Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pro-Choice Friends: Can We Talk About This Defunding Planned Parenthood Thing? (Part 1)

If you've been reading my posts lately, you'll know that I've begun to take seriously my civic duty to become informed and engaged in the political process, despite my dislike of politics. Our country is facing numerous problems, but the increasingly nasty partisan divide is preventing us from dealing effectively with these problems. I believe that to solve this divide we must start talking with each other about areas of disagreement, respecting each other's differing worldviews, and finding solutions that are acceptable to both sides.

It sounds good in theory, but can it be done? There's only one way to find out...give it a try! I thought I'd start out with something pretty simple, where there isn't a lot of disagreement; an issue where there aren't many emotions involved. Baby steps, right?

So let's talk about defunding Planned Parenthood. 

(Waiting for the dust to settle after the inevitable explosion of outrage and indignation from both sides caused by the mere mention of this issue.)

Ok, yes, I was being sarcastic. There is nothing simple about this extremely emotional issue. Let's face it: abortion is one of the most emotional topics dividing us, and it does truly divide us, almost exactly down the middle. Gallup's recent poll shows that right now 51% of Americans call themselves pro-choice, while 44% call themselves pro-life, but the numbers have been fluctuating within 10 percentage points since the mid-90's. Sometimes more identify as pro-life, sometimes more identify as pro-choice, but either way the country is divided roughly in half about an incredibly sensitive topic.

Which is why it'd be way easier to continue ignoring it until we are all trampled to death by this giant elephant in the room. I'd much rather write about something uncontroversial like crockpot recipes or home decorating techniques.

But I'm more concerned right now about avoiding national death by trampling so instead I'm going to attempt to talk about this in a logical, respectful and reasonable way. I'm not sure this is possible, because if it were, you'd think it would've been done by now, yet in all the reading I've done on this issue over the last few weeks, I have only ever read things that are written:
  1. From a pro-life perspective to a pro-life audience
  2. From a pro-choice perspective to a pro-choice audience
  3. From a supposedly unbiased perspective to a supposedly unbiased audience that sounds suspiciously like the things being said by #2

So here's something new: I am going to try writing from an unabashedly pro-life perspective to a pro-choice audience in an attempt to get a dialogue started. 

Note that I said dialogue. Meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, "a discussion or series of discussions that two groups or countries have in order to end a disagreement" or "a conversation between two or more people".  Not an argument, which could mean "a discussion in which people express different opinions about something" but more often (when politics are involved) means "an angry disagreement."

I don't want that. There is plenty of stress in my life without adding people yelling at me or each other over their different perspectives on this or any other issue. So if that's where you're planning to go with this, please take your comments elsewhere. I will just delete them. There are plenty of other places on the Internet where you can vent your frustration. 

But here I plan to keep the discussion ("a speech or piece of writing that gives information, ideas, opinions, etc., about something") logical, reasonable, and respectful. I promise I will not resort to sarcasm again, which is saying a lot because I can be pretty snarky. But I've come to realize that sarcasm usually only succeeds in entertaining one side at the expense of shutting down honest dialogue with the other side. So it might be great for late night TV, or radio talk show hosts, but it will not serve my purposes here.

And since I've already taken up half of this post with explaining what I intend to talk about, why, and how, I'm going to have to break it up into two parts. This post will discuss the worldview clash at the heart of the national divide over defunding Planned Parenthood, and in my next post I'll talk more about the specifics of that issue and explore ideas for moving forward while respecting the worldviews of both sides.

That's it for my introduction. Did I built enough fences to avoid angry mobs of Internet trolls?

Yeah, right. 

(Ok, no more sarcasm, I promise!!)

Defining Terms

First, I have a small request to make. Pro-choice friends, can you please use the term pro-life instead of anti-abortion in this discussion? I realize that most people who aren't pro-life, and the media, usually use the term anti-abortion to describe us. But that is not the label we have chosen for ourselves. You might have noticed that I am using the term pro-choice to describe your position, rather than pro-abortion as is often used by pro-lifers. I am respecting your chosen label for yourselves, and ask that you respect our chosen label for ourselves.

This might seem like a small thing, quibbling about words, but words are very important, and labels can set the tone for the discussion. Using negative terms for one side and positive terms for the other side can put one side at a disadvantage before the talking even begins.

Also, while "anti-abortion" and "pro-abortion" might be good descriptors for everyone's position on the issue we disagree about, they do not address the reason we disagree about this issue, and that is what I really want to talk about today.

The disagreement comes down to a clash of worldviews. We each have a worldview, a set of pre-existing beliefs that affects our perception of any situation or issue. These beliefs are not emperically testable--we can each give reasons for our beliefs, but not proof that they are right--so arguing about them is problematic, but understanding them is vital if we are going to come up with mutually acceptable solutions.

The Real Question: Who is a Person?

While there is a vast range in the worldviews of us pro-lifers, and I assume the same to be true for pro-choicers, the common denominator as I understand it is a difference in belief regarding the definition of personhood. (I can't presume to speak for all pro-lifers, and certainly wouldn't presume to do so for pro-choicers; this is just what I have gleaned from reading many different opinions and having conversations with friends on both sides.)

I think we all agree that killing an innocent human being is morally wrong--murder ("the crime of deliberately killing a person"). The question is whether a fetus is an innocent human being.

There is no doubt scientifically that a fetus is a living human. Life, or "the ability to grow, change, etc., that separates plants and animals from things like water or rocks" is indisputably present at the moment of conception. A fertilized human egg is a genetically complete and unique living human being, differing from an adult human only in size, level of development, and degree of dependency--just as an infant or toddler differs from an adult human (but we all agree that toddlers are human beings with a right to life).

What pro-lifers and pro-choicers are really disagreeing about is when a human life can be considered a person, or "one (as a human being, a partnership, or a corporation) that is recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties."

A pro-lifer sees no distinction between humanity and personhood; every human being is a person in our eyes.

Pro-choicers, on the other hand, view personhood as something which some humans have that others do not. There seems to be a wide variety of opinion among pro-choicers as to when personhood begins; I've read pro-choicers argue that it begins at birth, or when a fetus is viable, or gradually as the fetus develops in the womb. In recent years philosophers have even argued for "after-birth abortion" on the grounds that babies aren't people any more than fetuses are people. 

Pro-lifers view the division of personhood and humanity as a false distinction that is quite dangerous, given the examples from history of the times when personhood was legally denied to certain classes of humans--slaves, Native Americans, women, and Jews being notable examples. We view all humans as persons deserving of equal human rights; even the tiniest of us whose bodies consist of just one cell. 

And that is why we logically and inevitably conclude that anything that is done to deprive that person of life (whether surgical abortion, pharmaceutical abortion, or contraceptives that prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus), is murder.

Since pro-choicers do not believe that fetuses are people, they reach the opposite conclusion: that preventing implantation or ending pregnancy does not constitute murder. Abortion is therefore viewed as an acceptable method of dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Pro-choicers say they do not like abortion (which is why they object to being called pro-abortion) but view it as a necessary evil since women should have the right to determine what happens to their bodies. (Sidenote: I have always wondered what pro-choicers find objectionable about abortion if they do not believe it constitutes ending a person's life. I would appreciate it if anyone can explain this to me. Seriously, I'm not being snarky. I really want to understand.)

So who's right?

I know I believe I'm right, and I have no doubt that you also sincerely believe you are right. But we can't both be right since our beliefs are mutually exclusive.

We can't settle this empirically since there is no scientific definition of or test for personhood. This is a philosophical question beyond the realm of science. What evidence could possibly be offered that a fertilized egg or a viable fetus or even a 40 week old fetus about to be born is a person? For that matter, what evidence could a one-minute-old or a one-year-old baby offer that they are a person? They can't talk and utter philosophical profundities such as "I think therefore I am."

If I and all the other pro-lifers are wrong, then we have advocated allowing some women to be unnecessarily inconvenienced by unwanted pregnancies. That is regrettable, but what if it is the pro-choicers who are wrong about this? Then our country has legally sanctioned the murder of well over 50 million people for no greater crime than being an inconvenience. 

The way I see it, the moral stakes are far greater if pro-choicers are wrong. I personally prefer to err on the side of caution when the life of a person is possibly at stake.

The False Question: Who Cares More?

Does this mean pro-lifers care more about unborn babies than they do about the babies' mothers, or the babies after they are born? I hear both of these arguments frequently, and quite frankly, I am usually shocked into silence by the preposterousness of such accusations. I'm not really sure where this is coming from. Maybe the people saying these things are progressives who assume that pro-lifers are economic conservatives with different ideas about how best to help the underprivileged, since many unwanted babies come from underprivileged families?

That's a lot of assumptions, and even if they were all true, that doesn't mean we don't care.

My heart goes out to women who are desperate and scared because of an unwanted pregnancy--and to those who deeply regret having had abortions because society convinced them it was ok while their heart told them it was not. And my heart goes out to kids who aren't wanted because of physical problems or their parents' economic plight. But that doesn't mean the only solution is to kill the children. Why do we look at it in this stark either/or way? Women have options! We as a society have options!

While in college I volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center where we provided help to mothers throughout and after their pregnancies. There are thousands of these centers across the U.S., maintained not through government funding but through the donations of pro-lifers who are putting their money where their heart is. And there are many pro-lifers like my own sister who are trying to adopt unwanted babies. I love the story behind the film The Drop Box, about a Korean pastor who takes in unwanted babies, often with physical limitations. He is a pro-lifer who cares.

So yes we have a different worldview than you do but please do not assume that it means we do not care. 

I am not unsympathetic to pro-choice arguments. I get the pro-choice argument that a woman should have the right to decide what happens to her body. Having experienced four pregnancies (two that produced wonderful but undeniably life-altering little boys, one miscarriage, and one currently in progress), I definitely understand that pregnancy does crazy things to one's body. It's bad enough when the pregnancy is planned and wanted, but I can imagine it's even more frustrating if the pregnancy was not planned or wanted. I also understand that unwanted pregnancies can wreak havoc with a woman's or couple's plans for school, career, etc. 

But I cannot get over the fact that I believe those unwanted "products of conception" are still living human beings deserving the same respect and legal protection as the woman whose body is unwillingly providing a safe harbor for their development.

I hear the pro-choice argument that our society is better off economically without the drain in resources caused by having to care for the additional million or so babies that would be born every year if they weren't aborted. Though I don't necessarily agree with it, I recognize the sincerity of those making this argument.

But that doesn't change the fact that I believe those aborted fetuses are actually people who deserved a chance to live, regardless of their impact on society.

I totally understand the pro-choice argument that, if born, unwanted children might suffer abuse or neglect or poverty. My heart bleeds for abused and underprivileged children!

But again, my stubborn belief that all humans are persons gets in the way of accepting this argument. What gives me the right to determine that someone else's life isn't worth living; that they would be better off dead than alive?

Which Comes First, the Inconvenience or the Belief?

Perhaps a couple of illustrations can help you understand the way pro-lifers see these objections.

Right now the world is trying to figure out the best way to handle the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria. While some countries are being more welcoming than others, all are weighing the cost of accepting refugees, both economically and culturally. But I haven't heard anyone advocate just killing the refugees because they are unwanted or inconvenient. 

Pro-lifers feel the same way about unwanted pregnancies. We really believe they're really people. 

(By the way, I'm not saying that pro-choicers advocate killing Syrian refugees. It's a good thing I'm not a politician or a public figure or that would totally be the headline tomorrow! All I'm saying is that, just as a pro-choicer would of course not advocate killing Syrian refugees, so also pro-lifers cannot advocate killing unwanted babies.)

Another illustration that hits closer to home for me is the recent case of an Arizona mom who drowned her twin 2-year-old boys because, she said, "nobody loved them." I'm not saying she was pro-choice (apparently she was mentally ill), or that pro-choicers would support what she did. I'm sure  everyone felt the same shiver of horror when hearing this news. Please remember that feeling, because that is the way pro-lifers feel when we hear that same logic used to justify the killing of unborn children. In our minds, it is the same thing.

Because we really believe they're really people.

If it seems like I'm beating a dead horse here, it's because I don't think pro-choicers get this. If they did, they wouldn't tell pro-lifers to consider economics or convenience as a viable excuse for abortion. That is morally repugnant to us. Not to you, I get that. But it is to us. And it makes me think you don't really think we really believe what we say we believe.

But we do.

As a pragmatist, I might wish I could "just get over" this inconvenient belief, but I don't believe it because it's convenient, I believe it because I really think it's true. 

What Next?

I say all of this not to try to prove you wrong, but to explain why I think I'm right; to help you understand where we pro-lifers are coming from, and why we are so resistant to legislation that violates our sincerely held beliefs. I'm not trying to get you to agree with me, but am asking you to respect that I have a different viewpoint, and it's not going to change.

While we can discuss our different beliefs, we cannot conclusively prove them one way or the other, and it is highly unlikely that everyone in our country will reach an agreement about the answers to these questions. The question is, can we move forward and work together toward common goals despite these differences? Must our government be perpetually paralyzed, or can we come up with solutions to problems that do not involve trampling on the beliefs of half of the country? 

Those are questions I plan to tackle in my next post.

In the meantime, here's a short and unemotional video that does a great job of summing up what I've talked about today. Maybe I should've just linked to it instead of spending hours writing this post. :-)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Protesting Protests: Can't We Just Talk Instead?

Photo by Roselle Park Post
If you read my previous blog post, you'll understand why I suddenly feel compelled to talk about politics. It's not that I love confrontation and am itching for an argument, it's that I believe it's my civic duty (which until now I've been largely shirking).

All the political and historical reading I've been doing lately has convinced me that in order for America to move forward and deal with the many problems facing us--foreign and domestic, economic and social, etc.--we must become unified.

Stop laughing, I'm serious!

Ok, let's set our sights a little lower--we need to at least become less polarized. We have to be able to come together and find common ground so we can work out solutions to our problems.

I know, I know, it sounds hopelessly naive. I totally get that, especially after reading about all the discord that has been present in our nation's politics from the beginning. There will always be disagreement--that's to be expected. The question is, how do we deal with that disagreement and get things done?

Protesting Protests

Right now it seems like the most popular method of dealing with people we disagree with is to protest against them. Grab your signs, your bullhorns, and your riot gear, and let's go yell at the opposition!

I'm not saying protesting is wrong, but is it really the best way to change hearts and minds? It appears to me that most protests only succeed in solidifying both sides in their positions, further polarizing our country, and making it even harder to move forward.

So here's an idea: let's try talking to each other about the issues we disagree about.

I know, that's so hard. Who likes talking about politics? Those discussions often turn nasty, feelings get hurt, and friends stop talking to each other.

But I think it's really important that we do start talking with our friends about politics again (apparently it used to happen all the time). It's easy to demonize those you disagree with, to assume that their motives are evil, or they are stupid or uneducated--at least when they are random faces on the screen, or anonymous trolls commenting on news articles. It's much harder to demonize a friend--someone you already know and care about and trust.

I get it; it's easier to remain blissfully ignorant about each others' politics. Otherwise you might be forced to either change your opinion of them, or accept the fact that it is possible for normal, sane people to have differing opinions! 

Why Do We Disagree?

Demonizing opponents overlooks the fact that disagreements usually stem from different worldviews, not different levels of intelligence or education or evilness.

We each have a worldview; a set of pre-existing beliefs that shape the way we perceive the world. When people with different worldviews look at the same thing, they truly do see it differently. Their worldviews color their perception of it. Their differing conclusions are not the result of an attempt to deceive, but an attempt to explain the evidence in a way that fits their worldview.

This is why both sides can honestly say the same facts support their opposing worldviews.

In order to discuss issues with those we disagree with, we must understand this vital principle: if we have different worldviews we will see the world differently. So we can either:
  1. Refuse to acknowledge the other person's worldview and continue to demonize their perspective, preventing any discussion
  2. Attempt to change the other person's worldview (and often the discussion ends if they refuse)
  3. Accept and try to understand differences in worldviews so a mutually agreeable conclusion can be reached
So far method #1 seems to be the most popular one in use today, and we can see how successful that has been.

While method #2 might ultimately be the only way to make long-term changes in our culture, it is difficult because worldviews are very hard to change. Yes, let's discuss the relative merits of our worldviews, and may the best worldview win in the end, but in the meantime, how do we make progress right now?

Method #3 is, in my mind, the most practical way forward--at least it's a good place to start.

A Few Caveats

I am not saying that all worldviews are right, or that every perception of reality is correct. I'm simply acknowledging the fact that people perceive reality differently, and awareness of this is essential if we are going to discuss anything. 

For example, let's say you're wearing blue glasses and I'm wearing red glasses, and you say the ball is green and I say it's orange. Are we both right? We are both being honest about our perceptions, but because the color of our glasses is skewing the color of what we are seeing, we are both actually wrong. However, if we are humble enough to be aware of the limitations our eyewear place upon us, and apply known properties of light and a little reasoning, we might be able to figure out that the object is, in fact, yellow. That is the truth, the actual state of reality.

Also, I'm not saying that rational discussion is possible with everyone. I might be idealistic but I'm not stupid. I am aware that radical activists on any side of any issue are apt to deliberately twist facts and attempt to muddy the waters of any discussion in order to achieve their desired ends. That makes rational discussion impossible, and attempting it with such people will inevitably lead to much banging of heads against walls. I am not advocating this.

What I am talking about is conversing with the people in the middle of any issue, who don't have an agenda to push. Maybe I'm crazy, or hopelessly naive, but I think that describes many Americans.

Looking Back to Move Forward

In order to make this work, we have to first become aware of our own worldview and how it affects our perceptions. Then we need to honestly attempt to understand the worldview of those we disagree with. Only then will it be possible to have a rational discussion about controversial issues, and come up with ideas that are acceptable for both sides.

Sure, it sounds great on paper, but is it possible in real life? 

I started writing this blog post on the 14th anniversary of 9/11. I was encouraged by memories of the unity our country saw in the wake of that horrible day. That time gave me hope, because I saw my country come together as one in a way that I hadn't thought possible. I look back at those days when it seemed like everyone was displaying American flags as a show of unity, and it didn't matter if you were Democrat or Republican, or who you'd voted for in the election the previous year. We were all Americans, and we were all standing together with our fallen brothers and sisters in the name of freedom, proud of the beacon of hope that our country has always been in the world.

What happened to that unity? That willingness to set aside our disagreements in order to work towards solutions to the problems that we face as a nation?

For years I have pointed my finger at our elected representatives in Washington (on both sides of the aisle) as the instigators of this partisan divide, and have chosen to mostly sit out of the nasty world of politics, burying my head in the sand and busying myself with day to day life.

I am now beginning to realize that partisan politics only divides us--the American people--if we let it. And when we let it divide us, or turn us away from our civic duty to be informed, involved voters, we are abdicating the responsibility given to us by the founding fathers of our nation, and turning over our right to govern ourselves to unelected party machine bosses.

The solution to the partisan divide is not to be found with politicians but with We the People.

We have to start talking to each other about the things that matter to us.

Talking. Not yelling. Not debating. Not arguing. Not protesting.

Discussing. You know, like spouses are supposed to do? "We're not fighting, kids, we're having a discussion."

So let's try this. Let's take an issue, define our opposing worldviews, recognize our respective non-negotiables, identify our mutual goals, and brainstorm ideas to reach those goals without trampling on each other's non-negotiables.

To be continued...

Monday, September 14, 2015

From Apathetic and Powerless to Informed and Engaged

I'll be honest with you. I hate politics. I've spent much of my adult life trying to tune it out as much as possible. But over the last few months my attitude has begun to change. I still hate politics, but I now see it as an unavoidable evil that responsible citizens cannot ignore. We have a duty to be informed voters and engaged community members. This is the story of how that change of heart came about, and what I intend to do about it.

Why I Hate Politics

I've been pondering why, exactly, I hate politics so much. Maybe it's because I'm the middle child; I spent almost two decades of my life trying to make peace between bickering siblings, and have had quite enough of that, thank you very much! 

Or maybe it's because, as a child, politics seemed like something very important, but also very negative. Discussions turned into heated arguments with dire pronouncements about the future, which seemed completely hopeless. It seemed like the most important aspect of life, and was always going wrong, so it made me feel really insecure.

As an adult, I began to see God as the most important aspect of life, and politics became less and less important. Learning about the politics going on during the early church's history made modern politics seem less relevant. If the early church was persecuted by the government for their faith, why should I fear persecution from my own government? My attitude towards politics became fatalistic: whatever will be will be, and it's probably going to suck so I'm going to try to ignore it as long as possible. I figured, life is hard enough as it is, why bother adding to my stress and worry by caring about what goes on in politics, especially if I can't do anything about it anyway? If I don't care about it then it won't hurt me, right?

Ok, I wasn't that stupid. But I did have good reasons for disliking politics. Here are some of them:
  • The drama. There's so much arguing and yelling! People just get emotional instead of having thoughtful discussions, and act like it's ok to treat people as less than human just because they disagree about something.
  • The corruption. Power seems to be in the hands of unelected party bosses, and special interests and cronyism appears to wield more influence than the needs and will of the people.
  • The confusion. What are the facts? What do they mean? Getting beyond the spin put out by all sides of any issue is so difficult. And who has time to do that kind of research?
  • The helplessness. I mean, really, what can someone like me do to impact the government processes that impact me?

This is not an exhaustive list, and I'll bet you could add a few items of your own. Disgust with the antics of both political parties drove me to register as an Independent. I'll probably have to change that soon so I can vote in the presidential primary...but first I have to decide who to vote for.  More on that later.

Anyway, suffice to say that I've mostly tried to avoid politics for several years now, and I've especially tried to avoid discussing politics with friends...at least if I wanted to remain friends! ;-)

It's not that I didn't have convictions and opinions; I did! And it's not that I buried my head in the sand; I tried to stay aware of what was going on in the world. I scanned the headlines with the Google News and Weather app on my phone (best app ever! well, besides Evernote. And Kindle. And...okay, it's in the top 10 anyway.) and I even read articles sometimes!

But caring too much about what happens in government just seemed like a recipe for heartburn and headache. Again, I had enough of that just dealing with my own little life!

Overcoming Apathy with a Biography

One of my New Years Resolutions was to read more non-fiction. So one day in May I browsed through the Greater Phoenix Digital Library's available offerings  and randomly chose a biography of John Adams by David McCullough. I started reading it...and I could not stop! John's (and Abigail's) story really impacted me. I began reading more books about early American history, and was challenged and encouraged by what I learned.

I'd always had the impression that our Founding Fathers were all united in fighting for and forming a more perfect union and all that. That's one reason the discord in modern politics seemed like such a dire sign of impending doom--we used to have our act together, but good luck getting back to the good ol' days now! I didn't realize that the members of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the first Presidential Cabinet fought with each other almost as much as they fought the British!

Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration. But the point is, they didn't all agree about everything, and they had to figure out a way to work together to solve the problems faced by their fledgling nation. Besides philosophical differences they had to deal with apathy, corruption, cowardice, and conflicting interests. A lot of times that "working together" entailed a lot of hyperbole and name calling--both in person and in the newspapers--and even fighting duels! 

Hmm. That sounds kinda familiar (minus the duels). I guess there really is nothing new under the sun after all. 

Anyway, I was actually encouraged to learn this, since it meant the acrimonious state of politics today isn't necessarily something unique to our generation; an indication that our country has devolved irretrievably beyond the realm of civil conversation. The state of politics today is nothing new, and it's exactly what's to be expected when there are human beings involved. 

And hey, at least politicians have stopped challenging each other to duels. We've made some progress.

So not only did learning more about our history give me hope, it also gave me a sense of civic duty. The way early Americans--not just famous and influential ones like the Adamses and the Washingtons, but also the ordinary farmers and merchants--served their country is so inspiring and convicting. They were well-read, stayed informed, thought deeply about history and current events, discussed problems and solutions with friends and colleagues, and were devoted to doing what was best for their country. 

Of course they didn't all agree about what was best. Disagreements were sharp and ran deep, and corruption and special interests and party machinations kept things interesting. But at least people cared enough to pay attention to what was going on and felt compelled to do something about it.

Also, many were motivated in this by their beliefs about God. Far from being fatalistic, they pushed for what they believed was right, while trusting God for the results. I found this especially convicting, and realized that God being in control doesn't mean I don't have to do my part. The difference is who is responsible for the results. When I recognize that results are God's job, not mine, it really takes the pressure off!

Fighting For Something

Then I came across the book The Conservative Heart, which I read about as quickly as I'd devoured John Adams' biography. I'll have to write a more in-depth review sometime, but the main takeaway for me was the importance of fighting for something, rather than against something.  

I determined that in this presidential election I would not vote against someone, but would find someone I could fight for. 

I've begun my research on the candidates by giving them the courtesy of speaking to me in their own words, at length, without a news editor choosing their soundbytes. Thankfully many of the candidates have written books to share their stories and ideas, and thankfully the Greater Phoenix Digital Library carries a lot of them, or this project would cost me a fortune! It's a good thing I started now, with over a year to go before the election, because there are a lot of candidates! 

So far I've read books by four candidates, and started two more (coincidentally, by the two Arkansas candidates, Huckabee and Hillary...that is an interesting juxtaposition!). While I haven't yet decided who I'm going to vote for, I have learned something from each of the books I've read.

Disclaimer: I realize that the candidates' books are written from their perspectives, telling only their sides of the story, and while I do intend to try to get the other side of the story as part of my research process, I haven't had time to do that yet. So I'm taking everything I read with a huge ol' grain of salt and not treating it as gospel truth. If you disagree with anything I say that they said, please point me to your source so I can add it to my growing list of research material. I would greatly appreciate it. Seriously. As long as you don't jump down my throat about it. :-)

From Ted Cruz's A Time For Truth I learned that grassroots campaigns can be successful. I will never again vote for someone just because they're "electable." It was encouraging to read about politicians who do actually listen to the people who voted for them, and stand for their convictions while trying to work with the opposition. Though my jaw hurt from continually dropping while reading his stories about the stunts being pulled by the leadership of both parties. 

I was inspired by all of the innovative ideas in Marco Rubio's American Dreams. Twenty-first century problems cannot be solved by twentieth century programs and ideas. Let's not keep doing things just because we've been doing them that way for a long time...if one approach isn't working, let's try a different approach.

Scott Walker's Unintimidated showed me the importance of local and state government--it has huge direct impact on people's lives. My big takeaway was to not accept false choices. If A and B are both cruddy options, look for (or create) option C. 

One Nation by Ben Carson impressed upon me the necessity of unity among the American people in tackling the problems we face today. That unity can only come about when we talk honestly and civilly with those we disagree with.

Looking Forward

It's been an interesting journey so far, and I know it's just begun. I've learned a lot over the last few months, and while I still find the backroom deals and hyped up headlines of modern (and not so modern) politics completely loathsome, I know I can't let that keep me from doing my civic duty and becoming an informed voter.

In many ways this political journey parallels the spiritual journey I've been on for the last year or so. I guess it's really just one manifestation of my growing understanding that God is in control, but he lets me be a part of his plan. I am responsible to take action as he guides and empowers me, and he is responsible for the rest. It's an encouraging realization--it isn't all on me, but there is something for me to do. 

The next step is getting engaged in what's going on. Emulating my early American heroes means going beyond just learning, thinking, and voting. Everything I've read has encouraged me to seek political change not by protesting against those I disagree with but by talking with them instead.

Wait. Talk about politics? With people you disagree with?  

I know, crazy, right? But people used to do it all the time, I hear. It was even considered normal in most circles, though it is now most definitely frowned upon in polite society.

Is it still possible? Or have we devolved irretrievably beyond the realm of civil conversation?

I intend to find out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Remembering Faith Will

Our 4th child, "Baby Boo," at 13 weeks
It's been a long time since I've posted, but I have an excellent excuse: I'm 4 months pregnant, and the first 3.5 months were pretty miserable. I was so exhausted and felt sick all the time (in contrast with my previous pregnancies) so I'm just thankful I got through them. But I'm feeling a lot better now, and there is so much I'm itching to write about!

Three years ago today I had a miscarriage. It's a common experience for women, but one that we usually don't talk about. Thankfully my mom was always very open about the two miscarriages she had between my sister and I, and my sister and other friends had shared with me about their miscarriage experiences, which helped prepare me to deal with my own. 

But the best preparation and help I received before and during that time was from God. The way He reached out to me then through His Word still gives me chills when I think of it, and continues to help me trust Him, giving me strength and hope. It's one of the big "ebenezers" in my life.

When God did amazing things in the Old Testament, he instructed the people to build monuments to remind them and future generations of what He had done. One time, after God confused an attacking army and sent them running, the prophet Samuel "took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.'" (1 Samuel 7:12 NKJV) So also in our own lives when God does amazing things, we should look for ways to memorialize the event so it can be a reminder and source of strength in the future. 

In this case, I wrote about it on Facebook, and have gone back and reread the story to remind myself of what God did.

Today I share my ebenezer with you. 

I have a charm on my bracelet
for each of my children, including Faith.
In Memory of Faith Will
September 9, 2012

I found out I was pregnant on Tuesday, September 4. We were sooooo excited, but decided to not tell the world right away this time, since we’ve had several friends experience miscarriages, and so wanted to be a little more cautious.

In my personal Bible study that day, these verses from Isaiah 26 stood out to me: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” I decided to make that my theme for this pregnancy, and hold onto those verses through all the good and bad days ahead.

For six days, we happily made plans and talked about the future and I smiled when I saw babies and pregnant ladies.

While Andrew was teaching our Sunday School class that week, another verse stood out to me – Isaiah 7:9 “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” I jotted it down in my journal. Later that day, in my personal Bible study time, yet another passage from Isaiah seemed to leap off the page. This one was a bit longer:

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him…you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:18-21)

That night, Sunday, September 9, I began to miscarry our second child. As soon as it happened, the first thing that came to my mind were all of those verses, and while I cried over the loss of this precious child that I had barely had time to rejoice over, I marveled at the fact that God cared enough about me and the pain He knew I would endure to send me passages of comfort to cling to before I even knew I would need them.

That last passage especially keeps coming back to me. I certainly feel like God gave me “the bread of adversity” and “the water of affliction” last week, but just like the verses say, He also showed Himself to me in an amazing way by giving me these verses ahead of time so I had them when I needed them. So I feel even closer to Him than before, and am so thankful that our little Faith (that’s what we’ve named her) is with Him right now.

We went to the doctor on Monday and he ran some tests and confirmed the miscarriage. It was very early, and very normal, and he assured us that we shouldn’t have trouble having more children in the future. I sure pray so!

But little Faith is still a member of the family (even though we won’t meet her until we get to Heaven) so I want to tell her story. A friend of mine recently had a miscarriage and is now pregnant again, and she feels bad when people congratulate her for her current pregnancy, and never even knew about her first pregnancy. “In no other relationship would we allow a death to go unacknowledged,” she said. She’s right, so I want to acknowledge Faith’s short life and her death.

By the way, I still smile when I see babies—even if there is a tear in my eye, too.

Goodbye, Faith. I love you. I look forward to meeting you someday! 

Note: We don't know if Faith was a girl or a boy, but since we'd already had a boy, I thought of our unborn child as a girl, and the name Faith seemed very fitting. We are very thankful that a few months later we were able to conceive again, and this time carry our second born son to term. He is now a very energetic two-year-old. And now I have an 18-week baby kicking in my womb! There have been many moments--especially during this pregnancy--when I have been tempted to worry. But I keep looking back at my ebenezer and remembering that God is in control and my Teacher will help me through whatever difficult circumstances he allows in my life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Learning from My Latest Project

My latest design project is a responsive website for a conference my church is hosting next year.

While I've created several websites in the past, this is my first since responsive web design became the new "thing." With the proliferation of mobile devices and tablets, you never know what size of screen your website visitor will be using. Responsive web design attempts to create websites that will work well on all devices.

Responsive websites are pretty cool, but require a different type of thinking when it comes to designing a site, and a new skill set for coding. Thankfully I've been exposed to the conceptual side of things through my church's website redesign project (where I'm really just a consultant since someone else is doing all the work).

But the coding side was a whole new ballgame.

So I got to play with a new Adobe tool. Well, new to me. I first saw it demonstrated at an Adobe tech talk a few years ago, but I never needed to use it until now. Adobe Edge Reflow gives you a WYSYWIG interface to quickly develop responsive website templates. Once you're happy with it, you can export the code and start editing it. (I wish it let you view the code as you worked, but it was still super useful.)

Even developing in Reflow was difficult at first until I fully grasped the responsive concepts. I had to keep switching back to their sample project to see how they did things. But finally I had a template that I was happy with, and exported the code.

And then the fun began. As I tried to turn the template into a full website, I dug down deep in the code and really had to learn what everything was there for. This was a trial and error process. What is that line of code there for? I don't know, let's try deleting it. Oops, that really messed stuff up! Undo, undo!!

Often I discovered that lines of code which seemed useless were actually quite necessary.

It occurred to me that this is often what we discover as we apply God's guidelines to our lives (or don't apply them, as is more often the case). As my husband taught recently in our Sunday School class series on the book of Ephesians, God has outlined for us templates for the family, the workplace, and the church. His reasons behind the "code" that he has given to us are not always clear, and our culture today encourages everyone to delete the lines they don't understand.

However, we can trust that he does have his reasons, even if we don't understand them. The consequences for deleting what we don't understand will be seen eventually--and unfortunately, we don't have an undo button in real life.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

This Mom's Got Skills

Wow, I really fell off the writing wagon for awhile. I got busy with freelance design projects and just did not have time to write. It simply was not essential at a time when I was working literally every one of my waking and my children's non-waking moments. (I just read--well, listened--to the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown, which was absolutely fabulous and I hope to write an entire post on it soon.)

But things are settling down as far as design projects go, so I plan to get back to writing a post a week.

In the meantime, you can check out one of the projects that took me away from writing. I did the layout for the May/June issue of the Desert Shamrock, which you can view online or pickup a copy at the Irish Cultural Center or many other locations around Arizona--visit desertshamrock.com for details. It was my first newspaper project since my newspaper design class at ASU the summer of 2004 (or was it 2003? Man, time flies!). I learned a lot from the project and am thankful I got the opportunity!

It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun, and I am very grateful to my family for making it possible. Without their babysitting help or my husband and kids enduring a messy house and lousy food for a couple of weeks, I wouldn't have been able to tackle this project.

I am very blessed with a husband who supports my personal and career development. While I am more and more confident each day in my decision to be a stay at home mom during this season of life, I know from my mom's experience how important it is to have marketable skills.

My mom stayed at home during my first 18 years of life. She had stepped down from her position as a nursing instructor at the University of Iowa to raise us three kids. When my parents decided to homeschool, her stay-at-home role was cemented. She wouldn't be re-entering the workforce when we all entered school as many moms do.

I never heard her utter a complaint about her role, and her career seemed irrevocably behind her. Until the day my dad became disabled and suddenly she had to go back to work.

She took a refresher course at a community college to get her nursing license renewed, and went back to work at the hospital. Her college education and dedication to her early career really paid off decades later!

Her influence was obvious when I chose to study graphic design in college. "This is something I could do at home when I have kids," I thought...even though at the time I didn't want to be a stay at home mom. I guess I wanted to keep my options open.

And now, here I am 14 or so years later, using the skills I learned in college to bring home some (itty-bitty) bacon while staying at home with my kids. My goal is to keep my skills sharp so that, if and when I do need to reenter the full-time workforce, I am ready.

So my advice to any girls out there who plan to be stay at home moms and are debating whether to go to college/trade school...do it! Yes, being a stay at home mom is awesome and very important, and yeah maybe you won't ever use your degree/certificate...but it is far more likely that you will need it someday. And you can learn skills that you can use while being stay at home mom. Remember, there will be life after kids...will you be ready for it?

I for one and very thankful for the excellent example God gave me in my mom! I love you, Mom! Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A New Appetite for Non-Fiction

It's April! That means the first quarter of 2015 is over. I'm not even going to get into how crazy fast time is flying by. I could go on and on about that, and that is not the point of today's post.

If you remember, I made a bunch of New Year's Resolutions for 2015. I decided to review them on a quarterly basis, to increase the likelihood that I will actually follow through on them.

Looking through my list, I'm pretty encouraged. So far I am at least making some progress towards about two thirds of my resolutions. Since many of them involved changes to my daily/weekly routine, I think that's pretty good! There is definitely still a lot to be done, but I am learning to focus on what is getting done rather than what is not (wisdom from a former boss).

It is very encouraging to see change in one's life, even in small things. For example, one of my resolutions may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but keeping it has reflected a huge shift in my priorities, appetites, and thinking.

As I have mentioned before, I love reading. I enjoy a wide variety of genres, but mostly fiction. Last year I read 1 nonfiction book for about every 3 fiction books. Wanting to enrich myself more and entertain myself less, this year I resolved to read 1 nonfiction book for every 2 fiction books.

Would you believe that in the first three months of this year I have gone beyond my goal and read 2 nonfiction books for every 1 fiction book?

And not because I had to. Because I wanted to.

God is changing my appetite for books.


My husband and I at Wartburg Castle in Germany, where
Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German--
and where an Anabaptist pastor was imprisoned for his beliefs.
I think it started with my trip to Germany last fall. It really got me interested in German and European history, so I read several books on the subject which, interestingly enough, has really enhanced my appreciation for my spiritual heritage as a dispensational Baptist. Seeing the damage inflicted on Europe--Germany in particular--because of a different interpretation of the Bible was very eye opening. Whether or not the church has replaced Israel, or is merely a parenthesis within God's larger plan for the Jews, is not merely a dry theological disagreement. Just ask the Europeans who killed and were killed because people thought the church and state should be combined in a theocracy like ancient Israel. Ask the Jews who have been persecuted in the name of Christ by people who thought the church had replaced an Israel which God had forever rejected and cast aside.

But I digress. After reading about German history and a little about how Baptists helped get the Bill of Rights--particularly the First Amendment--added to the U.S. Constitution, I read Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father. Whether or not I voted for him, he is my president, so I wanted to understand his perspective a little better. Then I read a book by an opponent.

It's very educational to read books coming from both sides of an issue!

Which is exactly what I did when I started reading on the subject of whether or not Pluto is a planet. I got onto this seemingly random topic in a seemingly random way--after finishing one audiobook from the digital library, I browsed the non-fiction section to see what was available, and the title How I Killed Pluto and Why It had it Coming jumped out at me. I mean, really, that book is just begging to be read!

I could not put down (or, rather, turn off) this book. I've always been a science lover (I almost majored in chemistry) and a lover of the stars (yes, I did dream of being an astronaut--who hasn't?), so the book intrigued me on that level. I was fascinated by the descriptions of astronomical work (though honestly it sounds pretty tedious and boring), intrigued by the historical accounts of how the planets were discovered (particularly the asteroids which did not end up retaining planet status), and learned a lot about the solar system and how the science of astronomy works today.

It was also the deeply personal story of Mike Brown, the scientist who discovered Eris, the object larger than Pluto that finally forced the scientific community to define the word planet for the first time, an action which demoted Pluto and Eris to dwarf planet status. (By the way, according to the official IAU definition, a dwarf planet is not a planet).

Brown's book weaves the stories of how he met his wife and became a father in with the stories of his discoveries. This interweaving is quite relevant as he discovered Eris while his wife was pregnant with their first child, and was forced to announce the discovery when she was just weeks old. He included a lot of his thoughts about his daughter, and about being a father. I learned a lot from reading the book, and felt like I really got to know him (and his wife Diane and his daughter Lila). I loved how he kept detailed notes about Lila's first months and posted them online, complete with graphs and statistics. It was eerily similar to what I did with both of my sons, except I didn't post my graphs online.

This was my favorite quote from the book about Lila, as it perfectly describes the wonder every parent has as they watch their children grow:

Diane and I often joke about parents who think that everything their children do is exceptional. ... Watching Lila develop, I finally understood--she is exceptional, because early childhood development is about the most exceptional thing that takes place in the universe. Stars, planets, galaxies, quasars, are all incredible and fascinating things.... But none of them is as thoroughly astounding as the development of thought, the development of language. Who would not believe that their child is exceptional? All children are--compared to the remainder of the silent universe around them. ... In our own house, the most extraordinary thing in the universe was taking place.

Of course this is mainly a book about planets. Brown is very adamant that Pluto does not deserve planet status. Before reading this book, I didn't think it was a very big deal one way or the other. I remember just being annoyed that scientists had changed things on us. But Brown says:

The debate about whether or not Pluto is a planet is critical to our understanding of the solar system. It is not semantics, it is fundamental classification. If you think of the solar system as a place consisting of eight planets, or, better, four terrestrial planets and four giant planets, and then a swarm of asteroids and a swarm of Kuiper Belt objects, you have a profound description of the local universe around us. ... If, on the other hand, you think of the solar system as a place with large things that are round and smaller things that are not quite round, you have a relatively trivial description of the universe around us.

After reading his book, he had me convinced. I better understood the historical context, and better understood the solar system. But then, of course, I had to read a book from the other perspective. So I picked up The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference from the library. (I love libraries!!)

The author (the science editor for MSNBC) told Pluto's story. I didn't know it had been discovered here in Arizona! He filled out the story behind the International Astronomical Union's decision to define planets and dwarf planets, explaining the difference between dynamicists (they study the way Solar System objects interact) and geophysicists (they study the composition and other physical characteristics of the objects themselves), and placing the debate within the larger context of the planets being discovered around other stars. My takeaways included:

On a deeper level, it's a case study that shows how politics and personalities can affect the scientific process, and how the scientific process can in turn affect popular culture....Ultimately it's up to the scientific community and the general public to decide how planets will be classified. Sometimes these two constituencies will go in different directions. For example, ask a botanist whether tomatoes, corn, and green beans are vegetables. Then go ask a cook.

In the end I came to the conclusion that "planet" should probably refer to round objects that orbit the sun, and the category should then be broken down further into terrestrial planets, gas giants, dwarf planets, etc. That is how I am trying to explain things to my oldest son, who is now fascinated by planets, too.

His fascination began when I was in the middle of Mike Brown's book. We went on a family walk at twilight, much later than intended. The sun was mostly down and I noticed a really bright star in the western sky. I wondered if it was a planet. I pulled out my phone and opened Google Sky Map and discovered that it was not one, but two planets--Uranus and Venus! I pointed the "star" out to our four-year-old and explained that it was two planets. On the way home, we saw another bright star. Google Sky Map revealed that it was Jupiter. Again I pointed it out, and we told him about how huge Jupiter is, and about its big storm. He was hooked.

After that night, he started talking about planets, drawing planets (previously he had hated drawing), making up stories about planets, and trying to remember their names (he has them all except Uranus now). We watched documentaries about the Solar System, and on our next trip to the library we picked up several books on planets. I kept expecting his interest to fade, but so far it has not. I don't know if this will develop into a life-long love that guides his career choices, but for now it is encouraging and pushing us both along the path of learning, for which I am thankful.

What is really cool to me is that the timing of that walk was so perfect. At the time I was frustrated by plans falling through and messes and delays. But if we had left any earlier we might not have seen the planets. And if I hadn't been reading that book, I probably wouldn't have noticed them at all. What an amazing "coincidence!" I guess that random topic wasn't so random after all.

Brown writes about the many coincidences that led to his discovery of Eris. First, his interest in planets began when he noticed Jupiter's movements in the sky. On a much bigger scale than my story, the timing was perfect in that he happened to look up just when Jupiter was doing something interesting that only took place that year. If he'd been born a few years earlier or later he likely never would've noticed it and become interested in planets.

Then, when he was trying to think of a research project, he got snowed in at an observatory over Thanksgiving and was completely cut off from the outside world for three days. One of the scientists there made an offhand remark that started him down the path of his lifelong search for large objects in the solar system.

Of course, Brown attributes these and other coincidences in his story to chance, or maybe the universe: "I sat down and wondered...whether or not there was some sort of cosmic force governing the stars and planets, and even the dwarf planets, after all. Maybe there was some sort of fate...That idea is, of course, crazy. But it's hard not to think crazy thoughts now and then."

But me? I grew up listening to Adventures in Odyssey and I keep remembering one of Mr. Whitaker's favorite sayings: "There is no such thing as a coincidence." Often the delays and roadblocks which we find so frustrating are actually God working in our lives to lead us to accomplish his plans! For example, I recently read 1 Corinthians 4:19, where Paul talks about being delayed from visiting the church at Corinth. I'm so thankful for that delay because it meant he had to write them a letter which today gives us so much instruction and guidance!

And I'm very thankful for this new appetite God has given me for non-fiction. I wonder what I'll learn about next?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Easy vs. Best

I love having conversations with my four-year-old. I always learn so much.

Take Monday, for example. The boys and I went to my parents' house for an early dinner with relatives I hadn't seen in years. I rushed around helping Mom get food on the table while feeding the baby and trying to maintain a conversation with the relatives. Meanwhile, my oldest son was happily playing with his cousin.

I should have made him sit down and eat, too. But I was busy, and he was happy, and I decided to take the easy road and avoid a battle over food and loss of play time. I decided to feed him later.

Next thing I knew, he and his cousin were eating cake! I should have stopped him right then, and made him sit down and eat dinner instead. But I was busy, and he was happy, and I decided to take the easy road and avoid a battle over food and loss of play time. I decided to feed him later, at home.

I'm sure you parents out there can see exactly where this is going. If I had stopped and thought about it for two seconds I would've seen it, too. But I was enjoying the rare privilege of adult conversation, and suddenly it was almost bedtime and we still had a 20 minute drive ahead of us.

And that's when it happened.

The Meltdown.

It started when my son and his cousin decided to have a race to decide who could eat the last ring pop. (Did I mention that they'd had candy in the midst of all this, too?) Of course my son, being younger and shorter, lost.

He did not take it well.

He stood there wailing and inconsolable. I tried everything I could think of to calm him down, but he could not calm down. I could see panic in his eyes--he wanted to calm down, but didn't know how to handle the way he felt. It was seriously the worst meltdown he has ever had in his entire life.

And of course he had it in front of relatives I hadn't seen since before college. How embarrassing.

A wave of guilt tempered my frustration at his behavior as I realized that it was rooted in my earlier "easy" choices. This poor kid, who had never missed a meal in his life, had skipped dinner and loaded up on sugar. The meltdown was inevitable, as was the stomachache that quickly followed.


I felt like such a bad mom as I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to calm him down enough to get him out the door and in the car so I could get him home and get some real food into him.

Our conversation on the way home went something like this:

SON (sniffling): Why does my tummy hurt so bad?
ME: Because you didn't eat your dinner, so you didn't have any good food, and then you ate a lot of sugar.
SON (accusingly): Why didn't you give me dinner, Mommy?
ME: I was trying to be nice. You were having so much fun playing with your cousin. I didn't think you'd want to stop playing to eat dinner.
SON (getting more upset): But now my tummy huuuuuuurts!! Why didn't you make me eat any good food?
ME: Because it would've been harder to make you stop playing and eat. I chose what was easier. And I was wrong, I'm so sorry. I think we both learned a lesson from this.
SON (skeptical): What?
ME: I learned that the easy choice is not always the best choice. And you learned that eating too much sugar makes you feel bad.
SON (after a pause): Mommy, why didn't you make me eat dinner?

Our conversation continued along those lines even after we got home. It always came back to, "Why didn't you make me eat dinner?" I had to answer that question many times.

I hope that drilled the answer into my head, because I know I will need to remember this truth as I encounter future parenting decisions: the easy choice is not always the best choice.

For example...

It's easy to react instead of respond.
It's easy to lecture instead of listen.
It's easy to prioritize grownups over children.
It's easy to focus on behavior and miss what's going on in the heart.
It's easy to give kids what they want and not what they need.
It's easy to avoid a battle and then end up losing the war.

This should not surprise me, because parenting is not easy. But it is worth it.

Just as the best choices are usually not easy, but, as my son and I both learned last week, they are usually worth it.

I wonder what he'll teach me this week?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My St. Patrick's Day Dilemma: Orange vs. Green

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day
with my second-born son
I'm Irish, in case you haven't noticed. The red hair kinda gives it away. My brother and sister have red hair, too, but our parents do not, so when we were younger and the whole family went out, say, for dinner, we would inevitably get asked The Question: "Where did you all get your lovely red hair?"

Though we dreaded the question, we had our answer down pat.

"It came with the head," we would reply, smiling serenely.

Beginning My Irish Journey

Our red hair really came from our paternal grandfather whose nickname was Red. He was Irish, and Catholic. My grandmother was not. She'd been raised Protestant, but when Red got sweet on her, his mom wouldn't let Grandma in the house until she converted.

Dad has a lot of stories like that, about the anger and bitterness he saw in some of his Irish relatives. Perhaps that is why we never celebrated St. Patrick's Day while I was growing up. I would tell the kids at school who tried to pinch me, "I don't have to wear green on St. Patrick's Day because I'm Irish." Oh, the logic of youth.

Ceili dance at a feis fundraiser (I'm 2nd from right)
Fast forward to college, when I fell in love with traditional Irish music. I started taking fiddle lessons at the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix. There I heard about ceilis (KAY-lees), or Irish social dances, so I dragged some friends to one. I was hooked. A friend and I started taking Irish dance lessons together, and soon we were competing at feisana (FESH-na) and performing at schools and nursing homes and then I found myself planning to march with my dance school in the St. Patrick's Day parade!

My Dilemma: What Color To Wear?

When talking with a friend at church about my plans, he told me I should wear orange to the parade.

The Irish flag flies over Hance park during
the St. Patrick's Day Faire (I'm 2nd from right)
I wouldn't have understood the significance of that suggestion before getting involved in the Irish community. Now I knew the meaning behind the three colors in Ireland's flag. The green stripe on the left represents the majority of the country's population, the celtic Irish (typically Catholic) who had been oppressed for centuries by the invading English (typically Protestant), represented by the orange stripe on the right. The white stripe in the middle represents the hope for peace between the two factions.

That's a very simplistic explanation for the complex, deeply rooted conflict that has troubled Ireland for centuries. Most of the Irish I know define themselves in the green classification, though I do know some who fit in the orange category but prefer the white section instead.

Still, wearing primarily orange to the Phoenix St. Patrick's Day Parade would be interpreted by many as a very offensive act. 

When my friend suggested I should wear orange, I know he just meant that I am not Catholic, which is true. I am not. My parents were both raised Catholic, but were "born again" in college and left the Catholic church to join, for lack of a better term, Protestant churches.

But while I am not a Catholic, I am also not a Protestant.

I am a Baptist.

I say that not as a point of pride but classification. People calling themselves Baptist have been guilty of the same sins as people calling themselves Catholic or Protestant--or Jewish or Muslim or atheist or any other label they want to use to describe themselves. Sin is a human problem, and I am just as susceptible to it as the next person, no matter what I call myself.  I do not think that being a Baptist means I am better than a Protestant. It is just a label that better describes my beliefs. 

Beginning My Baptist Journey

It wasn't until I was in college that I understood the difference. Before that, I would describe myself as "a Christian who attends a Baptist church." I would sooner use the word Protestant to describe myself than Baptist.

Until I learned what both words really mean.

As I said, my parents converted from Catholicism in college, and I grew up attending a wide variety of churches. For various reasons we never stayed at a church longer than a year or so, and when I was a teen my parents, though still firm believers in Jesus Christ, stopped attending church altogether. 

Accompanying the singing at an outreach service
at ASU with my boyfriend (now husband) 
When I turned 20 I decided it was time I took responsibility for my spiritual development, and started attending churches with friends. I got quite involved with one church, where my friend's dad was a pastor, and then started also visiting my boyfriend's (now husband) Baptist church. The pastor there started preaching a series on Baptist history, and for the first time I learned what it actually means to be a Baptist. And I realized that I really was a Baptist; I had been for a long time. (A few weeks ago he covered a lot of the same material in one message which you can listen to here.)

I learned that my spiritual forefathers had been persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants. The English Protestants called the Baptists dissenters. That's not to say the Protestants and Baptists didn't agree about anything. They both placed a strong emphasis on individuals having access to the Bible in their own language so they could read it for themselves rather than rely on someone else to interpret it for them. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Bible was pretty much only available in Latin, which usually only the church leaders could read. We have many Protestants like Martin Luther to thank for the privilege we now take for granted today, of being able to read the Bible for ourselves.

But while Protestants had certain theological disagreements with the Catholic church leaders, they largely favored keeping the existing church/state structure intact. Baptists, on the other hand, broke completely from the Catholic church and established their own self-governed congregations, earning themselves the "dissenter" label.

That's not just because the Baptists were more cantankerous that the Protestants (though that might've been true; I've known a few cantankerous Baptists in my day and have probably been one myself from time to time ;-) but because their theological differences ran much deeper. It simply wasn't possible to remain a part of an organization that had such different views of the roles of the individual, the church, and the state. 

Baptists based their beliefs solely on a straightforward reading of the Bible, trying as much as possible to stay away from human traditions that had built up over time. For example, I'm studying the book of 1 Corinthians right now, which makes it extremely clear that God chose to use "the foolishness of preaching" as the ONLY way to spread the Gospel. Not the sword. Not political pressure. Not familial pressure. No, we are just to tell others about the good news about Jesus dying instead of us, and each individual is free to choose how they respond to that message.

A brief glance at Ireland's history shows that this view was not held historically by the Catholic or the Protestant church. Even today there is extreme cultural and familial pressure to remain in the church of your birth.

Since Baptists believed strongly in freedom of conscience and personal autonomy, they believed the church was made up of those who believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings--not those who lived in a certain area or fell under the jurisdiction of a certain political leader. Whereas historically Protestants and Catholics viewed the state as an arm of the church, Baptists have always believed in separation of church and state.

Today I think we all find the idea of forcing someone to join a certain church or profess certain beliefs repugnant. That is because freedom of conscience and separation of church and state were institutionalized in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (thanks in no small part to the diligent efforts of Baptists) and have become ingrained in American culture.

Continuing My Journey

So that's why I call myself a Baptist, and why I did not wear orange to my first St. Patrick's Day parade. I wore red--my dance school's uniform. The next year, when I was privileged to be the queen of the parade while serving as the 2005 Arizona Colleen, I wore green. 

Since then, my involvement with the Phoenix Irish community has continued. I competed in Irish dance for a few years, developing friendships that continue to this day. Then I taught beginning Irish dance at the Irish Cultural Center for four years, retiring when my first child was born. I served on the Arizona Colleen Selection committee, and to this day I do graphic design work for the community. My husband and I traveled to Ireland for our honeymoon, and would love to return someday. We take our kids to the St. Patrick's Day parade every year.

That's why I wear all the colors of the Irish flag on St. Patrick's Day--because I'm Irish. After so many years in the Irish community, I've seen both good and bad in the Irish. We are, after all--whether Catholic or Protestant, Baptist or atheist--human. And as C.S. Lewis (an Irish Protestant, by the way) wrote about being a son of Adam or daughter of Eve, "That is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content."

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What I Wish I Had Known About Jamberry Nail Wraps Before I Bought Them

When I first started learning about Jamberry nail wraps, I tried to find a straight answer about how well the wraps work and how long they last, but all I could find were glowing testimonials and photos of people wearing freshly applied wraps. 

Yes, they looked nice, and yes, the designs were so fun, but what I wanted to see was photos of the wraps at the end of their lifespan!

In the end, my curiosity got the better of me, so I ordered some wraps so I could test them myself. Here is what I learned.

1. Yes, Jamberry nail wraps last 14 days...for some people (not me)

The Jamberry website says that wraps are supposed to last on fingernails for up to two weeks. What?! I love painting my nails but since polish only lasts for a few days on my hands, I've had bare nails pretty much since having kids. I just can't justify taking time to paint them when it will almost immediately start chipping and look horrible anyway (see the photo of my current three-day-old polish manicure).

Nail polish after 3 days
However, for me the wraps last about seven days. By that point the tips are pretty worn and tugging on my hair and generally annoying me, and my nails have grown out so much that I need a new set of wraps anyway. 

Does this mean Jamberry is lying? 

No--some people can get two or even three weeks out of their Jamberry manicures. It depends on what kind of nails you have. Some people have thin nails, some thick, some are more dry while others are more oily, some are very curved while others are more flat, etc. Those variables, as well as the type of wrap used (metallic, matte, etc.), the application method, and what the manicure is put through, all affect the longevity of a Jamberry manicure.

Jamberry wraps after 7 days
Apparently I am really hard on my nails. Here's a photo of my Valentine's Day manicure right before I removed it. If you aren't the mother of a toddler who still likes to throw food on the floor (requiring lots of time on hands and knees scraping hardened mandarin oranges from tile with your nails) hopefully your manicures will look better than this after a week. ;-)

But at seven days, wraps still last way longer than polish. I can justify taking time to apply them on a weekly basis.

Oh, and wraps last forever on toes--I've waited as long as six weeks before removing them, and they were still going strong!

2. Yes, Jamberry nail wraps are easy and fast to apply...after you get the hang of it

My first Jamberry mani took at least an hour to put on. Mostly because I was so terrified of messing it up. Below is a photo of the result. Not too bad, if I do say so myself! By my fourth Jam I had the process down pretty well and had gotten much faster. Now it takes me about 20 minutes (that does not include prep time--removing old wraps, pushing back cuticles, and cutting/filing nails--I usually do all that at a different time). This my weekly "Mommy time" -- after the boys are in bed, I put on an audiobook and get girly putting my on Jams! :-)

My first attempt at a Jamberry manicure
So, yes, there is a bit of a learning curve, but to be fair, nail polish isn't exactly easy to apply either. At least you don't have to wait for wraps to dry. There are several different application (and removal) methods; just open YouTube and search for "Jamberry application" and you'll find 11,000 videos! Try a few different techniques and you'll find the combo that works best for you.

3. Yes, the Jamberry mini-heater really does make a difference

I am a cheapskate. So there was no way I was going to spend an extra $20 on an official Jamberry heater when blogs said I could use a blow dryer or embossing gun and achieve the same results. That's what I used for my first three months of Jamberry manicures, before I caved and bought the mini-heater.

I'm glad I did; it makes a big difference. First, it is easier to use because you don't have to hold it, so you have both hands free during the whole application process. It saves time because you can leave it on while applying multiple wraps instead of turning it on and off. But most importantly, it perfectly heats the wraps in a few seconds, removing the guesswork so you avoid under- or over-heating wraps, and manicures last longer. Wraps go on easier and last longer when you use a Jamberry mini-heater.

4. Other things I've learned
  • Patterns with light colors hide wear much better than solid or dark colored designs.
  • Metallic wraps are more finicky to apply, the edges lift more quickly so manicures don't last as long, and they are a pain in the neck to remove because the metallic part sticks to the nail. 
  • If you have very curved nails (like I do) use a tweezer to hold wraps while applying them so you can gently stretch them and avoid buckles.
  • If you use oil to remove your wraps, wait at least an hour before applying a new set of wraps.
  • Avoid immersing new manicures in water for an hour.
  • Give your nails a break every month or so by going a few days without wraps on them.
So while Jamberry nail wraps didn't quite live up to the hype (they don't last as long as I'd hoped, and the learning curve was a little steep), I love them way more than I thought I would and have been using them almost continually for four months now. They are available in so many different designs that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with polish. Catching a glimpse of a fun, colorful design on my nails just makes me smile, and sometimes that is all I need to get me through a long day.

(And just to clarify, I don't sell Jamberry and am not being reimbursed in any way for this post. I wish! ;-)