Saturday, April 23, 2016

Ask An Atheist: Identity Crisis

I was asked another question on Facebook by B.  B. and I have known each other since 9th grade, so she knew me when I was a Christian. She asked:
Why do you think that being an atheist has become such a big part of your self identity?
I think this is a really valid question, one I'm especially interested in writing about. This is something I've thought long and hard on for almost two years, so I'll give these two main reasons.

1. Because my identity HAS completely changed. "My identity is in Christ." How many times have we evangelicals heard or used this phrase? For me, I used it all the time. My significance was found in Christ. My identity was in Christ. My purpose and reason for being was Christ. My whole life, especially my adult life, was centered around Christ. If I ever felt that something else was taking that place, I repented, ashamed. I was nowhere near perfect, I counted myself as one of the worst, most unworthy people to call myself a Christian, but I longed to be like Christ in all I did and all I was. I truly wanted my identity to be in him. I wanted the world to know that I was a follower of Jesus. I normally made it known very early on in a new friendship with someone that I was a Christian. I wanted to shine my light everywhere I went.

I was never asked why my faith was such a big part of my identity.

I'm not making that point to criticize the question; it is a really great, thoughtful, important question. But there is an element in the question that implies it shouldn't be. Atheism shouldn't be that important to me, even though faith absolutely can and should be.

So why has being an atheist become such a big part of my identity? Because it literally altered my entire identity. One thing as small as believing in a god or not quite literally altered my entire sense of self.

That Christian label that I'd worn for as long as I could remember was ripped off. And it left behind almost nothing. Without my faith, I didn't know who I was or who I could even be anymore. Would I become a selfish, terrible, mean, unkind person without God?  What am I, if not a follower of Christ? What is left of me worth salvaging if I don't have my faith anymore?  It wasn't until I had a moment of clarity, when I realized that I didn't have to believe in a god to be the same person I always was, that I started to rediscover myself. I realized that I still was and always had been and always could be a good person. I hadn't been the worthless, sinful, depraved person I'd believed myself to be my whole life; that was what religion had taught me. Religion had taught me I was a sinner in need of a savior; atheism taught me that I have worth, that I create my own destiny, that I am a good person because I choose to be, not because a deity saved me from my evil instincts.  "Luckily I held out long enough to see that everybody really makes their own destiny. It's a beautiful thing, it's just you and me, exactly where we belong, and there's nothing inherently wrong with us." (Quite Company)

*I fully realize that every Christian reading that will think that is a tragically arrogant, "deceived", lie-of-the-devil, heart-breaking thing to say, and no amount of arguing will convince them otherwise. I just have to accept that is what they/you will think. I thought it once too. I know.

I could no longer go around with a lingering Christian label. It wasn't enough to just rip the label off. It had to be replaced with something new. My identity had fundamentally changed. That's a big deal.

2. Because the stigma needs to end. When I finally admitted to myself I no longer believed in God, I was uncomfortable with the term "atheist". It had always been a very negative word to me, one I acquainted with loudmouth, obnoxious jerks who just want to make religious people feel stupid all the time. I tried labeling myself something less offensive: agnostic, humanist, non-religious.  But really, atheist pretty much summed it up.

As I began meeting other atheists and started experiencing life as an atheist in a very Christian society, I began to realize just how toxic the stigma on atheists is. We are the least trusted group in America. A Gallup poll showed that more Americans would vote for a Muslim or a gay person for President than an atheist. Why? What is it about simply not believing in a religion that makes us so threatening and unlikable? All the atheists I was getting to know via a Facebook group for non-believing mothers were extremely kind, thoughtful, generous, and intelligent. So how is it that the term atheist inspires such disgust?

I decided to be one small but audible voice that would speak for atheists.  We are not all disrespectful and militant. I'm aware that my embracing atheism makes many people uncomfortable. I'm not blind to that, and I do hate that it has to be that way. But does it have to be that way? Why should it make people uncomfortable? It shouldn't. If I converted to Catholicism or Mormonism, would my speaking about it cause them the same level of discomfort? Not anywhere near to the same degree. So my atheism has become a part of my identity in part to help end the stigma that comes with the word.  I can be your token atheist friend, if that's what it takes. My generation having had that "token gay friend" is actually a huge reason why LGBT rights have come as far as they have in the past few years. Knowing someone personally is often what changes people's preconceived notions. Maybe the social tide can turn a little if everyone had a token atheist friend. In another generation, maybe just knowing a friendly atheist will bring an end to the stigma.

*I fully expect some people to think, "Well, you aren't that respectful - you sort of shove your atheism down our throats." To that I'd have to ask, "Really? Do I? Or do I just talk about atheism in the same very personal way you talk about your faith?" If simply talking about one's own faith is not shoving it down my throat, then my talking about my lack of faith is not shoving it down anyone else's. If posting Christian articles or praising God on Facebook or writing blogs about how Jesus has changed your life is acceptable, then so should anything else equally non-confrontational. I'd have to challenge the person who thinks I shove my atheism down their throat to recall a time when I've insulted anyone for their faith or tried to turn them into an atheist. (Conversely, I've had plenty of reconversion attempts made on me.) I'm just sayin'. If you don't like what I say, don't read it. I won't be offended, promise.

Final thought. I do sometimes feel uncomfortable with this "identity". I recognize it is not politically or professionally astute. I sometimes worry I could lose my job. I worry about my kids being bullied at school for not going to church and having atheist parents. There is a lot to lose to being an atheist here in the Bible Belt. Quite a staggering number of people have confided in me since my "coming out" that they are closet atheists, unafraid to tell their families, friends, or even spouses, that they do not believe. Somehow that makes it all the more important to me to keep speaking up. Maybe I'll lose my job (I hope not) or my friends or even some family members (I really hope not), but if it also results in a change of opinion or attitude in a some people, then maybe at least some good would come of it. The more of us willing to come out, the more people will accept us, because they will know us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ask An Atheist: Pascal's Wager

I've been asked many times before, "But what if you're wrong?" I admit, if I'm wrong, and there is a god, and he is the God of the Bible, then that would really suck.

However. The chances of that are so incredibly slim, I'd be just as safe putting my faith in Ra the sun god or Aslan the lion or the angel Moroni.

Even so, to point a fine theological point on it, if the Bible is true, then the essence of this question isn't about Pascal's Wager (if you're wrong, you lose nothing; if you're right, you gain everything) but the nature of faith. In my book, I wrote a chapter addressing this very topic. Bolding is to emphasize the point here.

Pascal’s Wager Part 2:
Esau I Have Hated

My fear of hell was diminishing. It had mostly disappeared, except that every now and then, fear still momentarily struck my heart. I am literally playing with fire, I’d think. I’d get a sense that I better repent quickly just in case it all turned out to be true after all.

What I will lose if I wager wrongly! There is an eternity of suffering waiting for me should I wager against God and be wrong. What do I lose by following God and there is no God? Very little. What do I lose by not following God should there be a God? Everything. On these little occasions, I panicked about how I had played my cards, as the fear of hell crept back up on me.

Pascal’s Wager almost makes some sense, except the wager overlooks two important issues. First, it assumes that the only God worth wagering on is the Christian God, ignoring the possibility that a different religion might be the right one. Still, that issue aside, the second thing it overlooks is that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Yet faith is a gift from God, it is not of ourselves (Ephesians 2:8). Therefore, I cannot please God without faith if he does not choose to give it to me. I could wager that God was real and keep following him as I had been doing for the past three years, but I would not be saved, for anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists (Hebrews 11:6). Pascal’s Wager is useless without faith.

Anyone who believes seriously that the Bible is God's inerrant word would have to agree that "believing" in God solely on the off-chance that he is real is not true faith at all. They would also have to agree that faith cannot be faked.

But they would also have to acknowledge that faith is a gift from God - it does not come from within ourselves. To be saved one must have genuine faith, and to have genuine faith, it must be given to one by God himself. Ergo, if God does not give you faith, you cannot be saved, end of story.

Try to insert "free will" into that wherever you like, but it really can't alter the Biblical "facts". One could try to believe on one's own, but unless God grants you faith, you're up a creek without a paddle, as they say.

"You could at least try, though. God would answer a sincere request for faith." I've heard that too. I believed that once. I hoped for that outcome for three years. Oddly enough, once the innate belief in God started to diminish, God mysteriously stopped answering my sincere request for faith.

So, to conclude my thoughts on the fatal flaws Pascal's Wager, I'll give you the rest of that chapter above.

Sadly, it was fear, not love, that sporadically warned me to reconsider God. God’s love had been gone from my life for a long time. Abandonment and silence echoed in the cavern where love once dwelled. But fear could still make me draw in a sharp breath, as it sliced through my heart like a paper cut. When I paid this fear some attention, it gathered like a thundercloud inside my head and struck my conscience with forks of lightning. I asked myself, Do you really want to bet your life on this and end up languishing in excruciating damnation for your sinful pride, your worldly “wisdom”, your pitiful human understanding, for all eternity?

Fear is a powerful tool. Yet if God’s plan for restoring my faith was fear-mongering, I was even less inclined to believe he was the God of Love I once knew – or thought – him to be. If it were the love of God striking my heart, drawing me to him, there would be something in it worth carefully considering. However, the fact that only the fear remained seemed psychologically obvious. It was neither God himself, nor his Holy Spirit, calling me back, but thirty years of theological manipulation. Hell is the scariest and most effective tool for keeping the righteous in check. Heaven’s promise pales in its alluring.

The revoked love of God in my life and the dubious possibility of heaven were not enough to draw me back to faith. The fear of hell and the almost certainty of God’s wrath, however, left me quaking. With the cards of my still unfinished life lying on the table, I could still change how I placed my bets. Yet if the God of the Bible is the one true God, my bets don’t matter in the slightest. God chooses whom he loves and whom he hates. He chose Jacob but hated Esau (Malachi 1:2-3).The cards on the table were never mine to choose from.

And we call this agape.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ask An Atheist: Where do your morals come from?

With "Ask An Atheist" day coming up (the third Thursday in April, according to the Secular Student Alliance), I'm offering to give an answer to any questions anyone might have this week about atheists. This question came from D. on Facebook:
My question. In response to statement 2 ["I have not lost my morals"]. If there is no God, where does your basis of morality come from? Why do you need to be moral other than to follow the laws of the land, and not be convicted of a crime. And where does the basis of the laws of the land come from, except from the 10 commandments which were given by God himself?
To answer this question, I must go very far back in time - approximately 40,000 - 100,000 years ago or so. The following may be hard to swallow for anyone who does not understand or accept human evolution. But if you want to know where my basis for morality comes from, you must read on.

When humans first started doing humanish things, like making tools and drawing cave paintings, we were not much different than the other animals living around us. We were, around this time, give or take a few thousand years, learning to live together in tribes and trying to create meaning and reason out of what we were experiencing and observing. We know this, because there is evidence that we were burying our dead in ceremonies. The pressure to survive was great, but our brains were developing the ability to think past survival instincts. Like many other developed mammals, we were developing characteristics that we still see today in nature - one of which was altruism.

We were beginning to understand that if we care for our young, they will grow up to be useful to our group. We were developing a tendency to pair-bond (monogamous mating). We were discovering that when you treat members of your tribe well, they won't try to kill you. We were beginning to understand that in order to survive, we must work as a team, hunting and gathering for food, and protecting each other from other bands of humans. And as survival became the tiniest bit more certain, and the constant fight to stay alive would every once in a while give way to moments of leisure, we were then able to wonder and think and notice that we felt something which would one day would be called "empathy".

While altruism and even empathy can be seen in other animals, human development of these traits was exceptional.  Through caring for our young, banding together with our tribes, and protecting our families against outside threats, relationships developed, and learning how to be better at relationships actually caused our brains to develop even further. We developed the ability to feel someone else's pain - whether it be sympathy for the cry of our offspring or the pleasure of bonding with another human or the sadness of a death within the tribe. We had no issue killing other people from other tribes, who had no relevance to us, but within our own groups, we were learning to do good to one another.

So where does the basis of our morality come from? It comes from the very empathy and altruism that brought our species alive and well into recordable history. It has become ingrained in us, it is part of our fabric, maybe even our DNA.

*Psst. If you believe humans were created by the God of the Bible, rather than evolved, you can start here, because the Bible starts here.

As our brains further developed and we began forming larger societies, we began making rules. These rules kept us alive, kept us from killing each other.  A side-effect of rule-making was increased safety and leisure. With leisure comes thinking and wondering.  We began to wonder what we are. We began to wonder why we are here.  Societies developed into cultures, and cultures developed religions.  Some societies looked at the sun, which gave both life-saving warmth and life-taking heat, which caused food to grow or could cause it to die, and those people believed the sun was the reason we are here, and they worshiped it. Other societies found other natural phenomena to be the answer for why we are here. And then some societies began thinking even more "out of the box". Perhaps there is an invisible force that put us here, and we should worship it. They called it "God".

We'd already learned that rules keep us safe, so it easily followed that those rules were actually God's rules. And if God's rules keep us safe, God must want us to be safe. We had learned that we keep our offspring and fellow tribesmen safe, because we care about them - maybe even love them - so perhaps God keeps us safe with rules because he loves us too. And so forth and so on. As we evaluated our own experiences, we personified the idea of a person-like God.

At this point, we have a basic code of morality, which consisted of basics like "don't kill people" - because killing people destroyed our chances of survival. As early as our written record can show, we had other laws and rules of morality such as "do not steal" - because stealing seemed to have bad side-effects for our society. (It often led back to that whole trying-not-to-get-killed thing.)  But we did other things that later generations would find highly immoral. We stoned people for doing bad things. We cut off people's hands for stealing. We raped and pillaged other societies in order to have their land and belongings. Because "do not steal" only really mattered within the tribe. We had no problem stealing from other tribes, because their survival meant nothing to us. So while we had a basic underlying basis of "morality", the specifics of what was considered moral was very different from what we have today. The specifics would go on to change again and again and again from generation to generation.

So, while at first we were happy mutilating, punishing, and killing people for various reasons,we continued to progress and started rethinking some of our previous behaviors. We made new laws about not raping and pillaging. We began making peace treaties with other tribes, because it actually turned out to be advantageous for both parties to do so. But if a tribe wasn't worth anything to us, we still did horrible things to them. We even wrote these things into laws. (For instance, if a tribe did not believe in the same god as you, it was okay to kill every man, woman, and child in that tribe and take all of their things.) We considered ourselves living morally.

I'm going to fast forward now out of the ancient era and into the 1700-1800s. It's easier to think of morality in real terms when we bring it into our own recent history. During this time period, we believed it was perfectly fine to steal Africans from their land and force them to work for us. We beat them, raped them, mutilated them, starved them, traded them, worked them literally to death, and felt no remorse for it. It wasn't "immoral" to us at that point. And our religions didn't stop us - in fact, our religions saw no problem with ownership of other human beings, as long as there were one or two caveats, which were conveniently ignored.  We thought ourselves quite moral and God-fearing even as we tore the flesh off other human beings.

We, however, continued to progress (slowly) and eventually, slavery was considered immoral, and we stopped owning people - at least in a literal, lawful sense. But we still refused to give those Africans we'd stolen from their homes in the first place an equal place in our society, because it wasn't advantageous to do so. Their lives were still threatened by us every single day, but we weren't concerned, because we had done the moral thing by abolishing slavery. We considered ourselves very moral people at that time.

Fast forward to today. What was considered moral only a few decades ago is now considered barbaric and completely unacceptable for an enlightened society. A few decades ago, we lynched black people. A few decades ago, we chemically castrated homosexuals. Today those practices are utterly deplorable. However, many currently still think that interracial marriages or same-sex marriages are immoral, and have no place in a "moral" society like ours.  Give us only a few more decades, though and stopping people from marrying for either of these reasons will seem as deplorable as Jim Crow seems to us now.

The bottom line is this: Morality simply is not consistent. Morality is relative. It just is. There are moral laws that we have been abiding by for as long as we have human record - do not kill, do not steal, do not lie - because they have helped ensure our survival and a peaceful and just society. But the nuances are forever changing. Whether you believe the world is billions of years old or only thousands, there is still more than enough evidence in human history to prove that moral laws are constantly changing. Even evangelical Christians today will admit that many of the Biblical laws are obsolete (mixed fabrics, anyone? Tattoos? Marrying outside your tribe? Long hair for women?).  The Ten Commandments itself is largely made not of actual moral laws but religious ones - do not serve false gods, do not put other gods before God, keep the Sabbath.  These are not universal moral codes, like do not murder and do not steal; they do not constitute what is universally agreed upon as morality. Let us not forget that all ancient societies had moral codes; Judaism was not unique in that. The Assyrians, the Hittites, the Greeks, the Egyptians, all had laws dictating what was moral and good. Even societies that did not worship gods had moral codes.

To sum up, God is not the reason we have morals. If anything, morals are the reason we have God. Our morals, as human beings, come from thousands and thousands of years worth of experience, empathy-building, and rule-abiding. Why do I not go around doing terrible things if I have no god to stop me? Because I have empathy and an understanding of cause-and-effect. I do not want to hurt other people. I do not want to hurt myself. And furthermore, as a 21st century human living in the developed world, I am so safe and so unconcerned with my personal survival that I get to spend copious amounts of time thinking and wondering and imagining what a world without rules and empathy would look like, and I do not want any part of a world like that.

I do not need a god-figure to scare me out of doing evil. I have figured out, thanks to the billions of humans before me, that doing good is far better for me, my loved ones, and my society than doing harm. The specifics of my morals, however, may always change - and I certainly hope they do, for the better.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

If you could choose one word to sum up your life, what would it be?

A few weeks ago I attended a Women In Networking lunch where author Erin Wood spoke of her book Scars. She first shared with us her varied background, which included having been a high-flying lawyer for many years. The WIN coordinator asked her to sum up her background in one word, and I wish I could remember what she answered (because it was a great answer), but the reason I cannot is because ever since that moment, that question has been churning around in my brain. If I could sum up my life in one word, what would it be?

I feel I too have had quite a varied background. I have worked in a fundraising department of a university, and as a newsletter and magazine writer/editor in a high school. I've been a self-employed baby sign language teacher and a self-employed childminder. I co-founded a breastfeeding charity and volunteered as a breastfeeding peer supporter. I used to speak a lot in church ("five minute spots" we called them) where I shared my faith, and then years later I ended up writing a book about my journey away from faith. Now I work for a non-profit in Communications and am getting more involved with a charity that supports homeless LGBT young people. It all seems rather eclectic, but I feel there is one theme that runs through most of what I do.

Voices. Being one, listening to them.

I have always felt the need to speak up when others cannot, to lend a voice to those still trying to find the words.  In a very literal sense, I did this through teaching babies to sign to their carers, giving them the chance to communicate before they were able to speak. I felt a such a thrill every time a baby did his or her first sign. I remember with pride the first time my daughter signed "cat", indicating she wanted to pet the neighbor's tabby on the way to the car. (Otherwise, I'd have thought she was squirming out of my arms just to be obstinate.) Every time a baby signed "milk" or "food", or even better, something specific like "dog" or "bath", the power and joy of communication was being fostered in that tiny human being.

I was not always so good at listening to voices until I became a breastfeeding supporter. During our training, we learned to just listen. Sometimes all someone needs is a chance for their own voice to be heard. My voice cannot always speak for yours. As a breastfeeding supporter I spent a lot of time just listening, asking questions that allowed the other person to find the words that would eventually empower them. Only after listening could we then become good advocates. As breastfeeding advocates, my peers and I learned how to speak up for breastfeeding mums in a wider space - through interviews, press releases, campaigns, newsletters, and creating support groups.  We  aimed to bring greater public awareness and education to our community regarding the rights of breastfeeding mothers and babies and the health benefits breastfeeding provides. Our goal was to make our community a more acceptable place for mothers to freely feed their babies. Many breastfeeding mums (first time mums especially) find breastfeeding in public daunting; we wanted to build their confidence by surrounding them with support and changing local attitudes. We listened to their voices, and then we spoke on their behalf.

(We also aimed to bridge the sometimes grisly gap between breastfeeding mums and bottle-feeding mums. We started a Baby Cafe that encouraged ALL mums to come together and share their stories with each other, normalizing breastfeeding and destigmatizing bottle-feeding in those kinds of groups.)

When I came out as an atheist, I did so publicly, to be a voice for those who were secretly also questioning their faith or still needing to keep their non-belief under wraps. I know many Christians (and believers from other religions) question their beliefs but are terrified of the consequences should they reject it. Having been a devout Christian myself my whole life, I had experienced that terror myself when I began to doubt.  I wanted to assure those people that someone else has been in their shoes and knows how it feels.  Writing a deeply personal memoir about my experiences cost me a lot personally, but it allowed me to share my words. lend my voice, in a way that could help others find theirs. Now, every private message or email I get that thanks me for putting myself out there makes my vulnerability worth it. Just knowing that I've made someone else feel not so alone is all the reward I need. Just knowing that I've been able to help someone put their own thoughts and feelings into words is indescribably valuable.

I also wanted to bridge a gap between believers and non-believers that is so often too wide for anyone to cross. I wanted to give a voice to non-believers, but I also wanted to be a voice for believers too. Believers are often mocked for their "indoctrination"; I wanted to show that many times, religious people are not actually mindless, brainwashed zombies but intelligent people who have thoroughly thought through their beliefs. (I was always a critical thinker myself as a Christian, though my questions eventually led me to a different conclusion.)

In every aspect of my life, I've realized, there has an element of being a voice for someone who needs one, or sometimes not a voice but an ear to listen to their voices. Voices matter. Your voice matters, everyone's matters. If my eulogy reads, "She listened when I needed to talk, and she spoke for me when I couldn't", that would be legacy enough for me.

If you had to describe your life in one word or a few words, what would it be?

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

5 Things You Didn't Know About the Girl at the Gym Today

1. She's wearing make-up for a good reason. Two good reasons, actually. First of all, she decided to workout right after work, because she knew if she came home first, she'd never get back out the door. There was no time to wipe off the eyeliner and mascara she wore after her 8.5 hour day with no breaks and lunch at her desk. Secondly, she likes how she looks with make-up, so even if she'd chosen to put make-up on solely for the gym, who cares? If it makes her feel better about herself to see a reflection in the large floor-to-ceiling gym mirrors that doesn't make her cringe, shouldn't that be reason enough? Whether she's coming in straight after work or wearing make-up just for the fun of it, she's got a good reason.

2. She chose the gym over more destructive choices. She looks at her size 10 body and sees someone twice her size. She must tell herself on a daily basis not to hate that body in the mirror. She must tell herself daily to stop comparing it to the other bodies she sees, to stop wanting all the other bodies she sees and love the one she's in. Every once in a while, the temptations creep in. She has to make promises to herself not to starve, not to throw up. She has to promise her husband she will eat and will tell him when the temptations get too strong. She has to promise herself she'll be safe. Just last night, she picked up a bottle of Dexatrim and thought how easy it would be to buy it and hide it from her husband; he'd never know. She kept her promise to herself and put it back on the shelf. She chose to workout instead and do things the right way today.

3. She sometimes hides her tears behind the sweat.  Sometimes making it to the gym is more than just a battle against exhaustion or laziness. Sometimes it's a battle against the dark specter of depression that is always waiting behind a corner for her. Often she doesn't even know it's fallen upon her until she is lost in its shadow, like a slow dusk at summertime. When that happens, she spends a little time each day fighting back tears of helplessness. During an activity like exercise that leaves her mind so open to personal thoughts and feelings, the tears spill on their own. If she can pretend to others that the salty streaks on her cheeks are sweat, she will, because she's convinced she must hide what's really going on insider her. She is terrified of being judged for her weakness.

4. In fact, she only just barely showed up today. On those days, when depression has wrapped its veiled arms around her, she already has too many choices she's forced to make: whether to go to work or call in sick, whether to make dinner or just order takeout again, whether to pay attention to her kids or hide away from them, whether to talk to her husband or ignore him. The fact that she made a voluntary decision to do something positive for herself on top of all the other things she must decide to do is a huge personal win. It would always be easier to stay home and hide from it all.

5. Regardless of how fast she can run or how much weight she can lift, she is strong.  Maybe she doesn't run very fast, but she chose to run today. Maybe she can't lift as much as she used to, but she chose to show up today. Some days she only accomplishes the bare minimum: go to work, feed the kids, go to sleep. But even on those days, she is strong. She has not given up; she has promised herself she will not give up. She can't always be the person she wants to be or that you expect her to be. Still, she keeps trying - not for your sake, but for hers. For her own sake she smiles. For her own sake she laughs. She takes deep breaths and makes many choices. She often hides the truth, but now and then, she tells it. This is how she churns her weakness into strength.

Friday, April 01, 2016

34 Bucket List

Today is my birthday. Yay!

Today I turned 34, and I have decided that next year will be my last birthday. No, I'm not planning on topping myself next year, I've just decided 35 is the age I shall remain for all eternity. I can do that, right?

So to prepare for my very last birthday, I have put together my bucket list for the year 34.

My birthday present to myself: A year of living life to the fullest. 

1. Read 34 new books
2. Visit a new city
3. Order a dirty martini
4. Get a cleaner in at least once
5. Do something rebellious
6. Pick back up an old hobby or interest
7. Visit the beach
8.Get rid of 34 things
9. Try a new, exotic food
10. Do something politically active
11. Read the US Constitution
12. Donate to a new cause
13. Create 34 original things
14. Sing a showtune at a karaoke bar
15. Go on an adventure with husband
16. Build a coop to raise chickens
17. Learn how to wolf whistle
18. Write or mail 34 letters or parcels
19. Complete Trailhead Admin training
20. Play a video game
21. Protest against or march for something
22. Take kids on a surprise trip
23. Publish a book
24. Climb a mountain
25. Get hot stone massage
26. Join a group
27. Get Lasix
28. Paint a picture
29. Buy a house
30. Get a tattoo
31. Run a race
32. See a play
33. Read Macbeth
34. Throw a party

Happy birthday to me!

Thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday and helped make it so in many different ways - by sending me flowers at work (kids and Scott), surprising me with cake and a card during a training session (my Communications team), paying for me to get a massage (Mom and David), a still-to-be-opened pressie (Dad and Denise), surprising me with a gift at my birthday dinner (Matt and Charity), celebrating my birthday dinner (lots of people), celebrating my co-birthday lunch (Scott, Elizabeth, Daniel, Mandy, and Jared, the co-birthday boy), a stack of really awesome-looking books (Andy and Marion, my in-laws), giving me a free hair wash, dry and style (my stylist, Kristin), and *really* surprising me with a very unexpected birthday present, a new laptop (Scott!), not to mention all the people who have texted and Facebooked me happy birthday messages today (lots of family and friends). Love to all of you. xx