Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Heavy Heart, But It's Okay

  Do you ever have days where your heart is just heavy, weighed down with the cares of the world? It may sound cheesy, but I am having that kind of day today. I just need to vent a little, and that is one of the benefits of having your own space to share your thoughts, so here I am.

  Even if nobody were to read this, I am grateful that I have a way of letting things out when my heart and mind are too full. I need some breathing room, and writing is one way for me to free up some valuable space; especially considering that there is a never ending flow of inbound data.

  I am an avid observer, it's just the way I am wired. I continually notice complex details all around me, often without even meaning to. I constantly watch the way people interact. I silently dissect the way the world works, even when no one knows I am "recording". I subconsciously make mental notes of everything I experience, everything I feel, and everything I see others feel.

  I care about the unfortunate and painful things that people endure, in a way that typically leaves me stuck pondering the challenges we face "out there" in everyday life. My hope is to pay attention to the careless things we say, or the unfair judgments we make. I feel a deep empathy for the times when people smile even though they are struggling on the inside.

  I think about what I see, more than I probably should. My memory is predominately photographic, allowing me to recall a snapshot of a past experience and review it in depth. This made school especially easy for me growing up, but as an adult it means I often get stuck trying to solve the world's problems as I play them back in my head. For better or worse, pondering the ups and downs of the human race in a "big picture" sort of way is part of my everyday life. This propensity to viewing the world as a series of vivid images, intricately connected to vibrant visions of what could be, very easily becomes quite overwhelming.

  Consequently, I am also painfully aware of my own faults and mistakes. I know I have made my fair share of contributions to the debt of regrettable karma in the world. But despite that humbling fact, I sometimes reach a point where I have seen too much of judgment, too much of people being unkind to each other, too much of selfishness and impatience, too much of injustice and inequality, too much of cynicism and condescension.

  My heart aches with the simple observation that compassion is an increasingly rare commodity in the world. I passionately believe in the idea that we need only to make a conscious choice to be more compassionate, in order to begin making a difference in the life of the people we come in contact with. We really can make a difference in the world, one person at a time; I know this firsthand because of the special people who have touched my life in unforgettable ways.

  Think of a time when another person brightened your day, whether they realized it or not... and it meant more to you at the time than they might ever know- you have the same power to make the world a better place for someone. We have more power to lift each other up than we realize. And the most important place to start making a difference, the most profound place to focus our energy is right in front of us when we look in the mirror. We should be kinder to ourselves as well.

  Everyone has a story-- everyone has battles they are fighting, and many of them are not visible. Whether for my own trials or those of others, I sometimes feel child-like tears welling up inside with nowhere to go. Childhood has an innocence about it that has not yet learned to be afraid of being ourselves. Children tend to be openly honest in expressing whatever they are feeling.

  I usually feel too self conscious to really let my wounds show, even around people who care about me and have repeatedly encouraged me to do so. Admittedly, it feels embarrassing to speak "out loud" about needing a good cry once in a while.

  In many cultures, it is generally more socially acceptable for women to show their emotions. But male or female, people tend to be reluctant to share our truly vulnerable moments with each other; sometimes even with people we are close to. I spend a lot of time and effort doing my best to be strong and keep a positive energy about me, and that's a good thing when done in a healthy way.

  These days I make it a point to keep reminding myself: "You only live once! Keep doing everything you can to embrace the journey, and learn something from every experience." It reminds me of a classic line from the movie Braveheart, when William Wallace says: "Every man dies, not every man really lives."

  Today I have a heavy heart, and that is okay. Today is a day to let myself feel, so I can keep up the good work of being strong; I know it is part of living this life, of embracing the journey. I am determined to keep learning, to continually strive to be better at facing the adventure head on-- with all of it's uncomfortable complexity, and surprisingly beautiful simplicity.

  So anyway, I think I feel a little better now. And if you identify with anything I just shared, then I hope you feel a little better too!  :)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Content To Move Ahead

  I was talking with a close friend yesterday, and we had a moment where we shared the realization that we are getting older. Granted, we are both in our thirties and so we are just beginning to feel the effects of aging, but getting used to the transition is still hard to accept sometimes. Grey hairs are starting to sneak in amongst the brown. Sleep no longer feels like an annoying delay in life-- the thought of resting and regenerating is a wonderful and welcome thing these days.

  Admittedly, my body has some extra challenges that have made me feel old before my time. But even on a good day, I can tell that my priorities have changed over the years. I have a growing appreciation for the lessons that life offers us each day. I would never want to give up the changes in perspective that have made me the person I am now, and I look forward with hopeful anticipation to continue growing into the person I have the potential to become.

  I am reminded of a poem written by a wise old man named Boyd K. Packer, a poem that took him three decades to write:
I had a thought the other night,
A thought profound and deep.
It came when I was too worn down,
Too tired to go to sleep.
I’d had a very busy day
And pondered on my fate.
The thought was this:
When I was young, I wasn’t 68!
I could walk without a limp;
I had no shoulder pain.
I could read a line through twice
And quote it back again.
I could work for endless hours
And hardly stop to breathe.
And things that now I cannot do
I mastered then with ease.
If I could now turn back the years,
If that were mine to choose,
I would not barter age for youth,
I’d have too much to lose.
I am quite content to move ahead,
To yield my youth, however grand.
The thing I’d lose if I went back
Is what I understand.

Ten years have flown to who knows where
And with them much of pain.
A metal hip erased my limp;
I walk quite straight again.
Another plate holds neck bones fast—
A wonderful creation!
It backed my polio away;
I’ve joined the stiff-necked generation.
The signs of aging can be seen.
Those things will not get better.
The only thing that grows in strength
With me is my forgetter.
You ask, “Do I remember you?”
Of course, you’re much the same.
Now don’t go getting all upset
If I can’t recall your name.
I would agree I’ve learned some things
I did not want to know,
But age has brought those precious truths
That make the spirit grow.
Of all the blessings that have come,
The best thing in my life
Is the companionship and comfort
I get from my dear wife.
Our children all have married well,
With families of their own,
With children and grandchildren,
How soon they all have grown.
I have not changed my mind one bit
About regaining youth.
We’re meant to age, for with it
Comes a knowledge of the truth.
You ask, “What will the future bring?
Just what will be my fate?”
I’ll go along and not complain.
Ask when I’m 88!

And now you see I’m 88.
The years have flown so fast.
I walked, I limped, I held a cane,
And now I ride at last.
I take a nap now and again,
But priesthood power remains.
For all the physical things I lack
There are great spiritual gains.
I have traveled the world a million miles
And another million too.
And with the help of satellites,
My journeys are not through.
I now can say with all certainty
That I know and love the Lord.
I can testify with them of old
As I preach His holy word.
I know what He felt in Gethsemane
Is too much to comprehend.
I know He did it all for us;
We have no greater Friend.
I know that He will come anew
With power and in glory.
I know I will see Him once again
At the end of my life’s story.
I’ll kneel before His wounded feet;
I’ll feel His Spirit glow.
My whispering, quivering voice will say,
“My Lord, my God, I know.”

  Ultimately, I feel this way too. I like 35 year old me a whole lot more than 25 year old me. And while I sorely miss playing basketball, and running, and skiing-- I would rather have the perspective that I have now, than have those other things and still think the way I thought when I was younger.

  So anyway, I know I still have a lot of aging left to do... I just hope that I too can maintain an attitude of learning, gratitude, and faith along the way.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Little Rays Of Hope

  You never know where little rays of hope are going to come from. I love discovering the uplifting little surprises that are out there, waiting to be found each day.

  Before my health became the crazy adventure that it is now, I took most of my pain-free days for granted... but not anymore. For the past few years I have lived every day in hopeful anticipation of the precious moments of peace and relief. I am so grateful for the support system I have now: proper medication, good doctors, a loving family, dear friends, and kind neighbors. But ironically, sometimes the moments of greatest relief are also the moments of greatest emotional torture.

Allow me to explain...

  Sometimes I find myself laying on the couch in too much pain to move, waiting for my meds to kick in. Then as the feeling of relief finally washes over me, something wonderful and sad happens:

Wonderful-- because I am genuinely grateful for every ounce
of peace and comfort that I am blessed with.

Sad-- because of the stark contrast between my "normal" and
suddenly bring reminded what it feels like to be pain free.

  It's hard to hold back the tears sometimes, as I sit there thinking to myself: "Oh man, I think I was actually starting to forget what it's like to feel good..." That is a harsh realization to accept. It's times like that when we have a chance to learn the importance of the little things: the beauty of the small victories, and the profound value of the seemingly mundane struggles.

And once in a while, a glimmer of hope breaks through the clouds...

  Yesterday the National MS Society published an interview with Dr. Ben Barres, Professor and Chair of Neurobiology at Stanford University's School of Medicine. Dr. Barres and his team are doing some amazing research in the area of nervous system repair:
  "My lab is focused on understanding the role of glial cells in the brain. There are two different types of glial cells: oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Many of you may have learned that oligodendrocytes cover the nerve fibers with myelin, which is damaged by MS. But the astrocytes, in particular, are a very mysterious class of brain cell. Making up about 40% of cells in the brain, they’re large cells that each ensheath (or cover) thousands of synapses (points of contact through which a signal is transferred from one neuron to the next)."

  "The questions we’re asking in my lab are: What do the astrocytes do normally? And what do they do in diseases like MS? This has been one of the longstanding mysteries in neurobiology. Up until this point, we haven’t known what nearly half of our cells in our brain do. We know that neurons form the neural circuits, but what is the role of astrocytes in this process?"

  "When I started working on this 20 years ago, everyone thought astrocytes were just passive support cells that were cleaning up after the neurons. What we know now is that not only are astrocytes controlling synapse formation, but they also control the strength of synapses once they’re formed and the elimination of synapses. And we think that by better understanding astrocytes, we’re going to learn much more about how synapses work and how to rebuild synapses after injury."

  So instead of existing treatments which attempt to slow the demyelination process and/or suppress your immune system (scary), this new approach would have the body actually heal itself of the damage caused by neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis. A breakthrough like that could give millions of people their life back... it could resurrect broken dreams.

Dr.Barres continues:
  "In neurodegenerative diseases, including MS, newer studies have shown that in addition to white matter damage (demyelination) there is also grey matter damage, neuron cell bodies and synapses are actually degenerating as well. Initially the brain has the ability to rebuild myelin, and also lost synapses, but as the disease progresses the pace at which synapses degenerate may outpace the brain’s ability to repair lost synapses. At a certain point, some individuals move into the neurodegenerative phase, also known as secondary-progressive MS."

  "At this phase, axons degenerate – in part because they’re losing their myelin. But scientists are now realizing that synapses are also being lost at this time. And quite possibly these two processes are connected. If this is the case, we need medications that will not only rebuild myelin, but also prevent the loss of synapses or stimulate reformation of synapses. Therapies that block synapse loss may also block axon loss and help to promote remyelination. Our hope is that rebuilding synapses will rebuild the circuit and allow normal function of that circuit."

  We are SO blessed to live in a time when science is advancing by leaps and bounds. In many ways, mankind has made more progress in the last two hundred years than the previous two thousand. There is so much we still don't know, but that's okay because when we begin realizing how much we don't know-- that is when we are more likely to start asking the right questions.

  So anyway- I am excited for research like this to find new options for those who suffer through never-ending, unseen battles. And even if those answers don't happen in my lifetime, I hope the rest of the human race will be able to benefit from the work of these unsung heroes of science and medicine; brilliant minds who dedicate their life to finding answers for all of us.

  And those answers are worth the wait, because every ray of light matters... especially when you are fighting a foe that never takes a day off.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Don't Take Away My Netflix!

  I am reminded today of that old R.E.M. song: "It's the end of the world (wide web) as we know it..." Hopefully that tune doesn't become the theme of a very different internet experience soon.

  Feel like being forced to upgrade your internet service to a more expensive option just so you can continue watching Netflix or Hulu? Me neither. FCC regulations regarding "net neutrality" are what have protected us from that type of corporate exploitation for several years now... until today.

CNN Money reports:
A federal appeals court has struck down Federal Communications Commission rules that prohibit Internet service providers (ISPs) from restricting access to legal Web content.

The ruling is the latest development in the long-running battle over net neutrality -- the principle that all sites on the Internet be equally accessible. Net neutrality advocates want to preserve the Web's status quo, in which providers such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable can't auction off priority traffic rights to one site over another, or impose tolls for high-bandwidth sites such as video streamers Netflix and Hulu.

 The FCC adopted the regulations at issue in 2010, imposing so-called "Open Internet" rules that barred ISPs from blocking or "unreasonably discriminating" against Web content.

Those regulations were challenged in 2011 by Verizon, which claimed the move overstepped the commission's legal authority.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Verizon's favor Tuesday. The court said that because the FCC had previously placed broadband Internet service in a separate regulatory category from phone service, it lacked the legal justification to impose the Open Internet rules.

  So it turns out that according to the opinion issued by U.S. federal court today-- by giving internet service it's own classification and distinguishing it from standard utilities like telephone service, the FCC also created a distinction between internet law and existing pro-consumer regulations governing the telecom industry.

  Assuming that the FCC originally made that move with the intent of protecting open internet access, they appear to have inadvertently obligated themselves to a long and arduous legal process of establishing jurisdiction over this new class of services. That lack of legal precedent appears to be what left the door open for today's court ruling against net neutrality.

  If this ruling is allowed to stand as-is without any additional action to protect consumer interests, a segregated internet experience with a tiered premium pricing structure (similar to cable TV service) is where the web is headed. This could be really bad news for consumers.

  Under this new version of the world wide web, cell carriers like AT&T could arbitrarily block you from visiting Sprint or T-mobile's website on your smart phone or tablet. If your local ISP decides that YouTube viewing eats up too much of their bandwidth, they could simply serve up a proprietary "no YouTube" version of the internet. If you use Microsoft as your ISP, they will now be able to block all things Google or Yahoo, and force you to use Bing as your search engine and Outlook as your email provider.

  There is still potential for a pro-consumer solution though. CNN Money further writes:
The ruling did affirm the FCC's authority in principle to regulate broadband Internet service, leaving open the possibility for the commission to rewrite its rules within a new legal framework.

FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler said in a statement Tuesday that the commission "will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression."

   So if the FCC reclassifies broadband internet as a "Title II" utility like land-line telephone service, they might then be able to leverage the existing legal framework of that classification, perhaps allowing them to enforce existing anti-discrimination regulations. Hopefully, for the sake of consumers everywhere the FCC will rise to the task of protecting freedom of information, products, and services; and do so in a timely manner.

  To learn more about how you can support "net neutrality" and stand up for freedom of information, visit Save The Internet and Demand Progress to sign their petitions urging the FCC to take action!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Truth About Trials

  Every now and then, I come across something so good, so true, and so well written- that I wish I had written it myself. This is one of those times.

  I just read a blog post by Kayla Lemmon titled: "God will give you more than you can handle: I guarantee it.", and I whole-heartedly second her message. In fact, I don't mind if you completely abandon me at this point and just go read her post, it's that good.

  Sometimes someone tells the beautiful, honest, inspiring, tear-inducing truth about the profound nature of the human experience in such a way that I immediately have no greater desire than to pass it on by shouting it from the mountain tops...

  Granted, I am an imperfect, flawed messenger-- one who may or may not be the most likely candidate to be given the privilege of broadcasting anything "from the mountain tops". But I am someone who believes in the opportunity to learn from everything we experience; and in that, we are all in the same boat.

    After reading Ms. Lemmon's candid words of wisdom, I am sitting here thinking about how much life really is all about perspective.

The truth about trials is that our ability to learn hinges on our willingness to learn.

  Take a moment and think about that. The more we accept that principle, the more we understand that there is no such thing as a wasted experience, or a pointless hardship-- as long as we choose to find something valuable to glean from it. There is no trial that does not contain within it the power to lift our perspective to a higher plane; all that is required is a willing heart.

  Our perspective is our own to care for, to curate; like a museum full of priceless works of art whose true value is seldom known to the casual observer. From time to time, we have the opportunity to observe the work of those who choose to painstakingly sculpt something beautiful out of the rough rocks that mortal life has handed them. I am so grateful for the kind souls who offer up the beauty of their own personal experiences to any of us who choose to actively seek a broader perspective.

  Those who have survived impossibly hellish experiences, tend to have a common thread in their explanation of how they managed such a feat. They frequently attribute their hope and strength to a concept that can be boiled down to one fundamental principle: the power of our individual will to choose.

  Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom, wrote in her beloved book "The Hiding Place":
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

  We have the power to choose whether to open our heart to the lessons that life is so excruciatingly capable of teaching us. We have the power to choose what we are grateful for. We have the power to decide that we value and respect our experiences, even the ones that leave us flat on our back... especially the ones that leave us feeling beaten and broken.

  Today I am calling out to everyone who is searching for answers. I am humbly offering encouragement to the minds that are desperate for peace. I am reaching out to the bodies that are wracked with indescribable exhaustion, and sometimes overwhelming pain.

  So anyway, go read that blog article! It is with reverent enthusiasm I wish to add my voice to the thoughts shared there; and I sincerely hope anyone who needs some peace today, anyone who needs a little boost (or a big one), can find something personally meaningful there too.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Truly Happy New Year

  In wishing each other a happy new year, I thought it fitting to highlight some sage advice regarding how to go about being truly happy- even when trials come our way.

"So much in life depends on our attitude. The way we choose to see things and respond to others makes all the difference. To do the best we can and then to choose to be happy about our circumstances, whatever they may be, can bring peace and contentment.

... We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. For maximum happiness, peace, and contentment, may we choose a positive attitude."

Thomas S. Monson - "Living The Abundant Life", Ensign Magazine, January 2012