Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Giving Hope to Single Parents

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for charity work, but have struggled mightily because there is always so much need out there, and my ability to give has its limits. So I will often end up choosing how and where to give based on a more personal element...trying to match my giving with organizations whose missions and approaches are consistent with my own passions and interests.

Recently, I found out about a fundraising effort that combines several things about which I'm passionate: helping women and children, education and self-reliance, addressing defined needs in a defined way, networking among organizations to accomplish good, and using social media to spread the word.

Several LDS bloggers have come together to help LDS Philanthropies and LDS Business College provide full-tuition scholarships for single parents (mostly moms). The very effective program enables a single parent to focus on schooling for two years (tuition and books are covered). Upon graduation, the individuals have specific skills they can use immediately in the work force.

I've listened to and read the stories of women (e.g., see here and here) who have gone through this program and there are common threads in what they say -- they found hope and confidence to face their situations with faith, as well as increased ability to take care of their children. They found an environment that fostered spiritual growth as well as professional preparation. They found personal support in a small school that has a unique and focused mission.

This is a cause I'm passionate about. I would love to help them get past $10,000 by the end of the month. [Update -- we hit that goal earlier today...but we still want to keep helping!] Will you help spread the word? You can find widgets for the fundraising campaign to put on your own blog.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wisdom and Order

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order. -Mosiah 4:27

Wisdom and order. I've been thinking a lot over the past months about those words. Those of us familiar with this Book of Mormon scripture often define "wisdom and order" with the other well-known phrase, of simply not running faster than we have strength. But I've been turning it around my mind: That a key to not running faster than I have strength is perhaps found in those two words: wisdom and order. (And about being diligent in being wise and ordered.)

Here are some of the things I've been thinking about in that regard.

Wisdom = Not just having knowledge, but living it.

What knowledge can guide us in not running faster than having strength?


Order means many things, but my thoughts about it in this context, or perhaps in the context of my life and what I need to focus on, is deliberate, prioritized living.

At the Women in Business Conference I mentioned in my previous post, this was the focus of one of the talks given that has lingered with me. In fact, personally, it's about the only message that really lingered with me. (I am so grateful to have been able to be part of a conference where that kind of foundational, perspective-giving message was a kickoff keynote. Truly, I think these principles ARE the key to professional or any other success.)

I think this quote from Elder Neal A. Maxwell sums her thoughts up well (since I don't currently have a link to her talk -- that should change soon!)

Thus, the Lord has given us what might be called the “wisdom and order” and “strength and means” tests. Unwisely, we often write checks against our time accounts as we never would dare do, comparably, against our bank accounts. Sometimes we make so many commitments that they become like the vines in the allegory of Jacob, threatening to “overcome the roots,” including the “roots” of family relationships, friendships, and relationships with God.

How often do I run around frenetically, too busy, not spending enough time on the things of the most value? (That is something else that was discussed at the conference -- we know what we value, but we often don't put our time with those things we value most.)

More from Elder Maxwell:

After one of the Brethren made a report to President Brigham Young, he was anxious to leave so as not to impose. But President Young said, “Please sit a spell with me. I am weary of men and things.” How often do we “sit a spell” with spouse, children, colleagues, or friends? Unhurried time seems to be worth more than the same amount of time spent hectically....

[A]s far as I can see, Jesus was never hectically involved. This is all the more marvelous when we realize that so much of His mortal messiahship was crowded into only three very busy years....

We can all try to watch out for Martha-like anxiety, which is genderless. It can also deprive us of special experiences if we are too “cumbered about much serving.” Conscientiousness is not an automatic guarantee that we will choose the “good part” which will not be “taken away” from us (Luke 10:38–42).

And one more from Elder Maxwell:

The scriptural advice, “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength” (D&C 10:4) suggests paced progress, much as God used seven creative periods in preparing man and this earth. There is a difference, therefore, between being “anxiously engaged” and being over-anxious and thus underengaged.

It's so easy in this world measured by time to be driven by the perceived lack of it, when perhaps the solution is simply to put into practice what the prophets talk about so often. Put first things first -- God and family. No success can compensate if we don't succeed in the home. Put another way, nothing else matters if priorities aren't in place.

For me, as a mom trying to figure out how to send fewer shallow shoots off in my life and dig my roots deeper, this piece really resonated with me. She, too, explores the notion of being "properly ordered."

For the wife and mother, no matter how talented and accomplished she is academically and professionally, her value in the world of work will never be as great as her value in the home. No one is indispensable in professional life — no matter how brilliant. Wives and mothers, like husbands and fathers, are irreplaceable when it comes to their children and family life. It also helps to recognize that our talents are properly ordered only when directed back to God.

Where I might disagree a bit with her is in her title -- I think the wisdom she shares goes beyond just being applicable to stay-at-home moms. It's possible for a SAHM to not be properly ordered, and it's possible for a mom who's also in the workplace to have her life in proper order. I think Sister Julie Beck sums it up well:

One of the questions that I get frequently is, “Is it okay if I work outside of my home or I don’t work outside of my home?” You have to know that as an international, global, Relief Society president, that question isn’t always appropriate in all of the world’s countries. There are many, many places where if our women don’t work, they don’t eat. So of course they have to work. The question of whether or not to work is the wrong question. The question is, “Am I aligned with the Lord’s vision of me and what He needs me to become, and the roles and responsibilities He gave me in heaven that are not negotiable? Am I aligned with that, or am I trying to escape my duties?” Those are the kinds of things we need to understand. Our Heavenly Father loves His daughters, and because He loves us and the reward at the end is so glorious, we do not get a pass from the responsibilities we were given. We cannot give them away. They are our sacred duties and we fulfill them under covenant.

But that really is the key. How often am I really letting myself be led by the Spirit -- even each day -- in my priorities and choices? How often do I let myself "escape" in my day-to-day when I should be more present?

Wisdom and order. These are principles I have felt the Spirit nudging me about a lot. The trick now is to live more consistently according to the knowledge I feel God is giving me. To live, diligently, consistently, with wisdom.

And order.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thoughts on work/life balance, "ambition," SAHMhood, and family-focused policy

At the recent BYU Women in Business Conference I attended (and helped plan), we had a lively presentation and discussion on work/life balance issues. This was a unique gathering, because these issues were discussed in context of doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Our motivation (as a advisory committee) for tackling this topic was centered in a comment given in a General Conference talk by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: 
I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.
Chrysula Winegar was one of the presenters that evening. She is a work/life balance coach and advocate, as well as a passionate advocate for mothers the world over. 

In a recent post on her blog, she asks a question of one of her commenters, and I had thoughts that ended up being too long for a comment. So I'm posting them here. 

Chrysula asks: "Have you found you are actually able to enjoy this season [of motherhood, out of the workforce]? Or is the weight of knowing how hard it will be to "recover" professionally niggling in the background? I'd be curious, if you're comfortable, in learning more..."

Can I answer this question? I may be an anomaly on this, but this isn't something that bothers me. It never has. Maybe it's because I've been deliberate about keeping my toe in the professional puddle over the years (even while not being paid for my activities for over a decade); maybe it's because we aren't in dire straits needing money (which I realize is something that could change, and something I shouldn't take for granted and something that is itself an anomaly); maybe it's because I'm oblivious to how hard it really could be to re-enter, but I just don't feel it. 

If anything, in fact, the older I get, the less desire I have to re-enter the workforce per se. I feel the tug of my family roles to be stronger than ever (it only seems to get stronger as my kids get older -- I feel the need to be more focused, more deliberate in these roles than ever before). I also feel any other use of my skills is supposed to be outside of the workforce. 

BUT, that's not to say that I don't care about this issue in general, though, because I know that we have a lot of women who need to work and need to not feel decimated because they choose to stay home. We need more policy that allow a husband and wife options to work together in ways that work for their family. But I think some of what needs to happen is more valuing, in general in our culture, of a variety of contributions that people make outside of the realm of work, not only by corporations, but by individuals. [Chrysula gets to some of this in her post. I don't think she would disagree with me.]

But back to my point about what our culture often values. Consider, for example, the kind of voices that work against change toward more valuing of more than just work. This is a recent and much-discussed comment by Sheryl Sandberg: "I think the achievement gap is caused by a lot of things. It’s caused by institutional barriers and all kinds of stuff. But there’s also a really big ambition gap. If you survey men and women in college today in this country, the men are more ambitious than the women. And until women are as ambitious as men, they’re not going to achieve as much as men ...I really think we need more women to lean into their careers and to be really dedicated to staying in the work force." 

Even while women have been at the forefront of pressing for more flex-time, etc., I also think it's often women who are also at the forefront of actually encouraging the embedding of hierarchical-corporate-ladder, kill-yourself-to-earn-your-place models...while, again, placing little to no value on the daily work of parents in their homes, of people in their communities and churches [things Chrysula lists in her post].

And so, the pressure on corporations continues to often maintain this "ambition" model to be "progressive" and "PC" and they continue to just try to more "equally" fill the rungs of the ladder. Because in reality, that is how many people measure the success of such efforts such as "equality." Or personal success. 

And it's the women who are often the ones most quickly accusing women like me of doing women and the quest for equality damage by not working. (Either that or claiming that we aren't truly being partners to our husbands if we don't have an income. Again, the measure of worth, of contribution, of value, of success, is often only measured by for-pay work, rather than seen in a larger context, valuing contributions that people can make -- especially in their families -- that are essential to the well-being of society. As a side note, here's some food for thought: One woman's response to such sentiments.) 

I'm grateful for the people who are willing to take the risks necessary to communicate to corporations (by challenging the ladder model, if not getting off the ladder altogether) that they want something different, a different mindset for work. They want work as a means, not an end, as a part of their life, not their entire world. As Chrysula notes, they work to define their world according to their values, whenever possible. They want not only the ladder leaning against a different wall, but to get rid of the ladder altogether and think about corporate culture, structure, rewards -- the whole kit and kaboodle - in a different way...in a way that wants to be part of a healthier overall culture that facilitates family life, not competes against it.  

(On a more personal, religious p.s.: While I'm a fan of talking about facilitating family-friendly policy, sometimes I worry that the discussion will miss the family part, the second part of Elder Cook's invitation. I'm reminded of the Proclamation to the World on the Family, which invites "responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society." The niggling fear I do have lingering in the background is that some will process work/family policy as existing primarily to facilitate adult lives and dreams and goals, rather than to support the doctrine of the family, which still keeps the bearing and rearing of children at the pinnacle of personal responsibility and, for lack of a better word, "success" (for those who have this opportunity, of course). This is some of what I mean by seeing work not as an end, but as a means to an end.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tackling a Tonsillectomy

Well, I did it. It's over. I'm so relieved, but also still a bit ragged from it all. There were so many blessings that came along the way, but also some challenges that sort of caught me by surprise. I'll probably write more later, but today, I'm writing some practical tips for tackling a tonsillectomy for a friend who is soon to go through this. This one's for you, Brit.

- First of all, the anticipation is in many ways the worst part. Yes, this is a hard surgery, especially for adults, but it's also a rather predictable one. The process that your body will go through to heal is common and repeated. I did a ton of reading and the patterns I heard about played out for me. And so, as the scripture says, "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear." Or at least not fear as much.

- I will say right off the bat that I asked for priesthood blessings, and was completely shameless about asking for prayers. And I think that is why I went into surgery at peace. I also knew it was the right thing to do. That peace I exhibited surprised both me and my husband, but if that can happen to me, the queen of anxiety and worry, that can testify to you of the power of prayers and priesthood blessings and preparation.

- The recovery process is not like other surgeries where it's linear, getting better each day. The first few days are, relatively speaking, not the worst part. The worst pain hits around day 5 and can last for several days. If you know and remember that, it will make a huge difference mentally and emotionally.

- As such, I would highly recommend making sure you have help lined up for a full two weeks, somehow, if possible. I hired someone, a newlywed friend who didn't have a job, to come in. She did my dishes and picked kiddos up from school and helped with laundry and let me cry on her shoulder. I also had her read scriptures to me. That time listening and discussing my faith really helped me keep a better focus through it all. And she was just THERE so hubby could work and I could know that I was not going to be alone. I also knew myself well enough to know that having different people coming in and out would add to significant stress for me. I personally needed that consistency. Sadly, our plan to watch movies all day was eclipsed by the fact that I slept every late morning/afternoon.

- But happily, our plan to record all the crazy things I said on drugs never played out. I was scared spitless about taking narcotics; I've had a horrible experience with Lortab and was sure my experience with Percocet would be even worse (all of my sisters and mom get sick with these kinds of drugs). But I took anti-nausea meds faithfully throughout the time I took the meds, and they seriously made a HUGE difference during those hard days. I will say that I experienced the side effect of some pretty intense emotional downs, and that was something for which I wasn't prepared. There was one morning where I could. not. stop. crying. Again, knowing that this could happen is half the battle. Just factor in the weirdness of being on drugs as part of the process, and that can help. Figure out what amount you need for relief, and then stay up on that. It will help keep the pain at least bearable.

Other options to talk about that I had on hand to use are topical lidocaine suckers and/or a rinse/mouthwash. I didn't really use these, but I have heard others have. I bought Cloroseptic (didn't use that either). My doc uses Mobic (one a day is what I took) along with the narcotics. I think that helped during the worst days, and I used it alone as I weaned off the narcotics (my goal was to be done with the narcotics by the two-week mark, and I think I stopped taking them around day 12...by that point I was only taking them every 12 hours or so. I wasn't afraid to use them, but I also was anxious to get off of them.)

- One of the most important tips I can give you is to DRINK AND EAT (I'd say prioritize in that order) NO MATTER HOW MUCH IT HURTS. If you have seen Harry Potter, the scene from #6 in the cave was the mental picture I created for the woman I hired to help. "No matter what I say, Harry, you make me drink." That was her charge, and that was my challenge every day, every couple of hours. I bought cases of water that sat in my room, and had pretty much every known type of liquid nutrition known to man. I drank a lot of vitamin water, not so much Gatorade, a lot of regular water, some juices (don't do acidic ones! OUCH!), and some dairy (more later on...it can produce mucus that isn't comfy at first -- you'll figure that out).

Follow your doc's orders about what to eat or drink (some say no dairy at first, and some say only soft foods, etc.) But force yourself to do both. (Mine said it didn't really matter, although my own ENT who also does surgery takes a very conservative, soft-foods only approach, which was my choice...I pushed that for almost three weeks because I'm paranoid like that). Keep hydrated at all costs. And for me, consistently eating food not only meant that I never took meds on an empty stomach, but it kept strength up, AND helped me emotionally and mentally to not let the pain take over my life. My surgeon said without question that those who eat and drink heal faster. The pain also gets more out of control if you get dehydrated. I didn't lose weight for the first week and a half. It's been the last couple of weeks that I've struggled to maintain because I'm doing more but still haven't been eating normally, or enough. Food takes time to get reacquainted with. ;)

- I filled my freezer with pureed foods...fruits, juices with yogurt and cottage cheese, soups, pureed oatmeal. I wish I'd done more savory foods...too many sweets got old really fast. I wish I'd done more good hot cereals for variety and substance. For the first few days, I did a lot of broth with Ritz crackers dissolved in it, but that got old. Gatorade with yogurt was an interesting creation that I liked for a few days. But I didn't really want more popcicles and ice cream; I wanted real foods. (I am still craving protein, still trying to catch up on what I felt my body missed...it took me a while to feel brave enough to eat, even though my doc said I could eat whatever.) If your doc is ok with it, and you can tolerate it, protein drinks are a good option -- lots of calories and protein in only a few swallows. I used the plus version for an extra 100 calories. But again, I got sick of the sweet stuff. So think about that..think about what foods you can puree that you can have on hand or have someone make for you. (Later in the process when I felt a little more brave I made a potato soup with a bag of shredded hash browns boiled to serious softness in chicken broth (enough water to cover potatoes and then with bouillon cubes to match the amount , then mixed a can of evaporated milk and shredded cheddar cheese until smooth and bubbly.) You'll want to let any hot foods cool. I'm still feeling a little tender with really hot or really cold foods.

- Other tricks I used -- vaporizer (don't know if it made a difference, but I wanted to do all I could to keep my throat moist while I slept), gum (keeps saliva going and is something for my mouth to do), sleeping a lot (even though you'll want to be careful about not sleeping for too long at one chunk...want to keep up on meds). I also gave myself a LOT of time to eat. It usually took me 1-1/2 hours from start to finish to eat my meals. But the more you can focus on just your basics - drink, eat, sleep, the more your body can do its job.

- Get yourself some prune juice. This can help counteract the effects of the meds. I mixed mine with my daily pureed oatmeal, and even once blended it with pureed cottage cheese. (I'm not sure if you want to call that creative or desperate.)

- I don't know if this is normal (and sorry if this is too graphic, but I wish someone had told me they had experienced this), but I had serious green post nasal stuff that worried me. I was given antibiotics, but I honestly think it may have simply been my body's reaction to the surgery, a sort of natural lubrication response. It got lighter and better as I healed. And I never showed symptoms of a sinus infection, so that's what I'm guessing. But it was that kind of unknown stuff ("Is this normal?") that was hard for me. Don't hesitate to call your doc's office and ask questions. My nurse and I became really good friends. :)

- I tried to be careful not to bend over. I also slept with my head slightly elevated. But I am not sure whether those are things that make a difference or not. I just tried to be cautious and to do things that to me logically meant keeping any unnecessary extra blood flow to my mouth. I hear ice packs can help, but I never used them. The meds helped me through and my mental preparation for the bad days made a difference, I think.

- Please don't beat yourself up if you get discouraged through this. Plan on having and asking for not only the physical help and support, but also emotional help and support. Call me if you need to, and let yourself need what you need for weeks. It's a big deal, and people around you might need help remembering that it's going to take some time for normal to come back. For sure plan on two weeks, but then another two weeks to slowly ease back into life. I'm four weeks out and still tired, but feeling a little more like my whatever-my-normal-was-before normal.

You are strong and mighty, dear Brit. You will do great. And as my friend said, ultimately, it's in God's hands. Lean on Him lots during this. Look for the little blessings each day. Remind yourself that this, too, shall pass. But be sure to give yourself the space to say, "Baby, this is hard. I need to hunker down, and I need help. And I need time to heal."

I hope this helps. If you have questions, please ask! Or if I remember more, I'll share.