Braingasm and Other Tales of the Genetic Lottery? Sunday, Mar 8 2015 



About a year ago, my brother and I were talking on the phone and he asked me if I had heard a particular episode of This American Life. It was this one called Act Two: A Tribe Called Rest. Still to this day, I have no idea why he asked me about this (I need to remember to ask him). I hadn’t listened to it yet at that point, but as he told me about the topic of “Act Two” of the podcast, I was thinking “No way! This has a name? There are other people?”

So what was the podcast about? ASMR.

I had never heard of ASMR, but it stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and the link takes you to the website mentioned in podcast. That’s a fancy name, but what does it mean? Sometimes it’s called a “braingasm” which sounds sexual, but it is not a sexual feeling at all. It is a pleasurable feeling, but it is like your brain and neck feel tingly and you feel utterly relaxed and calm. In the podcast the speaker describes it like “starbursts in my head that sparkle down to my nape; like this warm, glittering water rushing under my skull.” For me, that’s a pretty spot-on description.

I’m not sure who actually came up with the term ASMR and it is important to note that it is not a term really used by the medical or psychological community, but it is a good explanation of what it is. As soon as I knew that the sensation I had spontaneously and serendipitously experienced since early elementary age had a name, I asked family and some friends if they had it too. Like the woman in the podcast I had never, ever mentioned it to anyone–not because I was embarrassed, but because I had the sense that not many people felt this way since no one had ever talked about it and I didn’t know how to describe it or when/how it happened. That’s why you’ll often see ASMR referred to as “that unnamed feeling” or “the good feeling that no one can explain.” Anyway, I don’t know if my brother had a sixth sense or something and that’s why he told me about this podcast, but I told him that I had felt that way since I was a kid. Turns out, he had too. We quizzed our parents and other sister and they all thought we were lunatics. I asked my husband and sons, and NOPE they had no idea what I was talking about. I asked a few people I work with and they didn’t know what I was talking about either, except…we all have this person in IT we like to talk to because she is so patient and has a relaxing tone of voice. Everyone at work jokes about how calm we feel after talking to this person on the phone, so I used that experience to give some sort of insight into a little bit of what ASMR feels like.

I first noticed this weird tingly feeling when I was in elementary school and was playing board games. I remember loving to play Monopoly just because of (in retrospect) ASMR. I distinctly remember asking friends if we could play board games with no talking. The sounds of the dice rolling, cards or fake money being shuffled, and the sound of the pawn being moved around the board all gave me the weird, relaxed, tingly feeling. I also got it at the library back in the day when books were stamped instead of scanned. The flipping of the pages, removing and stamping of the cards, etc. were triggers too. So far, in real life, my brother is the only other person I know with ASMR. He has one other person besides me that he knows who experiences it. This “condition” (feeling, state, whatever) just become known in the past few years, so not much research has been done to date, but there is report of a study using fMRI to study it at Dartmouth. I hope it is studied because I would like to know the neurological, psychological, genetic, endocrinological, etc. underpinnings of it. Also, if we knew more about ASMR, it could possibly be used to help people with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, etc. Seriously, it is a feeling that everyone should be able to experience.

The This American Life podcast mentions triggers and YouTube videos and my brother and I have talked about those as well. The YouTube videos feel rather “pornish” to us, even though they are nothing like porn and there is nothing sexual about it. I think it is more the thought of going to intentionally trigger an ASMR that seems creepy, rather than how they just spontaneously happen. Also, the common triggers on YouTube seem to be whispering, role play (again, not sexual, but a little weird in my opinion), and scratching or tapping noises. Those things don’t trigger mine. Most of my ASMR triggers are auditory such as the previously mentioned sounds of a library or board games, as well as things like cutting fabric. Also, visual triggers include things like seeing someone complete a detailed task with precision can occasionally trigger the sensation–like an artist or craftman. I remember when I was in college that a friend of mine told me that when she got stressed, that watching Bob Ross on PBS relaxed her. Bob Ross is a huge ASMR trigger for many, including me. Between the way he talks and the noises of his brushes on canvas, he’s like the poster child for ASMR.

I hope the ASMR hasn’t freaked anyone out, but if you experience this sensation too, please comment because I’d love to know. I think ASMR is like a secret society and we won a genetic lottery that enables us to feel these endorphin-like sensations that most people don’t experience. And speaking of genetic lotteries, I also saw this New York Times article today about The Feel-Good Gene. This article states,

For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that a genetic variation in the brain makes some people inherently less anxious, and more able to forget fearful and unpleasant experiences. This lucky genetic mutation produces higher levels of anandamide — the so-called bliss molecule and our own natural marijuana — in our brains.

Only about 20% of adult Americans have this genetic mutation. I have never had genetic testing, but I suspect that I might be one of them because I am a recovered worrier and really and truly rarely, if ever, worry significantly about things. I also am an eternal optimist. Apparently this could be because my brain is making its own neural marijuana. Who knew? At any rate, it’s a pretty interesting read.

Did I really win the ASMR and anandamide genetic lottery? I don’t know. I just know that both things ring true for me. I also know that I have some odd genetic mutations. I registered several years ago to be a bone marrow donor. I was one of a handful of possible matches for someone, so they did some additional testing of my DNA sample. After that, I got a letter from “Be the Match” stating that I had some very rare and unusual HLA markers that meant I would likely never be a match for anyone.

Who knows what’s in my complicated genetic make-up?



How Married People Text: Terrell Edition Saturday, Mar 7 2015 

A few months ago this video about “How Married People Text” appeared on various social media and I found it pretty humorous.

I decided then to blog about our own version of Married People Texting, but the app I use for blogging wouldn’t let me embed video on my iPad and I was not motivated enough to go to the desktop and do it. I was just putzing around now and found a way around it through a different app, so here we go. I decided to share screen  shots of some of our mundane and humorous texting conversations.

First, a fairly business like text in which I am asking about the appropriate attire for an event we were going to.


Robert’s random commentary on an Amish hipster while at a coffee shop. We both love to people watch. I think we could have our own reality show with our ongoing commentary in an airport.


Another people-watching commentary from me on a plane, referencing a movie character and someone we both know in real life.

When I worked in Baton Rouge, the outpatient therapy clinic was also where labwork and mammograms were done. The mammography techs taught me how to tell if someone has had a boob job or not. It’s one of my secret skills. (Robert excels at identifying toupees). That’s the skill I am referencing in this text.


And finally, anyone who knows Robert well knows that if you ever ask him if he needs anything, the response will always be “background dancers.” One day I really am going to get him some background dancers. He wouldn’t know what to do with them.

A lazy blog post, allowing my handful of readers to become voyeurs into our secret world of married texts.

…At least the ones that I will let you see.

Jesus With Skin On Thursday, Feb 19 2015 

There's an old story about a little boy who was scared and needed “Jesus with skin on.” (from this blog post)

Late one stormy night a small voice was heard from the bedroom across the hall. “Mommy, I’m scared!” Mom responds sympathetically “Honey, don’t be afraid, I’m right across the hall.” After a short time, with thunder snapping in the distance, the little voice says again, “I’m still scared!” Mom replies, “You don’t need to be afraid. Close your eyes and pray. And remember that Jesus is always with you.” The next time the pause is longer … but the voice returns along with a little child standing next to her bed, “Mommy, can I get in bed with you and Daddy?” As Mom is just about to lose her patience, her little boy catches her eyes and says, “Mommy, I know that Jesus is always with me, but right now I need Jesus with skin on.”


Yesterday, I posted about how much Jesus sustains me. Today it's all about the people in our lives—our community. First off, the hardest thing for me to deal with right now is that my husband is in Alabama and I am here. We're a team. We are literally and metaphorically one flesh. He is my co-parent, helpmate, partner in crime, and my other (best) half. He is my top tier burden-bearer and I am his. I am having to help bear the burden from afar. I am needed in Wisconsin right now. I have two sons who need my attention and a household to keep running. Robert needs to be in Alabama right now to help make hard decisions and provide and receive emotional support with his family. However, I want nothing more than to be able to hug him and hold on so tightly. We need to weep together. We need physically cry on one another's shoulder. For today, the meager substitute was that he cried in Walmart on his cell phone, while I weeped at my desk on my phone. It isn't enough. This experience has made me realize in gratitude the depth of our love and support and for that I am thankful.

It has been a tearful day today. I am an easy crier anyway. I cry when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am moved by a beautiful piece of music, when I see a glorious sunrise, when I laugh too hard. It doesn't take much to get my waterworks going. Although sadness precipiated a lot of my crying, much of the catalyst for my tears has been kindness. It started on Monday with my colleagues. Monday afternoon I had a rental car reserved and was schedule to drive 5.5 hours to the Cities for the night. On Tuesday morning I was suppoed to do a morning extern visit in Minneapolis, then drive 2.5 hours to Chippewa Falls for an afternoon extern observation. I was still planning on going even though Robert was en route to Mobile and Noah was not feeling so great. A colleague encouraged me to cancel and reschedule and then the travel office helped me cancel the car and hotel…so I cried from the kindness. I went to another colleague's office after I got bad news and started to ask if I should teach that day and promptly burst into tears. She told me to cancel my class. I protested with “Yes, I'm crying, but what else can I do? Sit in my office? Go home and do nothing?” I felt very helpless, but I couldn't get a grip and was afraid I would freak out the students. I canceled one class and then the chair of my department got another colleague to cover my afternoon class. Four colleagues stepped up and helped me through the day.

Today, I have been overwhelmed with private messages, texts, and phone calls from friends near and far and from all seasons of life. From Eric, who is taking care of set-up and technology for church on Sunday, to high school friends covering us in prayer. When Robert and I were talking on the phone earlier today we both began to cry in thinking about how many friends we have who show up in the hard times. They ask the right questions, they admit when they don't know what to say, they offer help, and they pray. Robert made the statement that if we needed immediate help for some unknown big emergency that we could be confident that iF we left our housekey in the mailbox and made a few calls, someone would swoop in and care for our animals, our house, etc. at a moment's notice. Man! We are blessed!

We all need community. We are meant to live in social groups and bear each other's burdens, as well as share in one another's joys. We are grateful for our church community, our neighbors, my work colleagues, Robert's pastoral groups, and so, so many people from high school, college, seminary, and our lives in Missouri, Louisiana, and here in Wisconsin, as well as friendships that formed online. I am grateful that both of my boys have girlfriends with whom they can have deep conversations, as well as a community of guys (Los Hombres, as I call them) that they can talk with too. Even though our faith is THE thing, having friends who can be Jesus with skin on is so crucial as well. I am so humbled by our community and the love that they extend to us.


Emily Dickinson was right.


There was a wonderful photo from Brandon's world tour when he aimed his Humans of New York camera on global subjects. Because of copyright, I won't copy his picture here, but please click the link through and see this beautiful photo. I remembered it from this summer because it so echoed the importance and beauty of community. It's a photo of three women and a girl sitting together on a bench with this caption, “We told her to sit with us so we could share her sadness.” (Dohuk, Iraq). That's what it is about. Being present. Sitting and sharing in sadness. Being a witness to the pain. Nothing necessarily needs to be said or done, but the ministry of presence is enough.





When Hope Is All You Have Wednesday, Feb 18 2015 

It's been a really hard past few days. Prior to this past weekend, I had been dealing with low morale at work and disgust, fear, and sadness associated with the current budget cuts to the UW System. However, that is mere minutiae now. I am not going into detail or any specifics on my blog, because it is not my story to tell. I will only say this… Robert left Monday to drive to Alabama to be with his family because his dad has some sudden, serious health problems. Robert, and his brother driving from Colorado, both hit the ice that covered the Kentucky/Tennessee areas and had slow, treacherous driving. Additionally, Noah has been sick and we haven't yet figured out the culprit, so we were at the doctor for almost two hours today and are waiting on lab work results. With him, I am not concerned about anything serious, but several niggling problems that we need to figure out. And Adam's girlfriend's dad is also dealing with some serious health problems too. Our hearts are heavy. It's so much pain and it's all happening at once. Part of me wants to pull the cover over my head and ignore the world. The other part of me is rolling up my sleeves and doing what needs to be done, which means going to work, two trips to Walgreens in one day, and lots of phone calls and texting to get news and keep everyone in the loop.

I have two blogs that I write in semi-regularly; this one more than the other. My other blog is from my perspective as a pastor's wife and this one is more just a random assortment of things. As I prepared to write this post, I debated about which blog to put this on. I decided to keep it on this one, since it really has nothing to do with me being married to a pastor and everything to do with my real, regular life as a mom, wife, human, female, person. My faith is part of my identity. In addition to those other roles, I am also a Christian and it has nothing to do with my husband's occupation. So this post goes here.

As we slog through the tough days ahead, my faith is not only a comfort, but a necessity. When bad news sucker punches me in the gut, I don't know what I would do without the hope, comfort, peace that indeed passes all human understanding, and even contentment that comes. I have posted before that I am not a good apologist. I am not particularly eloquent at defending my belief in Jesus with theological and philosophical arguments. I certainly can't prove Jesus to you–that's the essence of faith.

Believing without seeing.

Having trust in what I cannot define.

What I do know is my journey with Jesus, how faith in Him has sustained me before, and how I am confident that I can trust Him again as we walk through this valley. I honestly don't know how I could do the hard, painful stuff of life without that hope and assurance and I grieve for those who don't experience that peace. I have already shed many tears the past few days and I know more tears and heartache are to come. I know I will feel helpless to alleviate the pain of those I love most. But I know that we will be sustained. Even as my heart breaks, I can still experience a peace and deep, abiding joy knowing that we don't walk alone. I know that I cling to a God who knows suffering, loss, heartache, and grief. It seems especially timely as we enter the season of Lent today.


It is Well with My Soul has been my favorite hymn for longer than I can remember. I have been clinging to the words of it throughout the day over the past few days.

When peace like a river, attendeth my ways

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Aside from the comfort of those words, the story behing this hymn is incredible. Horatio Spafford, an American attorney, wrote the hymn in 1873 after a horrendous family tragedy. He and his family had a trip planned to England. He had some work commitments and sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him on a ship. Another ship crashed into the ship with his family. His wife survived and sent the telegram “saved alone” to him. Their four daughters, ages 2-11 years died in the shipwreck. Horatio immediately got on another ship to meet his wife in England. As he crossed over the location of the wreck in which his four daughters perished, he penned It is Well. That a man who has just lost four young daughers in one horrific accident can write the words “It is well with my soul.” To some those might seem like callous words or a phrase written in denial. However, as I sang this hymn yesterday with tears streaming down my cheeks, I understand that it is entirely possible to confront the pain head-on and still rest in the hope and comfort of Christ. I am not well, but “it,” the whole big picture, the hope, the faithfulness, that is what is well. A God who sustains–it is well. A Jesus who knows suffering–it is well. A Spirit who brings comfort–it is well. The faithful prayers of dear friends and family–it is well.

It is well.

It is well

with my soul.



Art Matters Thursday, Jan 8 2015 



If you ever thought art, writing, satire, music, drama, and the study and pursuit of the humanities were frivolous and inconsequential, take a look at these cartoons in response to the Paris terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office. Here are just a couple, but please check out the link above. They are all wonderful and terrible and thought-provoking.

cartoon 1 cartoon 2



Art is either plagiarism or revolution. Paul Gauguin

Art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in. Amy Lowell

The aim of art if to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts–such it the duty of the artist. Schumann

All art requires courage. Anne Tucker

school art

My Word for 2015: Intentionally Thursday, Jan 1 2015 

I am a big believer in resolutions, plans, and goals. While I am the kind of person who embraces surprises, spontaneity, and serendipity, I also believe there is a very important place for setting goals and dreaming dreams.

I usually make a list of resolutions. Sometimes I achieve them, sometimes I don't. For me, part of the purpose of resolutions is the deliberate thinking and pondering that goes along with them. I don't beat myself up if I can't check all of my resolutions off at the end of the year. I think part of their purpose has already been achieved just by writing them, which causes me to take inventory of who I am, where I've been, where I want to go, and who I want to be.

However, this year, I'm not making a list of resolutions. Instead, I am choosing a word for my year. I will use this word to frame my outlook, to call upon when I have to make decisions, and use it as a touchstone when planning my day in the morning and reflecting on my day at bedtime.

My word for 2015 is


INTENTIONALLY defines intentional as:

1. done with intention or on purpose; intended

2. of or relating to intention or purpose

synonyms: deliberately, on purpose, purposefully, knowingly, by design, willingly, consciously

I also carefully chose the adverbial form of the word “intent, intention.” The purpose of an adverb is to modify a verb, adjective, or other adverb. I want to modify my verbs. Whatever I do, whatever I engage in, whatever I participate in, I want to do so purposefully. I want all of my doings to be intentionaal.





Why do I want to be intentional? I want to read more books. I want to invite more people into my home to share a meal or coffee and dessert. I want to write more, both creatively and professionally. I want to make art. I want to do things that scare me and challenge me. (These things include, but are not limited to: baking bread, putting a zipper into a garment/project, upholstering furniture, dabbling in fiber art, learning to use power tools). I want to get plenty of sleep. I want to be thoughtful and reflective. I want to make music. I have the ability and the resources to do all of these things…

But I don't do them.

Why? Because I fritter away time. Because I lack the motivation and focus, Because I choose to be passive more than active. None of those are intentional choices. They result from my lack of intention. Sometimes I will sit down to quilt, but then I check email first. Thirty minutes later and I realize that I don't know where my embroidery scissors are and it will take effort to find them, so first I'll play a quick game of solitaire, which I lose…so I'll just play until I win a game. Then, I decide to check Facebook really quickly, which leads me down a rabbit hole of links to interesting articles, then remind me of something I want to look up on Pinterest, then BOOM! Two hours have elapsed and I am now too tired to quilt.

So what will living intentionally look like for me?

It will mean creating some habits and rituals, like my quiet time with coffee and breakfast in the morning, every morning. It will mean writing in my gratitude journal and reading one poem each night before bed. It will mean only watching TV and Netflix when I purposefully decide that there is something on that I want to watch, not just randomly flipping channels until I find something interesting. It doesn't mean “no TV.” Watching movies and certain shows are fun family activities for us. I'm not giving that up. However, I realized this year that there were certain shows I used to enjoy, like Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, that don't really appeal to me anymore. It's the same thing over and over. I stopped watching them. Robert and I enjoy watching The Good Wife together and I am always creatively inspired by Project Runway, so I'll keep watching those. I'll still be a big PBS-fangirl of Mr. Selfridge, Downton Abbey, and Call the Midwife. However, FoodNetwork and HGTV will likely go by the wayside, as will Friends and Seinfeld reruns that I have seen a million times over.

The biggest change in my effort to live intentionally is my relationship with my iPad. It is not unusual for me to watch TV with my iPad in my lap. Sometimes I'm doing work, but other times I am playing a stupid game like Bejeweled Blitz, surfing the web, perusing Amazon, or checking Facebook. Passive, time-eating pursuits of limited benefit. My new rule is that my iPad stays in the breakfast area. I can only get on my iPad when I am up there, which means my family is likely downstairs in the family room. I want to spend more time with them than my iPad, so it logically follows that less time will be spend on my iPad. I do use Pinterest and Ravelry for a lot of crocheting patterns, but I will just print them out instead. Right now though, everyone is downstairs watching football and here I am typing away. However, I intentionally made a choice to write this blog post right this moment, so I am okay with that.

However, I am about to intentionally learn to play cribbage with my oldest son, then intentionally do some more decluttering, followed by intentionally reading the wonderful book that sits on my bedside table.

Bring it, 2015! I'm ready to live you out intentionally.





Dazzled by Possibility Monday, Dec 29 2014 



Today, I laid down for a post-grading recovery nap. I read for a little bit, had a kitty snuggled up to me, and started to doze and daydream. As tired as I was (late night of grading), I couldn't fall asleep. This is somewhat shocking as I am the self-proclaimed “world's best napper.” I love naps and plan on taking one every day of my semester break. At any rate, the reason that I couldn't fall asleep is that I literally was bubbling with excitement.

Why was I so excited? That's the beauty of it…there's no real reason. Nothing specific that I can put my finger on. As I was lying in bed feeling those anticipatory butterflies happily floating around my gut I thought about the first time I felt this feeling of nebulous excitement. It was when we lived in Texas in 1993. Robert and I had been married for almost three years and we had started talking about trying to get pregnant. I remember (again during a pre-nap) thinking about how weird and exciting it would be to be parents, to have a human being grow in me. It was a terrifying, exhilarating thing to try to wrap my brain around. This was that exact same feeling. No, we aren't planning any more babies. I realized that the fluttery belly feeling is simple the feeling of…



As I was daydreaming this afternoon, I was thinking about all of the books I want to read, art I want to create, places I want to go, ways I want to change my teaching, experiences I want to have with my family, relationships I want to nurture, the prospect of moving into our dream home, etc. and that got me excited. I'm just thrilled about the possibility of it all!

I don't know if we will be able to sell our house or if we will find a house that we love. I don't know where I will go or the people I will meet in the coming year. I just know that the options are limitless, that anything can happen, and that the possibilities loom large. That's what creates the feeling of excitement.

The thing is, that feeling isn't a Christmas Eve anticipatory excitement. It's not a “we're leaving for Paris in the morning” kind of elation. It's deeper, more mature, more stately, and richer than that. It's bliss. This “imagine the possibilities” kind of feeling is to excitement as joy is to happiness. It is not fleeting. It is abiding. It is not contingent on circumstances. I want to embrace and it keep this feeling of possibility at the forefront as I head into the new year. Well, not a feeling exactly, but an attitude of possibility. As Emily Dickinson said, “I dwell in Possibility.” I want to dwell there too.





2014 in review Monday, Dec 29 2014 

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

My Last Lecture…to You (or What I Wish I Would Have Said) Tuesday, Dec 16 2014 

Last week, I taught my last class to the second year graduate students. Next semester they will all fly the nest and be scattered all over the U.S. completing their externships, the last step in their graduate careers. I have taught these students five separate courses in graduate school, at least one per semester since Day 1 with two courses over the summer. Some of these students I also taught in undergrad for two to three courses and I have known them for four years. I have also supervised them in clinic and helped them grow into speech-language pathologists.

Typically, I teach the graduate students only three courses and the last one wraps up in the summer. It is usually very anti-climatic because summer is so fast and furious, we are all so tired when it is over, and even though we are finished formally spending time in a classroom together, we will still see each other often in the clinic and around the halls. It is just the formality of the classroom that is missing, so it seemed weird to offer any parting thoughts. However, with the end of fall semester and the fact that I won't ever have these students together as a captive audience, I felt the need to attempt to wax eloquently about the time that we have spent together, the wonderful careers that await them, and the joy of being a speech-language pathologist. I was feeling emotional, so I basically rambled in a very inelegant manner, tried not to tear up, and cracked a few jokes. A few students teared up as well, and I got flustered and we just wrapped things up.


So, here's what I wish I had said (with apologies to Randy Pausch):

The last day of any class is emotional for me, but it's especially true with graduate students. And even more true this year because of how many classes we have spent together.

I have known some of you for almost four years and the rest of you a year and a half. I saw your nervous, excited faces that first week of graduate school as you wondered what you had gotten yourself into after all of that worrying and fretting about getting into grad school. You had achieved your goal and you were optimistic and confident, but a little anxious about what to expect. You jumped in with both feet and read, answered questions, tentatively began your first clinical assignments. Meanwhile, I was frantically trying to learn your names and a little about you.

Over the weeks, your sense of humor began to emerge. I got to know you in a different way as I worked with you in clinic, chatted with you in the hallway, or met with you in my office. The little cliques borne of familiarity of those who attended the same undergraduate college began to meld and a real camaraderie developed amongst you as a whole. You started to loosen up, become more comfortable with your skills and knowledge, and more open about what you didn't know.

A lot of emotional ground has been covered in this past year and a half. When we work (live?) together in the “garden level” for 40+ hours a week, we get to know each other pretty well. There's been a battle (and victory!) against cancer, as well as some other serious health challenges among your cohort. Some of you have lost family members and walked through that grief even while attending school. You have had your hearts broken. You have been stressed and overwhelmed and not always performed your best. More than a few of you have cried in my office because of tough clinic problems, fear of your abilities, or the general stress of grad school.

But there have been times of joy as well! There have been many, many engagements and quite a few marriages that have occurred during these past four semesters, including an engagement in the department! I have had to keep up with ever-changing last names and remain dazzled at how you got married on a Saturday and turned in a complex assignment the following week. There have been inside jokes, the excitement of seeing your clients “get it,” and the feeling of accomplishment when you “got it.”



I feel good about your knowledge and skills and confident that you know how to use resources to find out what you don't know. As you go into your externship, you will find out that there is a lot you don't know. That's okay. There is no way for us to teach you everything and no way for you to learn it all. Remember to embrace that cognitive dissonance. That means you are growing and learning. That keeps you on your toes and that makes your career stimulating and interesting. The day that you feel 100% confident in your skills and knowledge is the day that you should retire. The questions and the puzzles are the learning opportunities to embrace because they will stretch you and help you develop into your best self as a clinician.

Also, never forget that you are working with people. You aren't working with that “cleft palate kid” or that “guy with Broca's.” You are working with individuals and their families–real people with dreams, hopes, accomplishments, hurts, and all sorts of feelings. One of my biggest beliefs in life is that all people want two things: (1) to be loved and (2) to have a friend. Communication is essential for being able to develop those relationships. One of my heroes, Helen Keller, was once asked if she had a choice, would she prefer to be blind or deaf? She responded with “Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people.” You are in the business of giving people a way to communicate with other people–that is the essence of what makes us human. We are social animals, meant to live in community with each other and you get to play a role in faciliating that and making that happen. Don't ever, ever forget what a sacred honor and privilege that is.

As you go on and get your CCCs and start your first jobs, you will find that Medicare red tape, billing, reports, IEPs, and various bureaucractic policies will eat your time and start to steal your joy. Those are necessary evils of the real world and they are also crucial for you to do so that you get a paycheck. However, keep your focus on your clients, your relationship with them, and the ultimate goals of communication. Step back and be grateful that they allow you into their inner circles and that they reveal their soft under-belly to you as they struggle to communicate and allow you to see their weaknesses. Be an advocate for them and a voice when they have none. Be dazzled by the complexity of language, speech, and the messy process of human communication. Be in awe of the brain and its mysteries, knowing that you will never understand it, but seeking to always know more about how it works. Push your clients harder than they think they can endure, but never focus so hard on your own goals that you forget to ask what their goals are. Be humble and admit when you don't know something, but be resourceful and try to find the answer. Do a good day's work, but then leave it at work.

With all the good you are doing in the world, you must take care of yourself and your family first and foremost. Don't give the people you love the most your leftovers. They deserve the best you. Finding that balance is tricky, but make it a priority. For that, I will leave you with the words from one of my favorite contemporary poets, Jane Kenyon. I have this in my office and look at it often:

I am proud of each one of you and so glad that the paths of our lives have intersected.

Go and do great things.




True Confessions: I Suck at Advent Sunday, Dec 14 2014 

So here it is, the third Sunday of Advent, and I am behind in Advent posts and pondering externally and lacking in the peaceful, prayerful preparation internally. Every year I vow to be more organized and more intentional during the period of Advent. And every year I don’t meet my own expectations at the least, and totally fail at most.

ˈadˌvent/ noun

  • the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
  • the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.

I love the whole notion of Advent, the idea of a period of prepration for a notable person and/or event. For the Christian church, this means a 4 week period preparing to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. A time to reflect, ponder, and joyously await that time in which God, the Creator of all, put on human skin and became a helpless, weak infant born to a teenaged virgin and her bewildered fiance. Emmanuel–God WITH us. Fantastical? Yes! But real? Again, yes, I believe! God has a history of using ordinary people (Moses, a man who stuttered, to be His spokesman to the Israelites; David, a mere boy, to defeat the Philistines) to do extraordinary things. Not only is Christmas the second most important holiday in Christianity, but I also like preparing and anticipating. Think back to the “will he or won’t he call?” days of teenagedom–how deliciously exciting! Or when I circled the due dates of both of my sons on the calendar and saw those dates come and go with no baby. When will they decide to be born? The time of of the unknown, when the anticipation is palpable, and the wonderings are all-consuming…that is the sweet spot of Advent.

I minored in English in college and I remember having to read Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats in my Romantic Poetry class. (FYI, romantic poetry is not about romance in the traditional sense–one of the many things I learned in that class). In my early-20s frame of mind, I was especially enamored by this part of one stanza:

Bold Love, never, never canst thou kiss

Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt though love, and she be fair!

The point of the poem is that all of these scenes are forever etched into this urn and the moments are caught at the supreme pinnacle of anticipation because isn’t the leaning in for that first kiss almost more wonderful than the actual kiss? Isn’t the giddy excitement of Christmas Eve more stimulating the post-Christmas carnage of ripped paper strewn about the floor and the dry tree dripping needles?

I always plan to be very intentional and prayerful during Advent and I start out well. I was following a photo-a-day plan from OccupyAdvent and made it a total of 3-4 days, before not posting a photo and reflecting upon the word and scripture of the day. “I’ll make it up and post twice tomorrow,” I told myself, but then it was the next day and the next, and then it just seemed kind of overwhelming and I missed the boat. Advent was moving forward without me.

I have made mental excuses that Advent comes at a terrible time for a professor. Last Friday I taught my last class and then tomorrow starts finals week. I have had to write exams and now am in the thick of grading lengthy projects, answering emails, and wrapping up the semester. On top of that, there are extra parties and various social gatherings, many of which involve not just the time and energy commitment of attending or hosting, but also the additional cooking that accompanies such events. In addition to that, December is THE birthday month for us. Noah’s 18th birthday was yesterday, my birthday is Thursday, my brother-in-law’s birthday was 12/5, and my dad’s is 12/28. There are special meals to be cooked, desserts to be prepared, gifts to be purchased and wrapped for birthdays, in addition to all of the Christmas festivities. Just to keep things interesting, I’ll be having surgery on Thursday, so I am trying to prepare for that and my subsequent recovery too. Oh! And Adam comes home from college too.

So Advent has taken the backseat. Preparing for and contemplating the meaning of God come to Earth has been placed on the proverbial back burner, but ah…isn’t that just like Advent.

We know that Jesus most likely was not born on December 25. It is an arbitrary date that was picked for the celebration. What we do know is that Jesus was born at a most inconvenient time. Unlike today when people schedule C-sections around vacations and work obligations or ultrasounds alert OBs to necessary inductions, back then babies always came on their own schedules. I can’t imagine how exhausted Mary was after the long, arduous trek to Bethlehem for the census and then how she must have felt to rest her swollen body outside amongst the livestock. It was not a lovely sanitized Hallmark moment of “the cattle are lowing, the Babe He awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” It was the messy business of amniotic fluid and afterbirth amongst the cow dung and donkey urine. Animals were bleating, mooing, whining. Instead of cute onesies and diaper wipe warmers, this baby was wrapped in scraps and put in a feeding trough covered with animal drool. Mary’s breasts were painfully engorged with milk, the newborn was spitting up and crying, and Joseph was confused and feeling helpless. Nothing like this had likely entered Mary’s mental picture when she was told that she was highly favored and that her son would inherit the throne of David.

Maybe the timing of Advent works out after all. Maybe my failure to embrace the season of expectation is really what Advent, and ultimately Christmas, are both all about. God stepping into the mess of humanity when we least expect it and when we are the least prepared…yet He comes into our chaos, He draws us to Him, and takes us where we are and as we are. The One who was born away from home amongst farm animals looks at my pile of grading, the unwritten Christmas cards, and another dinner of leftovers and steps into the mess nonetheless.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.


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