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    Three words.

    How are we already nearing the end of the first month of the New Year!? Time, life, everything feels non-stop. The past two weeks of January were a whirlwind of road trips, writings, and travel bucket list crossings. Among these, I:

    • went on two very long trips with dearest friends
    • wandered a new city
    • ate a 3-lb cinnamon roll with new friends
    • watched the sun rise in Texas and New Mexico
    • (nervously) interviewed some really cool, Christ-like people whom I’ve always looked up to
    • cut my hair
    • counted shooting stars
    • played in real falling snow! (hey, I’m from California)
    • explored a beautiful underground slot canyon in Arizona’s Navajo lands
    • dangled my feet off the cliff of a spectacular, 270° horseshoe-shaped riverbend
    • prayed in a room full of 13,000+ people — and Jesus in every single one of them.

    And those were just the first two weeks.

    I’m a firm believer of the notion: you can’t fully move forward without first knowing where you came from.

    Looking back at the difficult, life-changing 2016, I remember telling myself at the beginning of the year that I wanted to see change finally happen. I started it with the Love Myself Challenge, focusing on building up confidence and realizing my self-worth. But in a rapid amount of time that challenge developed into something even stronger: the uprooting, stepping completely out of my comfort zone and into uncharted territory.

    God took my plans and prayers, and He flipped the script entirely.

    So much happened last year: I explored more of the country, wandered alone in two new cities, moved from my childhood home with my family. I left my job (and gained what feels like 5,000 other ones #freelancelife), and added some pretty insane bylines to my portfolio. I went to at least seven free conferences and retreats (hah). I received the surprising, healing gift of closure. I watched my bank account slowly go into negative, and later–much, much later–paid off some pretty harrowing debt. I made a lot of human decisions, sent a lot of unanswered emails, and I failed pretty hard. [Enter an unmentionable amount of mental breakdowns.] Somewhere along the way I lost my grandmother, my shining light and guardian angel. Over time I grew closer to some of the most genuine and talented people, and watched with contentment as others moved on with new people and opportunities in life. I was blessed to be able to pray in at least 10 new churches and chapels, including one quietly nestled in the mountains, and a giant, beautiful Marian basilica visited by Popes. I watched as one of my closest friends entered the convent, at 20-years-old. I prayed as the world experienced ongoing tragedies; terrorism in Orlando and Syria; injustices to women, immigrants and the unborn; and a very scarily-divided presidential election. I watched beautiful sunrises and sunsets, went on many road trips, sang my heart out at concerts, hiked up hills and mountains. I learned to be gentle with, and take better care of, myself. I pursued what pursued me. I felt both endlessly restless and wonderfully alive.

    And so ends one of the grittiest, uncomfortable, and most open-hearted chapters of the book.

    Going into 2017, I’d like to think I’m a little stronger and wiser, perhaps a bit more jaded after last year. Sure, there were a lot of adventures, but there were also many losses. I don’t openly admit to people that suddenly losing our home, the house I grew up in, was both a welcoming and sad change. Losing Lola (my grandmother) felt the same: sudden, heartbreaking, but it was her time to meet God. Our family did not think both tragedies would happen that soon, that way, so I don’t think we were ready to say goodbye… I don’t think you can ever be ready for those things.

    But if there’s anything 2016 has taught me, it’s that with painful loss comes the opportunity to rise. The opportunity to choose joy, to see light, at the end of a dark tunnel.

    With loss is always a chance for fresh beginnings, whether it’s the start of the year or the middle of the week. It’s the chance to stick together and be strong, like my family has always incredibly done amidst grief. It’s the chance that I can run to a nearby chapel when I’m feeling low–and honestly, I’ve been doing that quite a lot since last year–and know that I am welcomed here. It’s knowing I am loved as I am, beyond all telling…even when others don’t show love, or worse, when it’s hard for me to love myself.

    With change is the opportunity to have faith, perhaps to dangle our feet off the ledge, and let the spirit move us forward.

    It takes three words: courage, vulnerability, and gratitude.

    Horseshoe Bend, AZ

    For so long I’ve been afraid to be completely honest, especially online, so this blog post has been a long time coming. But a huge part of having courage is learning to embrace vulnerability–our mistakes, our imperfections, and our truths–and that’s what I’m striving for, going into this new year.

    I want to be kinder, more gentle with myself; not getting so overwhelmed or taking on too much that I can’t handle. This was such a problem in 2016, and it always left me with an empty restlessness. This year, I don’t want “busy;” I want “manageable and productive.” I want to be humble and unafraid ask for help.

    I want to have a (semi-regular, ish) routine of work/social/personal balance, and find a healthy way to stick to it. I also want to look at my computer a lot less, and actually stick to an eight-hour workday (oh God, please).

    I want to have the courage to embrace vulnerability, be present/mindful, and to be okay with letting go of the wheel for once.

    I want to look for the Christ in others amidst the craziness of everyday life, to love harder, and to find little + spectacular moments to always be grateful for.

    I have so many exciting things–new projects, events/travel plans, blog content, team members, opportunities!–awaiting this new year and most of all, I want to keep climbing forward, hands wide open. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m ready.

    So here it is: to 2017, to a new chapter of uprooting, adventures, challenges, losses, changes, and three words. We’ll see what happens next.

    Joyful yesses.

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    Full of grace

    Just under seven months ago, I stood in the quiet stillness of one of the most beautiful chapels my eyes had ever beheld, in the Basilica National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. The basilica is the largest Roman Catholic church in the U.S. and North America, and one of the ten largest churches worldwide. Approved by Pope Pius X in 1913 and continuously under construction ever since, the basilica has been visited by St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, with 70+ sacred chapels honoring saints and apparitions (appearances) of Mary, Queen of Angels and the Mother of Jesus.

    The chapel I had stepped into was dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Latin America.

    The portrait of the young, mestiza Virgin, adorned in her royal cerulean garb of symbols and stars, radiated in the light. She was surrounded by images of the Spanish/indigenous community, including native Mexican peasant Juan Diego; all exalting her presence as the Mother of God. It was a beautiful place to pray, and I was rendered speechless.

    The other day, Dec. 12, we celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day, recognizing how the multiple apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Juan Diego in 1531 has been rooted in Mexican culture and history.

    Mary, as the mother of Jesus, said her full and complete yes, and it rocked the world. She had no idea that at 14 she would give birth to the Son of God, the savior of the world, and when the angel Gabriel appeared she didn’t stutter.

    To be honest, reading Mary’s words from the Gospel of Luke has me cheering when it says, “But she was greatly troubled at what was said…,” and after the angel tells her what’s about to happen in her womb, without any other context, Mary goes, “How can this be…?” I read this and I’m like, YES. That’s something I would certainly say, given the unexpected circumstances. I would most definitely be “greatly troubled.” How is this even possible, if life currently be like _______?

    But “nothing will be impossible for God,” the angel tells Mary. It didn’t matter if she didn’t have a boyfriend, or if her parents were expecting her to do/become this, or if she had to take care of that, etc. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”

    And then Mary says one of the most beautiful, quoted lines in the entire Bible: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:26-38).

    Without a single stutter or hesitation, Mary knows who she is. Spotless of sin, Mary willingly embraced the unforeseen path, chosen for her. She said her gentle, unwavering yes, and much later in her visions to Juan Diego and throughout the world’s history, she reminds us to do the same.

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    Finding joy

    I almost cried during my breakfast of cereal and milk the other morning. Yes, seriously.

    There was something so comforting about pouring the cereal into the bowl, followed by the milk (yes, always in that order). In this turbulent season of change and unknowns, especially at the turn of a new year, cereal and milk was probably one of the most familiar things I’ve experienced in a while. (And Honey Nut Cheerios.)

    This season of Advent, we await the bright and joyful coming of the Lord, amidst the darkest of seasons. A lot of my old, familiar life has changed in the last couple of weeks: new job, new age, new gigs and opportunities and experiences to behold. And while it’s all been exciting, it’s also been a season of intense waiting, unknowns, and having to rely completely on faith while navigating through the dark. I’m always afraid I’ll misstep.

    I think about Mary and her first unwavering yes, when she had no idea what was about to happen. I think about how she too navigated through the dark, fleeing as a refugee when her only son – who also happens to be the Son of God, no biggie – had a huge bounty on his head. I think about Mary’s extremely strong, unwavering faith much later in life, when she had to watch him being nailed to a cross.

    Oftentimes in life, we are placed in many situations in which our first response is, “But, how can this be…?” Even Mary the Mother of God had her questions, yet she remained ever joyful and full of grace.

    We hear a lot about joy, especially during Advent – jolly, joyful Christmas music everywhere. But what I tend to forget is that having true joy isn’t the same thing as obtaining happiness; it isn’t based on how good we feel in the moment, surrounded by cookies and friends and extravagant holiday parties and Pentatonix’s album on loop.

    “Happiness is dependent on circumstances. Joy can be found even in the darkest of places.”

    I heard this quote at a charismatic convention I attended in the fall. It’s taken me a while to truly grasp what it meant, but I think that, amidst this Advent season of blinding darkness and hopeful unknowns, I’m beginning to understand.

    Joy is about having a resilient trust, and can only be understood with pain. You cannot understand, feel, or experience joy, without first understanding, feeling, and experiencing pain. It’s when we recognize God amidst our painful circumstances that we experience true joy.

    It isn’t glamorous to hear, and it’s not as simple as the handmaid Mary’s unwavering yes was, without hesitation. No matter how perfect we can create our lives [to seem] on Instagram, the happiness will not last. It’s like Sadness and Joy going hand-in-hand in the Disney-Pixar movie, Inside Out. One cannot exist without the other. We will inevitably experience pain and bouts of darkness, but with it comes the light of joy. We can offer up our daily sufferings (sitting in traffic, rushing to make a deadline, being chided or late to work) for the work of our own personal transformation… and then, we can find joy in the smallest of things (sunflowers, coffee, quality time spent with loved ones, bowls of cereal).

    With our experiences of sadness, we can better understand what it’s like to be happy – and to go beyond that, to appreciate true, everlasting joy.

    Wishing you a joyful season!

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    (PS. A note on this post’s title: according to my lovely, hilarious boyfriend Ian, “The plural of ‘yes’ is yaaaas. That’s why Mary didn’t give her yes — she gave her yaaaas.”)

    Finding my home in a coffee shop.

    (This post first appeared on The Created Co.)

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    Rose Park Roasters in Long Beach, CA.

    I’m writing this from a coffee shop.

    As a freelance writer, my work survives and thrives in small cafés and coffee shops. It’s my office, my space to clock in and out, my place to catch up with friends or people watch at any time of the day. My place to get inspired.

    My life blood is coffee — I’ve been getting into the cold brew craze, anything on nitro, really — and it is the fuel that gets my words flowing.

    But aside from the caffeine boost, what I really need to work is a comfortable, energetic, and motivating environment: like a coffee shop.

    While cramming into a crowded Starbucks or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf franchise is perfectly fine — and yes, it really is fine; desperate times call for desperate measures — there’s just something about going into a local small business, mom-and-pop-style café that has a quality charm.

    Living in Southern California, I’m around a fair amount of locally-run coffee shops, each with its own style and specialty and theme. While I have yet to see them all, I’ve driven from county to county, scoping out Instagram’s best and Yelp’s most top-rated — I’m a bit of a coffee explorer; you can see my bookmarks list on Yelp —whether it’s part of a collective, has a late-night interesting and artistic crowd, or simply brews really good coffee.

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    Typical work-spread. (At The Dirty Penguin Coffee Co. in Chino Hills, CA)

    As someone who is usually trying to be productive while staying caffeinated, I look for a perfect blend of taste and environment, with a few things:

    Good coffee.

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    Arcade Roasters in Riverside, CA serves unique brews from a repurposed storage unit garage.

    This is a must. Whether you’re feeling a simple vanilla latte, or something organic and adventurous, it’s got to be fresh. Whether the brew is locally sourced or brought in fresh, it’s got to have the basics. A wide, inexpensive selection (of both food and drink) on the menu is also a plus, because it gives you the opportunity to come back and try different things. (I went from a regular chai person to inhaling cold brew.) Whatever means good for you, go for it. And try not to worry too much about the latte art (it’s just foam). The best part of the coffee industry is that no matter what part of the world, coffee is always changing, improving, and giving itself a new aroma

    A productive, welcoming environment – with good design.

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    American Tea Room in Downtown L.A. prides itself on quality drinks and a home-like design.

    Honestly, I’m a little picky when it comes to design — while I’m all for the sleek, white-walled, minimalist look, it’s got to have useful features. Natural window lighting and ample space at the bar is ideal, to create a space for the baristas to connect with customers. Cleanliness is friendliness. It also has to be a productive environment: with plenty of seating and, I cannot stress this enough, plenty of outlets available (for those long-haulers). I so appreciate places with table variety: long community tables for big study groups, smaller high chairs for those patrons on coffee dates. If it’s a tiny space, I like cafés that get creative with what they have (I once went to a repurposed coffee shop in a storage unit garage, and it’s still one of my favorites). I also appreciate tiny plants and curated artwork on the walls. For me, the music is a mix of soft and upbeat, eclectic jazz and acoustic pop — save the top 40 tunes for the car drive over — with enough energy to keep you up and working, not sleepy. It’s not a library, so background chatter (and the warm smell of fresh brews) is always appreciated.

    Bonus points for brick walls, hand-lettered menus, and fresh flowers.

    Feels like home.

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    Crème & Sugar in Anaheim, CA is notable for its homemade drinks and desserts.

    When you walk into your local spot, whether it’s a hole-in-the-wall or five stars on Yelp, it should always feel like home. You have a regular seat by the window, overlooking the busy street. You have a regular order (with an added extra shot) on the menu. The baristas remember you (or at least your order). You’re a regular — and here at your coffee spot, that’s perfectly fine when you’re feeling at home. Even if it’s your first time there, you know it’s home when something about it (the design, the drinks, the people) keeps compelling you to come back. So take a seat, have a cup, do some work, and get comfy. You’ll be here a while.

    Coffee creates community.

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    Communal Coffee, in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, is the local spot for fresh flowers, and fresher coffee.

    Speaking of feeling at home, it truly takes heart to run a coffee shop, especially a successful community one. The owners put a lot of love — and a whole lot of espresso — into making it. Being part of a community feels like that first sip of joe in the morning; warm and inviting. As soon as you walk through those doors, it’s the people you meet express that joy, even if you’re not yet awake (or stressed to make deadlines, as I often am). And if you spend a lot of time there, you meet the most interesting folks at cafés: artists, poets, musicians, prayer groups, study groups, mom’s groups, businessmen, students cramming for exams. And once you’ve got your fuel in and are ready to go, there’s an entire community of coffee lovers — the dreamers, do-ers, and creative souls — all cheering you on.

    And as someone in red shoes once said, there’s no place like home.

     

    BY ALLYSON ESCOBAR FOR THE CREATED CO

    Rough draft.

    Her name is Marcy.

    She was sitting on the edge of the Venice Beach boardwalk, across from the stores facing the ocean, and around her were folding chairs, a shopping cart, and heavy blankets to keep her warm on a windy November day. She wore a scarf around her head, polarized sunnies, and the loveliest, chipped-tooth smile. At her feet, barking and smiling at people walking past on the boardwalk, were a family of well-fed and groomed pugs.

    We found her tending to the dogs, calling them each out by name, and were drawn immediately to her smile. She greeted us forward, welcoming us into her little home along the parking lot, sand and sea. While my friends played with her dogs, I sat down next to her. Shared the little snack I had–a granola bar, and what was left of my water bottle–and just listened to her talk. Others passing by didn’t seem to notice, as people often pretend to do when walking past a poor or homeless person. Marcy and her dogs noticed everyone on the boardwalk. And still, she smiled.

    Continue reading…

    welcome to the process.

    this was taken at an angle with the natural light streaming in from the window, and then filters were added. several of them, with a little brightening and contrast. if only life were like that, able to fix and adjust at the easy push of a button.

    patience and self-love haven’t been my friends lately. some days are easier. some days I bury myself in work, drowning in words and events and mile-runs at the gym just so I can “feel busy.” busy is good, right? busy is sexy. busy is instagram-worthy.

    but hiding in the busy-ness, is NOT the business. the toughest moments always happen when I am alone and not busy, always looking for something to keep me occupied or someone to keep me company. I want no one to see this. afraid, unfiltered and restless isn’t pretty.

    but in those moments of loneliness or restlessness, days where I feel overwhelmed with things to do or things I dream of doing, I am reminded that all of this is progress. that the first mile can’t be skipped or filtered, and it sure as heck isn’t meant to be sexy. stay the course. trust your progress. and welcome to the process.

    Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
    We are quite naturally impatient in everything
    to reach the end without delay.
    We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
    We are impatient of being on the way to something
    unknown, something new.
    And yet it is the law of all progress
    that it is made by passing through
    some stages of instability —
    and that it may take a very long time.

    And so I think it is with you;
    your ideas mature gradually — let them grow,
    let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
    Don’t try to force them on,
    as though you could be today what time
    (that is to say, grace and circumstances
    acting on your own good will)
    will make of you tomorrow.

    Only God could say what this new spirit
    gradually forming within you will be.
    Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
    that his hand is leading you,
    and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
    in suspense and incomplete.

    — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881–1955)