Monday, October 31, 2016

Math Survey - Results.

On October 25th, I posted a brief math survey to facebook.  If you would like to see it (or participate) here it is:

I'm working on writing a literary review for my grad school class and as I was stumbling through research I found a statement that suggested that some students miss basic math literary skills because they are too young to handle these skills when they are introduced in school initially.  Basically, spring babies may fair worse because their brains aren't prepared for the material when it's introduced, and the problem is further compiled because by the time they are, we've assumed them to know 'these math skills' already and therefore they never truly learn it.

As I type that out, I see some natural flaws with the theory, but I figured what better way to test it than a 'perfectly' scientific survey on the internet.

Anyway I got 94 responses, which seemed decent and here are the average 'math ability scores' for each group.

While the average for fall students was higher than average for spring students, which fits the theory that brain age matters, there are other observations to be made.  Summer (old for grade), was much lower than Summer (young for grade).  I wonder if that's because if that's because Summer (young for grade) students are often considered advanced, and Summer (old for grade) students may be students who were 'held back', whether or not those presumptions were fair they could affect one's math confidence, which was basically what the survey measured.  Also, Winter (any) was by far the highest.   Winter was also not an option on the original survey, which makes me think that the sorts of people who want a more detailed answer on a survey are the sorts of people with high confidence in math.  

When I have time, I may flesh out some of these findings with a more refined survey, that considers more factors.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Swimming: weirdly good.

For the last 4 years, I've participated in a triathlon in my local area.  While, I'm not much of a triathlete in general, I really enjoy participating in this particular event.  Here's what I wrote about it on my facebook wall a couple years ago:

Today I saw women who were considered 'too' by societies standard. Too old, too fat, too poor, too boyish, too bossy... but luckily they were all too strong to let that stop them. I saw women dog paddle all 500 m of an open water swim. I saw women her 70s biking 15.5 miles on a dated looking huffy. I saw a visibly pregnant woman running the last leg (a 5K) in. I spoke to a women who had recently dealt with an abusive relationship, and then I saw her pass me on the bike. 
My participation in the YWCA tri has always been a positive one, but today I felt shaken by the influence of these people who weren't living up the expectations that society had chosen for them, and were simply being 'too' awesome! 

Anyway, back to me, myself and I... So Swimming.  Here's the thing, I like to run, and every year a toss in a little time to swim and bike so I can do this tri.  On the bike, I'm as you would expect, mediocre.  However, for the swim, I rank into the top third, which doesn't make me ultra competitive or anything, but that's really pretty good considering the level of effort I put in.

Again, let's compare.  Biking, I hardly do at all, and wind up towards the back.  Running, I pour my heart and soul into and it is a dire fight for mid pack standing.  Swimming, I approach with even more lethargy than biking, and I'm in the top third.  This is such a confounding result that I didn't even notice until late last year, when my dear friend kept mentioning how strong I look out there (thanks J!).  Anyway, I riffled through old results, and yes, I always place the best during the swim.  Even in the year I was running my fastest.

I share all this because I have a theory on it.  My parents weren't real into signing us up for sports, we did between zero and very little of that.  However, we did swimming lessons all the time.  My susceptibility to colds with wet hair in MN winter encouraged us to skip the winter months, but I recall taking swimming lessons at least twice per year most years between the ages of 3ish and if you include school lessons, probably 15.  After that, I didn't do anything serious, but was still spending a lot time in the water at the lake or community pool.  When I signed up for the first triathlon, I didn't think much of knowing how to swim.  My theory is this:  all those early years of swimming ingrained some skill in me that I was easily able to tap back into when I was 26 and looking to try a tri.

The larger point.  I loved swimming lessons as a kid, but I obviously didn't sign up or take myself.  However, I ,quite possibly, am benefiting now.  It's seems like many things are this way, we get rewarded or punished for decisions that were never made by us.  This encourages me to withhold judgement for the performance of myself and others.

It also encourages me to swim more!  hah!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Letting "We are equal" be the beginning, not the end of the conversation.

Growing up, I lived in a community that was incredibly white and wealthy.  I guess that same neighborhood has diversified up a bit in recent years, but in my elementary class I remember one black kid.  This is out of 4, 30 person classes for the entire 1st grade.  I don't think he stayed with us for the whole 6 years of elementary either, which means we were probably down to 0 at one point.

I read the Addy books, and I was taught about the civil rights movement and we honored MLK day and I knew there was a history of poor treatment of black people, but I figured it was all in the past and hardly anyone did stuff like that anymore.

I was pretty darn ignorant, and I stayed with this belief system for quite sometime.

I remember a conversation in high school about interracial marriage, where someone pointed out that there can be a lot of cultural challenges?  What?  This was news to me, because I never knew there were any cultural differences to begin with.

For all of my life, I was taught to believe that black people are equal, the community I grew up fostered this belief the best they knew how.  I don't know anyone I would have to convince that this is true. I think people exist like that out there, but for good or for bad they are not in my sphere of influence.  However, this belief system came from white people with similar experiences is to mine, so naturally it missed a big part of the story.

I missed the experiences that black people have today.

This is to say that the only experiences I saw were the black people I knew on TV.  One was a cop, and one was a doctor and they had families that seemed very similar to ours.  Other than the color of their skin, I figured their lives were exactly the same as mine.  I didn't think about why, if that was the case, were none of them living in my community.  

I wasn't taught about generational poverty, culture, ethnocentrism, oppression.  I wasn't given role models of color, I didn't celebrate traditions that included other histories besides my own.

I think a lot of people are in the boat I use to be in.  They believe all people are equal.  This a great thing to believe, but quite simply not enough.  We need to remove ourselves as much as possible from our own bubble.  We need to hear other people's stories.

It took years and time for me to do that.  I made friends outside my social circle, I listened, I read, and I still have a lot to learn.

Last fall, I remember getting pretty riled up about threats to protest a marathon last fall, but I listened to what people had to say and I realized a marathon cut short is much different than a life cut short.  (Also, only fair to say, they did not do what they threatened)

The BLM tactics don't always make sense to me, but I'm willing to ask myself why that is. I have not lived that oppression, I do not have my own life to fear, I have a lot of resources and education to make change that others may not.  It is my belief that those who have those experiences don't deserve to be evaluate from afar by the mainstream media.  I encourage you to ask these questions.

What are the stories of people involved?  
Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stop Mattering by Roxane Gay (super awesome and smart lady)
The problem we all live with (2 part series on This American Life Podcast)
A Letter from Black America.

What are the actual goals of the movement?  
The actual demands of the movement may be things you can support.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Not yet 40

I've got over 8 years before I'm 40, but a friend of mine shared this list of facebook of things to do before you are (Sourcing The LIST!).   She seemed to think I was well on my way, so let's evaluate. Also, I tend to think these things are a little silly, and I'm treating it much the same way here!   

1. Fall in love.
Well, I don't really think love is something you fall into, but have I had the whirlwind romance experience and did it mature into some I care about deeply and hope to spend my life with... ?  Yes, I did, and yeah, I'm super fortunate.  
2. Get her heart broken.
Oh yeah, that too.  
3. Find a gyno that doesn’t make her feel like a seventh-grader in sex ed.
Growing up fundamentalist, I skipped sex ed in 7th grade, so really, I have no idea.  
4. Take a solo vacation.
I've gone to places alone, but when I got there I was a part of a group... or visiting someone.  
5. Skinny-dip.
I haven't and I don't honestly know what's in the way of that happening.  I did change in the Y bathroom without holding a up a towel... so that was a step in the right direction.   
6. Try a short haircut (it’s OK if “short” means shoulder-length).
My senior year of highschool... and DONE! 
7. Cook Thanksgiving dinner.
I know all the dishes now, but I've never done them all together by myself.  

8. Perform karaoke.

9. Read Jane Austen.
ehh.. I've tried.  

10. Own a dress she feels stunning in.
Many!  ... Because I always feel stunning, but seriously I have this purple one.  

11. Own a handbag she’s proud to bring to a job interview.
I did recently upgrade my 10 year-old laptop bag, because I began to realize it wasn't super professional.  That said... was I not proud before? Gawd-damnit! I'm proud that bag lasted so long! 
12. Own a toiletries bag that’s more than a Ziploc sack streaked with sunscreen.
yes!  (and honestly, way too many!)
13. Understand her color palette.
Not knowing if there's anything more to understand beyond, I'm pretty Scandinavian but tan well, but I have no confusion there... so DONE! 
14. Have a stance on organized religion.
so so so so DONE! 
15. Have an orgasm. 
Let's just say I'm happily married.  ;) 

16. Operate a power drill.
... and own.  

17. Ride a roller-coaster.
Now I'm sad for everyone who hasn't done this.  

18. Ride a motorcycle (yes, on the back, going six miles an hour counts).
yes... but I'm currently a bit phobic.

19. Sleep outside, in a tent.
Every summer! 

20. Make a presentation in front of 20 people or more.
That is my job.  

21. Tell off a stranger.
maybe... certainly a telemarketer.  

22. Apologize to a stranger.
I've apologized to everyone.  It's a way of life.  

23. Accidentally send an email to the wrong person and then realize that life goes on
Probably, certainly I've made worse mistakes, and came to the same conclusion.  

24. Learn how to knit.

25. Forget how to knit.
not yet... but I've got 8 years! 

26. Decide she’s comfortable with her crafting skills, whatever they may be.
Skills yes, projection completion, maybe not.  

27. Host a dinner party.

28. Know how to order a bottle of wine.
Very comfortable here.  

29. Do something big and selfless for the planet or the people living on it. 
I try... 
30. Vote for a winning president.
Twice!   I also have the distinction of voting for three different parties.  

31. Play the lottery.
yes *sigh* silly math major.  

32. Negotiate a raise.
I've spent the last 7 years working as a part of a union... and it has done that.  so yes! 

33. Start a 401(k).
As in enrolled, but no, I have yet to start a large tax shielded long-term investment fund.  
34. Tell her mother/grandmother/favorite lady mentor just how influential she’s been.
...that's a lot of emoting, but certainly a nice idea.    

35. Help a friend through a difficult time.
I hope so... 
36. Accept a friend’s help during a difficult time.
37. Figure out how to make a house a home.
I got a husband for that!  
38. Grow something green.
See 37.  
39. Salvage something broken.
If by salvage, you mean use, then yes! 
40. Dance like no one’s watching (bonus points if it’s the moonwalk).
Yes, and also, no one was watching.  

Monday, June 6, 2016

Day 1

I started grad school today.  This has been a long time coming.

I have a BS in Manufacturing Engineering, which I got in 2007.   In the summer of 2006 I met up with a bunch of people during my internship who were ... very successful, but also very privileged individuals to put it plainly.  I sort of had a crush on all of them.  They exposed me to to another world of different types of opportunities, that I hadn't really considered myself a part of.  They were all talking about and going to grad school and I felt I was just as smart as them too.  I had wanted to go grad school too, but now it felt more possible.

Then the internship ended, and reality returned.  It seemed then that no one I knew was going to grad school.  My parents were not particularly supportive of the idea either.  I think they saw it as a bit pie in the sky, and a heedless career move.    I didn't give up right away though.  I studied for the GRE... by myself, as no one else I knew was studying for the GRE.  I then took the GRE ... and I got a horrible score.  It actually wasn't that horrible, but I knew it was less than I needed/wanted to get into my preferred program.   My parents appeared to think the phase would now pass, and my friends didn't seem to understand why I was upset about scoring low on a test they didn't care about.

So I sort of gave up.

I still wanted to go though.

I worked as an engineer, and while I did that I learned that people who had grad degrees were given better options in the field.  These jobs were more research focused, which is more akin to what I like to do.  I think a non-grad school guy at Medtronic referred to himself as 'an Engineering Grunt"... and remember that sinking in as the reality when he said it... even though Medtronic was by far the best place I worked.   At this time, I was also realizing that engineering wasn't an ideal fit for me... but I do wonder if I would have felt differently if I had been in a different role, one that grad school might have afforded.

I did apply to and start a grad program in 2008.  Took one class.  The program was a Master's in Career Education.  I stopped taking it because I got married and my life went to shit.  (Condensed version: That marriage ended)

Anyway, 6 plus years ago I started working at a technical college teaching developmental math classes.  In this field it is advantageous to get as much education as possible.  I started thinking that the best option for me would be a Master's in Math because it would afford me certain credentialing, even though I knew my heart was with Education.   In order to get into a Masters in Math program I needed more Math classes, which basically meant getting another bachelor's.  I got my BS in Applied Math in 2015.  By the time I reached the end of that degree I realized that regardless of it's career benefits there was no way I could put myself through a Master's in Math program and remain sane.  Secondarily, I couldn't find a MS. Math program that was funded my institution and fit with my schedule.  So, I settled for a MS in Technology Education that would be funded and met my interests even if not quite on career objectives.  However, the summer before I started to apply, I was informed of a program that would be funded, is online (fits my schedule) and meets the math credentialing.  It's a Master's in Education with Emphasis in Math... finally!  By the way, this whole bit is the condensed version, I have researched dozens of programs before settling on the final verdict.

Also, took the GRE in 2015, and got above 94 percentile in Math and 74 percentile in English... so boo yeah!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Poverty Institute

In the last two days I attended the Poverty Institute.  This is a work related event for me but it something I would have wanted to do even if not.  However, it was nice to do it for free.

If you are not familiar, and I wasn't until recently, it's basically a two-day seminar to educate those of us who work with people in poverty on how to be more aware.  It's designed and put on by a woman named Donna Beegle.  You can catch up on who she is here:  I encourage you to listen, because the post will make a lot more sense if you do.

Anyway, we are supposed to write about our reactions and what we hope to get out of this experience and I'm fumbling through this, so this post will be long and a little unkempt.

The structure of the event is 'non-structure', which is nothing I would choose on the onset, but surprisingly organized and cohesive somehow.  We aren't given times for anything, and our lunch was 90 minutes long.  I think the idea is to have us all be on a journey together, not clocking in or out for sessions as we see fit.  Perhaps also it is to mirror the experience of poverty.

We did a version of the privilege game, similar to this on buzzfeed: I've actually wanted to do this in some context.  I think was basically relieved to see that I wasn't towards the absolute front of the group.   Especially since in our version all the questions were related to class, as opposed to race or gender.  I was in the front half for sure, but not the top quartile.  I've been pretty aware of my own privilege for the last few years and I'm not entirely sure how to process it.  It was interesting because my Dad went back to college when I was four and for that year of my life my family experienced situational poverty (we lived without health insurance, ate off WIC and wore hand-me downs out of necessity not affordability), however had he not gone back to college he would not have a four-year degree which afforded me a lot in life.

I was also thinking about my Papa and how he was one of the first in his family to go to college, not just college but his mother had not even finished high school.  Not only did he go to college, but he then went on to get nearly a PhD (Education Specialist), and how him doing that has probably brought a lot of privilege into my life.  Education has always been regarded very highly in our family, and my Papa has been super supportive of those endeavors in my life.
It was genuinely awkward to learn where others stood within the group.  Among the people that came from my work I was near the back, which oddly me feel slightly better about my relative professional standing.  None of the black people who attended were in the front half (and none of the questions in our game were specifically about race).  Absorbing that.  Also, a woman who I was finding very annoying all morning, she was shouting out things and being generally obnoxious ended up being basically at the very very back, which definitely made me question how I perceive things and wonder about how very sheltered I am.

We've talked about how different classes have different styles of communication.  Middle class tends to use print communication and poverty class tends to use oral communication.  In short, we have different ways of looking at time, money and information.  We also took an inventory to determine which communication style we tend to use... and unsurprisingly, I'm whole heartedly on the print side.  I'm not sure how I am to process that.  I wonder how many of my oral communicator students I've distanced through this approach.  Oral communication styles are one thing I know I will implement in future classes.  (Basically, I'm hoping to find ways to get my students to talk to each other more often)

Another item along those lines is that when you are in poverty you have the perception that no one cares, additionally all Americans are basically taught that we are the same.  That the life experiences I have compare to anyone else's.  Donna suggests that sharing about ourselves will help combat both these things.  For instance, in her growing up experience she didn't realize that not everyone's family got evicted or had the lights turned off.  It wasn't until a middle class woman shared her story that she realized that some people were given advantages that she did not have... also that middle class people are real human beings.  We were encouraged to self-disclose with our students so they can see that we aren't just magically making it somehow, but are real human being with actual challenges.  That's something I've done a bit already, but wondered how useful it was.

I was also struck by how wealthy we are as a country.  Do you know that we spent 815 million on pet valentines last year?  I've been hearing so much about how much we are in debt and there is so much rhetoric in the media about government programs being a waste of money, but we are not actually looking how that money is spent.  Do you know that 80% of those incarcerated are illiterate?  Would you say that's a cause or an affect?  Do you know that on average we spent $44,000 to lock someone up for one year... how far do you think that would go helping someone become literate?  I can tell you right now that's more than the average salary of an ABE teacher.

We did an activity where we tried to pay bills for a month on a minimum wage job.  I created a spreadsheet on Excel (having access to a resource someone in poverty might not), got to work on the activity with a history of budgeting my own finances, and was able to make the decision in a non-emotional/crisis enviroment and I still found it impossible to pay all my bills.  We are talking about water/electric/trash here.  My coworker did point out that google sheets is free but I think was sort of missing the laptop / knowledge of computers / knowledge of free software piece that is not free or at least require connections that someone in deep poverty doesn't have.

We were also asked to go on a 'scavenger hunt' and different groups were given different tasks.  We were given the task of obtaining SNAP and other benefits (like MFIP and so on)... I can not describe the logistical nightmare that this was for 3 people with bachelor's degrees let alone how it might be for someone who is illiterate.  It reminds me of when I was talking to a fellow volunteer at the homeless shelter I occasionally serve food at.  This individual has their law degree and works in international taxes, so very comfortable paperwork, but had spent some time trying to help a homeless family find housing and was overwhelmed by the paperwork involved.

Sometimes information like this throws me into a heap of frustration... so what can I do and how can I actually dispel any of these myths about poverty to those I work with and have relationships with.  I'm feeling that quite a lot actually, but I wrote this blog and that's a start.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Maybe try half-A$$ing it.

I teach math for a living, often times to people who don't want to learn math.  That's sometimes the nature of teaching developmental credits at a technical college.  I get a lot of interesting experiences from the class though.  One thing I've seen from students more often than I would like is this.  They will be going along doing well enough, turning in homework, getting good enough test scores, and an overall decent grade.... then for reasons I don't know...  perhaps it's something disappointing academically (like a bad test), and then they just give up. 


They never come back to class, they don't turn in any homework.... and then the inevitable happens. They fail the class.

The thing was though, if they had just kept showing up, and trying even a little, they would have passed.  In a few of these cases, the students were at the top of their class, setting the curve on tests and appearing to have a strong grasp of the material.  In situations like these, they could literally coast the rest of the semester and still pass the class.

What's going on?  Perfectionism.

Yes, everyone wants the A, but as the cliche says Cs get degrees.  I've had several B/C potential students drop off the planet because they missed the A.

I had another student once who was certain she was going to fail the class all the time, even though this was not actually the case.  She was legitimately struggling in the course and I knew it was hard for her, but I knew she could do it.  Sometimes she would say "I don't want to try any more cause I'm just going to fail anyway".  I told her if she didn't try - she would surely fail, but if she tried she would she have a chance.   It seemed to me she was scared of making the effort... like trying and then failing was much worse than quitting.   (She passed the class btw)

Sometimes life throws us stuff we don't get or don't like, such as a math class we aren't into.  It isn't fun,  but if you quit you gain very little.  If you try and fail, you've at least gained an experience and a story.  So my advice, just try half-assing it.  You might not get the A, but at least you will have learned something.

I know not everything is guaranteed, I know you will take risks and lose,  I know that sometimes it's good to hedge your bets.  I know that someday you will reach your breaking point.  However, I also know that if you don't try - you will never know how far you can go and what you are capable of.  Find out what you are capable of, maybe you will have to half-ass it for a while... but you'll be glad you did!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Secrets of the Skinny Bitch

I'm 5' 4",  I weigh around 132 pounds on the scale. I can comfortably fit into a pair of size 4 skinny jeans and I ordered my wedding dress in a size 6 (no alteration necessary).  I usually order my race t-shirts in an XS and a few times they have still been too big.  I might not have the figure of a runway model, but I think we can agree that I qualify on some level as skinny.  In fact, I've always been this way.

Lot of presumptions are made about women based on their size, most of them are wrong.  Here's what people don't know about being skinny.

Skinny isn't Healthy.  While I've always been thin, I haven't always been healthy.  I've gone years without doing any real exercise, I've lived off of a fast food diet and I think of mac-n-cheese as a food group.  In high school I had a significant health concern that lead to me having a hard time eating normal food, and yes, I got thinner, but not exactly healthier.

Skinny isn't Bitchy.  I've spent more time being teased than teasing.  In fact, the mean things I've said have been largely out of ignorance and not out of intention.  In a few cases, I've been bullied by someone who was significantly larger than me.  In highschool, my friends thought it acceptable joke about me being anorexic (I was not), but clearly not something to treat casually.  Side note: there is this idea that women with leadership qualities are also bitchy... but that is not what I'm talking about here.

Skinny isn't Perfection.  My life has had a ton of ups and downs.  I've struggled through heartache, not feeling good enough, not accepting myself, worrying if anyone likes me.  It's taken me a long time to know how to make real friends... or find real friends, one of the two.  My first marriage, career and house all failed on some level.

Skinny isn't Dumb.  My hair is blond too by the way... though it's getting darker naturally, and I'm also starting to dye it darker.  Can we just be done with that Skinny Blonde Bimbo stereotype?  Do I really need to explain this one?  Well...  case and point:  I have my bachelors in both Engineering and Math, I scored above the 90th percentile on the GRE, yet every fall I have to work through several of my students surprise as I once again have to prove, that yes, an attractive women is allowed to teach math.

Skinny isn't Anything.  It's not anything I worked for, it's not a moral I've maintained, it's not something I obsessed over by counting calories or punishing myself for eating cheese.  It hasn't fixed my love life, though perhaps at times made it difficult, longer explanation needed.

Skinny is just privilege.  Shopping has been easier, as my size is usually carried at stores, but that is not a cake walk either.   There are still issues with how things fit and not necessarily being model proportions. People assume I'm healthy, that I exercise and eat right, even when I often don't.  Also, I don't know how to lose weight, because I never really have.

My point is that the only thing we can conclude about someone's size is that.  As a skinny person the hurtful assumption are much less hurtful to me as they are to the people who aren't thin.  Getting to a certain size is not a magic life fix, and the only things that might improve are purely a result of poorly we treat larger people, which I don't think should be the case in the first place.  Can we work to make it that way?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

An Open Letter to my Christian Friends

Dear Christian Friends,

As many of you know I was once one of you.  I became a Christian when I was 4 years old when it became clear to me that death was a reality that I would like to avoid.  I didn't really understand how I could love Jesus when we had never met, but I did figure out that loving him would keep me from hell and I would do whatever I could to escape that.  Also, my mom and dad loved him, my grandparents loved him and so did most of the other people I knew, so it seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to do.

From a young age, I was active in the church community I grew up in.  We participated in AWANAS and I was a dedicated verse memorizer and I enjoyed the extra curricular that went along with it more than the ones at school.  I had two very good friends at the church and because our parents were all very active in the congregation we often hung out together at the church.  My Dad was a property manager at our church and my sister and I would make up games with the nursery toys while he would work on projects around the church grounds.  When I was little, I would ride the church lawnmower with him and when I was older I was assigned the duty of killing weeds in the church yard all by my lonesome.  The church I grew up in was walking distance from my home and I often would bike there during the summer just to wave by.

When I was old enough I joined the youth group, and my life began to revolve around Christianity even more.  There was simply so much fun stuff to do at church.  IMHO we had the best parties, amazing retreats, I got to sing in the band, and all my friends were there too.  It wasn't just about fun stuff though, I took my faith seriously.  I had an annotated bible. I asked big questions during small group and I sung my heart out during praise time.  I acted on my faith at school by attending the on campus bible study, seeing people at the pole, not swearing and skipping the school dance.      

As I got to high school I strengthened my faith in various ways.  I lead the campus bible study. As the leader, I advocated for us to have the same 'equal rights' as the GLBT group, including getting a sign in the hall and a place in the yearbook.  I questioned my faith and found solace in various apologetic resources.  I lost someone dear to cancer and was compelled by their story to believe ever more deeply that there was a God.

In college, I was equally involved in a campus ministry, but the questions I felt I had wrestled with in high school still remained and were in some cases were emboldened.  I struggled with the lack of intellectualism expected from anyone in ministry I was involved in.  It seemed that a fancy catch phrase about Jesus mattered more than sound doctrine.  I felt very strongly that the Christian ministry I was involved with was short cutting much of the biblical message I actually believed in.  The attitude seemed to be let's tone this a few parsed out scripture verses instead of an entire history and bible. Leaving my questions largely unaddressed, and sometimes regarded just plain unusual or worse down right insubordinate.  To clarify, I wasn't actually questioning the faith at large at this point but just aspects of how we practiced it or finer points of what we believe.  I struggled a lot in college with 'fitting in' within Christian circles.  I felt like a strange anomaly in this group because I wanted to get a degree that was marketable outside of ministry, which seemed to mean a lot more homework and not enough time for leading a bible study (though I tried).  I found some spiritual solace at the church I attended (separate from the campus ministry group) and spent a good deal of time with my fellow engineering students who were much easier to get along with.

About the time I graduated from college I found faith again in my own terms.  I flirted with catholicism, because I really enjoyed the ritual and reverence.  I joined a church where my questions were honored, or at least not completely laughed off and considered irreverent.  I became vaguely Pentecostal (though I would not have used that term at the time).  I had less homework, and for a time my faith felt very relevant.  I met people who 'believed in Evolution' and God, who could have a cocktail and a Bible and who swore and said Amen who prayed and voted democrat.  At this time, I felt my faith was dynamic and honest.  I wanted nothing more than to stay true to that honesty and remain faithful for the rest of my life.

And I did stay honest.

And that in turn was the problem.

Now let me state that there are bad arguments for being an atheist, and I have heard many of those, but there were three main sticking points that led to me leaving the faith.  The efficacy of prayer (or lack there of), the ubiquity of the messiah stories,  and evidence that existential experiences are not strictly divine.  While a book could be written about any of these, I will just try to address them briefly.  The efficacy of prayer, basically the idea that prayer has any ability to produce predicable outcomes outside of internal mental stress  is not consistently provable by a statistical study, and many studies have been done.  In other words we have no proof that prayer can heal a physical body, which felt pretty weak for a all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God.  When I grew up in Christianity I was taught that the story of Jesus was like no other, because of a virgin birth and sacrificial death, but that story is not that uncommon and messiah stories exist in many cultures and contexts, not to mention being highly prevalent in the middle east during that time period.  Last, they have done neurological studies where they have measured brain activity and found that existential experiences which you might classify as a spiritual high were repeatable based simple priming questions.  All of these topics have wealth of research behind them, and I'd be happy to link anyone to specifics if you would like to know more.

My larger point is to say that I had a strong, but complicated emotional connection to my faith of origin and despite it's messiness I had no desire to leave.  I felt forced by the plain logic in front of me, and I was a somewhat unwilling deconvert.  I attempted to hang on in various ways.  I joined an emergent church, I read Anne Lamott, but it didn't really work.

In the end, I found atheist is the best description I could give myself, though I'm still not a fan of labels in general.

Here's the thing I didn't expect from leaving religion.  I'm happy now.  I expected pain and heartache and suspected I would feel some sense of existential dread, but to be honest leaving Christianity has made me a much more fulfilled person.  I'm finally free to pursue the passions I always loved without guilt or shame, and that has made be very fortunate and fulfilled person.  I do experience a certain amount of privilege because I do have a marketable degree and skill set in the secular world, though that's the very thing I was disparaged while being a Christian.

People have asked if there is anything I miss about my former life.  I'm not sure I can come up with anything.  These days, the positives all appear to come at a great cost, and even if there was something I truly missed, it would require a level of cognitive dissonance I'm not willing to undertake.  Ultimately, leaving Christianity alleviated the pain I had always felt in my brain, and eventually alleviated the pain I didn't know was in my heart.