Theta. We met the challenge of being a new club head on, and this summer were taking an out-of-state trip to the National Convention. How’s that for a field trip? (I say this because since I started teaching I have actually never taken my students or gone with other classes on a field trip. Crazy.)

Other than these, I actually teach 8th grade math and Precalculus. That’s right: I am finally moving on to higher mathematics. It was never a secret to the school administration, when I took the middle school teaching job, that my goal is to teach high school math. Not just any high school math, but the highest we offer. Next year, I will be moving on to teach AP Calculus and Pre-AP Precalculus. Pretty exciting, I must say, especially since I get to follow my awesome Precalculus students next year. I love them too much and am not ready to part with them.

I would talk about how I love my students and everything else I love about teaching, but that would take a few more paragraphs, and I wanted to keep this update concise. I will have to save them for another post.

As I write this post I realize that 2016 is the last year for me as a twenty-something. (I guess I still get the first five months of 2017, but you get the point.) Perhaps that is why I feel the need to update my blog. Back in 2009 — I was 22 then — I wrote that the intention of this blog was to record the “most crucial years of my life,” but I am slowly realizing that there really is no such thing. Every day is just as important as the next. Every year is a crucial year. There are only chapters and milestones. There are highs and lows, which I now find to be all equally important. There are exciting moments and dull moments. All are equally important. Currently, few things keep me busy: my family, my students, grad school, and last but certainly not the least, my faith. It may sound like routine and not very exciting, but they are all valuable to me, and knowing this deeply makes life, as I see it, good.

 

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Airplanes: An Original Poem

paper-plane

Airplanes
by Karissa Blasquez

Yesterday I saw
a plane going west,
gliding alone, avoiding
below, a concrete mess.

The clouds were heavy;
the sun, not in sight.
Still it flew on
as day turned to night.

Today I saw
a plane going west.
I felt it stopped
the beating in my chest.

Crossing the highway —
could it really be?
I looked at my clocked:
seven twenty-three.

But no two snowflakes
are ever alike.
This time the sky
was gloriously bright.

Tomorrow I may see
a plane going west.
I shall then whisper,
“My case I do rest.”

Cold War: An Original Poem

My thoughts are frozen,
my hand unmoved;
I dare not speak.
I dare not prove.

“A wise decision,”
or so I thought.
For weeks and months
I endlessly fought.

Then came the day:
“I finally won.”
My heart, perfectly still:
“The feeling is gone.”

But was I right?
The paths I took,
the disappearing act,
to never again look?

His grace is enough —
This I should know.
I wish for a test;
true intentions to show.

My thoughts are racing,
my hand flying;
A cold war looming
for two years and counting.

My Resolve: One Year After

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21

Around this time last year my life was going through some significant changes. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, got a summer job tutoring math, and was hired within a month following graduation to teach middle school math at a charter school for the upcoming school year.  The latter meant I had to say goodbye to my old job that earned me great friends and helped me pay my way through college. Not to mention, I had to give up Graduate School and a graduate assistant teaching position in favor of the position at the charter school. Certainly, it was a time when old doors closed and new ones opened. I was on Cloud 9. I could not have felt more grateful whenever I saw God’s favor on a situation. All of this happened in a span of two months. By mid-July, I finally had free time to catch up with old friends, whom I have terribly missed in the last seven years. It’s only the beginning, so I thought.

My best friend’s birthday is on July 23, so while I am at it allow me to give him a shout out. On his birthday last year, I only remember busying myself, thinking of what I could do or say differently to make “this” birthday greeting more special than last year’s. Should I message him first, then post on Facebook? Should I post a #tbt – although it was actually a Tuesday and not a Thursday – on Instagram? Living on opposite sides of the world brings unique challenges to friendships, if I may say so.

The next day, July 24, around 10 AM, I received a phone call from another friend in town. I thought it strange that he would call on a Wednesday morning, but I have known him to be random most of the time, so I answered. My closest guess, which I still deemed far-fetched, was that he wanted to discuss his upcoming wedding details. However, something was wrong. Terribly wrong. I never thought it could happen to someone I know, but it did.

We lost one of our friends in a car accident. The other was in critical condition.

I like pondering in general, so in the past I have actually thought: what is my grieving capacity? If I ever lost a friend permanently, how will I grieve? Will I grieve? I wish I never had to find out the answer, because in that instant I was left speechless on the other end of the line. Tears began to roll down my cheeks uncontrollably, and the next thing I know I was suffocating. Half of me thought I was in a dream, but it was too vivid to deny the other half. That night, my friends and I decided to meet up at the same apartment that practically drew us together seven years ago. To date, it is one of the most special nights of my life; one that I will never forget. Shortly after, we had to say goodbye to both of our friends.

I became worried for the next few days. I was grieving, but my new job was waiting for me. Will I be able to pull myself together and carry on? I remember being very excited about going to my first teacher training a couple of weeks before school started. I drove to my new campus with a big smile on my face and kept that smile throughout the day. Before going to bed, however, I couldn’t help but cry. And I made sure I cried. I figured I needed to finish grieving before school started.

Around the first week of August, my best friend sent me a message: “Bessy…” It didn’t sound like his usual greeting, so I had a feeling something was up. Without going through all the details, he told me that his wedding was called off. A decade-long relationship was no more. Just before my graduation I was trying to figure out how to fly to his special day; all of a sudden, I didn’t even have to go anymore.

Everything that went on that summer made me think: our life is but a passing shadow. Until now, I try to understand why things happened the way they did last year. While I was getting amazing opportunities left and right, people I loved were going through trials and tribulations. Matthew and Hailey were world-changers. They were true heroes. They had so many things that they wanted to accomplish for the Kingdom of God. Why take them so early? My best friend is a good man: hardworking, honest, and faithful. Why him? I know God has a purpose for everything, and I am learning to deny myself of human answers. Unfortunately, such is the nature of mathematicians: to rationalize thoughts and events. Not in this case. This time, I have to learn to let go and understand that what we gain and lose here on Earth is not the same as what we gain and lose in heaven. Instead of looking for answers, my resolve is to focus on what really matters. My faith in God. My family. My friends. My students. My mission. I am currently teaching high school math, about to start Graduate School, and bettering myself in other things such as cooking, but I know these are not the “real” treasures I can take with me to heaven.

Walk With Me.

Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?
Amos 3:3

Skimming through my old journal entries, I realized that despite my immaturity and shortcomings I had always written down a particular prayer: whatever I do right or wrong, Lord, please walk with me. Although it sounds like I am telling God what to do, the intention is quite the opposite. To be honest, I think humans make so many decisions every day that it is simply impractical to filter each decision before acting on it. Many times I have no clue whether I am doing something right or not. Take lesson plans, for example: although I succeed in teaching most of the time, occasionally I would still come across some “flops”, or lessons that just do not work and need to be completely tossed and replaced before the next period — Lord, help me.

Because God promises to never leave me nor forsake me, I am still here. I am able to “walk with God” not because He compromises His perfect nature to agree with my fleshly desires, but because He gives me grace to rise above my humanity and agree with His righteousness instead. This is something I am beginning to understand, little by little. When I was in Bible school “walking with God” came much more easily. On the contrary, “walking with God” outside of Bible school became a daunting feat. I am not going to lie: after Bible school the phrase “taking up one’s cross” proved to be tangibly DIFFICULT. Suddenly, my family suffered financially, I experienced heartbreaks and betrayals, my dreams came to a halt, and my visions began to fade.

“How can I agree with this, Lord?”
And yet, something inside me always said, “please come walk with me.”

This went on for seven years. I have witnessed friends stand steadfast and friends give up on their faith. I had doubts myself, especially during my last year as a pure mathematics major. However, God had already said His promise. No matter what, we would always walk together. When I read this verse again tonight (and yes, it is within a chapter where Amos was not exactly bringing good news to Israel) I felt its weight pulling out so much of what I have gone through with the Lord for the last few years. One line, yet so powerful. And to this day these three words, walk with me, is perhaps one of the most fervent (and definitely the shortest) prayers I utter.

Often I get asked if I feel any bit of concern regarding marriage. After all, I just turned 27 and have always been single. I guess it is a little challenging to say, “I used to, but right now I am okay,” and explain it to people. How does that even make sense when it goes against the rational, natural flow of life? Would it not be more appropriate to say, “I used to not think about it, but now I am starting to consider it.” And in fact, I DO — just not in the way the world views it. The only reason why I do not worry about it is because I know when God orchestrates He does it ever so perfectly. I have seen God’s work in some of my older friends’ marriages, and it is WONDERFUL. Here is how I see it (and I guess at this point, unlike before, I have matured enough to accept it): if God is helping me walk with Him, then someone somewhere is also learning to walk with Him. When the right time comes, God will bring us together, and we will be able to stand in agreement because all of a sudden life is not just about “us” anymore — and this gives me hope.

“Come walk with me.
Speak to my heart.
What’s deep in me, only You know,
come walk with me.”

~Frontline Worship

Still Here.

Sorry, folks, for the LONG PAUSE. I am still here. Life has been going rapidly in the last five months — for the better — so perhaps this weekend I shall write an update. Until then!

KB

Nostalgia.

Nostalgia hit me hard this morning.

I almost want to say it came out of nowhere. Then I almost wanted to blame it on quarter life crisis. Or low estrogen levels. Or lack of sleep. I wanted to point at something, but instead, it pointed right back at me . . . and my memories.

If given the opportunity, would you go back to a place where good memories were once created, but where unpleasant ones may be unearthed as well? I have done it before, so I can’t firmly say no. But not this time. Not this morning, when I realized I had no desire of potentially bringing back heartaches and disappointments. I once loved this place. I loved the people I spent time with in this place. I loved all the good memories we created together. However, some things did not end well in this place. Heart broken. Trust shattered. Innocence stained with reality. They were right: this place is a bubble.

Perhaps someday, I will be able to return and walk into this place. But not today. Not yet.

Answered Prayer.

My prayer was finally answered yesterday. And by prayer I don’t mean, “God, give me this,” but more like, “God, please close this door if I am meant not to walk in it.”

He opened it wide, and told me to walk through. Tonight I submitted my new employee documents. No more waiting for this preservice teacher. Praise the LORD.

Paradigm Shift.

I am about to embark on a journey. Unlike many journeys I have taken, this is one that I have to take alone. It is a journey that may, more likely than not, shatter many truths I currently hold on to, but it is with sincerest hope that as I go further along new truths will come to rebuild my faith and deepen my knowledge of God.

“Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him.” -Job 36:26

Looking from Above.

Let me begin by saying: I apologize that this post will not be the update I had promised on June 4th. This is something I had begun to process about two days ago, and this morning I was finally coming into some realizations.

Two nights ago I began to feel very uneasy and restless. Usually when that happens, it means I need to sit on my bed and write. Perhaps I felt it coming from days prior, but I kept dodging the little hints that my body was giving me.

As I began to write on my  journal, I felt a release of frustrations, and while I still could not pinpoint where they were coming from I was determined to find out in the next few days. I then decided to deactivate my social networking accounts and do some reflection — well, all accounts but this one, of course. This is the sole outlet I have online.

This morning I invited my cousin John out for coffee. In the growing town where we live, away from the sprouting businesses and ever widening roads, sits an adorable coffee shop where hipsters and frisbee lovers tend to hang out. The fact that it is a bit hidden makes it a perfect spot for most college students and local businessmen to get some work done. We both carried “work” with us, but we knew what was about to occur.

It started with the same question that most people are familiar with: “So, how’s life?”

I tried my best to explain to him what I was going through emotionally. “John, I deactivated my Facebook again.” To which he replied, “Of course, you did.”

I was frustrated and I did not understand why. I first raised the question to God: “Please give me an answer because You understand me better than I do.”

Being a mathematician, I knew one approach to my dilemma: analysis. I listed in my mind where my frustrations might be coming from. “How is my spiritual life? Social life? Family life? Love life?” When I got to the last question I found it ridiculous.

By Wednesday night, I knew most of it came from my spiritual life. It had been a tough two years, and I was dry as a bone. I went from being a Bible college student rooted in the Word to a math major who read math books over the Bible ninety percent of the time. I knew I had shortcomings. I knew that I missed my First Love, and thus I spent the remainder of my Wednesday night with God.

However, something still did not feel right. I missed a couple of good friends. I have one friend in particular whom I just began talking to after three years of silence. She was one friend I knew I could always count on. Right then I realized how deep our friendship was and still is; I also realized how almost every friendship I have had since then remains on surface level.

As John and I talked, these issues began to emerge. He told me of his potential roommate and how this person is almost like a male version of me. He then said something that struck me, “You guys — people with your personalities — just handle loyalty in a very different way.” My eyes widened, and John laughed. Introverts. That’s it. I am frustrated and struggling because I don’t see the same loyalty in people’s eyes as I am willing to give. The kind of  friendships that “only” thrive in Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or any other social networking site . . . will they thrive in real life? I do not see it. I cannot see it. I need to feel some loyalty and commitment because I am willing to give those to friendships that are worth nurturing. I am not satisfied by a friend liking a photo I posted. It is instant gratification. It does not deepen our friendship in any way. It does not tell me of his or her dreams and fears nor does it tell them of mine. It does not help me know whether I can be of any assistance to anybody. Come to think of it: if that is all how people interact, then we live in a very depressing world and era. I am not saying that typical social networking interactions are bad for people, but I am saying primarily relying on them is.

As my conversation with John went on, we finally got to the topic that any personal conversation would most likely have: love life. I told John, “Remember that personality game we played at our family camp? I said I think eagles are the best animals because they have very clear vision and they know exactly what they’re going for. You said that’s how I see my ideal mate.” I told him that came to mind as I processed my emotions the night before. I realized why I still have not gotten into a relationship. Despite my excuses — “I am too busy, I have other things I want to do, I have a family to help” — I learned one thing about my present perspective.

I see a lot of boys, but I don’t see a lot of men.

As much as I love my male friends, it is something I have noticed in our generation. I heard sometime last year that “30 is the new 20.” I find that even though it was meant lightly, it rings truth to it. I see many twenty-something-year-olds just walking from day to day without knowing where they really want to be ten years from now. They don’t know who they are, what their values are, where their passions lie, what they want to achieve in life; they are wanderers. I don’t mean to sound too critical, but I really find this a serious problem in our generation. My cousin pointed out to me a very crucial insight: here in America, we have become so data-driven that our focus has turned from the basics of human development to training our children to be either high academic achievers or other marketable talents. With either path, children are faced with concrete steps and definite goals. It is a pass or fail system. They are spoon fed tons of information and asked to spit the same output. Meanwhile, their human development is interrupted, constantly, by these stressors. The result: “After college, then what?” Hopefully, they have figured out how they would like to make a mark on this world. Ideally, these young adults would take risks and pursue their passions without fearing failure. However, most of them shrink back. Reality strikes. They find a job that is stable enough to make ends meet. They find a circle where they can belong and stay there because venturing out is uncomfortable. They compromise their values and happiness because those will not feed them. And while I am at it, let’s leave the word “happiness” alone. In Christian context, we don’t usually regard it as something good and permanent. I do not want to go over-spiritual on a word. For example, “I am happy teaching math.” Yes, I said it. I found a career I genuinely enjoy doing. I do not believe God will punish me for saying that. He caused me to toss and turn at night five years ago when I was figuring out how to serve Him after Bible college. I feel happy when I teach math because I know I get to help students gain better self-esteem and overcome their insecurities and fears. I feel happy when I teach math because without saying a word on Jesus I get to show them the love of Jesus (now, there is a time for it, but in the context of public education this is really what happens). I feel happy teaching math because I love math.

Pardon me, for I have digressed. The point is, I have not seen who I am looking for, and I do not believe God has him ready yet either. I do hope, however, that he becomes prepared soon. I am excited to meet this wonderful man of God. In the mean time, I have to be patient and work on my own faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.

As John and I conversed this morning over our cups of coffee and plates of hole-in-one (which, by the way, is a delicious breakfast sandwich served only by this cafe) we both realized how we need more young adults to look at life through an eagle’s point of view. Airborne, an eagle sees a vast picture, but his eyes remain focused on the prize. It is a scary position to be on top and see beyond what his normal eyes could see if he were perched on a tree somewhere at the foothills of a mountain, but through such position is he able to get a clear vision of what he is going for. Likewise, we need to see the big picture in life through God’s eyes. It may be scary and risky. In fact, we may not even know when and how to dive in once we understand our goal. It may take a few trials and failures, but if we never try we may never reach the full potential that God has bestowed upon us. One of the greatest service we can do on Earth is to be the people that God created us to be. With this in mind, there is no room for holding back.

I am not concluding this post by saying I have completely figured it all out. On the contrary, this is only the beginning of my meta-emotion and meta-reflection. Thanks to my cousin John for talking just as much as listening. And thanks be to God, the one who knows me much more immensely than anyone else in this world, including myself, and yet still chooses to give me a life abounding in grace and love.