Thursday, June 30, 2011

Initiative

Last night I went for a stroll to clear my mind a little bit. I love to walk around campus in the evenings, only in this case I forgot that it’s a hot sticky mess outside. In any case, I saw a huge thunderhead in the distance, full of lightning, and I got excited. Monsoon season is easily one of my favorite times of the year. I’m usually a pretty deep sleeper and never wake up to storms in the night. Last night, however, I woke up to a huge clap of thunder around 3am, and snoozed to the sounds of a stormy night outside. Love it. And the stormy night made for a stunning sunrise this morning.

There’s a certain Starbucks that I end up having a lot of meetings at. I generally use each time as an excuse to get there early and get stuff done. Many slices of life have happened in and around this little coffee shop, in between physics problems or journal pages. One time an officer walked in with a gun longer than my upper body and casually leaned on the counter to see if the barista knew anything about a bank robbery across the street. Today, I heard a loud shout – a serious shout – and looked out the window to see that a man outside had jumped up from his casual coffee and had something rather serious to say to a truck out there. Turns out the driver had backed into another car and tried to drive away, but the guy chased him down while his buddy came in to find the owner of the other car. 

It struck me, that incident. While part of me felt a little bad for the very old probably frightened driver of the truck, a greater part of me really appreciated the integrity of the two guys that had stopped him. They were active, not passive. They took initiative in that situation, and the woman who owned the car was very appreciative. I think I really appreciate it when men are ready and willing to be protectors – even of things that are not their own. I think it suits them well. 

In a different sense, there’s a lot I could learn about taking initiative. Generally speaking, I am fairly gentle unless a boundary that I deeply value is crossed (in which case I become passionate in my defense of it). As I have gotten a little older and come more into my own, I don’t want to say that I have become less gentle, because that’s not necessarily true. But I have become less wishy washy, and probably less of a feeler. Quite honestly, I’m compassionate, but not very sympathetic. The older I get, the more of a thinker I become, the more I think through things rather than feel through them. I like the exchange, but admit that initiative is still something I am learning to take. 

In my last blog, I wrote about my new job. So far I absolutely LOVE it. I’m going to be put on a project working with HPV and cervical cancer diagnostics. I find the topic – and the implicit implications regarding our culture – fascinating. The more I learn about the problem, the more passionate I am about doing my part to help solve it. And of course I love the scientific detail involved. But one thing about my new job is that it has left a lot of room for me to take initiative. I don’t think my research mentor was really prepared to have an intern assigned to them, and has had a lot to do in the hours that I’ve been around. Quite honestly, he got me set up with a key card and the very basic premise of the project on Monday, and I haven’t seen him since. He’s supposed to be training me.  I’ve been at a brand new job with no training, no real direction, and lots of hours – and I’m glad to say I haven’t wasted any of that time.  I set up my own workspace, made the calls to IT for various needs, took care of online training, I’ve learned my way around the building, made new friends, and gotten a heck of a lot of background in HPV and its molecular mechanisms. I feel as comfortable as if I’d been there forever. And obviously, I’m going to need my mentor to show up soon (I can’t teach myself the job), but man I like learning initiative.  I think several years ago I would have felt lost. 

And that’s not in the least to say that I don’t have more to learn. Initiative at work is easy, in a sense. It’s cut and dry: what needs to be done. Do it. Boom. It’s a much grayer and admittedly more intimidating reality with people. I am not a pursuer by nature. I don’t pursue friendships with people the way I would like to.  I’m actually rather spoiled to be part of a community in which there are always people to see, always houses to visit, always events to be part of. I feel like I could easily spend all of my time maintaining the relationships I have. But I don’t think I should be let off the hook that easily either. :) In short, I like the track I’m on, but it’s far from complete. 

Pray for me this week – I’m quite a bit distracted. I think I’ve taken nearly every opportunity to zone out, to not be present. I’ve found it hard to engage in the moment, especially in my classes as they tarry to a close. Pray for my heart to be ever more fixed in Jesus. 

Love,
Christy

Monday, June 27, 2011

Work is Beautiful

I found out recently that I had gotten a competitive internship in cancer diagnostic research with Ventana Medical. Ever since I found out, I've been secretly wondering in the back of my mind whether they actually meant to pick me. Suppose they had meant to choose a highly qualified graduate student, but my name was mixed up with theirs? Even though I know this internship and the blessing it is is not a fluke, and never has been a fluke, I confess that I've been treating it like it's not real, like it's going to disappear into thin air and things are going to be just like they were before I got the internship. It's just hard for me to comprehend that such an immense blessing of an opportunity has come to me, and I'm still taking it in.

Today was my first day. And even though I can touch the name badge and key card that I have, that I can sit in my own cubicle with my name posted on the outside of it, that I can check my company email, it still somehow seems surreal. How did I land this job? Surely God is to be praised. You see, so many people applied. So many! The stack of resumes was rumored to be a couple inches thick.And most of them were graduate students, with much more refined research experience under their belts. And I was just an undergraduate who had heard about a recruiting event from a grad student next door. In fact, I wasn't even invited to the event originally, but was added to their guest list when I sent my RSVP.

I had prayed about the internship, for several reasons. Ventana is such a good company at what they do, and have a solid reputation. They have global connections in every corner of the planet. Moreover, cancer research is what I really wanted to be doing. I was (and am) a biologist, and I love it that way, but I had wanted to cross into more biomedical territory. But the big thing was: I could pay off all of my debt with the stipend, which would be an incredible blessing. To graduate debt free in December and have time to save up a little! And to be able to learn more thoroughly what it is to be generous with the resources I have! So I prayed, and thought I had felt God answer in this matter. But then there was an awful lot of silence.

My coworker still laughs at me for the way I jumped up and down when I got the call that they would like to interview me. Part of me, having prayed, was not surprised at all, and part of me was positively blown away. They actually wanted to interview me?! And the interview was wonderful. I was so nervous though that when the first person asked me to tell them about myself, I don't remember what I said, but after freezing for a moment, I think I rambled awkwardly about loving Tucson.

Then, more silence. Week after week went by. The deadline passed by which they would give me an answer, and still nothing. I politely called a couple of times, but received little word. In the time since my interview, my PhD student coworker next door who had also applied was scheduled for an interview with another team, accepted, and had started working. We celebrated her victory in conversation. I humbly accepted that obviously, she was a lot more qualified that I was, and that even though I had felt like God was saying something about this internship, maybe this just wasn't it for me. Memorial Day passed, the last chance I figured, since you couldn't pretend summer hadn't started after Memorial Day.

I began to process through many other things. I started to get passionate about Second Mile's community center Seeds, and to dream about being involved in seeing it come together. I began to process what it meant for me to have "enough" and to pour out the rest on my neighbors, community, and others who don't have "enough". I came to a place where I began to pray earnestly about where God wanted me once I graduated. I had always known that overseas was my destiny at some point, but I wanted to follow Him where He had for me now. And I honestly hadn't asked Him that too recently. I came to a place in my passion for Seeds, and in my desire to live a fruitful and generous life with whatever resources I had, that I found myself praying that I would love to live and work in Tucson, to live only on what I needed, and to pour myself into the community of Tucson with the rest. I felt more than I ever had that this could be where God wanted me, what God wanted me doing for a season....I just didn't really have a place to work once I graduated that would allow for that.

That week, some of the doors overseas closed.

That week I also got the internship, weeks after everyone else had, weeks into the summer, weeks after I had humbly figured that that's not what God wanted. In fact, I had interviewed in April, and heard nothing until mid June! But God did know that my heart wouldn't be in the right place to receive the news until then.

As I mentioned, I started today. I was sitting in a cubicle when I overheard of all things, my name. One lady was saying to another, "Have you heard if Christy has started yet? She is supposed to start today."
"Christy? Who's that?"
"She's an intern for the summer..."
(At which point I popped up and made my presence known). But I suppose that I can take that as a small form of encouragement that I'm not an imposter, that they mean for me to be there, and that I am exactly where I need to be. I am so grateful for the opportunities that lay ahead for this summer, and beyond if that's the way the cookie crumbles. I have so much to learn (and I'm really grateful for my physiology minor about now). I feel more ready than ever to let my roots grow a little deeper into the soil of Tucson. For now, and for who knows how long. I give the glory fully to God that He has been so generous with my work opportunities, and I hope to be a faithful steward of those opportunities. One of my mantras lately has been, "I have a job to do." I find myself saying it when I need to focus, when I need to "put my hand to the plow" so to speak. A simple phrase, maybe, but it reminds me that work is a God-given thing, a gift, and something to treat with humility and diligence.

So now, I have a job to do. Peace be with you. :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How the Kings of Leon taught me about Jesus

Have you ever noticed when singing in the car (which, if you don't sing in the car, I highly recommend it), that you tend to pick a way of singing a certain song and stick to it? Now, I admit that I experiment all the time with my car ride serenades. Heaven forbid the window should be left down! I belt out the melody, try new harmonies (some that work excellently, some that...don't), and generally get really into it. (Maybe this is why I love driving so much.) But I've noticed that as songs repeat themselves on the radio, so do my ways of singing them. This morning I was belting it out to the Kings of Leon on the radio (and you really have to belt it out to that song), and it occurred to me that I sing the chorus the way I always sing the chorus, because that's just how I sing the chorus for that song. Or with Ingrid Michaelson's Soldier, I always harmonize the chorus the same way. I just do, because I get used to doing something a certain way and I generally repeat it.

Since I love metaphors...how do we do this in life? Particularly as Christians, are there ways that we've just gotten used to walking our walk that is no longer fresh? Are we just belting it out to belt it out? Or are we interacting with the Song a new way each time? Just because my version of the Kings of Leon ("you know that I could USE somebodAAAYYYyyy....") doesn't change doesn't mean it's necessarily good. Goodness knows if I'm even in the right key, but most of the time when I'm just singing in the car (because that's what I do), I'm not necessarily thinking about how to sing the song better, I'm just thinking about singing it.

I've been reading a lot lately, and I actually need to slow down because I want to actually retain what I've been reading. But I picked up The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which only a few pages in has turned out to be what I really ought to be reading. Bonhoeffer was an incredible man and Christian who through prison and concentration camp after concentration camp during WWII demonstrated unreal brotherly love for his fellow prisoners and his guards alike. He was eventually executed by Hitler's regime for his resistance to it, peaceful though it was. But he writes the following words:

"Does not our preaching contain too much of our own opinions and convictions, and too little of Jesus Christ? Jesus invites all those that labour and are heavy laden, and nothing could be so contrary to our best intentions, and so fatal to our proclamation , as to drive men away from him by forcing upon them man-made dogmas. If we did so, we should make the love of Jesus Christ a laughing-stock to Christians and pagans alike. It is no use taking refuge in abstract discussion, or trying to make excuses, so let us get back to the Scriptures, to the Word and call of Jesus Christ himself. Let us try to get away from the poverty and pettiness of our own little convictions and problems, and seek the wealth and splendour which are vouchsafed to us in Jesus Christ."


Essentially, don't rest easy just thinking about your faith, or theorizing about it, or even telling people about it. Do it. Do what Jesus says. Live what Jesus lived. It's like that man I wrote about last time who practically ran by a few homeless people at the park, leaving a sack lunch with a tract in it. That's telling people about Jesus, but that's not loving people like Jesus loved them. I'm not convinced that's living our faith. The more I put this in the context of engaging people, and loving as a choice and not as an emotion, and examining what it means to be a true community that lives life together and takes care of each other, the more I see that as Christians, there is no other way to learn than but to do. I've honestly spent a lot of my life thinking about faith, because I like to think. But as long as I continue to think, but lack the courage to trust Jesus and do, I will hit a wall in my faith. A big fat wall. And big fat walls tend to make people go in circles, hitting the same wall over and over again. Jesus give me courage and guidance!


Please join me in this journey, if you are also a follower of Christ. Join me in living your faith, radically even. Radically love the world. Radically love the people you radically dislike. I will be endeavoring to do the same.

..

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Trying to Remain Pertinent in the Park

I'm listening to one of my favorite songs right now. (By the way, when I say "favorite song" that generally means my favorite for a few weeks.) But it's a song in Spanish in which the guys sings "El corazon no tiene cara...y el amor vive en el alma...." (The heart doesn't have a face...and love lives in the soul) about how he loves whatever is in this girl's heart, and loves her for all of who she is, inside and out. Well, that's cool.

No, I don't want to write about fluffy songs, even if they are in Spanish. And actually, I really don't want to be light and fluffy at all tonight, because I have some serious thoughts to share. I haven't been writing much as I've been on this journey of humility. Writing is something that comes naturally to me, and honestly something that I begin to take pride in after awhile. When I write too much, I begin to like the way my ideas sound. I become quick to speak and slow to listen. But I am processing this week that Christ died for me, the lowest of the low. My sin is heavy and deep, thick and unrelenting. My character is rotten. And yet, Jesus still took my place. I confess that I have not spent nearly enough of my life being amazed by that. I grew up thinking, "Of course Jesus did!" And yet, the more I delve into the depths of a sinful human heart, and the more muck is pulled out and revealed, the more I instead say, "Jesus did what?"

But even that is not what I want to write about. Well, not really.

What I want to write about is homelessness. Because honestly it's been an issue on my mind for a long long time, but especially lately. I have been reading books and talking to people who expand my mind, and cause me to dream of a Godly community that exemplifies the generosity Jesus spoke about. I am asking those hard questions about what I have, and what I need, and what should be done about the difference. And if Jesus loves and cherishes me so much, the lowest of the low spiritually, then I cannot ignore His call to love the lowest of the low societally. I want to get to know the poor, because I know it will challenge me. When you begin to attach names, faces, and stories to the people sleeping on the streets, you can't help but question your own wealth. I want to grow and be challenged and honestly learn from these people. And share with them too.

I admit I had (have) grand dreams of my community stepping into the parks, bringing lunch to share and having good thought provoking conversations with the homeless. After all, I can't say it hasn't happened to me before. But today, through an experiment in said action, I saw a much more sobering reality in the parks than I had even expected. The reality is that if I want to face homelessness, and love people in a way that is genuine, two things will happen: (1) The allocation of my resources and the resources of anyone who joins me will be absolutely challenged. We simply cannot walk in with tight fists and expect to get anything done. Not if we're dreaming Jesus-sized dreams. Jesus taught us to share our possessions, so if we're going to make a big deal out of loving the homeless, we'd better be prepared to be generous with more than just our time, or even our money. (2) Facing the reality of homelessness also means facing the reality of a myriad of other very big issues. Drugs are a real part of street life, and I can't go much less lead others into the streets naive of their drastic influence on the people we may encounter, or the situations that may arise.

This is messy. Very messy.

And to be honest, talking to a guy who's been shot, been in prison for the last 17 years, has a good scar from a knife fight on his face, and who openly verbalized that he'd want to get with me, I feel like a very little girl facing an issue big enough to swallow me whole. And it's one thing for me to take myself into that situation, but another for me to think about taking my friends there. While I still feel the urge and the need to pursue this, I am realizing that I will need to be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves," (Matthew 10:16). I've got to be smart about this, for the sake of the homeless, and for the sake of those who will join me.

And really, it all comes down to the underlying question: Do I fully believe that Jesus has the power and the desire to meet each of these people where they're at? Do I believe that He can transform them? Because if I don't, then I have lost the entire purpose. If I don't actually believe that, then I have no business preaching to anyone, much less the homeless. They get preached to enough. (Why, just today, a man very briskly walked by us as if he'd rather be anywhere else, dropped off a sack lunch, and went on his way. The lunch had a card in it that said, "Are you good enough to go to heaven?" I'm sorry, but I don't think a run-by sack-lunching is what Jesus had in mind.)

I guess I'm just in the process, having dreamed this dream, of asking the hard questions that need to be asked. I can't glaze over homelessness as if it's going to be a feel-good day in the park. Because it shouldn't be really. I mean, I love when we can laugh and have good conversation, but talking to someone in deep bondage or crisis shouldn't give us warm fuzzies. And I can't pretend the homeless are going to leap into line as if they are begging for my help. They have dignity too. I have to be humble, I have to pray, I have to build a team of other Godly men and women (but especially men) who also want to get involved in the sticky messy fearful business of building relationships, and I have to let God do the rest. These are God's people. Jesus help me love them better.