images

I’m sitting 30,000 feet above the earth as I write this. I was elated when the American Airlines flight attendant poured my plastic, clear cup mostly full of ice and one quarter full of ginger ale and then, to my delight, passed over the entire can full of sugary goodness for me to enjoy. What an indulgence. I don’t normally drink soda, but my guilty pleasure is a nice, cold ginger ale, and I only drink them when I’m in the air, flying above the stretches of green and blue below. The distance between myself and the earth as I soar across the darkened North American sky creates a real sense of daredevil-ness, so I delight myself to one ginger ale. (Maybe this feeling is why my sister is becoming a pilot). I watch the dissolved carbon dioxide in my sugary elixir bubble up to the top like the joy I feel within myself. I rejoice in this feeling, because it may be fleeting, and I want to hold on as long as I can.

I’m convinced life is a series of catching the bubbles of joy, laughter, and happiness when they rise within us. They may be fleeting, but simply indulging in the goodness of life can bring them back.

I was reminded this past Sunday of an image I had a few weeks ago, in the midst of my medical school interview season. I was at Ethos church one Sunday when we were given some extra time to reflect and spend time in prayer and communion with God. In a moment of desperation to hear from God, I was given a powerful image that still lingers with me.

Last year I had a dream that I was in a small, wooden sailboat that had a beautiful orange and red sail that carried me through a little lake. The water was peaceful and calm and a dark, deep shade of blue. As I went along easily in this beautiful little serenity, I looked up to see – not physically see more than simply understand – that God was pulling my sailboat along the river. That he was the grand designer of all the adventures in my life, even the simple and mundane. Even the exotic and chaotic, he was the grandeur creator. I tucked this image away in my heart to grasp onto when I felt like I was aimlessly sailing my boat into the uncharted sea; someone greater than me already knows both the path and the destination.

Later that year, in the spring or summer of this year, I had another vision that I was walking through a series of wooden rooms with variously sized doors and windows. Except that it wasn’t really me more than I was just a set of big feet (it sounds strange) but it became clear that the purpose was for me to hone into these feet, the manifestation of our physical foundation. The things that carry us from place to place. In this image, I looked down to see God holding, gently, the tops of my feet as he picked up each one and set back down through the house of rooms and doors. Some doors we came to were closed, but I would glance over to see an open window filling with sunshine – and God brought me to that closed door for a reason. Had I walked through it, I would have never seen the beauty coming through the window. I continue to see this image of an omnipotent, kind God leading me gently and thoughtfully through the maze that is my life.

Finally, I had a vision within the last few months of another God moment. This one perhaps more connected to my feelings at the time. Early this year in the semester, I was dealing with some unwanted questioning about my life. I felt misplaced and out-of-order. I grappled with these feelings for a few weeks, always wondering where they came from and why I felt so odd and unfamiliar to even myself (the Queen of Self-Reflection!), but I did. I felt, maybe depressed? Maybe anxious? Maybe fearful of my uncertain future? Maybe scared of leaving a place like Belmont and the routine of my life? Who knows. I carried these thoughts with me into church one Sunday. As I sat in prayer, a time I’m so thankful Ethos gives us to have, I had a vision of myself standing along the edge of a beach. I was all alone, no one else was on the beach except me – desolate for miles to come. The vast ocean lay before me, always active while simultaneously calm. The stretch of shore expanded behind me. I thought to my previous images, and expectantly, I looked up and down the beach to see Jesus walking toward me or looking for me or something. But to my surprise – I saw nothing. No spirit. No person. Not a single movement. I stared ahead toward the ocean, thinking to myself, God, where are you? I expected him to show up. But then I looked down and saw the constant crashing of the ocean waves against my fragile human legs. The waves continued on, constantly washing across my feet, removing the remnants of sand that lingered from before, and immediately I heard, “Mary, I am the ocean. Constantly washing you anew. I’m always here, even in places you don’t expect me to be.” God painted this beautiful image in my head, and I rolled up the canvas to carry with me forever.

May your boat sail on, footsteps continue on, and waves carry on, washing you anew every day.

 

superheroes

It is no secret that I adore my nephew, Ezra, with all of my heart. He has the kindest, purest heart and possesses the unique capability to see the good in everything. He’s observant, hilarious, and open to exploration; the simple things that make him happy encourage me to see simplicity as so marvelous and beautiful as well. He has a room full of toys but finds complete satisfaction in simply running “super-speed” while shouting, “Hey Mimi watch me run like Dash!”. He’s adorable, but what intrigues me about my small nephew, and all young children, is their ability to see the good in people. As we grow older, we become hardened by the world and its cruelty, distrust, and pain. I’m trying to learn something important here from my wild and curious 3-year-old nephew.

Ezra loves superheroes. He’s always asking to show us his newest (or oldest) superheroes, exhibiting their heroic talent like Hulk-smashing or Superman-flying. He loves a good fight (he’s always Hulk, the opponent is always less strong). What intrigues me about him is that he also loves the “bad guys”. He shows off Thanos (who I think is a bad guy) and others with equivalent excitement and satisfaction. He conservatively tells you, “He’s a bad guy,” but continues to interact and play with the “bad guy” understanding he is still pretty cool and interesting. What I think is so important about this is the childlike ability to empathize with and connect with the bad guy. I think there’s a lot of merit in listening to the other side.

In real life, we despise the bad guys. We even shy away from the “Other” in ways that I think are harmful for our growth and character. We don’t care about hearing what the bad guys have to say. Our lives are compartmentalized into “safe” and “unsafe” and we rarely venture to the side that makes us feel uncomfortable. I write this because I certainly feel this way. The world makes us fear the unknown, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar. It’s easy to live within your mindset, friend group, daily schedule and never venture into the marvelous world of the superheroes and bad guys, where things often become a little less binary than “good” or “bad”. The blurred middle is where we live, where a verdict can’t be placed on every person we meet without understanding the baggage, experiences, and tragedy they carry just like we do. This morning, I want to set a simple intention for this week to be more like my small, curious, and loving nephew. I’m not going to change the world or save a group of people, but hopefully I will save at least a small part of humanity that is quickly fading in the drowning depths of fear. I’ll always believe that love triumphs fear. This week, I hope to listen to the bad guys for just a little longer, step outside of my comfort zone to become a little wiser, and spread my love just a little wider.

childlike awe

As I sit and look at the great beauty and enormity that is the ocean, I can only be reminded of the great and beautiful God that is at play. A God that loves the birds of the sky and fish of the sea as much as He loves my own very own existence. A God that is personal, yet remains enigmatic in so many ways. A God that has the power to rule the earth in any capacity He chooses, but chooses to rule in a way where His beauty is displayed in all walks of life, from the constant roll of the ocean to the beauty of a work of art. God’s beauty is the foundation for which all other forms of beauty are held up against. It is a pure beauty, unadulterated, untouched by the trials and manifestations of men. It is a rare beauty, but widespread among the earth. Rare because of perfect quality, not limited quantity. His beauty touches all things. The way an illness taints a population, God’s beauty cures our blinded hearts so that we can see the world as He made it. Constantly we are stripped of this authentic beauty and traded for an artificial form of the world’s beauty. When we realize that all of the things we think beautiful, pure, true are held together by the ornate form of beauty that God instilled we will notice this rarity in all mediums of beauty. We will see it displayed in art and science or literature and nature or the synchronous flow of sound in music. All of these things should be appreciated for their own beauty, for their own sake. We cannot take the beauty away from these things and replace it with our lackluster, incomplete idea of beauty. No, we just admire the beauty that is within all of these creatures and concepts, and we acknowledge the pure form of pleasure that they give us. We stare and hear and know the beauty, but not because we made it. Not because we created it. We are children staring with wide, curious eyes at the handcrafted toys in a toy shop. We see and wonder at the beauty. But we know with our childlike minds that we did not create the toys. We know that the toys did not create themselves. We know that somewhere beyond the glass plastered with our smoked up breath and fingerprints, beyond the grandeur display of beautifully crafted toys, is an extravagant, meticulous Creator. The one who is the source of the beauty within the toys. As I sit back and see the wonder that is the ocean and I close my eyes to the incessant sounds of the sea, I know that I am that child. I am the one in fervent, childlike awe of the beauty that the Creator put before me.

reasons

After reading When Breath Becomes Air, it caused many moments of self-reflection, recognition, and realization. The most profound of these moments was certainly the correlation that Dr. Kalanithi feels between the morality of humans and the principality of science – and the deep and undeniable connection between the two. My own experiences with realizing what morality is and how we as humans can approach understanding truthfully moral ways has heightened my awareness of the breadth, complexity, and utter incomprehension we have of the meaning and value of life. I don’t say this morbidly, because if you know me you know I am quite the optimist (insert cheesy smile), but I do say it with sincerity. There is such a truly bold connection between humans as spirits and souls that feel love, mercy, pain, and an array of emotional qualities, and the humans that are comprised of varying physiologies of biological and chemical pathways and processes. We are such a complex and deeply intertwined species, that pure science and pure metaphysics do not explain us. They require themselves and a few other important things for a full, robust and accurate description of what it means to be alive.

Deriving from my own experiences as a student, Christian,  and human (surprise!), I have found many truths and many troubling thoughts. Philosophy is something I have grown to love and hate at the same time, which I have commonly found is not unique just to me but to others who study philosophy as well. You may ask, what even is philosophy, and you may laugh at students that say philosophy is their major, but I encourage you to exercise some tact when approaching those who enjoy philosophy. But first, to answer your question in my own, rudimentary knowledge of the subject, I would say that philosophy is truly a search for meaning. Meaning of life, meaning of people, meaning of actions, of religion, of science, of thoughts, of generally anything that is worth searching for. And my own experiences with this quest have been… circuitous. Oscillating between why does this matter? and how could this not matter? has left me in a comfortable, but strange, place with philosophy. Almost at peace, so to say. I have found innumerable truths reading though the great minds of thought, peering into their own opinions on the most important matters of life: happiness, virtue, God, and learning to name a few. I have experienced these inquiries from mathematicians, career-philosophers (ha ha at that term), atheists, scientists, Christians, and teachers. What I have found is a universal truth: that we are humans, and that we take our experiences and we develop our own values, our own morals, our own ethics, our own vocabularies, our own meanings, and we are all developed differently but still the same. For me, this has allowed me to see Christianity in a newfound strength (insert: Go read Rene Descartes’s Meditations). It has allowed me to see the necessity with which there needs to be God. God is the true foundation for which all life, thought, and meaning is derived. He is the unifying alikeness that all humans possess, and He is the only thing that can complete science in its discrepancies and shortcomings. Maybe philosophy has the opposite effect for others, but for me it has challenged my thoughts in unseen ways (sometimes scary ways), but has allowed me to truly integrate every piece of my being – my desire to live a good life, my love and faith in Jesus Christ, and my infatuation with science. I don’t credit philosophy with helping me understand more about myself. I do credit philosophy with teaching me how to think, how to speak, and how to formulate my own ideas and opinions. I see the connections in my life, the concrete existence of a God that no, cannot be empirically proven, but can be proven by merely examining humans and experience. I have seen different parts of my life woven into a fabric that just makes sense. In a way, I felt it has set me apart more than before I had studied my own self and values so extensively (as a by-product of philosophy) and has made me difficultly different than other people in this way (hopefully other students can agree with me on this). Ultimately, I have realized the importance of dependency. The importance of friendship; the importance of conversation; the importance of sharing your life with others; the importance of NEVER thinking you are above others and cannot learn from them; the importance of bringing together all parts of your life and finding where you are genuinely the most happy.

This has been me incessantly rambling about how happy I am to have learned something about my life. The truth is, there are many, MANY, many things I do not know. In these are where my trust and faith in God prevails. I know not what my life holds, but I do know who has been entrusted with my future. And I do know that He has placed meaning, importance, and value in every life on this earth. I see these not just through a lens of spirituality but also a lens of philosophy. Until I am made fully aware of these things, I will keep striving to understand more about what God wants for me, how He wants me to live, and the ways in which I can more fully be His humbled, faithful, and loving daughter. I can pray we can do this together. (I also HIGHLY, highly encourage you to read When Breath Becomes Air… It is beautiful.)

 

divinity

Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Sometimes, as a student that studies science, I feel like I have a special vision into what God’s divine nature and eternal power looks like when displayed in a physical context. I feel advantaged to be able to interpret God’s divinity and sovereignty over all things in a context unusual to most. God’s infinite powers “have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” I take this to heart. I am found out of excuse when it comes to an argument against the creation of man by a skillful and intricate Creator. As a lover of science, I admire the challenges that scientists face when trying to discredit creationism. On this one though, I can only see through the lens of a God Most High. Yes, my answer to “How is the world created?” is a simple “God spoke life into all things.” And I am sorry if this doesn’t appease you, but truthfully my stance is not to satisfy the natural curiosity that man possesses. My desire in these matters is only to search for Truth and to find it in a way that remains objective and unemotional.

I say my desire because I do not always fulfill this query. Remaining non-subjective, I will. I can hear the facts of the Big Bang Theory or the evolution argument, and I will ponder them and explore them with you. We can learn about them and challenge them together. Through these experiences, you will see that your faith in a scientific concept is just as strong as my faith in a divine Creator. Your faith in random interactions of matter is equivalent to my faith in the Word of God. However, my faith is discredited, maybe due in part to the sociocultural evolution of Christianity. I won’t deny that some people present Christianity in a way that may be quite different from what one may say is the “right way” and on this, I have no discernment except for to encourage the recipient of the knowledge to search and explore the word for himself. Nonetheless, Christianity gets a bad rap in the world of intellect and reason. Taken face-value, maybe I can understand. But when investigated, these “highly intellectual and logically sound” persons are taking their belief to a level beyond my extreme. Matter collided, and the world progressed through time to evolve into what it is and who we are today. I just have difficulty with this, and maybe this is where I fail to remain unemotional. There are undoubtedly some parts of Christianity in which I also have difficulty understanding, too. I will support science when presented with the facts or laws that rest within scientific realms. I will support science when presented with partial facts but at least a clear and comprehensible reasoning. Perhaps my feeble and weak mind cannot comprehend how particles interacted in a way that eventually led to the ability for the human body to thrive the way it does. Do I think creationism is a short-winded way to the Truth? No, I think creationism is the Truth. God spoke life into me, and into you, and into every plant and animal, and living being on the earth. I believe this because it is seen clearly to me. I see beauty in life. I don’t see discrete (but abstract, in a way) collisions of matter that came together explaining what we know today about biology and biochemistry. Life is too complex, and inconceivably amazing, for me to settle with that lacking answer.

But if you believe we were made in this way, I don’t mock you or undermine your intellect or belief. I just challenge you to search for Truth in other ways. Tunnel-visioning belief is belief built on rocky ground. Explore creationism. Try to see life through my perspective. If you saw beauty in the way topoisomerase is signaled to start assisting DNA for replication the same way I do, I promise your life would be more meaningful and utterly inspiring. I don’t love God because He makes my life more meaningful and utterly inspiring, because I love God my life is more meaningful and utterly inspiring. God’s divine intervention is evident through so many things. Aside from tangible things like the ability to survive and complex cellular biological processes, nontangible things like the feeling of being embraced or laughing uncontrollably are indicators that someone out there loves us more than particles colliding can provide to explain. Human cognition and consciousness gives me faith in Someone more powerful and of higher capacity than me. Someone that transcends all things. Science can’t explain everything…which gives me reason to believe that a God Most High can (although maybe not while we are here on this earth).
The truth is we don’t have the facts to it all. We don’t have answers, and there are some questions we probably never will have answers to. But we should search for the Truth. And whatever you believe, or if you believe nothing at all, at least experience the beauty of life. Because whomever, or whatever, put it there is clearly trying to display to us a small portion of the magnanimity and all-encompassing beauty we may someday get to experience more fully. My troubled, but hopeful, soul rests easily in that.

pieces

Two nights ago I went restorative Yin Yoga at Shakti before my first day of classes yesterday. During one of the periods of long, extensive stretching I let my mind navigate to the place it wanted to go without my own coercing. During this small period of tabula rasa, I saw a girl trying to move very large puzzle pieces, almost as large as she was. At first I thought that the girl was actually a child and the puzzle pieces were indeed gigantic. Later I decided that the girl was not a child, but that the puzzle pieces were much larger than I had imagined. In this depiction of these large puzzle pieces, I was soon enlightened to find that the pieces were all different. Some of the pieces were people. Some of the pieces were experiences. Some of the pieces were memories. Some were ideas. Some were bright; some were dark. But the girl was trying so hard to put the puzzle pieces together. Fit this one here, put that one there. But she was struggling, for reasons unknown to me.

Until later.

We are boxes of puzzle pieces. My puzzle, the one specially designed for me, holds many different pieces than yours does. Mine is not any less than yours or better; just different. My pieces have my family, the people who have really taught me to grow, taught me to imagine, taught me to live, and most importantly taught me to love. Each piece is a sister, a mother, a father, a cousin, a brother-in-law, an aunt, a grandmother, a grandfather, a nephew, and the list continues seemingly infinitely. Each person has marked me like a sneaky, steady stream erodes the rock. The results are irreversible, good or bad. There are smaller pieces to my puzzle that are acquaintances, friends, and passers-by. Teachers, preachers, and leavers. The point is, each person I have encountered in my life is special to me because they have made me who I am, without me knowing it. It may be scary (and it is) that I really have limited control over whom becomes a new piece to my dynamic and changing puzzle. My experiences, memories, ideas, beliefs, successes, and failures are all essential elements of what makes my puzzle interesting and unique. They were all there, being ran over with the eyes of a girl trying to figure out where they all fit.

What differentiates me from the eggs, milk, chocolate chips, and flour sitting in a bowl? Why am I different than the neutrons, protons, and electrons out in the universe waiting to collide? How are these elements, when in combination with each other made whole, different from me? What makes me different is beautiful. I am different because I am not a bunch of puzzle pieces sitting in a box. I am not even puzzle pieces sporadically laid out on a table. I may sometimes be a girl trying to fit the pieces together in a way that looks satisfying to my own eye. But most profoundly, I am the daughter of the one interfering with my efforts. I am different from the cookies and the atoms because I am being actively formed. I am not just sitting, waiting to be combined or collided. I am a creation. My efforts are useless. My efforts cause me nothing but confusion. One of the major downfalls to my perception of this reality is that I see only a portion of my puzzle; whereas my Maker sees everything. He understands why some really ugly pieces are there. He knows with utter comprehension why a certain undesirable experience occurred. He knows, not because he sees the final picture, but because He created the final picture. He knows where every person will fit, not because He sees where the pieces should fit (this is the mistaken perception I have), but because He created those pieces to fit together. Some may disagree with this philosophy. And if you do, that is fine. But I would love for you to ascertain the idea that I wholeheartedly believe that you, too, are being created with intention and purpose.

So after seeing my obvious difficulties in trying to solve the puzzle, basically blindly, I have surrendered my efforts. I see the pieces, I acknowledge their importance. My Creator will create me. My Maker will make me. My role in this game is the accept the changes. The good ones. The bad ones. I don’t know what my puzzle will look like, and truthfully I don’t want to know. Because I know that God never creates anything less than perfect. And I rest assuredly in that. So God, take my pieces. And make them perfect in You.

 

illusions

I am thankful that God gave me the ability to experience beauty.
What is beauty? Where is the idea of beauty derived from? What molds our minds to think something is classified as beautiful? I am not talking about exterior, superficial beauty. I am talking about things that are truly beautiful. Truly extravagant and truly awing. This type of beauty leaves me humbled and thankful. It makes me feel small but important. It leaves me confirmed in my faith and sincerely amazed. Have you ever seen an illusionist or magician perform and leave thinking, wow that was incredible. How did that happen? What was the trick or the hidden performance that caused the illusion?
I feel this way about things that are beautiful.
The biological sciences leave me almost daily in a state of appreciation and utter awe. Every day, every second, every single millisecond, our bodies are performing some incredibly complex and intricate processes. The human body blows my mind. My biology professor, Dr. Laura Stephan, was lecturing this morning about a protein found in the mitochondrial matrix (remember from middle school, the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell!) that is so fundamental to our beings that it is a testament to the enormity and intricacy of our God. This protein, ATP synthase, is the sole proprietor for the functional energy created by our cells. This may sound like mumbo jumbo but let me elucidate – this single, microscopic molecule enables our cells to produce energy, which enables our cells to do amazing things like fight disease and fix problems in the body. I am able to write this post and think these thoughts because of a tiny, seemingly insignificant protein. I am able to laugh and enjoy apple cider and watch endless amounts of Netflix because these minuscule mechanisms within my body are functioning – and not just functioning but functioning in a way that is conducive to living and thriving. I’m sorry, maybe it’s just me, but that is beautiful. The way everything fits together so well, the way everything works at the right time and halts at the right time, the way the body has all these crazy complexities that allow me to live and breathe is absolutely awesome, in the true meaning of the word. Beauty to me is seeing how God enables our lives. He put all of those proteins in the perfect places. When I was being created in my mother’s womb, all of my cells came together in a fashion that enabled me. So much is going on in our bodies at a given time that it is almost incomprehensible. I think God works this way. He silently creates these beautiful pieces of our lives and when we are exposed to them, it takes our breath away and leaves us in awe and wonder. God has shown me the beauty that He is capable of uncovering. It makes me hopeful and excited to know that my God can make things so indefinitely beautiful.
Last night I attended a symphony at the University. I love classical music, but this was my first attendance at a true symphony with an orchestra. It was incredible. Hearing sounds created by instruments that came together in a way that seemingly flowed into a single piece caused my thoughts to navigate towards what was actually going on. Individuals on the stage were performing with their instrument, those sounds were combining with other sounds; the sounds danced around each other, and then that music traveled to my ears and I was enabled to experience the combination of it all. During the symphony I just thought to myself Thank you God for allowing these things to enrich my mind and fill my ears. This is just another form of the beauty you allow me to see. Whenever you let God take you to something beautiful, you know it. Last night was one of those moments.
Beauty is all around us. Maybe you have difficulty seeing beauty; if that’s the case, I encourage you to look for the beauty. He has placed it all around us: in the leaves, in conversation, in our bodies, in the mountains, in His merciful grace, and most prominently in ourselves. God has given you a beauty so unique to you that no one else can replicate it. He has given us the ability to recognize this beauty in others and verbally acknowledge it (I think we should utilize this ability more often). God, thank you for the beauty you have shown me. Thank you for the incomprehensible, transcending, munificent, and amazing beauty you have allowed me to see. I pray that you guys see this same beauty around you and within yourself.
Like the magician, we see only what is exposed to us. But instead of living a life of wonder and incessant pondering of unanswered questions about how the magic tricks are working, God is transparent. He lets us know that He is the illusionist behind all things beautiful and all things wonderful.