Thursday, December 20, 2012

Science is for Cool Kids

I just finished my first semester of graduate school, studying biology and trying to reconcile myself with my new title of "scientist". I figured I would share a bit of what I've learned...

1.       Graduate school is the last form of a dying thing called apprenticeship. As a grad student, you join a lab and the PI/s (principal investigator/s) becomes your mentors. Apprenticeship is a strange relationship. Like most relationships it is built on trust and destroyed by assumptions and miscommunication. But it’s unlike most relationships. Because you are younger, and they tell you what to do, you start to feel like their pseudo-child. Before you know it, you see them as parents, and spend your free time thinking of how to scramble into their good graces, and escape the dark abyss of their displeasure. Of course, to them it is a healthy relationship of teacher and student, (or genius and sponge) but to you it is a lot more twisted.
2.       It is good for the one to die for the many to be saved.
There is a form of DNA damage called alkylation. A methyl group (Me) is added to our DNA, and that’s not good. When this happens, it’s directly reversed by something called the suicide enzyme which has a sulfate group (SH). The “S” takes the “Me” off our DNA and allows it to keep replicating in a happy, normal manner. Why the killer name? Because once the enzyme takes the “Me”, it can no longer function; it basically sacrifices itself for the sake of the DNA.  
3.       If you go the wrong way, you can go back to where you started and try again.
Proteins have 4 levels of structure. The first (Primary structure) is formed, and has to be formed properly before the second, which has to be formed properly before the third, and so on. The protein has to go through pathways for each structure to get to what it needs to become. But as in life, mistakes happen. It can go down the wrong path, and become the wrong protein. Much like a confused young person, it often goes down the wrong path. Then what? Our amazing bodies have a repair mechanism for everything. If it goes down the wrong path, there is another pathway through which it can go back to the beginning and start over!
4.       The fruit you bear depends on the ground that you’re connected to.
 So genes have all the information we need to make proteins (which is what most our bodies is made of). These genes are called DNA. DNA gets turned into RNA, which is what actually gets translated into proteins. RNA is translated into protein by proteins (go figure) called ribosomes. In humans (and most large complex organisms), this RNA has to be recognized by things called Eukaryotic Initiation Factors. One of which is called eIF4G. We’re going to call it 4G to make things less complicated. 4G connects to the top of our RNA and allows translation to happen. Sometimes, when a virus comes into our bodies, it wants to have its own proteins made instead of our own. One of the things it can do is get itself recognized by 4G instead of our RNA. Whatever source 4G is connected to is what gets translated. So if it’s connected to the wrong source, like the polio virus factor, then polio proteins get translated and we get sick.
5.       Many parts, each doing their work and supporting each other, make a functioning body.
You know how in daycare, there are just a bunch of babies, all pretty much the same, who can become a million different things when they grow up? The equivalent in early development of a person (or any organism) is pluripotent cells. These cells are all the same, but can grow to become any of the God-knows-how-many cells that make up our bodies. They start of the same, and then branch of pretty quickly to each have their own characteristics and behavior that makes them what they really are. All the parts, after they have found their pathway, and what they are meant to be, become the body. In some species, if one group of cells gets destroyed for one reason, the rest can work to regenerate that part, making up for the lack in body.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Goodbyes and Kind Things Like That

Today I taught my first college class for the last time. Towards the end of the session, something weird happened. An outlandish desire to hold on to these 20something’s who wouldn’t be able to tell anyone anything about me, in whose faces I saw not names, but percentages. As they left, they turned in their papers, gave me the 5-second-American-smile and walked away. In a moment of spontaneity, I wondered if I should bar the door with my body and demand hugs, against everything in the professional conduct code. I looked down, gathering papers, and marveled over the end of things, why it means so much. 

My favorite student came up to me. Yes I know, it’s not right to have favorites. You have to treat everyone the same way. Perhaps I still have favorites because I’m new at this, or maybe it’s because with no explanation, those who draw us draw us, and those who put us off put us off. He came up to me and took his quiz. I prepared myself for the casual nod and smile, and he said, “thank you for this semester, have a good life!” I laughed, replying “Good luck on the final!”, and loved him for a brief second. That’s how I will always remember this day now. 
In the poetic words of Dostoyevsky, “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” Goodbyes mean so much. Ask the person who loses a loved one to some form of ending, and there’s a high chance you will hear them say “I never got the chance to say goodbye.” There is a mark for the beginning, but without a sort of goodbye, in the end everything seems to float away, without cause, without any definition; an incomplete circle. The ends of things are hard enough, and like any other kind of pain, ignoring them only makes them hurt more.

Because we live, we get the opportunity to make a mark. Not just in the things we endeavor to make a mark in - sometimes we never get that priviledge - but in everything we do. Not only in the things we say, but in the times when we stay silent. You may never get to be the third world activist you want to be, cure cancer, or fulfill even simple, perfectly reasonable dreams, like being a good father. But there are dreams all around you. Not yours sometimes but by some twist of fate, in your power to fulfill. There are always open places for you to make a mark. So be kind in your words and silences. Express the things in your heart to the people who flutter through your life, while you have them. Live well. Leave well.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


If I was in Italy I would be able to write today
But there are no calm rivers here
No gentle rocking boats
No romance languages
To quote.
In an open savannah
The light warm breeze
Would be the inspiration that I’m missing.
Had I been one of those pretty bugs that danced on water
I would have some adventures to speak of.
I’m just sitting here

So far away from you.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

To Find or to Define God?

I want to know God. I've heard so many sermons, read so many inspirational books, even gone the ridiculous route of looking within myself, but throw all that away. I want to know God. The One who's name is Faithful and True. Who called the religious hypocrites a "brood of vipers" and told them to stop tripping over what their peers thought of them, and get their hearts right with Him.

I realized this when I tried to find a scripture the other day of what it means to know God. This is what the Bible said about a man, David - Jeremiah 22:16 "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD." That can't be it, I thought. I looked for something else. The prophet Micah said "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." I was disappointed. It seemed so... blah. It wasn't the answer I had wanted; I was ready to reject the truth because it didn't sound profound enough for me. That was when I knew that I had got to stop romanticizing God. If my words of adoration are beautifully structured, creatively designed, yet do not speak the truth about God, then who exactly am I worshiping?

As Paul says, "Let God be true and every man a liar."

I want to know the God of whom it was prophesied even before His birth: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him... Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem." This is who I want to know. Not the tall, white hottie with the blond hair and blue eyes who fits my idea of a hero, but the ugly man that didn't speak up to defend himself. The One who took spit in His face and didn't give the perfect speech to shame the crowd like Maximus in Gladiator. The one who bought our death with His life.

Not the projection of Him that changes depending on who's talking about Him. Not the one that fits into my personal experiences and enthusiastically supports all my values and understands the reasons for every sketchy thing I do. The One who thinks more about the widow, the orphan and the afflicted than about how much money I am pledging to the building fund. The One who loves me, but hates my hypocrisy and my sin. The One who loves the people I cannot stand, and has embraced the people who have broken my heart with the same faithful forgiveness that He gives me. I want to know this Jesus, who didn't just take the government and authority of God upon His shoulders, but also took the suffering of the world on them, silently. The One who wouldn't even let people call Him "good teacher" on earth.

The definitions have become tiresome, and many times when we talk about Him, I see our hands outstretched, shaping and fashioning what we would like to worship. Removing the parts we dislike, adding on extras, messing with the image of the only worthy One. I want to erase every self-made idea and just know Him. And love Him. Not just say it. Not just love Him with my heart, but put all my mind, soul and strength into loving Him too. I want to worship Him. Not with my idea of worship but with His. Not with my idea of a sacrifice, but with His. With the obedience of everyday of my life. "You will seek me," He says, "and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
May we know You, Lord.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Of Love, Blood & Fire

If love leads you to fall and weep
At the feet of the sweet Shepherd of sheep
May Christ satisfy you
For there are endless pleasures in Him
If blood enters your heart
And it beats with fervor and determination
May it never freeze into stone
But be perpetually revived in repentance
If the blazing fire from His eyes
Should consume your soul
Then dance
           And proclaim
For the temple has received His glory
And it will surely overwhelm you again and again
And again.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nice Resumé, Where's Your Heart Though?

The other day I started reading this book that is titled something along the lines of "How to be an Excellent Woman". I didn't make it past page 12 for sheer boredom, but that is besides the point. When I put the book down, I asked myself a question. Why do you want to be excellent?

Same applies for my recent obsession with the book of Proverbs. 
For those who haven't had the privilege of reading Proverbs, it's part of a section in the Bible called the "wisdom books" and rightly so; it contains sayings such as the famous "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." and the not so famous but true nonetheless, "A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense."

Why get wisdom? Because it's better than foolishness? This is true. Good answer. 
But the question I'm asking is one of motives and intentions. Because why you are what you are is as important as what you are.

As a young person trying to follow God, I see a lot of other young people who, like me, are seeking after righteousness, wisdom, excellence, and Proverbs 31-woman-ness, etc, and I find that sometimes, we get so caught up in the search, in trying to become all these things that we don't always take the time to find out what is in our hearts, motivating our righteous desires.

If it motivates a righteous desire, it's gotta be good right? Nope! So check yo self as I do the same.

Why do we seek to grow in wisdom, righteousness, excellence?
Is it so that people will see us  and be in awe of how put-together we are? 
So that other un-excellent people can be envious? 
So that we can fit in with the rest of the righteous people at church?
To be recognized as perfect marriage material???

Or because we love God? Because we want to know Him more? To be someone through whom He shows himself and draws others to his excellence? Because whenever anything, no matter how worthy and good, becomes about us, me, mine, myself, how we look and how we feel, we are speeding down the highway of selfish ambition. 

Should we strive for excellence, righteousness, et cetera? By all means, yes. But while we do that, we should also keep the truth hidden in our hearts - that we become excellent, running towards maturity in all areas of righteousness not so that we can be exalted, but so that we can disappear. As we lose more and more of our own selves, Christ takes up more and more of us, so that in seeing us, others may gain Him. The prize that drives us to live this way should be the Lord, because He literally is what we gain. When we see Him, we love Him, and from that point, knowing Him and making Him known is worth everything.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cloudy with a chance of clarity.

Every now and again I start to get this feeling. The sort of feeling that makes you want to run skywards for miles, or start collecting globes of different sizes. It starts with melancholia. My bubbly personality (am I the only one who cracks up at the thought of a person being bubbly?) begins to settle into this eerie, calm phase. I begin to think deeply about random things and begin to pine for something. I never know what that something is. A longing feeling, like there's something I'm forgetting to do, or some big part of life's picture that I'm overlooking. For me, this usually means I'm enterring a new "season" in life. As things that seemed important become less and less so, new things occupy my life. I'm a the point in life where things change very often and very quickly. It's called your 20s. Life feels like a roller-coaster and honestly, if it were any other way I'd be awfully bored.

So I come to terms with this new season in life, and then begin to get stressed. It's one thing to take a hold of a particular concern and lay it down, refusing to worry about it, saying "I will trust that God will work everything out". It's another thing when there is no particular concern. When it seems like the worry is about your entire life. That's what it feels like every time I enter a new season in life. I'm still riding on a high cloud from the end of the last season, when I've figured things out and am doing well. I'm wary about starting from the bottom, heading into something that is unfamiliar, that I don't know how to handle. If I pray at these times, I'll remember some scripture that relates to how I feel and read it. Today's was from Psalm 68. It says "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

Ah... right, OK. I can breathe. I remember now, God's still in control.
Just because I'm over 20 doesn't mean that I'm no longer God's child, doesn't mean that He has suddenly changed His mind about taking care of me, and handed over the responsibility for my life. He still believes that I shouldn't worry about my life. He's still got this.

And the God that's in control bears my burdens every day. As new ones come, He opens wide His everlasting arms and carries them. Whether I decide to be stressed or not, the truth is still the same. God is the only one that is actually sustaining me. "Cast your burden upon the Lord" king David said. Why? Because He's strong enough to take care of it, and He wants to. Because He cares for you.

Thus I chill out, and keep moving through life with a new thought in my head: "new season, same God."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On the Unwarranted Jadedness of Privileged Young People

Something is wrong. Teens and young adults troll around social networking websites and mope through life, not in the glorious joy of youth, but with a dark cloud hanging over them. They describe themselves as alone and misunderstood, and one would almost think it was a front - a tool to seek attention, until one looked at suicide rates. Is there any good reason why at the prime of life, a mentally stable young person, with very easily diagnose-able problems would be conned into thinking that their life is so bad that they need to end it?
I won't pretend to know why our seemingly perfect lives are marked with purposeless sadness and unnecessary depression, but permit me to offer some ideas.

1. It's cool to be miserable. We're always complaining about something. Something always gets on our nerves. Everyone has their special little irritation and loves to flaunt it. Even if we aren't directly complaining about our lives, we are complaining about someone else's - because, for some superfluous reason - it just bothers us that much.
2. We have nothing that is ours. We wear clothes from a previous era, we wish we were born then, we think it's cool to point out how much we hate everything from this generation. We are constantly repeating one message to ourselves -we don't want to be here.
3. We feel un-oppressed, and somehow that bothers us. We feel bad because we don't have any real issues going on, so we protest for any and everything. We make everything a big deal because we feel shallow if we don't have any issues. We see groups of suffering people and latch on to them, trying to somehow be a part of what they are feeling because we don't have any real sufferings of our own and that makes us feel empty. We believe, in a twisted way, that the only way anyone can be real, deep or conscious is if they have suffered. So we manufacture our own sufferings. We take drugs, get into abusive relationships, and go to extremes, knowing we will get hurt, and when we do, we refuse to let it go. We hold on to it, like a sort of trophy - look at my scars.
Sample image of miserable young person.
4. Philosophy is being taught to any and everyone. Our ability (mine included) to analyze life, ourselves and situations furthers this depression. Ignorance is bliss, but we know so much that we are carrying a large burden that makes us skeptical pessimists, unless we are fortunate enough to believe in God and have a way out of the madness.
5. We are ungrateful. We don't ever see what we have - food, shelter, love, friendship, potential, abilities, education, money. Instead we see what we don't have - whatever that is - and we dwell on that.

We sound pretty messed up, don't we? To be fair, I won't leave you without the gooey feeling of self-pity that you are looking for. There is one warranted reason for our behavior. We were born into what seemed like a utopia. Childhood was sheltered and blissful, then one day, just like that - the veil of innocence was snatched off our startled faces, and we saw life for what it really was.
Our parents weren't perfect after all, our race wasn't all that great, our countries were not so noble and brave. Our friendships became more narrow, more safe and we began to foretell the inevitable detriment that society's systems would have on humankind. Of course we are jaded, right? Right.

That said, for as long as we live, it is irrational to lose our rose-colored glasses while we are young. The gift of youthfulness comes in fresh-faced boys and girls with few disappointments and sorrows, and most importantly, with the ability to dream. The possibilities, even for the not-so-privileged, are endless. We can dream of whether to go to college and where, what trade to pick up, who to marry and under what circumstances, how to live. Basically, our lives are large blank canvases which we stand above with paints in hand to create whatever we wish.
I think that joy doesn't come from the outside, but from the inside. If you have a cheerful spirit, you know how to be content and how to be happy internally first - where it really counts. Get one. As a generation we should stop reveling in our misery, and cling to the liberty that is our prerogative in this stage of life.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A(lone)ly Day

I can't say they never told me to leave it alone
That literature was for aged men and love for the mature
To pursue the simpler things
Dance maybe
Or song
But I wanted art in my life
So I poured my heart into stanzas
And I fell in love with a poem.
What the writer never finds out
Is that no matter how sympathetic
How exceptionally attractive words can be
How delicious they taste as you devour them from paper
Rolling them around your mouth savoring the lyric
They have a distinct way
Of leaving you when you need them the most
And the tragedy of a forgotten lover sitting at a window on a lonely day
Is multiplied for the writer who can't find the right words to say
We never find out about that special aloneness
Until love has come
And it's too late to turn away.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Putting the Hammer Down

Most of the time, my anger is from a place called Graceless. It's from a place that forgets that God is Love, and His mercy is the kind that does not run out. I'm surrounded by people who do ridiculous things, and recently, it was one of those people who really should have known better. I was so upset, you would have thought that they had sinned against me. I could feel the righteous anger boiling up inside me - zealot that I am - I was offended for God! I wanted to tell them off, in humble terms, and warn them of the forthcoming wrath of God. Then, out of nowhere, I felt this urge to stop and think (HATE it when that happens) : where was my annoyance coming from?

I find I think that people are using up God's patience, and fear (sometimes it's hope disguised as fear depending on the person) that they are going to really suffer because of it. But then I remember that God didn't run out of patience with me. I remember how it wasn't an angry explosion that turned me to Him, instead His love poured over me when I least deserved it had me so awestruck that I haven't stopped staring at Him since. I remember that Jesus' life wasn't given to a people crying for mercy, but to a people spitting at Him and laughing in His face. I remember that His love is one that I just can't understand.
So I did what I do when I'm willing to accept that I'm wrong. I prayed. "Lord, please help me not to be judgmental and accusing, not to be condemning. Help me to remember that they are Your children who You love. Help me to see them as You see them." I thought I was done, but another phrase came to my mind to ask God for: "help me to be a light and not a hammer." Mmmkay?

Then the breakdown: A light brightens a path so that people can find it and walk in it securely. It is an aide. A hammer sees something that needs fixing and BANG, puts it in its place. It is a hard, aggressive, forceful push. The hammer is not what God wants for us - He loves us too much - instead He says, this is the way, walk in it. That's how He wants us to treat each other. To be the light, make the path clear, show people how to walk in it by walking in it ourselves. The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever. It's a familiar phrase, it's in almost every Psalm and in tons of other scriptures. The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever. He is kind, His goodness doesn't have a limit, His love doesn't finish. Meditate on that. The Lord is good. His mercy endures. Forever.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Will the Real Nikki Please Stand Up?

Ode to one of my favorite poets, Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni, who describes herself as "a Black American, a daughter, a mother, a professor of English." What she doesn't mention is her numerous published books and poems, her fight for civil rights and her honorary doctorates. She's every woman - it's all in her. 
I don't really know how to describe her style - I would say it's simple, but it's complicated too. I would say it's elegant, but sometimes it's choppy. I would say it's beautiful, and, yes... it is. It's beautiful. See for yourself. 

"a poem is pure energy
horizontally contained
between the mind
of the poet and the ear of the reader
if it does not sing discard the ear
for poetry is song
if it does not delight discard
the heart for poetry is joy
if it does not inform then close
off the brain for it is dead
if it cannot heed the insistent message
that life is precious
which is all we poets
wrapped in our loneliness
are trying to say"

(Excerpt from Poetry - Nikki Giovanni)

Friday, January 20, 2012

When It All Falls Down

The other day, I fell. Not in a mental sort of way, I literally slipped, skidded and fell face forward in the middle of a thankfully not so busy road. My hands involuntarily reached for the ground to save my body from landing first and I got hurt pretty badly. I lay on the ground for about a minute, and then I felt the stinging pain of raw flesh as I realized that both my knees, and my hands had been grazed. I was mentally cursing as I began to slowly get up, overwhelmed by the feel of the granite-and-tar mixture again my peeled skin. I couldn't even be bothered to look around at who had seen me. I stood up, put my scratched cell phone in my pocket and felt a silent, trembling anger settle over me. I thought to myself, God, You control everything. Why would You let this happen?

I had been running. Quite fast, because I had wanted to get to the library before it closed to print out the last page of an application. As I began to walk, teeth clenched, hands sore and body shaking, I thought about laughing at myself to make me feel better, but I wasn't ready to feel better yet so I just kept walking, upset, to the library. As I asked the librarian where the printer was, I realized that she was staring at my now bleeding hand. Immediately irritated I continued to pose my question in a terse, snappy tone, and walked away as she replied. People are ridiculous, I thought, you see a hurt person and instead of offering help, a tissue, some water, a bathroom, anything, you just stare and make them feel uncomfortable. I fumed as I tried to put my printout away without getting any blood on it.

Walking back home in the bitter cold, I was waiting for an epiphany. Some kind of clarity, a sensible, moral ending as to why this happened to me. I felt so victimized! I was very careful as I walked through traffic. I might get hit by a car and die on the way home since God clearly doesn't care, I thought out loud. I didn't actually believe it, I only thought it because I knew that God would know I was thinking it, and then maybe feel bad. Close to home, I started to feel the guilt that I knew was coming. After all of God's faithfulness, after every time you've been saved from something bad, after every bit of undeserved grace and mercy you've been granted, this is how you question everything you know about Him over a scab? It's not a SCAB! I protested. I'm injured! It hurts! There's blood! 

Later that evening, when I was bandaged and ready to go to sleep, I decided to give God one more chance to make it up to me, but I still got no explanation. I had calmed down significantly. I knew I was wrong for being such a grouch after the "accident". I knew I was completely out of control and probably a little crazy for overreacting like I did. "Sorry Lord..." I mumbled. Then I got my epiphany. Not about why this had happened, or why God didn't prevent it, but about my response, and what it said about me. Not the epiphany I had expected or wanted at all.

I was hung up over getting hurt, getting a scar. I was upset because my body was put through pain. I was so offended, when my temporary home was bruised a little bit. A question floated around in the air and then settled on my heart : "Are you this upset when your spirit gets bruised? When you watch something, read something, do or say something that offends  your spirit, do you tremble with anger? Do you even notice?" How could I answer? 

That day, I couldn't wait to get home, to completely de-germify my bruised skin and cover it up with bandages so it wouldn't get infected. I was careful when I walked, and touched anything, making sure the wound was not bothered in any way. But my spirit is allowed to undergo all kinds of things. And cleaning out the debris, protecting my spirit from contamination and infection is often the last thing on my mind. My attitude (when I actually notice that my spirit is suffering) is often - let's find something to take my mind off it so I don't have to feel so bad or - better luck next time. Whenever I have one too many chocolates I stop myself and go on a self-deprivation sacrifice just in case, God forbid, I become chunky. I want to be sure I look good, but it has never crossed my mind whether or not God finds my spirit attractive to look at. We give attention to what we care for, and upon evaluation, it appears that the eternal spirit gets no love at all when compared to the temporary flesh. So I realized that I need to get my priorities right. That I needed grace and I needed mercy. Good thing God doesn't hold grudges.