Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Marrying Type

Will and Me on our tenth wedding anniversary, October 22, 2014

I'm in love with my husband. I know: crazy, right? Who'd have thought I was the marrying type? I'm a feminist, for Goddess' sake. I don't need a man. 

It's true. I don't need a man. Not just any ole man. I need Will. And I'm slowly learning how to talk myself out of experiencing a panic attack when I say that. I hate to need. Need means weakness. Need means powerlessness. A feminist who admits she needs a man is like a fish who admits she needs a bicycle. Yet somehow I've found myself peddling along happily with my fins.

What has happened to me? How could an independent, free-spirit like myself end up married of all things? When, in my twenties, my therapist once told me that I needed to visualize happiness, I needed to imagine what a happy life would be, what I pictured for myself was not a ranch in the suburbs with a husband, a kid, and three pets. I pictured myself alone in my urban loft apartment, stroking my lap cat in between moments of pounding out fantastic, important novels on the keyboard of my computer. Or sitting alone in a field under a solitary tree with a notebook on my knee, writing my stories out long-hand, all Alice-Walker-like. Not hurriedly churning out my thoughts on a blog before it's time to pick the kid up from school, greet the husband at the door, and make dinner for the whole family.

But I'd take hurriedly churning out my thoughts on a blog and the tasks of motherhood and wifery over insecurity and loneliness any day. What I hadn't imagined back in my youth is that a stable family life would enable me to be who I want to be. The examples set for me growing up were my dad selfishly controlling my mom and my mom shifting between miserable acquiescence and plotting ways to get out.

I sometimes think I'd like to write full-time, to put all of my energy and efforts into writing an important novel, ignoring my family, ignoring the housework, ignoring my job at the library, ignoring my Sunday school class, ignoring my pets and all the responsibilities that keep me away from sitting down to write. But I suspect if I did solely focus on my writing, it would drain me. All that me-time. Sometimes "me" is too much.

I respect Virginia Woolf's opinion that a woman needs a room of her own, but I'm also not a rich woman who can afford to hire people to cook and clean and care for my family while I practice my art all day locked up in my room. I like to think my writing is important. But so are the dishes. So is my husband. So is our kid. So is feeling needed.

Not to be all "nanny nanny boo boo" about it, but sure, Woolf had a room of her own to read and write and think her important thoughts, but a lot of good it did her when she was floating face down up the river. I admire writers such as Woolf, and I like to emulate their art, but, as a person prone to depression myself, I'm trying my hardest not to emulate their life. Call me crazy, but I want to practice my art while simultaneously not killing myself.

It's hard. I'm sensitive. Intense. Into ideation more than completion. I have, what I've been told, an artistic temperment. Don't all creative types?

Nope. Not Will.

A fellow ENFP friend shared a link to this good summary of the Myers-Briggs type. I see myself in all of it, but especially this part:

"ENFPs are fiercely independent, and much more than stability and security, they crave creativity and freedom." At first, I thought to myself, nuh uh, Will's stable and secure, and I crave him. 

Then it hit me: Will gives me the freedom to creatively express myself because of his support. I married a man who encourages my creativity, and gives me the ultimate freedom that comes from feeling securely and stably loved. I'm serious. Will's the real deal.

Will and me on our wedding day, October 22, 2004

Will and I recently celebrated our tenth anniversary. It's a cliche to say "I can't believe it," but it's true. I never thought I'd make it ten years with anyone. I'm incredibly good at fucking things up and running people off. But not Will. Will stands firm. He's going nowhere, even when I'm going crazy. I can lie in bed in a depressive slumber for a week, or come home from work and take my bad mood out on the people I love, and somehow, for no reason, because he loves me, Will never flees.

Will and me on our ninth wedding anniversary, October 22, 2013

"In sickness and in health," Will repeated after the Judge a decade ago, and he still means it.

Will and me on our eighth wedding anniversary, October 22, 2012

Will and me on our seventh wedding anniversary, October 22, 2011

Will and me on our sixth wedding anniversary, October 22, 2010

Will is an ISTJ. I am an ENFP. Our opposite personality pieces pull together to make us whole.When I am with Will, I don't feel so off-balance. I feel safe. Secure. Loved. Free to be who I am. Pleasantly surprised to find it's possible to have freedom and security, both.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

People-Time

"Wäldchestag" oil painting by Heinrich Hasselhorst, 1871

Back in April, I wrote about my Myers-Briggs type, which flip-flops between INFP and ENFP. I mentioned how psychotropic drugs seem to affect my moods to such a degree that it changes my behavior, and therefore changes my Myers-Briggs type.

Yesterday some colleages and I got into yet another discussion about our Myers-Briggs types. Most of us who were in the room are NFPs, one E and three I's. As we talked about the differences between E's and I's, or Extroverts and Introverts, and how "shy" and "introverted" are not the same thing, just as "social" and "extroverted" are not the same thing, I said, "I'm friendly, but I'm an introvert," and the other I's understood. I like people. Sure, they get on my nerves sometimes, but for the most part I'm pretty pro-people. But if I'm around a big group of people, especially extremely chatty people, I need time alone to recharge my social-battery.

I think it's because I like people so much that I need time away from them. I relate to others, listen to their stories and associate them to my own life. I'm empathetic, sometimes to such a degree that I feel other people's pain. When I don't keep myself in check, I tend to overfunction. I jump in, without anyone asking for help, and take care of everyone's needs, often to the detriment of my own.

When I was in second grade, my mom got called in to talk to my teacher about my behavior.

"What's wrong," Mom asked my teacher.

"Well, when Becky finishes her work, she helps everyone around her with their work, whether they ask her to or not. I really need the others to do their own work," my teacher explained. Only I would get in trouble for being overly helpful.

But I've learned over time to take care of myself. When my needs are met, I'm more fully available to help others with their needs. But I need meds, or I'm not even getting out of bed.

Some people, understandably, don't like taking their meds because they can alter your thinking and behavior so drastically. What is this, some kind of personality pill?

But I'm not worried about that question. I say, "So, what?" That's precisely why I feel better when I take my meds. I've discovered during the decade-and-a-half I've been off and on sertraline that I like myself much better when I'm on it. It's sad that I need to swallow a pill to like myself, but it's much more sorrowful when I don't. Off my meds, no matter how much exercise I get, no matter which healthy foods I eat, no matter how many people tell me they love me and that I'm wonderful, I lie in bed, starring out the windows at the clouds, wondering why I'm such a piece of shit I can't even appreciate my life.

Meds get me out of bed. They don't make life perfect. Bad things still happen, and I still feel badly about them. There's still hunger. There's still war. There's still politics. There's still pain. Well, now I'm being redundant.

When I take my meds, I don't feel overwhelmed by the bad things. In fact, when I'm at my most mentally balanced, I feel brave enough to try to make this world a better place.

So I took the Myers-Briggs again this morning, just to see how being on sertraline for nearly a year has changed how I feel about myself. I no longer spend days in the dark basement, navel-gazing, staying away from the rest of the world. I get out. I'm active. I surround myself with funny, warm people. So will the meds make me an E instead of an I?

Yep, sure enough, the test I took this morning says I'm an ENFP. And then I remembered. The very first time I took the Myers-Briggs, during that five year stint where I was regularly taking my meds, it said I was an E. But my E and I were close. All the other times, when I was inconsistently taking my meds, it said I was an I, but still, a close E. Now it says I'm back to E.

Not that I'm saying that all introverts could take meds and switch over to an extrovert. And not that being an extrovert is better or worse than being an introvert. I've just noticed, in myself, that when I feel better about myself, I enjoy other people more. When I don't feel good about myself, I enjoy other people less. Sertraline somehow helps me recharge my social-battery faster and more thoroughly than my unmedicated self has the energy to do.

Still, I'm the type of person who sits down and writes a self-reflective 750-word essay about how she thinks medication that is prescribed to people with social anxiety makes her feel more sociable. So, there's that.

What can I say? I'm an introspective extrovert. I like time alone to think, but I need to be around other people too, so I don't spiral out of control in self-absorption. In fact, I'm gonna go now. I'm jonesin' for some people-time.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pulling My Head Out of My Navel

Both the artist and the model of this drawing are dead. They both committed suicide after suffering more sorrow than they could bear. Sorry to bum you out, but it's true.

"Sorrow" by Vincent van Gogh, 1882
pencil, pen, and ink on paper

And yet, I've always been drawn to this drawing as if it were life-affirming. I think it's beautiful. Not just masterfully rendered, but a beautiful reflection of human emotion. It's like looking into a mirror. Who here has not felt sorrow? This life is not easy. And yet, most of us don't kill ourselves. Many of us live good, long lives. We help each other get through it. We lift others up when they are down, until it's our turn. Up and down, up and down, like a teeter totter.

Anyone under the age of 30 will need to google "teeter totter" to know what it is. They've been removed from playgrounds, along with metal slides that burn the back of your thighs in the middle of summer, because they are too "dangerous".

Just don't be an asshole to other kids and learn how to hold your legs up so they don't burn. Is it really that hard?

We've become a society that has lost trust in each other. Because some kids are assholes, all kids get treated like assholes. Because some kids like to hold the teeter totter in the down position for a long time, terrifying the kid at the other end of the teeter totter, the one up in the air, and then--BAM!--push off the ground with both feet so the kid stuck in the air falls to the ground hard and fast, because there are a few kids who have been assholes, the nice kids, the ones who would never do that to anyone, the ones who just want to go up and down, up and down, wheee!, they don't get to experience the joy that can be a teeter totter.

Caring for someone who has depression is no day at the park, but in its own way, it helps to help others. It lifts our spirits when we lift other people up. To turn our attention outward, to stretch out of our navel-gazer yoga pose and focus not just on our own well-being but the well-being of others, this is what makes life livable.

I can say all this motivational joy, or plain ole horseshit, however you see it, because I am not currently experiencing a depressive episode. I am a person who has clinic depression, sure. But I'm in an emotionally balanced place in my life now, like a kid who figured out how to hold her legs up just right so she doesn't get burned on the way down the metal slide.

I don't doubt I'll experience another depressive episode in my life. I tend to get a big doozy every couple of years or so. The longest stretch I went without feeling the effects of major depression was five years when I was diligently taking my meds.

Many things help me live well with clinical depression. My meds. Going to sleep when I'm tired and waking up without an alarm clock. The social-emotional support of my amazing husband and our daughter. Eating a lot of plant-based foods for alertness and energy. Walking. Around the neighborhood. During breaks at work. With the kid. With the dogs. Whenever I get a chance, little spurts here and there throughout the day, with hiking at the dog park bookends.

I didn't realize until I watched this episode of the ironically addictive YouTube series Crash Course Psychology that another thing that's improved my mood lately is pulling my head out of my navel.



From Hank Green's Crash Course Psychology, Episode 30: Depressive and Bipolar Disorders:

"People with depression often view bad events through an internal lens or mindset that influences how they're interpreted. And how you explain events to yourself in a negative or positive way can really affect how you recover from them, or don't. Say you were humiliated in the lunchroom when someone tripped you and your chicken soup flew all over the place and you sat down on a brownie and, it was just a bad day. A depressive mind might immediately start thinking that the humiliation will last forever and that no one will ever let you live it down, that it's somehow your own fault, and you can't ever do anything right. That negative thinking, learned helplessness, self-blame and overthinking can feed off itself and basically smother the joy out of a brain, eventually creating a vicious self-fulfilling cycle of negative thinking.

"The good news is that the cycle can be broken by getting help from a professional, turning your attention outward, doing more fun things, maybe even moving to a different environment. But again, that social-cognitive perspective is just part of a much bigger puzzle. Positive thinking is important, but it's often inadequate on its own when up against genetic or neurological factors."

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for introspection. I think if people in our society engaged in more self-reflection we'd have less abuse and violence and struggles with each other. But overthinking is a thing. I've been guilty of it most of my life. It's actually very hard for me to not-think, which sounds cool. It's not. It's about as cool as if someone found it very hard to not-run. Eventually your body will become exhausted. That's how my mind feels when I can't let go of my thoughts.

One way to let go of my thoughts is to surround myself with other people. It's hard to find peace and quiet enough to overthink things when there are a bunch of people around you. When I'm super depressed, I don't want to get out of bed. Then I know it's time to change something. Adjust my meds, or what have you. But when I'm feeling better, a great way I've found to balance my moods is to take care of other people. My husband, our kid, our pets at home. Customers at work. The kids in my Sunday School class. These people think I'm helping them when I show up and get to work taking care of them. I hope they know they're helping me by getting my mind off my own troubles.

When I'm feeling mentally balanced, It doesn't bother me to look at other people's pain and confusion. Sometimes I lack the emotional wherewithal to take care of my own needs, and I appreciate the help of my loved ones during those times, but I'm quite courageous around other people's sorrow, just as van Gogh was around his model Sien's. Don't feel like you must hide your sorrow from me. I've been there. I know how to get out, if you trust me.



Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was a resident of an asylum when he painted this amazing visual retelling of Jesus' parable, The Good Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh, 

This is where he slept:

Vincent van Gogh's room in Saint Paul de Maussole

Here is a modern translation of the parable:

Luke 10:25-37 The Message 

25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

26 He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

27 He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

28 “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

29 Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

It's a crazy world we live in when a gifted artist, kindly treating the world to his interpretation of this glorious story, is the one called a madman.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Carleton Pack


Katie and Annie

Our eight-year-old, Katie, wanted a puppy for her birthday, so we hopped on Petfinder to check out our options. After limiting our search to this region, and to only puppies deemed suitable to live with another dog and a cat, we got about fifty hits. The first one that popped up was a black-and-white Shepherd-mix named Anna.

Annie

"Mom! This one is perfect. It says she is playful! Let's get her!" Katie exclaimed.

"All puppies are playful, Honey. Let's look at a few more before we make up our mind," I said.

Katie half-heartedly agreed, but when the next two or three puppies' bios did not specifically say they were "playful," Katie insisted we contact the organization that was fostering Anna despite my assuring her that the other puppies' bios didn't say they were playful because it's assumed.

"All puppies are playful, Katie," I said, rolling my eyes.

"But I want Anna." Katie had made up her mind before we even met the puppy in the flesh.

I contacted Love 4 Paws, the rescue organization that was fostering Anna. The foster mom said she guessed the puppy was about 12 weeks old. Spayed, shots, dewormed, microchipped--all that good stuff. We made arrangements to meet her, and for her to meet our 12-year-old dog Sawyer. We filled out the background check paperwork, got approved, returned the next day with a check for the adoption fee, and took Anna home with us.

Katie and Annie watching TV

The foster mom told us that Anna and her sister, Elsa, were strays. She named them after the two sisters in the movie "Frozen". Puppy Elsa, blonde like her namesake, got adopted right away. Anna had waited almost two weeks without her sister before we brought her home to her new sister Sawyer, and her obnoxious cat-brother Thatcher.

Will, Katie, Sawyer, and Annie

She blends right in with the family. We decided "Anna" sounded too proper for a puppy, so we nicknamed her "Annie". When people ask what breed she is, they laugh when we say, "a Shepherd Surprise".

Annie and her stuffed animal friends

We have no idea how big she'll get, or what color her coat will be when she's full grown. She's grown some brown patches of fur around her ears and hind end, but she's still mostly black-and-white. She loves to swim, and knew instinctual how to do it the first time I took her and Sawyer to the dog park when she was about 12-weeks old.

Annie swimming at the dog park with the big dogs

"Is she a lab?" fellow dog park parents would ask, amazed such a tiny puppy could swim.

"We don't know. She was a stray. We call her a Shepherd Surprise, but I wouldn't be surprised if she does have a little Labbie in her," I'd say and we'd laugh at this adorably goofy puppy swimming with the big dogs.

Annie chasing Sawyer at the dog park

It was no time at all before she was retrieving tennis balls and sticks nearly as big as her from the lake. I never had to train her to do this. The cells of her ancestors must have been coaching her from within her innate memory.

Katie, Annie, and Sawyer at the dog park

Our 12-year old dog Sawyer is half-Beagle and half-Lab. Also an early and avid swimmer, Sawyer was only 9-weeks old the first time she swam at the lake. I never had to train her either. If only Katie were a dog, born with that instinct. She refuses to take swimming lessons and claims that she's swimming when she's actually tippy-toeing on the bottom of the pool. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise: puppies are easier to train than children.

Annie and Sawyer hiking through the woods at the dog park

Some puppies learn faster than others, just like humans. A puppy's early life influences its outcome, just like humans. If a puppy is abused or neglected, it can grow distrustful of its peers, act-out against authority (its human pack leader), and become a menace to the pack, just like humans.

Sawyer, Katie, and Annie hiking the woods at the dog park

But, like humans, puppies are born with their basic, innate personalities, too. I've seen plenty of adult dogs who were abused as puppies turn out just fine, and other adult dogs who were raised with loving care from the get-go cower, trembling and peeing, under the bed whenever there's a thunderstorm outside. We all know those dogs that freak out when you bring out the vacuum cleaner, or the picky dogs that will only eat the crappiest dog junk food on the market and won't touch the organic, grain-free healthy kibble you feed them. Unless you put your leftovers on top of it. Dogs, like people, can be pretty funny.

Katie and Annie playing in our back yard

At six months old, Annie already know three commands:

"Sit."

"Leave it."

"Kennel."

Sawyer and Annie in our back yard

She has also figured out how to open the bathroom door so she can get into the trash can and drag disgusting things out onto the living room couch, something neither Sawyer, nor our old dog Earl, who passed away last spring, ever figured out how to do.

She's getting tall, so she's a masterful thief. The other day I was making Katie a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When I turned around to get a storage container, Annie jumped up and helped herself to half the sandwich off the plate. Before I had even turned around, she had snuck out of the kitchen. I would have thought the thing had magically disappeared had I not heard Katie yelling in the living room, "Annie! No! You're not supposed to steal food!"

Donuts!

It's funny, because this all came about from Katie asking for her own puppy. I thought their relationship would be kind of furry-mother and daughterish. But they've turned out more like siblings. Katie, keeping her bedroom door shut so Annie won't run in there and steal her stuffed animals. The two of them chasing each other in the back yard, falling to the ground, wresting, licking, and giggling.

Me and my furry baby, Annie

I used to feel sorry for Katie, being an only child. I always thought I wanted six children, and for many years I was disappointed in my subfertle body being unable to produce more than one. But one seems fine, now. Two parents, one child, two dogs, and a cat feels like just the right size for our pack.

Clockwise from top: Thatcher (12), Sawyer (12), and Annie (6 months)







Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Day After Election Day

I'm a Kansas Democrat. Which means I'm used to my favorite candidates losing. During the primaries in the spring of 2008, as I entered the room inside my polling place, I saw a bunch of people standing on one side of the room with someone who was holding poster board with the word "Clinton" written in permanent marker. Another, larger group stood on the opposite side of the room with someone who was holding poster board with the word "Obama" written in permanent marker.

I had told myself I was going to caucus with the Kucinich crowd. But when I entered the room and saw that there was no Kucinich crowd, just one lonely guy leaning up against the wall in the farthest corner, the pragmatic democrat in me decided to go with plan B.

Even his poster board with the word "Kucinich" written in permanent marker was considerably smaller than the other supporters'. Weird. I'd never seen poster board that small. You know those eco-crazy Kucinich supporters, though. The dude probably cut his poster board into fourths so he could save some for the next anti-war rally.

I really hate war. I don't understand how the global economy works, so I don't generally vote on that issue. Abortion sucks, but I believe it's sometimes horribly necessary and the government has no right to interfere with a woman and her doctor's decision making. That's an important issue. I'm worried about global warming, hunger, sickness, poverty, abuse. All that stuff. Those are important issues. I'm a big supporter of using tax dollars to fund public schools, public libraries, public museums, roads, bridges, mass transit, health care, police, firefighters, all the things that make a civilization what it is. But the one political issue that is the most important to me is Defense.

I hate war. I'm a militant peace monger. I don't think war solves anything. It just exacerbates problems and keeps war profiteers in business. Peace heroes such as Jesus, and Gandhi, and King have proven that peace works. We had to fight a bloody revolutionary war with the Brits to get them out of our country. Gandhi sat down and said, "Enough."

So when I went with Plan B on primary night in 2008, it was entirely due to that candidate's position on the War in Iraq. I walked across the room and caucused with the other Obama supporters. I admire many things about Hillary Clinton, but she's far too hawkish for my taste. Obama had been speaking out against the war from the beginning. Clinton voted in favor of it.

We all know what happened from there. Obama won the nomination, ran against John McCain, and won the presidency in November 2008. It was the first time I had voted for the same person in both the primary and the general election and he won. Even when I eventually voted for Bill Clinton in the presidential election, I had not voted for him in the primary. I supported Jerry Brown instead.

My mom supported Jerry Brown too, but only because he had once been in a relationship with Linda Ronstadt. We all have our unique reasons for voting the way we do.

If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination in 2016, I'll most likely vote for her if the Republicans keep up their nonsense, or if the Green Party or the Libertarian Party or the Democratic Socialists Party get anyone's attention and they're able to nominate a viable candidate, I'd vote for him or her if they were anti-war. I'd prefer to vote for someone like Senator Bernie Sanders, or Senator Elizabeth Warren instead of Hillary Clinton for president, but if my choice is between War Hawk Clinton and War Hawk [Insert Republican Candidate], I'd pick Clinton because I agree with her more on social issues.

Voting is hard work. It's a lot of "if this, then..."

It takes a lot of time to even figure out who you're allowed to vote for, let alone who you want to vote for. And anyway, where are you supposed to vote? And where is your birth certificate if you're unfortunate enough to live in Kansas while Kris Kobach is Secretary of State. All those practical details are an inconvenience. It's a challenge to stay informed. But we must. Picking the right candidate is hard work. Important things are.

Which is why it sucks to be a Kansas Democrat. The candidate I think is right is rarely the candidate my fellow citizens think is right. I'm chronically outvoted.

I used to get so excited for elections. I was a poll worker during several elections, where they trap you inside your polling place and don't allow you to leave, even to go get lunch, so you can keep the ballots secure. That was fun.

And then, the day after the election, my candidate retreats into obscurity, I'd mope around for days, weeks. Dude, when it wasn't decided until December that W. beat Gore back in 2000, I was a mess. And then when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of W. I spiraled downward even faster. I still feel like I need to lie down when I think about W.'s presidency.

This election season I feel more ho hum about the whole thing. It's like I've achieved peace with always losing to war mongers and so I've had to figure out another way to make peace. I no longer place most of my faith in politicians (and their voters). I don't think they're capable of helping me figure out how I can help end war and hunger and poverty and support education and health care and communities.

I think what's influenced my more subdued mood this election season is that I joined a strong social justice movement church. I'm meeting so many wonderful people who every day make their world a little bit better. They take Jesus' commandment for us to love people and pray for those who persecute us seriously.

I've searched for peace through politics, but I'm through with that now. I've found another way, and I'm going to try it for a while. Not that I won't vote this November, but I'm not going to let the inevitable disappointment bring me down. The day after Election Day, no matter which candidate wins and which candidate loses, I'm still going to get out of bed and work for peace.

Allie's Sale

Allie "Little Owl" Fisher
image source

A little girl named Allie "Little Owl" Fisher was born today. She passed away at the age of three, of gliomatosis cerebri, a rare form of brain cancer. Her family, who goes to my church, created Team Little Owl to honor the memory of their precious child, and to raise awareness and keep up the fight against childhood cancer.

Allie's Sale
image source

Today in Overland Park begins the second annual "Allie's Sale," a collaborative garage sale that gives 100% of the proceeds to the Children's Brain Tumor Project at Weill Cornell. In addition to regular garage sale items, there will be food and drinks, as well as a number of great raffle items, including:

Kansas City Chiefs tickets
Kansas Jayhawks Football tickets
Electra 7D Bike
Two Waterway Car Club Memberships
Tickets For Less Gift Card
Price Chopper Gift Card
Jack Stack BBQ Gift Card
Comprehensive Eye Exam and Contact Lens fitting from Noyce Family Eye Care
Widmer Brothers Brewering Gift Basket
Chocolate, Cheese and Nut Gift Basket

Please stop by anytime after 7AM Thursday-Saturday, October 16-18:


If you can't make it to the sale this weekend, please consider donating to Team Little Owl online. For more information, check out the Team Little Owl webpage, and like them on Facebook.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We Are the Moon and Stars

Moon and Stars
image source

Pastor Jonas got his bachelor's degree in English before earning his Master's of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. I appreciate having a literate pastor. It's easier for me to understand something if it's presented to me as a story. My eyes would start to glaze over and my mind would wander if I read a nonfiction book with lots of facts and statistics about illegal immigration in the United States. But I flew through Barbara Kingsolver's beautiful, compassionate fiction book, The Bean Trees. It's the same subject as the nonfiction, fact-based book, but it's told from the perspective of characters with stories to tell.

I get excited when Pastor Jonas slips a literary reference into one of his sermons. I'm nerdy that way. The time he mentioned Allen Ginsberg's amazing poem, "Howl" I nearly howled myself, sitting there in the pew, surrounded by lots of people who are, albeit sweet and kind and generous souls, the type of believers who sit quietly in their Lands' End cardigans and don't call out things like, "Praise Jesus," or engage in much howling. When the choir finishes singing, my knee-jerk reaction is to start clapping loudly, maybe even shouting out, "Woo hoo!" Nope. Not with these low-key Presbyterians. The most you'll get out of them is an occasional hand in the air, rattling a church bulletin.

Except at the early service. Those people are wild and AWAKE and full of the spirit. Beautiful singing. But a little too much energy for me at 8:50 in the morning. I'm generally pretty subdued throughout the day. In the morning I'm nearly comatose. I've attended a couple of the early services when Katie was singing with her kids' choir, but generally it's all I can do to get there by 10:00 for Sunday School, strolling in with wet hair and coffee breath.

A couple of years before I decided to join Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, my daughter Katie and I were invited to an all-black church called Bethel International Center for Worship. I never asked anyone, or found any literature about the denomination of the church, but from what I could tell by the handful of times Katie and I attended a service, the congregation believes in hugging, singing, praising Jesus, dancing, shouting out "Amen", and smiling like they're having the time of their lives.

I sat there in my Lands' End cardigan, smiling, bobbing my head to the beat of the music. I tried my best, but come on! Shrinks have diagnosed me with Major Depression. There's only so much jubilation I can take before my nerves begin to frazzle. When I get like that, when I feel like I'm going to throw up from the mixture of excitement and confusion, I have to isolate myself and recharge my battery.

The Presbyterians get me. They understand my need for calm, my need for subtle, my need for rest and reflection. I admire people who have the energy to dance and sing through a one-and-a-half hour service, but it's too much for me. I love you, Jesus, despite my sedentary ways.

I didn't feel like howling at Pastor Jonas' sermon last Sunday, even though he threw in a major literary reference. I was too focused on the story. The incredible way he weaves The Parable of the Wedding Banquet from the Bible, a scene from Dante's Divine Comedy, a quote from the Dalai Lama, an illustration about the ebola epidemic, and facts about the recent lunar eclipse into a story of how we can use our precious energy, psychic energy...to serve our higher calling."

image source

It started with a church member reading aloud in front of the congregation. She read this story:


The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Then, Pastor Jonas lead us in prayer and began his sermon. You can watch it here:



Here are some highlights:

"Something beautiful, extraordinary, came to the sky early on Wednesday morning. Beginning at 4:14AM in Kansas City, the sun, earth, and moon started lining up to create a total eclipse beginning at 5:25AM and lasting until 6:25..."




"...[Jesus is] the one who is bold enough to enlighten and to journey through the darkness. We too, as children of God, we too are cast out into darkness, just like the moon waiting for a moment of eclipse and reflection, reaching new understanding which only light can give. And when the light shines behind us, casts a shadow of darkness, like an eclipse, I think that it can remind us and it exposes our sin..."

"...Jesus spoke more about money and possessions than any other subject. Perhaps because he wanted to warn us about the evils than can accompany our desire for things. Now, desire for things is not in and of itself wrong. Jesus' warning is this: we should not allow our desires to define us. Jesus knows how easily our desires, if unchecked, can fuel our precious energy, psychic energy that is meant to serve our higher calling. The danger is that our intense desire for more and more can zap our best psychic energies. In turn these desires become cravings, and cravings can turn into addiction.

"Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple" by El Greco
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"The great Italian writer and poet of the Middle Ages was more than familiar with these human desires and tendencies. And it was as if the light from the sun flashed itself over the darkness of humanity when in the first part of Dante's Divine Comedy, the author descends into Hell and begins by feeling pity for the people he sees there who are writhing in pain. But his guide, the great poet Virgil, tells him that these suffering ones are getting exactly what they want. Hell is the state in which men and women are barred from receiving what they truly need because they're only focusing on what they desire.

Gustave Doré's illustration of Dante's Inferno
image source

"The inner enemy remains the same now just as it was in ancient times, and that enemy is fear, self-deception, vanity, wishful thinking, anxiety, violence, and a host of other foes too clever to recognize.

"Now all of this is what's exposed in our lives as the light of the sun passes over us. We see the darkiness--our sin--and it casts a shadow like an eclipse and it draws our attention.

"The kingdom of God is a process, and in the trajectory of our lives, God sends us out just as the innocent man in the parable to sometimes do things a little differently, sometimes unorthodox or off the beaten path, in order that we might reflect the light of Christ more fully and faithfully.

"It's amazing. When we watch the lunar eclipse, the whole process, we notice the moon, which is incredibly small, has the ability to block out the sun. But when it gets out of the way it reflects more of the light. And the moon continues to be a light source. By itself it is impotent. But in relationship with the sun it becomes a source of light and it becomes a source of beauty.

"We are like the moon. Sometimes we get in the way of the sun."

Carl Sagan tells us we are star-stuff.


Pastor Jonas says we are like the moon. I believe they are both right.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Dying to Control My Life

There are many things that suck about sexual abuse. How it messes with your perception of who is in control of your body is one of the worst things. Because my abuse happened at such a young age, before I was even in kindergarten, it warped my sense of self in a major way. For decades, deep within me, I believed that my body was not for me: it was for the sexual gratification of others. I hated that. I didn't like being viewed as a sex object.

I was an early developer, too, which made things worse. I got my first bra when I was in third grade. In forth grade some boys nicknamed me B.B. At first, I mistakenly thought the boys were just calling me by my initials: B.B. = Becky Burton. Then someone tipped me off that it actually stood for Big Boobs. I was so embarrassed. Ashamed. They were looking at my boobs.

I had been sent to Weight Watchers in third grade. Some sexual abuse experts believe that binge eating is one of the coping mechanisms sexual abuse survivors use, whether consciously or subconsciously. A way to pad your body from the harmful world and salacious looks of potential abusers. I don't know. I never paid attention to what I ate before I was sent to Weight Watchers. I noticed others paying lots of attention to what I ate. You want seconds? You're going to explode! my family would say. I never questioned my motives. I just knew my appetite seemed much larger than my siblings and parents and friends wanted it to be.

I hated going to the weekly meetings at Weight Watchers with all the old ladies--I was the only child in the group--but I loved dieting. My parents got me this little scale for the kitchen counter that I got to use to measure out my portions. Sometimes I'd use it as a Barbie car, too. I got to study calorie counting books and write down everything I ate. I pretended I was a grown up, professional nutritionist, just as I had pretended to be a nurse whenever someone let me put a Bandaid on their scrape. I kept meticulous notes in my food journal. Everyone was so impressed that someone my age had the focus and drive to take on such a challenge.

In fifth grade, I passed out in class. The school nurse called my mom to come and get me and take me to the doctor. His diagnosis? Anorexia nervosa. The child psychologist he referred me to said it's not uncommon for girls who are ashamed of their developing bodies to intentionally starve themselves, viewing their breasts and hips as excess fat. I didn't quite understand. I was only eleven. All I knew was that starving my body made me feel like I had tremendous self-control. Other people with less willpower caved into their biological urges to eat. I was powerful. I had figured out a way to ignore my stomach's rumblings and the bile burps that are inevitable if you don't put enough food into your stomach.

The stomach has a job: to produce bile to break down food so our bodies can absorb nutrients from it. If your stomach has no food in it, that bile has nothing to do. It has to go somewhere. So if there is not food for it to digest, the bile comes up your throat. I learned to ignore the nasty taste in my mouth. I ignored the ribs poking out of my sides, and the fine layer of hair growing all over my body, another typical thing a body does when you give it only a serving of green beans every few days or so.

I lost my breasts. It felt wonderful to have a flat chest again. I stopped menstruating, which I had started in fourth grade. I was glad. None of my friends had started menstruating anyway, so I felt like less of a freak when my body quit undergoing that monthly cycle.

I had been a "good girl," a pleaser, obedient to authority until I developed anorexia. For once in my life I felt in control. I was right and everyone else around me was wrong. I only began questioning my behavior when the psychologist threatened to have me hospitalized if I lost any more weight. At my worst, I was 5'3" and weighed 79 pounds.

I got over it. Obviously. I'm here now. But I almost died, trying so hard to feel in control of my life.

During this time, I remember walking past the spare bedroom and seeing my mom give my grandpa a sponge bath.

It had been my room for a year or so. When my older sister Jenny moved out, I took over her room and Mom made my former bedroom into her craft room. When Jenny moved back in a few months later, we decided to share a room, something we had done since I was born until I was seven and enough of my siblings had moved out of the house that I could have my own room. We liked sharing. It's what we were used to. Sleeping alone in an otherwise empty bed felt lonely and weird.

Our mom's dad was dying of lung cancer. He moved in with us the last few weeks of his life, into Mom's craft room, my former bedroom. I remember walking past the room when Mom was cleaning him up and seeing him without a shirt on. Ribs poking out everywhere. He looked like a skeleton with skin. Mom had prepared me for the worst: we knew her dad was dying. He was old and sick. What she didn't prepare me for was the sight of his emaciated, half-naked body. I had never seen someone who looked so close to death.

Except when I looked in the mirror.

It struck me: that's what I look like. I had never considered my anorexia from anyone's perspective other than my own. I felt tremendously guilty for putting my mom through all that, right as she was having to care for her dying father. I started eating again. Not because I wanted to. I did it for my mom.

By seventh grade I had gained weight and then some. I was experiencing horribly sporadic, painful periods, so Mom took me to the doctor to get a prescription for birth control pills to regulate my cycle. We didn't have a family doctor. My mom was allergic to doctors and medical care in general, especially psychiatric care. She had been involuntarily hospitalized on two separate occasions, before I was born, when she was married to her first husband. They told her she had "a nervous breakdown". It's funny how a husband who spends all the family's money on bar tabs and his secretary, with whom he is cheating on you, can have an ambulance haul you off to the hospital when you scream and cry a little over how much your life sucks.

Because we didn't have a family doctor in the first place, and we had moved since the other doctor had diagnosed me with anorexia, this new doctor in this other practice who gave me the birth control pill exam had no idea I was a recovering anorexic. The medical sheet didn't ask. The nurse didn't ask. The doctor didn't ask. And we didn't tell. Why should we? What does my little "nervous breakdown" have to do with getting some pills so I could go to school and not stay at home in bed, writhing in agony once a month?

"She is twenty pounds overweight," the doctor said to my mom, pointing to a chart on the wall with a table of heights and weights. My height-to-weight ratio was in the grey colored danger zone. Why wasn't she talking to me? I'm the one she was talking about. Hello, I'm right here! I felt sorry for my mom. The doctor was talking to her like she was a moron, which is ridiculous because everyone knows my mom is one of the smarted people on the planet. Who does this doctor think she is?

During my teens and early twenties, I gave my body away to lovers. I wore makeup and clothes other people said made me look attractive. It didn't make them love me. And if it did, it didn't make them stay.

By my mid-twenties I was single, living alone. I decided to "work on myself". I started reading self-help books. I began eating healthy foods and exercising to keep my body "fit and attractive" like the popular magazines advised. During this time in my life, I began to feel good about myself.

Then suddenly I turned thirty and I felt compelled to mate. After years of celibacy, I didn't crave sex--I'd learned to take care of those urges myself thanks to my handy dandy Hitachi Magic Wand--but I craved companionship. And babies. Babies. Babies. Babies. I couldn't get my mind off of coupling up and having babies.

After a few missteps, I found "The One". Will and I have been married for almost ten years. We have a wonderful eight-year-old daughter, Katie. I told myself if I could do one thing as a parent, I was going to raise my daughter to not have an eating disorder.

Which is tough when you still have the mind of an anorexic and the body image issues of a typical American woman.

Then one day I discovered a book sitting on a shelf at the library where I work. Health at Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon. I wasn't looking for it. I can't explain what led me to it. Something made me pick it up and check it out and read it.

Yes! I thought. This is it. This makes sense.

I've always been leery of people who say "this book changed my life!" These are the same kinds of people who spend a lifetime in misery and then the one time they step inside a church they feel saved.

But this book saved me. It changed the way I felt about my body.  It helped me stop thinking of my body as anybody's business but my own. Not my abusers', not my mom's, not my doctor's, not my ex-lover's, not my husband's, not society's. My own.

I'm the one in control, right?

Over the course of this past year, I've begun to realize that's not exactly right either. I mean, yeah, I'm the one who gets to make decisions about my health and wellness, but it's not like I can exactly control my body. I can't magically ward off allergens, viruses, bacteria, and all the things in life that make us sick. I still have days where I am forced to stay in bed to heal rather than getting out into the world to accomplish all I want to do.

I can't even control my own fertility. It took us two years and the assistance of a reproductive endocrinologist for my body to be able to give birth to Katie. Will and I had wanted a big family--six kids--but my body has only been able to produce one viable offspring, and now I'm getting old when all women undergo subfertility. I'll be forty-four in November. With each passing cycle I know my baby making days are numbered, and most likely completely gone. It sucks to know I can't even get my body to reproduce the way I want it to.

So I give up. No more fantasies of miraculously conceiving another child. No more checking the calendar to see what the first day of my last cycle was. Like with my weight, I've learned to quit obsessing over my subfertility.

I used to work with a woman, a conservative Catholic woman, who joked that God only gave her two kids, spaced seven years apart, because He knew she could only handle one baby at a time.

Back then, before I got married and tried to have lots of babies, I used to think, oh what a cute story to tell yourself, but I also thought, what a bunch of shit. It's biology. It's science. Doctors can help you have as many children as you like, if you're up for the challenge.

I know it's not that easy, now that I've experienced years of disappointment every time Aunt Flo pays me a visit. Most of my friends hate that bitch when she shows up at their door because she's a pain and an inconvenience. I hate those things about Aunt Flo, too, but my biggest complaint is that her arrival means, nope, no more babies this time, Sucka!

I can't wait until I'm old enough to no longer receive visits from Aunt Flo. Many women dread menopause because they associate it with aging, and therefore getting closer to death. I think I'll like menopause. No more visits from Aunt Flo will mean no more worrying, no more mentally converting the spare bedroom into a nursery, no more feelings of being let down again, and again, month after month. I will know it's impossible for my body to give birth, so I will be forced to give up my obsession. Now, since I continue to get regular visits from Aunt Flo, I'm stuck in hopeful anticipation each month. I look forward to the time in my life the question of whether or not I'll be able to give birth to more than one child will be answered, settled once and for all.

That's my problem. I'm a planner. I like to think I'm in control of my life. I like to have an idea in my head of which direction I'm heading on my life's path. But the path I picture inside my head bears little resemblance to the path my life is actually taking, the one my feet walk upon while my head is in the clouds. Then I trip and fall, get lost, and I start to feel overwhelmed by life.

It's not supposed to be like this. This isn't the way I thought it would go.

I'm learning to accept it. To understand that giving up the illusion of control over my life will not lead to feeling vulnerable and unprotected about who has access to my body.

"Let go and let God," the old bumper stickers used to say. I used to laugh at them. Write them off as anti-feminist propaganda. That was back when I hadn't found a church that welcomed me with open arms and open minds. Back when I associated God with judgmental, holier than thou so-called Christians. The type of people who would use scripture to explain why they think it's natural for a husband to have control over his wife's body, the type who believe there is no such thing as marital rape, the ones who tell women to lay back and trust their man, who God HIMself granted this gift.

Then something happened. Last year, Katie asked if we could go to church. One thing led to another and we found ourselves joining my friend's church: Grace Covenant Presbyterian. It was the people who sucked me into it, I thought. Not God. Katie loves her new church friends, and all the wonderfully warm and supportive teachers she has. I love how open-minded and progressive this church is. These people treat love like it's an action verb. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors and pray for those who persecute us. The members of GCPC take this commandment seriously.

At first I got involved with the Gay Christian Fellowship. But that group petered out, thankfully because it became unnecessary since LGBT people are not excluded from anything at GCPC. I was asked to be the preschool storyteller for vacation Bible school last summer, which lead to my gig as a Sunday School teacher.

I love it. I am learning to love and trust. Not just my husband, my child, close friends and family members. I'm learning to love and trust a broader circle of people in my world. I've always had a fondness for human beings in general, but I'm often reticent around people I don't know well. Unless you're an anonymous blog reader. The people of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church are bringing me out of my shell.

Yesterday in Sunday School the Bible story we were teaching the kiddos--three to six year olds--is the one about the one-hundred year old Abraham and his ninety-year-old wife Sarah who finally, after many years of infertility, were able to produce a son, Isaac, because they trusted God to control their lives.

What a bunch of crap, my hardened heart whispered. If I'm forty-three and I'm having trouble conceiving another child, how could a woman on the brink of the end of her life do it?

I didn't have a chance to ponder the question too long. The kid sitting in the circle to my left was telling me a story about some kid I don't know in her class and his new baby sister. I became engrossed in this child's story, not because it made sense, but because I could see a little beam of light shine from within this child as she told me a story that was important to her.

After Sunday School, Katie and I entered the sanctuary and sat in the pews among our fellow church members and curious visitors. I felt very safe. Very happy. Very loved.

During the service, there's often a time when Pastor Jonas says something about "silent prayers" and the whole place grows silent for thirty seconds or so, and then Pastor Jonas begins to pray aloud again. Generally my mind wanders during this time. I'm cool with reciting The Lord's Prayer. I enjoy the prayers led by pastors and church members, the prayers printed in the bulletin we chant together. Sometimes I pretend I'm a monk and we're chanting.

But during this "silent prayer" time, I found myself getting fidgety. The empty space in my mind didn't know what to say. How do you start a conversation with God when you thought you had severed your relationship back when you were a thirteen year old who thought she was the boss?

Then it just came to me. Without wasting the whole time trying to think of something to pray about as usual, I said to myself, Thank you God for everything and everyone. And help me figure out how to lose control.

I laughed at myself. I pictured a wild-haired Becky running around like a crazy person. "She's lost control!" a voice from the crowd inside my mind said.

Thank God.