unconditional love

A lot of things change in life. In the past year, a lot of things have changed in mine. The natural rhythm of life carries us through tides of highs and tides of lows, but through it all one thing always remains. One thing, the one thing that I could reach out for when my heart felt broken and my actions disappointing, will always remain. The steadfast love, peace, and grace of Jesus Christ will always be there, freely available to us. God doesn’t move away from us but is always near, waiting patiently to welcome us back into His embrace of mercy, peace, comfort, and belonging. When I’m far from God, when my heart is troubled and my mind conflicted, it is never because God has forgotten about me or drifted away from me; the truth is quite the opposite. As a human, I am inherently chained by the tendencies of temptation, disappointment, and worldly comfort. As a child of God, I am freed by the abundant love and forgiveness, truth and goodness that showers me in the presence of my savior. When I am far, I am ashamed and discouraged, but God doesn’t say to shame or self-criticize ourselves whenever we are falling away, back into old, undesirable rhythms of life. He says,

12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.” – Jeremiah 29:12-14

There is no holding line, wait-list, consideration period, or redemption process that God requires us to go through before we are welcomed back into His loving, accepting arms.  The tone is this message is immediate, urgent, imminent. Call on me, and I will listen. Seek Me, and find Me. He knows the posture of our hearts before we even “let him in” on it, and He knows our desires and heartaches. Like anything, returning to God requires work on our part as any relationship does. It requires sacrifice and dedication, communication and honesty. What it doesn’t demand or even allow is trying to earn God’s love. We can’t earn it; we don’t deserve it and nothing we do can make us more deserving of His infinite grace and acceptance. It was given to us, the greatest gift of all time. God doesn’t want our empty actions or articulated words, He wants our hearts. Our purified, humbled, earnest and bold hearts. We are more than the lows we experience or the highs we admire; through all of those moments, God welcomes us unconditionally and immediately. That is love.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.”

— Psalm 143:8

welcoming 2018

“For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I thought about dwelling on 2017, on the hardships I experienced, the heartache and desolation that was felt sometimes, the brokenness that occurred early in the year. There was more than that though. I thought about writing about my successes in research, getting published, changing my major, finding my purpose (or trying to). I thought to write about the relationships I formed, the ones that came with me from 2016 and blossomed even more, the new ones that helped me love myself and others more, and the romantic one that I could have never predicted but am so thankful for. I thought about writing of my personal journey, the one where I felt empowered, then small, loved, then lonely, invincible, then broken, and the roller coaster that it was. I thought about writing about how I’ve changed (a lot) in good and bad ways, because it is arrogant and mistaken to say that we always only change in good ways (though I hope the good greatly outweighs the bad). I thought about the memories, the rich and vibrant memories of places I went (England! Ireland! Boston! Atlanta! The Gulf Coast! How blessed I am to see the world). My eyes took in some impeccable places with some amazing people.

I thought about it all, about 2017. It was painful. It was momentous. It was beautiful. Every day something happened, sometimes I wrote it down, but I mostly tried to store it away up top with failure more than I wished (we always overestimate the ability of our memory). I did write some though, mostly prayers in pen tucked away in a book filled with empty pages and my deepest hopes and dreams and concerns and questions. I thought a lot, about what love actually is, and whether it can actually last, and what I believe and who I am and where I belong and what I will do for the rest of my life. I worried a bit too, about the latter questions and if I will find happiness in what I am pursuing and the life I am building. I thought about my future. I thought about the present, whether I was making the right decisions. I thought about my friends, how truly blessed and favored I am, how God always takes care of me. I thought about faith, my journey, my flaws, my strengths. I thought about my blessings. I tried to think of them more than my problems, insecurities, and heartaches. They were abundantly more in the past year than those anyways. There were nights I cried, full of questioning, and nights where my heart wanted to leap out of my chest for happiness and overwhelming peace. I can’t explain 2017, but it was a mysterious thing with some of the hardest and best times of my life. A year of true lows and glorious highs. To write of it would take a novel, to think of it would take a journey, but to appreciate it takes very little. I appreciate who I was this time last year and who my experiences over the last year have made me. I am indebted to those who have prayed for me, offered me their love, and walked with me through the past year. I am incredibly thankful to those who I’ve met who have accepted me and cherished me. Finally, I look to God for all He has done for me. I’ve experienced lovely, magnificent things because of Him, and my perspective on a difficult life change was crafted in His hands. What a year it has been. Here is to 2018 – another year of magical, unpredictable, eventful, and beautiful memories with those I love.

 

fresh breath

God always knows what you need.

This semester was expected to be the worst, the hardest, the most demanding and grueling semester I would have in college – I was so nervous. Since my freshman year I have been dreading the fall semester of my junior year. It was set up to be the semester where I would take the most upper level science classes at once and still try to maintain my sanity and all the other crazy things that college students do. Maybe I went into this semester with a bad attitude, or at least a pessimistic attitude – one that expected the worst. I am so delighted, blessed, and truly thankful to say that this was indeed not the worst semester of my life; in fact, it may have been one of the best but for many different reasons. Academically, I studied smarter (AKA less, shorter, more focused) and enjoyed my classes more because everything I loved about biology and chemistry came together finally! I also spent more time doing things that made me a happier person (yoga, hanging out with my friends, taking time off, going to the lab). I think God strategically placed people and events in my life to buffer the ride that was expected to be pretty uncomfortable for a while. I think God knew I needed a support system, people to lift me up and cheer me on and remind me why this is worth it, and He gave me that. He gave me that in my roommates who have often seen me studying with frustration and then later baking dozens of cookies to decompress; He gave me that in my cherished best friends who remind me to stop, go out for dinner, enjoy a glass of wine, and do something fun and relaxing; He gave me that in my mentor/boss and coworkers at Vanderbilt who showed so much grace and support by allowing me time to study, focus, and take off when I needed it; He gave me that in my (now) boyfriend who endlessly encouraged me through countless physics problems, biochem exams, late nights and early mornings, and who never forgot to make me laugh in the middle of the chaos; and He gave it to me in my family who never failed to call, check in, and send me prayers when I needed them most. So, yeah, God knows what you need. I say that not because I saw what was happening while it was going on in my life – no, there were definitely times when I wanted to give up and felt completely unmotivated – instead because He was always there, working in me and around me and through me and through others to me. Sometimes what you expect to be a big, bad terrible storm turns into a beautiful, refreshing spring shower – it brings you flowers, sunshine, and a breath of new life. I sit and reflect on a semester that was a whirlwind, a serendipitous whirlwind of unexpected friendships and newly minted forever memories. I blinked, and it was suddenly over, my expectations were wrong and this time I was happy about it! But my, how I have been shown that the God I love, cherish, and serve, will always know what you need. Not only that, but He will abundantly bless you with what – or who – you need.

resilience

Humans are incredibly resilient. Probably more so than we recognize and acknowledge. We are resilient on both a personal and macroscopic level. We fight back, bounce back, and spring forward into life with a renewed strength. After everything has been drained from us and we are emotionally empty, somehow, we progress forward into a new wave of perseverance. The past year of my life has undoubtedly been the most difficult of the 21 years I’ve been living on this beautiful planet. I experienced moments of true darkness. In those moments, I felt internally shattered as I tried to piece together my external façade so others wouldn’t see my hurt. Strangely, the past year was also filled with remarkable moments of happiness and joy, strength and compassion, and unrequited love and friendship. This is what brought me through the valley and into the light. Macroscopically, I see Texans pushing forward as they reenter their homes and towns to find devastation and obliteration after a natural catastrophe stole their peace. They are not stunned into sadness but have the strength to carry on and rebuild. There are innumerable circumstances in the past – the World Wars, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, so many more – where people, who are inevitably limited and fragile, overcame grim and unsettling circumstances. They faced their darkness and broke through barriers of paralyzing fear. They depended on each other for comfort and strength – for friendship. Humans are amazing. I don’t think this resilience is a numbness of life that looks like an escalator we jump on to move forward, without any input from ourselves. I think this resilience is filled with a small glimmer of light – called hope – for a better future, for brighter days ahead. It looks more like an infinite number of stairs where we’re not afraid to take the first step on. We’re not afraid because we look back and look around us and see similar expressions of the same thing. We see brokenness and desolation, but hope. We’re not alone, and we never have been. You are never alone. You are resilient.

It may feel like the situation is inescapable and draining the strength from you like a vacuum; I promise it is temporary and controllable. Look up toward the stairwell and see others around you who have pushed through brokenness to find the strength. I personally believe hurt is relative and not absolute. Your hurt is as justified as any others. Likewise, your strength, maybe buried deep within, is just as available as any others. Trust in God who brought me out of my darkness, trust in friendship and love, and remember that we’re an inherently resilient people. We withstand the afflictions of disease and heartache, of destruction and despair, of loss and broken dreams. Yet we still find the strength to laugh with our friends, find purpose in our lives, and begin the journey out of defeat. We are incredibly resilient, and that is worth celebrating.

power of words

The power of words. We often say that words are powerful, that they are able to transform the world, and I think we want to sincerely believe this. I also think we say a lot of things that we want to believe but struggle to fully support. In today’s society, it seems that action is valued more than words. I’ve always been told to “pay attention to how someone treats you, not what they tell you.” This is great advice that I’ve always valued. People can say a lot of things. They can say that they like you, are happy for you, or support you but truly their actions are what enforce these sentiments. But should we totally discount words? Should we be so jaded by the broken promises and empty declarations that are given to us in this world that we don’t even bother to care for the words others tell us? I romanticize things too much to think this way. I’m a classic optimist. Because of this, I’m led to believe that words are very powerful, even more powerful than action. This morning, I sat thinking about the young lady who coerced her boyfriend to commit suicide. How powerful her own words were. She was served a 15-month sentence; she had no weapon for evidence, was far from the crime scene, and unfortunately left questionable doubt in the jurors. I’ve been grappling with our justice system quite a lot here lately, internally, so I’m not sure what I would have done if I had to make a decision in that case. Sometimes I think about our criminal justice system and become appalled, as if I am viewing this world from the sky, watching how we treat other human beings – that’s another topic for another day though. Nonetheless, I am convinced that her words powerfully persuaded someone else to take his own life; and that is worth talking about. This case raises the awareness of how powerful our words are. We can use our tongue to convince someone they’re insignificant, unimportant, or inferior. Conversely, we hold a powerful tool to lift people up, enlighten, and encourage. Our words matter.

I remember with high acuity the times that people said something that penetrated deep and hurt who I am. Sometimes, words cut deeper than a real knife ever could. I would never punch someone, especially someone I love, but maybe I do mindlessly let my words hurt as bad as physical wounds? It’s hard to think like that. It is painful to imagine our words causing pain to someone else, but they do. We separate what we say and what we do so well in this society. You can post all you want on social media, but it doesn’t necessarily follow what you do. Likewise, it makes sense that we are more inclined to ascribe meaning to physical punches than verbal ones. If I hit someone, I leave a visible mark of the damage I’ve done. When I shame someone with my words, though, the mark I leave is invisible. This translates to the unquestionable nature of a physical illness (measurable diseases, like atherosclerosis or hypertension) versus mental illness (less objective measurements like depression or anxiety). Why does this dichotomy exist? Why do we delineate between what is seen and what is said? Haven’t we observed the cruel effects of cutting language and mental diseases, both of which provoke beautiful, purposeful lives to truly consider their worth on this planet? Shouldn’t we start talking about this? I think this case of a young girl strongly persuading her boyfriend to kill himself should wake us up but not come as a surprise of the power of words. Instead, it should serve as a reminder of the power we have to convince and convey ideas, true or false, harmful or helpful. I think this issue moves beyond merely being nice to others but speaks of the false authority we give to tangible, physical qualities (punches, heart disease) over more abstract concepts (language, mental illness). What is the best way to eliminate this dichotomy? I don’t know. But we can always start by talking about it.

experiments

There’s this fleeting moment during an experiment, almost every time, where I stop and think I have completely messed up. I spent the past three days preparing to run an RT-qPCR (real time quantitative polymerase chain reaction if you’re interested) to see if our gene of interest is overexpressed in certain heart tissue. After 15 hours of work, today I put my eyes down, made sure I was ready to go, and began working with the tiniest volumes to prepare the final reaction. I manually pipetted into 96 wells twice (so 192 times). I was so focused on not messing up (this was my first time doing qPCR solo and they gave me the big experiment. . .) but that malevolent little thought rushed in once again. About halfway through the entire process I thought, oh no, you’ve messed up. What was the last sample used? Did you put the right primer in? Is the volume correct? Literally, every worst-case scenario entered my mind. In these often-had moments, I question my process, my accuracy, my proactive thinking, even my basic skills. No matter how confident I am, in these moments I lose all confidence and question things I know to be true. This happened to me today, and I’ve been experiencing this long enough to have mechanisms to mess-up-proof my experiments (like labeling everything, being very intentional in where samples are placed, and using my pipette box as a roadmap for where I’ve already been on the plate). Importantly, I catch my mind while immersed in this doubt and assure myself that I haven’t made a mistake, that I have been very cautious and attentive, and that I am doing just fine. If you’ve read this far despite nonsensical lab stuff, thank you. I realized that this self-initiated doubt is not confined to research but is universal in all of life.

How often am I moving right along, doing just fine, everything is working out, and my mind says to me, Oh no. You have really messed up. You’ve made a big mistake. Everything you’re doing is wrong. I’ll admit, very often. We have experiences, trials and errors, that guide us in life. We make decisions based on knowledge and feelings that we have previously experienced (either in hopes to feel or not feel that way in the future). For the most part, I’d say we are not blindly navigating through life without any guidance (like that cherished from friends, mentors, learning from past mistakes, intentional thinking, etc.). We live like skilled researchers, already filled with the knowledge of how to do our task or with the capability to obtain what we need to know to carry on. It is not that we are taking the wrong path or doing the wrong thing. It is that our minds are telling us that we are. Self-initiated doubt is a destroyer. In the middle of my experiments, it causes me to question what I know is right. In the middle of my life, it causes me to question my actions and pursuits. I so often am living my life, completely satisfied and happy, when that deceptive voice urges me to question everything. Unlike my research skills, I’m not as disciplined to channel my confidence and squander the doubts. This parallel became so clear to me today – doubt creeps in everywhere and to everyone (well, to me at least). Instead of worrying about everything I’ve done wrong or may do wrong, I hope to instead take a note from my laboratory self and remember that I’m capable, skillful, and perfectly fine carrying on in the way that makes me happy. While this example is very specific to my experience, I feel like anyone can think of a place they are skillful (on the court or field, in a job, as a mom or dad, in any hobby) where they don’t let doubt affect their ability to do that skill well. My hope is to live my life a little more like that so the nagging worry and unnecessary questioning don’t invade my happiness and peace of my mind. I guess I hope to live like a crazy scientist that trusts her hand, her skills, and her process – because we all deserve the peace of mind that comes from confidence and self-assurance.

Google searches

I just Googled “How to know to pursue an MD-PhD.” Then I stopped, stepped back, and laughed at myself. How in the world would a quick Google search give me any kind of reliable, meaningful, and honest information about such a big – and personal – question? It was so absurd that I actually laughed out loud to myself. While a funny example, I took a peek at the other auto-fill suggestions that Google supplied as I was typing: “How to know about my future” or “How to know if you’re in love” or “How to know to trust someone”. I thought about how deep, and complex, those questions are and, consequently, how deeply we yearn for quick and easy answers to them. I’m convinced that we all long for easy answers to hard questions. We desire for someone to tell us what to pursue in life, who to marry, when to make big investments, when to change careers, etc. Maybe you don’t wish for answers and enjoy the waiting game, but most of us would love to have an infinite collection of those answers at our fingertips. They make life simpler, less stressful, and more predictable. They make things easy.

But we don’t. We don’t have the answers to life’s big decisions – like whether or not to spend 7-8 years in school pursuing an MD-PhD or when to get married or when to change careers. We are sometimes lost, indefinitely, for answers at all. After I did my quick search and realized how silly it was, I thought about how blessed I am to be in a position of such difficult decisions. I am okay with not finding anything that resolved my questioning at the end of that Google search. I’m okay because I understand that we have hard decisions in life because that means we are living it, robustly and consciously. We are not sitting around waiting for life to happen but are instead posed against challenging and thought-provoking questions; if you’re asking when to get married that means you appreciate and are active in the process of finding lifelong love. If you’re worrying about a career change, it means you are thinking about the condition and happiness of your future. I am considering “next step” decisions in my education, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to consider those options. After my quick-and-easy Google search, I, unsurprisingly, didn’t find anything that answered my question. I found some helpful sites with anecdotal advice or frequently asked questions, but ultimately these hard decisions are answered based on our own considerations, life experiences and goals, and provisions for what we consider to be important and meaningful. Instead of mindlessly searching for answers, on the internet or otherwise, it may be better just to have a conversation with someone – yourself, a friend, a mentor – about why you’re asking that question and what are the considerations that led you there. In life, it is okay to not have answers to these questions just yet. I really believe they are coming and only require patience, grit, and perseverance before they show up in full view. Sometimes, all it takes is a silly search on the internet to remind you that life is far more complex than Google can answer, and that is perfectly okay.