Tuesday, August 25, 2015

FOUR

We have suddenly found ourselves in year four of medical school. FOUR. This means we are 75% there. Within 10 months, Jason will be walking across a stage and I’ll be crying in the audience and OMG where did time go???

So many stages are required to become a practicing physician; each stage with its own amount of hardship and complexity. Undergrad, med school, residency and if you’re extra lucky, a fellowship: all before procuring your first official job (please Jesus let this happen before we’re 40). There’s still many more steps in our journey because, hello, we are still breathing. But we are in the last year of med school! I still can hardly believe it. There have been highs and lows and everything in between. Both easier and harder, better and worse than we thought it’d be. Med school is a pretty intense process: imagine having a pot of character flaws and turning the burner on high. It’s messy. It’s life.

Here are some reflections and lessons from the past three years because I process via word vomit.

It’s not just doctors
One important realization I’ve had is, it’s not just doctors. It’s not just doctors who are busy. It’s not just doctors and their families who feel strained by the demands of their career. Some send a spouse overseas for 12 months in volatile war environments while some spouses have inconsistent schedules and income streams. Some spouses have to travel weekly while some have busy seasons at work that require loads of overtime. Some spouses are entrepreneurs who invest their own capital into an idea (sometimes again and again). If Jason hadn’t chosen the medical profession, his career would still cause strain at some point. That’s just the reality of sharing a life with another person who is passionate about what he/she does.

Stop worrying about unknowns
A lot of our future is hypothetical. There are a lot of stereotypes about being a doctor and being married to a doctor. It is easy for me to start making assumptions based on hypothetical scenarios (often regarding Jason being an absent husband and father). But, time and time again, our life looks different than proposed stereotypes. And it’s not fair to assume things about what Jason will be like in the future because I just don’t know. Because there is a history now where perceptions and reality don’t match up, I’m finding so much peace in not worrying about what our life could look like in the future. Sure, I have to have a dose of realism about what is to come (intern year, am I right!?) but I don’t get hung up on the details anymore. This is SO FREEING.

Living in the tension
Jason and I have this reoccurring argument. We’ve had it many, many times. Thanks to age and wisdom, it has become kinder and more constructive over the years. But we still keep having it, which is both exasperating, and kind of funny? It is a complex argument: two people who are both making sacrifices and wanting the other to recognize it as such (and in our weaker moments, wanting the other person to feel bad about it). Jason is sacrificing time and energy – time that could be spent with me and friends and family and just relaxing, but instead it is put towards studying. He sacrifices countless weeknights and weekends and holidays. He sacrifices for us – to get good grades and good test scores and good recommendations so that he can have better residency and career options, which impact both of us. He sacrifices emotional and mental energy to be fully present at work with his patients and colleagues. At a low point, he feels a mixture of anxiety/exhaustion by the whole process and guilt for not spending “enough” time with me as well as guilt for the sacrifices I’ve made. I sacrifice by sharing my husband with med school. I sacrifice by moving with him, by working to support both of us. I sacrifice because my plans, if they involve Jason, always have to pass the test of “is there room in the school schedule for this?” I sacrifice by sometimes staying home to be with him or sometimes going without him. At a low point, I feel a mixture of loneliness because he’s not always available and resentment at his restrictive schedule, and sadness that he feels pulled in many directions between all of his responsibilities.

It’s hard. It’s so hard sometimes. We both want the same things ultimately – love and security and a full life. Together. We adore each other. It’s just in the day-to-day when we’re trying to figure out how to find balance between all of the wants and demands of life. The last time we were discussing this, it occurred to me – why can’t we just live in the tension? What if we don’t try to fix this, this friction, and just accept it as a part of our relationship? Two people with ambition and passion who are trying to make a life together; sometimes there is overlap in ambition and passion, sometimes there’s not. Perhaps as an outsider this seems obvious, but it has been a huge mental shift for me. I am now more focused on how to call out when we are feeling the strain, but rather than trying to reason and solve and correct, just accept and move on. Accept that sometimes we will disappoint each other, and accept that the other can’t meet all of our needs (hello, important!). Accept that being married sometimes brings joy and sometimes sadness. Be grateful that, above all, we have each other.

Don’t scapegoat
I have a bad habit. Often, when things are not going well in my own life, I blame med school. It’s the underlying cause of all my problems, right? Not happy with my job? Blame med school. Not happy with my friends? Blame med school. Not happy with being in Des Moines? Blame med school. It is, put plainly, destructive. It is me defaulting to an easy way out and not confronting my own issues. I’m working on it. When I had a particularly rough patch, I took it out on Jason. I finally realized, no, it’s me. It’s all me and I can either make the best of it or the worst of it. I apologized to Jason and worked to focus my attention on my own attitude. It was a game changer and now if I fall into this thought pattern, I can more quickly recognize and redirect.

Counting character
Before I make the entire experience sound melancholy (it’s really truly not, at all!), med school has been a wonderful framework for me to learn more about the fantastic human being I married. I won’t go on and on because it can be so dull to read about someone gushing about their significant other, but. There has been so much joy and intimacy in watching and participating in the process of Jason growing more into who God created him to be. Seeing Jason working so hard at his own dreams spurs me to continue to do the same.

Jason has consistently prioritized family in his decisions, so much so that his loyalty sometimes takes me by surprise. He has sought to find a specialty that will allow balance in life, and he is very realistic with his career aspirations, knowing that a career isn’t the only important thing in life. I am much more prone to search for my self-worth in what I do, both inside and outside work, and he is my steady reminder my worth is not at all tied to what I do.

Advantages of adventures
Because I am incredibly practical, the largest reason why I wanted Jason to consider medical schools outside of Arizona was for the adventure. I had lived in the same state for 24 years and was itching for new experiences. And now three years in, I see how important this particular adventure has been in my life. It has been packed full of personal growth and discovery, largely due to being in this unfamiliar environment. It has been packed full of trips and outings: we’ve explored the heck out of the Midwest – Chicago, Omaha, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, Kansas City, and a multitude of little towns, state parks and campgrounds in the area. And the people! Our stay in Des Moines has been packed full of good people. Good people who make life sweeter and more meaningful. I firmly believe life is too short to postpone adventure and if anything, we are inspired to pursue it all the more.

To-gether
Again and again, we are learning to enjoy the journey and not to focus on the destination. This whole medical education process is so long (between 11 and 14 years depending on Jason’s next steps) and what a loss if we spent the whole time waiting for the next season. Life is a gift, a beautiful bittersweet gift, and we are intentional about savoring these days together. We get to do this together. I can’t emphasize together enough. The togetherness of our relationship is a huge, beautiful chunk of my life and I cherish it.

So, year four. We’re tougher and wiser now. Let’s do this.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Gay marriage, Christianity, and me


Note: I wrote this when SCOTUS was first looking at the gay marriage case. And never published because I was nervous. But with the news today, I didn't want this in my drafts any longer!

With the Supreme Court hearing the case on whether it is constitutional to allow states to ban same-sex marriage, I wanted to collect my thoughts on the subject. As a disclaimer, I am here humbly, one person trying to ask questions and grow in my faith. I don’t claim to know all the answers so please accept this as a process and not an ultimatum. A discussion, not a mandate. This is vulnerable to share because I know I have so many friends and family who come from completely different places. I imagine one person reading this could be completely disappointed in me. Call me lost and liberal and “Satan’s tool.” Another person could shake their head, thinking I have so much further to go or worse, I’m just a Christian spewing more hate. I’m okay with the first response but I hope and pray that this doesn’t come across hateful because that is the last thing I want.

I feel like there’s some amount of context needed. I grew up in a loving family where I never heard my parents speak with prejudice towards others. My mom especially taught me a lot about empathy and putting myself in another’s shoes rather than judging them. Yes, we were Baptists and Republican and heck, my dad had a cabinet full of guns. That sentence is full of stereotypes. But I never felt like my parents were raising me to think exactly like they did but rather to use my own reason and sense. I may not be on the same page politically or spiritually as my parents and to them, that’s okay.

So even though I was raised to have grace towards others, I definitely was shaped by the Christian culture around me, which largely was talking about how homosexuality and gay marriage are wrong. Fundamentally wrong. You know the arguments; I don’t need to rehash them. I do want to say I never saw adamant, overpowering hate towards gays at church as some have experienced. For being in a small-town, conservative Baptist church, the people I grew up with in that community are warm and kind and loving. It wasn’t every Sunday we gathered to hear a pastor beating his hand on the Bible and declaring homosexuality a sin and asking everyone to picket a gay rights parade. It was more subtle, for sure. Snippets of convos, sidenotes in a sermon.

I was just as largely influenced by the small, conservative town I grew up in. It is full of warm and kind and loving people, who also believe that homosexuality is wrong and gay marriage should not be legalized. Most of my friends believed this and the community at large believed this. Our state passed Proposition 102 in 2008, which stated that a marriage is only valid if it is between a man and woman (a policy later reversed by a court ruling in 2014). To this day, I often see posts on my Facebook feed about the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman and how we need to protect it – some in love and with good intentions, and sadly, some full of hate and judgment.

This is where I say I have no idea if being gay is wrong, or more specifically from a Christian slant, sinful. “But the scriptures!” Yes, the scriptures have a few verses about homosexuality. When taken just as a line of text apart from the larger picture of the gospel, they don’t look good for those who are gay. But I also want to view things from the lens of both the context of the church at the time, as well as the whole gospel and Jesus’s mission, which I would argue is largely one of love. I’m trying to be so much more cautious these days about calling most of my beliefs certain. Actually, that’s scary to type out. I’m still learning to live in uncertainty and feel somewhat afraid to share that. But hear me out. It’s easy to stay in a little conservative Christian bubble where we all have a list of things we agree with and declare our collective interpretation of the Bible as truth. But one step outside that bubble and I realize there’s a million little bubbles of people all declaring their interpretations of the Bible as truth. So, who’s right? It can be alarming if your “faith” is only built on a list of belief statements when any of these belief statements are called into question.

The bubble that’s simultaneously more comforting and confusing to me now is, let’s not be so concerned with listing out beliefs and rather, let’s live out Jesus’s example with love and grace and justice and humility. I want to pursue relationships, not laws. I want to know Jesus and I want to know his beloved creation. I want to seek peace rather than regurgitate unproductive arguments (if I have to hear the Adam and Eve vs Adam and Steve argument one more time, Lord help me – !!!!!). I don’t have to have it all figured out. Let me repeat, I don’t have to have it all figured out.

When I listen to the LGBT community discuss the gay marriage issue, I am so saddened to hear their perceptions of purported followers of Christ. Christian friends, the LGBT community feels so much hatred coming from us. Don’t we all know, at least a little bit, what it’s like to feel ostracized? What it’s like to grow up and wonder if something is wrong with you because of _____? So, why, why, why do we have to speak with so much anger and hatred towards this community? Why do we invest so much time and money and energy into passing laws against gay marriage when there are children every. single. night. who go to bed hungry. Who feel unloved and worthless. Who wish they’d never been born. Who are taken from their families and forced into slavery or prostitution – which YES is happening in our own country every day.

I would argue that there are much, much more important debates than gay marriage. Yes, there is the concern that we have never in our history as a country redefined the term “marriage.” Certainly then, let’s be cautious and calculated in changing any laws. But if we use this argument that it’s never been done, couldn’t this have also been used to deny abolitionist laws? To deny women’s suffrage? To deny black rights? In the same vein, it’s hard to see a faith community pick one specific “sin” and focus so heavily on it. The Bible also speaks against gluttony, selfishness, dishonesty, materialism, drunkenness – so why have so many made it their main mission to speak against one specific lifestyle? For example, we go out of our way to support a fast food restaurant which sells unhealthy, processed food – because the owner is vocal against gay marriage and the company gives money to organizations who oppose gay rights. Can you see why the world calls us hypocrites?

By now, you probably won’t be surprised to hear I am all for gay marriage being legal. I would love to see it passed by the Supreme Court. When I think about America, we are SO diverse. A complete melting pot in every sense, full of different cultures and ideas and faiths. I wholeheartedly appreciate the sentiment of our founders forming a country built on religious freedom due to their own experience with oppression. Then, to me it seems like by not allowing gay marriage, one group of people are forcing their own religion and ideals on others; to me, this is oppression. It doesn’t make sense. And the saddest thing of all is it turns people AWAY from Jesus.

I am hopeful for a future where we fight FOR the gay community. Where bullying gay children is no longer acceptable. Where gay teens stop considering suicide as their only option. Where a gay person feels welcome and loved at church. Where we have a dialogue that is wrapped less in what laws we pass and more in what good we can bring individually to our families and communities. Dialogue about how we can show love to each other and share in our brokenness and pain. And so, in some small way, I hope this essay is a step towards a more open dialogue and the future I so hope for.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tulips

I saw tulips this morning.

Traffic often gets a little backed up on the road that connects with the freeway onramp so I was juggling my gas and brake pedal. I edged towards the freeway when out of the corner of my eye I saw them. Or perhaps they saw me. It was a brick apartment complex, a winding building with lots of angles and nooks. Next to a stairway there was a little group of tulips, blushing pink and orange at their entrance into the world. And I don’t know, we had a moment. I peered out of my window and admired them and it felt like a little gift, just for me. The tulips were surrounded by brick and concrete and metal and dirt and they looked both out of place and yet exactly where they should be – a little beacon of spring. Of hope.

There’s something about this season that turns me into an emotional mess of a schmuck. I don’t mean to belabor winter again and again, but it’s (still) rough on me. This winter was my best in Des Moines, by far. I readied myself with vitamin D and a sun lamp and a yoga class and an extra dose of gumption. I didn’t sink as deeply this year. I didn’t avoid people as often. I didn’t constantly question myself and why I do what I do. I didn’t think about how I wouldn’t be missed by very many if I was gone.

And yet, winter still seeps in-between the cracks and begins leaking into the tunnels in my brain. It takes the edge off my joy. Knocks little holes in my happiness. Thins out my experiences and makes it all seem a bit more fragile. My roller coaster this winter had more rises than falls, thank God. The falls didn’t plummet as quickly or as deeply as in the past, but the rises were also gentler. With gentler rises, you forget the thrill of a big upswing.

 Last spring and summer, I was hyper-aware of how happy I felt. I wasn’t happy all the time, of course, but it was a huge shift in my brain after winter. I kept repeating over and over in my mind, remember this. Remember how happy you feel right now. Hold onto this when your happiness is undermined again.

And as it goes, the sun began slipping in later and leaving earlier. The temperatures plummeted and the city stilled as everyone withdrew inside. Life began feeling a little flat, a little gray. I was able to recognize the gray quicker than previous years, and then recall my summer chant. Remember this. Remember this immense joy. Life can be bright and vibrant. I didn’t recall specific moments when I felt the gray spreading, just feelings tied to moments. Moments that were probably sitting by a campfire with friends, walking by the lake as the sun shone down, riding bicycles in the wind. Memories with light leaks in the frame and sun flares at the edges. Hazy lazy summer days, a little sticky and mostly sweet.

These snippets of joy were so important. They propelled me through the winter. I wasn’t as hard on myself when I felt a little down, a little off. I was freed to let winter be winter with the promise of new life, new joy. This morning, these tulips seemed to encapsulate all I’ve been holding onto. Beauty bursting out of the ground that just a month ago had been frozen beneath ice and muck.

Because I’m a cheesy romantic, I stopped by on the way home from work to take a picture. Remember this. Remember.



“…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:2-5