Sunday, April 9, 2017

But I'm going to make it

This video clip from the Pirates of the Caribbean describes how I feel about my life right now more accurately than words:

It's going to be close, but I'm going to make it.
I will step off the boat next Tuesday.
My PhD and life in New Zealand and friends and everything that has sustained me here for this journey at sea will be gone. There will be a new path--a new country, a new life. I hope it goes better than Captain Jack's experiences in Port Royal.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Glaube und Hoffnung

I have officially passed my PhD!

with my main supervisor (EmProf James Bade) outside the graduate centre after passing my defence

My life as I've known it for the past 3.6 years is over. It's time to start a new chapter.

There are so many things I am looking forward to about moving back home:

Proximity to family
Betos and Cafe Rio
Old friends <3 div="">
Summer roadtrips, hiking, and camping
Country music on the radio
Moving on with my life!!!!!!!!!!!
Getting a smart phone, and then being able to text my siblings/cousins (see #1)
Being at family events (again, see #1)
Spending time with my grandpa

There are also many, many things I am going to miss about New Zealand. This beautiful country is my country--it has been my home for the past several years, and I can't imagine parting from it. I will miss:

The humidity (but actually, my hair won't miss it)
The green
The Waikato
Bacon and Egg pies
Hoary accents
All my friends and family
Kai moana (seafood)
My independence
Temple trips--the Hamilton Temple itself
Running into people I know everywhere--Pak'nSave, markets, in the city, firesides, etc
Proximity to the islands (fie foki ki Tonga)
Struggling and growing
The rain (only sometimes)
The culture (pasifika, maori)
My young women and youth--seeing what they become, running into them in the Temple, being there for their endowments
Pokeno ice cream stops
Driving on the left side of the road (it's the true side)
Stubbies with gum boots
Carrots and apples
The peace, calm, and serenity
Maori names, words, language
Number 1 pancake
Snowman mango dessert
And so much more.

I have a love/hate relationship with my emotions. On one hand, I'm glad I feel so much--it is easy for me to love people and places, and I think people see my sincerity because my emotions are all right out there on my sleeve and rolling down my face. But sometimes, my feelings are too much. Farewells are some of those times. Right now I am on a roller coaster. Life has been so stressful for so many months that sometimes I just can't wait to leave everything behind and get away. But then there are the moments of peace, when my mind reflects on precious people and memories and experiences and tender moments. It is then that I can't help crying, and I cry a little bit for sadness at everyone and everything I'll miss, but more so with gratitude at all I've been given, and how much it means to me.

I am so grateful I had the opportunity to do a PhD, and to do it in New Zealand. I am so grateful for all the hard things, because the work of my Father in Heaven in my life during those times is now precious to me. I'm so grateful for all those who have reached out to me over the years--who have been my friend, believed in me, supported me, shared with me, invited me, welcomed me, taught me, hugged me, prayed for me, picked me up, blessed me, and otherwise been a beautiful part of my life.

I didn't expect that this is where I would be at 28 years old, or that these would be the experiences I would have. There's a lot I had hoped for that hasn't happened, and so much I never imagined that has. It has been a great ride.

Today in Sacrament meeting we sang Hymn #97: "Lead, Kindly Light." Coincidence? I don't think so.

The lyrics give voice to my current personal pleadings with the Lord:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom; Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene--one step enough for me. 

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that thou Shouldst lead me on. 
I loved to choose and see my path; but now, Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years. 

So long thy pow'r hath blest me, sure it still Will lead me on
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile, Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

The good news is that there is much good to come--mexican food and Zion's park hikes and cross-country roadtrips and jobs (I hope!) and new dreams and family time and a new world of navigating life back in my home country. I'm excited. I'm grateful. I'm humbled. I'm happy. I thank God.

LIFE is a great reason to rejoice.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Life lessons from a PhD #2: Stay on the bus

2014 - 2015, I had a serious problem with my back. At first, I thought I had just overexerted it and that it would correct itself (back pain/problems are just a natural result of being tall and having to contort yourself into smaller/shorter spaces your whole life), but gradually my condition worsened. It became extremely difficult and excruciatingly painful to do even simple things, like stand up, lie down, sit, or walk.

During this time, I was not only heavily engaged in my full time PhD, but also taking a class, teaching a class, serving in a demanding calling at church, and working part-time as well. Weeks were very busy, and in a new country without any family around, I had no time or opportunity to be sick or ask anyone for help. It was a very challenging time. My health steadily deteriorated until I got to a point where I feared for my future--whether I would be able to remain in NZ and finish my PhD, whether I would be able to walk or run again, or whether I would end up in a wheelchair.

I'm grateful for difficult experiences, because they offer you the opportunity to test what you've been taught. You can turn either to the Lord or to the world. There is a scripture in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 4:22) that teaches that our lives belong to God, and my faith told me He could help. Most days, after getting home, I would just lie on the floor and cry because of pain and sadness. I often didn't eat because I couldn't bear standing or walking in or to the grocery store, or to cook in the  kitchen--I'd just lie on the ground and feel bad for myself and cry and pray for healing. Each morning, fearing the pain ahead, I would kneel and plead for help to get through the day. Those prayers were repeated as needed until eventually, I felt that I was getting by hour by hour solely by His grace--I talked to God constantly and relied on Him even for the strength to walk a very short distance. To me, my back pain was a personal crucible that felt like an unconquerable Everest--the Lord was my sherpa. And one day, He taught me an invaluable lesson.

It was a Tuesday--my busiest day--and I was headed to the church for Mutual after working and being at Uni all day. My back was on fire--it felt like there was a spear stuck into my lumbar region and every movement or step would send torrents of fire down my leg (I eventually was diagnosed with several bulging and torn disks). I planned to take the bus straight to the church from Uni to get there on time. Now, to help you understand: the route that would take me from school to the church was driven by three different buses--routes which followed the same roads out of the city but then split off to different places the further out you got from downtown. I had only ever taken two of the buses, but when I got to the stop at school, it was the third option that was there. As I boarded, I asked the bus driver if he went past the stop I needed to get off at in order to get to the church on time. He said he did and I got on without worry--I felt grateful that I was able to make it to the bus, and peaceful that I'd get to fulfill my commitments on time. I even said a prayer to thank God for helping me make it. I settled in and started reading while the bus took off.

As the bus passed where I would have normally got off for my own house stop and went further down the road I was less familiar with, I started to panic--the bus turned down a different street, off of the route that I knew would take me to the church, and looked like it was completely deviating from the route I knew I needed to be on. I became very frustrated and internally upset with the driver for lying to/misunderstanding me, and I pushed the button to get off so that I wouldn't get too far off track.

As I got off the bus, I began to cry. I was in so much pain, and felt disappointed in and let down by God--how, when He knew my condition and deadlines, could or would He allow me to get on the wrong bus, get off track, and be deceived by a driver I was now convinced
a) hadn't understood my question
b) had been dishonest
or c) hadn't cared?

Heavenly Father usually helped me so much and was so kind.

Time was ticking and I still had to get to the church, so I started walking around the corner to get back on the right road and on a different bus. It would be more expensive and time consuming, but I had no other choice.

I was still crying when I made it to the stop and sat down on the bench. As I sat feeling sorry for myself and waiting several minutes for the next bus, I kept my eye on the road and the corner I'd just walked around. A bus turned and headed my way. I stood up to flag it down. As it got closer, I was shocked and flabbergasted to realize that it was the same bus I had just got off.

The driver stopped, opened the door, and looked at me.
"Why did you get off?" he asked.
I felt sheepish. "I thought you were going a different direction," I said.
"But I told you," he said. "We're just turn to the mall but turn back around --we go the rest of the way down this road."
He shook his head at me but was actually very nice. It was me who felt red faced and embarrassed as I re-boarded. I sat down and felt quiet. In my ongoing conversation with God, I felt humbled and apologized for being upset. Then I asked, "okay, I know you don't do anything that isn't for my good, so what am I supposed to learn from this?"

The answer came immediately, as a very clear thought and piece of instruction to my mind and heart: 

Don't get off the bus. 
Trust the driver--he knows where he is going. 

I understood immediately that it was a lesson for a lifetime. I understood that "the bus" is a metaphor for the Gospel, and staying on it meant to be faithful to the covenants I have made. Trusting the driver and his direction means trusting Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, and that ultimately, if I believe He is in control, whether He leads me down unfamiliar roads or takes routes I don't know, if I stay on His bus, I will get where I wanted to go in the first place--where He promises He can take me.

I love this lesson, and I'm grateful for the way I learned it. Within a few months of that bus experience, two of my closest friends left the church (as I have mentioned in a previous post), my back continued to be a problem, and other trials came too. But what I learned then has helped me. I am encouraged that if ever I am in doubt of where the bus I'm on is headed, I can always go ask the driver Himself, and be reassured that it's going where I want to go--that I'm still on the right track. Although He is busy driving, He still has patience and time for me. Also, I am convinced that if I ever find myself outside of or off the bus, I don't have to worry that He won't let me back on--there is always a way back and a way home.

How grateful I am for this lesson. I know these things are true. Stay on the bus friends. Trust the driver. He really does know the way.

Love love,

Monday, October 17, 2016

I didn't expect depression

I don't mean to do an injustice to any woman who has given birth to a real child and finds herself dealing with postpartum depression, but I feel like that is what I'm going through right now.

People in academia always refer to a PhD thesis/dissertation as a baby or child. There's the same long gestational period, the same anticipation, a lot of work and effort that goes into preparing, a supervisor (birth coach) who helps throughout, regular "check ups," physical and emotional ups and downs, all the people giving you advice about what you need to be doing now and what to prepare yourself for it, vulnerability (being "exposed" to outsiders) and, at the end, there's an incoherent flurry of commotion and activity as many different people rush around frantically to help bring this new "life" into the world. Then suddenly the moment comes and the pressure stops instantly.

Are you convinced of the appropriateness of my analogy yet?

Over the past several months, I have been prepared for the experience of submitting my thesis and finishing my PhD in many ways, but I have discovered that I was not adequately prepared emotionally. The past month before submitting itself was an emotional roller coaster. There were so many things to do, of course, but aside from stress, there was also so much anxiety, ebbs and flows of confidence, etc. Towards the last two weeks, I had difficulty sleeping and could go from perfectly peaceful to churning with anxiety and nervousness in about five milliseconds.

Although those crazy side effects mostly abated after submission (thankfully), sadly, others have jumped in to replace them. All at once I have lost my:
ability to plan or get anything done
quick smile
desire to see, talk, or spend time with anyone outside of my closest friends and family

and found:
an insatiable craving for donuts
and a new affinity for staring off into space

In short, I feel like my life has fallen apart.

For the past several weeks I've just been wondering what is wrong with me and why I all of a sudden can't get anything done, or even care much about getting things done (it took me a week to finish this blog post). My list of "to-dos after submission", which I was really excited about and have looked forward to for months, has almost not been touched at all. I even feel like I have lost my spark of spirituality--I've been finding it very difficult to read the scriptures, to say meaningful prayers, and to focus in any church setting. This is uncharacteristic and disturbing to me.

So I've been thinking. And talking to people.
My sister mentioned that it sounds like coming home from a mission. That inspired comment is really what triggered me to realize what I'm going through: Depression. I just wasn't expecting it.

I've dealt with depression at other times in my life, so right now I'm doing the things I know will help me get through.
I'm waking up each morning and giving thanks for the sun coming up and out (on the days it has come out)
Even though I often don't feel like it, I'm choosing to kneel in prayer to express gratitude--I know I have so many things to be grateful for;
I'm trying to do a better job each day at seeing all the ways the Lord has worked and is working in my life, and choosing not to believe that He's suddenly not real anymore;
I'm exercising every day,
And eating healthily (minus the donuts, but I'm cutting myself some slack there).
Although I almost can't stand it, I'm still coming into University and forcing myself to work.
I'm trying to serve and get outside of myself at every opportunity;
I'm trying to be honest with others about what I'm experiencing, so that I don't put up a false front and so that I can benefit from the relationships around me;
I'm trying to remember that the best is always yet to be, and there is a bright future ahead;
I'm trying to be patient with myself and my current situation,
To not look back or give in to feelings of sadness,
To be close to, open, and honest with the Lord,
And most of all, to press forward with a steadfastness in Christ (2 Nephi 31:20).

These things all sound so simple on paper, and they are things I generally take for granted at other times. But right now, in my current situation, little by little, they are making all the difference in my life. I'm still dealing with the depression, and each day is still a struggle in its own way for different reasons, but I've been reminded by the Spirit recently of this fact:

In that truism, I'm reminded that trouble, challenge, and trial are part of the mortal experience, and there is nothing wrong with admitting they are there or that they are difficult. However, giving up, or wallowing in the difficulty, is to be avoided. In these truths, I am finding happiness. Mostly I am finding happiness because I've been reminded of Jesus Christ--I know that I have much to be happy about and to look forward to, because of Him. He is the Light of the world, the Life of the world, and the Hope of the world. He is these things to me.

Because of him, I (and we) still have great reason to rejoice. Even when it's raining.

Love love,