Tag Archives: passion

Straight from the heart… to your brain.

Happy Friday! Only a few more to go this Lenten season, and what better way to celebrate than with another Fishy Fishy Fish Fry. Tonight, we’re trying Libby McNeil’s at Hotel Marshfield. It would sound impressive, except… Marshfield. I know I’m not fooling anyway. It’s no church basement, to be sure, but it is still Central Wisconsin.

Pretty sure I’m not supposed to like Lent this much, and yet…

I love what Joan wants to talk about today. LOVE IT.

“Gifts of the heart are what memories are made of.” –Sheryl Nicholson

So, touching the heart is what makes the memory stick. YES!

“I have a theory that only what touches the heart is really lodged in the mind. Memory is made up of what has touched our lives. So, in later years, the data drops away because it is useless. But soft touches, hard words, deep joys, great pain never leave us. For good or ill, they remain. They are always there, soothing us or torturing our souls. The life question it leaves us with may be worth thinking about, What do we do with the feelings that clog our souls?” –Joan Chittister

I love this so much, not only because of what it means for personal experience (which, I mean, duh, right?!), but even more so for what I think it means about what we do work-wise. Simply about what sticks.

Gratuitous puppy picture!
Gratuitous puppy picture!

I recently wrote this about myself… my thoughts about teaching:

When I applied to Michigan Technological University in 2001 as a chemistry major, I did so despite my passion for biology as I had convinced myself that chemistry required “real” thinking while biology was mere memorization. However, my experience over the last nearly 15 years has clearly demonstrated otherwise. I now recognize all of science as a series of important interrelationships. A firm background in math, physics, and language is necessary to understand basic concepts in chemistry and biology, which serve as the building blocks to biochemistry, genetics, cell biology, molecular biology, and on and on to multitudes of other biomedical fields, including immunology, microbiology, virology, parasitology, and more. I believe that teaching with this perspective will give students a sense of how their courses are important with respect to the larger field of biomedical science and will inspire passion and enjoyment for learning.

And when I think about all of that in the context of what Joan is saying, what it really boils down to is this: I can do chemistry. I can think about, talk about it, get an A on a test about it, but honestly, I rarely feel it– in my heart.

Oh, to be sure, there are excellent chemistry jokes that make me ridiculously happy (the ether bunny is seasonally appropriate and immediately comes to mind), but for the most part, it just doesn’t light me up.

{Source} AHHHH ha ha ha ha HAAAA!
{Source} Ah ha ha ha!

Host/pathogen interactions? That lights me up.

I needed to know chemistry to really get it, of course, but the chemistry has long since faded. Loooong since. Yes, I can calculate molarity, measure pH, tell you how many protons a carbon atom has… but I could talk for hours about how tricksy gonorrhea and chlamydia turn out to be once they find their way into a genital tract. And how conversely clever the body is in response. On and on and on… because that lights me up. So I remember it. It is a memory that has stuck. Much more than any theory of quantum mechanics or SN reaction mechanism. (This last statement is so true that I had to google SN reaction to make sure I wasn’t just inventing that on the spot. It’s legit. Whew.)

Literally, an hour, about host/pathogen interaction. Love it.
Literally, an hour, about host/pathogen interaction. Love it.

I’m good at learning things, at remembering them long enough to write the paper, give the talk, take the test, but it’s definitely true that not everything sticks very well. And I’ve always wondered about that– why is it that I can sing every line from every song in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, even years after last hearing it, but could barely remember a given toxin’s mechanism of action for as long as it took me to brush my teeth?

Because the toxin does nothing to my heart. (Assuming said toxin is only theoretical, of course. Things would be different if we were talking about toxins for realsies.)

Jacob? Jacob and his sooooons?! They make my heart flip flop! And that’s why it sticks. I think, anyway.

So… what do we do with all those emotions that clog us up? Those memories that stick? The song lyrics that pop to mind when all we want is the answer to the next test question?

It’s a good question.

Perhaps the best answer I have found is to do something that lights me up as much as a song lyric every day, as often as possible. Granted, I don’t love everything I write about, but I get real into a lot of it. It’s even spilled over here, I’m sure you’ve noticed– foster care families, integrated behavioral health and primary care, rare genetic disorders, opioid addiction. Writing itself is like that, actually. It’s not exactly what I was “trained” to do, but I have always loved doing it. So maybe, in that respect, the clog isn’t a clog at all if you’re training those feelings on something productive. Maybe?


And a relatively unrelated side note… I’ve often felt jealous of the pride people have for their children, assuming it’s something I couldn’t know until having them. And I can’t have them. At least at the moment it’s difficult. Snowball effect. Woe is me. But then again, good things keep happening to people I love so very, very much. And I feel SO CRAZY proud. Absolute heart bursting pride for someone else. Or something else in the case of my sweet pup. So what’s to say that that kind of pride is reserved only for your flesh and blood?

Jerk, second track, that’s who.

So, anyway, upon getting some SUPER GREAT news for Sister Doctor today, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the heart bursting pride with all of you!!

Sister Doctor has matched into a General Surgery Residency program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Medicine and Public Health! Not only is it one of the top programs in the entire country, but it’s also a mere couple hours away and, guys, I could not be happier for her!! (And selfishly for me and the rest of our big Sconi-based clan as she’s staying close to home and that’s excellent, excellent news!)

A little Match Day gift-- feminist needlepoint, a new favorite. Also, a message worth remembering in surgery residency, yes?!
A little Match Day gift– feminist needlepoint, a new favorite. Also, a message worth remembering in surgery residency, yes?!

On Wisconsin, yo!

Fun fact-- I was almost done with this one, in metallic thread and not red so as to avoid Wisconsin bias, but then for some reason unknown to me at the time, I started over completely in red and white (see above). Clearly, my subconscious knew where she was headed before any of the rest of us!
Fun fact– I was almost done with this one, in metallic thread and not red so as to avoid Wisconsin bias, but then for some reason unknown to me at the time, I started over completely in red and white (see above). Clearly, my subconscious knew where she was headed before any of the rest of us!


Butterfly on the wind, lioness in high grass.

So, I might not be deep enough for today’s dealy-o.

“No one knows what lies ahead, when we say yes to God.” –Jan L. Richardson

Thing is, when I read that, I thought I got it. Maybe I do. You can tell me what you think. Maybe Joan just threw me for a loop.

“I can only trust that what lies ahead will be fuller, freer, than the present. I hope for a life that is my own, that has no false chains to bind me, that allows me to move like a butterfly on the wind and to stand, when necessary, like a lioness in high grass. I want a life that is directed by the call within myself– not by an institution, not even by what looks like the care and concern of others.” –Joan Chittister

So. First impression: when you follow your gut, heart, and mind… when you say yes to the things that were meant for you, things that feel right, speak to you, then you are really living. Then you can really end up someplace amazing– the place where you were meant to be.

But then what Joan said. I don’t know. Do I get it?

Does it matter?

The message I get– that pursuing your dream, ensuring that you are following your heart, listening to God’s whispers into your soul, it’s certainly not a bad one, by any stretch of the imagination.

Joan’s just deeper than me. And that’s ok.

Want to know something super weird?

I believe that what really lights me up, paradoxically, is interacting with people.

I don’t get it. I don’t actually like interacting with people. In theory for sure and generally in practice as well. But at work, I’m noticing a theme– I’m kind of good at it.

I talked a tribal elder through saving and attaching a document to an email over the phone yesterday. It took me 45 minutes. He called again this afternoon and we chatted about his drive to Antigo this morning (90 miles south you know– it was warm down there!) and then I talked him through a doodle poll. Huge progress! He did it correctly. I somehow had infinite patience and actually enjoyed talking him through it. I’m excited for our next conference call on Tuesday, that guy is just great!

Then, right before I left for the day, my caller ID flashed Price County Health Department and rather than flinch before answering like I usually do, I picked up the receiver with gusto (I swear, it was gusto) and happily talked a woman through a survey I recently designed in preparation for a grant. She was fascinating.

Similarly, despite the crazy nerves before hand, I’ve never loved my job as much as when I ran focus groups for foster families and for BBS families. The foster care ones were in person, I actually asked a Mennonite woman if I could hold her little boy and chatted with she and her husband while I did. The BBS focus groups were over the phone and I still remember half the participants’ names and talk about them with the other investigators as though they are my friends… because I loved them. I loved working with them, talking to them, getting their perspective so very much. Loved them so much that I actually wrote this statement in an email to a program officer the other day:

Given local availability of expertise in certain rare diseases and the technological capacity to advance research via enrollment of geographically dispersed participants and provision of intervention via telemedicine, it seems unconscionable that licensure issues between states should impede the conduct of translational research for diseases that have traditionally been very difficult to study and related improvements in care.

I care so much about this stuff, I have become downright evangelical about it. (Also, I’m super proud of the email I crafted. Fingers crossed it makes a difference somehow, somewhere, someday!)

But I’m not supposed to. I’m not supposed to like it, to care so much about it that I actually speak up, because I am an introvert and introverts don’t like interacting and normally I’m text book about that sort of thing.

Maybe saying yes to God… to my soul… to the thing that lights me up… somehow turned me into an ambivert. I guess we really can’t know what lies ahead, what will make us stand up like a lioness in high grass… or maybe just a writer neck deep in telemedicine licensure mumbo jumbo.

A woman I work with said something like that to me the other day– she’s the director of our Center for Community Outreach and started out as a community social worker, dealing with issues surrounding drugs of abuse and other life-threatening concerns. I don’t remember her words exactly, but it was something along the lines of, “Our careers sort of build themselves over time if we let them, don’t they?” And she was right. Assuming our career is our passion. Or whatever our passion may be. If we let go, let God, let it take it’s course, we’ll be amazed where we end up.

Interestingly, as I reach the end of this post, I realize that the couple sentences above basically amount to a review of a great book I read recently entitled Women Healers of the World by Holly Bellebuono— every one of the woman profiled in that book, ranging from a traditional midwife practicing in rural Mexico to a princess in Iran, followed her passion, heart, soul, spirit, God, and found her way to something fulfilling in the biggest way.

I see it in my mom; teaching lights her up. The mitochondria is a siren to my friend Michele; she cannot resist it’s tiny little “powerhouse of the cell” call and it’s impossible to miss her response to that little organelle. I saw it in a friend of some friends named BeBe who described the most circuitously interesting route to WordPress so complex that I couldn’t repeat it if I tried. I heard it when my friend Jess told me how the continent of Europe basically begged her to come wow them with her regulatory knowledge.  I witness it all the time in my friend Marie as she works to change the face of what it means to be pro-life. These are all people answering God’s call for their lives. And you can tell, because they glow with it.

They are butterflies on the wind. It’s quite the sight.


So maybe I do get it after all. Just took some rolling it around in my mind. Isn’t it always like that? It’s too hard, it’s challenging, it’s thought-provoking, here are my thoughts, this is what I think, how I feel, what I believe.