Thursday, October 29, 2015


A few things that have fed my soul recently...

...The September 3, 2015 On Being episode with Krista Tippett and Mike Rose, "The Intelligence in All Kinds of Work, and the Human Core of All Education That Matters."

It was inspiring to hear them discuss how service work involves complex mental tasks, and how society can grow in appreciating all kinds of labor, instead of simply dividing jobs into categories of class and collar.

I led a training day for new cashiers at Whole Foods this month and was happy to hear one's pleasantly-surprised feedback, after we had explored several questions and ideas throughout the time: "I didn't expect today to be so intellectually stimulating." ...Job done! :-)

...Listening to international friends react to a professor's pride and racist sentiment in the US in an open and supportive manner. Our group includes white, black and Asian men and women who meet regularly to study the Bible and share experiences.

...Rediscovering Sara Groves' songs

...Cooking Haitian food for friends and talking for 2 hours around the dinner table. Who does that anymore, without screens?

...Catching up with a lifelong friend. Her daughter is now the age we were when we met!

...Hearing Ravi Zacharias talk about what it means to be human (October 15 at the University of Pittsburgh). He built a beautiful argument centered on four unique aspects of Christian faith (Creation as purposeful, Jesus' incarnation, the transformation of our hearts, and the consummation of eternity), reminding us that the essence of human experience lies in our eternal relationship with God. He shared stories and quoted philosophers, hymns and his 3-year-old grandson to illustrate ideas.

....Then his Oxford colleague Vince Vitale spoke about the resurrection and the significance of relationship in Christianity (instead of rules). I did not expect it, but his closing statement left me in tears! After detailing Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son-- who is welcomed against cultural norm into the loving embrace of his father-- the speaker exhorts the audience, "Stop competing to be loved and just enjoy it."

An unhealthy spirit of competition is part of what drove me from science three years ago. I have been exploring the interplay between competition and faith this year, thanks to a coworker who challenged some of my thoughts on it (and who coincidentally gave me one of Ravi's books this summer). As I listen to Ravi's colleague, I realize how even in ministry I expect myself to do more, to set a good example, to please other leaders and God. Am I missing the point? The Father's love has nothing to do with my performance and everything to do with His Son.

Just enjoy it.

It seems so simple, yet we make love so complex. Why? Do we learn to love well over a long period of trial and error, or are we born with an innate capacity to give and receive it, like a child? Maybe a little of both, sometimes... When will we get it?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Remy's New Home

Family reunions have a way of surprising us- this time, we ended up with a new home for our turtle.

On a whim, I thought it would be good to take Remy for the holiday weekend. Our neighbor- herself a turtle keeper- who usually cared for Remy when we traveled, was in the process of moving. We had just discussed buying her old turtle tank with a bottom filter. (Water quality has been difficult for us to maintain, and we would have to buy a pump.) Since we'd been keeping Remy out of water except for one swim per day, it seemed too much trouble to ask anyone to handle him while we were gone for four days. Our young cousins would enjoy seeing him. We fully intended to bring him back to try and engineer another winter of survival in the North.

On Saturday, my aunt is looking at the turtle in his little black tank, which we've set up in the shade in a corner of my grandma's backyard. The warm Kentucky air is relieving our overnight chill from the AC. My aunt mentions a pond where red-eared sliders swim near her house. "If you want, we could take him there for you. He'd have a lot of room to swim and bask."

We think and talk about the possibility, what it would mean to release a captive-since-hatched turtle into the wild.

Earlier this summer, my husband and I had been so concerned about our ability to care for Remy that we had started wondering if there would be a more suitable home for him. Despite my husband's best efforts in his contract position, his company still hadn't offered him a full-time job, which we hoped would enable us to buy a house, where we could invest in a long-term setup for our little reptile. This plan-- we joke about our gradual increase in responsibility from turtle to bird to children-- was not progressing. Was it worth the stress of keeping him, constantly changing water and maintaining indoor basking conditions, or would we all be better off elsewhere?

If we gave Remy to a local animal rescue, wouldn't they or a future keeper face the same struggle with the winter climate in Pennsylvania- poor light, and drafty houses making it difficult for turtles to bask? We couldn't release him into a non-native habitat and expect him to survive. Plus, RES turtles are invasive in some states due to the pet trade and people giving up caring for them. Was I giving up too soon? We had prayed for help earlier this summer.

Sunday, my aunt calls her wildlife biologist friend and asks for advice about a transition for Remy. Given our turtle's age and size, he would be OK to hibernate, and the timing of early fall would give him enough time to adjust to the new environment before the temperature dropped. Would his shell condition resolve itself?

Later that morning, I take Remy out of his tank and put him in grass for the first time. He moves slowly, unsure. He is creeping toward the wall of the house, looking for a place to hide.

We try to redirect him a few times, and my one-year-old cousin is trailing him. We let him crawl under a tree, until he is aiming for a hole in the fence. Finally he buries himself in a bush, invisible to predators. I eventually move him back to the tank so we can both relax!

Monday, my aunt shows us what happens when she puts Remy in the flower bed. He digs a hole next to a plant and covers his shell with dirt! We marvel at his instinct.

After an hour or so, I rinse him off and feed him some of his dried mealworms, crickets and river shrimp to prepare him for the journey south. He only has a seven-hour truck ride to go. We prepare a box with dirt, and my mom cuts holes in the top.

Saying goodbye is sad, but we feel it's the best thing for Remy and for us.

My aunt sends us updates over the next couple days as she prepares to release him. My cousins help him adapt to pond water first.

Today we receive photos of the pond, followed by a video of Remy entering it for the first time!

Our turtle is free.


I miss him. I've come home expecting to hear Remy swimming, legs plop-plop-plopping at the water surface, begging for food. I can still hear the rumble across his ramp when he would startle and throw himself into the water from the basking space.

I keep thinking to turn on and off his lights, or not run the AC too long lest he get cold, before catching myself. I wonder what to do with the empty space where his tank used to be.

Funny how a tiny creature can become part of your life, and you don't realize how much until he's gone.

I cry to think about the transitions Remy kept me through-- stress in ministry and marriage, losing a job, starting a new one. This turtle came to us right before that season started. I needed some connection to earthful substance, to water and dirt, and to thinking about what makes us all survive, anyway.

Now Remy swims along larger shores. It's better than I imagined for him!

Maybe this is the better home we'd been praying for.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Turtle Watching

Remy enjoying some soak time between dry treatments for his shell. We have been keeping him out of water during these warm summer months, giving him clean water to rehydrate and eat once a day. Here he is stretching, and clearly done with his pellets :-)


Music: Tim Be Told, "Scared To Be Alone" (Humanity album)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Love and Freedom

Drank a Garden of Life RAW protein smoothie tonight and am too energized to sleep! Revisiting some good words for meditation. Hope you enjoy the music in this first link:

Josh Garrels, Love & War & The Sea In Between

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levee and my bluff
Let the flood wash me

-"Farther Along"

Tim Keller, The Meaning Of Marriage:

"There is an emotional "high" that comes to us when someone thinks we are so wonderful and beautiful, and that is part of what fuels the early passion and electricity of falling in love. But the problem is- and you may be semiconsciously aware of this- the person doesn't really know you and therefore doesn't really love you, not yet at least. What you think of as being head over heels in love is in large part a gust of ego gratification, but it's nothing like the profound satisfaction of being known and loved."

. . . .

"The passion we share now differs from the thrill we had then like a noisy but shallow brook differs from a quieter but much deeper river. Passion may lead you to make a wedding promise, but then that promise over the years makes the passion richer and deeper."

Only a person can make a promise. And when he does, he is most free.
-Lewis Smedes

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Remy's Cousins Can Talk!

Caring for a red-ear slider turtle recently motivated me to look into conservation efforts around the world. I was happy to discover a Live Science post by aquatic wildlife ecologist Camila Ferrera, explaining the importance of turtle conservation and her ongoing work in South America. She and colleagues even observed vocal communication between Amazon River turtles!

"We realized the turtles were using the sounds to coordinate social behaviors, such as vocalizations by female turtles calling to newly hatched offspring....We are developing a growing body of evidence that, for these turtles, sound is essential for exchanging information."
Read her full story here:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Meandering Rivers of Thought

To celebrate my 100th blog post (a goal which I hoped to achieve last year, finally reached!), I thought it appropriate to share an analogy that came to mind this evening.

It involves eroding river banks and reason. I am delighted to draw a parallel between physical and philosophical phenomena.

Looking across the Mon River at Pittsburgh's Technology Drive

To give you some back story: In my journal I was reflecting on the wisdom or value in questioning my beliefs: questioning my questions? A friend with whom I had the privilege of exchanging some of them this spring asked how my skepticism was doing a couple weeks ago. I replied that it was surviving and that I am aiming for a healthy balance.

Interestingly, that whole discussion came right on the heels of a quiet lament before I left home one day, a wish that conversations with coworkers could go beyond the superficial. And within the day a coworker asked me a question that began a long exchange about the nature of reality and human response to it, about competition, God, freedom and desire. The question came after he observed that I was the "calmest person here: why?"

That led into some questions about prayer, prophecy and free will, then introducing him to my husband, and a dinner invitation. Before we knew it, we were exchanging a gamut of ideas spanning quantum physics, theology and the decision whether or not to have children. Each time I would think, "he is going to be tired of or annoyed by our thoughts now," but it seems we have found a kindred spirit who enjoys pondering the deep things of life in a way that is respectful to others, which makes me think of the quote:

Truth springs from argument amongst friends
- unknown, or possibly David Hume

It felt good to pursue truth by asking questions. But there came a point when all we could do was ask, "Why?" and I remembered Louis C.K.'s "Why?" comedy segment (do not follow the link if you are averse to excess swearing or adult content), laughing at his telling of a conversation with his ever-questioning child. After hearing "Why" in response to every explanation he offers, the exasperated dad finally exclaims, "Because things that are not can't be!" To me, it highlights the absurdity of human reasoning, or perhaps just its limits. Maybe we are not much different from our childlike selves.

I think it is OK to admit that there are some things we just do not know. In communities where faith is encouraged, this can be difficult, because we want to keep reassuring each other with answers. In my blogging and my discussion with friends, I sometimes wonder if I am foolish to be so eager to share my own thoughts:

Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.
- Proverbs 18:2

I think it depends on my attitude. Am I open to reason, or have I decided that I am already right before I hear what another has to say?

What does this have to do with meandering rivers?

The image popped into my head after I expressed the desire to not meander through life without a goal or method for reasoning through questions. I suddenly remembered- perhaps from my stream biology course in graduate school- that mature rivers have the largest meandering paths. Over time they carry and deposit sediment and cut away at opposing landscapes, becoming wider and slower. Their source is the same, and their final destination- the mouth, or ocean- remains. The course of the mature, meandering river is steady, the result of both time and many inputs, which could represent reason, questioning and the time that it takes to acquire and express Truth.

In contrast, the youthful river is full of rushing water: it cuts deep but does not have wide influence. Sputtering and splashing over rocks, this babbling brook image reminds me of the careless young mind: always changing opinions and flowing whichever way will please the crowd at the moment. Even partially formed, our minds lack consistency of movement. Young minds are not yet tested and refined, nor do we think we need it: maybe we are just molecules after all, flowing with the winds and eroding the sands and shores of our time.

As I write this, other words rise to the surface of thought:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.

Psalm 46:4-5

I wonder, what is this river? Surely it is bigger than me or ancient Israel. MacLaren offers some insight:

Thus, says our psalm, not with noise, not with tumult, not with conspicuous and destructive energy, but in silent, secret underground communication, God’s grace, God’s love, His peace, His power, His almighty and gentle Self flow into men’s souls. Quietness and confidence on our sides correspond to the quietness and serenity with which He glides into the heart.

How beautiful, how peaceful, how strengthening is this Presence, in the middle of us all!

The truth is, I am uncomfortable with skepticism as a core philosophy because it provides little practical purpose or direction. Even while it helps erode away false confidence or errant beliefs (like a mature river), what is there for those who desire a vision of life, lived in good relationship with God (the Source) and others?
On the other hand, I am turned off by fundamentalism (especially the Christian kind) when it fails to be gentle and open to reason, the very things the New Testament teaches:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
James 3:17

Like the young stream, eager minds flow fast through narrow and rigid shores, unguided by tested wisdom, while the mature mind shows its strength with its wide and open arms. In the end, might we agree on one thing? Or am I immature to think this way?

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
-1 Corinthians 13:8-13

"Peace" Memorial in Allegheny Cemetery

Thursday, April 23, 2015

True or False: Advertizing In The Wellness Industry (Part two - Natural)

In part one of this series, we examined the "Detox" claim. Now we move on to another popular advertizing term: Natural.

What is "natural" food?

Is it anything that comes from nature? Technically, my socks are natural. They are made with cotton, which comes from a plant. But I do not want to eat them. Likewise, we don't eat many things found in nature: rocks, trees, or natural gas... so what makes "natural food" something desirable or even safe?

Why do so many food labels read, "all natural," as if it is something special? Can our bodies digest anything that is not considered "natural," and what is the difference between natural and organic?

Too many questions for one post. The seed for my ongoing analysis happened during my first year of graduate school (2008), when my Ethics in Biotechnology professor listed genetically modified (GM) food as a possible paper topic for his class. I became curious.

The World Health Organization defines GM foods as those "derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism."

Even this definition for a highly-debated practice relies on the word "natural," though again it is unclear what "naturally" means.

Only processed food needs to say that it was made with "all natural" ingredients. In the produce section, this would be redundant. What if the sign read, "Natural apples! $0.99 /lb!" Would you be wary of whatever other non-natural apples were available?

We will pick the "natural" cookies over the popular name brand, even though both were made in factories, have a similar sugar content and provide few nutrients. In the health foods community, there seems to be an assumption that everything that is natural is good to eat, when in reality natural is not correlated with nutrition.

Not everything that happens "naturally" is beneficial to us: hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods destroy cities and landscapes and lives. Going beyond natural disasters- what about the animal instinct to kill, or the "natural" way that bacteria infect tissue?  Disease-causing toxins occur quite naturally. "Natural" does not automatically mean helpful or nutritious, so it is interesting that we accept its liberal use among food companies.

It is also interesting that we rely so heavily on advertizing and branding of food in general. We are so open to influence by those who want us to think that their food product will make us healthy, happy, popular, etc. when maybe there is not legitimate reason to accept these suggestions, boosted by the colorful label, the word "antioxidants," and the cool company story. But who is testing these claims? Who is making the rules?

When writing my ethics paper in 2008, I was surprised to learn that the term "natural" is not regulated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says "FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances."

So there we have it: natural is okay when it is not artificial. Are we overconfident in this simple logic and vague sense of substance?