Sunday, December 7, 2014

Marriage, Mommies, and Feminism

I've been holding it in for too long.

It's something I've known for quite some time, but admittedly, often refrain from speaking openly about.

I....friends....want to be a mom.

Not just a mom though - a  full time mom....a stay-at-home mom.  I realize that this might be surprising to a large number of people who know me.  I realize this might be upsetting to some who see my academic and professional opportunities as a waste of time by desiring such an end (though I would definitely argue it's not an 'end' nor a waste).  I also realize that some will be thinking 'oh good, and here I thought she was some kind of a feminist.'

To any of the former: This post is for you.  To any of the latter: I'll get to you later.

I do believe women can work and have happy successful families.  I do believe men and woman's academic and professional ambitions are equally important, and should be equally incorporated into any decisions made about how to raise a family together.  I do believe it will be a challenge to figure out how to compromise and balance their joint priorities, but I'm also sure that by acting as a team that respects and wants happiness for the whole, they will accomplish that balance and both be benefitted for it.  It will take a lot of trust, humility, and sacrifice, but good marriages always do.  I also believe that a couple learning to act as a team is actually more important to the health and happiness of their children than whether traditional roles are traditionally filled.

That being said, though I want to be a stay-at-home mom, I'm not saying I don't want to work outside the home.  In fact, I rather look forward to my career opportunities.  I'm only saying I want to be a 'full time mom' more than I want to be a 'full time anything else'.  To me, mommy-hood would be the greatest career I could hope for.  If the option becomes available, I want the opportunity to spend the vast majority of my time teaching my kids how to learn, love, and live life.  I honestly do think that any contribution I could make to society is dwarfed by any contribution I could make to my children's happiness and wholeness.  I do think working moms can still make those contributions, but time is not an adjustable commodity.  A sacrifice of time with kids is not replaceable.  You can work and have a career, but you are choosing to sacrifice time with your children in doing so.  That's just the constraints of physics.  You could have the best nanny or the best day care program you can buy, and your kids might even be more successful in life because of it.  I'm not trying to argue the benefits/problems of having a mom in the home.  I'm sure plenty of healthy happy adults spent most of their childhood in the arms of those not related to them.

What I'm saying, is that women need to be real with themselves, their priorities, and how they want to invest their time.  There is no way to 'do it all.'  A woman does have to deal with yearnings men don't face, because our bodies and minds are tied to our children in different ways.  Women who have had stellar careers often sacrifice them because their hearts ache every time they come home to find they've missed another milestone in their child's life.  They ache when the child cries out for their nanny to comfort them.  They ache when they get the call that the child is sick and had to be sent home.  The pain of missing out begins to outweigh the pain of sacrificing their career - so, if their joint income allows, they leave.  And I think that's okay.  This is not an ache that day-care or early pre-school is going to fix.  It's also not an ache all women feel, and that's okay too.

For me personally, I want to be a mom who fills her days trying to teach her kids how the world works.  I want to be a mom who does cool science experiments, sings and dances around the house without inhibition, accompanies her kids on adventures of their own make, and is there whenever they face disappointment, fear, anger, bitterness, sorrow, etc so that I can help them figure out how to navigate themselves and the relationships they will form throughout their lifetime.  I want to be a mom who teaches, by example, relentless curiosity, kindness, compassion, and courage.  I want to utilize my experience, my education, and my opportunities to teach them about possibility, how to work, and how to contribute to society.  My time as a nanny made it poignantly obvious that most learning is spontaneous, most heartbreaks, struggles, and triumphs cannot be scheduled between the hours of 5-10pm, and that kids find security from whatever and whoever is around and consistently there when they need them.  For some people, they are fine with that person being a nanny or caregiver.  I am not.  So if it's within my power/capacity, then this is what I would want to do.

My only caveat is that "within my power capacity" part.  I have no idea what it's going to be like to be a mom.  I have no idea what kind of boredom, angst, or depression I'm going to have to battle to accomplish that task.  There is a very real chance that my desires will change when reality hits.  There is a very real chance that I may need to work in order to maintain a healthy standard of living, my sanity, or continue to be emotionally available to my kids.  I've seen mommy-burnout, and it's not good for mommy or kids.

This is why I'm rather resolute on men and women working as a team in parenting.  When people are part of a good team and a member of that team is struggling to make a play, the other members don't sit back and curse them for not fulfilling expectations.  They adjust, adapt, and work to accomplish the goal at hand and adjust responsibilities in whatever way is necessary.  If that means switching positions because it makes them more successful overall, they do so.  Sacrificing expectation is often a key to success.  Adaptability and the courage to fail then figure it out are often more important and useful than even the best laid plans or patterns.

And in my eyes, creating expectations for another person is just a bad way to do marriage.  Men shouldn't expect women to stay at home, cook, or raise children, anymore than women should expect men to bring in six figures, always protect them, and anticipate their emotional needs.  Even if he feels it is within his capacity, there is no guarantee that it will continue as such.  He could have a stroke, get laid off, or become a victim of mental illness.  Expectations are easily obliterated by reality.  Strong marriages roll with the punches of reality, remain focused on what they want, and don't waste time being crushed by the inevitable downfall of expectations and thinking they know how to do life.  They can take a hit, reassess, adapt, and continue to flourish.  This is what makes humans so awesome.  This is what makes families so powerful and purposeful.  

Anyway, back to the point at hand.  These are my desires.  It seemed time to air them.  And while I may state my desire, I also acknowledge my desire is not my final decision.  The only decision I have made is to keep trying to prioritize my relationship with God first, my relationship with my spouse second, and my relationship with my children third.  That is the only family goal I have, and I have no idea what that will look like, let alone how to accomplish that.  Yes, it's ambiguous, and yes I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to 'figure it out', but it's all I can guarantee.

I've realized over the years, that the ambiguity of this goal makes men nervous, because many would like to know what to expect out of me.  But I'm a pretty dynamic individual.  I can be a lot of different things at a lot of different times, and actually, I take pride in that.  Even I don't really know what to expect out of me, and I would prefer to explore ambiguity then offer a false sense of security. That's terrifying at times to even me, because it often means learning by trial and error, or as my professors like to call it - 'discovery.'  But, scary as it is, I also see no reason to limit or constrain my capacities with expectations for security's sake.  The only thing I'm really sure about, is that trying to love God, myself, and those around me is the best way to go about living life.  One day, I hope to find someone who thinks that's enough, and is willing to figure out the rest of it with me.

Scary as that may be.

Coming Up: Modern feminism and my issues with gender issues today 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Heavy and Hopeful Heart

My heart hurts.
I feel caught up in a tumult of hurt, frustration, agony, angst, fear, pride, confusion, guilt, and judgement.
Just to clarify though, none of these feelings are my own.

It's strange, really, how the Spirit works.  I've felt numb to it for months, and completely frustrated by not knowing or understanding what I did to merit such isolation.  Sure I'd have moments of calm, moments of happy, moments of excitement, or even moments of inspiration.  But none of those came close to the deep abiding peace I've felt, most of my life, from being given the gift of the Spirit.

And then, this happened.
  1. Two Activists Within Mormon Church Threatened With ...

    New York Times-Jun 11, 2014
    Two Mormons who have gained national attention for pushing their church to ordain women to the priesthood and to accept openly gay ...
    Kate Kelly, Mormon Women's Group Founder, Faces ...
    -Huffington Post-20 hours ago
All of a sudden, I felt it again.  The deep compassion, the ache of others pain, the discomfort of conflict, and at the same time, a hugely deep sense of peace that God is love, God is in charge, and that love (God) can and will heal all.  I know a lot of people have very strong opinions about the stories in the news, and I'm sure it doesn't help that they are being sensationalized, but I hope we work to see past the rhetoric and hype.

Case in point: Women's rights activist faces excommunication from Mormon church

She faces a disciplinary council.  That is not excommunication.  And if it were to result in excommunication, they would conveniently forget to add that excommunication is a merciful practice in the church, not a vindictive or damning one.  It allows for people who are struggling with their covenants to be released from them until they feel capable of making those covenants again.  Also, they would neglect to mention that if the LDS church has no authority from God, then excommunication means nothing more than 'you are not allowed to speak on behalf of the church.'  And wouldn't it be irrational to let people who disagree with the body and purpose of your organization to speak on your behalf?

There is definitely an angle to these stories.  Most seem to say "Organized religion is a useless, archaic practice.  Anybody who participates in this faith is an ignorant, bigoted, gullible fool."

I know that my participation in the church has taught me more than any self-help book or life coach ever could.  It forces me into situations where I have to learn to love, serve, uplift, and submit in ways that are never comfortable, but are almost always refining.  It hurts to feel something as intimate as my spirituality and the work I've put into it being called into question, disrespected, and marginalized by such a large and outspoken group of people.

Sound familiar?

Yup.  That's cuz we're all hypocrites, and we're all upset for basically the same reasons.  We don't feel loved, respected, or acknowledged in some way.  And rather than creating a good dialogue about how to evolve, love, respect, and listen to one another with hopes of proceeding together as a group with vision and purpose....we're arguing, building up barriers, and giving up hope.

With that, I have three pleas I'd like to make to all my friends, family, coworkers, or random strangers who might be reading this blog and are struggling to make sense of the current cacophony.

Plea #1 - Love God

This is a thing I think most people can get on board with.  That is, at least generally.  I know it's a lot more tricky to get into the "how do you love God," so I'll just say this:

In order to love God, (no matter how you show it) you must trust God.  If you trust Him, then you have no need to worry.  Fear not.  Doubt not.  You may have no idea what the future will look like, but if you trust God, you can know it will be better than the present, so relax.

Really, that's about it.  Keeping all the other commandments dictates that you can only do so out of this loving trust.  If you love God, you will keep his commandments and trust that it is for the best because you trust Him.  But, if you keep them out of fear, shame, or pride, then you do not love or trust God and are probably distancing yourself from Him the more piously you adhere to those tenants.

So, that's my first, and probably most fervent, plea.  Trust God.

Plea #2 - Love One Another

One quick note to all the social media critics out there.  To anyone who may feel the need to belittle, disregard, or criticize these members or the local leaders involved in the Kelly and Duhlin councils, don't check your religion at the door of your facebook/twitter sign on.

To those upset that there are people trying to 'change the church':

First of all, calm down.  Remember how the church is not your church, my church, Joseph Smith's, or even Thomas S. Monson's church?  That's right.  It's Christs, so stop trying to be a backseat driver.  He's got it.  Women proposing they should hold the priesthood or men proposing the acceptance of homosexuality WILL NOT PUT THE CHURCH IN JEOPARDY.  They may be loud, they may have a large audience, they may bring a degree of persecution, and they may even have a good point, but they will never deter or interrupt God's plan for His children.  We don't know know or understand the complexities of that plan any more than those individuals do.  I'm sure it's different than any human, thus far, could conceive.  Have faith in God, have faith in His abilities to inspire His leaders (as well as ALL of His other children), and focus your energies on obeying the God you are probably trying to advocate for in your harsh rhetoric.

That's right.  Whatever response you have, your words will make you one gigantic impotent hypocrite if you don't respond as God has commanded you to....with love, patience, kindness, etc.

While we may think we are defending God by chastising those who express doubts or criticisms, I would like to point out that God's most powerful tool of illumination is love.  So, if you're hoping to make a case for God, put away the defensive stances or the urge to argue over written doctrines.  Try to love, empathize with, and even understand one another first - ESPECIALLY with those who are struggling with the church.  Doubt is not a disease to be avoided or ignored.  It's an internal wound to be tended to and healed with love, prayer, and compassion.  If you are not physically or emotionally feeling some of the turmoil Kelly and Dehlin and their followers have endured trying to internally rectify incongruous fears, frustrations, and inspirations.....then hush up, kneel down, and pray for that opportunity.

Christ feels it, and He knows how to help you feel it, and when you feel it, you will no longer have a desire to act out of insecurity, impulsive pride, or confusion, but you will feel an overwhelming sense of peace and compassion for every single individual involved.  Then, and only then, will you will act in ways aligned with the Lord's will.  Then you will show the Lord that his children can be trusted to love one another even in the learning process, and then we will be ready to be taught the next line or precept He has in store for us.  Personally, I have no idea what that's going to look like, but I know it's coming, and I'm definitely excited to see what that is.

For those upset that the "Church isn't changing":

Look around.  The church is changing friends.  Perhaps you'd like it to change faster or in more 'official' way, but the Lord does not work in our millennial paradigm of "Demand and ye shall immediately receive."  The Lord's church is an ever evolving body of imperfect and dynamic individuals, and trying to coordinate all of those fickle, fallible, and frustrating personalities is not something that can be done by a church policy or practice.  It requires a loving God and the right time.

Like a good bread (since the nice wine analogy isn't going to hold weight here), it requires the ALL internal elements to be ready before progress can be had.  You can't persuade dough into rising by writing scathing articles or declaring it unjust.  You can't get it to bake with guilt trips or threatening to throw it in the trash.  You can set the right conditions (at least the ones you can control), nourish the yeast appropriately, set the oven to the right temp, and probably most importantly, wait.

I highly advocate the more open and honest discussions that both Kelly and Duhlin have initiated through their struggles.  I love that people are more willing to explore the depths of discomfort and darkness in order to better reach out to and support those they love.  I love that we are creating a language and habits around those struggles, thereby making it easier to care for and connect with others in the same boat.  I love that we are asking questions about our cultural vs doctrinal habits, and asking our leaders and God if there is something else in store.  These are all great conditions for good bread.

So please, though it may be hard and exhausting, continue to ask questions, empathize (with both those in authority and those who struggle with it), and pray.  Pray to see the truth through all the fog.  Pray to understand the pain and anguish of those who feel marginalized, conflicted, or abandoned by God.  Pray that those people will be comforted by the Spirit.  Pray to understand the pressure and purpose of authority in the church.  Pray for the strength to buoy up all of these people, that you may become better, stronger, and happier, together.  Many of you are already doing so, and for that I applaud you.  But, as is equally important, remember to pray for those who hold responsibilities to act on God's behalf as well.  Love them, support them, engage with them, and help them feel safe enough to acknowledge their own fears, frustrations, and imperfections, so that they can come closer to Christ as well.  That way, the revelation they do receive can be clear, concise, and most importantly of all, centered in a love of God and others.

Plea #3 - Love Yourself

Brene Brown, a guilt and shame researcher (AND INSPIRED GENIUS!!) makes a powerful assertion:

Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves

In my experience, this is true. You can't give what you don't have, so to be capable of loving others, there is a subtly written prerequisite that you love yourself. Many of the people I know, especially those who feel marginalized, powerless, or disrespected struggle with this commandment. Shoot, we all struggle with this commandment. If you ask me, it is, by far, the most difficult.

Others, you can give the benefit of the doubt. Others, you can feel compassion and empathy for without balancing the weight of responsibility, accountability, and consequence. When dealing with don't have those options. You are a hot mess, and you're commanded to love that hot mess. Excuses, ignorance, and distance - three things we often use to buffer the difficulty of loving others - are not effective here. You have to love all of you, and there is simply no way around it.

But I think that is part of the genius of this commandment. It's a lot like an internal quality control for love. Love is only real, uplifting, nourishing, and true when that internal quality control of loving yourself is present. If you work your whole life to serve others, but do so purely out of shame, fear, or pride, then the internal love control will fail because you don't love yourself, and all of those efforts and energies will prove invalid and eternally fruitless. Want proof? Look at the correlation between self-loathing and codependency. Those in codependent relationships claim to love one another...but the destructive nature of those relationships is the fruit of that tree, and proof that the 'love' expressed is not uplifting Christ-like love - aka charity.

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, 
ye are nothing, for charity never faileth" 

Whether or not we love ourselves verifies the reality of the love we seek to build with others. It takes a raw and powerful faith to face your own imperfections and shortcomings, have faith in the ability of atonement to improve everything, and believe that Christ loves you NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO/THINK/SAY. Christ loves you no matter what ANYBODY does, thinks, or says, and you should too.

If you are feeling unloved or overlooked, I'm sorry. I apologize if I ever actively or passively played a part in that feeling. It sucks, it's harrowing, and it's lonely. I understand the desire to shut down, withdraw, and give up on ever finding safety, peace, hope, or joy. But I reiterate my plea, that before you give up, look to see if there's is room for Christ to heal your relationship with you. Take whatever time you need for that process, and don't let shame, fear, or peer pressures derail you from that endeavor. Please, just learn to love yourself the way a child of God deserves to be loved. When you do, I have no doubt that your ability to love others will expand in kind. I have no doubt that the more you work on loving yourself, the more you will feel God's love for you, and along with that, the more you will feel the peace and power of His gospel and the church that tries to teach it.

Ultimately, everyone wants to be loved, understood, supported, and heard (both those leading and being lead). All I would ask, is that we consider those needs when we write and respond to the worries, concerns, backlash, and even hatred that will be spewed all over news and social media outlets for the next week or so. The Priesthood leaders involved are not corporations or lifeless entities. They are men with families, insecurities, testimonies, and good but fallible/vulnerable hearts. Most importantly, though, they are our brothers. Likewise, the men and women advocating for Dehlin and Kelly are not apostatic monsters. They are mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, and friends that have seen or experienced deep pains, confusion, and heartache, and are looking for relief. Nobody wins when you pit siblings up against one another. We are an eternal family, and as such, there will be conflict, but we can navigate the conflict with compassion, curiosity, and consideration.

I know that the more we work on loving ourselves, others, and God, the more the church (and humanity) will continue to evolve and gain access to greater and more comprehensive revelations and understanding. I testify that the solution to this 'problem' is to listen, engage with, and love one another more. I feel like this controversy is a test, and the only way to pass that test, is to fight the urge to react and argue, but instead, turn the other cheek and reach out with compassion to everyone around us. And I mean everyone...

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Burnout Basin

Have you ever had that moment when you look at who you are, and feel a desire deep within you say, "I want, no...I need to be different."

Well, I oft have those moments, and usually it's followed with a "What in the world am I supposed to do with that?"

Change is easy, change is inevitable.  Progress is harder to map out.  Because really, HOW are we supposed to both identify and work toward a 'different' that is superior or preferable to the current state of being, when we lack knowledge of what 'different' actually looks like?

I know all the cliche answers by heart.  "Pray, read your scriptures, go to the temple, etc."  I don't wish to diminish the importance of all of those things.  They have all helped me in the past.  But, I have also come to learn that, sometimes, God just wants you to search, ponder, and figure it out on your own.  Kind of like in a field test, I don't doubt that He'd step in and help me more directly if I ever got into danger.  But, if I'm to be a wise steward, I have to be willing to practice faith, step into the dark, and utilize the gifts He's given me (intelligence, agency, the Spirit, family, friends, etc) to make wise choices.  I know how much I hate it (and I'm pretty sure He know's how much I hate it), and lately, it seems to be the theme in this phase of my life.

Oh yeah...and, it's exhausting.
Have you ever tried to make a change, switched some things up, then found yourself falling quickly into old habits and familiar behaviors?  Or went after something you wanted, only to figure out that it offered no improvement, and perhaps even felt like taking two steps back?  Lately, I feel like my efforts to change certain aspects of my thinking/behavior/self often feels like trying to run up an eternal sand dune.  The inertia of previous choices is constantly dragging me back, and the more effort I put into forging the path ahead, the more exhausted, weighed down, and hopeless I feel about getting somewhere better.  

It's as if He's testing the limits of my longevity and determination, and honestly, I'm burning out.  I'm am tired.  I'm tired of trying to be better.  I'm tired of always looking ahead.  I'm tired of caring about where I go.  I'm tired of trying, only to be met with the disappointment and frustration of going nowhere.  I'm tired of being wrong, of being corrected, and I'm especially tired of having to start over and over again.  I just want to stop it all, eat some ice cream, and take a nap.  A very very long nap.

Problem is, I've felt that way for several months.  I have taken a few days here and there to nap and eat my ice cream, but they offer no relief.  In a way, they actually cause me even more frustration, by making me keenly aware of the fact that I still don't like where I am, that I NEED to keep moving, but I'm in no way motivated to get anywhere, nor do I know where I want to go.  I constantly ask myself questions like "Is it so bad here?" or "Is it worth the effort to get there?"  I think what I'm coming to understand is, that if I'm asking those kinds of questions, the answer is yes.  Yes it is so bad here, that's why you feel a brick in your gut most of the time.  Yes, it's worth the effort.  Even if you don't get to where you want to go, it won't get better if you stay keep moving!

So yes, part of me knows that doing something is better than doing nothing, but after several months of failing at all the somethings I try for, I'm wearing down.  I just want something to work, get traction, and go.  I'm tired of being single and making all of my life choices on my own.  I'm tired of feeling the futility of my current job and still working so hard to excel in it.  I'm tired of having to constantly remind myself that I have worth and value, especially when it feels like I'm the only one who believes that.  I'm tired of aching for a mentor, sage, or heck, a guru who sees potential within me, can help me see the possible paths ahead, or just tell me what to do.  I'm tired of not having any roots and being as mobile and free as a cottonwood seed.  I'm tired of where I am.  I'm tired of being stumped on where to go.

So what do I do?  How do I proceed?  If I have a limited amount of effort to expend, lots of avenues I could expend it in, and no preference or vision of which would be the most fruitful, WHAT DO I DO?

Well, my epiphany for the day finally answered that question.  The answer?

In other words: Be patient.  Ugh.

I have a good life.  I don't want anyone to think I don't recognize that.  I have fantastic friends, an awesome family, a good job, and a capable mind/body.  But even in the recognition of those gifts, I also see and, perhaps more intensely, feel a constant need for more.  I see a need for me to reach for more, do more, and feel more.  What I'm realizing, is that reaching, doing, and feeling doesn't have to be done at an exhausting pace, and it doesn't have to all be done right now.  But what is the proper pace? idea.

Patience with myself has never been a strong suit.  Patience with others is oddly easier for me.  I'm not a blamer, and I can usually give people the benefit of the doubt that they're trying their personal best.  I have a hard time giving myself that same leniency.  This is mostly cuz I know kind of know my personal best, and love feeling like I can offer that - until I'm tired.  "Tired" does weird things to my personal best.  It's like a 100lb log being tied to my leg in a 5K.  Something I can normally manage suddenly feels impossible, and I constantly question if what I do accomplish is really all I could do.

And again, I know patience plays a part in that.  I've always been annoyed at the pace I learn, build strength and endurance, form good habits, and even the time it takes for me to get to know people.  I think I actually am slower than most human beings, in many ways.  As I age though, I'm beginning to notice that I'm getting even slower , and thus, more and more impatient with myself.

So, my questions:

1. How do we practice patience with self?
2. How do we practice patience with life?

I won't pretend to have answers to these...yet.  But if you have insights, please post.

If you don't have insights, but know all the feelings and frustrations I've described here...stay tuned.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fasting - there's nothing fast about it

Things I've learned or had reinforced for me this week during this fasting study.

1) Hunger is not something to complain about (at least, not the intermittent variety)
2) Your body can adapt to amazing things
3) Your brain rules all, and accrues all.
4) Not all fat is created equal.
5) People people people, it's all about the people.
6) Attitudes - break free or be broken.
7) Prayer works.

1) Hunger is not something to complain about (at least, not the intermittent variety)

I can not tell you how many times I have woken up on a Fast Sunday, realized it was Fast Sunday, and thought - man...I'm already hungry, how am I going to make the whole day?  Wishing I could sleep through the hunger, I dreaded the full day ahead.  Most commonly, I'd make it through church okay, but I paid more attention to the hunger than the things I was fasting for.  And then, there was the after-church lull.  12-5pm.  It often stood before me like a talking mountain, verbally taunting me and reminding me how hungry I am, and how much good food I had access to, and laughing at how long it would take for me to get to dinnertime.  Well, after this...imma stomp on that mountain.  

2) Your body can adapt to amazing things

Somewhere around Day 3 - I felt something shift in my body.  It was as if it said "Oh, this is what we're doing?  Okay, let me rearrange some things," and then it did.  I wasn't wanting to go for a run, but I had energy, my mind was clear, and I somehow managed to be very productive.  I didn't feel hungry anymore, but I somehow managed to also ignore, or at least forget about, my empty energy stores.  It was a strange sensation.

3) Your brain rules all, and accrues all. 

Yup.  It's no secret that your brain will adjust your entire body to make sure it gets what it needs.  But what I realized, is that I'm the one who determines how much it needs.  I thought, at first, that I was slowly going to rot away into a den of TV because I'd be too tired to think by the end.  Throughout this week though, even today, I've managed to keep my mind incredibly active.  Writing, reading, organizing, and chatting has preoccupied most of my time.  I barely watched any TV (besides Sherlock and Downton - thank you BBC), and it amazed me how my mind met all of the tasks I set before it.  I also don't think it a coincidence that my metabolism barely slowed down this whole week and I had no problems with my blood work or vitals.  Many of you have probably heard about the study done that showed people burned more calories reading a book than watching TV.  My guess is it's because an active mind is so calorically demanding.  Whatever the cause, I think there is something about keeping your mind in shape that helps the rest of your body function better.  

4) Not all fat is created equal.

One of the measures for this study is brown fat.  Brown fat is the fat in charge of keeping you warm.  It's more vascularized than white adipose, and has more mitochondria for energy production.  The study is measuring the effects of fasting on brown fat.  While it's too soon to say for sure because the scans have not been analyzed, something happened in the study that I found interesting.  My normal body temperature went up.  My whole life, I've been 97 degrees.  Partially because I'm cooler than 98° (obviously), and partially because my metabolism has always been just a touch slower than most people.  When I started this study, I was 97.  Now, I run at 98.6.  Thank you brown fat.

5) People people people, it's all about the people.

I've been really impressed by all the people I've interacted with over the last couple weeks.  The nurses were always incredibly kind and considerate, I think I had visitors almost every other day, and the researches I was working with were so good about making sure I was getting everything I needed.  While I'm sure I would have survived the week alone, being surrounded by good people who care about you is seriously...the bees knees.

6) Attitudes - break free or be broken.

The one comment I've gotten most throughout this study, is how surprised everyone is by my consistently good attitude.  Most expect some kind of Grumpy Gus who doesn't want to do anything but lay in bed, sleep, and suffer in silence.  I have found that this just doesn't work for me.  No, the fast was not easy.  Yes, I was far from comfortable most of the time.  But, I felt good about participating, and because I felt good about my choice, I saw most of it with optimistic and interested eyes.  My doctor suspects that this is partly why I've finished the study in such good health.  Other candidates did have issues with their water balance, loosing weight too fast, mental lethargy, and dissatisfaction.  While I'm sure my super-healing-mutant Goodrick genes play a part in that, I don't doubt that choosing a good attitude will, more often than not, set you up for a good experience.    

7) Prayer works.

Before I give the impression that all this went off without a hitch, let me tell you about day 3.  I hadn't slept well in two days because hospital beds do not agree with me.  I'd tossed and turned the whole night, only to fall asleep for a few hours to have a dream about leaving the study.  When I woke up, I felt nauseated and cranky (I'm a total baby when it comes to nausea - I'd rather be in pain).  They mentioned my sodium levels were a little low, and that if they went any lower, they'd give me a salt pill.  But salt pills were notorious for making candidates nauseous, so we thought we'd give it another day to see if my nausea settled.  I did not want more nausea.  I was barely handling the stuff I currently felt., and I felt incredibly uncomfortable.  My guts were doing funny things, my stomach was doing funny things, and my psyche was too tired to deal with it.

The doctor came in and offered to stop the study.  At only 3 days in, that seemed sad to me.  I had the time, I'd come this far, I wanted to finish.  I asked him for a few more hours to decide.  Not sure what the best course would be, I knelt down and prayed.  I barely eeked out a "what do I do" when I felt a warmth come over me, accompanied by the words, "This won't be easy, but you can do hard things, and you will be okay."

That was really all I needed.  The nausea didn't go away immediately, but as I stated in #2, I felt something in my body start to shift.  By the next morning, I felt completely fine.  I've felt fine ever since.  Everybody in the unit was just blown away by such a dramatic change overnight.  The interesting part to me, is I don't think God healed my nausea.  I think my body was going through changes, and that day happened to be the roughest patch.  But what He did do was calm me down, remind me of what I'm capable of, and get me through the rough patch -- As He so often does.   

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Gall of a Glutton

Wow.  Two posts in one month.  I'm on a roll.

So the rumor is that I'm starving myself.  Well, the rumor is true.  I'm doing a 10 day fast for an inpatient neuroendocrine study at Brigham and Women's Hospital.  It's been 70 hours since I have had food, and I have about 7 days left.  The reactions to this have varied, but most commonly, I get a somewhat exasperated "Why are you doing this?"

Well, the short answer is, 'cuz I felt like it.'

Intuition is the driver of most of my...lets call them interesting....choices.  I feel like I want to do something, and it feels like it's a good thing to do, then I do it.  This intuitive approach to choice is how I decided where to go to college, my decision to do a year abroad, my choice of career, my move to Boston, and potentially how I chose a grad school (still workin' on that one...).  This is also the case with this fasting study.  It interested me from when the director first explained it to me in a collaborative context.  Then, when the collaboration fell through, I felt like it would be a good thing to participate in.

Initially, I just told people I wanted a chance to participate in a research study, earn some extra money, and finally unwind from the hectic craziness that has been the last several months of my life.  This was not untrue, but probably only covered about half of my actual motivations. 

Don't worry, this will NOT be me.
When I was in India, I heard a lot about ashrams who would practice long-term fasts.  I thought this was stupid because starvation induced kidney failure is a real thing, not to mention other metabolic and neurological problems that can arise from the potassium imbalance.  However, their reasons for the long-term fasts always interested me.  A lot of Hinduism is about detaching from the material things and appetites of life we are mentally/emotionally/physically attached to.  The belief is that there is freedom and clarity in rising above these things and that doing so is the only way to connect with the divine within you.  I saw the parallel of this belief with the Judeo-Christian's call against idolatry and prioritizing things above God.  When we want some THING more than we want exaltation or happiness, we don't make choices that get us to where we ultimately want to go.

I'm a pretty adaptable person, and there's not much that I'd ever put before God or family, because I have faith in the Plan of Salvation and I want the things that are promised (eternal families, joy, creation, life, etc).  But, I'm a glutton.  I don't mean in the 'I emotionally compensate with food' kind of way.  I mean I'm a glutton in the 'I have no desire to stop eating and never stop enjoying food,' kind of way.  I love food.  I love the sensory experience of food much like some people enjoy art or music.  I love the tastes, textures, smells, colors, and I love the feel of food in my belly.  I love exploring and creating new foods, flavors, and combinations.  I love to study our physiological and psychological relationship with food.  I've wished, countless times, that I was one of those people who never gained weight, not for vanity, but purely so that I could forever indulge and consume without consequences to my long-term health.  I'm so passionate about food, that I know it would be the most difficult thing for me to temper or sacrifice if life and circumstance ever required (I have a hard enough time with Fast Sunday).      

And passion is a funny thing.  It's powerful, impressive, moving, and often destructive.  It thwarts the shackles of logic, reason, and common sense and winks at consequence with a playful "don't worry about it."  At times, passion can be the driving force of success, and at other times, be the very reason success is never achieved.  We're told to pursue things we feel passionately about, but then watch in horror as passion-infused-people pursue things, paths, or relationships that lead to their self-destructive, and often gory, demise.

Passion is something I've thought on for much of my life.  I was born with a lot of it, grew up surrounded by a lot of it, and have learned intimately how it can be both a glorious blessing and an cataclysmic curse.  I was probably 19 years old before I realized not all families discussed their perspectives and desires with the fire of a thousand suns.  Experiencing and seeing the power of that double edged sword has led me to become fixated with Alma 3:12 "See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love;"

How does one actually go about doing that?  Bridling passions.  Isn't that kind of like trying to bridle fire?  In my experience, passions are just as ready and willing to thwart a bridle as they are logic and reason.  When it flares, I always feel like I'm more likely to get consumed than be successful reigning it in.  And even if you manage to succeed with the bridle, how do you learn to direct and utilize that force to be filled with love?  How do you maintain the kind of focus that moves you toward a rational or healthy destination when passion flares and bolts after its own desires?

Honestly, I don't know the answer to most of those questions, and I've been asking them for over 10 years.  But I have learned some things and I do know that learning to discipline those passions is incredibly individual and incredibly important.  I know that discipline starts with knowing who you are and that you are more powerful than the passions that drive you.  This is why I do like the imagery of the bridle.  Nobody doubts that a horse is more physically powerful than a human and could utilize that power to destroy said human, and yet we have managed to work with and exert power over horses for centuries.  Like horses, discipline, kindness, and consistency is what allows us to healthily take charge of the passion we feel.  Self-punishment and suppression are the abusive equivalents of that control.  I've known many people who think the best way to control their passion is to suppress it completely.  To me, that's like keeping the horse in a pin for too long, and by doing so you're not learning to control anything.  You're just asking for it to break loose. 

That being said, you're not going to be able to just bridle the untamed horse and immediately go for a ride either.  You will need to spend some time in that pin, working with, building a relationship with, and figuring out HOW to bridle that horse.  This is the stage I am at with my gluttony.  I've had times in the past that by sheer will and oppression, I diminished my love of food and the excitement I felt when creating it and eating it.  It was the only way I ever managed to practice portion control.  I kept that horse tied up until, inevitably, I got tired and it broke loose.  Then, I thought the best way to keep it under control was to tie it up with a rope (aka exercise) that allowed it to roam free periodically.  I have come to realize that this horse likes to take more and more liberties, and that there's no way around the necessity of me learning how to actually bridle it. 

So while I know all of this in theory, it's incredibly hard to put into practice.  The degree of passion, intensity, and enthusiasm I was born with is the equivalent to a bucking wild stallion.  Learning how to sustain self-discipline will probably always be something I have to work on for the rest of my life.  But one day I'd like to get to the point where guiding that passion is more natural and less exhausting than my past attempts have been, so I'll keep attempting.  And I think this fasting study is helping me with that process.     

Quick summary: These are the answers to the "why are you doing such and awful study?" question.

1. Prove to myself that food is not my idol in a way that didn't put my life at risk.  There is a peace that comes from knowing if God or those I love ever needed me to, I am capable of giving up the appetite I'm attached to most.  And I'm glad I can do that without the risk of renal failure.

2. To figure out how to enjoy food without crossing the line into overindulgence.  I want to find a way that allows me to still be passionate about it, but disciplined enough to not let that passion become destructive to me or my health.  This will extend WAY beyond the study itself, but I do see this fast as kind of experiential reset button.

3. To finally take the time I need to unwind and refocus.  I have felt overstimulated and often overwhelmed by the pace of life recently, and it distracts me from figuring out who I want to be.  This study will allow me the time to focus on what I want, what my priorities are, and how to better align the two, so that I can come back into the swing of things with some clarity.

4. To learn empathy.  Even the last few days have helped me understand hunger in ways I never would have without experiencing it.  Just having that understanding helps me to feel much more connected and empathetic to those that suffer from hunger, for whatever their reason may be.

5. Financial gain.  Yes, this is a part of things.  My plan is to take my earnings and go have an awesome time in California with my bro's family, my best friend, and the beach. 

6. Curiosity.  In addition to all the free scans and blood work I'll be getting done for free, I'm actually interested in finding out the study outcomes.  Brown fat research and metabolic changes in fasting states have had some fascinating findings in rats and other animals.  I'm curious to see if they are equally applicable to humans, and especially, what it means for me and my body if they are.

One thing people seemed worried about was that I was doing this just to lose weight.  While I'm not nor have ever been skinny, I don't think I need to lose weight.  Yes, I will lose weight, but it'll only be 5-10 lbs, I doubt it'll even be noticeable, and there are much less intense and more enjoyable ways to go about losing 5-10lbs than a 10 day fast.  Mostly, I see it as a good opportunity, and I have 5-10lbs I could lose without it harming my health.  So here I am. 

As for how I'm feeling at this point of the fast.  Mostly, I'm just kind of tired, with the occasional hunger based tummy grumble.  It's hard in ways I don't know how to describe.  I want food, I miss food, but I'm not all that hungry.  I long for taste and chewing something.  Oh, and critical thinking has definitely become more difficult.  I can tell my body has had to adapt and start functioning differently than it ever has before.  I don't feel like going for a run, but I'm also still able to walk around and do some light yoga - just to keep my sanity.  And for the most part, I've felt rather productive and peaceful.  I'm getting to finish books that I've not found the time for, I've been able to finish projects I've been procrastinating, and tomorrow I'll be doing taxes and applying for financial aid.  It's like I finally have the time to catch up, and I'm kind of enjoying that part.  If anything changes, I'll be sure to write a quick update.  But at this point, I figure there's a lot of sleep in my future - and that I don't mind either. :)     


Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Why

And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."   -- 2 Nephi 25:26 (Book of Mormon reference)

The first thing that came to mind as I was reading this scripture, was “Why Christ? Why not kindness, tolerance, or even a close synonym to Christ...why not just love?  Why do we need to focus so much of our attention on a being that most of the world has never heard of?  Why do I talk, preach, and prophesy of Christ?  What makes me rejoice in him?”  

Anyone who’s spent 5 mins with me knows that I tend to ask a lot of of these kinds of questions.  Personally, I love questions.  They force us to venture into an often intimidating unknown, just to find answers coupled with more questions. Often I find that venturing usually teaches me more than I asked for in the first place, and this time was no exception.  So I asked...why Christ?  Well, though I will probably spend forever trying to understand the full answer to that question, I think I did find a few key reasons in my venture.  Unlike those ambiguous concepts, subject to tone, language, and interpretation, Christ is a concrete provider of 4 essential things I need to find, feel, and achieve happiness.  Namely, Christ provides…

1.) Direction

2.) Empowerment

3.) Empathy

4.) Purpose

To illustrate those points, I’m going to use an allegory of what I know of Christ and why I talk, preach, prophesy, and rejoice in Him now.  I know it may be different for you, but go with me on this if you can...

You are wandering through an oddly crowded desert.  Your throat hurts, you’re lethargic, uncomfortable, and just generally unsatisfied.  You wonder sometimes if you’re the only one who feels this way, because nobody else seems to be talking about it.  Then one day, you read an article that describes what you feel.  They call it thirst, and tell you the cure is something called water.

Grateful to have a name for your experience, and glad to know you’re not alone, you start telling people you’re thirsty and that you need water, but nobody seems to know what water is or where to get it.  Some claim they can get rid of the thirst without water, but after two chiropractors, three prescriptions, and one witch doctor, you’re still thirsty and beginning to wonder if relief is possible or if this ‘water’ stuff really exists.  

Then one day, a woman you know tells you that she knows a guy who has water, and is willing to give it to anybody that asks.  His name is Christ, and he is accessible through a strange and bizarrely simple process called prayer.  Admittedly,  you’re skeptical.  Your past attempts have jaded you from the possibility of relief and now prevent you from believing her words.  She responds with patience, compassion, and respect, but continues to remind you of this Christ as the pain persists, and prays for you to find the relief you seek.  Sensing her genuine concern for you, and wanting to see what she sees, you finally allow yourself to trust was she says, and reach out for this Christ of whom she speaks.

Sidenote: My guess, is that this sharing of ‘what is possible, real, and available’ is at the root of why we talk, preach, and prophesy of Christ.  Those around us can be directed to Him once they know of his existence, and once directed to Him, he can then (#1)direct them to redemption, relief, and ultimately, joy - through his example, and with his love.

So continuing our story, we find item # 2 - Empowerment. (Or what I like to call - "how we get to where we want to go.")

Ok, so you earnestly seek to find this Christ, and one day he shows up on your doorstep.  Excited and hopeful, you ask him for this water you’ve heard so much about.  He hands you a small vessel of it, and as you feel your first hint of cool, invigorating relief, he tells you of a journey you can take to find everlasting relief to your thirst. Of course, you want to be taken there immediately. He helps you to prepare for the journey by releasing you from the debts and ties that bound you to the desert, and only asks that you promise to follow him because the journey is not easy and the path, at times, unclear.  He assures you that he has made this journey and knows it well, that there is an infinite amount of water to be had, and now being redeemed, you are free to go with him.  But, it’s a dangerous world, and having seen some awful things already, you pack heavy to make sure you’re prepared for the worst.  

Christ looks at you and your load with paternal adoration and tells you that you don’t need all of that baggage.  He promises he’ll provide you with everything you really need if you trust and have faith in him to do so.  But you look at his empty hands, and skeptical of his words, decide to take it anyway.  Lovingly, he offers to help bear the load, but you still don’t trust him enough to hand anything over.  “Just lead the way,” you say “I’ve got this.”

Throughout your journey though, you realize how difficult it is to to follow him and continue to lug all this stuff around.  The route he has chosen is far from easy, so you take him up on his offer and start handing some things over.  With each relinquishment, you feel better, lighter, and more able to enjoy the journey ahead.  Christ turns out to be an excellent traveling companion.  Not only does he take on your load, but he listens, teaches, comforts, and most importantly, enables you keep going, no matter how difficult the obstacle ahead.  
You do start to notice that at every obstacle, he convinces you to give up more of your load, and each time you do, you feel stronger and more able to overcome.  As you continue on this path, you become pretty sure he’s guiding you through those obstacles on purpose, but with hope of permanent relief, faith in his love, and His sustaining support, you do continue.

Gradually, you start to realize how busy this journey is.  There are people EVERYWHERE trying to get to this water.  You also start to understand that it’s not just you that Christ is guiding, and that the journey runs more smoothly if everyone works together to reach the destination, just letting Christ lead the way.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before your fellow travelers become obstacles unto themselves.  Loads once shared become unevenly borne.  Disrespect, discontent, jealousy, cruelty, and even just crankiness take their toll on everyone.  Social factions and fissures form.  People become isolated and self-centered - wholly focused on how to make THEIR journey better without regard to those around them.  

You look around and start to guard and protect yourself with whatever baggage you have left.  Christ suggests that instead of hiding behind those defenses, that you hand them over to him, and extend your arms out to help and support those around you.  You see the pain and violence of your companions, and respond with “um...I’d rather not.”  But he invites you once again, to trust him and his seemingly empty hands.  Figuring he’s been good on his word thus far, you decide to do it.  You let go, you open your arms, and reach out to those around you.

Christ then proceeds to connect you to others in a way you didn’t know was possible.  You find yourself able to see things as they see them, to feel of their pain, anguish, and frustration but also their excitement, hope, and joy.  It’s heartbreaking and it’s glorious, and you simultaneously feel an outpouring of love and a desire to uplift all of those souls around you.  “What is this?” you ask.  “What is happening?”

Christ reveals that ultimately, your individual journey is actually supposed to be kind of a group effort.  He explains that, through the atonement, he has come to know and understand each member of that group in a profound and eternal way.  Because you are connected to Him, he can connect you to others in ways you would not otherwise comprehend or understand.  What you’re feeling is what he feels, though perhaps on a much smaller scale.  He explains that it’s called charity, and that it is an essential element for any member of the group hoping to reach their destination.  He explains that this (#3) empathy is how each of us learns to love as he loves, and is necessary for salvation.  Those who do not learn and practice this love, will simply never find the relief they seek.  

The concept of this ‘group effort’ and the openness and love it requires hits you hard.  During some peaceful contemplation of the idea, one of your fellow group members walks up, smacks you across the face, tells you to get your act together and keep moving cuz you’re holding everybody up.  Jarred and indignant, you rail back and say things that you know will cut deep.  All of the love and compassion you felt previously seem consumed by tumult of pain, rage, and vengeance.  Armed and ready for battle, your open arms are no longer so open.  Christ pleads with you to lay down your weapons and turn the other cheek, but you’re hardly listening.  You want justice, and you want it now.

Christ, knowing your desires, reminds you that he will forgive whom he will forgive, but of you it’s required to forgive all men, and you promised to follow him.  This only infuriates you more and you feel torn by your desire for justice, and his demand for mercy.  You look to him with pain and tears in your eyes, remind him that this person hurt you, that you didn’t deserve it, and ask him why he didn’t stop it from happening.  He reminds you that he knows and has felt that pain, asks you to trust him once more, then beckons you to come to him.  

Still hurting, confused, but trusting his love for you, you lay down your weapons and run to him.  When you do, he heals the wounds, teaches you how to turn that pain into compassion, and buoy’s you up as you continue on the journey.   With his help, healing, and strength, you do eventually figure out how to forgive, and even feel empathy for the friend that struck you.  As the wounds heal and the pain subsides, you actually start to understand his wisdom in letting you get hurt in the first place, because now you know that they are not empty hands, but that they are full of power, comfort, guidance, and love.  Slowly, you continue to give up all of the defenses and hurts you were holding onto for protection, and with Christ, continue to reach out to those around you.

With that openness and compassion, Christ also teaches you how to heal relationships and make them stronger than ever before.  Surprisingly, you find that your reconciliation efforts have a far reaching and somewhat compounded effect.  Somehow, it has helped others learn to better empathize with and forgive one another, and consequentially, they also learn to be better about not doing things that require so much forgiveness.

The journey thus becomes safer, faster, and more enjoyable as members of the group continually reach out to, empathize with, and uplift one another.  When one member trips up or struggles, they are supported until they regain their footing.  They are not perfect, but they are kinder and more generous, they refrain from judgement, and they see the divine potential within one another.  Ultimately, they learn to love one another as Christ loves them, and courageously work to progress together to become more like Him.  

As Christ continues to lead them in these efforts, the (#4) purpose of this journey itself becomes very clear, very real, and very personal.  Though he is ready to extend relief and eternal happiness to all who seek it, the travelers who persistently sacrifice for, submit to, covenant with, and trust in Christ, will learn what it means to no longer thirst. Their journey teaches them how to become one with Him, and through that union, they learn what it means to become like God.

My eternal family: definitely the 'group' that has taught, loved, and helped me the most thus far.