About Me

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I am a wife, mother, instructor and PhD student of Health and Interpersonal Communication. My research is located at the intersection of health, identity and discourse and is informed by my background in Organizational Communication with an overall objective of addressing inequities in healthcare access across populations by examining communicative processes that contribute to institutionalized inequities. My hope is to contribute to an understanding of the relationship between micro/macro level discourses within the healthcare system to improve patient access to quality care across populations. This will include research aimed at improving communication among medical providers, between medical providers and patients, between healthcare institutions, and between health institutions and individuals.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year's Reflection-Thank You, 2014.

This year our family spent New Year's Eve playing games and enjoying each other like we do every year. This year, as we played Clue and Pictionary and Othello, I was struck by just how much our family has changed over this past year. The kids are growing up--as much young adults as they are children--and that is, of course, both exciting and scary.

Every year we try to think about what major thing we learned from the year before and then talk over either resolutions or foci or something to strive for in the upcoming year. This year, we talked about humility as a lesson learned from 2014. In 2014, our family learned that we are not invincible--we can be touched by tragedy. We can be touched by stigma. We can be touched by difficulty and struggle in ways that are not easily managed or resolved.

We also learned about the value of humility. Through the struggle...through the difficulty...through the stigma--we were made vulnerable. It was through that vulnerability that we saw family connections emboldened. We saw (some) friendships strengthened. We saw our faith grow through this vulnerability. It was in this vulnerability that we were able to receive the compassion and love from others that we have always tried to bestow on those around us. Through this vulnerability we have the opportunity to become better people...more compassionate and mindful of others and their personal circumstances that we cannot possibly know or understand--a fact that should give us great pause when passing judgment. We defined ourselves more clearly as a family struggling to find its way in a world that often runs counter to the values we strive to embody.

Thank you, 2014. For your difficult, often painful lessons in humility and vulnerability that we will take with us into 2015 as we embrace what the new year brings. As I look to 2015, I am struck by another lesson of 2014--the importance of honoring and respecting personal history. Through the loss we've experienced in 2014, we realized that others touch us and we touch others in importantly unique ways. People come in and out of our lives--some stay for a while, others for a short time. Some are taken from us through death, others drift away through changing life circumstances. All shape us in some important ways. We are the legacy of our loved ones-past and present--and they are our legacy. We live on through the impact we have on others as they develop and grow. We live on through our role in shaping the personal histories of others that shape who they are and how they relate to the world. One of my goals in 2015 is to honor the legacy of others that shaped our family's personal history and by relating to others with full recognition of the role I play in shaping theirs.

Finally, as busy as our family has been balancing three active kids' schedules, raising three kids and helping them make sense of their lives and worlds as they grow and develop, both Jason and I working full time, and me working toward my doctorate 3/4 time, I am struck by the value of silence (thanks Father Snitley). In 2015, I will strive to create regular moments of silence for our family so that we can continue to grow and develop in our faith and engage in regular reflection together--hopefully creating space to honor ourselves and others as we are situated within our own personal histories.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Centered 2015

"Peace on earth, goodwill toward men". 

As I think about all the beautiful sentiments expressed in the songs we sing this time of year, in the greetings we meet each other with this time of year, and in the cards we send to one another this time of year, I am left a little bit empty inside. As I think about these sentiments that, I truly believe we all mean, by the way, I have to wonder about where they go once we move out of this beautiful time of year. Just as soon as we begin talking about New Year's resolutions, all these lofty sentiments about peace on earth and goodwill toward men are shoved to the back burner as our individual focus becomes getting more exercise, eating less, adopting a paleo diet, etc. It really is striking to move from commercials about taking care of the People's City Mission to joining a gym. How do we go from singing about taking care of our fellow man to focusing on numero uno in the New Year? We do it every single year--I am certainly guilty of it. At Christmas time we open our hearts and minds to the less fortunate, and, as we move into the New Year, we think of how we can better ourselves.

It is with no small sense of regret and shame that I admit that this Christmas season has, for me, been dominated by commercialism. I don't know if it is the kids' ages, the busy-ness of this last semester, how close Thanksgiving was to Christmas...or if it is what I fear it is-- a lack of spiritual centeredness on my part.

I remember as a young adult...maybe 22 or 23...I thought of myself as having a 'center'--and that the key to my personal growth and happiness was to live my life from that center. The way I saw things, life is, itself, a force that pulls us off-center, throws us curve-balls, guides us down certain paths that are dominated by one extreme or another--and as we immerse ourselves in developing one small part of who we are, we risk losing the other parts. Life provides opportunities and challenges in which we must make decisions. Those decisions can be made from our center--what I see as a place in which we are perfectly balanced in our priorities and ambitions and emphases, or they can be made from positions of imbalance, in which one part of who we are consistently takes priority over other parts. For example, when we are perfectly balanced, or operating from our center, we are making decisions that perfectly balance important elements of who we are...our identity as a parent, as a woman (or man) as a career person, as a spouse, as a daughter, as a sibling, as a friend. When we are un-centered, we make decisions that over-emphasize one part of who we are and, as a result, under-emphasize other parts of who we are.

Life, as we all know, brings change--its very essence is change. Every minute of every day, our circumstances shift. Our positioning changes. Who we are informs who we are becoming and this whole process is reflected in and shaped by the choices we make both in the moment and long term.I've always strived for (though, not always attained), a place of centeredness when making major life decisions--though, it is in the daily choices that I often fall short of this goal. The devil is in the details, I guess.

This line of thinking still guides me today, though, it has, in many ways, evolved--or, at least, that's how I choose to frame it. My center is not a place I wish to cling to as the world changes around me, it is a place I have to achieve...I have to actively achieve it...every single day. It takes effort...yet, when I achieve it, everything seems effortless. Everything is clear. Everything falls into place in ways I could never have predicted. This year...this Christmas...I failed to take the time to think from my center. It is from this centered place that spirituality simultaneously permeates and transcends all that I am and all that I do.

This is a mistake I won't continue to make--I plan to finish this Christmas season out and move into 2015 placing daily priority on achieving and acting from my center. I hope I can say at the end of 2015 that my daily choices and our major decisions were guided by my spiritual center. I guess only time will tell.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Re-Envisioning Context Through Curiosity, Humility, and Imagination

I've been giving a LOT of thought to context lately. It changes everything. I mean, this is pretty obvious--most of us acknowledge that nothing can be understood absent its context. We know this. We all know this. Nothing can be understood independent of the circumstances. No act. No decision. No utterance. Nothing can be judged in absence of the context in which it is situated. And that's the trick, isn't it? If context is necessary to interpret--whose context provides the framework from which we interpret what we observe? I would argue that more often than not, we impose our understanding of the context on those whom we observe acting and making decisions within their own contextual frame...and that's a problem because our frame of reference, our understanding, is not the one that is driving the thoughts and decisions that went into the act that we observe. Our context--our frame of reference--our life experiences--is what we use to interpret the actions of others. It is this interpretation that yields judgement...was it right or wrong? Was it moral or immoral? Was it selfish or selfless? Was it the act of a good or a bad person? It's how assign valence to our own and others' actions. These are big questions that inform major ideas about who another person (or group) is and what another person (or group) stands for in our eyes. Those personal judgements drive private and ultimately public discussion...and these discussions drive social structures and social policies--which in turn shape interpretations...contexts. And so the cycle goes--actions--people--groups--are judged outside of the context in which they make decisions to act because interpretation of action occurs within a different context in which action takes place. These judgments are communicated, reified, and eventually lead to static personal and social opinions about others --judgements devoid of the localized context in which the actual person or group lives and functions every day. Thus, we've effectively stripped the actions and decisions of others from the contexts in which they were enacted, replaced those contexts with our own, passed unfair judgment on those actions/behaviors/people and ultimately groups of people that serve to inform personal and public opinion.

How can we address this? I would argue it all begins with fostering curiosity, humility, and imagination in our relationships with others. First, we have to be curious enough about other people's perspectives and lived circumstance to explore the possibility that the context in which we live and make decisions every day may not (and likely does not) reflect the context in which those with whom we relate operate and make decisions every single day. Second, we have to be humble enough to respect and accept the fact that the framework and context in which we make decisions each day is not superior to the context of another. We need to be humble and be curious enough to seek out and attempt to understand another person's perspective--not just that they may see an issue differently than us, but that they experience an issue differently than us. And that makes a BIG difference in the evaluations and judgments that we can/should make about others. Third, we need to develop and enact our imaginations. We may not be able to truly know another person's circumstances having never really lived outside of our own--but one of the beautiful gifts we have as human beings is the gift of imagination. It is through this gift that we have the potential to extend our understanding beyond our own experience. This gift is rarely used in this capacity--but I do believe that this is one of the fundamental ways in which this gift can and should be used in service of others.

I guess as I wrap up this semester and think about how the things I am studying, learning, and thinking about shape my personal life and my role as a Mom, I once again see the power of interpersonal communication to change lives. Right now, that power shines through in this way and it illuminates a real need to foster my own and my children's capacity to develop and use their imaginations in service of others.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

MOM PhD: 3 Years Later

As I get ready to begin my final two semesters of course work on my PhD, I find myself looking back on how things all started. My husband and I  had always planned for me to pursue my PhD, and, when we were first married, I left my career with State Farm to pursue my Master's degree--a major leap of faith for us both. Before completing my Master's we had our first child. 2 years later we had our second child, and 2 years after that we had our third. My whole world was focused on raising these beautiful kiddos and I didn't have time to think much beyond that. I had earned my Master's and was teaching for the University, and I was crazy busy.

When my husband and I first decided that I would take the plunge and continue the pursuit of my PhD, I'm not sure that either of us were ready for all that it would entail, and we both knew it. At the time, we had a child in 3rd grade, one in 1st grade, and one in pre-school (half days). I applied to the program here at UNL and waited with baited breath. When we received the notice that I was accepted into the program, Julia and I went out together to get our ears pierced--something I figured would be a fun way to remember that day as a major family accomplishment. This blog--MOM-My Own Mind--was born that day as well with my very first blog post entitled "Pursuing A Goal".  It has documented the sometimes painful balance between trying to be the Mom I wanted to be and trying to be the Academic I wanted to be--a tension that defines my reality each and every day.

This blog has served to help me navigate the tension inherent in my role as a part time PhD student, full time college lecturer, wife, and mom to three incredible kids. As I read back over the posts, some are highly personal reflections while others are academic observations and musings as I sort through concepts and ideas that I've encountered throughout this program. I didn't realize when I started this blog how much it would reveal about my values, priorities, and interests--nor did I realize how much it would reveal about my growth throughout this journey.

As I finish out my coursework this year and move into the next stage of this educational journey (comprehensive exams and dissertation), I find myself yet again modifying my approach to balancing my role as Mom and Academic. This year, the kids and I have decided to make a standing "homework date"-- we're picking one evening a week to go to a different place and study together--I'll write, they'll do homework...we'll see how it goes...I'm also trying to make time and seek out opportunities to volunteer with my oldest, Julia, at local wildlife conservatories--not because it in any way furthers my own academic pursuits--but because it furthers HERS. I want my kids to see what they can do--and that I support what their dreams are...

This blog has become somewhat of a lighthouse for me as I continuously challenge and fine-tune my perspective and I'm energized by the knowledge that though much about my perspective has changed, the core of my perspective has remained consistent throughout this journey. It provides me with a sense of clarity and purpose as I finish out this first leg and move into the second leg of my program--and I suspect it will continue to provide the clarity well into my life post PhD.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cancer in the Family-A Personal Reflection

I have a little story to tell-- a story of childhood cancer. I'm not a major player in this story, but I've been forever changed by it, and, since this  is my personal blog, this particular telling centers on my very small role in the courageous story of my niece and nephew, Megan and Noah Ford. I have spent a good part of my summer attempting to raise funds for my 12 year old niece who is struggling in her battle against an aggressive and rare form of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. For more on her struggle, see this news story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umWWN-yJmcc

She was diagnosed in February just after her 12th birthday. This type of leukemia has a high likelihood of recurrence even if remission is achieved. Megan was fortunate to achieve remission after a long series of chemotherapy treatments, blood transfusions, bone marrow biopsies and, ultimately an experimental "magic bullet" cocktail of chemotherapy that involved intensive in-home iv and oral chemotherapy in addition to her weekly chemo treatments in the clinic. We were so thrilled to hear that she achieved remission and that she could move onto the next phase of her treatment--a bone marrow transplant. Again, Megan was fortunate that her 9 year old brother, Noah, was a perfect match and so he has stepped up as the hero of this story by donating the life-saving bone marrow for his sister. Megan is 9 days post-transplant right now. We are all anxiously awaiting news that the transplant was successful and that she will accept Noah's marrow and begin generating her own white blood cells. She is in an immense amount of pain as she struggles through mouth sores that prevent her from eating (but do not prevent the hunger pains). This will be Megan's life as she continues through this struggle, and things will continue to be difficult in the months and even years to come. All of this will present financial challenges to Megan's family--her father and my brother, Tom and his wife, Tara, and her mother, Linda. 

Being away from my family--living in Lincoln and not right there in Des Moines where all this started and where it will continue once Megan returns from the University of Minnesota, has been heartbreaking for me. I hate that I had to watch my brother struggle through his daughter's cancer diagnosis and treatment from a distance. Those times where he would just drive and park and cry because he was so overwhelmed and he didn't know where to go with all of his emotion as he tried to be strong for his kids. I hated that I couldn't be there every day to give Megan a hug, or share a snarky story with her. I hated that I couldn't sit down with Noah and offer him encouragement when I knew how scared he was to undergo this procedure. Getting a sliver is a big enough deal, but donating bone marrow?!? I hated that I couldn't be more present for the struggle they were all going through. Families are, of course, more and more geographically spread out and this experience is not unique to me--but it is new to me. There's always things you hate to miss when you don't live close to family, but offering support to a young family member that is so sick--watching the struggle from afar knowing how limited you are to help--that's heart wrenching. So, I got busy doing whatever I could that would offer some relief to my family and help me claim some agency in this process--I started raising funds.

Raising funds for medical expenses and expenses associated with making sure Megan's family can support her throughout her care and recovery has been an incredible job--one that is simultaneously humbling and inspiring. It's not easy to ask people to support someone--but when a family is faced with this level of medical expense, we have little choice. We have to humble ourselves and ask for support. Humility is a virtue, and one I'm learning and re-learning throughout this fundraising experience. But, for every person that shoves Megan and Noah into a generic category of needy kids, (ie--one classic response "there's a lot of sick kids out there, ma'am") there are so many others who go out of their way in ways that inspire my faith in humanity and help me to see the beauty in the people all around me. This experience has changed me--and it will continue to change me. I embrace that change and hope that it results in benefiting not only Megan and Noah, but others who, like our family, will be blindsided by the most unimaginable news and be haphazardly thrown into the harsh world of childhood cancer.

This story, though is not mine--I am playing a very small part in the much bigger story of Megan and Noah--their bravery, sacrifice, love, and hope through this struggle. And they are playing a part in helping us to see what childhood cancer looks like up close and personal. As hard as that is to see--it's important to recognize and accept that this is an experience that you cannot turn away from. Not one of us can. The effects of disease and illness on families, psychologically, emotionally, physically, financially, relationally--cannot and should not be ignored. Families are increasingly finding themselves in this or similar situations.Though this is something I have long been studying--Megan and Noah personify clearly why I do what I do as a professional and, honestly, as a person.

 To follow the REAL story here, go to Megan's Mountain on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/megansmountain

And, since my small part of this story is one of raising funds, I would be remiss if I didn't offer you an opportunity to contribute. If you can donate, please do so here:  http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/megan-s-mountain/177733.

And, if you are so inclined, please share this story with others--the more help and support for these brave young kids, the better. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Almost 40...

In a few days I will be 40 years old. 40. I can remember various times in my life growing up where I would dream about what my life would be like when I got to certain ages--18, 21, 25, even 30. But never 40. 40 never seemed like an age worthy of dreaming about. In fact, it always seemed like an age of regret--an age where you take stock of all that you haven't yet achieved in life. Trouble is, I can't really think of anything that fits that bill..

At age 40 I have a beautiful family centered in faith. A wonderful husband who supports me, my dreams, our kids, and our family as a whole. He is completely focused on our family and our family's future. I have three beautiful, healthy kids who make me laugh and make me proud every single day. They love themselves and love each other and I do believe each of them sees that they have their own unique purpose in this world. We have wonderful relationships with our extended family and amazing friends. I love my career--I get to teach, research, and learn for a living! It doesn't get any better than that. I'm pursuing a lifelong dream in the form of earning my doctorate. I have a healthy appreciation for the beauty of the world around me and I am increasingly taking time to soak that up and take all that in.

I recently did an interview with a woman my age who wasn't supposed to live to see 40...and she cannot wait to celebrate her 40th birthday. I've got to say--I'm pretty damn excited to celebrate 40, too--there's a lot to celebrate and for that I am so very thankful!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Contradiction or Consistency?

So, part of the process of education and growth (should) involve self-reflection. As a Catholic who is an Academic, I am sometimes asked how I can rectify my passion for and belief in the value of critical thinking and the reification of power structures that subordinate and marginalize whole groups of people with my utter and complete faith in a religion that has historically been associated with the very oppression with which I am so concerned. Further, I am asked how I can rectify distinctions in my beliefs about justice, fairness, tolerance and equality with a religion that is so socially divisive.

These are tough questions to answer. These differences and discrepancies are difficult to understand myself, let alone explain to others. But are they? One of my most fundamental beliefs is that we, as humans, hold a necessarily incomplete view of the world. None of us have all the answers, and the pursuit of knowledge is not so much about getting THE answers as it is about expanding our perspectives beyond our own inherently limited point of view. We are incapable of knowing THE truth as individuals--our perspectives are far too limited. It is through OPENNESS to other viewpoints and a WILLINGNESS to allow those perspectives to change us that we can get beyond our own limitations in understanding the totality of the world around us. Together we have the opportunity to go far beyond what we can understand as individuals---but only if we respect the viewpoints of the other even (perhaps especially) when we disagree with it. That is our challenge--and our opportunity--to get beyond individual limitations in understanding. And, to be honest, that really is central to my faith as well--so, you see--the core of my academic and faith lives are truly complementary rather than contradictory.Sure there are points of contradiction--absolutely. And I work through those the best way I can using the insight I have and seeking additional insight.

This felt contradiction is not an uncommon experience-- I'm not alone in subscribing to what often appear to be two distinct and conflicting ideologies. Those that are the most harshly judgmental about this regularly display subscription to inherently oppositional ideologies-they are just not has hotly contested as is religious ideology. These individuals tout the value of openness and reflexivity all the while remaining steadfast in their very often narrow slice of academic expertise and demonstrate a distinct unwillingness to hear another's academic point of view. Expertise and the need to demonstrate that expertise as a scholar can inherently limit our ability and willingness to be open to changing our own position--and very academics inherently balk at this given the vulnerability associated with it.

Further, we often see discrepant discourses being invoked in our classrooms to justify vantage points--sometimes lauding and embracing the discourse as the final word in the matter and other times holding it at arm's length while we criticize it for its dominance and marginalizing effect on other discourses. Strategic invoking of discourses to make a point or criticize an idea is very often a conflictual enterprise.

So, I guess my point here is--perhaps we are better served to focus in on the contradictions we invoke in our own thinking rather than on the contradictions we THINK we perceive in others. Because, I would think that it is in challenging ourselves to identify the potential consistencies that we cannot see in the apparent contradictions we are so adept at seeing that we can grow beyond our own limited thinking...which is, after all, the whole point.