Saturday, March 9, 2013

Vibrant Earth and Creator God

Bright blue patches of sky play peek-a-boo from behind the billowing grey clouds. A cool gust goes right through my sweater and tosses my braid over a shoulder and I breathe deeply of the rich smell of vibrant earth and misty rain. A tingling ignites and hums through my blood, a restlessness that begs me to take off my shoes and let soft grass caress my toes. Another gust smells of life and even though I’m not a gardener, my fingers itch to dig into the ground and feel dirt between my fingers. Shaking off the hibernation of winter, my soul pops an eye open and begins to stretch. A wave of giddiness tempts me to skip down the sidewalk to my apartment.

What is it about spring promise that wakes my blood and my soul? Could it be that the Creator of spring and of winter planned it that way?  To teach of redemption that comes after the numbness and the parched wildernesses and the dark, lonely places? Maybe even to speak of healing water that washes away the scars of winters that we chose. It reminds me of the verse Beth Moore told me to write down in bible study this morning: “Therefore, repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you,” (Acts 3:19-20). Spring promises new life, for which my soul so desperately thirsts. And I think the Weaver of nature and spirit and life knew it would.

“Our lord, it seems that you have just begun to show me your great power. No other god in the sky or on earth is able to do the mighty things that you do.
Deut. 3:24

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Chemistry of Crystals. . . and Why it Matters

My normal morning rush out the door is cut short this morning by the sight that awaits me. White fog lays low over the tree tops and the stillness is broken only by an occasional waft of cool air. I walk slowly up to a usually barren tree branch and my jaw slackens a little. Covering the stem is a spiky, breathtaking fur of sparkling ice crystals. Some hug the branch closely while others dare to brave the air a good half an inch from their base. But this tree is not an exception. All along the mile drive to campus, the naked, dark groves of trees among the houses and by the reservoir have been turned into a winter forest of contrasts. For once, I don’t push the speed limit or rush my walk to class. Something about the tiny, brittle ice crystals delights my heart. Untamed, savage delicacy.

I make it through algebra and scribble notes furiously in chemistry, hoping that the crystals will still be there when I’m done. They are. I meander through an errand and watch the snowy white birds wheel and sing over the hard winter lake with the wonderful black and white forest that guards it. And God starts whispering. About the ice crystals and their chemistry.

This is a short summary of what I understand about water (science people, please correct me if I’m wrong). A water molecule is made out of three very small atoms- two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The oxygen atom is held to each hydrogen atom by a very strong bond called a covalent bond. There are several types of bonds between atoms but covalent bonds are the strongest. Each atom is trying to get enough of these little negatively charged electrons swirling around it so that it can be stable- complete, if you will. Hydrogen needs one more electron and oxygen needs two more electrons. So the two hydrogen atoms and the oxygen atom get together, and each atom shares a part of itself, the electron, with the other atom to fill each other’s electron needs. The shared electrons then swirl around and between both atoms. But oxygen pulls harder on hydrogen’s electrons than hydrogen does on oxygen’s, so most of the time these little negatively charged electrons hang out closer to oxygen’s end of the molecule. This gives the oxygen end a slightly negative charge and the hydrogen ends a slightly positive charge, like having a magnet with a positive end and a negative end. So scientists and other smart people call this a polar molecule (polar is kind of like magnetic).

Stick with me here. You’re probably asking, so what? Trust me, I ask that question every day I’m sitting through another confusing class of chemistry. But maybe this is the so what. What if God made atomic bonds as an example of His relationship with us? You see, there are other atoms, called noble gasses, that already have all the electrons they need by themselves. They are naturally complete, so they are very stable and independent. The goal of all of the other atoms is to be like the noble gasses, which is why they get together and share electrons.

God is like a noble gas. Complete in Himself and perfect. God doesn’t need anything, particularly anything we could offer him. But what if a noble gas saw, let’s say an oxygen atom, and offered to share two of its electrons with oxygen so that oxygen would have enough electrons and could be complete? In this kind of hypothetical reaction, the oxygen would bring nothing to the relationship. While to my very little knowledge a noble gas in nature would not actually do this, God does. In his unthinkable compassion, He offers to share His love and His vision with us. And in that relationship, in that love, in His sharing of Himself, we are made complete and whole.

Hang on a minute- there’s another principle here. The three atoms that make up water would never resemble a noble gas apart. God uses the process of us as the church working together, sharing our good, bad, and ugly with each other, to refine us and make us more like Him. Apart, we would never be stable. Without each other, we will never be a complete picture of who He is for those who so desperately need Him. We need each other.

But it gets even better. When a whole bunch of water molecules are in the same place and very close together (otherwise known as a liquid or a solid), the molecules have very special relationships with each other. Because the each end of a single molecule has either a positive charge or a negative charge, it is attracted to the molecules next to it. Lots of compounds do that, but oxygen atom in water pulls unusually hard on hydrogen’s electrons. So it’s not only polar- it is REALLY polar. And because water is also a really small molecule, the molecules are really close together and that oxygen end pulls really hard on the hydrogen ends of its other water neighbors. This is called a hydrogen bond and it is very difficult to break. In order for water to move from ice to liquid to gas, these bonds have to become less and less strong and allow the other molecules to slip around (melt) or fly away (turn into steam). It takes an unusually high amount of heat to break these bonds in water.
 Perhaps God is calling us as the church to be as closely bonded together as those water molecules are. Perhaps if we hunker down and hold tightly to each other, refusing to let the heat of a broken world (and our own broken natures) break our bond, we will become a breathtakingly powerful and beautiful image of our noble Rescuer. Maybe we will delicately cover the barrenness of a heart’s winter and bring a sparkling hope to our world.

Or maybe we will let the heat make us fly apart. It is our choice.

The heat has melted the spiky fur of ice from the trees as I finish this entry. I did not expect its beautiful crystals to make chemistry feel worth the headache. But between the both of them, they have left me with a new understanding of how God relates to me and how I should relate with you. I’m so glad that God interrupted my rushed Friday morning with His ice crystals.

Note: Unfortunately, my camera was broken last year by a mistaken encounter with a floor. Props to Google Images for the pictures!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Hill: A Defining Memory of Colonel Gary Herchenroeder

October 17, 2012

The news came this afternoon, and I've been fighting misty eyes and painful lump in my throat since. The news gets passed around Facebook and the statuses full of respect and sadness appear like wildfire. And tonight, as I absently make pancake batter, wash dishes, take a quick shower and prepare for a study session for Microbiology, I’m not really here.  

Tonight, I’m nineteen. And it’s not night, although I’m thinking that I should be in bed. But no. I’m panting heavily and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. The horizon has faded to a dark grey as the sun yawns and shakes off the night.  For me, sleep feels like . . . well, like three very long miles ago. The Ozark hills and autumn leaves have lost their allure. I glance up and see a few of the ROTC physical training group strung out before me, and I can hear a few others behind me. This is no longer fun for any of us. I grit my teeth and return my eyes to where my next step should go.

“That’s it, Miss Esh!” I hear from behind. Within a few seconds, Colonel Herchenroeder jogs merrily past, giving me a bright smile and a thumbs up, before easily quickening his pace to joke with some guys at the head of our ragtag bunch. How does he do that?

Half a mile later, I’ve reached my limit. I’m coming around the last curve before the huge hill before the level stretch and then the gym where I can stop running. But as I heave in another breathe and look up the slope to where the road disappears, I feel my eyes prickle with exhausted tears. There’s just no way!

Then I hear the Colonel. “Almost there, Esh!” He’s at the top of the hill, and one look at my doubtful face has him trotting down the slope at an amazing speed. He meets me toward the bottom of the hill, whips around and slows to match his pace to mine. “Don’t stop.” Too tired to really acknowledge him, I rally my focus and clumsily move my feet. “Come on.” And I take the next step. And for the next few minutes, he jogs me up the hill, a constant stream of encouragement flowing from his mouth. And I can’t give up. Cuz he’s there and he wants me to finish. And then we’re at the top and he’s saying, “Can you make it from here?” And then he’s turning around and calling the next person’s name. And pretty soon, I’m at the gym and I feel like I just conquered the world. I didn’t quit because he wouldn’t let me.

I was only under the Colonel for three or four months. I didn’t join up. I haven’t seen him, spoken with him, or even heard much about him for over five years.  But a couple weeks ago, something the pastor said about doing life together as Christians made me think of Colonel Herchenroeder, and I couldn’t wait to rush up to the pastor afterward and share this story. And this isn’t the first time I have. Why? Because I’m still learning from those few minutes on a chilly autumn morning when he believed in me, for me. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The One Where I Had Soap in My Eyes

Last night, I was washing my face in the bathroom when I heard a whisper in my heart: “Suppose tomorrow night you fell asleep and never woke up. What could you reasonably do in the next 24 hours that would make tomorrow a worthwhile last day on earth?” As you can imagine, I was a bit taken aback by the question- who asks that of a person while they’ve got soap lather in their eyes anyway? Oh wait. I know exactly Who. So as I’m rubbing my face dry with that old tan towel, I ponder it. The first thing that comes to mind is my bucket list. I’m a idealist visionary, so I’ve had one for as long as I can remember. But then I realize that the question included an adjective: reasonably. So here’s some things I could not do in the next 24 hours:

  • Work in a medical clinic in East Africa (I might be able to make it to Heathrow Airport in London, but that’s a long shot and who wants to die in the customs line?)

·         Get married (In my normal life, I can’t even get a date in the next 24 hours!)

·         Feel a baby grow inside me

·         Publish a book

·         Graduate from college

·         Learn Jujitsu (Yeah, you read that right!)

·         Have a refuge room in my house and a hospitality ministry

·         Spend a summer in Ireland

·         Speak French

Hmmm. Well, that makes this bucket list thing a lot more difficult. As a matter of fact, I’m back to square one. After brainstorming, I came up with things that I could do:

·         Notice how sunlight makes the grass glow iridescent green

·         Ask God to protect my sisters’ futures and meet them in their present

·         Call my mom and rejoice with her that God can make beauty out of ashes

·         Write my dad a letter that tells him how much his sacrifices over the years mean to me

·         Email the people I have hurt and ask for their forgiveness

·         Let the sunset painted on a rose touch my heart

·         Pray for God’s blessing on the people that I love and the ones I find hard to love

·         Smile at my neighbor who rides his skateboard down the balcony at all hours of the day and night

·         Hug my 2-year-old friend Bentley (if I can catch him)

·         Blow off my homework and help file papers at the crisis pregnancy center

·         Give all my savings to Samaritan’s Purse or Gospel for Asia and maybe to the people I know are struggling

·         Sit next to the crying girl on the bench and tell her about a God who can heal the brokenness and the shattered pieces (it won’t matter if she thinks I’m weird)

All of the sudden, my bucket list looks so much narrower, so much more doable. And it makes me wonder why I’m not already doing it. I realize that I’m too busy doing important things to worry about stuff so little. But if my only future were tomorrow, the small stuff suddenly seems so much bigger and all the hours I spend doing important things are wasted time.

So why don’t I live that way? It’s because I’m scared. Scared to death that if I don’t get an A in Microbiology, I will jeopardize my career. That if I don’t graduate from college, I’ll be stuck in a miserable job. That if I’m not beautiful and charming and fiery and strong and perfect, no one will want me and I will have to spend the rest of my life alone.  That if I don’t live a big life full of adventure, I will come to the end and feel insignificant. Fear is what causes the stress and anxiety, the late nights before a test, the constant safety measures to ensure success, the pleasing everyone- even the ones that aren’t in my life yet. Somewhere deep down, I am deathly afraid of making an irreversible mess of my life. So I fill it with blinding busyness that is supposed to eliminate the risk from my future.

But what if my only future were tomorrow? I feel the pressure and the fear seep out into a puddle on the bathroom floor (don’t worry, it’s not yellow). I want to be faithful to the important things—and my responsibilities are still among them. But I hope that I will one day they will cease to be insurance and begin to be blessings and ministry.

So now it’s tomorrow. And I still went to class this morning, but I noticed the roses on the way. And I called my mom to say just to say happy Friday. As soon as I’m finished writing, I’m going to study for my Viking World test. But I took a walk and enjoyed the cool breeze and the sunshine and the iridescent grass first. I want to learn to live in the balance of both of my futures- the one that’s imaginary and the one that is now.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Twenty-five and August Afternoon

I drag myself off the bed and shrug my shoulders a couple times to get rid of the ache in my shoulder. My brain is still thinking in Spanish as I wander away from Latin American Literature and open the door of my apartment. It’s time for a study break. Warm, muggy air seeps into my goosebumps as I wonder whether it’s more ethical to turn the air conditioning off and on as my body temp fluctuates or to just leave doors and windows open when it gets too cold inside. Utilities are included in my rent so maybe I have to think about the cost to the community at large.

 For the third or fourth time, I notice that the cicadas start singing much sooner here than back at home—and that whatever that room-sized machine behind the laundry room hums very loudly. The gray sky hangs low over the old play equipment in the empty lot behind the apartment complex- a nice break from the intense sunlight that turned my face pink yesterday. In the quiet, I can almost hear the lilting of a mournful, beautiful Hindi song. A sense of peace settles in on my insides.

The last week has been hectic- moving up to Nebraska again, trying to budget grocery money, fall classes beginning with a roar, and discovering that high school algebra is lost memory. I’ve called home asking whether it’s cheaper to buy prescriptions at Walgreen’s or Walmart and how you make hash. This morning at 6:30 it was whether or not to drop math, and if so, which Spanish class to add instead. My dear mom has plenty of practice and patience with my verbal processing, for which I’m so grateful.

As if microbiology and paying rent on time weren’t enough to think about, my twenty-fifth birthday is just around the corner. It seems like one of those big ones where you’re supposed evaluate life and figure out how you got where you are and if it’s where you thought you’d be 10 years ago. The answer is, “Well, sort of.”

I’ve had the opportunity to chase some of my dreams- spent time in missions, but never thought it would be in Mexico. Have higher level education- well, I’m slowly working on that one. Speak another language- wanted it to be some tribal language in Africa, but you know, Spanish works, too. Marriage is still somewhere out there on the horizon, distant yearnings for little ones, but that one can definitely wait awhile. In all, I’ve had some amazing experiences that many adults twice my age never get to have.

On the other hand, I’m twenty-five and have only lived in my own apartment for a week. I’m a newbie at budgeting finances on a monthly basis, and most of the people I see on campus are probably 5 years younger than me. I’m not sure whether or not I can still dress like a hippie and not be “immature for my age.” Some of these experiences that a lot of people have much younger than me are still brand new. And because I’m competitive and perfectionistic, I have to work on not feeling embarrassed about it.

But I have the life I’ve had, and I don’t regret the majority of it. And now I’m hitting another part of growing up, which I’m sure will be filled with tears and victories and headaches and chuckles. So I’ve decided it’s okay to feel exceedingly proud of myself for not only making a white sauce, but substituting it in for cream soup in a casserole. Or be excited that somehow the random decorating stuff I’ve accumulated all seems to be blue and white and brown and fit my ghetto apartment with the empty lot out back. And I like that I’m humming a Hindi song, wearing Peruvian pants, and reading about early Latin American history in Spanish, even if I have to drop College Algebra for now and take the prep class next semester.

That’s my life at twenty-five. Messier, more unexpected, and more beautiful than I planned it at fifteen. So as I step away from a muggy August afternoon and get settled in for some more pre-columbian America, I will smile with God at whatever the next twenty-five years (and this evening) hold. I can only imagine.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

South American Salsa: Satin Reflections

Sky satin whirls through air, frolicking with bright reed flute notes, deep drum beats, teasing smiles. Stomping feet and brisk yips echo in the festive atmosphere executed by polite waiters, complementary Pisco sours, and juicy tequeños dipped in avocado. I savor the salty, crispy, cheesy, way-too-greasy bite and then refocus my attention on the dancers. Weaving gaily, twirling, with their professional smiles firmly in place, they show off traditional dances from Piura, Arequipa, la selva and other regions of Peru. The array of styles, steps, and music hint at the diversity of Peruvian culture. I bob my head to the rhythm, enjoying the show and thinking that it’s a good way to spend a last weekend in Lima.

What? Wait . . . It really is that. Once we begin our post-semester traveling on Friday, I will only spend two more nights in Lima. The next week will go so fast- a little homework, one in-class final, packing, a funeral mass, a good-bye lunch and any other lasts I should squeeze in. Puno and Lake Titicaca on the weekend, and then Iquitos and the Amazon the next week. Back in Lima for 36 hours to do final packing and goodbyes, and then boarding a Miami-bound plane on April 29th. And then Kansas and Kearney and friends and reverse culture-shock.

The last few months have flown by in a whirl of combies, classrooms, challenges, outings, and laughter. I will miss the heat of the sun on my back as I test out icy ocean water. And the spicy flavor of anticuchos or ají de gallina or papa a la huancaína. My red and white apartment building with yellow flowers spilling over the wrought-iron fence. The energy and convenience of a big city. Moving to salsa music, classes in Spanish, maybe even the occasional, “Please, sir, you know that’s a lot. Give me the taxi ride for 7 soles or I’ll ask Juanito over here instead.” But I think I’ll miss the people in my program the most. Bonfires on the beach, Bembos ice cream dates, funny stories about messing up Spanish or falling out of combies, random conversations on the steps inside the entrance to UPC.

I won’t miss the constant “Hey, baby, nice body” comments or whistles from strangers, the every-Peruvian-for- himself driving chaos, or the being cheated because I’m a foreigner parts of Lima. The constant feeling that everyone is staring at you, the pretending to look mean as I navigate streets on my way home.  

I have learned a lot here. About subjunctive tenses, the usage of por vs. para, the meaning of “phrasal verbs”or how word order affects meaning. About the diversity and complexity of the Peruvian culture. About social problems facing Peru past, present, and future. About humans’ rights and indigenous politics in Peru and Latin America in general. As I reflected in a final essay earlier this week:

“That’s the thing that leaves me thoughtful. Perhaps because I grew up in a family that had to stretch paychecks to have food on the table, or because I have spent years praying for, studying, and working with marginalized groups, I have always felt a connection with indigenous groups and poverty-stricken families. The past few months spent living with the other side of society—shopping all the time, spending Fridays at the beach, or staying in resorts- have made me realize how easy it is to get caught up the materialism rampant in upper classes and wealthier countries. While having a maid serve my meals and do my laundry really bothered me in the beginning, I can feel it slowly becoming normal.

“I have had amazing experiences during my time here, but I do not feel the same connection to Peru as I have to other cultures that I have spent time in. The old saying goes, “you get out what you put in.” My life here has revolved around me—my studies, my friends, my classes, my fun. And that scares me. I have at least two more years of studies in a place generally isolated from extreme poverty. My life will easily fill with activities, classes, friends, and fun . . . I realize that staying aware of the hardship faced by so many people every day will take a conscious effort on my part. I hope that I choose to stay connected with the people who have lived a much harder life than I. If I forget, I become part of the problem.”

Ready to watch some dancing!

The after-the-dances dance party on the stage. Limeans love to dance!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A few corrections. . .

Huayco is actually spelled huaico.
And it was over 600 families that were left homeless by the landslides. One woman was left dead and 21 peopl injured. According to the newspaper "Nuevo Ojo," these are some of the worst landslides in recent years. At this point, help has been promised by officials, but until yesterday afternoon, there had not been any organized aid in motion.