Monday, January 30, 2012

When I get on an airplane …

When I get on an airplane I tend to talk to the people sitting next to me. I don’t know if this is odd, but the people tend to be open to it. Eventually during the course of the flight four topics tend to come up about myself: 1) my occupation, 2) my disability, 3) my family, and 4) my religion.

I am an evolutionary geneticist working on human genomics and have a PhD from Cambridge University. It was a great experience where I focused my studies on the molecular (DNA and proteins) evolution between species, specifically in primates and mammals. I have since built on that experience by doing a postdoctoral fellowship in population genetics (usually within a single species) of humans using high throughput (that means a lot) genomic data. The genome is all three million bases of DNA (genes, plus their context) in the cells of our bodies. This latter work is particularly rewarding as it has health and medical implications.

The second area tends to focus on my disability. I walk with a limp and have used a cane every day for the last few years. It usually comes up in conversation as I have skipped in front of even the 1st class passengers with priority boarding. My limp is a result of spina bifida occulta and a tethered spinal cord. If it sounds painful you are not mistaken. When people ask when I “came down” with it I usually say at birth, though technically it was before, but we didn’t notice till high school and then I had spinal surgery. I tend to respond, when in pain, with some humor or light heartedness to ease the tension I feel from those around me. I think it has been confusing for some of my doctors when I tell them, I cannot walk, but then laugh or make a joke.

I also tend to be bull-headed about the pain as it motivates me to work harder. A month after my surgery I was back running cross-country (without doctor approval), though I was never any good, as a limp tends to make you a bit slower. After my surgery the pain and leg strength were stable for quite a few years. Two years into my PhD it acted up significantly. Neuropathic pain is not fun: burning, stabbing, and electrical shock are not bad descriptions. As a result I had to work from home for the last year of my PhD. To facilitate this our family was blessed to have my sister-in-law live with us. Through the grace of God, my loving family’s support, and many blessings from the priesthood of God, I was able to finish in three years.

This is why my family also inevitably comes up when speaking with new people. I am a proud husband and father of three. I have a great family that provides no end of happiness to my life. I was odd in graduate school as I started with one child and had a second while still in school, and now as a postdoc we had a third. They really are the joy of my life.

The last area of my life, which inevitably follows from stating I have three children at such a “young” age, is that I am a Mormon ( I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) all my life. But I am not a member because of others, I am a member because I have personal knowledge of my Heavenly Father as well as faith and trust in Him. I have had to rely on Him constantly, because of my personal trials and I feel a close connection to Him. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and do my best to live up to that commitment. I have decided to start this blog to that end. It is my hope that something I blog about will help others in their journey to return to live with God through the saving grace and atonement of Jesus Christ. It is only by Him that we can be saved and I feel it is my responsibility to make an active effort in helping God our Heavenly Father and His Son in their mission to redeem mankind (Moses 1:39).

I can’t do much, but I can bare witness to the miracles I see every day both in the natural world, as well as the workings of God in my life. I am a scientist so I am privileged enough to explore the hand of God in my occupation. I am also a mortal being with my share of physical trials, so I get to see how God can lift me up, comfort me, and give me the strength to do all things he commands of me (1 Ne 3:7; 17:50). My hope for this blog is that someone, somewhere will feel the testimony I try to convey, and come just a little bit closer to God.