Wednesday, April 30, 2014

You Should Be Proud

    I decided on a graduate school. MIT for a PhD in organic chemistry? I think yes (!!!).
    I also defended my senior thesis and passed. Meaning I survived talking for longer than I ever have, in front of three professors who know a hell of a lot more about chemistry than me, whilst only freezing for a second or two.
    "That should give you something to feel confident about," said my PI afterward.
    I think I said "Yeah" or something like that and raised the pitch of my voice to sound happy - like I meant it.
    Except I didn't.
    Every time something good happens, every time someone says something complimentary, I assume they don't mean it. They can't. Don't they know all my shortcomings? Like, when is MIT going to realize I'm too dumb and revoke my admission?
    But every time someone says something critical, well, I take that to heart. I don't respond well - I usually beat myself up and cry in a corner - but I do take it to heart. I assume they're right.
    I think there's a phrase for this: low self esteem.
    (The horror!). 
    I know. I know. I believe in Jesus and in self-esteem.
    There seems to be this idea floating around that if we believe Jesus saves us from sin (which I tend to believe is true), we have to be worthless little shits dangled over a fire (I am not using that word lightly, by the way). In other words: self-esteem is anti-God, because sinner equals worthless equals YouNeedJesus.
    May I suggest that this equation is flawed?

This is not God.
    We're all screwed up, some of which is our fault and some of which isn't. Christians call this sin, but whatever the word, I think we can all agree that 1) it sucks, and 2) it's pretty inescapable.
    Which is, apparently, why God decided to become a person and be murdered and then resurrect. I'm not a theology expert by any means, but I can't help but think that by overturning even this inevitable screwy thing called death, He promised us that sin - in us, around us, where ever - wasn't as powerful as Him. He gives us eternal hope and faith and life. We can change. In Christ all shall be made alive.
    So, according to Christian theology, sinner = WeNeedJesus.So far the equation holds.
    But sinner = worthless?
    Well. I don't recall reading that in the Bible. The closest I can find is in Romans, when Paul calls himself a "wretch," adding that "nothing good dwells in me." 
    A lot of teachings run with this idea, really stressing that "nothing good" means worthless. Because if you don't know how horrible you are, you can't repent and become a Christian, so they make damn sure you know how much you suck ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," anyone?). Their intentions are good, but...
    Well, let's finish the verse. "Nothing good dwells in me, that is, my sinful nature."
    The sinful nature sucks. Ain't nothing good in that, Paul says. Right, agreed. Death and decay and lies and malignancy, pain and bitterness and illness, all suck.
    But we're not all our sinful natures, are we? The sinful nature is not our essence. He made us in His image. That's our essence.
    We're creations made to live anew. We're not worthless.
    Call me crazy, but I think it's pretty freakin' special that God made billions of unique creatures all in His image. Why not celebrate the imago Dei? Is that not a form of worship, to attribute good creation to God?
    In fact, I think it's pretty blasphemous to say God creates anything worthless. After all, even on earth we find the notion of futility repugnant. So if God is Creator and He is good, it logically follows that He's not up there making worthless people as a sick cosmic joke.
1 Shenanigans 1:7. And whilst Baseball Cap Guy was driving, Jesus did appear and say, "Surprise! Thou art worthless, though apparently I yet bothered to create thee. Joke's on both of us, eh?"
    Self-esteem is defined as the recognition of our worth. If Jesus made us as unique image bearers, how is recognizing our worth a bad thing?
    So, yeah, I've always been kind of ashamed of my academic success. "I don't want to be vain, so I'm going to hate myself. I'm not going to take pride in developing what God has given me."
    We're all chosen. We've all got individual talents, given by God and developed (or underdeveloped and waiting). Embracing our talents and being confident (with humility) in what we've accomplished is good.
    Jesus gives us a new life. Let's celebrate, not denigrate ourselves.
    I think that's a life worth taking.

Monday, April 28, 2014

There are Introverts Under My Bed!

    If you met me, it would probably take you 0.25 seconds (yes, exactly 0.25) to figure out that I'm an introvert. From my soft voice to my anxious tone to my direct, monosyllable responses, I pretty much fulfill every introvert stereotype come to life.
    But there are a lot of introverts out there, some of whom you'd probably never guess are introverts. Some of my closest friends are sweet and friendly and inviting, and they're introverts. You know, the "extroverted introverts."
    Even as an introverted introvert, most of us are not people haters. I mean, well, I like you. I might not talk much to you, and if I do, it'll probably be awkward - but I do like you.
    And if I bow out of plans, it's not because I'm trying to be a flake. Is it selfish? Maybe, but it's not because I want to hurt you.
    It's just, you know, leaving the comfort of my home, leaving my beautiful writing project, for something draining like a party, well... It's not my favorite activity. Truth is I get more energy from studying than from people. Can't we hang out over coffee, or maybe online?
    You probably don't want to constantly get together to study. That's fine. I don't want to constantly get together to party. Deal? :)
    Between 25-50% of us are introverts. Not a small number by any means. Yet it's still considered a negative trait. I'm always hearing comments along the lines of "Oh, it's such a shame she's so quiet ... "
    And I'm like Shame?! Shame?!?! How about good! The world needs more quiet thinkers sometimes! (Because, see, my thoughts are never quiet).
    It's especially exhausting as a Christian, because I don't have the right personality Christian culture says I should have. I'm not the bubbly type who immediately makes you feel welcomed, though, believe me, I want to be (and, despite my quietness, know that you are always welcomed by me). Unfortunately, when it's meet and greet time at church, my instinct is to flee the sanctuary faster than you can say "Peace be with you."
    I used to try to fix myself. I prayed and cried and loathed my personality in a desperate fight for change. I didn't change, but my perspective on myself is changing.
    I mean, did you know that introverts make up a majority of sciences and arts? (Perfect for me, right).
    Did you know that introverts are more likely to go to college, and extroverts and more likely to be involved in team activities?
    Did you know that introverts have more brain activity in planning and problem solving, while extroverts have more brain activity in sensory processing?
    Did you know that neither type is better than the other?
    Do you know I love you?
    But I'm not trying to change my introversion anymore. Because I'm an introvert, not a scary monster hiding under your bed. ;)
    I love you, wonderful people. 


Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Story of Sushi Lil' Ninja

    I've laid a couple heavy posts out there recently. So I figured maybe it's time for a lighter post - a post about my kitten, Sushi, the Lil' Ninja. Because I will talk about cats every chance I get. #futurecatlady.
Our first meeting.
    He's six (almost seven!) months old. He was found as a street kitten, but we (my roommates and I) suspect he might be partially Russian Blue because, well, just look at his beautiful furs and big green eyes.
Why hello there, Internets.
     How did we acquire such a love? Um ... well ... long story short, it took an epic game of phone tag, furious tears, prayer, an act of God, and a frantic cab drive through the rain. Maybe I'll detail the rest in another post.
    Anyway, Russian Blues are known for being a very intelligent breed. Apparently Sushi likes to use his smarts to sneak up behind my roommates and me, surprising us when we trip headlong over a cat. Hence the middle name, Lil' Ninja.
    He also loves to sleep when he's not hyper.
Sweepy kitten.
      Which is ... um ... rare. Hyper is how this kitty lives. If no one pays him attention, he squeaks his sorrows (still can't form a proper meow) and climbs on furniture and runs around and around and around! until we play with him.
"Someone gots my belly!"
Do I watch TV ... Or Sushi?
And he likes to cheese out quite a bit after his catnip.
Cheese. Cheesecheesecheesecheesecheese.
    And eat. Oh yes, this kitty loves to nom on anything and everything he can. Except I wonder if offering him sushi enables cannibalism?
     He also loves to cuddle.

*Photo taken by Rosalie Jiang.
I'm a little lovebug. Cuddle me!
     And, finally, he has given me the face I'd like to adopt every time I get another assignment at the end of the semester:

    Thanks for reading! And by that I mean, for letting me gush and gush about my kitten. I may be worse in person.
    Did I mention I'm a #futurecatlady?


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Please Hold My Hand

    I've heard it so many times. Self-esteem is wicked, because don't you know your heart is desperately wicked.
    Don't trust yourself. Don't you dare.
    So whom do I trust when God is silent? And how can I be certain if God speaks, anyway? Because what if it's just, you know, my desperately wicked heart deceiving me? How do I know?
    I fear myself.
    The solution? I know. Trust God more.
    Read the Bible more. Read to the point you obsessively make sure you know every word - if you can't define it, you have to look it up and freaking read more and more.
     Pray more. Make sure you get on your knees and repeat the Lord's Prayer, in a closed room exactly as Jesus said. (Because, taking the Bible literally). Make prayer lists that grow ever longer. Beg and scream and negotiate and sob and throw the list away.
     Soon you can't stop obsessing. Over your dilapidated spiritual state - there's aways room for growth, so keep it up! Keep seeking! Don't rest for one second!
    Over your work. In school, in lab. Something's bound to go wrong and then it's time to freak out.
    Over your relationships. School and relationships are important, you know, and how else do you show the depths of care besides worry?
    OMG are you getting fat? Why do you eat so much? You dream about your family rejecting you because you're fat and so you awake with a new sense of purpose: losing those damn pounds.
    And you can't stop. Your mind keeps finding something to fear, even when you feel a fleeting hope for peace.
    Oh God, I'm so nasty, so worthless, a tangle of insecurities and panic attacks and fear, fear, fear.
    Wait - did I just take Your name in vain???!!!
    So, whom do I trust when God is silent?
    Culture tells us we're all good people, that we should tap into self-esteem and ignore our darker thoughts. Anxiety means you're busy, like you're actually making yourself useful. If your anxiety gets too much, you're weak. Grow up and talk to a professional, because you're making me uncomfortable. And we have no time for discomfort.
     The church says you're a worthless sinner. Your anxiety is from your inherent wickedness, which keeps you from trusting God enough. Although the word "enough" was rarely, if ever, spoken (because we're not about works-based salvation, oh no), it was always implied. Trust is partially a decision, yes, but when you're overly anxious, your ability to make decisions becomes nigh impossible.
    Funny how the church is supposed to be a safe place for the weak.
    When you're caught in the claws of anxiety (don't know why I just pictured an oversized spider here), cliches like "No Jesus, no peace; know Jesus, know peace!" are more harmful than helpful.
    Funny how that classic Bible verse: "Be anxious for nothing" was written as an encouragement - like, look people of Philippi, God loves you and He's got this! - yet now it's used to condemn. Encouragement has been amputated into another commandment.
    Don't you know that anxiety is a sin? He commands it in Philippians.
    Trust God more and yourself less!
    Doing more doesn't work for me, not when performance is my number one source of stress. I'm saturated with tries. Praying and trusting become just another item on my list of stuff I'm screwing up.
     What helps me, in the end, is friends and family and a professional who listen. They don't condemn you, tell you to grow up, tell you to just choose better. They listen, they affirm your worth as a human being with feelings and thoughts, made in the image of God. They hold your hand and hug you and send you an encouraging kitten video over Facebook.
     And perhaps, the healing begins not through your own strength but through relationships.
     Funny how I've heard God's into relationships, too.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

These Dry Bones Yet Bleed

   I suppose it is strangely fitting, isn't it, that we've remembered Holy Week these last seven days.
   You see, I'm a (proud) Bostonian. And last week, well, last week was the one-year anniversary of the infamous Marathon bombings. Good Friday was the anniversary of Sean Collier's death, and yesterday
came the one-year anniversary of the lockdown.
    My God, has it really been a year? A year, a year since my roommate and I huddled in our dorm room, unable to do anything but stare at the news, a year since I walked into a lab looking for a solvent and saw everyone gathered around a computer with ghastly images? A year since four marvelous people walked among us, and died for - for what?
    For a young man who poured his passion into destruction and died? For his brother, who seems unrepentant and might face the death penalty? 
    And then I clicked on Google News and read stories of high schoolers trapped in a sinking ferry and wives shot by their husbands, people who have no more chances to live and love, even though they deserved more. The present reality is horrific, too, and I want to hide in my little college bubble, until -
    A student at my school died in his dorm room last Monday. His name was Kevin Lee, a sophomore engineer. I didn't know him. I wish I had. His friend said he was very quiet. I have a bond with quiet people, you see, moving stealthily through life in a loud, loud world, and so, Kevin, I wish I'd known you.
    You see, friend, I found myself whispering to God, what are You doing? I used to believe in hope. I used to smash cynicism with optimism and I fully believed in the power of life over death. And hatred? I'd come to the point where I no longer believed in hatred. Obviously, hatred itself exists, but the power of hatred seemed ashes compared to love.
    And then Good Friday came, and I wondered, what is so good about this day? We're commemorating the day Goodness Incarnate was betrayed and subjected to humiliation and pain before being executed like the traitor he wasn't. 
    How unfair. How hopeless. And, God, I'm giving up on my hope, like the disciples must have. The pain and the rage are tremendous; they shake my very soul.
    The writer of Ecclesiastes was wrong when he said all was vanity. No, this life means something. 
    Tragedy, tragedy, all is tragedy.
    I feel like the valley of dry bones, brittle and scavenged, yet drowning in pain like blood. I didn't realize it was possible for dry bones to yet bleed, but here they do. And by "here" I mean in my soul.
    Like dry bones, I am no longer able to scream. I must choose numbness or die of pain. But right now I lay my soul down to sob with  the parents whose children left for a ferry trip and won't ever be back. 
    Today is Easter. A Body is scarred and full of holes, but He is alive again.
    Death and tragedy ... they lost.
    That's not the reality I know. It's probably not the reality you know, either.
    Resurrection. There's so much behind that one word I wouldn't be able to unpack it in a year of blog posts. But it's a reminder, no matter how faint the hope, that death and tragedy cannot be the end.
   Maybe all Easter seems is a pretty egg or baby colors or a dull service. But eggs hatch and babies grow and dull services end and then you're free to flee into the sanctuary of sunshine if you so desire. New beginnings never end.
    So maybe, I wonder, there's a third option. Not numbness or pain, but belief. In Resurrection.
    Happy Easter, Kevin.
    Tomorrow is the Marathon. I've always loved the swelling population of my city, the buzz in the air, the brilliant sunshine of Marathon Monday (not to mention that my university closes for the day).
    I thought for a while I'd fear tomorrow, but despite my mourning I can't fear Marathon Monday.
    Especially this year. I've heard more people will be running than ever - including my amazing brother Mark, who raised over $7500 for Mass Eye and Ear (!!!).
    So many people running, and even more cheering them on. United. I suppose that's a resurrection of sorts, right?
    Yeah, a lot of crazy horrible you-know-what has and is happening. 
    But resurrection happens, too, and so hope's not over, not yet. Not ever - even in our hardened, unrepentant, imprisoned, torn, condemned, and broken hearts, and not even when the dead keep dying. This I cling to: Easter comes.
    Good luck to everyone tomorrow. You can do it! :)
    Here's to the Easter of a city.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Love is A Solvent and Walls are Solutes (A Guest Post by Kate Danahy)

    The lovely Kate Danahy (also known as my twin sister) wrote a guest post for me! At just the right time, too, since I'm too busy trying not to drown during this time of thesis-paper-project-presentation-all-due-oh-my-gosh to write a halfway decent post. 
    Kate graduated early from Gordon College and currently works writing children's stories in India. She blogs at, and you should definitely check it out. In her own words, she's "a globe-trotting, people-loving introvert with a heart in India, an obsession with Russian literature and Shakespeare, and an addiction to tea."
    Sidenote: I came up with the title. The second you say dissolve, I think CHEMISTRY. #Sorrynotsorry. :D

    It's easy to have an opinion about a people group or an ideology or a religion--be it gays, socialists, or Muslims--an opinion that's engraved in a marble wall, definite and sure, black and white, true.
     And then the girl whose testimony inspires you, the girl whose love for Jesus paints everything she does and even convicts you sometimes, the girl whose words about trusting God in the midst of addiction are a lifeline you hold to in a dark moment when, for the first time in years, you find yourself spiraling down into the prison of cutting that used to shackle you--when that girl comes out as a lesbian, the black and white pool together, creating gray.
     And when you travel to India, you meet the woman whose name you can't remember, the woman with her hair wrapped in a black scarf who is headmistress of a Muslim school, the woman who, if any girl drops out to get married young, tracks the family down, takes the girls back to finish their education. Her fervor for social justice, for feminism even, surpasses many Christians.
    You call other Muslim lady who makes you tea every day, sweetened with sugar and spiced with cardamom, who calls you "Katie," and giggles at everything, your friend
    And as your political ideology shifts dramatically left, you're never able to demonize those who believe what you used to, because for so long that was your tribe, people you love, and you know that as much as people who hold your current beliefs sometimes scoff at them, and as strongly as you disagree, Republicans and right-wingers can't be classified as ignorant, or heartless. One of your best friends, who comforted you with dark chocolate and coconut in a personal crisis, is a Republican. The people who nurtured you in childhood, who still feed your spirit weekly and daily, are right-wingers, and they love Jesus just as much as you do.
    And the wall dissolves completely.
    It's so easy to keep the lines of black and white nice and neat when you don't know people. 
    But when you reach across, when you shake their hand instead of keeping yours sanitized and dangling by your side, you find that the hand of one you thought Different is made of skin and bone and veins just like yours.
    It's so, so easy to crouch behind those stones, refusing to look up and meet their eyes, to really see them, when you don't understand them, when you're afraid of the "Other" and what it might mean for the nice, neat stones you've built into a wall around yourself. But the reality is, the idea of the "other" is unloving, a clanging cymbal blooming from fear, decaying and taking you with it. 
    When you let go of your assumptions and have tea together, your opinions--all those stones you carefully arranged into a perfectly neat wall--will crumble, and it might be scary. But it will also set you free. The truth does that, after all. 
    And then a kind of agape love is born, because you truly understand you aren't better than anyone, and together--even if you disagree on religion or politics or whatever--you can break down more walls, work for understanding and dialogue, even (as cliche and hippy-ish as it sounds), for love.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

We Are Creators

    I grew up hearing that God was Father. I think this nice little metaphor was supposed to make me feel close to Him, but frankly? It doesn't.
    Not because my real Dad is a bad father or anything; FAR from it, in fact. I'm very close to my dad. But for some reason, the image of God as "Father" doesn't do anything for me.
    Neither does "Mother." God draws you like mother hen? That's cool, a great analogy that I'm sure soothes many people. Does nothing in my heart, for whatever reason.
    But when you say "Creator," well, then excitement floods in. And hope, and of course, imagination.
    I'm all like hee-hee-hee, Creation! Stories! Intricacy! Beauty! Because creation speaks to stories and art and science (I am convinced that there is a science to art and an art to science). 
Who doesn't want to enter into a good story?!
    Once I read in a child's devotional (Christian stories written with the purpose of deepening your fellowship with God, if you didn't know) that I can never call myself a Creator, because I am a creation. Only God is Creator.
    I'm a writer. I dream and daydream nearly constantly, creating worlds and people and animals and places, and sometimes fruits, dress codes, societal structures, creatures, you've never known. And then I plot out the story and write it down. And like one of my favorite novels, Frankenstein, my creations sometimes take on a life of their own (with decidedly less morbid results).
    I'm not a god, obviously, but I know how it feels to love your creation, to set your world and its people free on their own, to tremble with hope for a story, to wail when a character makes poor decisions, to dance when the story takes a powerful turn. Ahhhh!!! I wish I could convey how much I love creating.
    So when people tell me God is the Creator, I see it. I don't see why all this horrible, crazy stuff happens and while reading the news I often don't see why He doesn't intervene. But somehow, the word Creator registers both in my mind and in my heart.
    Creation, to me, is fundamental to everything meaningful. (In fact, it may be part of the reason I do believe in God).
Can I tell you a secret? Sometimes I like to think of us all as books in a magical library.
Yes, I know I'm twenty-one. But I like the idea.
    After all, how does a person become redeemed from whatever they've fallen into? We become "new creations."
    How do you change corrupt systems? How do you challenge the status quo? You imagine something different and beautiful, and find the courage to create that beauty.
    Hey, even in science, we need the creativity to imagine new possibilities, and to implement those. Albert Einstein once said "Imagination is more important than knowledge," in what might be my favorite quote on the marriage between arts and science. 
    So let's all of us look at the people we meet and see them as people, as fascinating creations with intricate stories to be shared. Like this: 
Life kinda seems like a pathway of stories.
Here's my current moment in life. With grad school, I feel like I'm currently choosing between the vast sky and the sweet earth.

Or sailing into the unknown. That too.

    Let's all of us give imagination to all of our passions in life and start creating.
    Because, perhaps, in a sense, all creations make a new world
Even the fictional creations spill into the real.

     The following images? They're what I hope to do through creating. Both in writing, in science, in daily interactions and friendships, in everything.

Opening doors.
Inviting you in.
Giving beauty to the world.
Helping craft a better world. Obviously with castles.
Letting you see my imaginings and my stories.
Voyaging together. With a cover that is hardly a superficial surface.

    Go forth, brave creators! And, if you have time, I'd love to hear what you hope to do in life. :)


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Doing It Raw and Ugly

***Apologies for not updating in a few days. I've been extremely sick (so any prayers/well-wishes my way are greatly appreciated). Soooo...I figured I'd just dump out my rawest thoughts for you to see. 
*** Warning: The title is not an exaggeration. Honesty was my goal for this blog, so honest and raw and ugly insides are what I'm spilling out here.

    When people speak of a God of love, I want so terribly to believe it. I want so terribly to believe God is alive, in the sky and the water and the earth and dancing fire. I want so terribly to believe in a God who loves all the humans He creates, and all the animals too, and, well, everything. I want God to be a Creator.
     But do I believe that? The God who hates sinners, the God who thinks me odious in my filthiness instead of me as someone in need, the God who regards gays and people who support gays as abominations, Who created woman as a minor character, Who is Holy Above All Else, including love - He's the god who has always seemed more real to me. Because the price to pay for being wrong is so, so severe. And while I tell myself I'd prefer hell than be with a Deity like that, I'm not sure I really mean it. Eternity burning alive is despair itself. And I've always liked playing it safe.
    The God who says true Christians must win the culture wars, that thanks me for no longer being able to identify as evangelical due to the pain of last week - he who rejoices when I will be thrown into hell, who enjoys creating people simply for destruction, he's the monster I must worship?
    Are you telling me I am more merciful and graceful than God?
    No, my views are just warped due to sin, right? And God's ways aren't mine, you know, that old cliche we use whenever we don't have a clue what's going on?
    Yes, I said that. Yes, I'm bitter, and hurt, cynical and confused, and did I mention this hurts so much, but you don't care about me, you just care that another false Christian is gone? As I bleed by the roadside and sob my guts out, you bid me good riddance?
    People say because I've done well and said, and yes, believed the right things, I'm a role model. Ha, look at me. So weak. So broken, dirty and bloodied, and you thank God I am gone.
    It's not about my belief. It never was.
    I'd like to be the bigger person, even though I'm a damned sinner. I'd like to offer you love and forgiveness, but honestly? I can't do it right now. There is no room in my heart that the pain hasn't overtaken.
    All I have is this: I don't wish harm on you and those like you. I hope you find the truth you seek. I hope I do too. 
    Nobody won this time. Just throwing that out there.
    My word. 
    I'll be out here looking for a God who isn't a monster, and you can worship yours, and maybe I'm wrong ... but with this amount of pain, maybe I'd rather stay that way. Maybe I'm in full out rebellion without knowing or wanting it. Who knows?
    God, any God who is there, the God who is love, I really, truly want you. I've met you before; I'm clinging to whatever it is, a dream or a hope or something that fit just where I needed it, that keeps me seeking you. Have you forsaken me? Where are you now? Please find me.