Category Archives: life

Goals for 2012

 

I shouldn’t say that everyone makes a New Year’s resolution.  In fact, I think that the majority of people that make resolutions either want to a) lose weight or b) stop smoking.  Well, as it is, I have already quit smoking several years ago, so I guess I fall into the former category.  But instead of making specific resolutions, I am going to make lifestyle changes with specific achievements that aren’t necessarily goals, but if I achieve them it will be a signpost, if you will, that I am achieving the things that I want to do.

1) Goal: Get back in shape.  Lose weight, trim down, lower blood pressure.  These are all reasons that I would like to get into shape.  The last couple of years I have had halfway legitimate excuses for not exercising (recovering from three separate surgeries, after all.)  I still should have eaten better than I did.  So eating less, less junk fast food, regular exercise will be on the list. 

Signpost: Ride in the BikeMS Pedal the Plains.  I was excited to participate last year, but back pain sidelined me from training, and back surgery ultimately kept me on the sidelines.  If I do finish, I am contemplating getting a zipper tattoo on my scar to remind me of both last years disappointment and this years achievement.

2) Goal: Be mentally healthier.  The day to day moments of the last couple of years have really kept me down, despite those momentous moments that would otherwise have put me in great spirits.  Lifestyle changes will help, along with staying up to date on my medications and exercise. 

Signpost: Getting a job that I really enjoy.  Going for more money might not even be particularly important at this point.  I need to do something that doesnt add exponentially to my stress.

3) Goal: Read.  As I have stated before, the last half of last year, I started reading again.  My goal for my 35th year was to read 50 books.  The count now stands at 23, with most of those being back loaded at the end of the year.  I amended that to say that I was going to read 10 classics.  I still may be able to hit both goals.

Signpost: War and Peace.  It is in hand, and it will be conquered.  I am looking forward to finishing but not for the satisfaction of finishing itself, but for the satisfaction of a well told, incredible story.

4) Goal: Write.  Reestablishing this blog has been a good step.  Writing is an outlet, no matter if it is the truth or fiction.

Remington Typewriter

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Signpost: Having a rough draft of a novel done.

Well, that’s it for me.  How about you?

 

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Good-Bye 2011

2011 is almost over, so time for me to assess the good and the bad of the year.

Bad:

1: continued depression

2: back and hernia surgery

3: worrying about things that I cannot control

Good:

1: surgeries have and mental treatment have helped my well being

2: Growth of my family relationships: working through “for worse” and “in sickness” with my wife; watching my children grow; new honesty and openness with my parents and sister; meeting my brother and continued growth and reconnection with my biological family

3: blogging as a tool to help organize my thoughts and feelings.

Thank you all for reading and commenting.  Tomorrow: looking forward to 2012

 

 

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Faith and Prayer: Part 4

St. Joseph Cathedral, Sioux Falls
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After I had completely finished with school, I moved back to my hometown and got my career underway.  Soon afterward, I got a letter from my high school choir director, who was also the choir director at the local Cathedral.  The Bishop was commissioning a new all-male choir, and the members would be assembled by invitation.  I was proud that apparently my skills were enough to warrant my consideration.  unfortunately, I was working a God-awful 1pm to 10pm shift, and would never be able to make it to practice on time.  So the charter members of the Sioux Falls St. Joseph Cathedral Schola did not include me.

It was shortly after this time that I would meet the woman who would eventually become my Lovely Wife.  I guess we’ll call here Lovely Girlfriend for now.  Much to the consternation of my mother, Lovely Girlfriend was not Catholic, but rather Lutheran.  As we dated we both attended each other’s services at one time or another.  We dated for a while until she broke up with me.  I was a little confused, but I think it had a little to do with my living arrangements (yes, I had moved back in with my parents for awhile).  In the mean time, I met and began hanging out with another girl, who in our household is now sometimes facetiously referred to as She Who Shall Not Be Named (Lovely Wife doesn’t like to think about this time period).  SWSNBN was also very straight forward about her faith, which we openly discussed.  I also attended church services with her on occasion, at the Reformed Church of America in her home town.  One night, SWSNBN had agreed to meet with her ex for dinner one night.  Feeling that I didn’t really have a say in this (as we weren’t officially “dating”), I didn’t ask her not to go, but inside I was stressing out considerably.  So confused, that night I threw out the rote prayers of my Catholic background and pleaded with God to let me know what I was supposed to be doing here.  When Jesus met the blind man on the road to Emmaus, and asked “What do you want me to do?” the answer was “Lord, that I may have my sight.”  While he was looking for a return of his physical sight, I just wanted some insight on my future.  Did it involve Lovely Girlfriend?  SWSNBN?  Someone else?  I loved them both, but as it looked, to me it seemed that I would end up with neither.  Lord, that I may have my sight.

As it turns out, I did get back together with Lovely Girlfriend, who would become Lovely Fiance and eventually Lovely Wife.  I don’t forget the lesson that is often put “Let go and let God,” but there are still sometimes that I think over and over Lord, that I may have my sight.

Lovely Wife would go through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes to become Catholic, with me as her sponsor.  Although the question wasn’t completely settled, we thought it was best to at least start out on the same page.  In the meantime, I attended Bible studies with her, at first with a group from her Lutheran church, and later with a group from her best friend’s Methodist church.  I learned a great deal about my faith from attending these Bible studies and RCIA classes.

It was also around this time that I ran into my choir director, who assured me that “The invitation is still open,” for me to join the group.  Having a more amenable work schedule at this time, I excitedly accepted the invitation.  The music that we sang was incredible.  It was a mix of contemporary hymns, classical pieces (some of my favorites being 16th century polyphony) but perhaps most distinguishable, the Schola specialized in plainchant from the Pius X hymnal.  The music moved me, and gave me the feeling that I was ministering to others in my own way.

Coming in Part 5: Pain, questioning, and another reveal.

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Faith and Prayer, Part 3

After being away at college for a while, I had settled into a routine.  St. Thomas Aquinas, which had become my “home” church, held a Mass at 7pm on Sundays.  It was a perfect time to wind down from the weekend and prepare myself for the week.  Although I had several friends who attended that service, I liked to make myself scarce ahead of time, because I liked to have the time to worship with the community while at the same time worshiping by myself.

Most of the congregation at this particular mass consisted of students, but there were other members of the Ames community represented as well.  It was here that little old ladies would start the tradition of turning to me as I was getting ready to leave and saying something like “You have such a wonderful voice!”  At first I would respond with a thank you.  Later I would respond that it was God that gave me the wonderful instrument.  Later still, I started to tell them that St. Augustine said that “To sing is to pray twice,” a phrase that I still use.

After the 7pm Mass, the staff would have “Church Chats”, where one of the priests or a lay person would lead a group of parishioners in a discussion about faith, tradition, ethics, etc.  For someone who grew up in an environment where things just “are the way they are” it was refreshing.

English: Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's B...

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The summer before my junior year, I had the great privilege of being able to travel to France and Italy with my family (my dad loves to travel and wanted to take my sister and I while we were still able to travel easily).  In Paris we went to Mass at Notre Dame, officiated on that day by a Cardinal (whose name I do not remember).  Having taken French in High School, (and of course with the conformity of the Latin Rite), I was pretty much able to follow along.  Going to Rome and the Vatican was an even more exciting experience.  Throughout Italy we had seen beautiful churches and works of art (e.g. St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and Michelangelo’s David in Florence) but nothing compared to St. Peter’s Basilica, or the Sistine Chapel.

 

English: Pope John Paul II on 12 August 1993 i...

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But the most exciting event was still to come.  By one of those “know someone who knows someone” connections we were able to get into Mass with a small group of people (about 30 or so) and Pope John Paul II.  Surprisingly to me, the Pope did not officiate the Mass, but rather was part of the congregation.  Looking back, it makes sense to me.  Afterwards, the pontiff greeted us all.  I was worried that I would be nervous and dumbstruck, but he was a very humble, warm, and witty person.  He asked us where we were from, and when we said South Dakota, he said “We don’t get too many from there.  New York, California, but not South Dakota.”  He also gave everyone a rosary.  I have never used a rosary very much, but of course I still have it and will use it on occasion.

My senior year, needing to fill out an elective for my degree, I took a New Testament class.  It was a great class to take, as the critical thinking and historical context added an extra layer of interest for me.  It was taught by Dr. Hector Avalos.  Dr. Avalos let us know early that he had a photographic memory, calling roll the first day without a class list in front of him, and subsequently calling out students that had skipped class, again without referring to any written class list.  He was very brilliant and thorough.  And he is an atheist.  This really troubled some students, and as a Christian, perhaps arguably should have troubled me, but it didn’t.  Taking this one class helped me reassess my own faith.  For a time I had to fall back on my basic articles of faith, and decided that I needed to scrub up a little more on my Christian faith.

After I graduated, I moved to Vermillion, SD to get a Master’s Degree from the University of South Dakota.  Here I was able to reconnect with some of my High School friends.  One late summer night, a few of us were sitting outside, downing some beers and smoking cigarettes (one habit I have thankfully dropped).  Perhaps inexplicably, we started talking about faith, religion, and the nature of God.  When I was walking home that night, I had an amazing experience.  Still ruminating on our discussion, I made a point to myself in my mind.  Today, I can’t even tell you what that point was (unfortunately) but I had an intense yet pleasurable surge of energy course through my body.  Not quite electrical, not quite fire, not quite ice, I don’t know how to explain it.  I do remember that it felt like it was coming from the inside out.  Prior to that time, my view of God was somewhat Deist in nature.  But here I felt as if I was being communicated with directly for the first time.  Or at least for the first time that I was able to recognize and acknowledge it.

Coming in Part 4, Back to Music and my Protestant Wife

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Mindfulness, Meditation, Prayer, and Faith: Part 1

I have been determined to add this post to help explain my spiritual/religious life and experiences, and how I am using them to help deal with my depression.

The only problem was that as I composed the post in my head, a problem arose:  I realized that it had the potential to become very verbose, meandering, and seemingly pointless.  Until the conclusion there would be many seemingly tangential meanderings and asides.   This would lead to me either submitting an incomplete exegesis or–more likely–completely boring you, the reader.

Therefore I have decided to split it into several posts, which will hopefully be illustrative of my journey without being overwhelming.

So where to start?  I guess with my background.  I was raised (and remain) Catholic.  I was educated in an Episcopal school followed by Catholic schools.  I grew up in a community that was overwhelmingly Lutheran and Catholic.  As you can imagine, my early faith was influenced by a highly liturgical and rote environment.  I (sincerely) believed.  Because I was told to do so.

Things opened up a little more when I went to High School.  A few things stood out to me.  As a Catholic at a Catholic school, I was required to have 1 religion class each semester for all four years (non-Catholics were only required to take religion courses for two years.)  That meant as an upperclassman I was able to choose elective religion courses.  I can specifically remember two that stuck out to me: Church history (explicitly a history of the Catholic church, but of course not complete without discussing other Christian denominations) and Ecumenism (fka Ecumenicalism, fka Comparative religions.)  The Ecumenism class was especially interesting considering that we delved not only into other denominations but also other religions entirely.  Unfortunately (?) it was not necessary for me to complete any extra credit projects in order to get an A.  Those projects were to visit a regular worship service to observe and then report.  I now wish that although it was not necessary for me, that I still had participated.  At the time I was particularly interested in attending Temple and a Unitarian Universalist services.

The other profound impact was in the form of my favorite teacher (and incidentally best–at any level), Sr. Jeanette.  Despite being relatively immobile (she had a hip replacement and rode around on an electric cart), Sr. Jeanette was by far the most intimidating teacher in school.  She just had an aura about her that demanded respect.  She also explicitly demanded respect.  There were no yeahs or nopes or uh-huhs or nuh-uhs in her class.  It was always “yes” or “no”, spoken clearly and with authority.  She seemed to some to be perpetually cross but if you played by her rules, she made it quite evident that she had a heart of gold.

Perhaps most importantly (in regards to my faith, that is) was not how she taught but what she taught: chemistry and physics.  She was brilliant and demanding.  I remember how she inexplicably called me to the board every day to work out chemistry problems on the board.  That was until I had memorized a sufficient amount of information from the periodic table of elements.  Once I did, I was no longer called with as much frequency.  Ah.  Anyway, the most important thing that she taught me was that religion and science could indeed intersect.  Despite her scientific knowledge, she had what appeared to me to be a very strong and unshakable faith.  She retired from teaching after my senior year, and passed away a couple of years later.  I still miss her.

But that intersection of faith and religion helped me formulate my go to thought during a crisis of faith (indeed they would come and continue from time to time).  I realized that there are two paradoxes that science could never rationally explain to me in a rational and physical language.  The first: the universe is either finite or infinite.  Either are equally confounding.  One could say that because there is theoretically a multiverse, than the idea of a universe as being finite makes sense.  OK, but then is there a finite or infinite number of universes?  The other paradox is equally perplexing: either there was a beginning for everything, or something always existed.  At the very core of matter might be nothing but energy, but according to the laws of physics we cannot create matter, and we cannot create energy (only transmit it in a different form).

The only reasonable explanation for me was a creator.

Part 2 will consist of: College, Contemplating the Priesthood, and Further Spiritual Exploration.

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Where I have been.

Yesterday I alluded to the fact that my quest for mental health is looking up, just as my quest for getting a great photograph has.  It hasn’t been easy.

Over the past two years I have been battling some health issues along with my depression.  This all came to a head over the summer.  Out of disability time at work and out of room for appeals, I was let go.  Luckily my wife has a good job and good insurance, because in June my back, which I had problems with on and off for years, threw an all out hissy fit.  I couldn’t stand, sit, or lie down without pain.  When I saw the doctor and had an MRI done, it turns out that I had a ruptured disc.  It was so bad, in fact, that he didn’t even give me a choice.  Surgery was necessary, and as soon as possible.  Afterwards, he told me that the rupture was so big (about the size of a thumb) that they named it.

Recovering from two surgeries in six months (I had two hernias fixed in December) and depression really took its toll on me.  I was lethargic, irritable, but most of all apathetic.  I just didn’t want to do much of anything.  I would drop the kids off at daycare (I was in no shape to care for them on my own), come home, and go back to sleep.  It was a pretty miserable existence.  On top of everything, I was only hurting my relationship with my wife, and possibly my kids, but I didn’t feel that I had any power to change.

Life didn’t follow my lead, but instead continued to change with me along for the ride.  Not all changes were bad.  I told my parents and my sister about my contact with my birth mother and my siblings.  It was a huge burden off of my back, and I think generally well received.  However now I think they are having a little trouble working through their feelings about it.  At least now I am in a place where I am more comfortable to talk about it and work through their fears.

Life wasn’t completely bleak either.  I attended my brother Adam’s wedding and had a great time.  Watching my kids growing and learning made me feel good.  Most of all, knowing that my wife was sticking by me in the most difficult part of our marriage got me through a lot of bad feelings.

Although I hadn’t hit rock bottom, I could see it from where I was standing.  My wife and I went to see my counselor.  He could tell that my mood had gone completely off the rails.  Rather than trying to work through it himself at that time, he referred me to the local behavioral health hospital.

My wife and I went there immediately.  I did a short assessment.  Rather than admitting me as an inpatient (I was neither suicidal nor homicidal) I was admitted to the “partial hospital program”–in effect I would be considered an inpatient, attending group sessions most of the day, but I was able to go home and spend the evenings with my family.  Since that time I have transitioned to the intensive outpatient program.  Basically the same, but I am limited to a certain number of hours per week that I am able to attend.

Perhaps one of the most valuable things that I got right away the first week of treatment was a diagnosis: Major Depressive Disorder.  Although it sounds worse than just “depression”, it has actually helped me.  It is not part of me anymore than a bad back was.  It is just an obstacle that I have to overcome.  Giving it a name rather than a nebulous concept gave me something to combat.

It’s a work in progress, but it is already bearing fruit.  I feel better.  My wife is happier.  I am happier.  There will be bumps in the road.  I know that I will be able to overcome them.

Next time–medications and stigmas.

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So, it’s been awhile…

Just wanted to share this, if you read my post The Elusive Quest.  Well, I was able to make headway on one of the two quests that I mentioned:

Now, it’s not quite the resolution that I wanted, but it is a start.  I had almost given up.  Truth be told, the previous two sentences describe my other quest as well.  That is a story for another day.  Welcome back readers, if you are still there.

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The Tragedy and Comedy of Spring

A couple of weeks ago our robin chicks hatched.  I was so excited.  Even though they were not very cute (actually they looked like miniature dragons), it was fun to watch their mama and pops feed them. 

I was also pleasantly surprised that Mama Robin didn’t give me to much grief when I would come outside.  That was until late last week.  Maybe I should have seen it as an omen, but when I came out that morning she was flying around furiously and pooping everywhere.  When I got home that evening I didn’t see any activity, and I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I parked the car in the garage and came back outside to investigate.  One of the adults (which I assume was the mom) was lying eviscerated on the driveway, no doubt falling prey to a wandering cat or dog.  As perhaps a tragically poetic symbol, I could clearly make out her heart lying outside of her body, whole but detached.  For my little friends, my heart was broken.  The other adult was nowhere to be seen, and still is AWOL. 

Still, I had hope.  If a dog can nurse rejected liger cubs, perhaps I would be able to take care of these babies.  Afterall, I did see two humans and a dog out of infancy.  I walked up to the nest and waved my hand over it.  The normal response to this would have been the chicks popping their heads up and opening their beaks as widely as possible.  Nothing.  I was too crestfallen to get the ladder out to make the final confirmation. 

Since that time there has been no activity, and I still haven’t looked.  I don’t know if they have been snatched or remain in the nest.  Soon enough I will take the nest down.  I’m not looking forward to it.

This put me in a foul (no pun intended, of course) mood for a few days.  The circumstances seemed so unfair for these fragile creatures.  Then one morning Lovely Wife, who gets up before I do, summoned me out of bed to share with me the excitement of some other visitors that we had in our yard:

Now, it is not uncommon to see deer in our town, as a river pretty much circles the city and most of the banks and surrounding areas have been reserved for park land.  But considering that we are a couple of miles from the nearest point of the river and completely out of the valley, it certainly came as a surprise.  In addition, they were pretty small and our back yard is surrounded by at least six feet of fencing or dense bushes on all sides.  But, they obviously jumped over to give us our first deer sighting on our property in the five years that we have lived here. 

Lovely wife said that one quickly jumped back over, while the other seemed to struggle.  She opened the gate and tried to chase it out (a little scary if you ask me–even for small guys I am sure these were very powerful animals) before it made the leap over as well.  All in all, I wish I could have seen it.  Somehow, I can’t shake the feeling that these two beautiful whitetails found their way into our yard to lift my spirits.

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Two quotes for me to ponder.

“I am not a mechanism”

“[E]veryone on [Mom’s] side of the family are writers, philosophers, and artists at heart.  Most all have eschewed that for a life/career that resulted in a regular paycheck.”

The first quote is from D. H. Lawrence.  The second is an excerpt of an email that I received from my brother while we were still getting to know each other (actually we are still engaged in that process).  One of the things that I am struggling with right now is that I have in fact eschewed those very things for a career that has resulted in a regular paycheck.  Along the way, I have neglected to feed that heart.  If you allow me to think metaphorically, I have been quite deliberately closing off access to the very thing that keeps me alive-my heart.

I always knew that I had a certain facility for writing and philosophy, even if they became more of a hobby, an outlet, than a vocation.  I didn’t think that I was an artist.  But in all three cases, I didn’t seek out any opportunities to hone and develop those innate skills.  Instead I went the technical route.  I started out studying engineering.  I switched majors believing that I couldn’t hack it as an engineer.  The truth was I didn’t want to.  So when I switched from the college of engineering to the college of arts and sciences (and later business school) I had 15 credits of math that I had forced myself through when I was only required by my new major to have 3.  I didn’t really care that I knew so much about math, but it make me feel a little bit like a wunderkind when the TA was always looking to me to help my Stat 101 class answer questions from a calculus based viewpoint. 

What I’ve learned though, is that whatever I have done since I have graduated, whether I have been a go-to guy or a cubicle gnome (or somewhere in between) has pretty much been complete drudgery.  I went to college to get an education.  What I got was two degrees that certify that I am an officially programmed mechanism.  Maybe a mechanism that can perform at a higher level or more efficiently than others, but a mechanism none-the-less. 

My brother may argue that he has eschewed the life of a writer, philosopher, and artist for a regular paycheck, but I think that his profession allows him a genuine connection with people.  To be that writer, philosopher, artist on a one-to-one basis, even if no one else recognizes it.

Meanwhile, I am still standing on the banks of the river, dipping my toes in, hedging my bet.  I need to cross the river, and toss away my paddle.  Then if people say “You’re crazy, come back over here where it is safe,” I can squint my eyes and declare that it is too late, I have already crossed the Rubicon.

I am a writer.  I am a philosopher.  Yes, I am even an artist.

I am not a mechanism.

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