Through the Eyes of Daniel Child

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The Eyes that I am Working With

Posted by danielchild on 6 February 2011

The last semester of my undergraduate education is officially underway. It’s only been three weeks and already it is incredibly busy, though that’s usually the case with spring semester–things tend to take off fast, but they don’t accelerate to the same velocity as the end of fall semester. So things are going fast, but I think that the acceleration process is stopping.

Boston has been getting pommeled by New England weather systems, though usually only on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays, so it makes things predictable. I have never appreciated snow tires more than I have this winter.

Yesterday I had one of those experiences that feels as if the earths gravity has doubled, if only for just a few moments. It started the week before Christmas, which was eventful. I had just finished finals, and I had been feeling burnt out for about a month and a half by that time. I was therefore more than ready for my month-long winter recess–I planning to probe the New England slopes, read books for fun (a novel concept!), and blaze through whole series of movies. However, I got a call from my principle investigator (“PI,” or, in other words, “my boss”)  the first official non-weekend day of the break. My PI said that there was a fantastic new discovery made by one of our collaborating groups that has been working on their project for thirty years. They had a lot of data from DNA and from human brain tissue, and they wanted to collaborate with us and get some data from the eye. Considering the fact that that is exactly what my lab specializes in, they went to my PI, and he told me to be in the lab as soon as humanly possible.

I made it to the lab and learned more about this discovery (it really is quite incredible–for all you scientists, be expecting some cool literature out in the next couple of months) and learned that there was already someone doing immunohistochemistry (IHC) on one of the eyes. IHC is a technique that allows one to visualize the precise location of a given protein on a piece of thin-sliced tissue. My PI wanted me to do a western blot to corroborate the data we were seeing on the IHC. I understand that many people not well-acquainted with biological science may be unfamiliar with Western blotting, and so I will explain as best I can. Furthermore, this will give you an idea of what I did the entire summer of 2009. Western blotting is a technique that involves gel electrophoresis and probing using antibodies. Gel electrophoresis involves taking a slab of a gelatinous compound–for proteins we use polyacrylamide–and, together with an electrical field, using it to separate a mixture of proteins. The proteins are placed in small pockets at one end of the gel, and then the gel is placed in the electrical field. The field causes the proteins to be attracted to the opposite side of the gel, and they therefore start moving. The gel structure allows smaller proteins to move faster than larger ones because the smaller ones basically get less tangled as they move through the polymeric compound. Leaving the gel in the electrical field for a couple of hours results in the smallest proteins being near the bottom of the gel, while the largest ones are near the top (and may have only moved a small, small distance). Because a cell has a huge selection of proteins, the result is basically a protein “smear.” The proteins are then transferred, again with an electrical field, onto a membrane. Antibodies that are specifically designed to target specific proteins are then passed over the membrane, and stick to the protein of interest. When visualized, it becomes possible to see not only if the protein is present, but also what size and how much of it is there.

Anyways, that became my job. My PI could not emphasize how time-sensitive it was. However, in order to do this I needed eyes. Furthermore, because the research associate who manages our stock of eyes was visiting her family in Belgium, I was unable to really get started. I therefore had a nice, relaxing break.

These past few weeks, however, things have picked up again (i.e., people got back from vacation). I worked with this research associate and together we managed to pull together all the remaining supplies needed for these Western blots. It was yesterday that I pulled the eyes out of the freezer and began to work with them. Now, I have worked with dog eyes before. Last year I spent about a week dissecting 30 of them to be used in other experiments. It was a fantastic procedure, and I came to an entirely new understanding of the eye after seeing it taken apart. However, it was nothing compared to seeing a human eye–even one that is already dissected.

I suppose in a way it is similar to the feeling many gross anatomy students get as they work through their cadaver–even years spent dissecting and experimenting with mice embryos, frogs, grasshoppers, squids, fetal pigs, chicken wings, sheep kidneys, and cow hearts can’t truly compare to the experience of dissecting a human cadaver. I have never heard anyone speak lightly about it; not that it is a somber process, just one that inspires a great deal of awe. (If you would like more detail, Claire can tell you a lot more about her own experience.) Working with human tissue had a similar effect on me. The eyes I was working with had already been dissected and frozen, so I have only ever seen them as parts. However, as I sat there at my bench holding the lens and the retina (in vials) of a man who passed away last year, I was struck with amazement. That’s when the gravity seemed to increase. I was holding, in my hand, the biological miracle that allowed that man to perceive his world.

Eyes are, of course, something that we associate with identity; some have even gone as far to name them the window to the soul. This title is stunningly accurate. Looking into one’s eyes allows us make connections with them. When we wish to show another our interest in them, we direct our own eyes to theirs. The patterns on one’s irises are as unique as fingerprints. (Which is part of the reason I feel there is something not-quite-right about people who wear colored/tinted contact lenses.) When someone passes away, we close their eyes as a symbol of the fact that they are no longer there. So much of being human revolves around one’s eyes. Thus, being able to hold even the separated parts of a human eye was absolutely spectacular. As overly dramatized as it may sound, it was as if I were holding a part of that which made that man an individual. Though he has passed on, I was able to hold one of the remnants of his identity, and recognize in it a reflection of my own eyes and my own identity.

I then had to grind them up, but it was, and continues to be, a remarkable experience. Even from beyond the grave, the six people whose eyes I am working with are making a difference. So to them I salute and offer my sincere thanks.

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Landslide

Posted by danielchild on 28 June 2010

Every so often we experience moments of shaking truth and self-realization. Well, at least I do– I can’t definitively say the same for the rest of humanity, though I suspect that at least one person out the seven billion out there has similar moments. For me these moments are similar to growing, during which it seems that your height remains the same for months and months, and then in a moment you look back and realize that only months ago you weren’t able to see over the counter. For me, when understanding and perspective suddenly grace my perception, it feels monumental. It’s as if I have suddenly uncovered a great truth about myself. Maybe “uncovered” isn’t the right word–“accepted” is probably better. Change, generally speaking, is a difficult thing for people. Among the people I’ve known, even when a change in life is painstakingly sought, planned, and awaited for, when it comes to that moment when it comes down to actually follow through with the change it is often times difficult, or even scary. Like moving, for example. Or changing jobs. Or getting married–I am the first to admit that, though I was extremely excited, I was also terrified at the same time. It has, of course, been the best decision of my life, but the night before I was really scared and didn’t get much sleep. Furthermore, these are all changes that take loads of time to plan for and develop. Changes that occur suddenly can be terrifying.

One of the bigger changes I have made was to transfer from Brigham Young University to Boston University. This was one of those planned changes, and one that I, like everyone, had to apply for. So I knew it was coming. However, the way I deal with change is to simply put the fact of the matter out of my mind. In other words, I refuse to acknowledge that a change has occurred, and simply go about life as if I had been living like that my entire life. I don’t think this is the healthiest way to go, if anyone is wondering. This generally leads to a lot of subconscious stress build-up, which manifests itself in blowing simple tasks I need to do way, way out of proportion.

Anyways, transferring to BU was rocky for me, to say the least, but mainly because I insisted that it be that way. Applications were actually relatively easy–it wasn’t hard getting in. Getting used to getting in was a lot tougher. It started the week after I got my acceptance letter, and I was informed that in order to register for classes I would have to attend an orientation session. This meant staying overnight in a dorm room, with a bunch of incoming freshmen and other transfer students. I was applying for admissions to the 2009-2010 school year. I had finished two years of college, plus taken two years off to serve a mission. All of the students who graduated high school the same year I did had just graduated (mostly–there were a few stragglers, like myself). So I was four years older than a lot of the people at my orientation session. Plus, even though I had only completed two years of university, I had been officially enrolled for four, so going to an orientation session as a fourth-year college student seemed really redundant. I was not terribly happy about. On top of it all, I was living in Boston, and I was required to stay on campus. Really lame. Needless to say, when I finally broke down and signed up for the orientation, I did so with a bad attitude. I really wanted to hate it. Genuinely. I thought that I would be out-of-place, so I made myself out-of-place. My attitude affected how I acted, and I didn’t have a terribly good experience.

That was the first of my transferring woes. The second came when I learned that, in order to get more than just elective credit for my classes, I had to turn in certain forms proving that the classes I took were equivalent to BU classes. This is, in my current opinion, perfectly reasonable, and wasn’t a problem at all. However, I took this as an insult to my education. Why didn’t the transfer office look at the school from which I was coming and understand that I had all the requirements? This seemed like a load of work. It is now excellent evidence of how I blow the incredibly simple tasks way out of proportion when I have subconscious, change-related stress.

The third transferring woe came when I actually became a student. It was hard moving from one system to another. I began having to take a train and rely on public transportation, I had to deal with early morning tests and self-righteous graduate student teaching fellows, in order to register for classes I had to meet with an adviser, I had to wear a lab coat in lab (this was hard), I had to get used to the smell of stale coffee in early morning classes, etc. Needless to say, I didn’t have the best attitude. But you wouldn’t have believed it from talking to me. I did a really good job of making people believe that I was happy where I was, and that I was having a good time. In retrospect, I wasn’t. Not academically, anyways–I was LOVING being in the same place as Claire.

That’s part of the realization I made last Friday. The other half was of the realization was that I absolutely love BU. I feel that I fit in more than I have at any other school I have attended. I have no doubt that it is the right university for me. I made this realization after taking my biochemistry final, while crossing the street in Kenmore square. I had that shaking moment of realization that I am really, really happy. I really wanted to hate BU at first, but I have ended up with more school spirit and sense of belonging than I have ever had.

I don’t think that I had any real reason to dislike BU when I first started attending. I think that my reaction to it is, however, an excellent case study in how I deal with change. Yes, BU is very different from BYU, despite having remarkably similar acronyms, and that’s precisely what I refused to acknowledge. As I kept trying to focus on how BU was like BYU, I failed to see how BU was uniquely BU, and because of that I was unable to fully fit in. However, even more foundational than that, I was refusing to allow myself to realize that a change had happened. As my guard broke down, and I started feeling more and more comfortable, all the things that had irked me and seemed like such a burden didn’t seem that bad. I started genuinely loving my university.

So Friday was a big day for me, not because I actually accepted that a change had occurred, but because I realized that I had accepted that a change had occurred (yeah, meta-acceptance). Unfortunately, coming to terms with change is not as easy as sitting down and making a conscious decision. Throughout the course of the last year I think that I really did want to love BU like I do now. However, change takes time. Even when events happen quickly, acceptance of those events can take much longer. Hopefully the next time I have to take a major step in my life I will be able to apply this experience and come to a real acceptance of whatever change has happened. Being married to a woman who is constant and and loving and caring (to the point of giving me physical therapy in her sleep, even when I don’t need it–now that is caring, in my opinion) certainly gives me a striking advantage. However, even if it does take a while before I am able to accept the change, at the very least I can hope for another moment when I look back and realize that I really do love how things have turned out.

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The Marathon

Posted by danielchild on 21 April 2010

Class was canceled this Monday. Officially, the reason for this was Patriot’s Day. Unofficially, however, the reason was Marathon Monday. One of Boston’s biggest annual events (second only to the Fourth of July celebration), the Boston Marathon drew huge crowds this weekend. Claire and I volunteered on Saturday at the Adidas booth at the expo. Adidas is the official clothier of the marathon, and they make a hugh profit off of all the people coming in to buy the official Boston Marathon jackets and other marathon-related clothing. On Saturday alone, two days before the race, crowd control was a major part of the store. Because of the fact that, in order to run the Boston Marathon, a runner must qualify with another marathon (three hours ten minutes for my division), this race is a bit of a reunion. This is also the reason that people take out their old jackets from other marathons, to sport their histories on their backs and make connections with other runners who share that history. I noticed jackets from the Chicago marathon, the New York marathon, the St. George marathon, and many others. The city has, for this reason, been buzzing with tourists lately.

On Monday, Back Bay and the Public Garden were absolutely packed. Because school was canceled (the runners go right down the center of Boston University’s campus) I went cycling in the morning and made it into town in the late afternoon. There is a huge amount of support for runners at this marathon. I have never been to any other running races, so I don’t have much to which I can compare my experience. However, I was amazed at the people lined up on Boylston Street, just to watch the runners. It was analogous to the Independence Day parade in Crested Butte, CO. People bring out their camping chairs an hour before the first runners come through, people are squeezing onto the curbs, city cleanup is going to have an eventful night, etc. I was especially impressed by the cheers of the crowd, even late in the afternoon, as the last wave of runners finished.

Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the race, to me, was seeing runners’ families jump across the guard rail onto the road, running with their mom, dad, sibling, cousin, etc. for the last quarter mile or so, crossing the finish line together. The fact that these runners, totally exhausted and (for many) in pain, cross the finish line with their family is incredible. I have been thinking a lot about it, trying to consider myself in their position. I am not much of a runner, and though I have tried to get into the sport several times, I much prefer cycling. I admitted that running a marathon would be a huge accomplishment, but I have never had the motivation to train to that point. However, I think that I would be able to run all 26.2 miles if I knew that my family were at the end, waiting to run across the finish line with me. That would make all the pain during training and the race worth it.

Thinking about it more, I have started seeing the marathon as an allegory for life, especially the family aspect of it. Everyone in a family is on their own, separate path. For example, the goals my siblings and I have are about as polar as is possible, despite the fact that we share the same genetics. One of my brothers is a musical genius and spends every free minute he has rock climbing. My sister competes in dressage competitions with her horse (naturally) throughout the western United States and is the life of the party, even when she is the only one at the party. My other brother can draw and paint better than I will ever be able to, and he can longboard down the really steep hill in my parents’ neighborhood (I can longboard down the driveway, almost). I am the brother who spends hours and hours with books and Microsoft Word, and then goes biking. Our interests and talents have taken us on very different paths. In essence, we all run our own, separate marathons. (Getting married, I have realized that the marathons my wife and I are running are now the same, which is really, really sweet. I have a permanent figurative AND literal running buddy! However, there are moments when our paths diverge momentarily.) Anyways, the point is that within a family everyone runs their own separate race, but at the finish line, everyone is there, waiting and cheering. Every single accomplishment is an accomplishment for the family. Each tinge of chondromalacia, each bite of plantar fasciitis is worth it because the people we love are there for us, and will be there to run across the finish line with us. While everyone has his or her own goals, accomplishing those goals are so much sweeter because of the fact that they can be shared. That is the reason why entire families fly to Boston for this race, not just the runners.

I can’t say that I played a major part in the marathon this year (though I did make life easier for a few Adidas employees). However, I learned an incredible amount about the purpose of family. Family truly is irreplaceable, and a divinely ordained institution. Furthermore, the blessings of having a family that will continue after death, made possible through the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are extraordinary. Where I would be without my family, I have no idea, and I am eternally grateful that I don’t ever have to find out.

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Boston Springtime

Posted by danielchild on 13 April 2010

It’s been quite a while since my last post–more than a year, in fact. I surmise that I have probably lost even those people who check back every two to three month. However, this semester I don’t have a writing class/class that focuses on writing, so I am itching to unleash my inner writer.

In the past year my entire life has changed. The biggest change of all, and the best change of all, is that I am now married to the most amazing girl I have ever met. Her name is Claire Child, and we were married on 22 December 2009 in the San Diego Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was the best day of my life (to that point), and every day since has just gotten better. (She is the same girl that I went to meet in Chicago in January 2009.) I don’t think I noticed how independent and almost introverted I was before getting married, but after getting married and actually forming a solid emotional attachment has been rockin’ awesome. I wish I would have known how sweet it is to rely on someone for support, encouragement, advise, spiritual strength, lunch (I had a tendency to just ignore that part of gastronomical life), and everything else. Learning to lean on her for support has taught me so much about leaning on the Saviour for support. I thought I understood it, but not like I do now. Being married to Claire is an adventure every day, and I wouldn’t change anything about it.

The only thing I think I would change about my life is the fact that I live about 40 minutes away from my school. Based on the fact that Claire was out in Boston at MGH and I was in Provo at BYU, dating was a little tricky. For the duration of the 2008-09 school year we talked nightly on the phone and saw each other monthly, when we could fly to meet each other for a long weekend or break. Then, miraculously, I was able to get a job in a lab at MGH studying the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease. I wasn’t initially too excited, but now I am absolutely fascinated. I now eat up any journal articles published on the topic (figuratively, to be sure–if it were literally it would be a thoroughly unpleasant meal, because of both taste and because one copy of a scientific journal usually costs around 70 dollars). I spent the summer working, the in the fall transferred to Boston University. I very much love BU, despite my frequent, vocal outbursts concerning how frustrating the whole transfer process is. I am in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program, and will (hopefully) graduate in May of 2011.

Anyways, the apartment Claire and I found is amazing. It is inexpensive (this is the biggest plus), large, newly-renovated, has air conditioning, hardwood floors, bay windows, off-street parking, a basement, and laundry rooms. It is also right across the street from the most incredible taco shop I’ve ever eaten at in the US. Claire, who is from San Diego, claims that it is about as close to authentic as it can get. The only downside is that it takes me about 40 minutes on the subway to get to school every day. This isn’t too terrible, considering the fact that this time has allowed me to read books or study, but 8:00 am classes can be a challenge on some days. I like being up early, but it is often pretty difficult transitioning from sleep to being active. I am learning that it is a lot easier to get up in the morning when the temperature outside is warm and the weather is nice.

Spring this year in Boston is phenomenal. I have heard from many good sources that this year is an anomaly for Boston weather. It makes sense too me, because last summer didn’t actually get warm until July (we had rain for a month and a half), and then this winter we had lots and lots of rain. I think it snowed twice, which coincidentally happened to be the exact same days my sister in law was supposed to be flying out. This was also unfortunate for the nearby nordic centers, but it made for a pretty bearable winter. I can only remember a few times when I was really cold, though I could be biased because I have a wonderful down jacket that I put to very good use. After coming back from my mission in Thailand my cold tolerance (of which I used to be very proud) has suddenly become nearly nonexistent, so I have learned how to bundle up effectively. I am very, very happy that spring is finally here.

Yesterday Claire and I went to the Boston Public Garden. If anyone is ever in Boston, and it’s not frigid outside, I highly recommend finding a good book, a bottle of Orangina, some sort of baked good, and a beach towel/rice mat and spend some time in the park. Especially now, many of the trees are in full bloom. The public garden is an incredible slice of peace in a busy city.

I intend to put up more posts more often. I know that this is how most of my thirteen journal entries from my teenage years start, but I am also now twenty-three, and have hopefully grown out of that phase. Furthermore, I am so sick of typing up lab reports this semester that I can almost feel my creativity on the brink of bursting out of the empirical ditch I’ve been in for the last three months. As usual, I still have what I consider the most excellent habit of trying to deduce meaning from simple observations, and intend to continue to write it and display it for anyone who happens to stumble across this web log (I know that that term is a little archaic,  but I feel the more common term lacks a certain aesthetic quality when it’s written).

Also, in a side note, the 13-15 of April is Song Kran (aka สงกรานต์)! This is a most excellent holiday to celebrate the Thai New Year, during which everybody in the entire country participates in a big water fight for three days. Unfortunately that tradition has not passed on to Boston, or any other area of the world for that matter, so to celebrate I will be cooking Thai food every day. I highly recommend this website for succulent Thai dishes: http://www.realthairecipes.com.

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Giordano’s

Posted by danielchild on 26 January 2009

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Last weekend I went to Chicago.  Chicago is an absolutely wonderful city, with lots of places that draw me in and eat away at my daylight hours.  For example, if someone simply says, “The Art Institute of Chicago,” I automatically am drawn into the conversation.  If someone mentions, “Blue Man Group,” I jump in passionately.  Looking at paintings is one of the things I consider to be exquisitely enjoyable, and Blue Man Group is my favorite theatrical production (I’ve seen it four times), and both are readily available in Chicago.  Needless to say, I was quite pleased with the decision to go to that city.  However, Chicago features one of the most succulent culinary attractions I have ever discovered: Giordano’s Pizza.  I like to consider myself somewhat of a pizza connoisseur.  I admit that I am willing–nay, insistent–to sacrifice a few more dollars to get good pizza.  I actively seek out pizza of quality and character.  Giordano’s pizza, located at the epicenter of the deep dish earthquake, certainly ranks among my favorite of all pizzas.  Contrary to most “deep dish” pizza I’ve found other places, Giordano’s pizza totally deserves the name.  Also known as stuffed crust, servers walk out of the kitchen carrying platters full of 1.5 inch vertical deliciousness.  The pizza is made by pretty much taking a pile of cheese and other toppings, smashing it into a brick, encasing it in dough, smothering the top with tomato sauce and other toppings, baking it in an extremely hot oven, and then celebrating in the deliciousness of the masterpiece.  Over the course of three days, I had the pleasure to eat at Giordano’s twice.  Of all the places in Chicago, Giordano’s was definitely at the top of my list.

After eating a variety of slew of different pizzas, I have often been asked as to why I like Giordano’s so much.  I often am at a lack of words and come up with a mediocre or unsatisfactory response.  However, having put a little thought into it, I will attempt to answer the question and also attempt to draw a philosophical metaphor to life in general.  The secret about Giordano’s is the fact that there is a beautiful balance between complete endulgence and a maintainence of order.  I will explain: a Giordano’s pizza doesn’t hold anything back.  The chefs fill it as deep as it can go, and throw in as many toppings as will properly fit.  Yet there is still a fit.  The pizza is presented artistically and tastefully.  It is not bulging over the crust, or deep to the point of being cooked in a bucket.  There is harmony in the pizza.

This pizza has become a representation about how I want to live.  Though I often fall short of my ideals, if I were to achieve them every time they would be reality and therefore not ideals any more.  They are ideals because I constantly have to work for them.  Anyways, the ideal of balance is very important to me, but it is a balance of living as fully as possible.  I strive to excel in every aspect of my life.  I usually lack natural talent, but when I want to succeed in something I will gladly put in the work and the sweat necessary.  I look for opportunities and ways to improve.  I try to be as efficient and productive as possible.  Basically, I try to make every aspect of life as adventurous as I can.  Yet at the same time, balance is required.  Life is full of various responsibilities and activities.  It is impossible to focus on a single one, all the time.  As balance is achieved, life becomes rich and full.  Just like Giordano’s pizza.  The pizza is a representation of an ideal, and that is why I like it so much.

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“Follow Me”

Posted by danielchild on 11 December 2008

As I was studying the gospel of John in the New Testament I was impressed by the some of the last recorded words of the Savior. He is walking with the apostle Peter, informing him that when he is old he will be crucified. This, naturally, must have caused Peter to be at least a little startled. Were I to be told the manner in which I would be killed (or even that I would be killed), I think life would take on a different meaning. The Savior then put forth some of the most powerful words He offers: “Follow me.”

At this instance it becomes apparent, at least to the reader, what it means to follow Christ. For a long time I was not sure about this details of this principle. It was troubling to me that in order to follow Christ, in every literal sense, we must die for the truth. However, it was unsettling in a sense different than what might be expected. After all, through the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, we can have a sure knowledge of the Plan of Salvation: a knowledge of who we are, why we are here, where we come from, and, perhaps most comforting, where we are going. Death is not the end! Rather than being confused about the act of dying, the question of how one goes about getting killed as a martyr was the enigma. Surely, that is beyond the control of one person. A true disciple of Christ, one who sincerely seeks to follow in His footsteps, must be willing to follow Him even to death. Examples of martyrs throughout history provide types to help others come to know Christ. Peter, Stephen, Joseph Smith, and others lived lives dedicated to serving the Savior. Even in death they followed Him.

Of course, martyrdom is not required to gain exaltation in the kingdom of God. The principle of following Christ, even unto death, is deeper than our actions. It is consecrating ourselves as Christ consecrated Himself. Christ came to earth with a mission, for which He would have to lay down His life. In my opinion, this principle is embodied more in Christ’s words, “not my will, but thine, be done” than in the crucifixion. His words describe the state of His heart; His actions prove it. So, for the vast majority of people sincerely striving to follow Christ, it is not necessary to die as a martyr. Yet all who sincerely seek to follow that path must be willing to give whatever God requires, even unto death. When we can truly say that we are willing to die, or, sometimes even more difficult, willing to live for the truth, then we know that we are on the path that Christ set. We can know we are following Him.

For Peter, it must have been difficult to hear the Savior prophesy of Peter’s death. Yet from that moment forward Peter dedicated His life to serving Christ. Knowing full well what the end would bring, Peter did not stop pressing forward for Christ. The same Peter who, not much time previous, had buckled under the pressure and denied Christ, spent the rest of his life following Him even to the cross. Peter began to be converted because he began to have the faith to be made whole.  Like the man at the pool of Bethesda, recorded in John, chapter 5, Jesus offered to Peter healing.  After being denied by him three times, Christ offered forgiveness to Peter.  He demonstrated His infinite love by allowing Peter the opportunity to have a second chance.  In so doing, He healed Peter.  Thus Peter not only witnessed (as he had in the past), but was the one receiving the healing.  As this happened, the power of Christ became personal.  He began to allow the truth to change his heart.  So should we act.  The path of discipleship is anything but easy.  Yet, as the man at Bethesda discovered, and as Peter discovered, by following Christ He will make us whole.  As Christ extended the invitation to Peter to follow Him (and be healed by Him), He extends it, on an individual basis, to each person on earth.

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Carded

Posted by danielchild on 8 December 2008

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Last Saturday I was at the grocery store buying some groceries. I was moving along the refrigerated aisle, minding my own business, when Henry Weinhard’s cream soda decided to call out to me. Lacking an adequate amount of grocery shopping control, I opted to purchase a case. I rationalized it with the heavy workload I’m facing this week, and decided would make a nice motivator for me. I continued wandering through the store until I had enough food in my cart to sustain me throughout this week, and I moved to the check-out lane. As the woman ringing up my groceries scanned the case of cream soda, she stopped. Her face became puzzled, she pushed her “rescan” key, and scanned the case a second time. She then shook her head and explained to her bagger her disbelief that the system wanted my drivers license. I had a feeling of lightness come over me as I realized the absurdity of the situation: I was being carded for cream soda. I checked the ingredients for alcohol, and naturally finding none, I shrugged and offered my license. The employee was still in disbelief, and continued to ring me up.

After a few more seconds the employee had an idea of why the system wanted my license. Anyone familiar with Henry Weinhard’s fine sodas will notice the similarity between the soda bottles and beer bottles. Both are packaged similarly. The employee suggested that often times underage drinkers will come into the store, pick up a case of Henry Weinhard’s soda, but replace the original product with beer. When they are paying for their groceries, the person ringing up the soda doesn’t recognize that the bottles and the packaging do not match. Thus, in order to prevent this dishonesty and underage drinking, the store automatically requires a drivers license for the purchase of Henry Weinhard’s sodas.

As I’ve had time to reflect on this experience, I’ve noticed some interesting parallels between the system of the store and the system of God, our Father in Heaven. Just as the country has various laws for the safety of its citizens, so, too, does God have laws that will ensure us safety and peace as we follow them. The store had implemented a system to uphold those laws, and also implemented a system to prevent people from finding loopholes whereby they could break those laws without others knowing. Similarly, we are unable to receive the blessings with which God would bless us if we follow some other way. There is no way to cheat the system of heaven. The Savior described this principle in the gospel of Matthew, chapter seven, verses thirteen and fourteen: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” If we are to enter into the Kingdom of our God–both on earth as we receive innumerable blessings from Him, and in the eternal world as we enter and reside in His presence–we must follow the way He set forth. There is only one gate that leads to that kingdom, and that is by following His laws. Fortunately for us, each of His laws are both possible and in our best interest. While it does require the disciple to humble himself or herself, we can have the assurance that if we rely on Him, He will prepare a way. And when we falter, we can be forgiven. It is a way of grace and of peace. And just as a sly, underage drinker would get caught at the last minute, we are unable to cheat our way into it.

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Motorbikes

Posted by danielchild on 7 December 2008

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This fall, when gasoline prices were exorbitant, I decided to join the crowd of fuel-savvy travellers and invest in a motorbike. I had never really been that interested in motorbikes before. Rather, I always felt the risks outweighed the benefits. However, after living in Thailand for two years, my views on the whole matter began to change. It seems that almost everyone in Thailand drives a motorbike; it is by far the most convenient way to travel within a city. As a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I always either rode in taxis (in Bangkok) or rode a bike. At first I was an avid proponent of the bicycle as a means of transportation. After all, it is even more economical than a motorbike, and it can help sustain good health due to the requirement of physical output. However, after my first Thai hot season (March-May) I began to seriously consider the benefits of driving a motorbike.

I was still wary of them when I returned, however. It wasn’t until after I went back a few months later did I begin to understand why I felt that way. One beautiful Bangkok morning I got out early to try to find a place that my family and I could do laundry. As I was walking along the road outside our hotel, I noticed a motorcycle taxi waiting to be hired. Up until that point, I had never so much as sat on a motorcycle. However, I decided to give it a spin, and asked the driver to take me to a laundry place. He spat out a few ideas, I hopped on the back, and we drove off. It was an exhilarating experience. As we were driving between random washing machines on the side of the road and dry cleaners, we drove against oncoming traffic on a busy road (at least twice), passed stopped traffic by driving on the sidewalk, swerved between cars at lights, and cut off a few vehicles that were considerably larger than we were. The realization about why motorbikes were considered so dangerous began to dawn on me. Luckily the driver knew what he was doing, and before the day was over he’d probably pull even riskier moves. However, it does not surprise me why motorcycle accidents occur so frequently in Thailand, or anywhere.

After returning from that trip I began to consider the possibility of driving a motorbike myself. I was still rather hesitant, but eventually went for it. I must admit, I am very glad I did. Driving around town has a whole new flare about it. One of the most common things I hear other motorbike drivers mention is their desire to avoid complacency. When one driving a motorcycle or a scooter becomes comfortable on the road, accidents are far more common. As I’ve thought about that fact in conjunction with my experience on a motorbike in Thailand, I’ve begun to realise why that is. The motorcycle taxi driver in Thailand was more than comfortable in his career. He took risks that I would never have taken, and drove in places that weren’t meant for motorized vehicles. Yet because he’s become comfortable, he didn’t have any problem with it. When that happens, accident frequency goes up.

The government has provided a system of roads going nearly anywhere in the country. It has also provided us with a system of laws, not to gravel the populace, but to protect them. Though often times we feel a certain degree of comfort that makes us feel we can take things into our own hands, in essence we are sacrificing our safety and the safety of those around us. Our Father in Heaven likewise has provided a system by which we are able to have safety. The safety we have from Him is spiritual as well as physical, true and real peace being the most common manifestation of that safety. He has also provided us the way by which we are able to know the law. In the gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 6, Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, urges us that He is “the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by [Him].” This well-known verse is simply profound. By Christ and by Christ alone are we able to gain exaltation. Rather than this being an instance of shutting out all those who don’t follow Christ, this is rather an invitation to come unto Him and partake of the blessing He wants all to have. By following and trusting Him, we can gain true happiness.

At the same time, however, this admonition to follow Christ is a warning. By no other way can we have these blessings. This means that we are unable to gain these blessings based on our own philosophies or our own paths. Like the motorcycle taxi driver in Bangkok, one may feel complacent with following Christ and begin to make his own route. He may begin to take risks that he would have previously avoided. In essence, he follows Christ generally, but his heart is not there. And, like many motor-bikers, accidents happen. That is why Christ invited, urged, pleaded with us to become a disciple of Him, to seek to become like Him. He is the way, the truth, and the life. I have felt His power in my life, and I know that it is real. The promise of serenity–of significantly decreased risk factors–through Him is to all, on conditions of simply relying on Him.

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Surfing

Posted by danielchild on 4 December 2008

This past weekend I had the opportunity to don my wetsuit and throw myself out into the waves of the Pacific ocean, all the while attempting to stand up on a board that was being hurled back towards the shoreline by the waves.  I will admit that the vast majority of the times I threw myself into the ocean, the ocean threw me back in a similarly mercilessly nature.  I am not an experienced surfer; in fact, I just picked it up a few months ago.  However, I enjoy immensely and am already looking forward to my next opportunity to take on the powers of nature.

As a skier I’m used to standing on boards moving at fast velocities.  Granted, surfing is different than skiing, but it’s also similar in many aspects, such as setting edges, balancing, and taking falls.  It does have its share of unique muscle demands and coordination nuances, but that is part of the reason why I’m so interested in it.  Furthermore, the playing field is constantly changing.  When skiing, if one misses a patch of fresh powder he or she can ride or hike back up to it.  When surfing, the waves aren’t so obvious (though they can be predictable).

It’s interesting to me to see how things can be so similar and yet at the same time so totally different.  We as human beings have the incredible ability to train our bodies and minds to perform in certain ways.  Often times there are aspects that connect different activities together, but there are generally enough aspects to make each new endeavor difficult in its own right.  For example, alpine skiing, telemark skiing, and skate skiing are all carried out on skis.  Thus, the common elements of having long, skinny boards attached at the feet is shared among the three sports.  However, anyone who has experience with the three will attest that they all use very different techniques, and all have a significant learning curve despite prior experience.  When I was learning how to skate ski, I was (and still sometimes am) totally perplexed at the fact that I was wearing skis because they handle so differently from other varieties.  Learning to telemark was a similar experience.  I think that having a background in skiing certainly helped, especially in terms of balance, but it did not mean that learning a new style could occur in a matter of hours.  It still took lots of practice, lots of energy, and lots of focus to be able to become proficient.

I think this can be applied spiritually as well as physically.  When I was serving as a missionary in Thailand for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I saw many instances in which this occured.  Often times people are able to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost.  Sometimes this is referred to as the Light of Christ.  Some people are particularly sensitive to it.  However, it does not mean that learning that the church is true or becoming converted to Christ is an easy topic.  While it does help point them to Christ, each person must still put in the energy, the work, the focus, and the sacrifice to truly experience the blessings that Christ would have them enjoy.  It’s disheartening for me to see people expect to bypass the sacrifice necessary to have a complete conversion.  Even Christ’s own disciples had to go through fierce storms in order to lead them to complete conversion.  The storm through which they pass in Mark, chapter 4, verses 35-41, is not only a physical manifestation of Christ’s power, but also a symbol of the spiritual storms through which they will later have to pass.

We all have to pass through storms in our life.  No matter how experienced we are, no matter how finely tuned our skills are, no matter how prepared we are, life will present storms that throw us around.  Were it not so we could not progress spiritually.  We are allowed to pass through these storms in order that we might, using skiing or surfing as a metaphor, spiritually develop balance, strength, endurance, awareness, and other attributes.  At times it seems that there is no break in the winds, or the clouds only become darker.  However, it is in those moments when we can turn to our Savior and seek to hear his words, “Peace, be still.”  I have felt His power in my own life, not necessarily to calm the storm but to calm me so that I can weather the storm.  I have a firm knowledge that the storms through which I have passed have shaped me and have taught me.  I would not trade them for anything.  To trust in the Savior is to voluntarily accept to pass through some of the fiercest storms one can imagine.  However, to trust in the Savior is also to allow Him to bestow upon us his peace.

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Moe Berg

Posted by danielchild on 31 October 2008

I recently finished reading a most excellent book called The Catcher was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff.  The book basically jumped off the shelf at me when I was at the bookstore one day.  I was looking for something to read (for some reason it was at a time when I didn’t have a huge list of books), and as I was perusing the shelves this book captured my attention.  As a fan of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I was initially intruiged by the play off of the title.  Then I began to think about what the title meant, and was even more intruiged.  In the end my curiosity got the better of me and I bought the book.

It took me a while to get through it due to the fact that the term started when I was about halfway through.  However, I gradually plowed through, reading a little here and a little there, and in the end finished.  The book is very well written, and is a fascinating study on the life of a very unique man.  In short, Moe Berg was a Princeton and Colombia Law graduate who spoke a slew of different languages, and, right out of university, began playing professional baseball.  Despite his intense thirst for knowledge, he opted to play baseball for a good portion of his life.  During WWII the United States formed the OSS, the precursor organization to the CIA, and Moe Berg decided to change professions.  After a very successful few years as a spy gathering intelligence about nuclear physics, the war ended and Berg spent the rest of his life as a vagabond, never holding a job again and living off of friends and family members.

I was perplexed about this man’s choice for the latter part of his life.  He certainly did not lack the ability to become very successful in just about whatever field he chose.  Yet he decided to choose nothing instead.  It was almost frustrating to me to read account after account of how Berg would pass up incredible opportunities or intentionally neglect aspects of life that would have ensured success.  At one point, the author makes an interesting point.  He mentions (and I paraphrase) that though Berg was very impressive to others, to himself he was not impressive.  This feeling alone became a limiting factor.  I felt a blow of resonance as I read this.  I can attest that I’ve felt a similar feeling, and it has been a limiting factor.  There have been a few times when, in hindsight, I’ve wondered what opportunities I’ve passed up due to the fact that I doubted myself.  For Berg, the opinions of countless people did not help the fact that he did not believe himself to be impressive.

It’s almost a pity that Berg did not have a bigger impact on the world because for such a man it would have been possible.  Yet at the same time, his life provides hope to others.  After reading this book I began to seriously reflect, and I realised that I don’t want to miss any opportunities because I doubt in myself.  I am sure it is perfectly normal for people to feel unimpressive; after all, they live with themselves every day.  However, others certainly hold a different view.  Now, this is not an argument to support conceitedness or pride.  But it is an argument for belief in oneself.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Christ sees us as how we can become.  So, how does one gain access to such a view?  Often times I think it takes more than simply expanding our own view, as that is often too limited.  I sincerely feel that Christ has a view of our potential that is even greater than that which we can imagine.  There have been a few times of my life when I have realised that this is the case.  For example, when I was in Thailand as a missionary for the LDS church, I realised that I had grown spiritually and emotionally more in the space of two years than I had in the space of ten years.  I went into the mission with an idea of who I wanted to become.  After finishing those two years I realised that, because of the power of God, I had surpassed that.  I had become better than my expectations.

I don’t mean boast.  I hope it doesn’t come off that way, because the truth is I had very little to do with it.  I give all the credit to God.  It was He who made it possible for me to develop.  The truth is I was able to witness the change in myself, and I was amazed by it.  All I did was rely on Him and strive to do His will.  In John chapter 7, verse 17, Jesus tells the Jews, “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  As one comes to “know of the doctrine,” it begins to take root in one’s heart.  As I dedicated myself to serving Christ in His way, I felt that I came to know of the doctrine.  And, because of that, my heart began to be changed.  I wanted to follow Christ, not because my parents had or because my friends were.  I wanted to follow Christ because I knew that through Him I can gain exaltation.  Through Him I can be truly happy.  As I spent my time in His service, He amplified my abilities.  I gained new understanding and maturity (the latter my friends and family will quickly confirm).  I began to see the power that He has in helping us to attain our potential.  Indeed, I came to realize that I don’t have the slightest idea of what I can become.  God, however, does, and one of the reasons He sent His son was in order to make it possible for everyone to accomplish it.

So, though there are times when self doubt becomes a significant limiting factor, it does not have to be permanent.  God knows who we are.  When we put our trust in Him, we do not have to worry about what others think of us or how we measure up.  As we exercise faith in Him, He will shape us and perfect us, and we will become more than we could possibly imagine.

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