Category Archives: ashley

Awaiting God

I feel it when the harmonious notes from the violin dance with the piano. I feel it when my breath rings aloud in the silence of the still night. I feel it when the sun’s vivid hues splatter across the sky’s canvas. A pause. A peace. A connection.

This moment connects my being, my soul to something, someone bigger, deeper than me- God. My flesh tingles with chills, and my mind slows to the steady pace of my heart. I feel God.

I struggle to hold onto this feeling, but I can’t. It disappears as quickly as it came, and I am left waiting in anticipation of feeling God again, of God’s return. This is Advent- anticipating God’s coming.

And while Advent is usually particular to commemorating the anticipation of Jesus’ birth, these deep moments of connection have spurred me to develop an Advent stance year round. For I am always looking, waiting, seeking for the ways in which God will come, the ways in which I will meet God next.

Since God technically never leaves me, I am not just eagerly awaiting God to come but also eagerly waiting for the times when I am aware and mindful of the way God is with me.

God is coming. God came. God is.

Pushed, stretched, and molded

I have four years of grad school, about 150 units, and one and a half Master’s under my belt. I don’t state this to make you marvel at the notches on this belt but rather to tell you that I struggle with how to choose one notch and explain how it challenged me.

Do I recount how the girl child class or the sexually exploited class led me to question God’s goodness and justice? Do I discuss how the classes on Writings and the Prophets confronted my literal interpretations of Scripture? Do I explore how the Clinical Foundations and Marital and Family Therapy classes stretched me to use my personhood (thoughts, feelings, posture, phrasing) to validate and challenge my clients? How can I choose just one class to discuss?

Throughout my time at Fuller, I have been pushed, stretched, and molded to think outside the box…actually to not even utilize a box. While this is a bit scary and frustrating at times, I am grateful for the space and opportunity to struggle, to grow.

Right now, I am being stretched in so many uncomfortable ways through conducting a live mode therapy session, in which two of my professors and a few of my fellow cohort members watch me do therapy and offer instruction and direction. Enter anxiety. Although this newly formed notch on my belt is incredibly challenging, it is already changing me, helping me learn grace for myself and utilizing feedback to alter my delivery and approach.

I wonder how my belt will grow next. I wonder how Fuller will challenge me over the next seven months…and even after I walk across that stage.

Falling into Change

Long sleeves, tank tops, sweaters, shorts. Ah, the inevitable ups and downs of fall in Pasadena. That may be one of the aspects I love and hate about this time of year in southern California. But, if I were to pinpoint one thing, my favorite aspect of fall in Pasadena is……stepping on crisp, fallen leaves. Exciting, huh? Not to mention very unique to Pasadena.

Really, though, this is my favorite thing, especially in Pasadena. Since the seasons are so subdued here, the leaves are a physical reminder that the seasons are actually changing, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Each time I step on a crisp leaf, I hear and see the results of the changing atmosphere and reduction in sunlight, which fills my soul with joy and hope.

When I feel like my life is on pause, and I am not seeing growth in my life, I get agitated. Why is nothing happening? Why am I stuck? Why can’t I see growth? Crunch. I step on a crispy leaf and look down at the yellows, oranges, greens, and browns surrounding my feet. The seasons are changing.  Change is occurring.

I am changing.  I am growing.

 

 

Trying it On

As a seminary graduate and current psychology student, I’ve struggled in finding a church that I feel matches my core values and beliefs.  I, like many Fuller students, haven fallen prey to church shopping.  Actually, my experience has been more similar to a church dressing room, in which I “try on” a church for a year, evaluate the experiences from varying angles, and then move on to the next church when I decide it doesn’t fit.  While I’m not an advocate of this approach, I’ve learned a lot about myself in this process, as well as what makes me want to stay at a church.  Honestly, this approach demonstrates my own journey to self-discovery.  The more I know myself, the more I know not just what I want in a church body but what I need. 

While I wish I could sit in the congregation without analyzing the church’s ministry plan, use of contextualization, theology, and psychological perspectives, I cannot do that.  I have spent countless hours reading, theorizing, studying, and writing, making it impossible to not integrate this into my daily life, including my church experience.  However, in the past year, I’ve finally found peace within a church- New City Church in downtown LA.

This church has become a home.  A home that is far from perfect but creates space for people like me and people so very different than me.  The church body simply creates space for people.  Period. 

New City is a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-socioeconomic congregation, meaning it’s a kaleidoscope of God’s children.  Since the pastor, Kevin Haah, is a Fuller alum, New City tends to attract Fuller students, however, just as many people, if not more, come from Skid Row or downtown Los Angeles or Korea Town or [insert any location within 20 miles of LA).

Way back in 2008, I took a class with Ryan Bolger, and I remember discussing the sad reality that Sunday mornings at church are the most segregated hours of the entire week.  Thankfully, this is not true for New City.  We embrace diversity and lean into it.  In fact, one of my good friends from Fuller integrated her Intercultural Studies project at New City, which allowed each of us to share our cultural and spiritual story with one another in small groups over the course of several weeks.  The experience was entitled Mosaic, and I believe it was a beautiful demonstration of how we all join together in our diversity to create a unified image- the body of Christ.

I’m also a part of a Grow and Serve group, which meets every Friday evening to eat, laugh, reflect on our spiritual journey, and relax, as well as seek opportunities to serve the community.  Unfortunately, my crazy MFT schedule has not allowed me to attend as regularly as I would like, but nonetheless, the group always makes me feel at home.  No guilt trip, no inside jokes that I don’t understand…just acceptance, grace, and love.  Our motto is “Once a part of Acts 2 (our group name), always a part of Acts 2.” 

When I look at the mirror with this church “on,” it seems to fit. Sure, I see a button I would place in a different place or zipper I would put on the back instead of the side, but the overall design, the overall structure fits.  I think I’ll stop “trying on” churches now.   

Keepin’ it real with the MFT

 

  1. What’s unique about your program/emphasis?  One word:  integration.  In my perspective, integration is a way of understanding life, viewing body, mind, and soul as one entity and trying to grasp how our spiritualty and psychology are also intertwined.  I’ve actually been chasing integration for the past five years, first in the Intercultural Studies program and now in the Marital and Family Therapy program. In the MFT program, understanding and studying integration happens intentionally with an Integration class and small group, as well as organically in our class discussions.  I’m so thankful for this experience to understand how my call to love people as the Lord loves them is exemplified in being a therapist.
  2.  How do you see your degree fitting into your career goals?  Well, my goal is to be a therapist, which the MFT program is training me to become.  More specifically, I hope to be a therapist in a Christian private practice setting, as well as work in an aftercare for girls and/or women who have been sexually exploited and/or trafficked.   Regardless of where I work, my mission is still the same:  to help people grow, change, and heal.
  3. What’s something you wish you would have known before starting your program/emphasis? I think I already knew this, but I wish I would have been able to lean into one particular concept more:  Therapy is a process, but so is becoming a therapist.  For a while I gave myself a hard time about not knowing how to be a therapist already, especially when I first began seeing clients a few months ago.  Yet, this is part of the process.  Being a newbie is okay.  Being confused is okay.  The reality is I will always be learning how to be a therapist because I will continue to change, as will my clients. So, basically I wish I would have known how important giving myself space and grace was going to be in this process.
  4. Is there a professor in your program who has shaped you most? Who, why, how, etc.?  I am in constant awe of all my professor’s clinical skills.  Seriously, I’m in awe.  When I sit with clients, I think through various techniques they have taught me and then try to figure out how I want to make them my own.  Although I want to pick out one specific professor, I actually can’t.  They have all contributed to my identity as a therapist is differing ways from the way they handle my cohort’s anxiety to the way in which they guide me through a confusing concept during a role play.  Not only are the MFT professors passionate about our profession, but they are also concerned about our own personal formation.  I feel so blessed to be trained by each one of them.  Additionally, I look forward to next year and training under Jim Furrow in Emotionally Focused Therapy.
  5. What’s one of the most challenging/rewarding/enjoyable assignments you have had to complete for a class?  Although I love school and academic rigor, I also love utilizing my creative abilities.  Every so often a professor will allow us to choose between a paper and a creative option, and I always choose the creative option.  Ironically, I spend way more time on the project than I would on a regular academic paper, but I tend to enjoy it more.  For Janice Strength’s class on shame and guilt (The Theological and Psychological l Exploration of Shame and Guilt), I created a video, displaying several of my friends dancing and explaining how dancing makes them feel.  Through the video, I demonstrated how dancing can be a tool towards shame resilience.  I think this has been one of my favorite assignments because I was able to creatively explain how much joy we can derive from dancing and simply allowing our bodies to feel the rhythm of a song, which helps us release emotions.

The little old (ahem…young) lady from Pasadena likes to…

http://www.cardcow.com/images/set60/card00485_fr.jpg

When I told my Southern friends I was moving to Pasadena way back in 2008, they started singing that song to me to which I smiled and corrected the word old to young.  Although I’ve spent the majority of the past five years staring at my computer screen and feverishly reading books, I have, indeed, fallen in love with Pasadena.  So without further ado, my top five favorite things to do in the Pasadena/LA area:

  1. Break out my dancin’ shoes- This is by far my favorite perk of living in this area.  When I lived in Birmingham, I struggled to find adult classes amidst the tiny pink tights and tutus.  Over the past few years, I’ve taken hip hop, tap, ballet, swing, and salsa.  To work off my stress, I love breaking a sweat in a salsa club, especially at The Granada in Alhambra (www.thegranadala.com) or Ixtapa in Old Town Pasadena (www.cantinaixtapa.com).
  2.   Soak in some sun- We are spoiled here in SoCal with such beautiful weather, and I try soak it all in to counteract the overwhelming amount of time I spend in class, at work, or my practicum site.  I especially love Lacy Park, the Cal-Tech campus grounds, and the Arlington Gardens.  If I want to treat myself to a pricier experience of the sun, I go to The Huntington Gardens (www.huntington.org), the LA Arboretum (hwww.arboretum.org), or The Descanso Gardens (www.descansogardens.org)
  3.  Go for a fro-yo run- I have always loved frozen yogurt, but Pasadena has so many do it yourself fro yo options that trying out new fro yo spots with friends quickly became my favorite past-time.  Right now my favorites are Menchie’s in South Pasadena and Cherry on Top by Pasadena City College.
  4. Stock up on fresh food- I tend to eat mostly vegetables and fruits, which means I spend a significant amount of time in the produce aisle at the grocery store.  I would much rather spend that time at Farmer’s Markets, picking out locally grown, fresh fruits and veggies.  Every so often I try to catch the Thursday night South Pasadena Farmer’s Market, the Friday night Monrovia Farmer’s Market, or the new Wednesday evening Pasadena’s Farmer’s Market, which is actually right behind Fuller
  5. Scout out the cheap/free stuff- As a long-term graduate student (yes, this is my second Master’s at Fuller- call me smart or call me crazy), I have learned to live on a tight budget.  I’ve also learned how to have fun on this tight, or really non-existent, budget.  So I frequent the Old Town Pasadena calendar of events (www.oldpasadena.org/gc_calendar.asp) and make note of the free concerts in Old Town and free movie nights at One Colorado.  I also look forward to the amazing free concerts in the summer at the Levitt Pavilion (www.levittpavilionpasadena.org).

And, that, is how I stay sane in the crazy/amazing world of grad school life.

Practically speaking

You know how sometimes when you’re too close to a painting the masterpiece just looks like a big blob?  It’s only when you take a step back that you realize that, of course, it’s a city skyline or ocean or something other than the confusing brush strokes of chaos.  Well, unless it’s abstract art.

I felt like my capstone class in the School of Intercultural Studies, “Thinking Missiologically,” with Doug McConnell was the giant step back I needed in order to make sense of all the concepts and theories I had read, discussed, and analyzed for two years.  In this class, we looked at current issues in doing missions and ministry and shuffled through our core classes, choosing differing lenses to approach the problem.  In our response to the issue, we presented theories from our tool box, ranging from theology, psychology, sociology, ecclesiology, and international development.  However, we didn’t just apply the theories. We critiqued them.  We demonstrated how each concept could help and then where each concept failed or brought more problems.

Perhaps my favorite assignment and, I’ll be honest, the most anxiety provoking for me, was the group project.  Each group in our class had to select five models or theories they wanted to present in handling the response to the then current Haiti earthquake crisis.  In a nutshell, the vignette described how relief agencies were, thankfully, in Haiti helping in the earthquake aftermath but, sadly, the local businesses were failing because of the relief agencies.  Quite a sticky situation.

Through our project, we had a chance to figure out what we would do.  How would we possibly remedy this problem?  We chose our models, presented, and then responded to other group’s counter points.  The entire process was exhilarating and confusing, as we collaborated to work towards some type of plan.  This was where the abstract theory became practical reality.

While my career goals of changed, I still find that this class and assignment were formative to not only my Fuller experience but also my professional development.  I now know what it means to weed through a plethora of theories or models to find the best fit for the situation and then apply them, fully aware of their possibilities and limitations.

As a future marriage and family therapist, I believe this type of understanding is crucial.  Now, I am weeding through approaches to therapy, choosing the one that fits who I am, as well as the clients I will be seeing.  Also, I’m able to critically look at each approach, finding the strengths and weaknesses, which will hopefully make me a well-rounded therapist.

Starting in a few short months, I will be able to put it all into practice as a therapist at a practicum site.  And that is practicality.

Getting to know you…I mean me

Name: Ashley McCleery

Where did you grow up?  Signal Mountain, TN- close to Chattanooga (A certain song may be coming to mind- “Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”)

What brought you to Fuller?  I first came to Fuller in 2008 to study children at risk in the School of Intercultural Studies.  I tailored my education in SIS to learning about trauma and healing from sexual abuse/exploitation, which then led me into the world of psychology.  After much discernment and growth, I am now preparing to be a therapist in the Marriage and Family Therapy program.

What is your favorite…

Movie:  Soapdish

Band:   I love music- all kinds, including the nerdy instrumental music.  But recently I’ve been playing Mumford & Sons on repeat.

Smartphone App:  Sleep Cycle. It helps me learn how to make sleep more important in grad school life.

Website: thedailywhat.com

TV Show: Modern Family and I Love Lucy

Sports Team:  I like watching baseball.  Does that count?

Type of Frozen Yogurt:  Cake batter

Place to eat in Pasadena: Nine & Nine, Tender Greens, Abricott, Lemonade

Thing to do in Southern California: Getting lost, which is frequent, in order to find hidden gems like unique coffee shops.

Class you’ve taken at Fuller:   I have so many, but my top two are Forgiveness and Reconciliation with Terry Hargrave and Poverty and Development with Bryant Myers.

If you had the opportunity to do a different program at Fuller, what would you choose and why? I’m doing just that!  First was MAICS and now MSMFT.   But I have to be honest, I really want to do a Phd in Clinical Psychology, also.  Someday.

What book are you reading right now?  Other than all my reading for classes?  Well, I am re-reading one my favorites- When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd.

Who is your favorite Fuller professor and why?  I think it’s a tie between Erin Dufault-Hunter and Terry Hargrave.  Both are incredibly engaging in the way they present material, and they both bring personal experience into their lectures.  I learn best when I see my teachers connecting with the subject being taught, which helps me better connect with it.

What is an interesting fact that most people would not know about you?  I am deathly afraid of bees, and I have good reason.  When I was six, I stepped on a yellow jacket’s nest and was stung by about 100 yellow jackets.  So now, I scream like a baby when I see one near me.

What are the top 5 most played songs on your iTunes?  Not with Haste- Mumford & Sons, The Great Divide- Jonathan Elias, Dog Days Are Over- Florence + the Machine, Sweet Disposition- The Temper Trap, Every Teardrop is a Waterfall- Coldplay

If you could give advice to someone who is thinking about coming to Fuller, what would you say?  Being in seminary is a time of growth and change, spurred from entertaining new ideas and living in the questions.  So my advice is to give yourself the space and grace for this process.  Don’t hold too tightly to controlling your growth but try to allow this process to unfold, which can be uncomfortable at times but also incredibly rewarding.