My Dog Has a Spirit, Has a Name

SPOILER ALERT: This post is about the book, A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. If you would like to read this book and don’t want the ending spoiled, do not read any further.

About a year ago, I noticed that iTunes had a list of movies that were audio described for the blind. I don’t watch a lot of movies because there are very few movies I hear about that seem worth giving up two hours of life. But out of curiosity, I decided to check out the list. A lot of popular movies were on it, most of which I didn’t want to waste two hours of my life on, but one title sounded intriguing: A Dog’s Purpose. Just going by the title, I could tell it would be a sweet, uplifting movie, but I couldn’t download it because unless I paid for a Showtime subscription, the movie was not available for rent. I would have to buy it. I read in the movie synopsis that it was based on a book with the same title, but for some reason, I wasn’t compelled to download the book right away. I don’t know if I thought it would read more like a children’s book, or if the concept of a re-incarnated dog just seemed corny at the time.

But several months later in June, this book came back to my mind. Some people at work had discovered my book on Amazon. I mentioned it casually to a co-worker who became a good friend shortly after I was hired three years earlier, but had otherwise kept it pretty quiet, not wanting to come off sounding like a pretentious braggart. But the subject of Gilbert came up in the applications department where this friend now works, and the manager of that department ordered several copies of my book to pass around the office. I will admit it was exciting to talk about my book again, and in the course of conversation, someone asked me if there would be a sequel. I told them I would like to write another book someday, and I had already been thinking about taking some essays I had written from Gilbert’s point of view, developing them more and compiling them into a book. The day after this conversation, a Saturday, it occurred to me that I should read A Dog’s Purpose, as it was written entirely from a dog’s point of view, and had made it to the bestsellers list. Reading a commercially successful book written from a dog’s point of view would give me inspiration for how I could write my book. It turned out this book didn’t give me inspiration for my book: on the contrary, it put my writing to shame, so much so that I still haven’t revisited the idea of writing this kind of book. But what I did get was a beautiful read that I could not put down. I had a couple interesting thoughts after reading this book, but didn’t know how to put these thoughts into words. Then two weeks ago, my parents wanted to watch a show that was only available through Showtime, so they signed up for a seven day free trial through Amazon Prime. As long as they had the free trial, I asked them if they would like to watch A Dog’s Purpose with me, and they agreed. I didn’t know how to access the audio described version through Amazon Prime, but that was alright. I watch most movies without audio description anyway, and since I had read the book first, I got the gist of it. Mom loved the movie, but I think Dad thought the concept of a re-incarnated dog was too weird. I think the alien movies he likes are a lot weirder than that, but to each his own. I enjoyed the movie but thought the book was much better. But even though the movie changed a few details and couldn’t go as deep as the book, seeing this movie brought my thoughts about the book back to mind again, and this time I feel ready to try and write about them.

The night before we watched the movie, I found a podcast in which W. Bruce Cameron was interviewed about this book. When the host asked what inspired him to write this book, he said he was driving up the coast with his girlfriend who would eventually become his wife, and she was saying she would never have another dog because she had recently lost her dog and didn’t think she could bare that kind of heartbreak again. He responded that he wanted to tell her a story, and just like that, he saw the whole story come together in his head, about a dog that is re-incarnated and remembers its past lives. He spent the next hour and a half telling her this story, ending with the moral that dogs need us, and we need them. The girlfriend was so moved by the story that she asked hin to record it again, and then encouraged him to turn it into a book. I could definitely see this theme woven throughout the book.

In the dog’s first life when he was born in the wild, he survives, although we would learn that if he had stayed in the wild, he would not have fared well because dogs were bred to depend on us for long-term survival. When he was taken in by Senora and lived with a whole pack of other dogs in The Yard, he thought he was happy, but his life really had no purpose, and he would later realize that the love Senora displayed was just a general love for all the dogs. In his next life when he escaped the puppy mill and was rescued from the drunk man’s hot car to live with Ethan, he thrives because now his life has a purpose. He forges a special bond with this little boy. He delights in being at Ethan’s side as he grows up. His instinct and love for this boy prompts him to “rescue” the boy when he dives underwater to untangle the fishing line, and he never leaves the boy’s side when they are lost in the woods for several days, growing ever more hungry, cold and dehydrated. He would even apprehend the sociopath in Ethan’s class that tried to kill Ethan and his family by setting their house on fire, a fire that left Ethan with a permanent leg injury that ended his prospects for a full scholarship to play football in college. He is devastated when Ethan must leave for a different college. In his third life, he misses Ethan, especially because his (the dog is actually female in this life) new owner is cold and distant, but recognizes that this life has a higher purpose. His life with Ethan prepared him to be a search and rescue dog, and he/she saves many lives. In his final life, he is born in a well-kept kennel but is the last puppy to find a home as he is low-energy and prefers to be left alone. He is finally purchased by a boyfriend who shows no interest In him. The dog is a present for his girlfriend. The girlfriend loves him, but we learn she is immature and does not train him or supervise him properly, and she wasn’t even allowed to have a dog in her apartment. When the landlord evicts her because of the dog, she takes him to her mom’s house. But her mom has a mean, alcoholic boyfriend named Victor who does not want a dog, so the dog lives in squalor, spending his days chained to a post in the backyard barking until Victor gets home, and cowering in fear and doing his best to avoid him when he does. When a neighbor who cannot stand watching the neglect of this dog any longer calls the police, and the police fine the couple $50 and order them to clean up the yard and provide a longer chain, Victor is furious, and asks why they don’t just shoot the dog. The following day, Victor forces the dog to get into his trunk. With a sick feeling in our stomachs, we think Victor is going to drive to a remote location and shoot the dog, especially when the dog smells that there is a gun in the trunk, something he remembered from his previous life. But Victor changes his mind and decides to just abandon the dog. He remembers the survival instincts he learned from the feral mother in his first life and fends for himself, but soon realizes Victor dropped him off near the very river where he and Ethan spent many summers, which was near Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. So much has changed about the town that he couldn’t remember exactly where the farm was, but he first meets the daughter of Ethan’s high school sweetheart Hannah, whom he broke up with out of sadness and anger when he came home from college and saw her playing track and interested in another guy. The dog eventually stumbles across the veterinary clinic, where he recognizes the unmistakable scent of Jasper, a donkey Grandpa had acquired. He follows Jasper’s scent and finds the farm, and his boy Ethan! Ethan is old now, and of course does not recognize that this dog is a re-incarnation of his beloved dog Bailey. He even calls the police who take the dog to the humane society where he is almost adopted by another family. But at the last minute, Ethan changes his mind and takes the dog home and names him Buddy. Buddy could tell that his boy was sad and lonely, so he facilitates the re-acquaintance of Hannah and Ethan by running to Hannah’s house. Hannah and Ethan get married, and thus Ethan’s final years of life are filled with family, laughter and contentment. When Ethan passes away, Buddy recognizes that his purpose is now to be with Hannah through her grief. Yes, it is one of those heart-warming, life coming full-circle stories you cannot read without crying, and a unique way of thinking about the special bond between people and dogs.

This book is completely a work of fiction of course, but the idea of re-incarnation is compelling. In 2014, I heard about a book on a television show written by a mother who believed her children have lived before. Intrigued and in need of a diversion from the painfully boring Paralegal textbooks I was supposed to be reading at the time, I couldn’t resist downloading the book. The mother first started having these suspicions when her son, who was four years old at the time, was inconsolable over the noise of Fourth of July fireworks. I forget the details of how everything transpired, but ultimately, the parents took the child to a hypnotist who caused the boy to recall a past life in which he was a soldier shot and killed in battle. As he recalled and came to terms with this past life, his fear of fireworks instantly resolved. His sister had a similar situation. She had an inexplicable fear of perishing in a fire, and the hypnotist revealed that in a past life, she had in fact perished in a fire. Her fear too immediately resolved once she recalled this past life. These experiences with her children compelled this mother to delve deeper into the possibility of re-incarnation. I never thought about going to a hypnotist, as that seems creepy, but I will admit I was so intrigued by this idea that I would lie in bed straining my brain to see if I could get it to recall past lives, to no avail. I should have known better, but I guess I was a little spiritually immature and wondered if recalling a past life would answer some questions I had about my life at the time. For the record, I have completely abandoned the idea of human re-incarnation. For one thing, I have since researched the biblical stance on re-incarnation, and Hebrews 9:27 clearly says that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” There are also numerous instances in the Bible from Levitacus all the way through the New testament warning us not to seek out mediums or spiritists as they are a product of the Devil, so I am so glad I never considered consulting a hypnotist, but I am sorry I even dabbled in such nonsense. I don’t believe in animal re-incarnation either, as the pets I have had never gave any indications of remembering commands or people from past lives. But this idea of re-incarnation is a creative way to tell a story, and I think it symbolizes the incredible instincts of dogs, the many ways these instincts have impacted the lives of humans, and the idea that both humans and dogs find more purpose and fulfillment in life when they live life together.

But the most interesting thought that came to mind while reading this book was the words of a favorite song, Colors of the Wind, from Pocahontus. “You think you own whatever land you land on. The earth is just a dead thing you can claim. But I know every rock and tree and creature, has a life, has a spirit, has a name.” I found myself humming this song as I read the book. I think I will be writing more about this song in the future as it is another song that reminds me of the Restoration. But I think this song came to mind as I was reading A Dog’s Purpose because the whole message of the song is how we miss out on so much beauty and wonder in this world when we exploit trees or creatures, think of them as property, or view them more in terms of what they are worth, losing sight of the fact that while they may not be capable of the complex thinking and reasoning that God gave humans, trees should be appreciated simply for their beauty and splendor, and creatures should be regarded with reverence as living beings with thoughts and emotions. Even though the author was probably not humming this song and may not have been thinking about its message, I saw the message woven beautifully through this book as well. In the dog’s first life, an overwhelmed shelter worker took one look at Toby’s injured leg, deemed him unadoptable and subsequently euthanized him. I couldn’t help thinking about how this is the fate of so many real dogs in shelters all over the country. I will give the indifferent shelter worker in the book the benefit of the doubt, as I know even from personal experience with my own job that compassion fatigue is a real thing. When I started my job, I would get emotional about all the medical and financial hardships clients would talk about, but after awhile, it is hard not to become numb to these stories. Perhaps the shelter worker suffered from compassion fatigue too, overwhelmed by the sight of so many suffering animals every day. Although this dog would have thrived in a loving home because he was so sweet, the sad reality is people are apprehensive about taking on dogs with special needs, and when shelter space is limited, difficult and heartbreaking decisions have to be made. The euthanization of this sweet dog, and so many real dogs is the fault of puppy mills and irresponsible backyard breeders that breed dogs just to make a profit, seeing them as material goods, not as beings that each have a life, a spirit and a name. In the dog’s second life and his fourth life when he is regarded as property, things work out beautifully, as he finds his boy Ethan in his second life, and is ultimately reunited with him in his fourth life, but for some reason, I couldn’t help thinking about all the special love and affection these unscrupulous people missed out on because they were so wrapped up in their greed or had irresponsible attitudes about dog ownership.

One day in a lecture about wills and Probate law back in 2014 when I was pursuing my Paralegal certificate, the professor was talking about how you can outline in your will whom you would like to become the legal gardians for your children if God forbid, you are survived by minor children. Knowing this professor is pretty laid back and wouldn’t mind putting up with my silly sidefor a minute—she is the same professor I had for Family Law and wrote about in this post by the way—I raised my hand and asked if this was the section where I could specify a gardian for Gilbert as well. Her response was interesting. She also loves dogs, but said that legally speaking, Gilbert is considered property. I could specify whom I wanted to have Gilbert, just as I could specify whom I wanted to bequeath my house or money to, but theoretically, if I died with a lot of debt that required the sale of property to settle, Gilbert might have to be sold! A collective chuckle and expressions like “Aw!” came from the whole class. Of course, if that had happened, Gilbert is so beloved by everyone he meets that I am sure a friend or relative would have come through to buy Gilbert and give him a loving home, but boy, learning that has been a great motivator for me to live within my means! In another class, a Technical Writing class I took in my last semester at Carroll University, we were asked to write a user manual. I decided to write my manual on how to care for and train a guide dog. But one piece of feedback I didn’t expect was when the professor said that the dog needed to be referred to using the pronoun “it” rather than him/her. I followed this instruction and changed all of the pronouns, but it bothered me. This assignment came back to mind a couple years later when I was researching our city’s laws on backyard chickens—more on that in a future post—and noticed that sure enough, ordinances regarding animals used the pronoun “it” as well. I think it would be interesting to conduct an experiment where at least for a specified period of time, a municipality changed all the pronouns of its animal ordinances to him/her. Nothing would be changed regarding the laws themselves, just the pronouns. It would be interesting to track if humane societies saw less traffic from people surrendering animals, or if cops receive fewer reports of animal abandonment or cruelty. While I believe most people are good, and everyone I come into contact with seems to love animals, I wonder if for at least a few people, this simple change in pronouns would awaken the realization in them that animals are living beings, not property on the same level as their cars.

I am not saying dogs or other pets should be treated as if they are humans. There is a reason Planet of the Apes is just a movie. God blessed us with more complex minds, and the capacity for a higher sense of morality and reasoning than any other animal. In fact, in Genesis 1:26 and 1:28, it is explicitly stated that God created humans to rule over animals. I don’t even agree with PETA’s position that we should not eat meat because in Genesis 9:3 after the flood, God tells Noah and his sons, “Everything that moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” Furthermore, even Jesus ate meat. But Proverbs 12:10 states, “a righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” This verse is a clear indication that while God created us to rule over animals, this does not give us license to be cruel to them or exploit them. I am not a bible expert, but to me these passages indicate that it is fine to eat a small serving of meat each day for vitamin B12, which is not found in plants, but it is wrong to kill animals just for sport, or gorge yourself with more meat than you need at an eating competition or holiday feast. There is nothing wrong with training an animal using positive re-enforcement techniques that awaken their natural desire, implanted by God, to please us. But it must make God angry to see people use fear-based training techniques. Sure, a dog or other animal may still obey out of loyalty, but I recently read an article written by a dog trainer who switched from using a choke collar, to using positive re-enforcement, and it didn’t surprise me when she said that with positive re-enforcement, both the dogs and owners were happier and more relaxed, making me wonder if what some call a new training concept is the kind of training God had always intended.

I have never regarded Gilbert, or any of the pets I grew up with as merely property, but reading an entire book written from a dog’s point of view brought the reality that dogs are beings with real emotions into sharper focus. It was an opportunity for meditation when I couldn’t help asking myself if I am the best owner I can be. As I think I have mentioned in the past, I cannot sleep with Gilbert because he snores, not as obnoxiously as a certain family member in a hotel room, but nevertheless, loud enough that I prefer not to sleep with him. Gilbert and said snoring family member actually sleep together, which works out perfectly! Anyway, Gilbert and the snoring family member usually wake up before I do each morning, and Gilbert is always waiting to greet me when I open my bedroom door. This is such an adorable display of love and loyalty, and yet some mornings when I wake up with a headache or just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I have been guilty of pushing past him, or snipping at him for being in the way. But reading about similar displays of love Bailey showed Ethan made me feel guilty for all the times I snipped at Gilbert, so now every morning, even if I am not feeling great, I make sure to speak a happy greeting to Gilbert and give him a few pets on the head because it is not his fault I am not feeling well. In fact, he may know I am not feeling well and he is not intentionally blocking my path to the kitchen for headache medicine to feel better. He is just trying to say he is there for me. One day last week while I was in my bedroom writing, Mom knocked on my door saying Gilbert was sitting outside my door wanting to come in and be with me. I don’t let him in my room often during the daytime either just in case dog hair is a contributor to allergies that cause me to wake up with severe headaches sometimes. Gilbert doesn’t mind. Once he has greeted me in the morning, he usually prefers to sleep the day away on a soft dog bed in the living room where he can look out the window. So this unusual desire to be in my room with me at that time of day tugged at my heart, and I relented and let him in. He laid right beside my desk chair where I could reach down and pet him while writing, making me smile. Maybe he is trying to tell me my blogs would be better if he could “help” me write them.

Gilbert is at that point in his life where he is getting arthritic and slowing down, and this causes us both sadness in our own ways. Mom says Gilbert seems sad sometimes when we decide his arthritis or his stomach are acting up and I shouldn’t take him to work, and I feel sad about leaving him behind too. I also feel guilty in the summer when I want to go for a long walk that I know he cannot handle anymore, and so I leave him home and take him for a shorter walk later. But he still greets me with a wagging tail every morning, and when I pet him, he will often still flip onto his back for a belly rub. He loves going to work when he can, and every Monday when the young adult bible study group comes to my house, he takes his job as door greeter seriously. Every now and then, he will even prove he still has that naughty puppy spirit by chewing open a bag of dog food, or unraveling a role of toilet paper. I haven’t always been the owner a dog as sweet as Gilbert deserved, but the wonderful thing about dogs is they understand the concept of unconditional love even better than humans sometimes, and every day is a new day in which he forgets the past and gives me another chance to appreciate his life, his spirit and his name. Just because the minds of dogs and other animals are not as complex as the human mind doesn’t mean God didn’t give them to us to teach us simple truths to enrich our own lives. When we regard them as merely property, we miss out on opportunities to experience these truths. Gilbert will always hold a special place in my heart as my first guide dog, and the perfect companion for college and the trials of my first job. I hope that if there is re-incarnation for dogs, Gilbert will remember his life with me as his best, and that maybe he will come back to me someday in a dog by a different name. If he does, I hope I will recognize him.

A Vacation Full of Worry

Every week, I attend a women’s bible study at our church with my mom, and the family friend who gave us the bird clock. Right now, we are studying the book of Matthew, and in the last bible study before Thanksgiving, we studied Chapter 6 which includes countless truths about life, but the speaker for our large group lecture that day focused most on verses 25 through 27. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” The speaker that day talked about when she was doing mission work in Africa, and there was one day that involved a long hike through remote areas, and she was not able to bring food along, which really required her to completely trust God. But a few hours into the hike when everyone was getting hungry and it looked to her as if there was no food, their guide said, “Hey look! Nettles!” They all proceeded to pick some nettles, and their guide showed them how to boil them and they were all satisfied. Later, just when it was time to eat again, their guide spotted another kind of edible plant that they harvested and again were satisfied. I sensed God speaking to me when I heard this story, as when I am away from home and have to depend on others for everything, including food, I cannot help but worry. It was as if God was telling me, “See, if I can provide for people hiking through remote parts of Africa, why do you worry so much about vacations with your family in the United States?” That day, I told myself I was going to trust God on vacations and not worry anymore, but to be honest, I was hoping I wouldn’t be put to the test, and was looking forward to the fact that once we made our Christmas visit to Indiana to visit relatives, there were no more vacations on the horizon.

Then, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my sister announced that her husband was able to get tickets for the whole family to come to New York and see Hamilton in early spring. My parents were giddy with excitement, but my heart sank. I was now in a quandary. I really wanted to see Hamilton, especially after seeing In the Heights at a local theatre in October, which was also written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I wasn’t sure I would like this hip-hop style for a musical, but I loved it! The problem was, seeing Hamilton meant a trip was now on the horizon, and as long as we were in New York, my parents would want to do a lot of other things besides seeing Hamilton. The months and months of mental peace I was looking forward to—I was hoping to put off overnight travel until at least Labor Day—were now shattered.

For the next month whenever I had idle time, my mind vacillated between going or telling my parents I really didn’t want to go. If all three of my other siblings were going, I should go, as it is so incredibly rare that we are all able to be together, and there is something special about seeing musicals in New York City, where the theatres are smaller, and the best of the best actors perform. But one brother hadn’t committed to going, and eventually, Hamilton would come to Milwaukee. It wouldn’t be the same as seeing it in New York City, but it would be good enough, and worth the avoided worry, and frustration of being on-leash for a whole weekend. My parents probably wouldn’t want to take me if they had already seen it in New York, but I knew a couple of my co-workers, and several friends in choir who enjoy theater too, so I could probably get someone to go with me when the time came. On the morning of December 23, when the one brother still hadn’t booked his flight, I decided that I would wait and see Hamilton in Milwaukee, but my parents would have nothing of it, saying I was being ridiculous, which maybe I was, but I felt like they didn’t understand how much I hate travel since they love it! So to make a long story short, my dad booked our flight that morning, and to his credit, he tried to assuage my worries by saying he had already done pretty much everything he wanted to do in New York City on past trips, and just enjoyed the vibe of being in Manhattan, so he would take care of me, making sure I had everything I needed, and he was convinced I would have a good time. Mom tried to make me feel better by reminding me of past trips where I had a great time, especially the trip to Carnegie Hall with the Milwaukee Children’s Choir in high school. I did have a wonderful time on that trip, but at that time, I had little regard for my health, had not yet been diagnosed with Celiac Disease which now makes every meal out a gamble, and just didn’t have the desire for independence that I have as an adult. If I did experience any travel anxiety, it was superceded by the joy of getting excused from three days of Math class. Before I could open my mouth to make these arguments, she said to quit thinking about it. The trip was months away, but that day, we were about to celebrate Christmas, so she tried to re-direct my thoughts to Christmas. I know she meant well, but telling me not to think about something only makes me think about it more, and get more frustrated.

I worry about being out of my routine. I have been told I am too set in my ways, but you know what? I have figured out what makes me feel good, and when I am not set in them, I often don’t feel well. I feel best when I get a good night’s sleep uninterrupted by snoring or rowdy hotel guests, and eat breakfast as soon as I wake up, which is around 7:00, not an hour or more later as we shower, get dressed and walk down to the hotel breakfast area or meet someone at his/her house or another restaurant. Lunch should be eaten between noon and 12:30, 1:00 at the latest, not 3:00 or later because people are slow to get going in the morning and we are just arriving at a museum or park when it is lunch time. Dinner should be eaten around 5:30 or 6:00, not 9:00 or later because we had such a late lunch. When this schedule is followed, I feel great. When it is not, I feel myself getting cranky and sometimes will even feel a headache coming on, especially now that I have committed to a healthier lifestyle and eat a smaller breakfast than I used to. It is even more crucial that this routine is followed on trips, as you have to allow for the possibility of the waiter who is not knowledgable about Celiac Disease or the restaurant’s gluten free options, or the waiter that requires a little more patience because English is not his first language. If I did not get a good night’s sleep, or we are eating lunch at 3:00, I have absolutely no patience for these curveballs, and that’s when meltdowns happen.

By meltdown, I mean bursting into tears in public over the smallest things. For example, in 2014, my parents and I flew to New York to visit my sister and see Book of Mormon. We flew out on a Thursday and returned on a Sunday, the same schedule as this upcoming trip. I hadn’t slept well at all that weekend due to snoring, and the fact that our hotel was in a noisy part of the city. I was especially tired Saturday night after doing a full day of museums, and on top of that I pulled a muscle in my right leg when I panicked and stepped onto a subway train wrong. But that night, the snoring was especially loud and I could not sleep at all. But on Sunday, another long day of museums lay ahead before our evening flight home and Paralegal classes early Monday morning. So sore and exhausted as if I never went to bed, I got up, dragged myself to the hotel shower where I knocked the bottle of soap off the stupid, tiny slippery shower ledge right onto my toe. Maybe my mood could have been salvaged if breakfast at the restaurant where we agreed to meet my sister was fabulous. English was not the waiter’s first language, but we figured out the omlet would be a safe gluten free option. But the omlet was gross to me, and when I asked about potatoes which are always delicious, the waiter wasn’t sure if they were gluten free. That’s when I lost it. My sister, in an effort to put things into perspective told me, “you got to have a baked potato at Potato-topia yesterday.” I know she didn’t mean to upset me, but it was seriously all I could do not to lunge across the table and smack her silly. Instead, I burst into tears. That meal at Potato-Topia was delicious, but that was yesterday, and this is now. I was exhausted, sore, dreading what would be my fourth day on-leash, and even though I was acting like a three-year-old, didn’t appreciate being consoled as if I were one. I ended up choking a couple more bites of that omlet down, and was sulky the whole time we were in Top of the Rock, a really boring place for blind people, and not what I needed after getting no sleep and a gross breakfast. My mood lifted slightly when we went back to my sister’s house for the afternoon and I had a tasty gluten-free pizza from Amy’s Kitchen for lunch, but at that point, I was so done with that trip that my mood wasn’t fully restored until we were home, and even then I cried in bed that night hating the person I become when on-leash so long and out of my routine. To be fair, we get better with every trip. As I said in the last post, my parents now make sure that I always have a hotel room free of snoring people, and we have gotten better about bringing some of our own food and researching gluten free restaurants. When we are traveling with other people, Dad will even try to get after them so that we are not eating meals at ridiculous times. These reforms have made being on-leash a little more tolerable, and I haven’t had a meltdown in awhile. Even so, the potential for this to happen worries me to the point that I still don’t look forward to traveling. I am especially worried about an involuntary meltdown this trip because of my renewed commitment to my health. In terms of exercise, I have nothing to worry about. If I go to the museums, even if I am bored to tears, I can at least console myself knowing that I am burning more calories walking around New York City than I would have burned had I stayed home and just walked half an hour on the treadmill. But all these calories burned will mean nothing if we don’t eat lunch until 4:00, and I am just so hungry that I over-indulge, which is so easy to do at restaurants. And food is like alcohol. If you over-indulge once, you will start craving junk food again, and thus in one weekend, all that I have achieved in what will be four months of commitment will be shot, which is a good segue into my most weird and maybe even irrational worry.

Right now, except for this travel anxiety, my life is literally perfect. My family and I are all healthy. I work three days a week at a job where my co-workers are also my friends, and the rest of the time, I spend on pleasures like writing, cooking soup in the Crock-pot, singing in choir and playing Scrabble. On Sunday, I go to a dynamic church that inspires me every week, and then on Monday, another perfect week begins. I know that I am blessed, and it is almost shameful that I am so fixated on travel anxiety when people in my own community have to worry about how they will put food on the table, or whether a loved one struggling with addiction will live to see another day. But everyone’s life journey is unique, and as Pastor Rick Warren teaches in the Purpose-Driven Life, which I read in high school, we are not meant to be completely content in this life. I am blessed not to have “real problems” but I suppose my travel anxiety is my inevitable struggle that keeps me from total contentment with this life. So I try not to beat myself up about having this anxiety. But the truth is, for some reason when I travel, I have anxiety that this trip will ruin the perfect life I have. This ruin could come from something as simple as over-indulging at restaurants all weekend so that I am addicted to junk food when I get home and have to start all over on my health journey, which means going through withdrawal headaches again, and sitting at my desk at work barely able to concentrate because I am so hungry. This ruin could come from a delayed flight, so that I am exhausted at work the next day and make a big mistake, or we could be stranded at the airport on Monday morning so that I have to call work and apologize. My co-workers would have to re-schedule my appeals or add the appeals to their workload, so I would lose some of the goodwill I have earned which could expedite my being fired if I need time off for something really important someday. And if I got fired, would I ever find another job that allowed me to work such a peaceful schedule and live such a contented life? Or what if, God forbid, I was maimed in a mass shooting, terrorist attack or accident on the trip. I never thought about this until the Boston Marathon bombing, but after hearing that some of these victims were on vacation, it occurred to me that this could happen to anyone. Of course, I could be maimed in a terrible accident or shooting tomorrow right here in Milwaukee. Granny was going to an event in her own community when she was in her terrible accident. But for some reason, I only think about it when anticipating being on vacation.

But I sense God’s presence in trying to help me work through this anxiety. How so? You ask. Well, of course I was in a tizzy on December 23 once the flight was booked and I was committed to going on the trip, and I had forgotten all about the bible study’s lesson on trusting God. On Christmas Eve, I started writing my blog about the inability to serve two masters when it comes to my health to try and take my mind off the trip, when for some reason, after quoting the verse I wanted for that post, something compelled me to read a little further. And guess what comes after the verses on serving two masters? The verses discussed in that bible study! I was still in a little bit of a tizzy when I came downstairs to hang out with my family, but seeing that verse again planted the first seeds of recognizing that not only would Dad take care of me. So would God. Then a little over two weeks later on January 10, I had forgotten these verses again, and found myself lying awake in bed at 5:00 in the morning, my mind racing about the trip. I recently started listening to Family Radio in my bedroom which is a Christian station that has programs that feature bible teaching, and beautiful choir music that relaxes me. That morning after breakfast, my mind was still racing a little bit about the trip when I went to my room to do some writing, and shortly after turning the radio on, guess what verses they decided to do a devotion on that morning. Matthew Chapter 6, verses 25 through 27!

I think I got the message God! I am really trying to overcome this. Like I said, I am not to the point where I can say I look forward to traveling, but now when I find my mind wandering toward travel anxiety, I recite these verses to myself on my own and my anxiety lessens a little. Of course, God’s idea of taking care of me could be different than what I would want. I could have a meltdown, although I will pray that I can stay calm and keep things in proper perspective. Ironically, in the sermon last Sunday, the pastor talked about how God gives us challenging situations to test how real our faith in Him really is, so instead of fleeing from these challenges as David wanted to do when he wrote Psalm 11, and as I wanted to do in a way by staying home, we should embrace them and let God shape and grow us through them. I could be stranded at the airport Monday morning when I am supposed to be back at work. My boss is fair and kind to me, and Mom pointed out that if we are stranded at the airport, it shouldn’t put my job in jeopardy because of the excellent reputation I have earned. But even if I am fired because of this trip, that could be God’s way of opening the door to something even better. If I am maimed in a terrorist attack or accident of some kind, I would be devastated for a time of course. But just like with Celiac Disease and blindness, or even my past school and job challenges, I would eventually realize that God allowed it to happen for a reason, and that my life would eventually be richer for it.

Please Take Off My Leash

I have needed to write a post like this for years, but have been hesitant to do so. Part of this hesitation has been due to the fact that I lacked the words to explain my feelings, and then I was afraid I lacked the maturity to express my feelings in a calm, intelligent and mature fashion. The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings, especially those of my family. I hope that even the act of writing this blog doesn’t make them uncomfortable, but in the emotionally charged, immediate nature of face-to-face conversation, I am still guilty of being reactionary and immature. But after a lot of thinking and some prayer, I think I am ready to use writing, a forum that allows me to relax and think, to express myself in a thoughtful, mature manner. I will actually use two blog posts to cover this subject because there are two things at play that are sort of entertwined, but also separate issues that warrant separate posts so that one post doesn’t ramble too long. The second issue, I am making progress with by trying to look at it from a spiritual perspective, but the first issue which I want to discuss in this first post is something I am embarrassed to admit to because it is so childish, maybe even narcisisstic, and I really don’t want to be childish or narcisisstic. But I hope that by writing about it, maybe you readers, some of whom I see face-to-face can help me come to terms with it.

I can tell Gilbert enjoys going to work with me, but every day when we arrive home from work and I take off his leash, he runs upstairs, tail wagging, and often heads straight for his bone. He recognizes the necessity of being on-leash. In fact, on days when he cannot go to work, I can tell he missed me and wishes he could have gone to work with me. Yet when we arrive home and I can take off his leash, his joy is unmistakable. He can relax now and be free! As a totally blind person, as well as someone whose brain takes longer to get oriented to new surroundings, if I am anywhere besides my workplace, or my house—places that are such a regular part of my life that they are drilled into my brain–I feel as though I am on a leash. If I take a walk outdoors, I either need a sighted guide, or I can use my cane or guide dog, but a human still needs to come along and direct me. If I visit a friend or relative’s house, I wish I could walk around and mingle like the sighted guests who seem to just know where everything is. When the setting is not a regular part of your everyday life, I don’t agree with the prideful, militant philosophy of just picking up my cane and fumbling around until I figure it out. It makes more sense to just let the host park me in a chair and bring food, beverages and companionship to me. My workplace is the only building where I don’t have to ask to be shown where the restroom or water fountain is. Before Gilbert developed arthritis, I would often bring him to bible study at our church, and with Mom directing me, I could work Gilbert from the chapel where we gathered for singing and a large-group lecture, to our small group classroom. But Mom says the hallways are complicated, so even if I am able to train with a new guide dog, she isn’t sure we would be able to navigate our church completely independently. In my everyday life, being on-leash occasionally does not bother me. It is just a reality of my disabilities that I accept. In fact, if you really want to get under my skin, call me a hermit as family members will dare every now and then. I do not consider myself a hermit.

The joys of hearing birds sing and breathing fresh air on a walk through a park are worth the loss of independence, even a little bit of my parents’ slow driving through random towns to look at houses on the way. (I used to complain immediately when they started doing this, but I really am trying to be less self-centered, and am able to hold my tongue for about half an hour now.) I feel more at ease when gatherings are hosted at my house, but am always glad I went to the friend’s house. While my uneasiness about being in an unfamiliar house may be more profound because of my disabilities, Mom has told me that everyone feels a little uneasy to some extent when at someone else’s house. In fact, I thought it was interesting when we went to visit Granny once that she mentioned how difficult it was to cook in Granny’s kitchen, her own mother’s kitchen that she grew up in. Granny did some kitchen re-modeling to accommodate Papaw’s wheelchair when his Parkinson’s disease became worse, so it wasn’t exactly the same kitchen she grew up with. But for some reason, this comment still surprised me. I suppose if I ever moved into my own home and only visited my parents every few months, I would feel uneasy cooking in their kitchen too. We all feel most at ease in our own home. And especially when the friend is from my Monday bible study group, I recognize the fact that every Monday, after a long day of school or work, they put up with possibly feeling a little uneasy by coming to my house when maybe they would rather be at their own homes where they could truly relax. It wouldn’t kill me to allow them to feel at ease by attending parties at their houses every now and then.

The joy and inspiration I get from church every week is worth the brief loss of independence, as is the pleasure of going to a theater to see a live performance, or eating out every now and then. Because these outings are relatively brief, I don’t even consciously think about my loss of independence in these situations. In fact, if circumstances ever changed such that I wasn’t able to take walks outdoors, visit friends and relatives, get to church or attend musicals or choral concerts anymore, I would be devastated. But I absolutely dread the prospect of overnight travel, and I think it is because it means I am on-leash hour after hour, day after day and this just wears on me.

As a child, I actually loved to travel, and was even sad when it would be time to go home. One factor ironically is that as a child, being at home got boring, and I enjoyed the change of scenery travel offered. Since my siblings are so much older, I got used to entertaining myself at an early age. I had plenty of toys and braille books to read, and a swingset outside. But in hindsight, I did not find the fulfillment in these childhood pleasures that I now experience with adult pleasures like blogging and reading adult books. Grandma on my dad’s side had a swimming pool and a scooter where I would sit on Grandma’s lap and we would ride around the property. When I went to Granny’s house, there was a cousin close to my age who would play with me the whole time. When we went on family vacations, I just enjoyed the fact that we were all doing something together, rather than my siblings just watching television, playing video games or going out with friends while I was off entertaining myself. But as an adult, I find that I get so bored when on the road. Both of my grandmothers now live in assisted living facilities, and the cousin that used to play with me has two children and a full-time job now, so our worlds are completely different. She is kind to me, but we don’t have the relationship we had when we were children. I recognize the importance of visiting relatives, but now that visiting relatives means just being parked at a table and talking for hours, mostly about subjects which I have nothing to contribute, going to bed, and then doing it again the next day, I long for every gathering to be at our house, where I could sit and visit for an hour or two, and then escape to my room to do something more interesting. I do bring my braille notetaker to read books, but rarely actually utilize it because there is just too much noise and distraction. As an adult when my parents want me to go on vacations, there are some activities I enjoy, especially theatre performances, but now that I find more pleasure in independent, adult activities, having to give up my free will for a few days and do what other people want to do, especially if museums are involved, drives me crazy. My parents have said that now that I am an adult, I could stay back at the hotel while everyone else toured museums, but sitting on uncomfortable furniture in an unfamiliar setting that lacks small but important things like dishes, and a microwave labeled with braille so that I have the freedom to cook myself something if I get hungry for lunch before they get back, doesn’t sound appealing either, so I usually just tag along on the museums, counting down the hours until we are home and I am free again.

Even as a child, there were vacation circumstances that weren’t ideal, but because I was a minor, I realized I had no choice but to put up with things. For example, Ihave always been prone to migraines, and would often wake up with migraines when we had to stay in hotels since I often couldn’t sleep what with family members snoring. I vividly remember one morning when I was nine years old when I woke up with a particularly nasty headache because in addition to the snoring, the hotel fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. The next morning as the rest of the family, who didn’t sleep well either because of the fire alarm, but didn’t have migraines, woke up and were talking and getting ready for the day, I rolled over in bed, groaned and moaned for everyone to be quiet. “You don’t need complete silence for a headache,” I remember my brother saying. I don’t think he would say that today, as all of us siblings have gotten a little more compassionate with age and life experience, myself included. He would have only been thirteen years old at that time. But he was right in a way. Complete silence doesn’t help when I already have a full-blown migraine. I just needed peace and quiet at night so I wouldn’t get a headache, or at least such a severe headache to begin with. But of course as a minor, I couldn’t have stayed home, or slept in a hotel room by myself, so I just sighed and tried to be a sport despite my misery. But ever since I became an adult, when I am kept awake all night and wake up with a migraine, or a restaurant we thought would have gluten free options doesn’t, no matter how much fun I may have had on the trip until that point, I cannot help thinking, “Why do I still have to put up with this. I could be at home, well-rested and feeling great right now.”

I am so sorry that this post sounds like such a pity party, but do you see what I mean about this being the narcissistic part of me. I hate that I have these self-centered feelings, but these are my honest feelings, and as every psychology expert will say, the first step to change something you don’t like about yourself is acknowledging the problem. I recognize the necessity of overnight travel every now and then. Granny, whom we visited after Christmas, is not well enough to travel, at least not right now, and even when relatives are healthy, they probably feel more at ease in their environment too, so just like with my friends, it wouldn’t kill me to reciprocate every now and then. And even though there was a lot of time spent parked in a chair when we visited Granny for Christmas, I also got to go to Granny’s church which is a unique experience for me. Unlike Elmbrook Church, a nondenominational mega church that holds 3,000 people, Granny belongs to a Quaker church that is so small the pastor knows everyone by name, and if someone fell, lost a loved one or had surgery recently, he will ask how they are doing. I love the modern songs we sing at Elmbrook, played by a full worship band. But I also love the simple beauty of old hymns played on a piano. I also recognize that vacations offer unique experiences that you cannot get in everyday life. I will admit that the vibe of Manhattan, especially the sidewalk vendors is cool, as is a Christian theater we discovered in Branson called Sight & Sound Theatres, which bring bible stories to life with an amazing professional cast, special effects and real animals! I will concede that my life is a little richer from these experiences. Even so, from the day I find out we are taking a trip until the day we leave, I am not as excited about the trip as everyone else because I just cannot help but dread having to be on-leash for such an extended period of time, and the longer the trip is, the more I want to jump out of my skin screaming. I know that the freedom I feel at home isn’t true freedom, but more a sense of peace and security perhaps similar to how a fish feels when returned to a familiar aquarium. When my parents pressure me to go on vacation, I know they love me and have pure intentions. They find freedom in getting out of the house, and want me to find joy in a change of scenery too. And to be fair, we have learned from mistakes made on past trips. We know how to better research gluten free restaurants ahead of time, and my parents will even pay for two hotel rooms now so I can get a good night’s sleep, which makes a huge difference in my mood! But even though we have become better travelers in recent years, I still cannot help but jump for joy when we get home from the vacation and I can take off my leash!

The Bird Clock No Longer Sings

“Did Mom tell you about the demise of your old friend?” Dad asked yesterday over dinner when I got home from work. Mom and I both looked at him confused. “The bird clock!” he said. Mom sighed, and I laughed. Maybe he was being a bit over-dramatic, as of course, hearing about the demise of this clock was not on the same level as losing a human friend, or even the loss of our kitty Snickers in May. But he sort of had a point, as this clock was like a friend in a way.

The bird clock was given to us by a family friend in 1998, the same family friend I talk about in this post. At that time, I was in second grade, and she got to know me well because she would babysit me a couple mornings a week before school when both of my parents had to get to work early. She thought it would be something I would enjoy, and she was right. I also remember her joking that it would help wake my brother up in the morning. He was a junior in high school, and at that time, to borrow a quote from Uncle Louis in Nationalampoon’s Christmas Vacation, he probably could have slept through “a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant.”

I distinctly remember my parents mounting the clock on the wall in our kitchen above the pantry door the weekend I celebrated first communion. That is where it remained its whole life. This gift was intended especially for me, but the whole family enjoyed it. Like a friend, it helped us in times of need. There have been a couple long power outages over the years, and since most of the other clocks in our house were electric, we relied on it to keep track of time. Like a friend, it gave us gentle reminders to hold us accountable, probably preventing many incidents of tardiness. On work days for example, I knew that if I wasn’t in the shower by the time the mourning dove cooed, I better get going. Just like a friend, this clock cheered me up when I was feeling blue, especially in the dead of winter when not a bird could be heard outside. Like a friend, this clock felt sorry for me as I had to stay up until the wee hours with math homework spread out on the kitchen table. Every day, the robin sang at 1:00, so when I was in school, I should have only heard this bird sing on the weekends. So when I heard this bird sing at 1:00 in the morning as I tried to finish math homework, it was as if the clock was saying, “girl, go to bed for heaven’s sake!”

A couple funny memories were made with this clock. Because this clock was a battery-operated clock, it had to be manually changed at the beginning and end of daylight savings time. It also had to be re-set occasionally when the batteries got weak because the first sign of weak batteries would be hearing the wrong bird singing at the wrong time. Anyway, early in my formative years, this clock was set to the wrong birds, and stayed that way for years. For example, I knew that the mourning dove was supposed to sing at 7:00, but somehow, the sparrow was set for that time, so my bird identities were all mixed up. It was only when my dad re-set the clock for daylight savings time my eighth grade year that he discovered the mistake. At first, I didn’t believe him, so he actually went on the internet and found recordings of birds for me. I have since recovered and re-learned my bird songs, but I still love to tease my parents about this and how it scarred me. The first summer we had this clock, I was somewhere else in the house when I heard the call of a tufted titmouse, but it wasn’t 5:00. “Mom, why is the tufted titmouse singing? It’s not 5:00,” I called to Mom. It turned out the call came from a real tufted titmouse in our yard! And I think because the birds really do sound real, this clock startled people who came to our house for the first time. It especially startled people in the young adult bible study group I host at my house on Mondays. The first few times the group came to our house, the discussion would completely stop when people heard this clock, maybe because the bible study was held in the livingroom where they couldn’t see the bird clock, so they thought birds got into the kitchen. “It’s just the bird clock,” I would say when I realized it had startled people, and everyone would laugh, me especially.

But on Sunday while Mom and I were at church, Dad noticed the wrong bird singing at the wrong time, and took it down from the wall to change the battery, but it could still be heard ticking and singing on the table through Tuesday. On Wednesday while I was at work, Mom found new batteries, and was going to fix the clock, but when she took off the battery cover, the inside was corroded, and battery acid had leaked. I agreed with Mom that given that situation, it was best to say goodbye to this “friend” that had been a fixture in our house for over twenty years. But today, I found myself missing the bird songs that helped me keep track of every hour, and Mom said she never realized how often she used to glance at this clock until it was gone. But the good news is, household fixtures like this are easily replaced. I found and ordered a new bird clock on Amazon today with twelve north American bird songs. I couldn’t find an exact list of the birds in the description, but it sounded like it should be very similar to, if not exactly the clock we had. I offered to pay for it with Amazon gift card money I received for Christmas, but Mom said she would pay for it because she enjoyed having a bird clock too. So this next week or so, I am going to miss the cheerful songs of birds every hour, and I will have to be very careful, making sure I keep track of time with my phone so I am not late for work. But the clock is supposed to arrive sometime between January 25, and February 1, so it won’t be long until bird songs will brighten our house once again.

A Wonderful, Busy and Strange Holiday Season

Although my new lifestyle has been a significant life event for me, there were other moments that made this holiday season special that I wanted to update you on. Since stores start running Christmas commercials on Halloween, I might as well start with Halloween too. In 2014, my first attempt to live a healthy lifestyle, I gave up eating Halloween candy, and now the giant wooden salad bowl that becomes a Halloween candy bowl on October 1 every year doesn’t even tempt me. I also don’t like the idea of dressing in a scary costume because there is enough real evil in the world, I feel we don’t need to create pretend evil. My Jehovah’s Witness friends may have solidified this thinking a little bit when we talked during one study about how the origin of Halloween customs can be traced back to a Pre-Christian festival honoring the God of the dead, but I was already beginning to think this way the Halloween of my sixth grade year, the Halloween following 9/11.

But in 2016 when the office where I worked started what is now an annual tradition, a costume contest, I wanted to participate both to break up the monotony of the work day, and because while browsing costumes on Amazon, I saw what sounded like an adorable Elvis costume for dogs! If I could get Gilbert to wear the Elvis costume, and I wore a poodle skirt, it would be hilarious and adorable, and we would win the contest for sure! I was right. That year, we did win the costume contest, and everyone thought we made for an adorable duo. In 2017, Halloween fell on a Tuesday which is one of my days off now that I am part-time, and I didn’t want to adjust my schedule that week just for a Halloween party, but I wore my poodle skirt on Monday. It was kind of fun being the only one in costume that day, especially when the manager of the Intake Department was giving a couple new hires a tour of the office and introducing them to everyone. “That’s Allison, and that’s Gilbert there on the floor,” he said, “and by the way, that’s not a Halloween costume. That’s what she wears every day.” I still laugh about that thinking about it now. I suppose I did look goofy being the only one in costume, but I have always enjoyed doing goofy things now and then, and I love the fact that I work for a casual office that doesn’t require employees to abandon their quirkiness entirely in the name of being professional. Gilbert’s arthritis was acting up that day, so Mom and I decided not to put the costume on him, especially since he has to lift up his legs to get into part of it. This year, Gilbert’s stomach seemed upset so I didn’t even take him to work with me on Halloween, but I wore my poodle skirt again, and despite this being the third year I have worn it, I still got complements on it. At this point in my life’s journey, I don’t see anything wrong with having a little fun by wearing a poodle skirt, bobby socks and silly glasses to work once a year.

But participating in the office costume contest wasn’t the only excitement of that day. That day while standing for the office picture of everyone in their costumes, I met a relatively new co-worker who quickly became one of my closest friends. In fact, she is the friend I mentioned in the previous post who is health-conscious like me and advised my Secret Santa. Anyway, while standing for the picture, she said she had been dying to meet Gilbert and me but her desk is on the opposite side of the office and she felt shy about just approaching my desk. The more we talked, we realized we had a lot in common. We both adore our dogs, enjoy writing, and love discussing religion and politics. In fact, she indicated that she was new to the area and wanted to get involved in church and bible study but hadn’t figured out where she belonged yet, so I invited her to Elmbrook Church the following Sunday, and the young adult bible study I host at my house every Monday. So almost every Sunday, we sit together in church and then go to the Mission Café, a coffee shop run by volunteers after the service, and after everyone else has gone home on Monday nights, she will stick around a little longer to pet Gilbert and talk. I love having an “overlap friend” with whom I can discuss both faith and work. That day, we began a routine that is still going strong today. I e-mail her when I am clocking out for lunch, and we meet in the break room. Actually, to the extreme delight of both of us, soon I won’t have to e-mail her from across the room because on Friday, the boss told me that sometime this week, she is going to help me move my computer to the desk next to my friend because a lot of new people have been hired recently, and she wants to put one of these new people in this desk, and she thinks the new location will be quieter for me. I think the boss knows that we are especially good friends, but she knows we are also the kind of people who take our work seriously and are capable of striking the proper balance between work and socializing.

Speaking of which, toward the end of the day on Halloween, the boss turned around and asked me, “Have you checked your e-mail lately?” I hadn’t, so she encouraged me to check it right away. That’s how I found out I had been named Employee of the Month for November! She and the attorneys all agreed that I worked hard and took my work seriously. Gilbert was also named co-Employee of the Month. I never expected to get this honor given that I work part-time, so I was surprised and delighted with this news. As Employee of the month, I received a beautiful engraved glass plaque which I displayed on my desk all month, a fancy leather diploma folder with a certificate in it, an engraved lapel pin, and a $100 gift card. I also enjoyed an opportunity to get on a soapbox you could say, when the boss asked me to answer a few questions that would be displayed on a public board for all to read. One of the questions asked what I liked most about working for the firm, to which I answered the people, because everyone I have interacted with in the almost four years I have been with the firm has been extremely kind and supportive. For my favorite quote, I chose Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” The King James translation of this verse was part of a requiem I sang a few years ago in choir, and it was so beautiful I actually cried the first time I sang it, and ever since it has been my favorite verse. I debated choosing a more secular quote so as not to be offputting to people in the office who may not be Christians, but I believe in honesty, and this is my favorite verse. Besides, although Christians are supposed to openly share their faith, I have never been comfortable starting face-to-face conversations with people about faith unless I have really gotten to know them well, so it occurred to me that sharing this quote was a perfect opportunity to share my faith without the awkwardness of face-to-face conversation. The final question asked what advice I would give to other employees. The advice I gave was to try and always treat client’s with genuine compassion, but acknowleged that this was something I needed to work on sometimes as well. When I am tired, or the last appeal before lunch is very talkative and I just want to get off the phone and eat lunch, I have been guilty of viewing each appeal as just a task to knock off my list. But this job is incredibly rewarding when my compassion is genuine and a lonely client will occasionally tell me that speaking with me brightened their day.

On November 9, I had my first choir concert of the season. For this concert, our choir collaborated with five other church choirs in the community. Each choir sang two or three songs, and then we all combined for a finale song called “We are One.” My friend that I sit next to in choir commented one day that she imagines all of us rising up to heaven singing this song. I love this image. I have also privately thought about how cool it would be if we could perform this song for government bodies, because if our political leaders could apply the beautiful message of unity this song speaks of, we could heal a lot of what is wrong in this country. The first line of the song says, “when we walk, when we sleep, when we rise, we are one.” Later, the song says, “when we’re hurtin’ one another, that’s a way we hurt ourselves.” Right now, too many political leaders seem to believe they are doing the right thing by digging in and refusing to compromise or listen to people they disagree with, but this behavior hurts everyone, and I believe it will eventually hurt their careers and legacies as well.

Thanksgiving was a quiet day with just my parents, brother and me, but the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my sister rented a car and drove all the way from Washington D.C. where she spent Thanksgiving with her husband’s family, to our house with her dog and cat whom we got to petsit for while she and her husband went on a vacation to Antarctica. Both pets were adopted from a humane society in Durham, North Carolina where my sister used to volunteer. The dog Gwen, is a sweet little mutt who is about half Gilbert’s size, but what she lacked in size, she made up for with intimidation. Given how Gilbert goes crazy when he encounters other dogs on a walk, I envisioned Gilbert having the time of his life finally meeting a “cousin” to play with. Well, on the first day, my sister warned me that Gwen was food aggressive, so I should keep her out of the room while feeding Gilbert, and when he was done, I should pick up the bowl and put it in the sink right away. Well one day, I forgot to pick up Gilbert’s bowl, and Gwen thought she would go in and have a lick of it. Well, Gilbert didn’t appreciate this violation of his territory, and Gwen didn’t appreciate being shooed away from the food bowl. Mom and I rushed into the kitchen when we heard both dogs barking and snarling, to pick up the bowl, and I never forgot to pick up the bowl after that, but poor Gilbert was bitten on both ears during this fight and from then on tried to keep his distance from Gwen. One day when we got home from work, he even refused to come into the house because Gwen was standing too close to the door, and he let Gwen have his big fluffy bed at night while he slept on the floor. Gwen went home the Friday after Christmas, and just a few hours after she left, we had to drop Gilbert off at the Animal Hotel, a dog boarding kennel, because we went to Indiana to visit Granny in her assisted living facility, a trip that would have been difficult for Gilbert. When we brought Gilbert home from the Animal Motel New Year’s Eve and he realized Gwen was still gone, my dad said Gilbert actually smiled!

From a human standpoint, caring for Gwen was interesting because she is at least 15 years old, probably older. My sister and her husband adopted her in 2004, and the humane society estimated she was already two or three years old at that time. My mom vowed to pamper her because she did not want Gwen to pass away in our care. If this happened, we would always feel terrible, the once-in-a-lifetime vacation my sister and her husband planned would be tarnished, and we joked that if we couldn’t keep their dog alive, we might not be trusted with their children. This was a test! Gwen is still very vigorous, but she has a very sensitive stomach so she needed to go out frequently, and even then, she would often have accidents in the house. She is supposed to take a pill each morning for a bladder condition, but she doesn’t really like the taste of it, so we had to trick her into eating it every day by hiding it in sweet potatoes, and sometimes even then, she was not fooled and we would find her pill spit out on the floor. She doesn’t really like the taste of her prescription dog food either, and my sister warned us that she would sometimes go on a hunger strike and not eat. My sister had never tried it, but she told Mom that the vet said Gwen could have duck or venison. So the week after my sister left when Gwen hadn’t eaten for 36 hours, something that Mom would tell my sister and her husband was “unacceptable at Grandma’s house” she bought a duck breast, and even while it was still cooking on the stove, Gwen was drooling! From that day on, Mom would put a sliver of duck in each of her meals, just enough to season it, and Gwen cleaned her plate from that day forward! We had a good time laughing about this dog’s refined taste because we don’t eat duck. But then just when her stomach would settle down, her vertigo would flare up, and after falling down the stairs one day, she was afraid to climb stairs for a few days so my parents had to carry her upstairs at bedtime and then back downstairs each morning. But despite her special needs, she was a sweet dog that we enjoyed having. Kari the cat was my favorite though. It took her a few days to get comfortable with us because she was afraid of Gilbert, but once she realized Gilbert was harmless, she spent many hours purring in my lap and would follow me around just like Snickers used to do, melting my heart. The big difference between Kari and Snickers though is that Kari is bigger and heavier than Snickers ever was. Part of it could be her genetic make-up, but she also has a big appetite. While Snickers liked to nibble at her food, Kari would devour all her food right away. Because she was so much bigger, she was also not as light-footed as Snickers and would thus jump onto our laps with a thud. But my sister and her husband trained her better than we were ever able to train Snickers, so we didn’t have to guard food or water glasses left on the table.

At about 11:00 on the night of November 29, my mom met the older of my two brothers at the airport. He had flown home to visit from Portland, Oregon, which was particularly special because his job kept him so busy he had not come to Wisconsin since Thanksgiving of 2014. He couldn’t stay long either. He flew home the following Sunday afternoon at about the same time my sister was scheduled to fly back to New York to pack for their vacation. On Saturday, the brother who lives about an hour and a half away came home too. He could only stay a few hours because a snowstorm was in the forecast and he wanted to get home before dark. But we made the most of this rare and brief time that all four of us siblings were together with a game of Trivial Pursuit and a family photo. The Trivial Pursuit game made for a funny memory because I thought I being the baby of the family who doesn’t really bother keeping up with trivial facts and figures, would be the only one who didn’t know any answers. But it turned out, no one knew many answers. My parents had unknowingly bought the 1980s and 90s edition. The oldest brother knew more answers than the rest of us because he was born in 1981, but my parents said they were so busy during those years they weren’t paying attention to trivial stuff, and the rest of us were too young at the time to remember anything. But I made a few lucky educated guesses. For example, on a couple questions that required the name of a country, I guessed China which I remember learning was starting to dominate the world at that time, and was right! For Christmas though, my parents found a more current edition. I still didn’t know a lot of the answers, but definitely knew more than I did from the first edition.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were the strange part of the season for me. Christmas Eve was strange because we usually go to church on Christmas Eve, but this year, our church decided to hold some Christmas Eve services on Sunday December 23, and with family in town, Mom and I decided to go to the 11:00 Sunday service, which is actually the time we typically go to church every Sunday morning. It felt weird not going to church on Christmas Eve, but since the weather was beautiful, Mom, Gilbert and I did get to enjoy some special quiet time and fresh air with a short walk. In the evening, the rest of the family had carnitas which I didn’t have since they are made of pork, but I had a huge salad with leftover chicken from our dinner Saturday evening when my sister and her husband arrived. I was also delighted to find out that my sister’s husband made shrimp cocktail sauce using a healthier recipe, so I didn’t have to miss out on the family tradition of shrimp cocktail as part of Christmas Eve dinner. After dinner, we played Trivial Pursuit until past midnight although due to the late start, our family added a twist you won’t find in the official game rules. You were welcome to go sit in a comfortable chair in the living room and holler the answers from there when it was your turn to answer a question, which Dad and my sister insisted on doing. But once you officially fell asleep and didn’t answer when we hollered that it was your turn, you were eliminated. My sister was the first to go out this way. I almost lasted until the end, but when I was starting to doze off and say, “I don’t know,” to questions Mom was sure I knew if I thought about them, I bailed and went to bed. I think the game ended half an hour after that.

There are no children in our family right now, so opening presents on Christmas morning isn’t our highest priority. In fact, we didn’t open presents until 7:00 in the evening after a leisurely day of food and games. This was completely fine by me. In fact, I have been trying unsuccessfully for a couple years to convince my parents to try a Christmas without a gift exchange at all. I love giving people gifts, and of course, I appreciate gifts I receive. But every year when my siblings, parents and I ask each other what we want for Christmas, our first answer is always, “I don’t know. I don’t really need anything.” Sometimes after spending a couple days racking our brains, we are able to come up with ideas for each other. If not, we turn to gift cards. I have nothing against gift cards. In fact, I enjoy getting gift cards, but as the gift giver, I feel weird about just giving everyone gift cards which don’t look impressive under a tree, so every year there is always at least one person on my gift list who I have no idea what to give them, and so I end up buying them something I know they probably don’t really want just so they have something to open from me for Christmas. I just think that now that we are adults, and we are not materialistic kind of people, it just seems dumb to me that culture and tradition makes us feel obligated to give each other gifts on December 25, whether we need anything or not, and by turning our backs on this commercialism, the Christmas season could be a little more peaceful and less hectic for everyone, allowing more time to focus on what really matters.

In the past, our family could agree on a family game that we would start shortly after breakfast Christmas morning and play into the afternoon. But this year, my siblings wanted to play Settlers of Catan all afternoon Christmas Day, and unfortunately this game is not accessible for me. In the past when I was excluded from games, I would still just hang out with them and snack. But this year with snacking against my rules, I did not trust myself to be downstairs around all that temptation, especially without a game to keep me occupied. So with no games to play–at least until after we opened presents, at which time we did play another game of Trivial Pursuit–and with the traditional holiday treats no longer allowed, I didn’t know what to do with Christmas day. I almost felt like I understood the isolation people describe the first year they convert to a new religion and choose to abstain from the Christmas celebrations. It ended up being a very peaceful afternoon spent in my room listening to Christmas music and writing a letter to my seventh grade Social Studies teacher, one of my all-time favorite teachers whom I have kept in touch with over the years. He attended my high school and college graduation parties, and sends me a couple letters every year, but I am ashamed to admit I let life get away from me and hadn’t written him back in over three years. I am so glad I chose this activity because I could feel myself sliding into a pity party, but the further I got into this letter and focused my thoughts outward rather than inward, the more my mood lifted. By the time we sat down for Christmas dinner, I truly felt that sense of Christmas comfort and joy. Maybe I will embrace letter writing as a new Christmas day tradition. I could even get out my braillewriter and some cardstock and decorate each card with braille art. I bought a really fun book from the Perkins Institute a couple years ago that has a pattern for drawing a Christmas tree and a bell in braille.

But while Christmas Day itself was a little strange for me, the Christmas season was wonderful. This year in addition to my choir’s usual two Christmas concerts at churches in the community, we collaborated with several other choirs and the Wisconsin Philharmonic Orchestra for a concert at Carroll University, my alma mater. As much as I love singing with the Waukesha Choral Union, I really missed having opportunities to sing with a full symphony orchestra like I did in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir. I had even thought about how some day, I might have to defect to the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. The rehearsal schedule for this choir would be a lot more demanding, but I missed singing with an orchestra so much! Well, with this concert, the itch was scratched! It was magical and I felt like a kid again, especially when we sang Merry Christmas from Home Alone II. Every year since I started my job, Mom and I have had a tradition of attending the Milwaukee Symphony Holiday Pops concert. It is always a joyful concert that gets us both into the holiday spirit, and for me, it brings back happy memories from when I was in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir which used to perform at that very concert. As usual, the concert did not disappoint, and although it was a rainy dreary day, Mom and I walked out of the concert hall full of holiday cheer.

I was also invited to sing as part of a Christmas program for the Senior Living Center where my grandma lives. For this concert, I got to lead everyone in singing a few Christmas carols, and I had a solo singing Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, which happens to be one of my favorite carols. Between songs, some of the residents read bible verses from the Gospel of Luke, and one resident who writes poetry read a couple of beautiful poems about Christmas that she had written. All of the seniors enjoyed hearing me sing, especially my Grandma, and I felt uplifted realizing I had the opportunity to be a part of a program to brighten the season for seniors who may not be able to go to a concert outside this facility.

It is always a little sad to see the Christmas season end. Even now as I write this, Mom is taking the ornaments off of our tree, which has dried out to the point that needles fall off when you touch it. But after such a busy and wonderful season, we also feel ready to move on, eager to greet whatever 2019 throws our way.

When it Comes to my Health, I Cannot Serve Two Masters

Given how I mentioned in my last post that I have felt a spiritual calling to live a healthier lifestyle, I think it is only appropriate to quote a bible verse I have been thinking about a lot lately from Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” The verse goes on to say that you cannot serve God and money, but I think in this world, you could easily change these “masters” to good health, and culture. After all, by turning away from an unhealthy culture and taking care of the body God gave me, I feel I am honoring God.

For my fourteenth birthday, a friend from choir invited me to see a youth theater production of Joseph and the Amazing Techni-Colored Dream Coat, as she was in the cast. The performance was fantastic, and a wonderful way to celebrate a birthday. But the year I turned fourteen was my first attempt at trying to live healthier, in which I gave up chocolate, my biggest vice at the time. Before the show, I had angel food cake with strawberry frosting, which was fabulous, but not as addictive as chocolate and therefore I didn’t eat too much. After the show, this friend and her mom invited me, my parents and Grandma to her house. I don’t remember whether I told this friend that I wanted to give up chocolate and she just thought I would be willing to cheat on my birthday, or if I hadn’t told her at all. But at any rate, she had baked a chocolate birthday cake. I stood my ground and politely declined a piece of cake, but after the party, I was told that I should have had a piece to be polite as this friend went out of her way to do something special for me. For a long time after that, I felt terrible about how I had treated this friend, and eventually went back to eating chocolate because standing my ground in social situations was too emotionally difficult. This situation with my choir friend came back to mind in 2017 when I went over to my Jehovah’s Witness friend’s house for bible study. In conversation, I had casually told her I had Celiac Disease and had to eat gluten-free, but I had never really talked about my past wake-up calls, or how in the scariest wake-up call of all, the doctor thought I was pre-diabetic when I was only eighteen years old, so after that, I was very careful about how much sugar I ate. So this friend consulted closely with another Jehovah’s Witness friend whose son had to be strictly gluten free for medical reasons, and I could tell she was delighted as she presented me on a plate a big, beautiful slice of rhubarb cobbler she had made specially for me. Somehow, I couldn’t justify telling a little lie and just thanking her and asking to wrap it up and take it home to eat later, which in truth means giving it to Mom who also prefers to avoid gluten but does not have to worry about cross-contamination because she doesn’t have Celiac Disease. I have no qualms telling this little lie with other well-meaning friends who don’t understand Celiac Disease, but I really trust both her and the friend whose son is gluten free, so knew cross-contamination wasn’t something I would have to worry about eating the cobbler. And after all these friends did for us, including visiting me in the hospital and bringing food for my parents when I had my seizure in March 2017, and visiting my mom and bringing food for all of us after her shoulder surgery in April 2017, I knew I would feel like an absolute jerk if I didn’t eat the cobbler, so I did. But then I felt crushing guilt for caving and eating unhealthy after all the supposed wake-up calls I have had, and because I had done so well the past two years abstaining from family birthday cakes and pies Mom usually baked from scratch. I felt tremendous guilt the first couple celebrations, but when I explained my desire to abstain from high-sugar treats, Mom completely understood and was not offended because she had been there for me through all my wake-up calls. My Jehovah’s Witness friend did not know about my past wake-up calls, but with her degree of Christ-like compassion and selflessness—something I saw in all of the Jehovah’s Witnesses I met—I know she would have understood if I had explained my past struggles. I could have even been honest and told her that I was going to take the cobbler home to Mom.

But I don’t feel guilt and shame anymore, because in retrospect, I realize I wasn’t as committed to good health in 2017 as I thought I was anyway. While I made surface-level decisions to give up certain things like high-sugar desserts, and cheesy dishes like lasagna, I had not matured enough to go deeper and completely change my mind-set about eating. I didn’t realize then that while I had made small decisions that made me feel healthier, food was still my master in other areas. And as I mentioned in my last post, I have learned over the course of bible studies that perfection is not required, only progress. I know God forgives me for not making healthy choices in the past because I lacked the maturity at that time to change my mind-set. But now I feel ready to progress to a deeper level of maturity. It has also occurred to me that without the practice God had given me, starting in 2012 when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and had to smell wonderful things like pizza that I couldn’t have, I might not have even had the confidence to make the choice to resist gluten free birthday cake. And all those times I successfully resisted gluten free birthday cake prepared me for this holiday season when I felt so secure in the decision I felt called to make that I didn’t even have one paleo Christmas cookie or take one lick from the chocolate bowl, what used to be my favorite part of making the peanut clusters. And on Christmas day, when my sister requested steak and baked potatoes for dinner, I felt no shame in having my separate meal of a small slice of turkey breast meat, green beans and a giant salad. Life is really a series of stepping stones, and I believe God knows that.

For now, I still allow myself to eat one square of Ghirardelli 92% dark chocolate for lunch because one square only has 60 calories and hardly any sugar, and super-dark chocolate does have health benefits. But if this chocolate is not available, I will go without chocolate rather than eat chocolate with lower cacao content. In fact, yesterday, I noticed I only had four squares left, so I went to Target’s web site where I always re-order my chocolate because they have the best price. But for some reason, it is not able to be shipped right now. The only way to get it would be for Mom or Dad to take me to Target and pick it up. Next time Mom or Dad announce they will be going to Target anyway for household stuff, I will ask them to buy some chocolate. Until then, I can live without chocolate. It is a luxury, not something I need for sustenance, so asking Mom or Dad to make a special trip for it would be akin to idolizing food again. Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live makes a couple broad statements that chocolate should be avoided, but he does not say anything about super-dark chocolate, just that with chocolate comes sugar, and sugar is an addictive toxic substance. I can say from personal experience that sugar definitely is an addictive substance. I wasn’t aware of super-dark chocolate as a child, and probably would have spit it out in disgust if I had tried it as a child because my brain was so hooked on sugar. Many of the patients Dr. Fuhrman treats are morbidly obese, and would not be able to stand the bitter taste of 92% dark chocolate. But because I have pretty much abstained from refined sugar for years, I am no longer hooked on it and love the taste of super-dark chocolate. And because it is “the real thing”, I am perfectly satisfied with just one square.

Sorry, I really digressed there. Since it is impossible to serve two masters, I have confidently chosen to honor God by prioritizing my health, and I believe my true friends will understand. If that means eating my own thing at family gatherings or social events with friends, I will eat my healthy food proudly or when possible, eat at home beforehand and go to the event for the people, not the food. The week before Christmas, a co-worker who was relatively new to the company found out I was gluten free. She said she also has to be gluten-free, and offered me some cookies she had baked. Since I didn’t know her that well, I didn’t feel like explaining my health decision to her, so I accepted the cookies, thanked her and took them home. Mom and Dad loved them, even described the taste so I wouldn’t be backed into a corner if she asked specific questions about the taste of the cookies. But with co-workers I know well, I was honest and told them not to bring me any gluten-free baked goods because I planned to stay diligent even through Christmas. To my delight, everyone so far has been respectful and understanding. In fact, when I entered the office Secret Santa pool at the end of November, I wrote that dark chocolate was one of my favorite gifts to receive. After names were drawn, it occurred to me I hadn’t been thinking straight. What if they got me chocolate with only 60% cacao content, or just an obscene amount of chocolate that I wouldn’t be able to eat in a lifetime, that I would have to tactfully figure out what to do with. I would have been polite, smiled and said thank you, of course if these scenarios played out. But to my delight, my Secret Santa, who I found out consulted with a close friend who is also health conscious, didn’t give me any food at all. Insteat, I got a snow globe, and a wonderful smelling candle!

I am sure at some point, awkward moments will be inevitable, as my journey of a countercultural way of living in a culture that revolves around unhealthy food has only just begun. But with a successful first Christmas under my belt in which I lost five pounds while most Americans gained weight, combined with the opportunities God has given me to practice self-control since 2012, I am brimming with confidence and ready for the challenge. I will try not to over-explain things and just say a polite “no thanks” if offered unhealthy food. But when people ask questions, or make a comment like “oh come on, it’s a special occasion. You could cheat every once in awhile,” I have two approaches ready. If I know they are believers and religious talk won’t rub them the wrong way, I will share the feelings I have expressed in these last two blog posts. If they are not believers, I will tell them about this article. In this article, Dr. Fuhrman explains that addictive foods stimulate the same dopamine receptors in the brain that drugs and alcohol do for some people. Since unhealthy food is cheap, legal, and socially accepted, it is the “drug of choice” for many people. With just one bite of addictive foods, dopamine is released, and the brain wants more. It isn’t long before the brain adapts by actually reducing the number of dopamine receptors. With fewer dopamine receptors, the brain needs more and more of the addictive substance to get the desired reward. Therefore, in the same way that a recovering alcoholic or drug user cannot even have one drink or dose without risk of relapse, people who struggle with over-eating cannot have even one splurge without risk of relapse. Indeed, my craving for ever larger portions of certain foods, especially peanut butter, paleo treats and grain-based casseroles after work began with just one bite.

How fitting that I am publishing this post on New Year’s Day, isn’t it? I know parts of this post may have sounded like I was gloating because I started the most common new year’s resolution even before Christmas. Don’t feel bad about yourself reading about my success. It is a journey, and we all have unique struggles. Even my transition was rocky at first. As luck would have it, exactly one week after my shock on the scale which I talked about in the previous post was Thanksgiving, the holiday that is about feasting. I ate smaller portions that day than I ever have on Thanksgiving, but even at Thanksgiving, I felt like I would be “missing out” if I didn’t have mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole with gluten free fried onions on top, and a slice of pumpkin pie. Before I realized how overweight I had become, I asked Mom to buy an expensive gluten free pie crust at a local bakery rather than make a crustless pie as she did two Thanksgivings ago. (Last Thanksgiving, my sister hosted Thanksgiving in New York City.) I felt I couldn’t bail on her and say no to pie when she had gone to such expense. But I think in retrospect, there could not have been a better time to start a new lifestyle than the holiday season. I found my footing in this new lifestyle by Christmas, and now that I successfully navigated Christmas just over a month after choosing this lifestyle, I think I can handle anything. If I can do this, anyone can. I think being Christian definitely gave me an advantage because I feel as though I am doing this with a higher purpose. But no matter what you believe, I think incredible freedom and joy could be found in just not having to think about your weight anymore or agonize about the next doctor visit. I have also found that I appreciate other facets of life more now that I am eating for sustenance rather than pleasure. For example, this year I sang in three choir concerts for the Christmas season, and by no longer allowing myself to eat for pleasure, my mind did not wander during the concert to what treat I would have afterwards, but instead appreciated more fully the beauty of the songs we were singing. You don’t have to be mastered by cultural norms. This freedom and deeper appreciation of life can be yours too if you make the decision to “just say no.” No, it isn’t easy, especially in the beginning when you actually go through withdrawal just like a drug addict. For me, withdrawal came in the form of a couple migraines that were more severe than usual. But I can tell you the rewards have already been worth the sacrifice.

Food is for Sustenance, Not for Pleasure

One Sunday in Catholic Christian Formation class—I think it was in eighth grade—we were discussing something, and the teacher cited 1 Corinthians 6 19-20: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. I don’t think gluttony was specifically mentioned in this discussion, but in my head, I felt a jolt of guilt I had never experienced before. I knew that my diet which at the time revolved around cheese, chocolate, potatoes and the occasional fruit or vegetable was not healthy because it could eventually lead to diabetes, heart disease and a shortened life. But I had never considered that my body was a temple of the Holy Spirit, and that in eating the way I did, I was dishonoring God. Did this new realization and the guilt and shame it inspired motivate me to change my lifestyle that day? Unfortunately, no. In fact knowing me, I probably went home and had a brownie or bowl of ice cream to drown my sorrows.

Fortunately, I would learn through the course of more bible studies as I got older that God doesn’t expect perfection, only progress, and gradually, over the course of several wake-up calls, I have made gradual but steady progress toward living a healthier life that honors God. In seventh grade, I vowed to at least stop eating mindlessly at holiday gatherings. In eighth grade, although I still ate too much junk food, I vowed to at least eat the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables each day, and in so doing, I actually came to discover that some vegetables I hated when I was little weren’t so gross after all. In my freshman year of college after a doctor visit revealed a slightly elevated Hemoglobin A1C level, a risk factor for diabetes, I became much more mindful about not overdoing it on sweets, and started walking on the treadmill religiously. After each of these changes, I would lose weight and be so proud of how slim and healthy I was for a time, but then gradually gain weight back. Then a couple years after college, I would discover Dr. Fuhrman who outlined research that showed that true health requires a radical change in the way western cultures eat. I knew that sugar and processed foods were harmful, but was surprised to learn that foods I thought were healthy like milk, meat, and even olive oil really aren’t healthy at all. He advocated a radical nutritarian diet comprised almost entirely of fruit and vegetables. Raw, unsalted nuts and seeds contain important nutrients, but because they are high in fat and calories, this diet limited them to one ounce a day. Unrefined whole grains were limited to one cup per day. Everything else—oil, salt, animal products and sugar—were to be completely avoided for six weeks. After six weeks, lean meat could be added back into the diet, but this doctor recommended that animal products comprise no more than 150 calories per day. After an embarrassing meeting with a job coach where I was told that my clothing wasn’t the most flattering—he didn’t say it but I knew that he was referring to the fact that my shirt was a little tight and caused my stomach to bulge grossly—I decided to challenge myself to follow Dr. Fuhrman’s strict program for six weeks. I started a blog about that experience, and the posts I have linked to were originally written for that blog. (A few weeks ago, I decided to import the posts I wrote at that time to this blog, but they were originally written for another blog I started called Allison the Nutritarian.) For some reason, I couldn’t find the inspiration to write religiously for this blog which is why there were only three posts. But I did adhere to this program strictly for six weeks, lost about 14 pounds just in time to start my first job, and was so proud of my slim figure and how much better my clothes fit!

Some principles of the nutritarian lifestyle, I have done a great job of continuing these past three years. Every day, I eat at least a cup of legumes. On workdays, they are in the form of bean salad which my awesome mother prepares for me. A couple of my coworkers who have been there since I started tease me because I have never changed things up and eaten anything other than bean salad for lunch, but I don’t mind. I don’t give it back to them, just smile when they complain about not feeling well after carrying in junk food from some restaurant, while I feel great! Every morning before work, my breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal, a banana and an apple. Every day, but especially after work, I enjoy having a giant salad, and a big scoop of whatever hot vegetables Mom cooks for dinner. On the days I don’t work, I usually have scrambled eggs with lots of vegetables mixed in, and a small pile of potatoes browned with just a little bit of oil for breakfast, and for lunch I have bean soup which I started making in the crockpot when I went part-time. But gradually as I went about the busyness of life, I let my discipline slide in other ways. I loved peanut butter: in fact, to my surprise when I was on the six-week program, it was peanut butter, not chocolate or cheese or meat that I craved most. (I could have had natural peanut butter, but since there were already nuts and seeds in the salad dressing I was eating at the time, I feared peanut butter would cause me to exceed the strict 1-ounce limit and I wouldn’t achieve the results I was hoping for.) So after the six week program, I switched from Jif peanut butter to natural peanut butter, and even bought a cool gadget that made stirring it a breeze. But I overlooked the importance of portion control when it comes to nuts and gradually stopped measuring and just gave myself a heaping scoop of it on each apple slice for breakfast or lunch each day. In addition, I would allow myself to eat a Larabar (made of dates and nuts), or a paleo muffin from Simple Mills (made of almond flour) for dessert each day. Simple Mills also makes delicious crackers out of almond flour, and after a long day of work, or if I just got the munchies on one of my days off, I would enjoy a handful of those too. In the first months following the six-week program, I strictly adhered to the one cup limit of grains or starchy compliments, so if I had oatmeal that morning, I would ask Mom to use pasta made out of lentils, or I would just make myself a can of vegetable soup instead of what the rest of the family was eating. (I know canned soup is high in sodium, but I didn’t have time to chop vegetables and make my own meals, and since the rest of my meals didn’t contain much salt, I was sure I wouldn’t exceed the recommended limit of 2,000MG a day by eating canned soup, and in terms of fat and calories, it was way healthier than going for a plate of meat and potatoes or pasta.)But I felt guilty asking Mom to modify the meal for me or eating canned soup when she had prepared a wonderful dinner, and when my job became stressful, I gave into cravings for something tastier than vegetables. By February 2017 when my job no longer caused such stress and anxiety because I had a new position and switched to part-time, I had become so entrenched in my old ways of eating that I never scaled back. All of these realizations caught up with me on November 15 when I went to the doctor for my annual physical and was shocked to hear from the physician’s assistant that I weighed 186 pounds! I prayed that when the doctor came in, she wouldn’t notice this number, but to my shame, she did, and told me to think about keeping a food diary to find out where the calories were coming from, and decrease the portions of high-calorie foods, and to vary my exercise routine. I told her I walk two miles a day on the treadmill which she said was great, but noted that since my muscles were accustomed to this workout, I wasn’t burning as many calories as someone new to treadmill workouts.

When the physician’s assistant escorted me back to the waiting room where my mom was waiting, she could tell I was upset, so I told her the news. As with every episode of weight gain in my life, Mom tried to comfort and encourage me. That day, she suggested I just try and decrease the portion of everything I eat by 25 percent. My diet was overall healthy, so I didn’t need to give anything up, just eat smaller portions. She also went online and read articles about rowing machines which she had recently heard provided an excellent full-body workout.

I knew the doctor and Mom meant well, but the first couple hours after coming home, these suggestions only made me feel more humiliated, sad and frustrated. I don’t want to keep a food diary! I actually tried to keep one after another episode of weight gain a few years earlier, using a website with a food database where I could select the foods and it would add up the calories. It was easy to track processed foods, but for homecooked food, it was a massive pain, as I had to search for EVERY SINGLE INDIVIDUAL INGREDIENT. After spending a whole morning searching for all the ingredients to calculate the calories of one home-made muffin I had for breakfast that day, I gave up on this endeavor. I enjoy going to the gym to swim sometimes, but I didn’t want to commit to going to the gym regularly to use a stupid rowing machine, especially since I cannot drive and thus would have to go at someone else’s convenience, and when it is convenient for them to take me, I might be at peak inspiration in my writing, or engrossed in a good book and not interested in dropping everything. But most of all, I didn’t want to cut portions. After a hard day of work, I don’t want to come home to a pitiful, tiny plate of food. I even found myself a little angry with God, asking why I couldn’t enjoy the pleasures of a heaping scoop of natural peanut butter on each apple slice, or a big plate of brown rice and a larabar after work when I know people who live on junk food and don’t walk on the treadmill at all, and yet are skinny as toothpicks!

And then the thought occurred to me, or perhaps God put the thought into my mind that my whole mind-set toward food was wrong. God created us to desire food because we need food for sustenance, and for most humans throughout history, gluttony was not something they had to worry about because they lived a subsistence lifestyle. In many parts of the world, people still live a subsistence lifestyle. But in modern Western society where food is so available, we no longer eat with a sustenance mind-set, but a pleasure mind-set. Treats, which the dictionary defines as “out of the ordinary” have become part of our everyday diet, and even though I thought I was living a healthy lifestyle, I too was still influenced by this culture. I also thought back to numerous bible studies that asked us to consider what idols we may have in our lives that distract us from God, and realized that maybe my idol was food. Just a couple weeks earlier when the church leadership challenged everyone to a day of fasting, I wanted to attempt the challenge, but chickened out. (For medical reasons, my parents advised me not to completely fast, but just eat very small meals). But I chickened out on the idea of even eating smaller meals, as I couldn’t imagine a day without things like peanut butter or my larabar. I will even confess that sometimes on Sunday mornings during church, my mind would wander to the wonderful lunch I was going to have when we got home. Every semester, our choir meets for an extra retreat on a Saturday from 10:00 to 3:00 for an extended rehearsal and a potluck lunch. While I love everything else about this choir, I hated these Saturdays. I have to bring my own cold lunch to these potlucks because of my Celiac Disease. Mom usually makes me tuna salad, and normally I actually really like tuna salad. But some of the food other people always bring to share would smell so good it made me feel sad that I couldn’t trust that it was gluten free and partake of it, and then angry that we have to have this stupid potluck. Why couldn’t we just get all of the rehearsing done in the morning and then let everyone go home so I could at least have something more delicious like soup, and an apple with a heaping scoop of peanut butter on each slice.

The title of Dr. Fuhrman’s signature book on living a nutritarian lifestyle is Eat to Live. I think he gave the book this title to imply that if we follow this nutritarian lifestyle, we will live longer and not fall victim to pre-mature death from preventable conditions like heart disease. But in a section where he gives tips on how to stick with this lifestyle long-term, he advises people not to make food the center of their lives, but spend more time pursuing other interests. If we are going to a social setting where unhealthy food will be served, we should eat before-hand, and make the event about the people, not the food. I think God also intended for us to eat to live because while there are many bible passages that mention people gathering together for food and fellowship, the fellowship is always emphasized more. So on the evening of November 15, I decided from that day forward, I would strive to live counterculturally. I would still exercise a little more: I have added some abdominal exercises three times a week using a bosu ball I bought back in January but hadn’t used much. But I wouldn’t exercise obsessively. I wasn’t going to keep a food diary or limit myself to tiny portions of unhealthy food. I was going to eliminate the foods I idolized altogether. I wasn’t going to give myself excuses to cheat such as a holiday or difficult day at work, and promise to eat healthy again tomorrow. I was just going to live a healthy lifestyle every day, no exceptions, by reminding myself every day that food is for sustenance, not for pleasure. Fortunately even before being shocked by the scale, I had acquired an appreciation for the flavors of vegetables. When my parents will saute a whole bunch of vegetables like zucchini, peppers, onions and mushrooms in just a little bit of olive oil, I don’t choke them down. I genuinely enjoy them. This already gave me an advantage over many of the patients Dr. Fuhrman works with whose brains are so addicted to the intense sweetness or saltiness of processed food that they have to acquire an appreciation for fresh fruit and vegetables. I have also come to see my Celiac Disease as a blessing in disguise, because it meant I already had a lot of practice smelling luscious foods like pizza and potluck dishes that I couldn’t have. I just had to eliminate a few foods like peanut butter and larabars that have some health benefits if eaten in moderation, but which I had come to idolize, go back to being strict about eating no more than one cup of grains or starches a day and only a small amount of lean meats like chicken or turkey, and “just say no” when tempted with unhealthy food, even if I knew the unhealthy food was gluten-free.

This post is getting long, so I will share more thoughts on how this lifestyle is going in the next post. But for now I will just say that although I have already been put to the test several times, overall, I am succeeding. While the “re-training” of family and friends has felt awkward at times, and although right now I still think about how much I miss treats, especially with all the Christmas temptation in the house, I know that once I get used to this lifestyle, this new lifestyle will offer an incredible sense of freedom, as I won’t have to fret about my weight or make new year’s resolutions like most Americans. I will just be able to live my life, and treat the annual physical exam as just a formality to check off the to-do list. I also look forward to the new opportunities God may throw my way as I focus less on the pleasures of food and more on things that truly matter.

Laws Cannot Change the World

On Thursday September 13, just one day after the anonymous op-ed was published in the New York Times, I was in my room filling out a bank form online when Mom knocked on my door. “Just a minute,” I said politely, but a little flustered. This was my second attempt filling out the form. The first time after working for nearly an hour, I lost everything I had entered when I spent too long on one page and my 15-minute web session expired and I had to start all over. I had almost reached where I was before, so had come too far to be interrupted now. “No hurry,” she said, “when you get to a good stopping spot, I just have something I want to show you.” I could tell by the tone of her voice that it must be something juicy. Mom and I have really bonded over politics this past year and a half. Speaking of which, in my next post I will update you on our experience with the League of Women Voters. Anyway, I finished the form quickly and hurried downstairs.

“What did you want to show me?” I asked eagerly. “Did we need another reason to despise Donald Trump”? she asked rhetorically. “No, why?” I asked. “Well listen to this!” she said. She had been listening to a podcast called Stay Tuned with Preet published by NPR. The podcast was hosted by Preet Bharara, a former attorney with the Justice Department. I don’t listen to this podcast on a regular basis simply because when Mom is listening to podcasts, I am often at work or up in my room writing, and I just enjoy listening to podcasts with her more than alone. But she will re-play podcasts for me that she found particularly interesting, and enjoys listening to them a second time herself. One week, he featured a cop from the New York Police Department. Just a couple weeks ago, he had Cyrus Habib, the lieutenant governor of Washington who also happens to be totally blind. But on September 13, while I am sure his guest was someone intelligent and interesting, the guest was overshadowed by the end of the podcast which Mom had cued up and ready to re-play for me. At the end of this podcast, Preet drew attention to an article in the New York Daily News written by Barbara Res, someone who used to work for Donald Trump when he was in real estate. The premise of the article, which I found and read in full after the podcast, was that no one is standing up to Trump. The writer of the op-ed says there are adults in the room, but what are they really doing to stop Donald Trump. Sure, there was the incident when the memo was removed from the president’s desk so he wouldn’t sign it, but why was the memo even created to begin with. She said Trump bullied people, told lies and behaved recklessly when she worked with him in real estate, but now the stakes are a lot higher. But what really shocked Preet, my mom and I was the beginning of the article where Res recounts one particular incident. An architectural Engineer was showing Trump photos of what the elevators in Trump tower would look like, and when Trump saw little dots next to the buttons for each floor on the elevator, he asked “what are those?” “Braille,” the engineer answered. “Get rid of it,” Trump reportedly said. “We can’t. It’s the law,” the engineer replied, to which Trump said, “No blind people are going to live in Trump Tower. Get rid of the (expletive) braille.”

 

I should not have been surprised that Donald Trump would say something like this. When he mocked the disabled reporter with Cerebral Palsy during the campaign, I knew he would not be a president who respected people with disabilities, and at the time, I remember fanticizing vengefully about how he is lucky I wasn’t the reporter interviewing him because if he mocked me, I would have made sure to purposely trip him with my cane, not to cause him serious harm, just enough to temporarily bruise his ego as footage of him tripping over my cane was broadcast all over the world. But after hearing this “get rid of the (expletive) braille” story, my shock and disgust over our president’s attitude toward people with disabilities became a lot more personal, and this vengeful fantacy returned. People who commented on the article did one even better, expressing the hope that Trump would someday be struck blind!

 

But in all seriousness, I have no desire to meet Donald Trump, and if I got close enough to trip Donald Trump with my cane, I wouldn’t actually do so. I also was taught never to wish misfortune on anyone, even our enemies. It is God’s job, not ours to judge and mete out justice. I think for me at least, these vengeful thoughts were a result of simply not knowing how to process the fact that the President of the United States has such disdain for people with disabilities. The dark humor of imagining Donald Trump tripping over my cane, and then fuming with anger as he watches it over and over on the news was comforting when I felt powerless and discouraged at the state of our society. But a few days later, one of my Jehovah’s Witness friends commented on my previous post, and although my post and her comment never mentioned Donald Trump, I sensed God speaking to me through this comment, and it was just the comfort and bit of perspective I needed.

 

In her comment, my friend mentioned she had recently done a study on the difference between laws and principles. The two points in her comment that stood out most for me and got me thinking about Donald Trump were when she points out that God gives us more principles than laws so we can exercise our conscience and demonstrate our love by wanting to obey from our heart, and that we have laws for a particular time or situation, but principles are timeless. As I have mentioned before, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not run for political office, or even vote. At this point in my life journey, I am not ready to go so far as to not vote, but with this comment, I can kind of understand their reasoning. I plan to vote because at this particular moment in history, I think if we can get some Democrats into office, we can steer this country in a slightly better direction as Democrats will be a check on Trump which I think would result in an improved standard of living for the poor, minorities and people with disabilities whom the bible commands us to treat with compassion. But I recognize that even if Democrats took control of the house, senate, and every state legislature in the country, we will still live in a broken world. While the conduct of Donald Trump and the alt-right movement is particularly egregious right now, in this current world where no one is without sin, I am well aware that Democrats have a history of immoral conduct, corruption and dishonesty as well. I also recognize that the hunger for power leads many candidates to take positions not because they believe them in their heart but because they are politically advantageous. Right now, Democrats advocate for helping immigrants seeking asylum, justice reform for minorities, gun control and coverage for people with pre-existing conditions to contrast themselves with the alt-right, and I would like to believe that most people are good, and really do hold these positions in their hearts. But in just my 28 years of life, I have seen candidates’ views change every election cycle, so I am not pinning all my hopes on any politician. But more importantly, this world will still be broken because the only power man-made government has is to make laws. Since anyone with a conscience recognizes that murder and sex trafficking are horrendous crimes, there are legal consequences if convicted of these crimes. But laws alone cannot change hearts, and thus murder and sex trafficking still occur regularly.

 

There are still unfortunately misconceptions about the capabilities of people with disabilities, exemplified by the high unemployment rate that persists for this segment of society. I have personally witnessed this kind of ignorance, and while it is annoying, it is forgivable, especially for blindness, a condition so rare many people have told me I am the first blind person they have ever met. But progress was made in 1990 with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act which included the requirement for braille on elevators. I think ultimately, the conscience, or at least the respect for the law on the part of the architectural engineer won out, and there is braille on the elevators of Trump tower. But the point is the strongest laws in the world are powerless when it comes to changing the hearts of people like Donald Trump who is not just ignorant of the capabilities of people with disabilities, but has outright disdain for people with disabilities. So even if our legislative bodies are filled with people possessing pure hearts who pass laws that reflect Godly principles, this world will still be broken as long as there are people who have no interest in living by these principles themselves. The bible commands us to respect the authority of earthly governments, so long as the nation’s laws don’t conflict with God’s laws. We need laws in this period of time to keep some degree of peace and order until Christ returns. But only when Christ returns and restores the world to one where everyone is willing to live by Godly principles will this broken world truly be healed. But due to many sightings of the world shall in passages regarding Christ’s return, I am confident this restoration will happen, and this thought is way more comforting than the image of Trump tripping over my cane.

Shall is a Mighty Word

As I mentioned back in February, I pursued a paralegal certificate from Milwaukee Area Technical College in 2014. In January when I started the program, I confess I was a little bit angry at God. After all, I had worked so hard, and pulled countless all-nighters to earn a Bachelors degree, and what did I have to show for it? Nothing, really. I was supposed to be done with school, earning money, living the dream on my own like my siblings and peers. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been so angry because the courses were interesting, and one professor in particular was very karismatic. The coursework was also a piece of cake compared to the assignments I had for my bachelors degree. There was still a lot of boring reading, but the assignments were practical rather than theoretical, so it didn’t take me nearly as long to complete them as the assignments I had at Carroll University. And while the patience was bitter, the fruit was sweet, as I now have a job and an income.

I have heard seasoned Christian speakers say that sometimes God puts us through experiences for a purpose we don’t understand at the time, but which we will thank Him for later. Before 2014, and actually for most of 2014, messages like these seemed cliché and almost annoying. My attitude changed one Thursday evening Family Law class in September 2014. I have thought about this day often since 2014, but felt compelled to write about this experience as a tribute to the professor when I found out just a few days ago from a Facebook friend that this professor had passed away unexpectedly. This professor, who was also a practicing attorney, never came right out and said she was a Christian, maybe partly because it was a public college so she couldn’t espouse her religious views, but mostly because since I could tell she walked the walk by the way she treated all of us with compassion, patience and encouragement when we had difficulty with an assignment, and the way she spoke about her family and her law practice, she didn’t need to talk the talk, and my parents taught me that is how Christians should conduct themselves.

I don’t know why I remember this particular family law lecture so vividly, and as I write this, I am feeling compelled to ask the Facebook friend who informed me of the professor’s passing, and who has openly expressed her Christian faith if she remembers this lecture or if God was speaking specifically to me that day. That day, we were studying a section of the Wisconsin Statutes that lays out how child support requirements are calculated. One statement in the section reads, “The court shall determine a parent’s monthly income available for child support by adding together the parent’s annual gross income or, if applicable, the parent’s annual income modified for business expenses; the parent’s annual income imputed based on earning capacity; and the parent’s annual income imputed from assets, and dividing that total by 12.” After reading this statement, the professor paused and said, “Notice the word shall here. The statute doesn’t say the court may calculate child support this way, or that it could use this method or another method. By using the word shall, the statute is saying the court must use this method to determine child support.”

I had never really given the word shall much thought, and honestly didn’t give the word much thought that day either. I had seen it in the bible, legal documents, and Shakespeare-era literature when I was in school, but I rarely see it in modern literature, so I always just took it for granted as an antiquated word that is the equivalent of the word will today. But since then, whenever I encounter the word shall in a bible study, or in choral pieces, the words of which often come right from the bible, it is as if God, speaking through this professor’s voice in my head is saying to me, “notice the word shall here. The passage doesn’t say He may reign forever, but could change His mind. It says He shall reign forever.” I am sure to the professor, this was just another innocuous statement in a typical classroom lecture, but unbeknownst to her, this statement has caused me to sing pieces like Handel’s Messiah, and approach the bible with a deeper level of conviction and joy.

I looked up both shall and will in the dictionary, and their meanings and usages are very similar. But I love the sharper, more assertive sound of the word shall. I know that the bible was originally written in Greek and Hebrew, but in an apologetics class I take through my church, the teacher has talked extensively on the care and intentionality that has gone into translating the Bible so I believe use of the word shall was intentional and inspired by God. Our legal system is far from perfect, and I read an interesting article recently about how this country’s founders held views that would deem them unelectable, at least among conservative Christian voters today. Our founders also believed strongly in the separation of church and state which we strive to uphold today. Nonetheless, it is interesting to read legal documents as they are often still written with an antiquated, old testament sort of language as if the people responsible for drafting legal documents respect the beautiful, authoritative way in which God speaks and see value in writing laws with this same vibe whether they believe in God or not.

The teacher in my apologetics class will often say that when speaking to people who are not yet believers, we must be careful not to use circular reasoning. In other words, if someone who is not yet a believer asks why we believe what we believe, we need to have more to offer than “because it is in the bible, and the bible is accurate because it says so.” But I think God recognizes that even for lifelong Christians like myself, who became discouraged, disillusioned and angry when I couldn’t find a job, speakers pointing to bible passages just weren’t doing it for me. So I wonder if God directed me to pursue a paralegal certificate not only because it would lead me to a job, but because it would deepen my faith when a professor would point out how even a man-made institution like our legal system reveres, and draws inspiration from God using beautiful, mighty authoritative words like shall.

March for Our Lives

Second Semester of my freshman year of college, I took Introduction to Newswriting and Reporting, the first real class toward my Journalism emphasis. One Thursday, and ironically it was the day the professor invited reporters from a local television news station to speak to our class on broadcast journalism, a troubled student in the class got into an argument with the professor. I don’t remember the nature of the argument, but the argument occurred just before the reporters arrived, and students who sat near this student later said the student was stewing with anger the whole class. As the class ended and everyone was packing up to leave, another student heard the troubled student mutter under his/her breath something like, “this is how things like Virginia Tech happen.” Shocked to hear this veiled threat, the other student said, “What did you say?” to which the troubled student responded “yeah, that’s how I feel!” The student reported this comment to the professor who called police and campus security. Formal charges were not filed against this troubled student because police determined the student wasn’t planning to act on this threat, but the student was banned from campus and I never saw this person again. Nonetheless, we were all shook up by the incident when our class met again the following Monday, and the professor devoted that Monday class to just talking about the incident and allowing us to process everything. That day, the professor who usually leaves the classroom door open shut the door as a precaution and campus security stood outside the door in the event this troubled student did show up. But one innocent student was running late to class that day, and unaware of how shook up we all were, he frantically and loudly burst through the door. I will never forget how my heart went into my throat for a split second thinking, “Oh my God, this is it! Do I have my affairs in order?” Apparently I was not alone in this moment of terror because a second later, when the rest of the class saw who it was, there was a kind of relieved laughter. I am telling this story because while I am blessed that I have not been the victim of gun violence or lost a close friend or loved one to gun violence, at least not yet, I realized with this incident how perilous life is. I was well aware of incidents like Virginia Tech and Columbine, but those people were far away. With this incident, I became more keenly aware of the fact that there is the potential for gun violence to happen anywhere, to anyone including me.

 

About nine years later, I would come home from work to hear about the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Like most Americans, I was prepared for the usual news pattern. First thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families, then an investigation into the background of the shooter and how he accessed guns, then some calls for stricter gun control laws that would ultimately be drowned out by accusations of infringement on people’s second amendment rights, or that these people were politicizing tragedy and it is too soon to talk about gun control, and then the news would move on and the tragedy would be forgotten by most Americans until the next shooting occurred. But this time was different. There were the usual politicians sending their thoughts and prayers, and there was the usual investigation into the shooter’s background, but when gun rights activists started to say it was too soon to talk about gun control, this time students “called BS” with one student who would become a leader of the #MarchForOurLives movement saying that him and his classmates were whispering about the need for stricter gun control laws while huddled in a closet as the shooter was still on a rampage. My mom and I were impressed by the poise and passion from these student leaders, and then horrified when gun rights fanatics started saying vile things about these students. Ever since the shocking day of Donald Trump’s election, Mom and I have wanted to become more involved and stand up for kindness in a society that seems to have gone crazy, but we weren’t sure how to go about this. We thought about going to the women’s march the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, but it was very cold outside, I was exhausted as I still worked full-time back then, and we were a little apprehensive that the march might be a little too militant for us as women talked of wearing “pussy hats.” But when we heard that students were planning marches nationwide to campaign for sensible gun legislation, Mom announced she would like to go. At first I felt apprehensive about the idea of going to this type of event as well. Partly, I was a little scared that gun rights fanatics might stage a counter protest and things could get violent as they did in Charlottesville. But mostly I felt a little awkward, similar to the way I felt once in high school when invited to a ceremony dedicating a garden created in memory of a blind child who lost her life to a brain tumor similar to the one I survived as a baby. I felt a connection with this child even though I did not know her, and was heartbroken for her family. But because I didn’t know her personally, I felt awkward, fearing I would say the wrong thing if I came face-to-face with her grieving family. In the end, I was glad I attended as just the presence and empathy from so many people meant a lot to the family, and thus I learned that I didn’t need to fear saying the wrong thing, and didn’t even need to say anything at all because just being present and showing that you care, whether or not you are personally impacted by a tragedy means a lot. And just as with gun violence, cancer can strike anyone. I have never lost anyone close to me to cancer, but that could change someday. It could even strike me again. There is still so much science does not know about what causes this terrible disease and why some are able to beat the disease and others are not. Growing up, my parents often talked about the golden rule of doing unto others as you would want done to you, and I think if I were personally impacted by a tragedy, just the presence of people letting me know they care would mean a lot to me as well. Although the #marchForOurLives event and the ceremony dedicating the memorial garden were different in nature, I realized that my initial feelings toward attending both events were similar, and at both events, just being present and showing you cared was all that mattered.

 

So on Thursday March 22, Mom bought poster-size paper to make signs, and we set out for the march early Saturday morning. The sign I carried said, “Parkland students, we stand behind you! We can end gun violence now!” Mom’s sign said “Protect people not guns!” We arrived outside the courthouse about 9:00 that morning, and although the air was a little brisk (I think the temperature was in the 40s), the atmosphere was warm and friendly. Right away when we arrived, people thanked us for coming, and several people complemented our signs. People were also handing out free signs to people who didn’t have one. Mom described some of the other signs to me. One said “fire Ryan, not guns.” This was in reference to speaker of the house Paul Ryan who represents a district near Milwaukee and who has taken money from the NRA. An avid hunter brought a sign stating that he was a hunter but supported sensible gun legislation. But I think my favorite was a sign with a picture of a gun but instead of bullets coming out of the barrel of the gun, it showed flowers. While there is nothing wrong with displaying signs with political messages, I liked the idea of a sign that simply depicted a general need for peace. The event began with speeches from local students, where it occurred to me that most of the speakers had never personally felt the impact of gun violence, but still cared deeply about the issue and wanted to make the world a better place by speaking out. And then with students leading the way, we walked slowly from the Milwaukee County courthouse to a nearby park. Mom warned me in the car on the way to the rally that we may be heckled, but to my relief, we didn’t see a single counter protestor, and I think this shows that the vast majority of people are kind and reasonable. The kind of people that say vile things about the Parkland students are a very loud, but very small minority, and ultimately good will prevail.

 

Most of the time, we just walked quietly carrying our signs, but every now and then, someone up front would start a chant like, “hey-hey! Ho-ho! The NRA has got to go!” or “What do we want? Safe schools! When do we want it? Now!” These chants would gradually spread through the crowd until soon, everyone was chanting for awhile. I have seen footage of protestors chanting on television, and while I always admired the passion of these protestors and their commitment to their causes, I used to be skeptical about how productive this chanting really was in actually changing anything. That day as I chanted with the crowd, it occurred to me that while it is true that marching and chanting alone cannot change anything, the sense of unity and excitement that chanting stirs up is really about energizing and inspiring people, so that when the march is over, the marchers can return to the fight for their causes with renewed passion and determination. In the five months since this march, I have not been politically active regarding the specific issue of gun violence because I am not sure what I could do that students all over the country aren’t doing way better than I ever could. But I did leave the march with a new sense of hope for our society, as this fellowship with such a large group of kind people who just want sensible political leadership was encouraging.

 

I waited five months to write about this protest partly because on March 24, I felt the need to write about my seizure. But I also waited because I couldn’t decide how I wanted to approach this topic. But in these months, I have decided that while I feel for the victims of gun violence and recognize that it could happen anywhere to anyone, I feel called to devote my energy toward filling political offices with people of good character, because if we could have good leaders who were honest and compassionate, and focused on doing what is right, not just what big donors want them to do, we could take positive steps forward on many issues, including gun control. While Democrats are the party in favor of gun control right now, and Republicans seem to be the people getting money from the NRA, I would vote for a Republican with good character which would naturally lead to him/her advocating for policies that showed compassion for all people, and this would naturally lead to sensible gun legislation.

 

This past Tuesday, Wisconsin held our midterm primary election. The most significant race was the Democratic primary for our next governor. My goal to vote for leaders based on good character has been more difficult than I anticipated because when I went to Politifact to fact-check the candidates, there was no shining star who was completely honest about everything. In fact, it seemed as though most statements were rated false or mostly false. Seasoned adults have always said politicians are all liars, but I guess I am still a little young and naïve because I was surprised and discouraged to discover that these adults were right. I read detailed articles about some of these false statements but eventually became overwhelmed and just resorted to asking which issue I felt was most pressing. I decided education funding was most essential for our state’s future, so I voted for Tony Evers who is currently the State Superintendant of Schools as he would have the most experience in the education realm. I need to think some more about how I will approach voting in the future, and will definitely keep you updated when I have ideas. But I still believe that electing leaders of good character is our best hope of moving our society in a better direction. To that end, Mom and I have joined the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for voting rights. We have been invited to an official orientation meeting for new members next Sunday afternoon, where we will learn how we can get involved. I am really looking forward to this meeting because the March for Our Lives showed me that many people are looking for leaders of good character, but many of them may not have voted in 2016 due to disillusionment with the choice of candidates. I suppose in this current system, it is unrealistic to hope for candidates who never lie, but the outcry against the egregious conduct of Donald Trump and his supporters, and the diversity of candidates running all across the country gives me hope. All over the country, we are hearing about amazing people, a record number of whom are women or minorities, are answering the call to run and try to move the country in a better direction. If Mom and I can play a small part in ensuring that voting rights are protected to make it a little easier for millions of people who want better leadership to vote, we might really make a positive difference. I will keep you up-to-date on how I decide to become involved in this effort as well.