Saturday, October 29, 2016

My Faith Journey: The Next Chapter - Part 4 of 4

Life is an epic journey, full of failures and successes, ups and downs, light moments and dark. It reads like a novel, with many chapters and infinite opportunities.

Like a bookmark or turned down page, November 6th will mark one year since I openly announced the ending of one chapter of my life. I haven't shared the details about my faith journey with many people, because many have not asked. Now, here, in my little corner of the internet, the time has come for me to share my story. I do so to give myself a moment of reflection before I turn the page, and so those who care about me can better understand why I walk my current path.

___________ ____________ _____________ __________

THE NEXT CHAPTER

Now I am here. 

The last time I attended an LDS church service was at Christmastime in 2015. I have chosen to completely disaffiliate myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and have found great peace in my decision. I am technically still a member of the church, as my name is on their records and rolls. I will continue to be a member counted in their statistics until I resign my membership, or they excommunicate me. According to LDS policy and belief, when that time comes I will be stripped of all my saving ordinances and blessings received through the Church. That is fine with me. I no longer subscribe to the concept that an organization on this Earth can hold power over my salvation. My standing in, belief in, and loyalty to a church has zero sway over my eternal soul and where I go when I die. I have reclaimed that power for myself.

I no longer believe in the teachings of the LDS church, so I no longer do all of the Mormon things. I don't read my scriptures anymore. I don't go to church. I don't wear garments or pay tithes. I try not to put on a mask of perfection while quietly judging or comparing myself to others. I don't believe that god cares what I eat or drink, so don't be surprised if you see me with a coffee in my hand or a bottle of wine in my shopping cart. I don't believe I should berate myself or feel guilty for trying my hardest. I don't believe that I should silence my voice against my better judgement.

All that being said, I am grateful for my time in the LDS Church. I am especially grateful for the friends I made, they are some of my closest, dearest friends still. I am grateful for the community, for the beautiful music, and for the opportunity I had to explore faith and feel a connection to the divine in my life.

So, what do I believe now?

After believing in a high-demand religion that required strict obedience and a sure knowledge in its teachings, I am giving myself permission to not need to know everything. I don't know if there is a god or not. Maybe god is bigger than any of us can comprehend. Maybe god is found in the chemicals that exist in the synapses of my brain. You could call me agnostic because I feel that it is impossible for anyone to really know whether or not there is a god. You could call me a secular humanist because I think that people are capable of morality and self-fulfillment without needing a belief in god. You could call me Sarah, because that's who I really am.

As of right now, I have no plans to ever belong to a religion again, but I suppose that could change. I am okay with not knowing how it will all work out. I hope to wind my way through this world using the wisdom of my brain, the kindness inherent in my nature, and the sound morals that my parents instilled in me when I was a kid.

My morals are the same as they have always been. I am still a good kid. I still believe in honesty, responsibility, hard work, generosity, forgiveness, humility, and gratitude. I believe all humans are entitled to empathy and equality. I believe that love is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. I believe we can change the world with our smiles and kindness. I believe in giving service. I believe that everyone should find a path that leads them towards light, knowledge, joy, and self-improvement - I believe there are a great many such paths.

I will honor and respect your path, I ask that you respect mine in return.

Friday, October 28, 2016

My Faith Journey: The Last Year - Part 3 of 4

Life is an epic journey, full of failures and successes, ups and downs, light moments and dark. It reads like a novel, with many chapters and infinite opportunities.

Like a bookmark or turned down page, November 6th will mark one year since I openly announced the ending of one chapter of my life. I haven't shared the details about my faith journey with many people, because many have not asked. Now, here, in my little corner of the internet, the time has come for me to share my story. I do so to give myself a moment of reflection before I turn the page, and so those who care about me can better understand why I walk my current path.

___________ ____________ _____________ __________

THE LAST YEAR

When 2015 began, I had a plan to bring back the religious light and joy that filled the first half of my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and that plan involved making New Year's Resolutions.

I used The New Year as a starting place. I set a goal to read my scriptures again every day, even though it was difficult to find the time. I set a goal to pray every morning, on my knees, even if the kids woke up early and started destroying the house. Also, I set a goal to follow more church accounts on social media, so that I would be uplifted even when I was zoning out on my phone while scrolling through Facebook and Instagram.

The scripture reading goal worked out okay. I have always viewed the scriptures as embellished stories, sometimes historically based, sometimes not, and only sometimes containing valuable lessons. I never read them literally. People didn't literally move mountains. No one literally angered God by building a tower to heaven, resulting in scattered people and language diversity. Nope. Those stories were written by people long ago to explain the inexplicable that was found in nature. So, there's that. Still, I made time every night to read, after the kids (and sometimes even The Cowboy) were asleep. Reading my scriptures was a familiar, comfortable habit, but it didn't bring me greater light or religious enthusiasm.

The prayer goal was a joke from day one. Squeezing in a quiet moment with God every morning was literally impossible. After staying up to read and pray before bed, I woke up in the mornings with no energy or time to spare. My kids were my priority and an Eternal Father in Heaven could not take precedence over what was happening here and now. So I prayed when I could, but it wasn't first thing every morning.

The Internet goal was working out, though. I liked seeing uplifting quotes, beautiful pictures of temples, and church news mixed in with my friends' photos and stories on social media.

One night I was reading the comments on a photo posted by the official LDS Instagram account. A comment was made by someone with an account called Mormon History and I thought, "Ooh! Another inspiring account to follow!" So I checked it out. I scrolled through the posts and quickly realized it wasn't published by official church resources. This was what the church would call "Anti-Mormon" because it didn't paint the church in a positive light. However, the history I found here was supported by quotes from early church books and church leaders, so how could it be classified anti-Mormon? The information there revealed a little more than I had previously learned from my Institute church history classes, though. Why this discrepancy? Why did I suddenly feel that I didn't know as much as I had been led to believe after my deep investigation and years of learning about the LDS Church? I had very mixed feelings during this initial discovery. I had never allowed myself to look at anything that might possibly by considered "Anti-Mormon Lies" because Church leaders cautioned STRONGLY against doing so, but these posts weren't full of lies. I found truths in the words I read. How could truth possibly be harmful to me or to the Church?
I had to understand this. I had to learn more.

I'm hungry for knowledge. I love to research the Hows and Whys behind new discoveries in my life. That is why my investigation into the church when I first converted was so incredible and uplifting. Back then, I spent hours every day learning as much as I could from the church about the church and it was beautiful and emotional. Suddenly, in 2015, it occurred to me that it was time to learn as much as I could about the church from all of the evidence available to me. I'm not sure why I didn't do so earlier, in my days as a new convert and undergrad student, when I was constantly practicing my skills of impartial investigation, observation, gathering evidence, and making logical conclusions. I guess I reserved that for school and kept the church in a separate, emotional space.

So, 2015 was a year I allowed myself to use my critical thinking skills and dare to ask hard questions about my religion. It was a year of endless searching, reading, and discovery. Thanks to the Internet, there was (and is) an abundance of well documented research and information available at my fingertips. I sat at my computer and read original papers written by Joseph Smith Jr. I read the words of a Prophet from the original Book of Commandments that filled me with disgust. I read old articles that were published in the church magazine, the Ensign, that blew my mind. I read through the newly written essays on the LDS website, clicked the links in the footnotes, and found that I came to very different conclusions than those presented by the church. I discovered changes made to the scriptures that altered fundamental teachings. I learned of contradicting timelines of events. I read transcripts of temple ceremonies and learned that core pieces had changed many times. I learned about Masonic temples, multiple versions of sacred first visions, the Priesthood Ban against Blacks, and disturbing details about the Prophets' polygyny and the resulting polyandry for several women.

It became clear to me that the history and foundation of the church that I loved so dearly was not everything I had been taught, and I had been taught many of the difficult truths during Institute classes. However, in 2015, I learned that those Institute lessons had been carefully filtered, and the bits that had been left out were too large for me to ignore. It felt like I had been lied to by my best friend.

Still, that was the past, right? The church of 2015 wasn't so bad. It was my spiritual home and I loved it there. I continued to go to church and do all of the Mormon things, but I started to see more problems than just the history. I learned about current events that didn't sit well with me, I contemplated the complete lack of financial transparency, and I wondered when the last time a Prophet or Apostle had spoken the words: I have received a revelation from God. I learned of malls and offices being built up while people all over the world starved or went homeless.

I couldn't unsee the imbalance, injustice, and untruths. I experienced cognitive dissonance as I tried to reconcile my increasing awareness of problems with my long-held belief that the men running this Church I loved were inspired men of God.

Do you remember my shelf? It was that spot in my mind where I quietly tucked away the difficult church issues that didn't sit well with me, so I could focus on the good instead. My shelf got heavy with all of the issues I discovered, and eventually it broke. Crap scattered everywhere. I was wading through all of the problems constantly, I couldn't ignore them and I couldn't pretend that the good outweighed the bad anymore. I had to stop lying to myself, and I had to find me again beneath the church mess that had exploded all over my world. 

I realized that my religion and I were no longer compatible. I went through the stages of grief as I processed the huge loss of my church from my life. It was painful, akin to the loss of a dearly loved friend or family member. My feelings were raw. I felt alone and I didn't feel comfortable talking to most people about my pain, anger, fear, and loss. Thank goodness for my Cowboy. He allowed me to be vulnerable with him. When I needed him most, he was there to hug me and hold me up. Our relationship grew stronger than it had been in years. 

I also found support in my earbuds as I listened to podcasts and discovered the stories of so many people who had traveled paths similar to mine. I found support on Facebook among groups of people who were also leaving the church and looking for ways to thoughtfully transition on with their lives. I came to realize that I was not alone, and that meant the world to me.

As I regained some composure, I started to rediscover myself. Extra earrings that were removed in an effort to conform went back in, and with each burning sensation that comes with the piercing of skin, I regained a bit of my dignity. Swear words that were silenced in an effort to obey started coming back out, and with each fierce piece of adult language I uttered, I regained a bit of my voice. I would no longer be the meek woman who sat back quietly, ashamed of myself for my silence, while people scoffed at the idea of human evolution. I would never again endure the disgusting taste of shame in my mouth after voting against my conscience in an effort to be obedient to an church who didn't know or love my gay aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. I rediscovered the kiss of sunshine on my shoulders. I once again felt the peace that comes from believing that all humans are filled with goodness and that they need not berate themselves or seek righteousness from an external source.

I knew that I could no longer find peace and joy inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Still, I didn't know how to simply walk away from an organization that I had once loved, so I intended to fade away from it slowly. I planned to attend church part-time, to support my still-believing husband and stay connected with my church friends. I love my ward family and I didn't want to weigh them down, so I fully intended to quietly slip away without making waves.

Then November 5th came along and changes in church policy were leaked all over the internet. The first change defined homosexual marriage as a serious transgression alongside rape and murder, and grounds for excommunication from the church. Another change barred CHILDREN of homosexual couples from becoming baptized members of the Church until they turned 18 and "specifically disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage."

After a year of learning heavy truths and planning my slow exit from the church, that policy change was the final straw for me. I could not see Christ's love in it, no matter what justifications people tried to provide. No. I could no longer fathom the thought of people associating me with an institution that would enact such blatantly bigoted policies. My intentions of slowly fading from church went right out the window. The following day I made a bold declaration on Facebook that I no longer believed in, supported, or sustained the LDS Church. I was done and I wanted everyone to know.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Monday, October 24, 2016

My Faith Journey: The Beautiful In Between - Part 2 of 4

Life is an epic journey, full of failures and successes, ups and downs, light moments and dark. It reads like a novel, with many chapters and infinite opportunities.

Like a bookmark or turned down page, November 6th will mark one year since I openly announced the ending of one chapter of my life. I haven't shared the details about my faith journey with many people, because many have not asked. Now, here, in my little corner of the internet, the time has come for me to share my story. I do so to give myself a moment of reflection before I turn the page, and so those who care about me can better understand why I walk my current path.

___________ ____________ _____________ __________

THE BEAUTIFUL IN BETWEEN

At the age of 20, I became a Mormon.

If you know much about me, you know that I'm Type-A, maybe a little bit of a perfectionist, a worrier, and a serious rule follower. I like to make lists and check off tasks; it makes me happy. That aspect of my personality allowed me to continue my headlong dive into becoming a fantastic Mormon woman. If I'm going to do something, gosh-darn-it, I'm going to do it well! So I did.

I went to three hours of church every Sunday. I went to many hours of Institute classes throughout the week. I went to firesides, learned from incredible people, made enduring friendships, read my scriptures, prayed often, took out my extra earrings, got a Patriarchal Blessing, kept quiet about my love and acceptance of LGBTQ people, didn't mention my uncertainty about certain pieces of the gospel, watched Church movies, went to the temple, fasted once each month, and attended weekly "Family Home Evening" activities. I did all the things. I became Type-A Super Mormon. I out-Mormoned my Mormon boyfriend. Finally, when he decided to serve a full-time mission for the church (to my great relief!) he also decided we should break up for real (to my horror!) and stay that way.

Yes, a little over a year after my baptism, the boy who was my impetus for joining the LDS Church was no longer MY boy. By then, the church had become MY church, so I stayed in and stayed strong. I found peace in faith. I prayed to God frequently, we became close friends, it was beautiful. I dated other Mormon boys, I did all the Mormon things, and learned as much as I could. I attended General Conference in Salt Lake City, twice. I dragged my father and aging grandpa around church historical sites in Kirtland, Ohio. I believed it, and lived it, and loved my religion.

I graduated college (I received my BS in Biological Science with honors, because YAY! Science! AND because I'm a good kid!) and moved home to live with my family while I went to school to earn a teaching credential. Attending church and institute in this town was new and different because I didn't have my support system of amazing Mormon friends or even more amazing Mormon roommates. Still, I pushed through my initial shyness and found a lovely LDS community here, made new enduring friendships, and found a new space for my faith to grow. I continued to do and believe all of the Mormon things, dated other Mormon boys, and I was happy.

Then I met a young man at church who asked me on a date and thoroughly confused me. He didn't walk the walk, talk the talk, or wear the right clothes. He was raised LDS, went to church sometimes, but wasn't fully-believing or fully-practicing. I called him The Cowboy, but he wasn't really a cowboy either. We fell in love, like young people do, and I suddenly found myself in an old situation with the roles reversed.

How could I marry this man since I was Mormon and he was not? We broke up many times and it drove me batty. (Does this all sound familiar? If not, go back an entry and read Part 1.) Then, finally, I decided if he meant so much to me, God would understand and sort everything out. So I loved this Cowboy fiercely with all of my heart, and we got engaged. I still believed in my religion and did all of the Mormon things. I went through the temple to be endowed (It's a sacred rite in the LDS church that involves wearing white clothes and making covenants.) because I wanted that for myself, whether my future husband ever wanted it for himself or not. Meanwhile, The Cowboy started to do some of the Mormon things too. I watched with curiosity and pure delight as he began participating more at church.

Two years after we officially began dating, we were married civilly, in a church building surrounded by all of our friends and family. It was fabulous! The following morning we attended church so that my brand new husband could be ordained an Elder in the Melchizedek priesthood. We were serious about our faith. We went to church every Sunday, we read scriptures together, we prayed, and we were sealed together for eternity in the Oakland Temple a few days after our first anniversary. Life was good. I was happy.

The one picture from our rainy sealing day.
I believed all of the Mormon things, and did all of the Mormon things, but those things changed after we were married. The LDS church wards I went to when I was single were congregations of young, single people. It was socially and mentally stimulating to be surrounded by peers of the same age group. The leaders that presided over us were older, married men, but they always made sure to have fun, spiritual, and exciting activities planned for us congregants. Once The Cowboy and I were married, we started attending a local family ward, designated by the area where we lived, and church was different. Gone were the fun, uplifting weekly activities. Now we were supposed to do those at home with our families. Gone were the evening Institute classes where I could learn more about the history of the church, the scriptures, and the doctrine. Now we were supposed to get all of our study done at home with our families. I'll tell you what that did for this Type-A Mormon, checklist loving girl - It put the pressure on me and my husband, and it was not pretty. To be more clear, I put the pressure on my husband, and it was not pretty.

I loved my religion. I believed in the teachings of the LDS church, and at church we are taught that our feelings reveal truth. I felt spiritually moved many times at church, in the temple, studying scriptures, and praying. Therefore, I KNEW my church was true. One teaching within the church is that we always must be growing our religious testimonies, or they will falter. It was important to me to always be learning more, reading more, praying more, studying more, and trying more in my effort to do Mormonism right, but I kept feeling like I was falling short. I kept nagging my husband to help me, lead me, inspire me, read with me. He kept feeling nagged. I found it odd that my effort to be more perfectly religious, in a church that focuses on family unity, actually drove a wedge in my marriage, but I brushed it aside and added it to my shelf.

Do you remember my shelf? It was the space in my mind where I tucked away little things about the church that didn't sit well with me. It started with a few items: The church's teachings on homosexuality, earrings, the ONE and ONLY true church, Joseph Smith's First Vision, evolution, and the literal interpretation of scripture. Married life, parenthood, and some of my experiences in my family ward caused my shelf to grow more crowded with things like Prop 8 in CA, patriarchy and sexism, the lack of opportunities for learning and growth, marital wedges about who should plan Family Home Evening, and the fact that God NEVER answered my prayers for more sleep as the mother of young children.

Still, I loved the church. I knew it was true. I loved my relationship with God and the faith I felt. I believed it and did all of the Mormon things, I just felt bland and dull. I missed the luster of my early days as a Latter-Day Saint, when learning about the church was a continuous emotional and spiritual high. I longed to bring that high back into my life, and I had a plan to do just that.

TO BE CONTINUED...


Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Faith Journey: In The Beginning- Part 1 of 4

Life is an epic journey, full of failures and successes, ups and downs, light moments and dark. It reads like a novel, with many chapters and infinite opportunities.

Like a bookmark or turned down page, November 6th will mark one year since I openly announced the ending of one chapter of my life. I haven't shared the details about my faith journey with many people, because many have not asked. Now, here, in my little corner of the internet, the time has come for me to share my story. I do so to give myself a moment of reflection before I turn the page, and so those who care about me can better understand why I walk my current path.

__________ __________ ___________ ___________

IN THE BEGINNING

I was brought up in a completely secular home. My parents were raised Catholic and Protestant, but their upbringing did not flavor mine. We only attended church when it was with friends or my grandparents. As a little kid, I had no knowledge of Bible stories. To illustrate this point, let me tell you a funny story... When I was in first or second grade, I looked up my name in the big classroom dictionary at school. It said something like, "Sarah: Hebrew for Princess. The wife of Abraham." and I thought, "Oh! Abraham Lincoln's wife was named Sarah!!!" What other Abraham was there, anyway? In my childhood home, we didn't read scriptures, never prayed, and we didn't talk of God or the Devil. My parents instilled in me a sense of right and wrong, I knew the merit of doing good for goodness's sake, and learned to trust in a reality that was proven by facts and science. Thankfully, I never tasted religious-inflicted guilt or shame, and I never feared the wrath of a vengeful god.

Life was beautiful and I was a good kid. Honest, loyal, moral, hard-working, did great in school, obeyed my parents, brushed my teeth, and did my chores. Sure, I enjoyed experimenting with foul language and could curse like a sailor (no offense to sailors!), but that was the extent of my experimentation, if you get what I mean. Sarah = Good Kid. Good adult too, but I'll come to that later.

I loved my religious friends and respected them, but had no desire to learn more about their faiths. By my early teens I was pretty sure I was an atheist. That was also around the time I met a boy. Not just any boy, but THE boy. He made my teenage heart go pitter-patter, and he was the first Mormon I ever knew. The boy and I dated off and on from the time I was 14 years old until I was 21. I loved him. I loved learning everything about him, but I didn't want to learn about his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. However, spending so much time in close proximity to active Mormons meant that little pieces of Mormon info slipped through my carefully crafted walls. Family dinners at his home always featured a humble prayer said by his father, a good man whom I greatly respect. Sometimes the Mormon missionaries were also at dinner and shared a message afterward. Holiday celebrations in his home, like Easter and Christmas, focused on Christ. Once, I attended a play at the Oakland Temple with his family where I learned about the foundation of the church, but I never attended church with him, never read Church books or researched his religion with the intent of believing it. No thank you!

I did research it a little though, separate from him, during an Intro To American Religions class my freshman year of college. In my honors discussion group (See, told you I was a good kid!) we were assigned to attend a local religious service and write up a report. I picked the Mormons and attended an LDS church for the first time. It made me nervous and anxious. I watched it all with eyes open wide, trying to take in everything in a scholarly way. No, I didn't close my eyes when they prayed! I was in observation mode. I left that experience feeling like I learned a little about my boyfriend's typical Sunday, and that was that.

The boyfriend and I broke up several times because young hearts are passionate and fickle things. We broke up multiple times specifically because he couldn't see how we could eventually get married, since he was Mormon and I was not. It drove me batty. I didn't understand his logic. Then, after one such break up at the end of my freshman year of college, I decided that if he meant so much to me, and the church meant so much to him, maybe it was time I looked into it. Let me directly quote from my diary on September 8, 2002 - "I really hope that I can sincerely believe his church's teachings and be with him. I just can't let myself lose the real me for someone else. I'm a little afraid that I will."

I read a book, I felt spiritually touched, and I decided to dive in head first. I then read any books about the LDS church that I could find, which were all books written by LDS authors and published by a church owned publisher. I started reading The Book of Mormon and praying. I moved back to my college town and started attending church weekly, as well as an evening Institute class once each week. (Institute is a part of the Church Education System designed to teach LDS young adults religion classes outside of the normal Sunday services.) I decided to give it my all, play the part, and even close my eyes when I prayed. When in Rome, right?

The more I submerged myself in the Mormon experience, the more I felt moved upon spiritually. I felt a warmth and a goodness at church and institute. I met with the missionaries and was not surprised that their lessons made sense to me. Things I inherently believed were part of their doctrine: Of course families can be together forever, duh! LOVE is eternal. We watched videos with moving music and powerful visuals and I started to feel something for this man called Jesus. I also learned the lingo, moved within the culture of Mormon college kids, and I was so happy. Here were good people, kind people, who loved to have fun without getting drunk! (See, I TOLD you I was a good kid!) It was exciting! It was an endless emotional high of learning learning learning, while being embraced by a community like I had never known before. AND it meant my boyfriend and I could one day end up happily married? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had me. There were pieces that didn't fit well for me, but I placed them high up on a shelf in my mind, out of my view, so I could focus on all of the good that the church had to offer. Four days before my baptism I wrote, "I feel bad because there are so many church standards that I don't subscribe to. Some of them will just take time, others I may never accept, like their attitude toward homosexuality. Right. I swear. I have too many earrings. I feel bad about some of these things, but not about others" I went on to explain that I hadn't had a big spiritual confirmation that I should join the church, rather that... "I've felt good, but I've never been like "BAM! I Believe!" or anything. It just sounded right. Everything sounded comfortable, and good."

I wanted it, so I took the leap, and on February 15th, 2003 at the age of 20, I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Where were my parents during all of this? Quietly and kindly supporting me every step of the way. They attended my baptism. They might not have agreed with all of my choices, but they love me and have always supported me in the endeavors that matter most to me, thank goodness.


TO BE CONTINUED...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Update: JA and My Super Kid

Emma is amazing.

(I'm sure I've said that before, and I know for a fact that I'll say it again, but I just want to make sure you all know it.)


My freckle-faced Bean is going to start first grade soon. She is also in the process of weaning off of her arthritis medication. Again. (She has auto-immune juvenile arthritis.) Enbrel is her magical drug. It has worked to completely eliminate her inflammation every time we have used it. However, the goal is to not be on this stuff forever. The long-term effects of these meds really aren't known. So, when her disease is under control for a year, we say goodbye to the medication.

The first time we weaned off of meds, she had only eight weeks before her knee blew up like a painful, stiff balloon. The second time, she enjoyed five glorious months before the arthritis crept back into her joints. Once again, she has been in medicated remission for about a year, so once again, we slowly taper off of the Enbrel and check for any re-emerging signs of active arthritis. It will be a gradual process. Currently, I'm still giving her weekly injections, but I am under-dosing her. We'll see her rheumatologist in a few months and plan where to go from there.

I have a little bit of nervousness about this wean, because, you know... SCHOOL. I'm worried that without her magical Enbrel, she will eventually flare, and it will affect her school life.

Do you remember being a kid and running around the playground, loving your first grade teacher, coloring, and reading? Were you just trying to have fun, master the monkey bars, figure out those darn "rule breakers" while reading, and enjoy time with your friends? Wasn't it awesome, singing songs, discovering your skills as a writer, becoming a budding mathematician? Maybe you were different, or you worried you would be thought of as different and then not accepted by other kids. Maybe you had warts all over all of your fingers and you were afraid that kids would notice and then no one would want to be your friend. (Okay, that was me.) Maybe you just wanted to sit in the grass and talk with your friends without being chased by Richard who was trying to kiss all the girls. (Also my experience - those warts came in handy to scare him away after all.)

I want Emma to have all of that without hobbling around in pain. That's all I want.

Enbrel is my security blanket. I really don't mind stabbing my kid in the arm once a week to give her a shot. That's a freaking piece of cake compared to watching her limp every morning when she gets out of bed.

So, even though she is fine, fabulous, and so so healthy right now, and we aren't even off of the medication yet, my mind goes down the road and deep down inside, I worry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

My One Regret

I really have very few regrets in life. I'm happy where I am and quite content with the choices I've made during my revolutions around the sun. Life is good. 

However, there is one thing I wish I had done differently. 

Can you guess what it is?
(I bet not.)

I wish I had listened to my parents when they told me not to slouch. 

I'm being serious, people. I have always been a Type-A, check off the list, obedient person. I obeyed my parents rules. I listened to their advice and let them shape my personality in hundreds of ways. WHY DIDN'T I LISTEN when they told me to sit up straight?!?!

My dad used to threaten to strap a board to my back. I would have hated him so much if he had done so, but the older me thinks maybe he should have gone ahead and done it anyway. 

One's spine is one's powerhouse. Our backbones quite literally keeps us standing and are home to our spinal cords, the highways of our nervous systems. The spine is made of 33 vertebrae linked together in a flexible chain, perfected over millions of years of evolution. It is a complex, beautiful piece of art.

The human spine naturally has a lovely S-shaped curve when viewed from the side. Unless you're a slouch. Then your spine, or more specifically... my spine, is shaped more like a C. All of that slouchy pressure puts undue stress on the lumbar region of my spine. As a result of 30 or so years of that pressure, I have a lot of pain in my low back. In the Winter of 2014, at the tender age of 32, my doctor told me I have chronic back pain, a slightly compressed disc, and early signs of arthritis. I also experience this really special tension and discomfort in my butt muscles called piriformis syndrome. And let's not talk about my shoulders and their constant tightness. 

With exercise and attempts to improve my posture, things have gotten better for me. Old habits die hard though. I'm still a slouch and I still regret it. 

Don't feel sorry for me. 
Just sit up straight.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Arthritis and The Needs of Humankind

I've seen variety of memes on the Internet that have a picture of a cute kid and the words: "We need a cure!"
It may be referencing cancer, diabetes, or migraines. I've used that same phrase about arthritis. When amazing people are suffering from awful diseases, it seems pretty obvious that they deserve better. They deserve to be well, and they need a cure. 

But you know what, I'm over that way of thinking. Sure, I'd like a cure for my autoimmune thyroid disorder, but I don't deserve one. I'd love a cure for my girl's autoimmune arthritis, but I don't expect one. I don't think she is entitled to a cure just because she happens to be the most incredible, most beautiful, and bravest daughter I ever had. 

I'm not holding out hope for a cure. It's not realistic, and believing in fairy tales is not what I need. Do you know what I really do need? What I think all people need, maybe even more than hope for cures?
 Community. Support. Love. 


Since Emma's diagnosis of Juvenile Arthritis, my family has participated in a yearly arthritis walk put on by the Arthritis Foundation. The walk itself is a big fundraising event, but raising money has never been my priority. My goal is always to have a HUGE team of friends and family walking together. I need people there to show support for my daughter's struggle and to raise awareness of JA. Last year, a fundraiser fell into my lap and I embraced it because the money we earned helped fund programs, camps, and support for a community of arthritis sufferers. It is through the Arthritis Foundation that I have found my community of fellow JA Moms. The support of these women has filled a need in my life, so when I do raise money, it is with that purpose in mind. 

A don't raise money for a cure.  I don't expect cures for any autoimmune diseases in Emma's lifetime. I expect that she will live her entire life with this disease. I suspect medications will improve, as they have already over the years, and she will likely experience many of them. She will have good days and bad days, and she will be braver and stronger than me for the trials that she will have to face. 

Rather than focus on the hope of a cure that may never come, I focus on what I know she can have, what I know she needs: community, support, and love. These will serve as sources of strength to help her through her hard days. 

Hoping for a better future is important, so hope for a cure if you want. For me, recognizing the good that we can do in each other's lives now, today, is the most effective way of making a brighter future for all of us. 

Want to build up my community and share in some support and love? Plan to walk with us, for free, on Saturday, May 14th at 10am in Livermore. Go to Emma's page here: TEAM EMMA & MADELYN, then click the button that says "Join My Team."  


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Dear Big Brother

Dear Big Brother,

Your birthday is in a few days. 
 You probably received my card, the one that I wrote my phone number in, as I have done in each unanswered letter for the two years since we last spoke, even though my number has been the same since 2001 and I'm sure you have in memorized.


This is my last photo of you, of us together. It was taken nearly four years ago. I think the last time we spoke was around your birthday two years ago. Then you got a new phone and decided I didn't need to know the new number.

A few things have changed in the past two years.  My kids are growing. Emma recognizes you in pictures, but she doesn't remember you. She knows about mental illness, though. Mental health is a topic we talk about openly, and I think that is a good thing. Liam has never met you. I need to start showing him more pictures of you and telling him stories about his uncle.

Though you have asked your social worker to no longer give Mom and Dad updates, we know you are still living in the same apartment, where Barry and I brought your belongings. We also hear that you are doing well, that you are adjusting to life with mental illness. You just aren't ready to deal with family. I respect that. Family is hard.

I spent the first fifteen years of my life looking up to you. I spent the following fifteen worrying over you, fearing for you, sometimes even fearing you. The last three have been spent missing you. 

I just want you to know that I love you. I want you to be happy, to find joy, and to make this life work for you. I want the best for you, even if that means that life has to continue on without any contact with me.

So, Happy Birthday, Big Brother.  I hope it is the happiest one yet. I hope, in some corner of your wild, beautiful mind, you know that your family loves you and wants the best for you.

xoxo

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Clouds, Rainbows, Sunshine, and Green Hills


I'm in love with today.

Let me back up so you can peek at my thoughts...

I did most of my growing up in the same town that I currently call home. As a child, I lived in white-collar suburbia and had great experiences attending amazing schools within walking distance of my family's home. Now, we live in blue-collar suburbia on the other side of the tracks. All of the schools around here are very good, but we live within walking distance of the two lowest scoring schools in the district. When the time came to enroll my kid in kindergarten, I had a decision to make: Should I send her across town, to a better school that requires me to drive each and every time, or should I stick to our own neighborhood?

.....

We walk to school almost every morning. I chose the school nearest home. Yes, it has low test scores. Yes, all of the women and children's shelters in town feed into the school so it has a bit of a transient population. Yes, we walk through two blocks of "the gang" area of town during our daily half-mile commute.
But you know what? I love it.

I love that my children really experience our neighborhood. I love that these streets, sidewalks, trees, and power poles are familiar daily sights. I adore her school, the teachers there are devoted to giving their students the fighting chance they will need in this life. I love the school community and the opportunity to help make a difference where there is a greater need than at those "better" schools across town. I love the diversity. My children are going to grow up bilingual and bi-literate, at a school where they learn in two languages every day. My kids will know and love cultural traditions different from their own, and they will be better for it. It is beautiful and I am grateful that I can give them this opportunity.

This morning, we walked to school under big clouds and blue sky. The sun was bright, and the rainbow in the distance was a wonderful treat. I held my babies' hands and explained the wonder of water refracting white light. We decided that rainbows are like pennies on the sidewalk: they are omens of good luck.

I am certainly feeling lucky.
I am in love with today. 



Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Worm

I have blogged in the past about the books I've read each year. I'm ashamed to admit that in 2015 I only read eleven books and listened to one audio book.

I started keeping track of my reading in 2010, the year Emma was born. That year I read eight books, which isn't so bad for having a newborn. In 2011 I read THIRTY books! I'm not sure how I accomplished such a feat, but I've never been able to read that many again. Each year I read less and less, and I it makes me sad. 

My lack of reading is probably due to the increased number of children I care for on a daily basis. I have also lost the luxury time that used to come when my kids napped. Now, I have no alone time. Ever. I also have very little free time in general. I think I have more friends and social interactions, so that's a plus, but I miss being alone (or with a pet or two) on the couch in a quiet room, sucked into a good book. 

Here are the books I read in 2015. I enjoyed them all. 

  • The Tao of Pooh - Hoff (Fun book. I'd like to read more about Taoism.)
  • Chances Are - Abramson 
  • Hatchet - Paulson 
  • The Hundred Foot Journey - Morais 
  • The Mistress's Daughter - Homes 
  • Still Alice - Genova 
  • Ticker - Mantchev (My first ever steam punk novel. That was fun!) 
  • Between Shades of Gray - Septys 
  •  The Princess Bride - Goldman 
  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk - Faber & Mazlish
  • Cinder - Meyer (This was my first Audio Book, and it's the first in a series. I need to listen to the next two...) 
  • Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith - Newel & Avery (I only read about half of this one before it was due back to the library!)
Sadly, I'm STILL in the middle of a great book that I borrowed from a friend a few months ago. It is called Spindle's End by Robin McKinley. I need to finish it!!!!! 

This year, in addition to blogging more, I'm hoping to read more books. I'm in a book group, so I have one book a month already planned, but I'd like to read even more. 

What books have you read lately that you really loved?