Thursday, December 24, 2015

i believe in miracles

I don't really distinguish between miracles and science. To me, science (especially medical science) is miraculous. The more i learn about science, the more i appreciate God's sense of design, His plans and attention to detail, His desire for us to connect to one another.

Take body donations, for example. We can donate so many different body parts after we die: organs, skin, even corneas. While alive, we can donate blood, platelets, plasma, bone marrow, stem cells, and even kidneys. Think about it: we all get two kidneys at birth, but we really only need one to survive. We get a spare, so that we can give one away if someone needs a new kidney.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because nearly seven years ago, a group called Be The Match visited my campus. I was a college sophomore at the time, and had given blood a handful of times before. My blood giving was sometimes interrupted by my tattoos, but i gave whenever i could. But this was something entirely new.

Be The Match was asking people to join the national donor registry. They collect DNA samples to simplify the search process when someone needs bone marrow. You fill out a form, swab your cheek, and they email you a few times a year to keep you in the loop about what the organization is up to. I signed up immediately. I heard from them about a possible donation once, but mostly they left me alone.

Until about a week before my birthday.

A 39 year old man with leukemia was a match for my DNA. They can't and didn't tell me anything else about him. I told them i was still interested in donating, and we started the process. So far, i've signed a consent form and reviewed my medical history over the phone. I'm scheduled for a physical at the beginning of January, and will begin injections of filgrastim to increase the stem cells in my blood. The only real side effect to this is flu-like aches. After five days of injections, i'll be hooked up to two needles. One will draw stem cell-y blood and pass it into a machine which will filter out the stem cells, and the other will put the blood back. I've been told to expect slight soreness and extreme exhaustion for a day or two following this procedure.

After that, it's all over. Within a week, i'll be back to normal. I may or may not be asked to donate again.

I don't ever plan to have kids. I like kids a lot, especially up to the age of about four, but i don't have any desire or need to have them myself. Like when you see someone wearing a cute outfit that looks great on them but isn't at all your style: i'm happy for you that you have a baby and that you are happy with your life choices, but i'm all set over here, thanks.

But this feels a little like what i imagine it feels like to find out you are going to have a baby. To realize that your body has this amazing potential to create and sustain life; to understand that your body is going to give life to another person; to know that you will give up some measure of comfort and control, will experience pain, will give up time for doctor's visits and injections and long phone calls about your medical history; and to know that at the end of all of it, someone will receive life because of your sacrifice, is almost unbearably awesome. I am nervous about the pain. I am nervous about the stress. I am nervous about the time commitment. I am beyond thrilled to be able to do this.

I can't stop telling people about it. I realize that it's a little inelegant to do so, that it's like bragging about how charitable i am, but i can't help it. I am so in awe of the science involved (i'm getting five injections to MAKE MORE STEM CELLS! and then i'm GIVING STEM CELLS TO A PERSON SO THEY CAN LIVE!), and so thrilled to discover the power and potential of my own body. I am so glad to be able to help someone who needs it. I want so badly for more people to donate whatever body parts they can, whenever they are asked to do so, because why wouldn't you?! Who doesn't want to witness a miracle? Who doesn't want to BE a miracle?

It's a birthday miracle for me, and a Christmas miracle for this man and his family. It's science and research and medicine and technology. It's prayer and a willingness to sacrifice and serve. It's biology and chemistry. It's communication and contact. It's cotton swabs and needles.

We are all stardust. We are all stem cells.

Monday, January 19, 2015

That's NOT What She Said

I have this fantasy where i'm one of those smoky, sultry babes that has a witty double entendre to reply to every remark, no matter how mundane or inconsequential. In my fantasy, a routine remark on the weather can turn into a steamy make-out session in seconds, because my words are so saucy and seductive that i create an atmosphere of constant eroticism and irresistible sensuality.

In reality, the responses that usually occur to me are less "sexy and witty" and more "awkward and slightly horrifying". Fortunately for me, i manage to keep the vast majority of these remarks in my head. Fortunately for you, i have compiled them here. 

Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?

John: "I'm updating my webpages."
Me: "I'm updating my vagina."
What? No. That's not sexy. That's not even a thing.

John: "I just like to manhandle you sometimes."
Me: "I like to handle your man. Your little man. Your penis."
Stop. Just stop talking. If you have to explain it this much even to yourself, it's not sexy.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Um. Hi.

I'm student teaching now, which is amazing and terrible and draining and energizing and hilarious and tragic and painful and enlightening and tedious and so very, very exciting. I'm at the school from 7:45-2:30 every day. I help run a home room, and i teach two classes: a ninth grade and a twelfth grade. The two groups could hardly be more different, and i love them and want to strangle them almost daily. And i LOVE getting to talk about books all day. Although i'm kind of sick of Romeo and Juliet by now.

My job is still amazing. We had our first round of reviews recently, and mine was good. In fact, i got a raise. I have wonderful friends, i get to do fun and interesting things, and there's always something to snack on. It's basically perfect, except that i don't get to talk about books as much as i'd like.

Family stuff is rough, as always. It's hard to be away from them, but it's hard to be with them for very long. There's a healthy helping of the usual drama, as well as more real stuff: heart conditions and cancer and so forth.

I'm writing here and there. I'm insanely busy: lesson planning, grading, meetings, teaching, working, sleeping, and eating take up an unbelievable amount of time. More than once, i've had to sacrifice things like sleeping, eating, church, time with friends, sleeping, eating, hydrating, laundry, sleeping, and eating in order to juggle my responsibilities. I keep my eyes on the finish line in May, and i keep reminding myself that i have a whole summer to relax before i can start teaching, assuming i get a job right away (which is by no means a foregone conclusion).

Anyway. The best time i have to write is when i'm at school, but blogger is blocked, so i spend that time lesson planning and hand-writing poems and watching Mariah Gale's Ophelia, particularly the madness scenes. She is magnetic.

So i haven't been here in a while. All of my daily routines have completely disappeared; i'm rebuilding my life from the ground up. I'm searching for new rhythms that allow me to survive, to breathe, to get things done, to be happy. I haven't found room for this yet.

I don't know that i will. I'm beginning to wonder if i've outgrown this, if i've come to a place in my life where i'm living so fully that i no longer need so much space to dream. Or maybe i'm stretched so thin that i simply don't have a place to put this anymore, and once things calm down a little, it will come back.

I know there are things here i've left incomplete. I'm strangely okay with that. I know there are stories i still need to tell. I can tell them elsewhere. I know there are stories i've told here and nowhere else. That's how life goes.

This will never go away entirely, but it's less central to me now. We'll see where it goes.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


There were moments when i thought this year would never come. 2013 was one of the hardest years of my life, and i'm comparing it to 2007/2008, when my parents were getting divorced, and 2011, when my brother got blown up.

My friend Bryan died. My amazing boyfriend, the love of my life, one of the best people i've ever known, started pulling away from me. I left my job in the hopes of finding a new one and finally (finally!) finishing my degree. A fight with my best friend of six years left a rift that slowly widened. We don't talk anymore. My boyfriend and i broke up, leaving both of us torn and battered and very, very sad. Both of my grandfathers died. I've had financial struggles like never before. The Boston marathon was bombed. 30 Rock ended.

There was good stuff, too. Bryan was very sick, and i'm glad he's finally at peace. A dear friend of mine was married. My cousin had a beautiful baby boy right before Christmas. I have two amazing new roommates. I have an incredible job filled with incredible people that i actually want to spend time with outside of work. I reconnected with old friends. I lost about 40 pounds. I passed all my MTELs and got a student teaching placement for the spring.

So overall, i'm okay. I am exactly okay. No better, no worse. I'm starting 2014 with the conviction that things can only get better from here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Toddlers of the Bible: Peter, Jonah, and Sampson


You know those preschooler puzzle toys where there's a plastic box with shaped holes cut in it? And you have all these plastic shapes to fit into the holes? Have you ever watched a kid playing with one of those? Their tiny toddler muscles strain to force the circle block into the flower hole, or their little brains struggle to figure out the right way to turn the star in order to line up all its points. I love watching kids that age play. They are thinking and working so hard, and learning so much, and yet when they return to the same toy the next day, they've forgotten half of what they achieved the day before. I can't help but laugh as they get frustrated and try to beat the pieces into place, or get bored and wander away to another toy. But the best moment is when they finally get everything in the right place and grin, proud of their accomplishment.

I think that's how God is with us sometimes, watching and laughing and letting us figure it out. No matter how hard we shove, the square block is not going to fit into the round hole. And the triangle won't fit in the triangle hole unless you have it turned at the right angle. Sometimes He gets frustrated, thinking to Himself, "We just did this. How can she still not figure out the right work/personal life balance? Why is he still trying to get that promotion instead of going back to grad school? Why won't she just break up with him already? How has he not figured out that he needs to attend church regularly?" And sometimes He gently reaches out and helps us turn the block around, or subtly taps a finger on the right hole for the shape in our hands. And sometimes, when we are getting frustrated or bored or overwhelmed with this confusing shape game, sometimes He is the one who hands us the light-up fire truck, or the singing dinosaur, or the plastic groceries, because sometimes we need a break from trying to fit all those shapes together.


God gave Jonah a specific task: go to Nineveh and tell them to repent of their wickedness. Jonah refused, and proceeded to run as far away from Nineveh as he knew how to get. Then God sent a storm, and Jonah offered to die in order to save the lives of everyone else on the boat, and then he was swallowed by a fish. Then he prayed, and God rescued him, and then he went to Nineveh and preached half of God's message, and then the people figured out the other half anyway. And then Jonah got mad at God for doing the thing that He said He would do.

God is God. You can't run far enough in any direction to escape His will. You can even half-ass the things He asks you to do, but guess what? God is more powerful than you. If you think He can't make shit happen in spite of your rebellion, you're forgetting the whole toddler thing above. It doesn't matter how hard that two-year-old tries to shove that star-shaped block into the trapezoid-shaped hole. It's not going in.


There's this to say about Jonah: he listened to God enough to know what God wanted him to do, even if he then did the exact opposite. And he did eventually do part of what God asked him for.

You can't really say as much about Sampson.

Sampson was supposed to follow a specific set of vows, and was supposed to rescue his people from the Philistines. He broke every single one of his vows in very quick succession, and although he killed lots of Philistines, he only ever did so to correct wrongs that they had committed against him. He wasn't a champion for his people, only for his own ego.

His story ends with all the Philistine leaders dying by Sampson's hands. But don't get too excited: first he broke his final vow, and then they tortured and humiliated him, and then he asked God to allow him to get revenge, and then he killed himself along with all of them.

So, God's will was done. Yay?


Oh, Peter. He tried so hard to be a good disciple, but he kept getting sidetracked with his own ideas. Protip: God's ideas are pretty much always better than yours. (Occasionally He decides to kill everyone, and Moses has to talk Him out of it, but by and large you can just assume that He knows what He's doing.)

After all the time spent with Jesus, Peter still didn't really get this. When Jesus tells Peter that Peter will deny Him three times before dawn, Peter argues back. Then Jesus told them all (for like the eight millionth time) that He was going to be betrayed and die, and then He gets arrested, and then Peter cuts off a guy's ear. (I like to think that a better translation of Jesus' words at that point is, "Dude. Seriously? We just talked about this. This is happening. Chill.") You'll never guess what happens next. Peter denies Jesus three times just before dawn.

But he tried. He tried so hard. And let's not forget that it was Peter upon whom Jesus built His church, and Peter who preached the Pentecost sermon. He could barely take a step without tripping over one foot and shoving the other one in his mouth, but when he did take a step, it was with seven-league boots. His incompetence, pride, and general stupidity were no match for the Holy Spirit moving within him.


It took me a long time to be reconciled to my parents' divorce. Actually, let me rephrase that: it's taking me a long time to be reconciled to my parents' divorce. First, i had to be reconciled to the fact that they were never supposed to be together, that they should never have gotten married. Then i wondered what that implied for me: should i never have been born? Was i God's afterthought?

Here's what Sampson and Jonah and Peter have taught me: God's will is going to happen, whether or not we participate, even if we rebel, even if we make mistakes. God always intended for me to be here. He may not have intended for me to arrive under these exact circumstances. but He wasn't about to let my parents' mistake get in the way of what He wanted, and what He wanted was me.

I can't help but think of the background characters in these stories. I think of the Ninevites that Jonah was supposed to redeem. They were hell-bound and didn't even know it, and Jonah did everything he could to keep them headed in that direction. I think of the Israelites who Sampson was supposed to be rescuing from their oppressors. He ignored his people to chase tail, and forgot about anyone who didn't stroke either his ego or his penis. And i think of the other eleven Apostles, of the multitude of Jesus' other followers, of the new Christian converts trying to spread the good news and build churches and figure out this whole religion thing (can we eat bacon? do we have to be circumcised? is it okay to gossip?), and relying on Peter to guide them through all of these heavy questions, not to mention the persecutions and martyrs.

We never get to find out what they were thinking and feeling about all of this nonsense, but i think i have some idea of what it's like to be caught up in the wake of someone else's mess. It sucks to feel like you're a secondary character in someone else's story, like you're just there for set dressing or for a plot twist. But none of us are secondary characters. In each of these stories, all those background people are the whole point.

God sent Jonah to Nineveh for the sake of the Ninevites. God raised up Sampson as a judge for the sake of the Israelites. Jesus called Peter for the sake of the new Christians. All of these people are our secondary characters, our sidekicks, our plot twists. God wants great things for us, and sometimes He uses other people to work His will in our lives.

For those of us who are Peter, take heart: your ability to fuck up does not outweigh God's ability to get shit done.

For those of us who are Jonah or Sampson, take heed: your attempts to rebel will not succeed, and may destroy you.

For those of us simply caught in another's destructive wake, take comfort: God does not hold anyone else's mistakes against you. His will for you is going to happen, no matter what bad decisions are made by the people who are supposed to be rescuing you.

The circle block is only ever going to fit into the circle hole.

Friday, November 22, 2013

by way of contrast

i've been obsessed with bees lately
industrious and organized
productive and precise
and dying

honey sealed in wax hexagons
honey sealed in glass jars
unspoiled, eternal
never sours, never molds
only crystalizes

if you'd been sealed in wax,
could i have kept you? 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Misquoting Jesus, Chapter 2: The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings

"One of the problems with ancient Greek texts (which would include all the earliest Christian writings, including those of the New Testament) is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no distinction made between lowercase and uppercase letters, and, even more bizarre to modern readers, no spaces used to separate words." (pg. 48)

Think of the complexity of some of the New Testament, like Paul's letters (I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.). Even with modern rules of grammar imposed, this passage is pretty ridiculous. When those rules are done away with, it's easier to misread what is on the page. And even if your eyes and brain play no tricks, even if every letter is read in its correct place, comprehension and translation errors can still happen. Ehrman provides an example of what can happen with the following word: "godisnowhere", which can be read as "God is now here" or "god is nowhere".

"Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple -- slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be incompetent: it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work but were simply the literate members of their congregations who were (more or less) able and willing." (pg. 55)

Mistakes happen, but once they do, it can be hard to figure out where they are and how to correct them. And now, centuries later, how can we ever expect to know for certain which manuscript is the most correct version? 

"What survives today, then, is not the original copy of the letter, nor one of the first copies that Paul himself had made, nor any of the copies that were produced in any of the towns of Galatia to which the letter was sent, nor any of the copies of those copies. The first reasonably complete copy we have of Galatians (this manuscript is fragmentary; i.e., it has a number of missing parts) is a papyrus called P46 (since it was the 46th New Testament papyrus to be catalogued), which dates to about 200 C.E. That's approximately 150 years after Paul wrote the letter. It had been in circulation, being copied sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly, for fifteen decades before any copy was made that has survived down to the present day." (pg. 60)

"Original" scripts for the Bible are essentially nonexistent, and even the earliest ones that we have are so far from the original that there is no way to determine how accurate the copies are.