Saturday, August 26, 2017

Tired Grace

I seriously don't have time to write this blog. I am so behind on everything, I feel pressure every waking minute to be productive. It has been one hell of a week, well two really. So in the Saturday night chaos that is my life I share with you a photo of my current dining room table.





The pink flamingo table cover is left over from a birthday party three weeks ago that wasn't supposed to even happen in our house. It was supposed to happen at the pool but it was 68 degrees so we threw together an at home beach bash in 12 hours. The cards in the background are screaming at me that the thank you cards from said birthday should have gone out a week ago.

I digress, my open computer and books are all about finishing up tomorrow's sermon which has been pushed to the back burner all week while I was taking care of things like the church wifi, visits, printers etc. There was also an eclipse and the first day of school this week. It has been chaos. The various stacks of books are for different projects I am working on. Researching the reformation for a sermon series, journals, writing projects, books for bulletin prep, some work on a project to further my professional life, work for two organizations I volunteer with (and love) that are getting into the swing of things for the Fall, and that pager for my "side hustle".  I am carrying that thing all weekend because I missed last weekend when I was home for a funeral. It turns out fertility treatment is expensive and that side hustle is helping me pay off some bills. My calendar full to the brim for the next two weeks. Head phones to block out the sounds of all that is happening around me. Bills with newsletter notes on them.

All of this is on my dining room table because somewhere in the shuffle my desk disappeared and I didn't have time to both work and clean today. Let's take a minute to talk about how far behind I am on housework, on Friday I had to rewash the load I started on Monday, there is enough dust in here to declare us a bio hazard, I have some big organizing projects I intended to slowly work on and I am two weeks behind on my schedule that seemed like a good idea at the time. I guess I will move them further into the Fall.

Y'all I am so overwhelmed by all this. I was sitting here angry as all get out at myself that it is Saturday and I spent most of the day on my computer catching up on all the behind work for my full time gig. I wanted to clean up around here and hang out with my family. This is super important right now because my kiddo's biggest concern about back to school was not getting enough family time. It is festival week where we live and I only went down there with her twice. She and Paul have been going with out me to enjoy things while I catch up. Later I know I will hear about this. I will try to explain mommy has to work so we have a place to live while fighting off tears. Most of this stress is because I gave up a week to travel for a death in the family, it was time well spent. When you are the pastor and the only staff person, no one covers any of your work when you are gone, so I am doing two weeks worth of work in one week. Honestly, I had a few hours set aside yesterday afternoon to do some of this work, I dragged it all outside on a nice afternoon (on my day off). As soon as my backside hit the seat, I was interrupted by a conversation that proved to be nothing but hurtful. I should have known better.

My hormones went haywire this week too which has made me achy and tired. It is really hard to have stamina when this happens. Chances are I may have lost another pregnancy in the last two weeks but I'll never know for sure. Last week was emotional with being home with my family who I miss so much, steeped in grief, and seeing a few friends. To hug the people you love after years time is beautiful and happy and sad all at once. To stand with your siblings as they lay to rest their sibling from their dad's side of the family is tremendously heart breaking. I have all sorts of big feelings going on.

Then I learned my Uncle Doc was in hospice care and he died later that day. Having just gotten back from home, I can't turn around and do the trip again. This grief is a new kind of grief. My Uncle Doc was actually not my Uncle, he isn't even related to me, and his name isn't Doc. He was my dad's best friend and my "godfather". My dad didn't call a single person by their real name, and hence Doc. Uncle Doc worked hard these last 18 years to keep my dad alive in spirit. He kept in touch with me sporadically. I visited him when I was in the area. Mostly he would tell me stories about my dad that made him real for me. I don't have too many of my own. In some ways it stirs that grief up all over again because who will tell me the stories now? At our wedding, my Uncle Doc stood in for my dad in the father daughter dance. He must have asked me a thousand times what the name of that song was. Holes in the Floor of Heaven just in case you want to know. It is a lot to process.

The week has held, stress, grief, hormones, the first day of school, the local festival, two jobs, three pets, a kid, a house, a husband, and all that other stuff listed above. (I haven't even mentioned the news cycles and the state of the world). As I sat here at my dining room table mad at myself for not having gotten some of this work done earlier in the week so I could enjoy the day... I started reflecting on all that has happened this week. All the balls I did not drop. How tired I am. The thought occurred to me, well of course I am tired! That is where we get to the point of this whole blog, if I were talking to a friend or congregation member and they had a week or two like this I would tell them they were nuts for even trying to do half of it. I would tell them have grace, the mess will still be there. I really suck at having grace for myself. Maybe just this one time, I can allow myself a little grace. It has been a rough week.

This week I am grateful for my tired grace and knowing this is all only temporary.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Numb.

I have way more to accomplish in the next two days than I have time for, so of course the urge to write has over come me. Let's start with a quick catch up... last you heard I was struggling through my body's response to the chemo shots I had. Ten days after that shot I was still struggling and facing the daunting possibility of a second round of shots. While my numbers were dropping they were not zeroing out. I asked how much longer? It could take up to 12 weeks. Then I asked when am I in the clear? Not until you hit zero. What about my trip in two weeks? We can't advise travel until you hit zero because you could rupture. At that point I was seven weeks in to this fiasco, nine if you go by cycle and looking at potentially 8-12 more... that is third trimester long. I had enough, I was in constant dull pain. I took more prescription pain meds in the 10 days after Methotrexate than I did after my neck fracture and c-section combined! I yelled and I cried my life had been taken over completely by the cells that could have been a baby growing inside me. Then I called and said can I just have the surgery now? They said yes and the next morning I went in and had my tube along with the growth removed. I didn't care if I only had one at that point I needed the fastest track to zero. Almost 9 days post op and I am not to zero yet but very close, with nothing to rupture. My mom stayed with us through all of this, which made it easier to bear. Post op I was in less pain than I was before. My only complaint is I am not up to speed energy wise.

I have been struck this week by how numb I feel. I fluctuate somewhere between soon this will actually all be over and what the hell just happened? The past 8 weeks of my life have revolved around this. It is like I am coming up for air and keep getting hit in the face with waves. There are huge chunks of time I can't remember. The thing I try to remember in grief is that the world doesn't stop spinning, yet this round of grief... my world did stop spinning. Through this crazy time I haven't had much time to do more than survive. An emotional freight train is going to hit at any moment. I am trying to figure out what I lost... did I lose a child? a potential child? some cells that multiplied wrong? Last year I spent time learning how to live out side of survival mode and now I am right back there. I m trying to catch up in a world that has spun with out me for two months.

My hope is this afternoon I will get the all clear to travel and next week I can take a long planned trip for renewal. Then maybe come back feeling reset. I am so over whelmed by all that has to happen in the next several weeks. Things normally I have planned for but haven't been able to. Mostly, I just want my life back, like it was before.

Today I a grateful for small steps toward normal.

Friday, April 21, 2017

24 Hours of Ectopic Pregnancy

After a week of miscarrying my mysterious pregnancy that never really showed up and mourning the loss multiple times, first as a chemical pregnancy, then as nonviable, and lots of questions and waiting and no answers. I went for what should have been my last blood work for a while, I was praying it would show declining numbers, I was (am) exhausted, as I approach week 8 of pregnant but not really.

I was due to be away on study leave this week but my trip was canceled because of my impending miscarriage, turned miscarriage. I was totally bummed to be staying in town rather than going out of town this week. Wednesday was a hard day after more emotional atom bombs from other parts of life dropped on Tuesday, Monday the pain was so bad I cried, which never happens. Wednesday I pretty much just slept the whole day, my body and spirit were exhausted. I was hell bent on pulling myself out of it.

Thursday I had plans in the city where I see the Reproductive Endocrinologist. First I would swing past for some blood work, then I was to have lunch with some new friends who get the whole infertility shit show roller coaster. During lunch I missed a call from the doctor's office. My plan was lunch at Panera, a leisurely stroll through Target, and if time allowed a few stops at craft stores before heading back to pick up my  kiddo. I walked out to my car and called the fertility people back. The receptionist tells me I have to come back right now for an ultrasound but she can't tell me why. A nurse will call me back, I have an appointment in an hour. Well, I can at least mad dash through Target and get what I need. As I pull up to Target the nurse calls me back and unable to inhibit my reaction to her telling me my numbers have more than doubled, I yell what the hell! Do you ever see this? Yes we are concerned about ectopic. I have had so many ultrasounds at this point that I am like here we go again, you have been looking every week and there is nothing, no explanation. At this point I just want this to be over. I run in Target and start shaking. This isn't the first bad news I got about this pregnancy while at Target, I was by the bike helmets when I heard chemical pregnancy (which honestly at this point would have been easier in the sense that it would be over now).

I head over to the office, they get me right in. At the end of the ultrasound I see them write "?Mass" near my right ovary. GREAT! Just great. I can see it, a blob, no clear structure. I also can see my endometrial lining has thinned down to 10mm from 31mm which makes me happy because I know when I see that the bleeding is almost over.

I get shuffled to the next room and wait. Mind you I am alone because none of this was scheduled and Paul is working almost two hours away. I have scrambled to get my kid picked up from school. The nurse practitioner comes in and starts asking me questions and then blurts out, you have an ectopic. Then head starts spinning and I hear Doctor is coming in, surgery today... when did you eat last... what have you taken today... blood clot disorders...

As I wait for the doctor to come examine me, I am frantically texting people because it seems like I am headed to surgery in the next hour. I have never been under general anesthesia and they ask me a ton of scary questions about it. I remember how adorable my daughter was walking into school that morning and how much I wanted to hug her. And that tomorrow is her "birthday" at school because she is a summer baby and I need to get home and make the brownies and buy the little water bottles she wanted to share with her class. I start thinking about everything that can go wrong and start to cry by myself in the exam room, my contact falls out and that makes it worse because now I am all like I don't have extras with me or glasses. I can't see. I get it back in which helps me stop crying and I decide I should probably stop watching so much Gray's Anatomy.

After many exams and getting to put my clothes back on the doctor whom I just met comes in. (I get another hug, this is how you know your life is going to shit when everyone in the office is giving you hugs and suddenly has way more empathy than clinical explanations.) There is finally an explanation, there is an ectopic that can finally be seen right at the opening of my tube on the right side. FINALLY AN EXPLANATION!

I have two options, because of the size of the growth of "pregnancy tissue" I can have surgery tonight, with a one week recovery period, go home tomorrow. No really I need to make those brownies, there is too much to get done for a night in the hospital. This will mean likely losing the tube which limits future attempts at pregnancy. Then there is a post op waiting period. My other option is a large injection of Methotrexate a chemo therapy drug that will stop the growth of the tissue eventually dissolving it entirely. This disrupts the DNA and also means a long wait before we can try again. I won't be pregnant for real, before the end of the summer. I ask about side effects: mild abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness. Oh ok so about the same as I already feel. I am told the injections will hurt pretty bad because they go into the muscle. They apologize that I will need one more round of blood work and they have to stick me again. I want to say lady I am a professional pin cushion lately and it really doesn't hurt. The downside of all this is that it could fail, I could need surgery anyway, I could need a second injection.

I literally say well with all five minutes of information and time I have had, I think I will go with the injections. They will cost less and get me home tonight. Can I drive myself home? Yes.

I have to go to the hospital to the infusion center. My two nurses are both male and I swear half my age. My hero gives me a cup of water, my mouth is so dry I am afraid to talk to people. They prep me for these terrible injections. Do you know the worst part of these injections? The waiting an hour for them and the fact that I had to get them in my hips all bare ass. I got two injections at the same time one in each hip, from each male nurse, while standing bare ass and trying not to bleed miscarriage blood everywhere. You know what... they really didn't hurt. It stung and it stung for awhile afterward but honestly it wasn't nearly as bad as described. I also think my not being a hysterical mess was confusing to them, I tried to explain I knew I wasn't having an actual baby a month ago. I wait ten minutes an I am allowed to go home.

4:45pm I have the injections.
6:30pm I arrive home relieve the sitter and try to figure out what needs to happen tonight.
7:00pm Update family
8:45 pm There are demons in my intestines at first it feels like really bad gas. Ok No big deal they said my stomach might get upset.
8:50pm Sweet Jesus I need to the toilet now. I feel the urge to push like I am giving birth.
9:00pm OK let me get these essential things done
9:05pm Toilet!
9:10pm Send an email.
9:15pm HOLY HOPPING SNOT I need to take a shower to ease these intestinal cramps up. I feel as if someone is grabbing my intestines and twisting them. I also start getting the chills.
9:20pm Shower brings no relief, I sit on the toilet shivering wrapped in a towel. I am pretty sure I pooped out what I will eat next Tuesday at that point. (I lost five pounds last night.)
9:30pm First call to on call nurse. Hey my intestines hurt this doesn't seem "mild". And no one mentioned the chills. And my back hurts on the right side. I am supposed to report any pain on the right side. All normal take such and such.
10:00pm cramps stop, chills stop. I get comfortable for a few minutes.
10:15pm On the couch crying my back hurts so bad, exhaustion is a factor. I still haven't made the dam brownies. I am trying to walk Paul through what has to happen before morning. He makes the brownies.
10:30pm I SHOULD HAVE HAD THE DAM SURGERY. Someone is stabbing me in the back. I might pass out.
11pm next call to on call nurse. I can take more pain meds. They don't touch it. Apparently I was feeling the medicine/poison attack the growth of cells. Something I was told I would feel in 2-3 days as mild discomfort. HA! I felt my pregnancy die last night...
Counting the minutes until 3am when I can take a double dose of pain meds.
2:50am I fall asleep ten minutes before med time.
7 am I wake up with no pain.

8am follow up call from nurse. If pain starts again I have to go right to the ER.

All day today I have felt like I was hit by a semi. Queasy, tired, and so forth. I slept most of the day, Paul lost another day of work because we didn't know what would happen. I went for a ride with him this afternoon to pick our kiddo up. Every bump I felt every part of my insides. I feel like it's all bruised. This is miserable. The surgery may have actually been easier.

I have taken more pain medication in the past week than after my c-section and broken neck combined. I feel like I have a high pain tolerance typically. I don't know if this has been insanely physically painful or if the exhaustion and emotions and hormones have made it worse. It has none the less sucked a lot. There is a long road ahead, I will be closely monitored for the next several weeks and hopefully not need more injections.

If you have had to have Chemo more than once... for an ongoing treatment plan... you are my hero because one night of this was hell!

Today I am grateful for people who pick up my kid with a moments notice. For Paul who has been amazing while I have been down and out. And while it hurts, my daughter being comfortable enough to say, I am glad grandma is coming because we will have an even number of people and I can get some attention because really mom you have been getting it all lately.





Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pregnant but Not Having a Baby (A Ring of Hell)

I am so exhausted. I want to tell you about the past several weeks.

As you may have read a few weeks ago, I learned I was pregnant but it was a chemical pregnancy and I would soon lose the pregnancy. Only that never happened. It's been almost three weeks and all I have had is some spotting. Over these weeks I have had several blood tests that all show my HCG levels rising (although still on the low side of average). This last round showed that they were not increasing quite as fast as they should at this point. After the first two surprise rounds of "good" results from HCG blood work, we had to consider a new option I ovulated late and everything is just off by a few days to a week. While this was a nice option and helped keep me sane for days on end, it doesn't seem like this is what is happening. There have been over these weeks several periods of waiting days for the next test, result, or action. Every test has led to more waiting and few answers. I should have lost the pregnancy 3 weeks ago, shortly after it started. We have been on this roller coaster of mourning the loss of this pregnancy all this time. Our two week wait has turned into five weeks of waiting. Eating and sleeping are hard to do.

Last Tuesday I had an ultrasound that was still in the gray area timing wise and it showed thickened lining but nothing else. It may have been to early to see anything, so I was scheduled to come back on Thursday of this week to try again. Initially my spotting slowed down after this and I had to find a way to stay sane for nearly ten more days. I was making it through one long day at a time, all the while feeling both premenstrual and pregnant. Yesterday morning I woke up to cramping and light bleeding. This was met with an urgent ultrasound that still showed exactly nothing. What I am told is happening now, is that there is trophoblastic (spelling?) tissue growing but not an embryo. There isn't much talk of having ovulated later. There is really nothing positive happening. Essentially it is Holy Week (for my non-church types read: the busiest most stressful week of my entire year) and my insides are falling apart. At this point I am waiting for my body to miscarry. My doctors are eager to help this process along with medicine that sounds like it's straight out of a horror movie. I am not as eager. First off, see above, it's Holy Week, I don't have time to slow down or for pain killers. I simply cannot preach all hepped up (or down) on pain killers. Next week I was scheduled to travel for study leave, this has now changed and I plan to take it as "vacation" to deal with all the fall out from this.

I am hoping my body will in the meantime take care of it on it's own. However my body in all it's infinite assholery doesn't like to do what it should when it comes to this sort of thing. I was seeing a therapist about six months ago that wouldn't let up on how I need to love my body and how amazing it was. I quit seeing said therapist and this is why, if I heard that this week I might end up in prison. I have been betrayed by my body, AGAIN. Maybe one day I can think about that but not during this process. I am giving it what it needs, shrinking it, and still it insists on doing this weird ass shit! I am growing freaking like a quarter of a placenta and no embryo... I am not even losing a baby, I am losing a placenta. Dream of a baby sure.

I might mention hormones are in full swing. I cried last night and couldn't stop not because of no viability but because I STILL DON'T HAVE ANSWERS OR A RESOLUTION!

What happens next: We are not proceeding with any more treatment at this time. We have been through a lot in our 20 years together but this is by far one of the worst experiences of our combined lives. Should we decide to go forward again, we won't be telling anyone we have. It has been exhausting to talk about this constantly the past several weeks as we rode the viable not viable roller coaster. Every set back or step forward we had to inform all sorts of people. I even had to tell my board at work because it has been such a twisted process and he had to tell his boss. I don't even want to tell this story, not because it sucks but because it is unbelievable.

Today I am grateful for my constant partner in all this shittiness.



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Anger

A lot of very dear people have taken to asking me how I am doing, aside from another couple of days of riding this roller coaster, I am angry. I am so angry that if I didn't have self control I could easily make Swiss cheese of our walls.

First let me catch you up on what has happened since I last wrote. I was expecting to get a negative pregnancy test followed by a late period, that is what happens in a chemical pregnancy. From everything I was told and everything I read this typically happens after a faint positive. I tested everyday from Thursday to Monday, every day the result got darker and faster. Today I received test results that said my hCG levels were rising at the proper rate but were still too low. Yesterday I was told that I could have just ovulated a bit late, something I wish I had heard on Saturday. I heard this again today. After not testing this morning and feeling quite premenstrual I tested this afternoon: got a nearly negative. I am to keep having blood work every two days until I get a period. I have gone from grieving and angry to having .01% hope. I have taken the scientific approach of this happens because of chromosomal abnormalities so even though I am disappointed I get the science of it. I have seen the slightly bright side of at least I was able to get pregnant, which means I can get pregnant and I was pretty sure that was never going to happen. Most of all I just want off this roller coaster for a few days. For the past several days I have been kind of pregnant, well I really was pregnant but it wasn't viable. I am a bit impatient with my body right now which is nothing new. My body and haven't been on the best terms in ages. Which I should mention I am still very in tune with it, even though I am certainly angry with it.

It is really hard to not be angry right now. I hear people complain about their kids and I want to slap them. I see a woman around town who is expecting and smoking and I want to scream at her. People panic at an unexpected pregnancy and I wonder how it is even possible to get pregnant with out meaning to. Mostly, I am angry about the injustice of it all, now I know it is mostly a personal injustice and in the grand scheme of things it is merely a blip on the radar in our world.

I know they say that anger covers up other emotions, its not that I don't have those, I am disappointed, sad, exhausted (physically & emotionally). I feel terrible for even saying I just want this over with but I do, if I can't carry this pregnancy I want to get on with it. I have debated if I would do another cycle because I am so very tired. I have gotten so close this time, so freaking close, I saw several little plus signs and that has only happened one time before. I need to try again, I can't help it, I go after what I want with all I have. The catch, everything will be timed from when I start to bleed. This has delayed when I should have started which means it delays everything, which means skipping cycles because of travel obligations. SO ANGRY! SO FRUSTRATING!

I don't know if I have ever been this angry before for this long. I struggle with trying to be positive. From the start of this I haven't felt super positive. I think if we pay attention our bodies tell us everything we need.

My whole body aches as it prepares for what is to come, maybe not the whole thing but everything between my belly button and knees. It has since the middle of last week when I asked the doctor's office if this is normal. I never got an answer but I figure the answer is no, it is not normal.

As you can see I am angry and I am all over the place. The waiting, the hoping, the disappointment, are overwhelming and exhausting.

Today I am grateful that I made it through our mother daughter event this weekend before all this started and that we have a fun weekend ahead. I pray I make it to the weekend with my sanity intact.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Waiting & Shadows

If you have struggled with fertility or pregnancy loss I want to tell you this might be a hard read for you and if you aren't in the emotional space to read this it is OK.


On March 10 I had my first IUI attempt. It was a fiasco because of a funeral and timing, I had to give myself a trigger shot at 3:30 am. I don't deal well with seeing things under the skin, especially at 3 in the morning. After that the waiting starts. First you wait for a blood test to see if your progesterone levels are ok, they were. Then you wait two weeks to take a home pregnancy test. This isn't my first rodeo with the two week wait, I have six months of medicated cycles under my belt. It seems like all you do with fertility treatments is wait. In the meantime, last Saturday 8 days post IUI, I started cramping and thought game over my next cycle is starting. Then Sunday I was fine, then Monday cramping and stomach issues. Then the cramping continued all week. It could be just a normal part of implantation, it could be a cycle starting. You know I googled, implantation cramping, post IUI complications, ectopic pregnancy, chemical pregnancy. By Wednesday I was so uncomfortable I asked the doctor's office if this is normal, they said just wait it out until Friday.

Thursday morning I still felt awful but tested a day early, much to my surprise there was a shadow of a line. I thought I was seeing things so I had Paul confirm it by asking him what he saw and not mentioning what I thought I saw. He saw it too and shared the strange look on his face. What we didn't know was if this was early pregnancy or remnants of my trigger shot which is the pregnancy hormone. I was also using a super inexpensive test because I had to test mid cycle last round because of the medication I needed to take and I knew I wasn't pregnant then. So Thursday night I tested again and there was a shadowy but sure positive.

At this point I was all sorts of frustrated, I told Paul I would be birthing a shadow in December. So we stocked up on tests to see what the heck would happen next. Friday morning I test again, as directed I get a faint positive. I call the office and get all the congratulations and orders for a blood test. I was really eager to get the blood test results because I wasn't confident in my shadow lines, even the one I didn't have to squint to see. What is a clear positive for other people is am I hallucinating for me. We have been at this for seven years, it gives you a certain jadedness about the whole thing.

I had the blood work done and didn't hear back yesterday. I went to an overnight with my daughter and was checking my email every so often because I knew I would get an email when the results hit my chart. It didn't come until almost midnight but I was asleep. I saw it at 5am, not my HCG level but my progesterone level. It was too low, I knew that instantly. I didn't have the HCG level and that would make all the difference, progesterone can be supplemented, HCG not so much. At five am I lay on a church gym floor surrounded by girl scouts praying that maybe the baby if there was one that it would stick.

At 8am I got a call from the doctor's office and I could tell it wasn't good news. My HCG level is also low, the pregnancy isn't viable. I am pregnant but it is a chemical pregnancy. It is a super early miscarriage, very common and usually undetected. I knew this already because I suspect I have had a few of these over the years, although I never tested to confirm. The cause is unknown, suspicion is that after fertilization and implantation there is a chromosomal abnormality that causes the early miscarriage. I wasn't surprised by this call I wasn't sure all along what all this meant and I suspected something was off.

Here is the kicker, I should start a cycle soon, or get a negative pregnancy test. I tested today because my positive should turn to a negative and then the next round starts. I got a clear and firm positive today when expecting a negative.

I am pregnant, it isn't viable, so I am waiting for my body to start the process of ending the pregnancy. This kind of waiting is it's own special hell. Grief and hormones are a special mixture of I don't even know what to call this. All I can tell you is I am exhausted and disappointed and sad. I wish I had the kind of job where I could call in sick. Chances are I will be preaching through my loss in the morning which is an added level of suck.

Today I am grateful for the people walking the path with me. For insurance that let me explore this option. For the people who at some point fought to have our denomination cover these sorts of procedures.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Marching!

It has been over a month since I joined the local women's march. I have wanted to write about it that whole time but I have been taking time to process it. That day meant a lot to me and I continue to show up in all the ways I can. Even though the responses I have received from elected officials have been absolutely condescending, I won't give up, it's not my style.

Now before I get into the march itself or the why I marched stuff or even my reflection on the day and all that has happened since, I need to tell you a story. It is the story of my own journey with feminism. Now the word feminism itself has become polarizing people scoff at it. We all define it differently. I have always been a feminist, I didn't always know it, I thought for my early years I just believed in what was right, women being equal to men in status as part of humanity. When I was working through my Women in Religion course in my undergraduate studies I had to write journals. One day I pondered if I was even a feminist because I was being introduced to an angrier feminism than I had previously known and I wasn't angry. My very feminist professor wrote back, "If you aren't feminist neither am I." I did not often think about feminism in my everyday life. Then I went to seminary, now I went to a seminary where women are welcomed fully so I was offered much protection from the idea that women cannot be pastors. There is a very common idea in Christianity that women are not capable of proclaiming the Word. Seminary offered it's challenges to me in the area of feminism, again I didn't feel angry enough, I didn't feel liberal enough. I did a lot of listening, trying to understand. It would take awhile before I ever felt angry about how I was treated as a woman.

Born and raised on the East coast, I now live in the middle of the country. I have been a student of religion for over ten years, I love to study religion of all sorts. I am also an ordained clergy woman. I want to share with you some of the steps it took for me to be ordained. I was required to complete a Master of Divinity degree, to even apply for this degree I had to complete my undergraduate studies with a certain level of academic achievement. That is four years of education before I could even apply. This particular degree requires 90 credits of coursework plus internships, your average Master's Degree is 30-45 credits, sometimes 60. I completed a second Master's Degree in tandem with the M.Div for a total of 105 credits of course work, 3 internships, and 2 senior projects. I did this all while raising a toddler/preschooler. It was never for a moment easy. Then there were the denominational requirements: a full psychological evaluation, countless forms, essays, interviews, five Ordination Exams, preaching critiques, questioning on the floor of meetings for our governing bodies. I didn't just wake up and decide to be a pastor, it took intentional commitment, hard work, and the support of countless people. Two years ago with tears of joy, I gathered with a lot of my family and friends to celebrate my ordination to ordered ministry. It was shortly after my ordination that my family and I moved to the middle.

I was about two months into my position at the church when I went downtown with my family to buy some fabric. I wanted to make curtains for the house we moved into. I rolled my cart up to the the cutting table, an employee began to cut my fabric, and a customer engaged me in conversation. "What are you making?"
"Curtians."
"Did you just move here?"
"Yes."
"Oh you must be a teacher!"
"Not exactly, I am a pastor." I have since learned saying, you could say that is a much better response.People think as a professionally dressed woman I am a teacher all the time.
"Oh well I go to a church that preaches the bible so women cannot be pastors."
"What church is that?"
She answers about the denomination, the membership, etc. I ignore her baffled and hateful comments toward me and my profession with grace. The employee gets super uncomfortable and offers to take me to coffee. My husband is standing there with veins bulging in his head and neck. If you know him, you know this is not something that happens often. Thank God, my kid is blissfully unaware.

I happen to know the denomination which she practices does not require near the amount of study or testing that mine does to become clergy. That doesn't bother me in my everyday life, it only bothers me in situations like this when people condescendingly tell me I can't do what I do because I possess ovaries and breasts. This was the first time I experienced this and it was the day I started to become angry at how I was treated as a woman. I wish I could tell you this is an isolated incident, it was not. It happens all the time, there are male clergy where I live that cannot make eye contact with me. I carry the insurance for our family, I regularly get asked for my husbands ID number in medical practices. I have to explain, no no no, I am the member and HE is the dependent. I should mention this happens in the wider community, for the most part the congregation in which I serve offers me respect as a human being. The message the culture I am surrounded by sends me is regularly, my work doesn't count, my education means nothing, my passing exams and such have no meaning. Not because I am doing a terrible job as a professional but because as a woman I am not qualified to teach the word of God. I could easily as a woman be allowed to do the other aspects of my job, like the administrative stuff, the pastoral care, it's just that pesky preaching thing that is the problem.

After these incidents I have little tolerance for anything less than full inclusion of women in all areas of life. I also happen to believe in the full inclusion of all human beings in all areas of life. This last election season made it quite evident that there was a large part of humanity that would no longer enjoy all the same rights as me. As a clergy woman it is my job to advocate for the "least of these" who ever they may be. As a follower of Jesus, I have to take very seriously his commands to love both neighbor and enemy. To care for the stranger among us. Basically I am called to love people. Loving people gets messy, especially when I am called to love the lady in the fabric store. My reality is that my theology keeps me in check, I can simultaneously want to slap a person (I wouldn't) and hear the echo of "love them".

My political leanings are pretty "left" because of how I interpret what it means to love. Many people like to tell me I am moderate, I am not moderate, I am pretty far left but I try not to be hateful in how I present my ideas. I think that tells us something about our current political atmosphere, I can present hard left ideas calmly and people thing I am not far left. The same is true on the right. I do not have the luxury of surrounding myself with only people who agree with me. My current geographic location puts me in the minority and I serve in a congregation, that means I serve people of all sorts of political and theological beliefs. I cannot ethically show preference among them.

That all said, I watched the election results as a nightmare unfolded. I never believed for a moment if 45 was elected as he was, that he wouldn't act on his words. I never believed he was all talk nor do I believe he cares about my neighbors. The problems are many but I cannot tolerate hate filled statements. The rights of immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ, disabled people, and women are all important to me, because they are human rights. I am still a month later scared for the rights of my sisters and brothers who are different from me. I haven't been given reason to think so otherwise, just this week protections for transgender students were rolled back. People fighting for clean water are losing. The environment aka God's creation is losing. While none of these have an immediate direct impact on my life, I am determined to raise my voice until I can no longer raise my voice for those who are affected.

I wrote this right after I marched.
 I was invited to the Women's March on DC the morning after the election and seriously considered going but travel from where I live to anywhere is SO expensive. There is also the constant threat of winter storms delaying or stopping travel all together. This week I felt so distraught, like I needed to do something, so I started searching for a sister march close by. It turns out there was one just an hour away. I began to consider on Wednesday if I would go, by Friday I had invited two more to come with me and made a sign. I was going to my first march. I didn't take the decision to go lightly or the decision to wear my clerical collar lightly. While I don't have a party affiliation I do have a leaning and it leans the opposite direction from the majority of the congregation I lead. Choosing to march could have consequences professionally, even if I am allowed to abide my conscious. Choosing not to march would have had personal consequences, could I live with myself, could I answer to my daughter when she is grown? Nope.

Back to the present.
I have since read many critiques of the march some of which I needed to hear even when they made me uncomfortable. I should be clear, even though if you know me, I think you know this, my marching wasn't an endorsement of every speaker that was televised at every march. Heck, I probably would have disagreed with some of the people I marched with. I have struggled with all this since the march and the idea of unity. I have never felt more unified in my life than I did the day of the march, especially when I returned home to see people all over the world marching. I cried because for the first time in months, I didn't feel alone. While there was certainly some ways in which unity was limited, I cannot help but think millions, millions of people around the world is anything short of unity. I understand that there was some exclusion around pro-life marchers on the national scale. My understanding is that locally both "sides" were there but I can't be sure of who all was there. I can tell you that I marched with many women I would never see in my church life. Women who have been hurt by Christianity and the church. Women who have never met a clergy person like me, willing to love all of who they are, and not forcing them to conform to my own "moral" standards. The thing about human unity is it won't ever be perfect, because we are human: broken, hurting, imperfect. The unity of march day was not perfect but it was a step closer to finding unity, it was a glimpse of kin-dom living for just a moment.

I have hope after that day because I didn't just see women. I saw men, wearing babies. I saw families. I saw grandparents. I saw life long activists. I saw new activists like me. I saw Native Americans. I saw diversity. I saw love. My only regret from the day is not bringing my own daughter. Sadly, I think she is going to need to know how to do this. I didn't bring her because it was my first march and I didn't know how it would go. I didn't know if it would get violent or out of hand. It didn't. We even had police that stopped to help us cross a busy intersection, the same crowd that chanted many march slogans, including black lives matter, applauded that unscheduled police traffic help. We can assert any of these rally cries and still respect other human beings, I know this because I watched it happen. (If at this point you are wanting to counter with yeah but... you weren't violent, you didn't riot, etc I encourage you to instead contact me privately and ask me about my time with the Children's Defense Fund at the Haley Farm.)

The one question I am left with is why did it take me so long to march? There have been plenty of times before I could have marched for a variety of causes I hold dear, but I never did. I think a lot has changed, I am not scared anymore, it isn't new any more. In the future, I will march again, I am hoping to find a local science march. I won't be silent.

I am grateful for the privilege of being able to march on a Saturday morning, to raise my voice, and call for more love.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Meltdown in the Card Aisle

Valentine's Day and I have a torrid history. Like many a young girl, there was a time when I dreamed of prince charming swooping in with a heart shaped, cellophane wrapped box of cheap chocolate and over priced roses. That was a long time ago before the smell of roses reminded me only of funerals, since necrophilia isn't my thing, roses aren't romance in our house. I would take a few chocolate covered strawberries or caramels over a box of chocolate any day. There was a time when I thought Valentine's Day was full of romance and the stuff dreams were made of. That time is long past, while my house is currently covered in hearts, I am like the Grinch of the day. Honestly the hearts are for my kid and this year to maybe a little to remind me of the love that is in the world despite politically terrible times. Why should I be obligated to show my love in the form of sugar and greeting cards on February 14th every year? Isn't just my regular old love expressed through a thousand tiny gestures enough?

Let me tell you a story about Valentine's Day 1997. My mom had started seeing someone who was still very much pulling out the stops. He took our entire family out to dinner at a local tavern. My mom, me, my brothers, my niece, my sister in law. We were enjoying a boisterous dinner (the only kind my family of origin knows) when I started to feel really sick, like oh crap I am not making through dinner sick. My sister in law drove me home and rejoined the family. I changed into terry cloth mismatched sweats that were so ill fitting I could fit another person in them. I had a huge white scrunchy holding my hair abnormally high on my head, I hugged the toilet for awhile. Then the door bell rang, it was my now husband and his then best friend. In one of the more romantic gestures of our life together, he decided to ask me to prom on Valentine's Day. When I answered the door in my amazing outfit and sloppy hair, I did not expect to see my friends, let alone the one I "kinda sorta maybe liked". The invited themselves in, my outfit did not deter them. We started talking about answering machines and their prerecorded voices. Mid sentence Paul blurted out, "Would you go to prom with me?" I said, "Sure." and we went back to answering machines. My plans to go to bed were canceled because I had to wait up to tell the family I was going to prom. I think my mom was more excited than I was that I was going. And so began our life together, in between boughts of Valentine's Day vomiting I was asked to the prom. It was probably one of the most romantic Valentine's Days of my life.

Fast forward 20 years later, we are married with one kiddo, we have been through hell together. I find myself the week before Valentine's Day in the card aisle looking for a card that says husband. I am feeling lazy and frivolous. Cards are pricey but I work full time now, so I can buy one. I don't feel like making one. Husband you have the perfect butt... that won't work Paul's back just splits in half where his butt should be (don't worry I can say that, he can tell you about my "front butt"). Wild thing you drive me crazy... do you know what kind of sex we have? Baby making on a schedule sex. It is work, it is not sexy or fun or wild. Stereotypical gender role humor... funny yes but still not us. In case you missed it in one of the other hundred blogs, I am female clergy... so there goes that. I desperately looked for a blank one... nothing. Finally, I found one that didn't say husband, but had sentiments I at least felt were real, true. I nearly cried for a moment in the card aisle, I texted a friend my disgust. There are no cards that fit our marriage, we are failing. We aren't failing, really. Culture was just winning at that moment. I went on ranting about how stupid this whole thing is. I bought a card so I didn't have to write my own sentiment this year. Then I signed the card tonight and here I sit with a glass of wine, typing a much longer sentiment, one that is real.

There is no card that says, thank you for moving to Kentucky and then South Dakota with me because I heard Jesus call me to these places. Particularly South Dakota where we live in isolation like we have never known. Where the culture is programed to more often than not reject us. The winters are long. The political landscape makes our liberal Jesus freak selves rarities. Our families are thousands of miles away. There is no card that says, thank you for loving my difficult self through this infertility stuff. For putting up with sex that is more like making a bank deposit. And the depression. Or how exciting and sad it is that we will spend V-day getting a full work up at the reproductive endocrinologist. There is no card that allows me to say things like "Are you in so much pain you are going to barf, because you lose your mind when you barf, and we can't have you barfing on the table in public?" On that note, my eternal gratitude for your dealing with kid barf bears mentioning.

Our life is not romantic by the world's standards. Sometimes I let the world's standards speak too loudly. Sometimes, I wish I had the kind of life where roses and candy in heart shaped boxes would make me gleeful. This simply isn't our life and it never has been. So I was feeling pretty down about all this, about our love being too real for romance. I didn't mention all this but today I was chatting with my mentor who brought up a great podcast he listened to about love. (On Being, go check out this week's it is fantastic.) I listened to it this afternoon and for the first time in a long while I felt validated in the kind of love we have and encouraged to keep on doing the work of love. I realized that the only reason we have been able to love like this for so long in a world that tells us love is anything else, is because that same mentor has been whispering to me for years about what love really is, the work, the heart break, the loneliness. I don't think we would have lasted this long with out that steady reminder.

My husband asked me to his senior prom while I was sick as dog and looked like hell. It set the stage for our romantic life. Two years later, after ten years of illness my dad was dying. He was in a lot of pain, it was horrifying but I had seen this before. Paul hadn't and he sat in that hospital room and quietly turned green. My mom noticed and sent him home. I don't know that we have ever had a candle light dinner, but he turned green for me and a week later he would be sent to tell me my dad was dead. He drove two hours thinking he had to tell me, not knowing I already knew. Six years later, right before our wedding, my stepdad was terminally ill. I told him if he wanted to call it off for fear of his own life cut short, I would understand, he didn't. He walked with me feeling like every man I cared about would die. 8 months after we were married we had to move unexpectedly back to my mom's house, where Tim (stepdad and guy mentioned above) would go on hospice care. Paul didn't turn green this time but he shared the night shift with the rest of us. And two years later when it was my grandmother dying and I totaled our newish car drivnig down I95 to Florida to get my mom to her... he drove twelve hours to get to us and drive us the rest of the way. He grieved her like his own. When on a whim I wanted to visit a seminary in KY he was game and when I wanted to apply he encouraged me and when I was accepted, he left behind our friends and the life we had known for years. My sister in law dropped dead and he drove me to my family while he grieved deeply too. There was the kid's broken arm and surgery followed by the start of my anxiety attacks. There was the never having enough money to make the ends meet. There as the call search that left us on the verge of homelessness. Then leaving behind the community and city we loved to move to the great unknown middle. And those are just the big things, there are a million little things.

It is no wonder I can't find a card that says that. My best advice to anyone crazy enough to say yes to a life of working at loving a person. Find a person who will ask you out even when you just vomited. Find a person who will turn green for you. Find a person who will drive to three different Target stores, to find the Christmas ornament you saw two weeks ago. Find a different person to whisper in your soul, love is hard keep at it because I promise you there will be times you want to give up on it. I can't remember the last time I had butterflies in my stomach, it might have been our first kiss some twenty years ago. Today I can't remember what it is like to have sex, with out trying to make a human, I feel the polar opposite of sexy. I am not even sure I understand romance or love as the world puts it forth. But I do understand what it is to work at loving a person, who is as human and flawed as I am. I know I am not easy to live with. I am not easy to love because love is risky, love means risking heart break 1000 times, and doing it anyway. My heart has been so broken by other things, sometimes I don't want to risk love. Layer by layer my patient partner has helped me to disassemble my tower of protection that kept him at a distance for so long. All this is before I even tell you about the kind of dad he is, let's just say this April, he is participating in a daddy/daughter dance on stage in front of a sold out crowd for the dance recital in town. He hates to dance but for his lil' lady he is going well outside his comfort zone.

Today I am grateful for this kind of deep and committed love that embraces the mess of life. Ordinary no, I don't think so... me and you.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bad Art, Healing Art, and the In-between

On Sunday I had a frustrating day, the sermon felt really flat even though I like the content, potluck meant more time at church and less time for some visits. I did not get my usual afternoon nap as I did visits and some errands. I threw together a pot of tortilla soup in the crock pot, it smelled amazing. We took some down time to see Hidden Figures, which is amazing. After the film we came home to a house full of the smell of this soup. We started to eat the soup, we could not eat the soup, I put the whole lime in, it turns out lime rinds will make soup so bitter, nothing will counter act it. I ended up eating pop tarts, dinner of champions. Then in a move that was less than wise, I decided to work on a craft project I have been dreaming of for almost two years. Right before we moved here I saw one of those canvas signs that said in this home we do... I liked it but waited to purchase it. When I went to purchase it, it was sold out. I did some internet searches and found more words I liked. I had a picture of a sign and a few extra words to add. I had spent Saturday evening designing my template/stencil on the computer and Sunday I had "printed" it on my cutting tool. This is a tedious process. My kiddo went to bed in the middle of this process. I didn't plan to finish the project that night but I did. Once I got going I couldn't stop. The thing is I had attended a sign painting class a few weeks ago and I had the steps down. In the class we used boards at home I was using a canvas I had purchased. It turns out that canvas in addition to being too textured and pliable to really hold my stencil, also bleeds when you paint with this technique. I made a good first try but it bled and it is splotchy and not what I envisioned. I decided I would regroup and try again. I hung it on a wall to dry so we didn't get painted kitten feet.

Fast forward to the next morning, kiddo gets up sees my project on the wall and excitedly say, "Mommy is THAT your poster!" I replied, "Yes it is, but it got a little splotched up. I need to do it over." "MOMMY! There is no such thing as bad art!" (I know she hears this at home but I am pretty sure she hears it at school too.) As always she has me thinking on my toes. "Well it isn't bad but it isn't how I would like it, so I will try again." This led to a good conversation about practicing and trying again.


Now it is not lost on me that the first word on these signs is REAL and there is a chance that maybe I should leave it as in an attempt to be authentic. I told my daughter I liked the over all design and the colors but I would like to try again. She talked about how she could try again on her drawings. It felt like an excellent teaching moment. On Tuesday I remade the soup and made sure to point out, I was trying again. This weekend I will do take two on this sign to get it how I want it. She is right there is no bad art not in soup or signs. Yet, there is the idea that if something doesn't turn out how we might like we can try again, most of the time.

It would seem that there are no second chances when it comes to this past election because tomorrow the inauguration happens. I am not going to lie, this election has been hard on me, it has not only pressed on everything I hold dear in a negative way; it has made preaching the gospel with out sounding political nearly impossible. My job went from challenging to overwhelming in one day's time. I am hurting, I am a little angry, I am a little afraid. My call is to serve the people of God, the people of God are well, everyone. How do I raise my voice for the oppressed because of my call and convictions, when suddenly the love of Christ is totally political like it was 2000 years ago?

Long before I was a pastor, long before I knew this would be my life, I lived, worked, and dreamed in film production. Film was and is my art form of choice. Now I left this field, particularly live news (my last related gig) because I didn't like some of what it stood for. Lately, art has been my balm. Art has been helping me to heal and process my emotions. There is a lot out there that can be considered entertainment: music, tv, movies, books... you get the idea. Not all entertainment is art. The difference is entertainment amuses us, art speaks to the full breath of human experience. Art speaks to pain, uncertainty, oppression, joy, love, and overcoming. Art speaks to all that we experience and it stirs in us through pictures, paintings, words, songs. It hits that place of commonality we humans tend to have, it overcomes all the barriers we build to protect ourselves, hits us right in the heart. This past week I was reminded of the powerful voice of art in our lives. I am grateful for the way fearless art spoke to me this week. I am proud that in this contentious time the artists are not afraid to speak truth into the world. In this strange time we must cling to what gives us hope.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fertility and Grief

This week we started our last allowed round of intervention on the local level for the treatment of infertility. We have other options and we have pretty amazing insurance right now which means many of those options are covered by said insurance. We need to discuss how much further we want to take things should this round fail. At this point, we are not super hopeful it will be successful, experience has robbed us of naive hopefulness. We have been through all the tests, everything is showing up as it should. The medicine is allowing me to ovulate, sometimes with multiple follicles. My Fallopian tubes aren't blocked. Paul's counts are all good. I have lost more weight (there is still more to make disappear), I now weigh almost 60 pounds less than I did when our daughter was born. We are consistently making our lifestyle healthier.

This is one hell of a roller coaster ride! First, it's emotional: my whole life I have dreamed of having a big, loud, family, that never takes themselves too seriously and is full of love, much like the one I grew up in. Don't get me wrong, my childhood was far from perfect, a perfect childhood doesn't exist, but I really love my siblings and I am glad we journeyed together toward adulthood. Every month as I lose the next round of bathroom roulette, I grieve deeply for the family I have dreamed of. For the dream of growing human life with in my own body. (Our family will grow by adoption if we have more biological children or not, it is just a hard thing to cling to.) Imagine the thing you want most in the world and you cannot do anything else to work toward that goal. I don't quit, I set goals, I reach them or I adjust. Every month there is this build up of cautious hope, every little body change is a spark of light, then there is the let down. The tears. The grief. The depression. Then there is the fact that during this whole ride I am taking medication that changes my hormones to activate my body to do what it should do naturally. It is emotional before you take the hormones, after, well lets just say GOD BLESS PAUL! He married a woman that doesn't cry all that often and didn't for 12 years, now I don't stop long enough to catch my breath some days. I can't know for sure but I doubt that is easy to deal with.

Recently I made some medication changes, maybe they will be the secret to this puzzle, maybe they won't. There is no good explanation for why our sperm and eggs won't meet up when they should. Perhaps I need to schedule them a facebook event or create tinder accounts for them.I am sad and frustrated and disappointed. I still have to lead church, to preach the good news, when I want to scream what the heck God? I could write you twenty pages on the theology of infertility and where God is in this process. Yet, that doesn't help with my own feelings and frustrations in this process. God and I have a rough relationship some days (I am probably not supposed to say that but it's true and this pastor would tell you as much in person).

This journey takes over your life. Today I walked into a local business I frequent and there was a new employee who was obviously pregnant, my heart ached a little. This week it is my daughter's week to be "star student" and tell her class about herself. I held back tears when it came to the question of how many brothers and sisters she has...0. Last week seeing all the baby stuff in the basement was like a sucker punch to the gut, I had to work to function the rest of the day. Everyday something presents itself that makes me want to lose my composure, some days I give in and I do. Seemingly innocent social media posts become like daggers in my heart and it isn't because I am not genuinely happy for people. It's like every pregnant belly, every pregnancy announcement, every birth announcement, every quip about surprise pregnancies, every complaint about multiple children... starts an unhealthy script in my head. Rationally, I know dealing with an unplanned pregnancy is hard, I know dealing with more than one kid holds it's own set of challenges, I know there is excitement to welcome new life. Irrationally, it starts that internal dialogue, you are broken, you aren't good enough, you are a bad parent to the kid you have, you are a terrible pastor, why does your spouse put up with you, you should have eaten less in childhood. These are lies, they aren't truth, I KNOW that. Some days it is really hard to remember that. To remember hormones play a huge role in my struggle with weight and health. To remember we are all broken. To remember I AM good enough. That I am not a perfect parent but I am a decent one and so on. So I fight to find my footing and it gets lonely and exhausting. I have done some really hard things in my life, some by choice and some by circumstance, this journey might be the hardest thing I have done.

I haven't been myself lately, my focus is off, my thinking is muddled, this is a huge part of the why. If you are reading this and you happen to be the kind to pray, please pray for this process. If you don't, send good vibes into the universe for us or whatever gives your life meaning and connectedness. Over the years I have prayed for God's timing not my own. Lately I just pray to accept God's will in this and I fear our wills are at odds as they often are. I pray to do the thing I least want to do and I am not alone in that, there is a long line of saints who have done the same. Recently, I found community, with a group of women who share in this struggle, I am so grateful for them and our shared experience. (Although I wish none of us had this experience.) I have found solace in their stories and their bravery.