Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chapter 1, Part 1

Note: Yes, I am trying NaNoWriMo yet again, and will likely fail yet again. But I am taking a cue from my smoking patients; you probably won't succeed the first time you try to quit, but just keep going and eventually you'll get there and celebrate the ability to breathe freely!  Have low expectations... going for volume, not quality... and I won't be able to post everything here, just excerpts for now.

Chapter 1
     The two neighborhood boys had pointed in that direction, so my father switched on the comically large flashlight, stepped off the path, and set off into the woods.  It had only turned dark a few hours before, but the trees already looked stark and intimidating, their bare bark drawing sharp vertical lines of contrast against the blackness of the ravine.  I tensed a few muscles in my throat, which was unusually dry, and followed with my mother close behind.  I can't remember which of us had the shovel, but I think the newly unpackaged garbage bag belonged to me, its black plastic beginning to unfurl from the rubbing of my thumb and forefinger.  It felt criminal, the three of us marching into the empty forest, the crunch of dead leaves giving away our progress to no one in particular.  I imagined a flood of light and sirens and noise filling the night, a glaring beam of attention arresting a small Asian family mid-step, their mouths frozen open in shock, their terrified minds racing to articulate a reasonable explanation as to what they were doing with grave digging implements in the middle of the local park at night.  I laughed out loud. 
     My mother gave me a stern look.  Her face was obscured and shadowed in the night, but the thinness of her lips and the hardness in her eyes communicated enough.  We hesitantly picked our way over dry branches and rotting trees, our eyes scanning the textured and confusing landscape for clues and signs.  In retrospect, the whole situation seemed absurd.  I was straining my senses to look for something black at night, for something we could identify easily, inconspicuously, and perhaps less hazardously in the daytime.  But there are certain people at certain times who can occupy that space of sorrow and desperation.  They can understand why waiting would be the insensible thing to do, why traipsing off into the dark suburban, autumnal wilderness could be the only logical and unquestionably right course of action.
     The three of us carefully crawled down into the creek bed, taking care not to slip on the smooth and loose rocks.  I hadn't done this in years, since I was a child running through the more tame areas of the same neighborhood park.  My mother forbade me from playing in the creek because it wasn't safe or supervised, and the memory of that made our whispered questions and commands all the more surreal.
     My father's flashlight swept back and forth, scanning the ground, leading us on.  "Is that it?" we would occasionally ask, stopping to poke at soggy messes of leaves with branches and our shoes.  When we decided "it" was nothing important, I would breathe a mixed sigh of relief and disappointment and move on.
     Something caught my eye, and I knew immediately that we had found it.  "There.  Give me the flashlight," I said.
     "No, that can't be it," my dad declared.
     "Yeah, it is."  I swapped the light for a shovel and began clearing away the surrounding leaves.
     "No, it isn't.  That's just a branch, Dave," my dad insisted.
     "Dad, I know what bone looks like.  This is it.  See?  It's a rib."  I was frustrated and proud at the same time.  Frustrated because of my father's tone of dismissiveness, and proud because I knew I was right.  I had done it.  I had found Ruthie, my sister's beloved and missing dog, the dog she still didn't know had died.  I had identified the long rotted remains, and only because I knew what a ribcage looked like, having sawed one open on a human cadaver the week before.
     That was the first real life application I had of anything I learned in medical school.  That was the first time I knew things had changed permanently, if only subtly.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Inward, Outward

I've done the Myers-Briggs personality test many times before this year but always found myself puzzled by the results.  This year, I was "forced" to take it twice as part of intern orientation and was surprised at the results.  I am technically an "INTP" for anyone familiar with the classification system, which in a nutshell indicates:

INTPs are pensive, analytical folks. They may venture so deeply into thought as to seem detached, and often actually are oblivious to the world around them.
Precise about their descriptions, INTPs will often correct others (or be sorely tempted to) if the shade of meaning is a bit off. While annoying to the less concise, this fine discrimination ability gives INTPs so inclined a natural advantage as, for example, grammarians and linguists.
INTPs are relatively easy-going and amenable to almost anything until their principles are violated, about which they may become outspoken and inflexible. They prefer to return, however, to a reserved albeit benign ambiance, not wishing to make spectacles of themselves.

This seemed accurate, and as I've been mulling these classifications over in the past month or so, I think I've come to learn more about myself.

For one, I appear to be "driven by internal stimuli".  As sketchy as the wording may sound, it is true.  I chew things over, processing them slowly, often taking time to form an opinion that I then hold very strongly to.  I am introspective (no surprise there to those who read my blogs), sometimes to the point of paralysis and mutism.  One of my favorite quotes as a young teenager was, "A belief is something you hold; a conviction is something that holds you," and ever since reading it I tried to live according to conviction.  Sometimes this makes me appear stubborn or inflexible, but what I am learning is that the best way to change my mind is to convince me that "it is the right thing to do."  There.  I just gave away my secret to beating me in an argument.

For another, I am driven by a "sense of possibilities".  A side effect of this is that I procrastinate, which should come as no surprise to those who know me well.  But what that really means is that I think in terms of what could be, in terms of abstract potential.  A visionary or dreamer, I suppose.  Some may laugh a little, for I have developed a reputation for being cynical and dark.  But as I am also fond of saying, "Cynics are the only true idealists, because they are the only ones who have an ideal that the real world falls short of."  I like to think of what I could do, the things I could learn, the kind of person I could be, rather than what I am doing now.  Perhaps that is why I prefer to shop by impulse rather than planning, or why I love to start projects but have difficulty completing them.

Why am I rambling about this?  Because it helps explain to me why I do what I do, so that when I am faced with hard decisions and difficult times, I will remember what are the important things that drive me.  I will remember to "see myself" in the Pauline words of Scripture, looking both inward and outward, to the present and the future:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. - Philippians 3

Monday, October 24, 2011


In the small church with its old and worn pews, the pastor spoke about idolatry.  He spoke about Hosea, a prophet whose life would become a parable and spectacle to describe that hussy of a nation, Israel.  Hosea, who had to go and buy his own prostituted wife back from the slave market.  Hosea, who had to name his children, "Not Loved", and "Not My People" as an illustration of all that was wretched and wrong with the  Chosen People.  Hosea, whose mouth could only beg his people:
 1 “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces    but he will heal us; he has injured us    but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us;    on the third day he will restore us,    that we may live in his presence. 3 Let us acknowledge the LORD;    let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises,    he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains,    like the spring rains that water the earth.”
There are times when I question why God does what He does... why He allows the wicked to prosper while the righteous faint, why He chooses such difficult and anguished paths for those He loves, why He injures those for whom His affection seems strongest.  And the answer, as the pastor described, is so that we might have the false dependencies we have built on lesser gods, those pandering, self-serving, indulgent fantasies, ripped from our hands so that we can embrace the living God.

I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
   no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
   with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
   and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
   I will abolish from the land,
   so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
   I will betroth you in[e] righteousness and justice,
   in[f] love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in[g] faithfulness,
   and you will acknowledge the LORD.
 21 “In that day I will respond,”
   declares the LORD—
“I will respond to the skies,
   and they will respond to the earth;
22 and the earth will respond to the grain,
   the new wine and the olive oil,
   and they will respond to Jezreel.[h]
23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
   I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.[i]
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,[j]’ ‘You are my people’;
   and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

Monday, October 17, 2011


Some days I just get really tired.  I get tired of trying to puzzle things out in my mind, in trying to figure out what is the right thing to do when all my options seem gray.  I get tired of finding the best thing and am tempted to simply settle for good enough.  I get tired of doing what I thought was right, only to find myself doing more work or causing more pain or struggling with more things.

In the context of work, sometimes I wonder if I am doing too much or caring too much... bearing too much of the weight of the world on my shoulders.  In the context of my personal life, sometimes I wonder if I am being too complex, too self-conscious, too conscientious and if I should simply do what my gut instinct tells me to, consequences be damned.

I get tired and I wonder if I will ever be able to "make it" and achieve that wondrous plateau where all things are finally well and at peace.

Then I remember that doing the right thing was never promised to be easy, that the road to righteousness is narrow, and that we are called to carry a cross and not a feather duster.  I remember that we have a Savior, that we have a Protector, and that his name is Wonderful.  O Savior!  Carry me but a little further for a little longer.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents. 1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
   where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.
 3 He will not let your foot slip—
   he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
   will neither slumber nor sleep.
 5 The LORD watches over you—
   the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
   nor the moon by night.
 7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
   he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
   both now and forevermore.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Learn their lessons

Elisabeth Elliot, in her book Passion and Purity, wrote:
     I write in the hope that those who know what honor means will be cheered to see that they are not entirely alone.  It may strengthen them to find that, even in recent decades, there are those who recognize something far greater than their own passions, even though for the world at large there seems to be nothing else of any consequence...
     The greater the potential for good, the greater the potential for evil.  That is what Jim and I found in the force of the love we bore for each other.  A good and perfect gift, these natural desires.  But so much the more necessary that they be restrained, controlled, corrected, even crucified, that they might be reborn in power and purity for God.
     I don't think we ever talked about honor as a concept.  Jim honored me as a woman; I honored him as a man.  We saw the difference, all right.  How sharply we saw and felt and were awed by the difference between a man and a woman.  A system of fixed values and relations held us apart, each holding the other in reverence for the Owner.  His we were, all the rights were His, all the prerogatives to give or to withhold according to the pattern of His will, which remained as yet a mystery to us.  Few, I suppose, even of those who hold the same system of values, need to go through so prolonged and so exquisitely cautious a process.  Perhaps most learn their lessons with greater facility than we did.  I don't know.  For us, this was the way we had to walk, and we walked it, Jim seeing it his duty to protect me, I seeing it mine to wait quietly, not to attempt to woo or entice.
Perhaps the most difficult thing in the world is to realize that you must come to your own conclusions and convictions about things.  You can poll all the people you want, debate over endless cups of coffee, and mull things over in your mind ad nauseum, but at the end of the day the decision must be yours with no apologies or reservations or excuses.  Your convictions must be able to stand on their own and you must be able to take responsibility for them.

How gracious it is that we do not do this alone, that our teacher is none other than Jesus Christ, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Thank goodness He guards our hearts and our lives even to the very end of the age.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


It's strange that often the only way in which we find true liberty is through restraint.  I suppose this is what it means to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness before "all these things" are added to us, or to lose your life to save it, or any of the other commands in Scripture.

Think about the Old Testament prophets.  Poor Ezekiel; God's command to him was:
Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year.  And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared, and you shall prophesy against the city. And behold, I will place cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege. - Ezekiel 4:4-8
Or Abraham, called out of his father's home into the fierce wilderness by the voice of a God he barely knew.  Or Joseph, enslaved for years before any vision of hope and justice appeared.   Or Daniel and his three friends, sacrificed for their faith.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. - Hebrews 11:32-40
That last line is what really gets me: "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised..."  Is it possible to see with a vision that extends beyond the span of your own life?  To strive for something beyond what appeals to our senses?

I was talking to a philosopher-friend and he was trying to teach me about various forms of and epistemology, or the ways and validity of things we think are true.  Some of the theories seemed rather wild and absurd: metaphors for shadows in caves, how our reality might only exist if someone else perceives it (like the reverse of the "if a tree falls in the woods" question), and so on and so forth.  They sounded silly... and then I wondered how my faith and the things I do for it might sound at times.

But then I thought about Jesus, the author and perfector of faith.  And I realized (again) that the one who truly demonstrated self-restraint, self-sacrifice, and self-emptying was God Himself.  Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant...

And so that is what I want to be.  A servant.  I am not a very good one, imperfect in far too many ways, but at least I know that my ruling authority, my Lord, is just, good, and God.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Born Again

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." - John 3:5-8

It is easily forgotten that these words are the precursors for understanding the most powerful and well known words of Christ: "For God so loved the world..."  Why?  What is the significance of such a cryptic preamble?

Its significance again finds itself in the hidden: that the truth of God, no matter how plainly stated, can only be truly understood by those rejuvenated and reborn and recast in the spirit.  This is why the world, in all of tis carnal and utilitarian and indulgent, hedonistic forms will never understand the glory and devastating attraction of God.  It is born of a different nature and into an altogether foreign tongue.  Its biology is incompatible, its logic folly, and wisdom foolishness.

This is why redemption demands rebirth and re-creation: to start from a nascent germinal concept - the glory and sovereignty and humility and love of God - and arrive at the most profound of all mysteries:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. - John 3:16-21