Saturday, April 2, 2016

Church is Lonely Without Family

Today was General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - a worldwide broadcast where we can hear from the leaders of the organization, as well as partake of divine council from the prophets of God. It isn't often we all get together (only twice a year), but when we do we receive quite a lot of profound advice and direction from men who commune with our Heavenly Father. It is both awesome and humbling to realize that much of what they speak pertains directly to me and my situation.

Of note in the first session of this conference was Elder Neil L. Andersen's talk on forgiveness. Much of what he said eludes me, but a comment he spoke (or rather, I heard and he may never have actually said) is that we must accept the fact that some people simply never change; and even if this fact causes us hurt or pain, we must forgive them and love them the same anyways. It was a most poignant moment for me as I realized that the Lord was speaking directly to me, touching on a reality that I have been reluctant to admit: I feel sorrow and pain at family and friends who aren't living the commandments and who have stepped away from the Gospel light. This has, in turn, caused me to lash out at them (but only in my mind thus far).

Such feelings are never good, and it is probably best that I work on them and get them resolved. However, what really struck me later after having thought on the matter for awhile is this: no matter how many people are in the congregation, church feels so empty without your loved ones there to enjoy it with you. As I sat today watching the 20,000+ people in the Conference Center singing hymns, it occurred to me that it seemed so empty. A curious thought for sure considering the size of the audience. I concluded after much pondering that it was because I thought of all my friends and family who weren't watching it, and that caused me to feel like I was alone.

I hope sincerely that my family and friends come back to full church fellowship and will participate with me in watching these sacred events. One day I hope to even go the conference center with all my family and enjoy a session. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but at least it gives me hope that I won't see a dearth of attendees when I watch conference in the future.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Whitley Turns 1 Year

My dearest little Whitley has turned into a vibrant, loving, and adorable one year old as of today.

Enjoying some Christmas time with daddy.
What words can I possibly have to describe this momentous occasion in such a precious life? I guess I can start by saying that, 1 year later, Andrea and I still can't look at the birth pictures of our little dear without breaking into tears. I mean, just look at the moment:

Andrea wouldn't let me put up the picture of her crying.
Clearly we were just ecstatic that we had her now in our lives. Looking back, those 36 hours of no sleep were totally worth it so we could experience the wonderful moment of her birth together. The nights of interrupted sleep since have also been worth it (though not as well received). I can't wait to experience this sort of moment all over again.

A Recap of the Year

Whitley has grown up with pretty much all of my family and friends being able to follow some of the special moments in her life because of my constant photo taking/sharing on Facebook. I don't regret it for a minute; and if any of my Facebook friends haven't enjoyed it, then too bad. There is hardly a thing in the world I can think of that would be more fitting to bring joy and happiness to a person's life than a picture or video of one so sweet.

That being said, there has been plenty that I can still say about Whitley. For the sake of brevity, I will refrain from an exhaustive list and just focus on those things that have been truly relevant to both me and (possibly) her. Andrea has also helped out in these moments, but I am the author here so they revolve primarily around me.

Watching from the Chair

Whitley has, from the very beginning, wanted to be involved in just about everything that was going on. Of course, for the first month of her life nothing really happened but watching her be adorable as ever. But as we moved along we were able to start venturing out more and enjoy doing things with her watching. For the most part though, we watched her watch us from a sitting position.

Looking lively.
Every morning when Andrea and I would eat breakfast we would set her in this position to watch as we ate. She didn't mind really, she just liked to be included. In fact, she preferred that to the constant movement involved with holding her and eating at the same time. What this act really reflected though is that she really just wants to be involved in almost everything that is going on, and she wants to see if she isn't able to do it.

A trait that we have loved about Whit is just how much she wants to be around us. I am not really sure what other babies are like (at least not yet), but our little girl would slow crawl and cry after us whenever we would leave a room, even if it was just to go get a kleenex. She has always been attached at the hip, and we love it. One downside to this though is that she really doesn't like other people all that much. Well, actually, she does like other people, but from a distance from the safety of mom or dad's arms. Rarely does she go willingly to someone, even if she knows them, and especially not to someone she doesn't know. However, she will spend an entire church meeting staring at someone, waiting for them to notice her so she can give them a beautiful, cheerful smile.

The Unflappable Whitley

Among the many admirable traits of our dear girl is the irrepressible good nature she exudes at nearly all times. You could smash a cake in her face and she will still be happy. Every doctor appointment's hardest trial is the time spent with the doctor examining her, with the shots being a less traumatic ordeal (only sort of. Dad cried quite a bit the first couple of shots and so did Whitley. But now it is far worse when the doctor is doing stuff). But despite those moments where she is confronted with people who aren't mom and dad, she almost never screams or cries. There have been times when she has diaper sores so bad that she has open sores, yet she only cries when we change the diaper. She is a true trooper.

She is super tough.
One of the strong points of Whitley's personality that has been repeatedly commented on is just how even-keeled and good natured she is. Without fail people will forget that a baby is in the room because she had been sitting quietly and enjoying the crowd for hours without so much as a yell or cry for attention. She loves being with people and enjoys watching them, and most importantly she does so without having to make accommodation for her. Whereas I have seen several people with kids need to constantly monitor and control their little one year old, Whitley just likes to play calmly with whoever is near. She will need that good nature when her future siblings join us.

The Adorable Whitley

Finally I just want to finish this rather short post by saying that there has never been a sweeter, more adorable, and loving little person in our life. Every day we are blessed to wake up to this:


Actually, that is only when she is trying to be creepy. It looks a lot more like this:


Always smiling, ever loving, and constantly gentle. Some of the more adorable traits that you only get to see when you are her parents are the following:
  • The cute way in which she opens up the curtains when she wakes up in the morning to stare out at the sun.
  • When she comes at your face with an open mouth and gums (now bites) your nose. We really can't figure out where this one came from, but it really is the cutest thing ever.
  • I cannot understate just how adorable the slow-crawl-cry is when she is trying to come after you when you leave a room. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I know we aren't supposed to be helicopter parents, but it is hard when she wants you to be and she is so dang cute.
  • Her dancing to music from any source. Right now she can really only wave her arms and bounce up and down, but I can see more advanced moves coming in her future.
  • The way her eyes light up when daddy comes home. She smiles, screams with joy, and then fast crawls to within five feet of me, upon which time she then starts to crawl away in a different direction because she wants me to chase her. Again, not sure where she learned this, but it is so dang cute.
  • Her utter fear at being tossed in the air. She clenches her body like she is passing some major poopies when she is thrown any more than inch above your hands and has this crazed look in her eyes.
  • When she is nursing and gets distracted by the ceiling fan and refuses to focus.
  • Her obsession with holding things in her hands and pushing them along the floor as she crawls. It is so funny watching her hold on to the same chapstick tube for a few hours, and then later realize she had brought it into her crib with her.
  • The little blub-blub-blub she makes when she isn't happy at something.
  • Her laugh brightens even the darkest room, and it sounds indescribably beautiful (best description I could think of).
  • Watching her play with other children. We can't wait to see how she does with her siblings.
  • When she hugs you and puts her head on your shoulder.
  • When she falls asleep mid play because she just didn't want to sleep earlier for the fun she was having.
  • The fact that she preferred standing over sitting since she was one month old.
  • Her bald little head.
  • Her funny little walk.
  • Her climbing onto everything.
  • Her taking things out of the cabinet drawers.
  • Her dislike of getting changed into any clothes (she doesn't mind clothes, she just hates being laid down or forced to hold still long enough to put them on or take them off).
And many, many other cute little things.

For real, I am adorable.

No, for real, I am adorable.
For real, I am really really cute.
Dude, how cute am I?
Ok, last one, I promise.
Did you really think it was the last one?
And I leave you with this.

Conclusion

We really don't know what we used to do for fun before Whitley (actually, we know very well what we did, but she is a great replacement). With our next child we are going to have to plan on how we will balance our time between the two. It has been a great fear of mine (and a little of Andrea's) that when her sibling comes we will not know how to split our love. How can you love someone as much as we love Whitley? I guess we will find out soon. In the meantime, we really just can't get enough of her. We count our several blessings each and every day. It may cause us great pains when we try and leave her in her crib to cry because she has refused to go to bed for over an hour, and it may be that we are always struggling to not feel anger when she doesn't want to sleep at 3 in the morning, or that she decides she really just wants to sleep in our bed and take up all of our space; in the end it is all more than worth it. 

We welcome the next one with all the challenges because we know, thanks to Whitley, that the joy far exceeds the pains and sacrifices. I hope Whitley is a fantastic big sister, and I really don't have to hope that much because I am confident that she will be. Either way, we will find out soon, and Whitley will shine as she always has.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Whitley turns 6 Months

It has been awhile since I have been on here to write about Whitley (or anything for that matter), and it saddens me that I have not been more diligent in keeping up with my experiences with her. Thankfully, much of the reason I have not been able to write is because I was spending my time with Whit, so I guess it is a good trade off. So many things have occurred these last few months that I can't even begin to start detailing all that has happened. That being said, I want to share a few special moments we have shared as daddy-daughter and as a family with Andrea, as well as a few thoughts about parenting so far.

Just look at that cute little thing.
Just a warning right now that this is the record of how I have viewed my time with Whitley, and so it is highly sappy and extremely gushy. To say that I love Whitley falls short of the incredible feelings inside of me. To say that I have never loved anything in all my life more than this little girl is a much more accurate portrayal, and so just stop now if that last phrase was too much for you.

Baby Immunizations

Many people have told me that you don't know pain until you have seen your child suffer. While I always knew that this was true in some sense, I figured it was some rhetoric parents told children to get them to stop whining so much about their pain. For years parents would tell me this, and I guess I just sort of brushed it off as being a bunch of hoopla. Surely a broken ankle was true pain, something that I intimately knew for several weeks some years ago.

Really dad? You know those shots were way worse.

I'm glad she likes to sleep on me.
It can be said that I often don't listen to what people tell me, and this was one time where I didn't expect all the many words to actually be true. But sure enough, I had not known pain like I did the day that I saw Whitley receive her first shots. Naturally I was being way more dramatic about it than I should have been, but I was not ready for the depth of agony I felt when the first wails of pain came out of her. It was a cry that neither Andrea nor I had heard from her before and it completely took me off guard.

Now I am not saying that routine immunizations are a harrowing experience, and I know that there is yet more pain and suffering to come towards Whitley that will be far worse than those first few shots. Nevertheless, the most poignant feelings occur when it is a new sensation, something that you have never seen or heard before.


She conks out pretty hard the days she gets shots.


I still remember how when she was stuck with that needle her mouth made the most terribly sad sound I have ever had the misfortune of hearing. Four months later and it still brings tears to my eyes (and she has had several shots since, with the six month's shots being a milestone where I didn't even shed one tear). That first memory of her pain has stuck with me, and ever since I have tried in every particularl to keep her from severe pain (not all paint is bad). I don't want to see the frowny-face, nor see her eyelashes bead with tears. I don't even remember what the shots were for, or how many they were, all I know is that after she got the shots I picked Whitley up and turned to face the wall so that the nurse couldn't see my soggy eyes. Andrea and I cried a good two or three minutes after that, every tear proof that this first time daddy is more sensitive to his baby's shots than she was (she stopped crying after about thirty seconds - I took it WAY harder than she did). Makes me wonder sometimes who the real baby is.

Frustration at Feeding Her Cold Milk

Her face would look like this with the cold milk.
The last time I wrote I talked about how easy it was being a parent. I have since come to realize that it is easy for us only because Whitley is the sweetest little dumpling to ever fall into the soup of life. Seriously, anyone who has spent even a fraction of time with her knows how very even-keeled she is, and how her precious little smiles can illuminate even the darkest and dankest corners of any curmudgeon's soul. We have been truly blessed to have one of God's choice spirits in our home, and she has made being a parent not only fun and delightful, but really quite easy.

Now that I have declared how incredibly wonderful our little Whitley is, I want to share probably my biggest frustration at her, which frustration made me break down in tears. Yes, Whitley has broken me down a few times, but I have since learned that she cries only when a need of hers is not met. Some babies cry because they are upset and don't know why, or they have colic, or any number of reasons; but Whitley cries only when she needs something (usually a pacifier, milk, or a nap).

My frustrating experiences with Whitley thankfully have only happened twice, and they coincided with the first two times I was left alone with her for more than an hour (Andrea would go to a night shift for nursing). My newbness at being a father really shined through on these occasions and left me wishing that I had spent more time paying attention to how to feed babies.

This is what we usually want to see.
Before Andrea went to work, she would leave some of her milk in the refrigerator with the instructions that I was to warm it up. To me warm milk is just not-cold milk, and so I assumed that it would work well with Whitley. This assumption was, naturally, very wrong. I would spend the better part of an hour trying to get her to get anything down, and she would spit it up and start wailing. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why she was having such a hard time. I had fed her milk before (which Andrea had prepared for me) and so I knew she didn't mind eating from a bottle. But no matter what I did, she wouldn't take it, deciding instead to make gagging sounds and sputter the milk out in her attempt to cry.
I usually wanted to just wrap in her a swaddler and be done.

Frustration would build over the course of an hour until Whitley finally decided to eat. This happened both times, and it wasn't until I told this experience to my mother-in-law did it dawn on me that she probably finally accepted the milk because it had warmed up enough over the course of an hour of me holding the bottle. The next time I went to feed Whitley I warmed it up quite a bit more and she ate it just fine. I haven't had a problem feeding her since.

The frustration I felt would often times leave me in tears because I felt like a failure, unable to even feed my daughter a simple bottle of milk. Anger at Whitley was really just anger at my own incompetence as a parent. My frustration would lead to shame as I realized that I was getting mad at a 3 month old, and she was only mad because she was being fed cold food. If it were me in her situation, I would have slapped me if I could.

First Bath

Babies, contrary to my initial impression, do get quite dirty over time. When I first held Whitley I couldn't see a reason why we would really need to bathe her that often; so we waited a few weeks before we gave her a bath. She has had many baths since and is quite the hydrophile and splashing
machine. Bath times are never very long, but they are a lot of fun.

I don't have any bath pictures, but she is cute here.
Whitley hardly ever had the chance to be cold. 
Her first bath was not so fun. Due to the fact that I prefer much colder temperatures than most (ask my wife, she is not a fan), Andrea and I have struck a compromise that we would keep the house around 60 degrees in the winter. When Whitley came that moved up to 65 to ensure that she would stay warm. She never showed any signs of being cold, so we thought that a slight temperature rise
would be sufficient when it came time to give her a bath. The water would be warm enough to keep her happy even if the surrounding air wasn't that warm; or so we thought.

We almost always had her in many blankets and at least one hat (due to her lack of hair).

Turns out that babies need a lot more warmth than adults. Whitley was very unhappy to be put in the luke-warm water we provided her. Out of fear of making it too hot, we inadvertently made it too cold. The bath lasted maybe a minute as we rushed to get all of the necessary cleansing done. The experience was so traumatic that we didn't bathe her again for over two weeks.

First Day in a Pool

The first few stories I have shared have been about some negative aspects of my time with Whitley, but have nevertheless been core experiences that have helped shape our time together. These next few experiences have been some of the happiest times I can remember with my dear little Whitley.
We're so ready to go to the pool!
So excited.
It is interesting to me that I would have loved my time with Whitley at the pool so much because I myself am not a big swimmer or fan of being wet. In fact, when Andrea suggested that we go to the pool as part of the free time for Steel Days in American Fork, I was sort of hesitant. I am very happy that we went because the experience was just so sweet and fun that, if I were a woman, my ovaries would have exploded from the cuteness.
Now she is bored and wants my phone.

Whitley was very hesitant at first of going in to the water, and her hesitation didn't subside for the majority of the time we were in the pool. At one point, as I walked with her through the water to get to a private corner of the pool, she started crying and frowning her fear at the new sensation she was feeling. After a bit she stopped crying, but she didn't really smile either in her normal cheery way like she normally does when she sees something new. Instead, she gave out a constant, lower-lipped-sucked-in hum for the rest of the time in the deep-end (the 3 foot end). We would push her through the water, and she would open her mouth at times to try and catch some of the wake, but she didn't really seem to take to it much.

With daddy in the pool.
She wasn't too happy to be there, or about the finger.
Walking with momma.
When we finally moved to more shallow water where she could sit up and splash a bit is when we started to see more joy over being in the water. Andrea would pick her up by her arms and walk with her in the shallow and, and this made her quite happy. Finally we picked her up and put her feet over a spout, something that elicited quite a few giggles.
She is such a good walker.
An example of her love of the spout.
There is just something so wonderful about seeing your little child experiencing things for the first time. Our trip to the pool was special to me because I got to witness her first time. Thankfully I have a great job that allows me to see some of these moments, and it makes me proud to see Whitley easing her way into things even when she is not comfortable doing them. I couldn't help but imagine watching her learn to swim and seeing her overcome more of her fears in the future.
This little Jedi is ready to go home.

First Solid Foods

She really wishes that this was food.
At six months we decided to start getting her used to solid foods, with her first meal consisting of rice cereal and milk. It was adorable to watch Whitley gum the little spoon we were feeding her with, unsure of what it was exactly we were putting in her mouth. Her first spoonful almost didn't even make it past the tip of her tongue as she was hurriedly attempting to explore the strange new substance with her lips. Most of the cereal ended up down her face and on her shirt.

Our next few spoonfuls were a little better, and the quizzical look on her face made us laugh. It wasn't like she wasn't liking the food we were giving her, but it was more of a fascination that she had this substance in her mouth and she knew how to swallow it. I am not sure what was more amazing to her - the spoon or the strange motion of her mouth and throat. Though the cereal was basically little more than liquid, you could see in her expression that she was quite curious about what it was she was doing. Watching her try to gnaw on the cereal with her little mouth was simply delightful.

First Time She Laughed

She really likes this toy and sort of laughs at it.
Several of these experiences have caused me to cry, and it is interesting to say that this was one of them. Perhaps it was because it was a little late in the coming, or perhaps it is simply because I am overly infatuated with her, but when I first heard Whitley laugh it gave me the happy shivers like
nothing else. Her laugh is a shy little creature, but when it comes out makes your heart melt. Her first laugh was no exception. What it was that made her laugh I can't even remember, but I do remember that I tried several things afterwards to keep her laughing.

That laugh only lasted about five seconds, and she stopped laughing for a good week or so after. I would try to make her laugh, but to no success. She is at a point now, 6 months out, where we can make her laugh (when she isn't tired) by either blowing raspberries on her stomach or neck, or running a wipe down her chest when changing her. Each time she goes into a fit of giggles and we keep doing it until she gets bored of what we are doing. I love the fact that she laughs when she wants to, kind of like telling us that she
A video with her and her cousin. She may have laughed, I can't remember.
isn't our play thing and that we are there to entertain her. She definitely has a sassy personality like that, and I love it.
The only video we have of her laughing. This is the technique I use to get those precious giggles out.

A Few Thoughts

Who doesn't love that smile?
I could go on and on and on about the things our sweet Whitley does that brings such mirth into our lives, but I feel like the experiences I have shared are sufficient. Several of her mannerisms are what make her such a joy, particularly the way she will, without fail, stare at me and wait for me to look at her so she can give me the biggest open-mouthed smile whenever we are eating meals. Her infectious joviality is felt by anyone who gets to catch her eye. Today we went to IHOP and the lady at the next table, who has a small baby of her own, couldn't help but notice Whitley - and she wasn't even seated facing in Whit's direction. Everywhere we go we meet people who tell us of how happy and cute she is (and one person telling me how puny she is, which was funny), and I couldn't agree more.

She wouldn't even let go.
Like her daddy (and a lot like her mommy, though not as outwardly obvious), Whitley is quite an opinionated little girl, and she isn't afraid to let you know it. She refuses to be laid down in such a way where she can't see what is going on. If there are people around she will not nod off and go to sleep like some babies (unless it is church, where even the best of us fall asleep). If she is hungry, she is hungry now and she had better get her food; there is never a build up to the fact. Sleep is a nuisance to her and she doesn't like to give in. She will arch her back when we try to rock her to sleep, and often will spread her arms and slap our faces before she succumbs to the tired. Tummy time is not fun time and she refuses to sit there long enough to roll over. If she doesn't like the way you looked when she first met you, she will have a problem with you forever (my poor dad has never been able to hold her without her crying).

Snuggling with Grandma Phillips.
With all her attitude, she is still the most loving little girl I have ever met. When she is scared she wants to be held, and in holding her she will bury her head in your arm pit and only see what is happening by moving her eyes. When she decides she wants to be tired she will hold on to your shirt and lets you know she counts on you to watch her when she sleeps. When we need to work she will sit and watch us with rapt fascination, going for hours before she finally needs our attention. When you need a smile she will give it to you in spades.
We had to clean paintbrushes, so she was ok hanging out on the counter.
She is super excited to help us paint!
She is possibly the cutest sleeper ever.
I love that I can sing my little girl to sleep at night, and that she will stop crying whenever we sing. It is also a funny little note that I can get her to stop crying most of the time or  stop her doing most anything simply by whistle-humming at her (when I whistle and hum at the same time). I am not sure if it is because she is fascinated by the sound, or it genuinely calms her because I have been doing it to her as a soothing technique since the day she left the womb. Although I feel bad that she won't be comforted by some people, I entirely love the fact that she can always be soothed by me or Andrea. I love, love, love the fact that she seems to love her parents so much - it makes it a lot easier to love her so much back.

So much of being a parent these days seems to be wrapped up in an expectation that it is somehow unpleasant and not worth the time. Although I have such an easy baby, I don't think that it makes my opinion any less valid when I say that parenthood, and specifically fatherhood for me, is incredible and a journey of greater worth than any other thing that I can possibly think of or do.

Whitley is already training hard for more adventures ahead with push-ups.
Doing her sit ups.
My biggest fear now is what it will be like when we have another child. How can I possibly love another child as much as I do Whitley? Will I be able to show the same amount of love for them as I do for her? It is a serious fear of mine, but it is the best fear I can possibly think of having.

I have well over 100 pictures of Whitley already, but for some reason this ranks among the top. I thought I would share it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Whitley - Month One

My Daughter Whitley is simply adorable:

Heading out to dinner to see uncles, aunts, and grandparents.
How much I love this little girl cannot really, truly be expressed; and as I do not wanted to sound overly sentimental or ridiculous, I will refrain from a long, sappy exposition about how the heart is unable to express to the mind what it feels. The poets have made many a comment on this topic, and I don't read enough poetry to really do it justice. I just want it to be clear that I really, really love her and hope that she knows it.

Now to the good stuff. What has happened in the first month since Whitley has arrived home? I really wish I had been more diligent in keeping some sort of record because it seems like this little vessel of joy just grows too fast! Within the first two weeks she had gained a pound! That is almost 15% growth! It is even more amazing when I consider just how much smaller she was when she first entered our lives. If I thought that time went by fast before, it is simply warp speed now.

Whitley has learned this last month to do a variety of things I didn't know babies her age could do (which isn't really saying much because I am totally ignorant to such things anyways). At around week four she had started to lift her head up on her own, and I am not sure that there was really ever much time that she didn't seem to have an unusually strong neck. Normally it feels like newborns are wobbly little flesh dolls that are about to fall apart at the seems; but Whit has constantly astounded me with how much she moves her head.

Since birth one of her favorite tricks is to try and flop to one side without you noticing in an attempt to fall out of your arms (or off your chest if she is laying on you). It always amuses me and Andrea when, while holding her, she leans to one side or the other so far that she is basically a v bent at the hip. She doesn't seem to like being straight very often. The most amazing part of this is that she does it most actively when she is asleep, so it is like she is having some sort of flashback to the womb when she was always bent in some way, except now she is bending in the wrong direction.

When Whitley isn't trying to back-flop off your grip, she will constantly be looking around at all sorts of things, anything that is high contrast and interesting. She doesn't often look at humans, but when she does she has the most funny little expression of confusion on her face, as though she is seriously wondering where we came from.
What are you doing and why are you holding me?
Sleepy time for Whitley truly is the cutest thing I have ever seen. The little sounds she makes melts my heart every time, and when she does her little whimper and starts to frown I can't help but laugh. She had some rough nights at first, but lately she has been sleeping five to six hours, and we hope that she will start to increase her time soon. Andrea is really the only one who suffers when she doesn't sleep though, because I apparently sleep like the dead. Occasionally I wake up when Andrea is getting back in to bed and ask her if she needs to feed Whitley. Thankfully Andrea is a very loving and supportive wife, so she lets me keep sleeping and thinking that Whitley does the same.

Family and friends can't seem to get enough of Whit. Andrea's parents make it a point to come and see her (and they also split their time with Whitley's cousin Juliette in Logan) and they just adore her. Aunt Loralie has taken probably close to a couple thousand photos of Whitley, so there will be no shortage of documentation that Whitley was once a baby. My parent's are often overjoyed to see Whitley, and my Dad was able to come down from his work in Washington to visit and meet Whitley for the first time this last Friday. It makes me strangely happy to see people holding her and calling her cute; it is as though I can't think of a higher compliment to me than to have them say good things about my Whitley. In fact, we were at a convention this past week called RootsTech, and several people would congratulate us on the good job we did with Whitley. Although the comment makes no sense (like Andrea and I had anything to do with how she looks), it makes me very happy all the same.

Pacifier use with Whitley has been something of an ongoing philosophical battle within ourselves. On one hand we want Whitley to have the comfort that she needs and we don't want to deprive her of a pacifier just because we don't want her to have one. But on the other hand there are several studies that indicate pacifier use in early newborn stages cause some issues in vital aspects of baby rearing, such as nipple confusion, early weaning, and reduced ability to self-soothe. Also, it is nice to know that I don't have to rely on a pacifier to calm her down, that through training she will fall asleep when comforted naturally. This last point has been taught her rather successfully, and Whitley falls into a deep sleep whenever I hold her and sing her to sleep, no matter how fussy she had been. I get great satisfaction out of comforting my child, and I hope she prefers this method as well.

Most of her days are spent with Andrea, and as such Whitley is left with a most pleasant atmosphere. I love coming home to these two wonderful ladies and get nothing but a heaping load of love from them both. Whitley is being raised by the best mother I know, and I am sure that she will pick up many great things from her. I am so impressed with how well Andrea has taken on the role of mother, seeming to thrive in this environment as though she never didn't have a child. Often I hear horror stories of women who have children and almost seem to have break downs a few weeks in. Andrea could be a motivational speaker to these women, for I don't see her showing any signs of wear over Whitley.

Even though she is a tough woman, Andrea still conks out after a long day of looking after Whit.
My relationship with Whitley seems to have started off very well.
Whitley after her first bath. That bow is hideous and I vow to never make her wear one like that again.
As you may know, I was there for her when she was first born, and I gave her the first bath she ever had. Since then I have been at all her baths but one (which, sadly, we have done less than once a week). As soon as I get home each night Andrea gives Whitley to me and I basically hold her until we get ready for bed. In the morning I often get to hold her and let her sleep on my chest before I get up to go to work. Several times we have taken naps with her on my chest while we sleep on the couch, and I look forward to these times so much (I didn't get to do it today because I wanted my dad to hold her as much as he could).

Perhaps the sweetest thing about Whitley is just how much she stays calm around me. It is probably just a fact that she is a calm baby, but I like to think that there is something more to it than that. Whitley, for whatever reason, does not like to be laid horizontal unless being fed, she just doesn't. Sometimes you can cradle her and rock her, but you will get much more traction if you hold her up right and do so. But Whitley will almost always fall asleep when I place her horizontal on my lap as I work at my desk. She will rest with her head on a boppy and the rest of her body secured against mine and the edge of the desk with the rest of the boppy as support. She has been known to sleep very deeply in this position for hours, and I simply love it. 

There is no end to the measure of satisfaction I get when I can pick Whitley up and put her at ease within a minute or two. I really love this girl and I am trying to learn all the tricks and secrets I can to personalize my love for her. She loves hearing singing (especially songs like Music of the Night and Hallelujah), and I often employ this technique to cease her squawking post haste.

And finally, I just want to end with a few more little things that I love about Whitley:

I love when she yawns and she throws her head way back to the point that you can see her body form the shape of an r. I love when she gets a little spooked or needs to stretch that she raises her hands over her head, and it is made even more adorable because her hands barely reach past the top of her head. I love that, when she cries, I can cry back at her and she will stop and look quizzically at me. I love the little lower lip quiver she makes for seemingly no reason (it looks like she is cold, but she will do it no matter how warm it is). 

I love when she is searching frantically for something to suck on, like a hound looking for a scent, and when she finds it she attacks it like a piece of meat. I love when she is crying because she is hungry and I put my nose in her mouth and she will suck on it for a bit and then pull out and look totally confused and cry even harder. I love how she grabs my shirt with her little hand when she is asleep, making it hard to put her down without waking her.

I love that she enjoys car rides and being swung around in her car seat, and I love that she likes being in her little baby swing. I love the fact that she hated baths so much at first that we didn't bathe her for almost two weeks after that (she now loves baths, probably because we learned to make the water much warmer than the recommendation). I love that she enjoys being held up by her armpits and be dangled (her faces are priceless and I really need to capture one sometime). I love that she loves to be danced with, and bouncing her up and down is a joy to her.

I love her little attempts at smiling, with her gummy half grin and oft-times milk-drunk half awareness. I love that she seems to love mommy so much, and that she can be soothed by her mom so well. I love watching Andrea hold Whitley and have Whitley look so at peace. I love seeing Andrea change Whitley, to bathe her, and to dress her. I love watching Andrea be a mother.

Basically, I love being a father. I hope that I stop sucking at writing these things down. Whitley just grows so fast, and I want to be able to record more of it. My next post will be much shorter, and it will probably cover a lot more of me (because I know that some context about what else is going on in the lives of her parents will also be of interest to her). But this first month has just been so incredible that I really wish I had written more often. I love my little family, and being a dad has been the best thing in the world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

An Obvious Reason

This is in response to the following blogpost by my friend:

http://jacoballred.blogspot.com/2015/01/lead-thou-me-on.html

Since I am probably one of only a few who read his blog, I don't feel like it is a bad thing for me to respond to his post, nor do I worry that it will cause an internet storm because, chances are, he is the only one who is reading this post. Initially I wasn't going to respond to it, I was just going to allow it to pass under my radar; but I can't sit by idly and watch my friend reason his way out of faith, all the while acknowledging that it may be inevitable (which I have come to peace with).

The main point of this post is this: why do I need Jesus Christ? For that matter, why do I need God? Without sounding too preachy, I want to just say that this question is the fundamental question of Christianity, and I think that the answer has been severely overlooked. So, in my attempt to explain why succinctly, I hope that I do not come off as being self-righteous or boastful.

What He Has Already Done

As I read your post, it struck me that no acknowledgement was made for what Christ had already done for you. Admittedly the statement that you have never really "felt" the atonement in your life was given, but that doesn't mean you can't at least look at what His church has done for you. In a very real sense, the church has provided you with a great deal of training in several areas that are helping you in your success and independence you are now experiencing. Don't believe so? How about an article from the Harvard Business Review detailing how Mormon's have shaped management today, due in large part from their religious training (https://hbr.org/2012/10/how-mormons-have-shaped-modern).

But apart from the success and independent thought (yes, the church taught you that too, and there are a myriad of studies that show religion helps improve critical thinking), the Church has given you a support system throughout your life that has ensured your well-being and safety. You may not have even realized it, but there has always been someone, somewhere, who has cared about your well-being, and it is largely due to the church.

Now you may say that the church is not Christ, but that would be fallacious. He established the church as a means to edify and build up his people. Perhaps a common missionary scripture to illustrate:

19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Ephesians 2: 19-22
Clearly the church was put together by Christ for His people. This is really a very concrete example of what Christ has already done.
But what about the intangible things? or in other words those things you are baffled by? In other words, how has the atonement been used in your life already to lift you up? That is very much a personal and deep experience that only you can answer (and apparently you would say that He hasn't done much if anything at all).
Allow me to offer somethings that you may not have considered. The atonement has been very active in your life, and in very profound and subtle ways. Perhaps the most meaningful for you has been your own feelings of doubt and confusion over the matter of God. Your heart wants you to believe, but your mind will not allow it. Such a division comes because of the love the Savior has for you. 
I honestly don't  believe anyone has so much struggle giving up their religion as those within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I say that without meaning to discount the honest trials others have faced when leaving a cherished family faith. But I know that I have never met any religious people whose dissenters are so vehemently torn apart by the parting of their faith than LDS people. Perhaps my evidence is more anecdotal, because I do base it upon my own personal experience; but I would love to see how many ex-Cardinals for Jesus websites are out there.

What He Will Do

Now lets move on to what He will do, and this sort of ties in to the next section. Jesus Christ cannot and will not make you love Him, believe in Him, or even acknowledge what He has done for you (at least not in this life). So what He will do for you is let you continue to live your life in whatsoever way you choose. That may not sound like anything, especially if you don't believe in Him, but it is huge. After all He has done, the constant struggle of ensuring your well-being in the Gospel, whether acknowledged or not, is thrown aside and He allows it.

But on top of that, He will do so much more. If, when you die, you come to the throne of God and ask Him to let you in, He will ask if you are clean. You will say no, I am a filthy rag and unworthy to be even close to your aura, and you will struggle to see how you could ever get yourself clean. You will fain wish the mountains to fall upon you and crush you from existence, because you will realize then that your personal soap is not strong enough, that the power you were taught you had is not enough. 

Then a most wonderful thing will happen: Christ will cleanse you with His powerful soap, and you will be clean. So clean, in fact, that you will be able to stand the presence of God. He will do this without anything in return, without any expectation on His part. And at that point, if you have not repented and come unto Christ, you will be too ashamed to be with him. You will be clean, but you will not want to be.

Does that sound like a wonderful gift? I am not sure, it sounds like a special kind of Hell to me. I cannot fathom wanting to be clean only to turn in shame at what I have done. Hell, for me, is realizing that no matter what, I can't escape this scenario if I don't repent.

Why it Can Only Be Jesus Christ

So why is it that your soap is not enough? I could go on for pages and pages about the cleansing power of Christ and why it had to be him, but I will refrain and instead point you to the Topical Guide of the Scriptures. In place of a lengthy doctrinal discussion, I want to just say a few things about why it had to be Christ and not you nor me who will be cleansing ourselves in Heaven.

Only He knows the Way

First, and unfortunately foremost, I don't have any freaking clue what I need to do to be better, and neither do you, and neither does any other human being on this whole planet. Not really anyways. From a purely agnostic point of view, or even atheist point of view, you can clearly see that man has struggled to define the "right way" or, at least the "not-wrong way". Some even argue that God cannot exist because there is no such thing as evil. But really, can you say that evil does not exist? Can it not be axiomatic in itself? Try telling me that the wrongs man has committed against man can somehow reasonably be construed as acceptable? The tortures, rapes, and murders that have been done, how can these not be evil? Clearly there is something going on about what is good and what is bad, and no man knows what it is. Religions are set up to help define them, but that isn't acceptable.

This is where Christ comes in. He does know what is right and what is wrong. He does know the evil from the bad. Not only does He know these things, He has also experienced all of them through the atonement. Better still, He knows how to overcome all these evils because He has already done so. In sum, Christ knows the good from the evil perfectly because He has experienced all of it perfectly, exquisitely, and in such detail that He bled from every pore because of it. Why can't you or me understand good and evil perfectly? Simply put, you and I aren't strong enough. Period. And I know both of us, and I know we can't handle it (and I don't know anyone who can).

Christ was Given the Authority to Do So


Secondly, Christ was given power from God to do it. No matter how awesome we may be, God has assigned only one person to be the keeper of the Keys of Heaven, and that is Christ. The reasons are tantamount I am sure, such as there needing to be no confusion about who is and isn't right. There is so much more order to the atonement, so much more to do than simply praying to Christ and asking for help, and any missionary knows that. What is the third lesson missionaries give all about? It is about the Gospel of Christ, literally the Good News of Jesus. What is that news? That He has set up a way to return to the Father according to the Father's plan, and every man must follow the ordinances and guidelines established therein.

It is simply untrue that the atonement is a set of fuzzy feelings and simple empowering thoughts that are given to man when they are most down. Indeed, it most likely that those who have entered the strait (and note the word strait, not straight) are going to experience more difficulty than those who don't. No, the atonement is the structure and framework that God has set up to get His children back to Him, not a morphine drip for the soul. Interestingly enough, a major part of this framework is the Church itself, something that has been discussed previously.

Only Christ Wanted to Be the Savior


Finally, it can Only be Christ because only Christ wanted to be it. Marc Phillips didn't step up to the plate, nor did you, nor did anyone else. And what did He sign up for that we all unanimously turned down? Was it suffering? Was it death? Hardly; it was so much more than that. Christ signed up to be the beacon of hope that people can use in their life to make themselves better.

Sure, people change all the time without Christ. People quite smoking, quit watching porn, quit abusing their wives, kids, brothers, sisters, parents, etc. People have the power to change themselves. But honestly, ask yourself, why bother? Don't you see how much changing doesn't make things better? Is the world any better off today than it was yesterday because a 400 pound binge eater lost 250 pounds and now is an inspiration to other to lose weight? Not really, but he does provide hope for others who look at him as a beacon of hope that they too can lose weight.

And that is the crux of why it has to be Jesus Christ, because only Christ can inspire enough hope in the hearts of men to enact sufficient change in the world. The world will not be saved by people taking a directed approach to stop their hollow habits, their empty ways. People will not rally behind a charismatic leader who promises them wealth and riches through hard work and determination (the only true way to change the world). But who will people rally behind? The Savior, He who was so selfless that He suffered and died for us that we might live. 

Christ Gives Hope


Christ's atonement gives Hope, which is what all the other people in the world who enact change in their lives also use. Only Christ, though, gives sufficient hope to make a lasting and meaningful change in our life. What happened after you ran the marathon? Did you keep running them? Did you prove to yourself that you can be a marathon runner and still have time to pursue all your other interests? Of course not, and that is not a worthwhile goal. But Christ gives people hope that they can change, and change for Good.

And my last comment on why His hope is better than any other comes from the spiritual aspect of things. Even though the atonement is more than warm fuzzies, it is not devoid of them either. Coming unto Christ is a profoundly spiritual experience that, yes, gives the warm fuzzies and can bring willpower to do things. The Spirit even has the power to change behaviors. I know this personally as I have seen the power of the Spirit take away my anger. This is a true power, and it is so much more than the trite examples you listed.

Finally... Humility is a Small Portion of Coming to Christ

I want to point out that humility is a small portion of coming to Christ. Ether 12:27 states that He will do miracles in lives of men who are humble, and that is about all it says. God does not require coming unto Christ because it will make you humble, He requires it because it is the only way it makes you clean. Humility is in reality only a necessity to the act, not the outcome itself. Do not believe for a second that you, me, or anyone else you know is sufficiently humble enough to come unto Christ. However, do believe that Humility will come as you learn how to do so.

So, in conclusion, the atonement of Christ is the most powerful force for good in this world of ours, and it is the only way people can return to live with God. It saddens me to see you fall prey to such a duplicitous form of self-assurance. It is so devious to believe that one does not need God after all He has done for you because, let's face it, life is pretty good after you have already reached the first summit. But if you give up now and decide that you never need God in your life, then you will never make the final summit, the one that makes all the rest look like wimpy hills. And that is the real power of man - to summit all obstacles, even if it means getting help. Man is strongest when He stands united, not when he conquers alone.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Categorical Imperative

Recently I have been dejunking my life, and that includes sifting through years worth of school papers. The process of dejunking can be quite cathartic, and on one such occasion, enlightening. I stumbled across a paper written in my Ethics class my Senior year of my Bachelors program on the Categorical Imperitave, written by Immanuel Kant. The assignment was to write a five page paper that outlined what you learned from the book academically, and what you took away from the book personally.

Reading this essay reminded me of some ideas I had on why I believe in God. It also reminded me that I have not been keeping up with my goals of treating others with kindness and respect like I ought. My essay lays out reasons for these things according to the ethics developed by Kant.

Below is the complete unaltered text of that essay. Not to toot my own horn, but my professor stated that it was one of the best treatments of the categorical imperative he had ever read in his class, which shows that I at least got the subject matter down correctly. He asked for a copy to use as an example in future classes. (/bragging).

The Essay

Immanuel Kant categorically defines the existence of the need for reason and the subsequent use of that reason when coming to understand virtue. In his book “Metaphysical Principles of Virtue,” Kant clearly lays out the need for true ethics to be a priori in order for them to be beyond simple juridical morality. In other words, Kant claims that in order for virtue to exist the intent or conscious action of a man must be in accordance with a principle for the sake of being right, not by coercion or obligation. This reading covers the primary tenets of what this moral philosophy thus entails, and provides further logical proofs to attest to the validity of the statements produced in the introduction. I read the entire book, including the 75 page essay summarizing Kant’s ethics.

To say that Kant is a difficult read is an understatement. His words are so laden with meaning that simple understanding could not be reached except by multiple readings of the same paragraph, or even at times the same sentence. Once the style of writing became common to my mind, I then was able to understand a bit better what Kant was attempting to describe. However, if not for the essay leading into the main text by a Professor Warner Wick of the University of Chicago, it is unlikely that I would have understood at all what Kant was saying.

The essay written by Professor Wick was most useful in helping frame the philosophy Kant examines into a clear tapestry of duties and actions. It is because we as humans are social beings that the need for ethics arises in the first place. Law and juridical obligation oppose upon man the need to be right. Much of Kant’s writing, both in this book and in previous books, attempts to put reason behind why man must act in one way or another, and acting in the right way is a book all to itself called “The Science of Right.” Because of this separate book, at times his reasoning didn’t seem as clear to me as it almost presupposed that I knew the rationale behind the need to be right.

However, this gap in understanding was minor at best and I was still able to understand his reasoning behind correct actions: it is requisite that we act in such a way as not to impose upon another man’s liberty. This logic is simple enough and would in and of itself be a great lesson for a great many in the world to live by. But notwithstanding this obligation to not overstep our natural bounds in social interaction, Kant argues that there is yet more we must do to live moral lives.

Unless a man is to live in total isolation, existing without influence upon any other soul, that man cannot expect to have all the tools he needs for proper social interaction with just an understanding of the science of right. Indeed, the act of doing right by another only is a guide insofar as limiting us in what we ought to do. But what should happen if we are met in some situation where our actions will inevitably impact the existence of another? These actions need not only influence humans, but it could impact animals, plants, or any form of creation (and Kant deals with such existence accordingly in his book).

In this question lies the crux of what Kant has come to be most known for: the categorical imperative. For something to be categorical it must be unambiguous and direct, and an imperative could mean something that must not be avoided; or, on a deeper level, the power to restrain or control. An imperative could also be considered a command. Therefore, the categorical imperative is an unambiguous and clear command to control the power to act inherent in all of us. This power cannot be avoided and all must attain unto its principles.

Of note in this categorical imperative is the fact that Kant does not expressly state where these imperatives come from. I am still slightly unclear on his exact feelings towards deity, but it would seem to me that he does not claim that these universal truths come from a higher power. In fact, it would seem that his reasoning states that only an infinite God would be able to live a perfectly ethical life because He would know or would have power to control what Right is. However, once Right is understood, the ethics behind a situation are arrived at a priori, meaning that it is by definition and reason that we understand their meaning.

Nothing empirical can lead us to know an ethical duty. Therefore, in order for something to be a duty of virtue – and by extension a categorical imperative – it must be attained by reason only. This point lends to the fact that Kant does not claim the principles of ethics exist outside of themselves, or in other words, that they are a universal constant that somehow exist before any man discovers them. On the contrary, ethics exist only because man has thought about the existence of the ethical principle. This is a key, yet subtle, point of Kant’s framework because it clearly puts the responsibility of ethical reasoning upon the man who acts in society.

To explain further, Kant argues that virtue can only be attained when there is no obligation for a man to act, otherwise the action thereof cannot be virtue because it is juridical. In order for a man to be virtuous he must act only because he knows through reason that the action is how he should act. If these categorical imperatives were to exist outside of themselves, it would mean that there was thus a law or obligation decreed by some universal being that mandates how one should act in some situation. If this is the case, then man cannot be virtuous but only right (as pertaining to the science of right). Therefore, ethics is a matter for the rational human to discover and cannot be compelled upon any by mandate or decree.
After establishing that man, in order for him to act virtuously, must reason his duties when acting with other entities, Kant outlines some of the duties associated with this framework. One of the crucial and most profound (at least for me) duties that Kant derives is that humans must never treat other humans as a means to an end. This does not only refer to other humans, but also to oneself. Clearly the idea of categorical imperative is meant to extend to how we treat ourselves.

As an example of what Kant meant by not treating ourselves to an end, he spends an entire section outlining the problems with Virtue as Aristotle describes, and provides a better definition for virtue. A human who engages in vice uses himself as a means to satiate animalistic desires and subdues the dignified humanity that is within him. As Aristotle has stated, “Virtue is that median between avarice and vice.” Kant then responds to the logical implication of such a statement: “Virtue is therefore an increasingly lessened form of vice.” This is a problem since virtue must be the opposite of vice and not a lesser version of it. Virtue, in the Kantian sense, is not using ourselves in any which way that could be seen as vice. Kant then outlines different vices, such as sex, drugs, and gluttony, and attempts to clearly define the proper use of each in our lives.

This sort of reasoning is key to understanding how we are to act as individuals. My personal application of these principles has led me to some very interesting changes in my life. First of all, my relationship with God and the gospel has been profoundly affected as of taking this class, and was furthered through reading this book. It has occurred to me through class discussion that it is not enough to believe or act on something simply because one has a good feeling. Indeed, good feelings can easily be mistaken. I have come to the conclusion that a man must act upon what he has reasoned to be true.

This is not to say that a testimony of the gospel can be attained by reason alone. No, it is necessary that man reaches to Heaven and asks for a divine witness lest he reasons himself out of the kingdom and be damned. What I mean by coming to act by reason alone is accepting that something such as faith exists and that it is acceptable to base your rationale upon that foundation. Once I realized that it is a categorical imperative to act according to those duties that my mind has come by reason to accept, I discovered that I have a base upon which to act in the future when faith is not enough.

What I mean by faith not being enough is not to say that I won’t act by faith. To the contrary, all my actions should be grounded to my faith. My meaning is that I learned through this book that it is not only acceptable, but absolutely necessary for a man to stand by his ideals in the face of opposition. It is true intellectual courage to know that there is no empirical proof for an idea yet stand boldly beside that idea anyways. Much of my life I have struggled with the notion that there exists the rational Marc and the spiritual Marc. Kant puts my struggles to rest by showing me that a truly ethical man arrives at his ideals through thought alone and is not compelled to believe one way or the other. It has given me an understanding that I am still an individual in the gospel even when I adhere to the principles taught therein.

The other great application to my life I have found in this reading is the idea that a truly ethical person does not use himself or others as a means to an end. Essentially I have come to realize that many things in my life, which I had viewed as being ethical, were not simply because my intentions were not pure. My life has been spent attempting to find fulfillment by interaction with others. Although only a full history of my life would be able to explain what I mean by this statement, suffice it to say that I found myself lacking (especially of late) any sense of fulfillment in my interactions with others. This surprised me so much that for about a week I lost all desire to even communicate with people.

But then I read this book and was taught about the Kantian framework. Upon further reflection I realized that the reason my life had seen little fulfillment is because previous to this last year I expected others to bring me happiness by inviting me to do things. This past year I learned that if I was to be happy, I must be the catalyst behind my own social experiences. But even after changing my own social fortunes, I still didn’t feel satisfied. But then I realized that I had still been using others as a means to gratify my own desires to be happy. I was not inviting others to do things because it made them happy, but because I thought being the center of social life would make me happy.

This fact dawned upon me sometime in February and I decided that I would try changing the way I think about social situations. I report that this single act – the act of fully realizing my intent and changing it to never use humans as means to my own self-fulfillment – has led me to be happier and more filled with my social interactions than at any other time in my life.

Why does my intent affect how I feel so much? It goes back to what Kant says about ethics being derived only by reason and not by obligation. Previous to my epiphany in February it seemed like social interaction stopped being fun and felt more obligatory. I was attempting to satisfy this craving within me, this almost carnal desire to be popular. The desire created an obligation that immediately made social interaction juridical and no longer ethical. I think this at the heart of not using humans as a means – doing otherwise not only destroys the liberty of the one used, but it also destroys the liberty of the malefactor.

Kant has helped me free my mind of some false and rusty thinking concerning social interaction. It is useful to ask others how to act, but it is often necessary to arrive at these conclusions ourselves before we act. I feel as though I have spent too much of my life trying to learn by others what to do and not enough through my own reasoning. Kant has, ultimately, set me at liberty within my own mind.