Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Chemistry Review

Last semester, and even now as I gear up to begin semester two, I battle with being overwhelmed. My mind is often just full of the week. I sit down at my desk or on the couch with a book and my brain swarms with bits and pieces of info about the various things I am studying:  ethics,  church history, government policy, urban planning, how congregations live and serve and grow together. And then there are the theories. And the names. Add the -ologies. This is just school. Then there is an internship. Two part time jobs. There is a new city that I have not gotten to know. I still feel like a visitor here - waiting to go home. I am not settled into this town yet and the knowledge that I should engage is another piece of activity firing through the synapses of my brain with reminders to find a church, join a community group, explore the history of Philadelphia.  

I am tense and there were weeks where I feel constantly on the verge of tears. It isn't exhaustion. It is not even stress per se in the way that stress usually induces tears. It is just so much. My brain feels saturated

There are two words I most remember from high school chemistry: precipitate and meniscus. Those lessons stand out vividly in my mind. I remember leaning down to get eye level with a solution in a test tube - measuring the height to which the curve of the meniscus came. Some solutions gave a concave cure, others a convex. It was always the latter that fascinated me, especially when a test tube was filled to the top one-drop-at-a-time, the liquid actually extending above the glass walls, arching up and holding itself in place by sheer physics.

The precipitation level is the point at which a solution is so saturated with the added substance that it can hold no more. Excess sugar falls like rain from a heavy sucrose mixture that has reached its limit. Things can only be pushed so far. 

My brain often feels it is there, the meniscus bubble is curved and arching just over the edge, teetering precariously. One more drop will simultaneously overflow the basin and send the sugar raining out. When I'm thinking about my level of overwhelmedness: this teetering on the brink of precipitation feels cataclysmic. (And please know that I am still a big fan of self-care and rest and not being impossibly tough on yourself.)  But when I picture those science experiments, I am reminded that it was always more interesting, more noteworthy, when you reached past the limit. 

This year as I contemplate enough (and, more-than-enough and other related terms) I keep picturing those experiments. Experiments that tested the limits of science and what test tubes and water could hold. More-than-enough was always overflow. Less-than-enough was never very spectacular. And, somehow, you never knew which point was enough until the spillover happened. Until it rained or splashed over. Write down the drop before that one. That is full, add more to overflow.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


The semester that I did my student teaching I moved back in with my parents. At the time, there was an old wooden shed behind their house where they stored Christmas decorations and tools and craft projects my brothers and I made in elementary school. One day, Dad came in from the shed and said, "There are kittens in the shed!"

I excitedly went to ooh and aww at the squirmy rat-looking creatures with the eyes scrunched tight. Days old, if that. No mama cat to be seen, but we assumed she was close by and let them be. We lined a box with some cloth and sat it in the shed along with a bowl of water. The next day, we checked and the little ones had been moved to the box, but no sign of the mom at that moment. Long story short: eventually the kittens had all been moved but one remained, mewing and making teeny tiny little crawls around the box.

We left him alone for a bit to see if mama cat would come back for him, but she didn't, and despite my father's protest I scooped him up into a little box and drove straight to a pet store and had them tell me everything I needed to know about a weeks-old kitten. (My mother was on my side and cheered the rescue along!) I had to be at student teaching the next day, but Dad took him into the vet where they discovered he had a small infection and weighed a grand total of 8 oz. They said the sickness was probably why he had been abandoned, but a quick dose of human veterinary medicine cleared that up and he was good to go.

For the next few weeks there were bottles and 2 a.m. feedings. I dropped him off at kitty daycare on my way to teaching and picked him up at the end of the day and practically had to pry the cute little ball of fur out of the hands of the vet techs who had fought over his bottle feedings all day.

I was told that when I was feeding him I would know that he was eating enough if his belly looked like a full pear. And, it did. He'd be slim and sleek before the bottle, and then after sucking it all down a round, full, warm belly. A nap was soon to follow.

A sign that he had had enough. That he had been nourished. That he was full of good things. Here, the prelude to rest.

When I looked up the synonyms of enough as I ponder the word the year, bellyful was a surprise, but certainly the most vivid one. This year there is sure to be various connotations swirling throughout my head, but I imagine this one will stand strong as I picture the kitten's greedy sucking of the bottle, the full tummy, the rest that came later. And even the human part of this picture of "enough" - my alarm clock going off far-too-often, the community-of-people that helped (pet store, the vet, my parents) to provide the "bellyful" to this little, seemingly inconsequential, kitten.

So much goes into, comes from, enough.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

of snow and enough

At some point in my life years ago when I still lived in Georgia and snow days were rare treats that stopped the world no matter how thin the layer of white that covered the world for a few brief hours, I established a "first snow" tradition.

I started the teapot, grabbed a cozy blanket, and settled in with a warm drink to watch Little Women. The movie opens in snow, it seems only fitting for it to be a snow day movie. 

As I moved north to climates far less infatuated with flurries, the first snow rarely stopped the world. Life went on and the normal responsibilities took their normal time plus some on those snowy days. There was no time for movies or hot cocoa.  I'd still watch the movie during the winter, as close to the first snow as I could, enjoying my time in the lives of the March girls once more. 

I returned home to Philadelphia yesterday after a holiday spent in Georgia. I'd heard there had been snow while I was away, but little remained but the small hills that plows had pushed to the curbs and under shade. When I woke up this morning I began my normal routine for the day and was shocked when I walked by the window to discover a light blanket of white outside. Just a little, maybe an inch or less. Nothing to make my "fourth northern winter" brain think the world would operate anything but normally because of it.  

I was presented with a golden opportunity. A snowfall. A quiet apartment. No immediate tasks to accomplish. I grabbed a mug one of sisters-in-law had given me for Christmas (perfect "wrap your hands around" size), a blanket that was a gift from a friend, and settled into the couch for the familiar sounds of the introductory music to Little Women. 

One of the earliest scenes in the movie centers around a Christmas breakfast feast. 

Jo is joyful about the sausage. Amy holds on the orange like a prize and exclaims, "Isn't butter divinity?!"  Hannah, the one who made the feast, tells them that their mother has gone out to see to a local family - a woman with six children who are living in poverty. Beth suggests to send the family their bread, Jo releases the butter for it is no good without bread, Meg simply picks up the tray of sausages to add to the gift, and Amy relinquishes her prized orange. 

The past few years I have heard of people focusing on "One Word" for a year. I never really had a word that struck me as one I should consider undertaking until this year. I've wrestled with the word for a bit, trying to reason  that there are better ones, but it has stuck. My word is "enough." I've started curating a pin board to keep up with my thoughts connected the word. It has already spun into a hundred different directions in my head and I hope to share some of those here throughout the year. One, no two, of those directions I saw echoed in that breakfast scene with the March girls. 

First, I've been thinking about feasting. In order for something to be a "feast" it must be more than what it is normal. Our society is obsessed with excess and I'd say that for many of us, for something to look like a feast it must be over-the-top. In the March girls excitement about butter and sausages and oranges I see that call to a simpler life. One where your daily-bread is enough. One where luxuries are just that, luxuries. For then, when we have the days of feasting, of more-than-enough, they are times indeed to rejoice. There has been much more swirling about in my head the past few months about fasting and feasting and the simplicity and "enoughness" of our food and meals and the impact of that on our health, our spirit, our economy, our community, and creation. Hopefully I'll get those into thoughtful words this year.

Second, our more-than-enough can often meet someone else's "not enough." (And, our "more than enough" is defined by our perspective on what is enough.) We cannot meet all needs. Feasting is ordained by God and has a special place in the lives of humans and in community. However, if I pray only, "Lord, feed the hungry" and not "Lord, show me how to meet the needs of the hungry" I am missing something.

That light blanket of unexpected snow this morning was enough to get me to slow down for a couple of hours. My prayer for this year is that my eyes will be open to all the "enough" around me. And, also, that my heart be sensitive and spirit willing to address the "not enough" whether it's not enough of something in my life or in the lives of others.