i live here too.

It is one of the most clear memories I have from early on in my career.  Some friends were over and asked how long we had lived in our home.  When I answered, my eldest, in the sincerest of voices proclaimed “Mom, that’s not true.  Dad and I live here and you live at the hospital!”  It’s pretty hilarious now but at the time I was crushed.  CRUSHED.  I remember the days in residency when I felt like I hadn’t been home in forever.  Let’s be honest. Sometimes it still seems that way.  Home in time to eat and sleep and then back up before everyone else and off to work.

September is designated as Women in Medicine month by the American Medical Association. One third of our nation’s physicians are women. Many of these women chose medicine as a career during a time when they had very few role models who were women.  Many of them delayed starting their own families to learn to care for the families of their community. I have the privilege of training with, working with and knowing some incredible women physicians. These women spend many years training for a career in which they will give countless hours to improve the health of others. Most do it for a salary that is less than their male counterparts.  They juggle rounding and homework and office visits and basketball practice and charting and so much more.

Women are under-represented in leadership in medicine; and a recent survey of physician mothers revealed that most women have felt discriminated against because of pregnancy, breastfeeding or motherhood. Does this make men at fault?  Certainly not. But we work in systems that have long overlooked that its workforce is changing. Fortunately, physician moms are working to improve policies and procedures so the women that come into medicine after us have the opportunities to lead their communities to better health.

So here’s my shout out to women in medicine.  You are some of the toughest, smartest, most caring and passionate women I know. You will change the future of health. And you are unstoppable.

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we hold these truths.

The Pastor and I don’t have many absolutes in our lives.  At our house you can count on things never being the same.  Our schedules are always changing.  One of us is likely to get called away in the middle of an event or have to rush off to work.  But there is one thing you can count on.  One thing that always remains the same. We cannot, I mean CANNOT, watch America’s Got Talent without both ending up in tears. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I mean, there is the kid that used to be blind; the girl who lost her hearing; the 9 year old who is getting a little sister and for goodness sake a sweet girl from my home state and her puppet.  On stage stands someone who is probably in one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives.  Sitting across from them are those whose job it is to pass judgement. These people muster up all the guts they can find in their body and get on stage and hope and pray that they will find success.  And then, when they are finished, the most wonderful thing happens.  The words are spoken.

If you’ve seen the show you know what I’m talking about.   It’s more than just telling these performers they were excellent.  The power of the words they speak is life changing. Because of the enormous weight with which they are delivered, the words “you are a winner” or “you have a gift” or even “you are beautiful” seem to penetrate into the very heart and soul of those on stage. You can see it in their eyes. It’s as if all the sudden they believe in the person they have always been.

And cue the tears.

Over the past few weeks the Pastor has been teaching our girls about the Sh’ma. It’s an Old Testament Scripture or prayer that contains the Greatest Commandment.  And then goes on to remind God’s people to bind the words onto their hands, their foreheads, their hearts.  To recite it morning and night. To never forget those important words.

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It is not lost on me that the lesson in all of this is that words matter. And as someone who likes to blog and helps keep both the post office and her local Hallmark® store in business, I am a big believer in the power of the written word. But a spoken word is different.  It seems to be more weighty, more full.

I hope someday I have the opportunity to speak the truth into someone’s life and change them for the better.  Even more I hope someone does the same for both my girls.   And I hope they learn the Sh’ma and I hope they know their own words matter. That in a digital world full of memes and gifs and over the top OMGs, that you and I and even they, will have the opportunity to look someone in the eye and tell them how incredible they are and how much they are loved.  I hope none of us miss the opportunity.

you’ve got a friend (in me).

As many of you know from the rest of my social media presence, my youngest graduated from PreK this week.  It was all the gloriousness you would imagine.  There were caps and gowns, diplomas, pictures, refreshments.  For part of the program her class sang the song “You’ve got a friend in me” from the movie Toy Story®.  It was, as you can imagine, adorable.  And then the big one had her first acting gig in the church musical.  She nailed it. And back to the little’s ballet recital.  Killed it.  And now we ready ourselves for the last week of school. Of course, you can’t go through this time of year, full of its transitions, without some reflection on the months that have passed.

It was a little over a year ago.  I was listening to some music on a run and for some reason I started thinking about what it meant to be merciful. I was quick to realize that I didn’t really have any idea how to describe or understand or even think about mercy. This, of course, was disconcerting to me having been married to the Pastor for almost 15 years at that point. I was at a loss.  So I decided I would spend some time trying to figure out what mercy was, where it was present, how it happened.  And turns out, mercy showed up in all sorts of places. What I discovered is that mercy might be hard to understand because it is that sneaky thing that is always around but not obvious.  But when you start looking for it, when you take the time to seek it out, you will find it’s all around. In the last year I have been enveloped in mercy.

Mercy is your best friend from long ago and also today getting up before the sun does to go to the YMCA with you.  Even though she could go later…because you can’t.  It is a new friend who came along just at the right time and always tells the truth even when it’s not nice.  And reminds you they are there to stick through the best of times and the worst of times. You can feel it when you sit for coffee with someone who has been in your shoes and nods their head in understanding.  You feel it when that call or text arrives at the exact perfect moment from someone you don’t often get to see but the friendship remains none the less.

Mercy shows up in a big blue van driven by a teensy twenty something year old who picks up kids, who look nothing like mine, after school and nourishes them with food, education and love four days a week.  It’s there when those same kids are on stage at your church next to your own reciting lines in the cheesy kids musical that makes you tear up because you know that this demonstration of inclusion and unity is what God intended. And soon those kids aren’t those kids at all.  They are just kids like mine and yours, showing up every week.

Mercy happens when that person who thought she’d never have a baby sees that face on the ultrasound, or even better, holds that person in their arms. But it is also there when you hold someone’s hand as you give them bad news or grieve with them in the losses great and small.

Mercy happens when the Pastor does a funeral for what can only be described as a tragedy and reminds us that the gospel is an unconventional story and we have an unconventional Savior.  And so is mercy.  It’s there in the loud and in the quiet.  In the wins and in the losses.  It’s wherever we show up and remind each other that there’s mercy enough for each of us.

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but that’s my seat.

It was supposed to be a giant ice storm.  That’s what the ladies and gents on TV told us.  A large amount of ice and freezing rain was heading to the metro and we’d better prepare. So schools were closed, patients were moved up, generators were readied, salt and sand was placed on the roadways. Grocery stores were emptied of bread and milk and lots of other things this week in preparation for the ice.  If you actually needed bread and milk, because you were out at home, you were out of luck.  It was being gobbled up by anxious citizens bracing for the ice apocalypse. And then we waited…and waited…and waited.

We did eventually get some ice on the trees and a bit on the roads but it came about 24 hours after everyone predicted and wasn’t nearly as bad as anticipated.  Overall a good thing.  But times like these always make me realize how much we buy into the myth of scarcity.  There will be a disaster and not enough to go around.

So what are the other myths in our lives?  I’ll try to tackle some that I see on a not so infrequent basis.

  • “I did such and such method, (cry it out, shushing baby, swaddle, feed on demand, screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-8-39-30-ametc etc) and my baby was such a good such and such (sleeper, breastfeeder, transitioner).”  Reality check:  Babies do what they want.  We can try all the tricks in the book but some kids sleep well and some don’t.  Some are good eaters and some, who shall remain nameless, just jump up and down on their chair instead of eating during dinner time.
  • That spot in that public place you’ve claimed?  Well it doesn’t actually belong to you.  This happens at all sorts of places.  Someone takes “your seat” at church.  You are “saving” that piece of gym equipment while you use something else.  This is where you “always” park.  Reality check: None of those things are yours.  The church pew doesn’t belong to you no matter how many weeks in a row you’ve sat there.  That leg lift machine you’re saving is going to be used by me now, well, because you’re not actually using it. I get it.  We find security in routine. But I’ve only got so much time at the gym in the morning and you’re wasting it leg press saving guy.
  • “Someone else will do it.”  Giving the money, cleaning up the trash, standing up for injustice, speaking out when someone is doing harm.  Reality check: If you aren’t willing to do it, then why do you think someone else will?  None of us are really braver than you.  Either do stuff or don’t do stuff but don’t let yourself off the hook by assuming someone else will do it.  That someone else thinks you are already taking care of whatever it is.
  • Just because you can post something doesn’t mean you should.  Reality check: As first conceptualized by one of the church girls and then paraphrased by yours truly…”If you won’t say it to someone’s FACE then don’t post it on FACEBOOK.” img_3945 Seriously.  You don’t like someone’s opinions or beliefs?  That’s ok.  But it doesn’t mean you need to attempt to harm or discredit them.  I am almost 100 percent certain that no one’s mind or heart has ever been radically transformed by a hastily penned angry Facebook comment.  Trust me, it’s not easy.  I have about a thousand deleted comments that I thought were not only on point but witty and sharp.  They never made it to publication.  Why?  Because it just doesn’t help.
  • And finally “that’s just the way I am.”  The Pastor knows this is my least favorite myth that people live by.  Reality check:  You are never too old to change.  The person you were in 2016 does not define who you are in 2017.  The person you are today does not control the person you can be tomorrow.  And if you change something about yourself and you don’t like it?  Guess what?  Change again.  My favorite people in life are those who have lived enough and learned enough about themselves to know what to hold on to from each phase of life and what to let go.  That bad attitude you had all last year?  Don’t drag it along to 2017, let’s try something new.  Those hateful things you said?  Do better in the coming days and months.  Living your life as “that’s just the way I am” seems utterly disappointing and fairly sad to me.

There was no massive ice storm.  So maybe take that extra bread and milk and those extra hours at home and see if you can debunk any myths in your own life!  Here’s to living in reality and realizing you can make change in your own life in 2017!

 

someone has to do it.

If you frequent this blog, you learned last week that my kids have learned to call it like it is when it comes to their own bodies.  They are, so to speak, well informed. If you haven’t been reading, then read this to learn about teaching 4 year olds what a vagina is.

I had lunch with a friend this week who has teenage boys.  Terrifying to say the least.  She and her husband set high expectations for her sons.  And they talk to them about all the hard things in life.  I love it.  She would tell you she is from another planet…I would tell you that we should all move there.  Because, well, our kids will be well-informed or misinformed.  But don’t be fooled into thinking they won’t be informed.

I am going to make an argument here that the church and its people should be responsible for teaching our children about sex.  And I’m not talking about the usual screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-8-39-17-am“don’t do it” speech.  I’m talking about the real deal truth.  What it is, why people do it, what happens when you do it.  (And yes, all those “do it” puns are intended).  When we fail to do so, I believe we, the church at large, must think of ourselves as responsible for the consequences.  For too long we have sat silently in judgment of pregnant teenagers assuming it will never happen to one of our great kids.  Well folks, I’ve got news for you.  Right here in what my preacher friends call the belt buckle of the Bible belt…we have a problem.
In my state, Oklahoma, the teen birth rate is 42.9 per 1,000.  Compare that to the United States as a whole with a teen birth rate of 26.1 per 1,000 young women.   (Note that despite a decline in teen pregnancy in the last decade, our nation still ranks among the worst of all developed countries).  In fact, there is ONLY ONE STATE that has a higher teen pregnancy rate than us.  As a gynecologist, this is kind of embarrassing.  And that’s not all we excel at.   Our state provides, on average, about half of the sexual education services to teenagers when compared to the US as a whole.  Not surprisingly, we rank in the top 15 when it comes to gonorrhea and chlamydia infections.  As in, more than a bunch of other states.  Not just alarming, but gross.
So, as they say, what then must we do?

 

First, we must love our kids.  No matter what.  We must make sure they know how much they are valued.  We have to be honest with them in order for them to be honest with us.  The Pastor and I assume everyone is having sex.  And drinking and doing drugs.  We live in worst case scenario world…which allows for a lot of pleasant surprises.  One of my favorite friends had everyone write advice to her son as he went off to college.  Among the lessons I learned mostly through trial and error, I added one line that I’m glad I didn’t have to learn the hard way.  “Don’t get anyone pregnant.”  And when I see him around we exchange high-fives and am assured that he knows the Pastor and I will be there for any problem he faces.  With open arms.  My college girls I breakfast with know my sage wisdom of “getting married or having a baby never fixed anything.”  I try to remind them often how much they are loved and to call when they are in trouble.  I will pray for my own kids as much as these and I hope they will come to me with honesty about their lives.  And if not me, maybe one of you who they will listen to or call when they are in trouble.
Second, we have to tell them the truth.  They will learn about sex.  Most of them will not abstain just because you tell them not to do it.  My best analogy for this is cupcakes.  Kids know cupcakes are good.  You can’t hide it from them.  You can tell them cupcakes are terrible but they know.  The same can be said for sex.  We harm our young people when we tell them sex is bad and not to engage.  And they don’t buy it.  Sex is cupcakes, not cauliflower (sorry for all you cauliflower lovers out there).  Instead, our kids should know that engaging in intimate sexual behavior has consequences…both good and bad.  They should be informed about the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections with long term health and reproductive consequences, the stigma and health consequences of genital herpes and warts, and both the joy and the heartbreak of shared intimacy.  They should know about and have access to contraception because kids who make a choice I wouldn’t make for them deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.

Last, we must be well-informed adults.  Tonight the fourth grader was telling the preschooler about snap chat.  Thankfully the Pastor knows about snap because this mom is clueless.  As parents we have to be educated.  Not just on the latest social media craze, but also on what we really mean when we talk about sex and our kids health.  We can’t buy into the prevalent idea that we can pronounce ourselves pro-life and against all things immoral and then not have the guts to stand up and care for the pregnant teen who shows up at our church.  You can’t ignore the black girls at your after school program who desperately need to know they are loved and valued.  Instead we need to understand, as best we can, the full depth and breadth of reproductive rights.  We need to adhere to our call to care for the orphans in our midst left from unintended pregnancies.  You see, the government will not stop abortion.  New or different laws won’t lower the teen pregnancy rate or decrease sexual assault on our college campuses or even create a culture that values its women as equal to its men.

This is our calling.  To love and educate our children, to care for our community, to be well-informed adults who can lead the generation behind us into a safer, healthier and more whole future.  And to have kids that will not be afraid of delicious cupcakes.

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call it like it is.

I often wonder what the girls will say about their home growing up.  I grew up in a home where my dad worked in health care administration so I was familiar with the halls of a hospital and nursing home.  Mom was working full time too so we stayed with our grandparents after school.  I have lots of amazing memories from those days and hope my girls will as well.  But, as you might imagine, our house is a little more crazy.   Midnight phone calls sometimes come for the Pastor, sometimes for me.  Emergency babysitting needs are not infrequent.  Dinner conversations are, to say the least, interesting.

My oldest never really had a desire to know what I was doing while at work.  In fact, she gets nauseated when some other kid at school gets a bloody nose.  But my little one, well, she is totally into mom’s career.  I remember finishing up dinner one evening and I was called to the hospital as my patient was ready to delivery.  She looked at me and said, in her best pirate voice, “is that lady gonna push out her baby or are you gonna cut it out?”  I lost it.  She was holding up a butter knife from the table like she was going to come and screen-shot-2016-01-23-at-7-40-39-pmhelp me.  I politely explained that my patient was probably going to push the baby out but I and a whole team of people would be there in case cutting was needed.  She seemed relieved.  The older one just rolled her eyes.

The Pastor and I have always tried to be honest with our kids.  We figure that eventually they will encounter all the joys, fears and difficulties of life and the more information the better.  It’s how I operate in daily life.  Knowledge and information is comforting and empowering to me.  That being said we have always tried to teach our kids the truth about their physical, as well as their theological health.  The rules in our house are that the Pastor will explain the Trinity and the resurrection to them and I will tell them where babies come from.  And so they know about their bodies.  When they are taking a shower and spilling water everywhere I will hear one of them saying “don’t forget to wash your vagina” to the other in the loudest voice possible.   It’s no different for them then making sure all the shampoo is out of their hair or than their stinky feet are clear.  For many years this declaration was followed by the Pastor or I asking “and who is allowed to see your vagina?” and them shouting out names off a list like it was a Jeopardy game.  Names that include mom, dad, Dr. Melissa (another hero to my 4 year old), and Grandma.

There is a reason why we approach our kids with anatomically correct names.  And it’s not just because hearing a 9 year old screaming at her sister about washing the thing is entertaining (although that is hilarious sometimes).  It is more about empowering them.  I wanted them to know from an early age that their bodies belong to them.  They should be handled responsibly and, most importantly, they can be honest with the Pastor and I about whatever is happening to their bodies.  I think we do a disservice to our kids when their genitals become “woo hoos” and “ding dongs” and even “private parts.”  We disempower our kids to call it like it is.  To tell us, out loud, what is happening to them in private.  I want to know if anyone is making them feel uncomfortable.

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So at our house we have dinner discussions on how babies are born and what God looks like and who this Holy Spirit character is.  We remind them daily to always choose kindness and to act like the Jesus they hear about each week at church.  And they will continue to ask how long mom will be gone delivering those babies and whether they are being pushed out of someone’s vagina, or cut out of someones uterus.  I have my speech ready for when they ask how babies get inside the uterus.  But for now they are satisfied knowing who is picking them up from school and when mom will be home.  And I am satisfied knowing they have been empowered to know their bodies and speak up whenever and to whomever when they feel uncomfortable.  And to call it like it is.