October 24, 2012

A Medicated Life

I'm in the process of changing a medication I've taken for years. The side effects were starting to cause problems, so my doctor is having me try a different drug. I thought that meant the side effects would go away.

I was wrong.

As near as I can tell, I get the side effects not just from the presence of whatever drug path the first med was, but also from any change in those levels or pathway. Persistent headaches, slight nausea, and other things beside. It may be I'll have these until all of the first drug are out of my system.

This morning I'm thinking about changes and a quote from Anais Nin: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

This quote doesn't apply well to my change in meds, but I am more aware this morning that everything entails cost. I often push change away because I don't want to sacrifice. This morning is the first time my heart (and not just my head) acknowledge that remaining unchanged involves cost, too.

A habit of turning to food for comfort? At some point the cost of continuing that can be higher than the cost of effort to exercise and change habits. Staying up later than common sense suggests to read a book (which isn't going anywhere) or play a computer game (which doesn't really accomplish anything but helping me 'level up')? Sooner or later (I hope sooner for my own sake) I will decide sleep means more than giving my competitive traits free rein at 2 a.m.

And here's hoping the cost of changing one of my habits doesn't extend days to weeks into my future while my physiology adjusts!

October 22, 2012

Snowflakes in Sight

Yesterday I spied a snowflake book on a bargain shelf of books; the book looked like something right up my alley, so I bought it. Book purchase decisions don't usually take me long -- and often end in my spending money!

CalTech physicist Kenneth Libbrecht writes with excited enthusiasm about many things concerning snowflakes in The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty; his words are accompanied by Patricia Rasmussen's gorgeous photographs of crystal creation.

I picked the book up just now and read about about Japanese physicist Ukichiro Nakaya, who was the first to grow synthetic snowflakes in his refrigerated lab at the University of Hokkaido back in the 1930s. This is not as easy as it may sound. Snowflakes are not simply frozen water. They do not form unless temperature, pressure, and humidity fall within a narrow range. Snowflakes are an example of truly sublime work -- sublime in the scientific sense. A snowflake was never liquid water: it froze as ice directly from water vapor, skipping the liquid phase completely. Nakaya's major contribution to the field of ice crystal formation was discovering what the relationship was between weather conditions and what the snowflake looked like.

Between -5 and 0 degrees Celsius (~18-32 degrees Fahrenheit) the snow looks like small plates. From -10 to -5, it forms hexagonal columns. From -20 to -10, the snowflakes become large, fat, plate-like flakes; and colder than that (down to -35 degrees Celsius) it goes back to small forms.

No two snowflakes have been found that are exactly the same, and here is why: a snowflake forms when water vapor in a cloud meets the right conditions to be sublime. As the water molecules form their traditional crystal shape, that crystal gets moved by wind and pressure to different parts of the cloud, changing how the crystal grows as it is being formed. The conditions for one snowflake are the same, so each of the six branches of its developing crystal match -- in every minute detail and etching. Each arm of the snowflake went through the same process. No two snowflakes were in exactly the same place at the same time for the same duration on the same path, though, so each snowflake is a representation of its path. Higher levels of humidity (presence of more water vapor) result in more and more complicated snowflake shapes in larger and larger sizes.

It wasn't even 8 in the morning, and there was God and his character, emblazoned in front of me. Do you see  him, too?

It takes specific environments and conditions to grow faith, to nurture a vibrant relationship with God. If I am too comfortable, it won't happen. I am thankful that when the conditions are too harsh, it won't happen, either! God does set limits on what we endure in order to see him. I've read that faith isn't belief without understanding, but trust without reservation. It sometimes skips over what seems like a logical next step: we somehow get from vapor to solid ice without ever seeing water. As circumstances get harder, the growth of our faith becomes more complicated, more amazing, more beautiful. No two lives are exactly alike, and neither are any two relationships with God. We never travel exactly the same path as someone else, so our development is never the same. This does not lessen beauty. If you're a 12-sided snowflake and I'm a 6-sided snowflake, that's fine: hexagonal shapes can still be breathtaking.

The truth that nearly left me gasping this morning was what it is that makes a snowflake reach its most complex form: increasing levels of humidity. The presence of more water vapor. Faith can develop almost anywhere, but it is only when lived in the community of others that the unique life surpasses beautiful and leaves people speechless. Snowflakes don't form and grow in solitude, and neither do we.

Take courage and comfort. Though our lives are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14), we matter. There is still time and care taken that the snowflake of my life will exhibit beauty and be a potential source of wonder to those around me.

October 20, 2012

Hansen's of the Heart

Of the many books on my shelf (or truthfully, bookcases' worth of shelves), I prize highly the collaborations of physician Paul Brand and writer Phillip Yancey: Fearfully & Wonderfully Made, In His Image, and The Problem of Pain. Each delves deeply into the mine of human physiology for deep veins of  spiritual wisdom. Brand began as a physician missionary in India, and worked for decades with leprosy patients. It was he who finally determined that leprosy (or Hansen's disease, as it's also called) attacks the nerves and simply destroys the ability to feel.

This is a stunning realization. It means every single deformity of leprosy is traceable to an injury or negative contact that was never felt. If I do not feel the surface of my eye drying out, I do not blink; the eye dries out, and blindness eventually results. If I walk too far in poor shoes and get a blister, but do not feel it, it can ulcerate and become infected. Infection eventually takes the whole toe or even whole foot, and I never felt a thing.

Running errands yesterday, I pondered leprosy and its effects. Thoughts about the heart, surrendered or self-protected, meshed strains in fugue with thoughts about leprosy and pain. While steering, I was suddenly stunned with what spiritual leprosy must look like to God...

We live in a manipulative world that excels at abuse of the emotional appeal. Our solution to this is to numb ourselves to appeal, grow calluses so we are not so easily taken advantage of. We cultivate loss of sensation and think it a good thing. I have not weighed all possible options, but it seems to me that every deformity of character, as with leprosy, is traceable to a lack of sense or perception. When life crosses my path in its muddy, messy hallmarks, I steel myself to look away or rise above it. I fail to feel. Over time, that lack of feeling leads to blindness.

Brennan Manning wrote of standing in Times Square years ago, talking with friends. He was approached by a prostitute who recognized him. The woman kept trying to get his attention, regularly interrupting his conversation. Pent up with frustration, he finally whirled on her and heatedly told her to stop bothering them. She withdrew, and her softly-spoken response left him stunned to sensibility: "Jesus wouldn't have said that to Mary Magdalene." He was so caught up in the image of who he was, assured of his celebrity, he forgot to see the life in front of him.

I wonder what it would look like to see the spiritual realm in physical terms. I wonder how many people around me (and the image in the mirror, too) would reveal grotesque contortions of soul. How many times in my life have I pushed through an inconvenient interruption by telling myself to walk right past? How many limbs have I lost, how many perceptive faculties have I forfeited, by choosing to believe that not feeling is somehow better, because pain is intolerable? I don't know anyone with Hansen's disease, but I can guarantee that not a single one would agree with that lie.