Thursday, January 10, 2013

Having a Little Chat with Myself

After relating the story of my baptism to my therapist during a session of EMDR, I was asked to imagine what I would like to say to my 10-year-old self, the little girl who was so fearful of being eternally condemned and who felt compelled to obsess over her big toe. I closed my eyes and held the pulsers in my hands, feeling the vibrations from them alternate from one hand to the other. I let my mind wander and saw the 10-year-old sitting on my lap at a pew in the church where I was baptized. I told her she didn't need to worry over whether her baptism was done correctly or whether she needed to be rebaptized. I told her what really mattered in life was not baptisms but living a life filled with love. I told her to fill her heart and life with loving others.

She was clearly confused. She understood how to fulfill a requirement like baptism, but "living a life filled with love" was vague and impossible to accomplish with certainty. She wanted a neat checklist. How could she be sure she was doing this right? How could she check this off her list with certainty? "On second thought," I said to her, "forget what I just said. What I really want you to know is that you're too young to be worrying about baptism. Don't give it another thought. You're too young to understand." She smiled and relaxed. She was glad not to have to worry about her eternal fate. It was just too much for a 10-year-old. It made me smile with watery eyes to see her so relieved.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Ideas?

The book club I host at my house is discussing books to review during the upcoming year. We have identified a few books as well as several general topics of interest, so I thought I'd see if anyone out there has any suggestions for books within these topics. We have some interest in studying the historical development of ideas, especially those of a religious nature, such as the concept of hell. We have some interest in neuroscience as it relates to belief, ancient philosophers, and introductions to Biblical criticism.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Big Toe

28 years ago this November I was baptized in the church building I had grown up attending. We had moved from the town in southeast Missouri where that building stood, but just 6 months after the move my family and I drove down from St. Louis just for this occasion. I was to be baptized in the church where my grandparents still attended, and where a couple hundred other people attended who had been my church family til I was almost 11.

This event was prearranged by my family. A family friend who was leading the singing for the worship service in which I would be baptized called us the day before to see if I had a request for the invitation song. I didn't. He was also the same man who led singing at my dad's funeral some 22 years later. As was the custom, at the end of the worship service the next day I walked to the front of the auditorium when the invitation song began. This is what one did if baptism or confession was needed. Another woman "came forward" as well. She had mental retardation and was prone to coming forward every few weeks to ask for the prayers of the church for some particular or not so particular sin. I was irritated by this imposition on my limelight, though I felt guilty as well for being so selfish and self-possessed. Though my dad was not the minister, he was the one to baptize me. It isn't uncommon in my denomination for fathers to baptize their children.

I sadly don't remember what my dad said while we stood in the baptismal font. Of course I gave my confession that I believed Jesus to be the son of God. I'm sure that my dad baptized me in the name of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Ghost, for the remission of my sins. However, what really stands out is that, as I was being immersed in the water by my dad, I felt as though my legs rose above my head, causing my toe to emerge from the water. This is a minor occurrence in a rich and meaningful event. However, what was primarily meaningful to me was the fact that my toe seemed to rise from the water, causing me concern that I was not fully immersed. In my denomination, much is made of the fact that the Greek term "baptizo" transliterated baptize means "to immerse." It was stressed in  Bible class and sermons that it was of eternal significance that my entire body be covered with water for a singular moment in time for me to be immersed, thus allowing me entrance into heaven, thereby saving me from the flames of hell. Though these worries were momentarily suppressed by the long line of hugs I received following my baptism that morning, it wasn't too long before that worry crept into my thoughts. What if I was never fully immersed? What if God doesn't consider me baptized? What if I'm going to hell? I remember asking my dad on more than one occasion if I was fully immersed. He assured me I was. However, I could never fully put the worry to rest. Even well into adulthood it lingered, an embarrassment, like an unflattering family story that relatives like to rehash. What actually put an end to my obsession over whether I was fully immersed or whether I should be rebaptized was the realization that I wasn't sure I believed the tenets of Christianity that would give me reason to be baptized in the first place.

If you're thinking that to be preoccupied by my big toe for the better part of 20 years indicates a strangely obsessive style of thought, you'd be correct. Most people would have either not noticed the sensation of their toe rising out of the water, or would have been easily assuaged by their father's reassurance that they were, in fact, submerged during their baptism. And most 10-year-olds would have given little thought at all to the particulars of baptism. In my defense, consequences of eternal magnitude were at stake. And I was brought up in a denomination that made a great big deal about the particulars of baptism and the consequences of ignoring these particulars.  Unfortunately, something about me made these conditions much more challenging. I was developing obsessive-compulsive symptoms that served the function of helping me feel safe and in control. And a place in my life where I felt unsafe and out of control was my eternal fate. As I grew older, I felt almost as terrified about the fate of others as I did about my own. And this terror was intensified by the realization that according to my denomination, almost every person who ever lived was going to hell. Eventually, this burden broke the neurotic girl's back, giving way at long last to a faith crisis. Though several years now I've spent studying and coming to very different conclusions about my beliefs, I have felt somewhat stuck in my current position, neither free to throw off religion altogether, or to develop a different faith of sorts, one that doesn't have such a miserably worrisome start point. I've been held fast, I believe, by the burdens of my past.  Subsequent posts will share my recent efforts in therapy to release this burden.       


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are you run?

A couple of weeks ago our family attended a preparedness fair hosted by a local LDS church.  There were many booths set up around a gym and one of these offered fitness assessments. I hadn't really thought about fitness being part of being part of preparing for a natural disaster (or zombie apocalypse), but it makes sense.

My boys were eager to do the step test at the fitness booth, so we made our way there. After the boys finished stepping, I was invited to take the assessment. With some hesitation I agreed. The short of it is that my level of fitness is variable. I was pleasantly surprised to earn the "excellent" rating for strength and was glad to have at least made the "average" range for flexibility (one inch away from "excellent"). However, I was just shy of the "average" rating for endurance (as measured by the step test). The trainer recommended what DagoodS has promoted before: interval training during my runs. She guessed that by the time I kick my 11 minute mile up to a 10 minute mile, I'll be into the average range on endurance. Now that I've begun interval training, I understand how this is a great challenge to the cardiovascular system (and to my ego!).

My whole family is now challenging themselves as well. My husband has begun training for his eventual 10 mile race and my boys have taken on the couch-to-5K program. There is an app for it, of course, complete with a zombie trainer, that my youngest son finds quite captivating. Helping my sons run makes it a bit more difficult for me to make time to run for myself, but it's fun to have the whole family involved.  

I've also taken on another self-improvement project involving psychotherapy, but that will be a post for another day. (Hopefully sooner rather than later.)        

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Still Jogging Along

This is a quick, uninspiring post about the mundane. Anyone still reading at this point? :) Just checking in saying that I'm still around and jogging even (albeit slowly). My whole family joined me recently at a 5K. My husband and I jogged and my boys ran/walked a fun run afterward. We all had a great time and my husband has decided to kill himself with some friends this spring at a Tough Mudder event (10 mile obstacle course). So, hopefully he'll get inspired to start training soon. I only ran 31 seconds faster than last year's 5K, so I need to get more motivated as well. Hopefully I'll avoid further knee problems to prevent getting derailed from running again. I think we'll do at least quarterly 5K races to keep motivated. My boys now want to work up to a 5K so they can run in the LuvMud event in Memphis next year. What boy doesn't like getting covered in mud? I'm happy to see family-wide interest in the races. Hopefully, we can keep the interest going!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Me, Myself, and I

I've spent the past three weekends around family. Both my and my husband's parents each took a turn visiting our home to celebrate my oldest son's birthday and this weekend we were up in St. Louis visiting my grandma who is gravely ill. And this has brought to the forefront my indecision about how open to be about my current religious beliefs. Though it's been relatively easy to keep them to myself, given the distance I live from family, there is a limit to how much can remain hidden when my worlds intersect. And one interesting thing I observed recently is that I am less concerned about these worlds intersecting than I use to be. I noted this when my husband pointed out that I had neglected to put away several religious and science books laying in the living room, which have viewpoints contrary to those held by my mom. And on Sunday night, when my mom visited, my church combined services with another church. I asked if she wanted to attend the special event and she said we should just do what we normally would. So we didn't go. And nothing was said about that fact.

I have also found that some changes in my habits are impossible over time to hide. For example, I wanted my son to call and thank his great aunt for the gift she sent him. It was Wednesday night at church time. I have been very careful not to call family at this time, thus concealing the fact that we aren't at church. However, I knew this would be our only free time before leaving town. I couldn't justify failing to call and express gratitude, so we called. I knew she would be at home, caring for my grandma. And, as I feared, she asked my son if we were going to church that night. He said, "Why would we be at church?" I cringed at that comment and wanted to shrink into the couch.

It is clear that I'm still conflicted about it and I find myself ducking around corners from time to time in an effort to maintain the peace and my good standing. Writing about this makes me feel ridiculous for performing such evasive maneuvers. It sounds weak and immature and pathetic, really. I suppose I should write about this more in an effort to encourage myself to have the strength to live my life without regard to who is watching me do it. That is not to say that I feel I must share all my beliefs with everyone, but it feels like I'm in a sit com, trying to pull off going on two different dates at the same time. Eventually I'll be found out, and I'll look absurd in the process.

It would help if it were more clear about what I do believe. I've grown a bit weary of trying to figure it out. I also seem to be slowing down a bit physically and can't stay up as late as I use to doing my reading and blogging. However, I don't like the muddled, ambiguous place I find myself in.

I'd be interested in hearing how others negotiate this place in their lives.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

You Didn't Pray for Me

Writing has slowed down for me somewhat because I'm more accepting of my unanswered questions and less certain that I'll arrive at answers. I don't spend as much time reading and pondering the nature of God. I've spent a fair amount of time recently learning the new skill of couponing. I've spent numerous hours on blogs dedicated to couponing and bargain shopping and I've made some significant headway.

However, I do need to give attention to a spiritual matter that directly affects our sons. And the matter is prayer. This is something I have largely given up on because I don't really believe that whoever or whatever I pray to is going to answer or react in any way. I don't see prayer changing anything by affecting God's behavior. Now that is not to say that I don't believe prayer can have a significant affect on the petitioner. In fact, I believe that prayer does affect our attitudes and heart when we pray. This has renewed my interest in pursuing meditation more diligently, as I think the same effects are likely achieved without the requisite belief in a God who is listening to our every prayer and responding.

Out of force of habit, I suppose, we pray as a family before meals when we eat together. One night, a couple of weeks ago, my husband led a prayer before dinner, a fairly quick and perfunctory one. My youngest son was sick with bronchitis. After the prayer, my son immediately said, "You didn't pray for me to get better." He wanted this prayer, so my husband prayed for his health. It meant a great deal to both my boys, who actually sat very still and quietly during the second prayer, as opposed to trying to sneak a bite or glancing at the other brother to catch him in the act of eating.  I felt guilt over this omission and wondered if the boys thought we weren't concerned enough about our son's health.

In the Christian community, prayer is a primary way of communicating concern for another. And of course, if you believe prayer can change the actions of God, it is a way to improve the outcomes for others. My husband and I are raising our children in this culture, so it's no surprise they are developing this understanding of prayer.  I do believe it's a valuable practice, whether or not anyone hears the prayer, but it's just so hard for me to do. I feel a need to come to some sort of way of approaching this practice, especially in the context of my family. And given that I still feel a bit on the fence about my beliefs as does my husband, it's a challenge to know what to teach our children. So, that's my current conundrum. Any thoughts?