Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving in 2014

So I realized I've been doing Thanksgiving wrong all these years. Instead of trying to reflect on everything I could possibly be thankful for in life, I think a more effective approach would be to narrow the focus and reflect on what I am thankful for in the past year.

So, this past year, that answer is pretty damn straightforward and easy.  Almost exactly a year ago was the day I broke my hip.  It was actually probably the best experience of my life and I'm still learning from it.  I really thank God for that fateful day and all the blessings it continues to bring me.

Recovery was a very slow and humbling process.  I went from super fitness girl whose body enabled her to do anything, to basically the paralytic whose body enabled her to do nothing.  I was on crutches for four months, and during that time the muscles in my leg atrophied so much that at one point my right leg was half the size of my left leg.  The first few weeks out of the hospital were really difficult, and that is when I was most mad at God for taking away everything I worked so hard for.  But I used the down time to further my fitness goals, reading even more fitness articles, making plans for what I would do when I'm better, and taking advantage of the knowledge of my physical therapists by learning as much as I possibly could from them.

Now, I still can't believe that only a year later, when I am still technically recovering, I've achieved fitness feats I hadn't even dreamed of achieving.  I feel like Abraham when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, at first so bewildered and confused at His will, but putting my faith in Him, I ended up bountifully rewarded.  I really believe I would not be capable of what I am now if I did not have the motivation provided by my injury propelling me forward.

The gym was fun before, it was my sanctuary, it was my escape from the world.  But now it is something so much better.  I really feel like every workout is a gift from God that could easily be taken away in a moment.  It is no longer my escape from the world, since He permanently branded reality onto my body, but rather a time to remember that none of this strength comes from me but is a gift He gives me to enjoy.  And remembering that it is His strength and not mine is probably why I am so much stronger now than I was before.

This is the case with everything I could possibly take for granted.  I might get frustrated with school, but He didn't have to give me this opportunity to expand my intellect and He could take it away any moment.  I might get fed up with friends or family, but He didn't have to give me these people who help me and teach me and provide me with so much love.  He didn't have to give me this life to experience all the pain and pleasures and hardships and hopes.  In truth, this is not my life, it is His.  It is all a gift, and it is all His, bountifully lent to us and meant to be appreciated as sacred.

I still have some pain and setbacks because of my injury.  But I endure them with pleasure and gratitude.  How could I not welcome a glorious reminder that my life belongs to Him?

Other reflections on my injury:

Other times trying to be thankful this year:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Singles Negativity

I think this issue sincerely needs to be addressed, especially among young single Coptic women.

Can we just stop pitying ourselves?  Can we stop being so insecure thinking that we are never going to find good men?  Can we stop thinking there is no such thing as a real man anymore who will make a good father and husband?  Can we stop thinking that making yourself attractive means being forced to be fake?  Can we stop thinking that God is not guiding our lives and does not want good gifts for His children?  And can we stop thinking that the problem is completely outside of us?

A friend getting engaged or married should not make you insecure and loath yourself.  You should just be genuinely happy for them.  Marriage is a tough path meant for salvation, and you think salvation is an easy thing?  There is a reason St. Paul said it is worked out with fear and trembling.  They have a long road of beating the flaws out of each other and struggling to raise kids in a confused and tumultuous and ungodly world.  The grass is not always greener on the other side.  The moment you have a "woe-is-me-why-does-no-one-like-me" thought, use that as a trigger to say a prayer for them and snap back to reality.

Don't think your complaining about loneliness and feeling like there is no one out there for you doesn't affect anyone.  It oozes out and makes all your fellow sisters second guess their contentedness.  Not only that, but the more we have a negative view of men, the more blind we will become to seeing the good men.

Regardless of how stupid the men are around us, let us be thankful that they exist.  God didn't make a mistake putting them here.  And the single most important and effective thing we can do is pray for them.  It is freaking hard being a real man in this society when all it wants to do is stunt your growth.  God wants their salvation, wants what is best for them, and wants to guide their hearts obviously more than anyone, so who am I to wag my finger and look up at the sky with skepticism at His work?

Let's be THANKFUL for this time in our lives where we can focus on our own individual flourishing.   Christ told us to take the planks out of our own eyes first.  May God never send any man my way until I am spiritually mature and prepared to raise children in His fear.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Secular Morality

In my Intro to Philosophy class freshman year, my philosophy professor gave us a thought experiment (he did not make up this thought experiment; it is a standard thought experiment in philosophy of ethics):

Two siblings, brother and sister, go on vacation together to France.  They are having a good time and decide, why don't we have sex?  The sister is on birth control, and the brother wears a condom just in case.  They decide they will only do it this one time, and they won't tell anyone, it will just be their secret.  Afterward, they enjoy it and feel it even brought them closer, but they decide not to do it again.  Is what they did wrong?

Evidently the thought experiment is getting at, what is wrong with incest?  If it is consensual and has no risk of pregnancy and child deformity, do we really have any reason to claim it is morally wrong?  The implication that the moral nihilist would make is that our conception of right and wrong are simply ingrained evolutionary emotional attitudes toward some actions.  Actions in and of themselves are not right/wrong, and therefore, though we might react with repudiation at this thought experiment, we have no grounds for claiming that incest in all cases is wrong.  Clearly in this case, it is not wrong.

I propose that this conclusion is only possible in a secular society.  Our commonplace conception of right and wrong are incompatible with secularism.  Secularism replaces our commonplace conceptions with only two things that may be universally agreed to be wrong.  These are the only "secular sins":
1) An act that is not consensual
2) An act which is bad for your health

Think about the only things that are indisputably wrong.  Rape is universally accepted as wrong simply because it is not consensual, but a book like 50 Shades of Grey that portrays sado-masochistic sex is popularized and widely accepted.  Smoking or other addictive drugs are considered wrong because we have garnered enough evidence to suppose they are bad for your health, but substances like steroids or marijuana are fine despite the psychological addiction; alcohol is fine despite the fact that many people can't relax and socialize without it.  Sex without contraception is wrong because you might give or get an STI, but otherwise premarital sex is seen almost as essential to life.  One might even be able to make an argument that abortion is not wrong because the couple or the woman did not really "consent" to have a baby.

We as Christians are going down the dubious path of redefining our moral considerations in terms of these secular sins.  Think about any time you had to defend your reason for thinking something is wrong.  Did you appeal to one or both of these principles?  But that is not what Christianity is about.

(I would add that there might be a third "secular sin," a sort of "sin of omission": not making money.  There are plenty of people and industries that make money in dishonorable ways, but if they are productive members of the economy, then they are doing a good to society, who are we to question them.   But if you are not economically successful, you are being a burden to society, and you are looked down upon.  But that is more debatable and is perhaps a result of capitalism and not necessarily secularism.)

The case where these two principles are in conflict is euthenasia (assisted suicide), and that is why it is still a disputed issue.  On the one hand, it is consensual.  On the other hand, someone is dying, albeit to end pain and suffering, so it is clearly "bad" for someone's health.  What further objective reasons can one give for considering assisted suicide wrong in a secular society?  To say it is wrong would mean to appeal to a whole different level of inherent sanctity or value of human life for which secularism itself is not sufficient ground.

I am not saying secularism is wrong.  I would say that Christianity necessitates secularism.  We as Christians believe it is unreasonable to expect non-Christians to live according to Christian standards, otherwise, what would be the point in baptism or communion?  If we had that expectation, we would be denying the necessity of Christ.  We also believe that faith should be freely chosen.  But I am saying that secularism as we know it in America only allows for nothing more than these two moral claims to be universally made.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Great Talk on Mental Illness

On Friday I happened to attend the college youth meeting at East Brunswick and Mena Mirhom, a psychiatrist, gave a really good talk on mental illness.

He gave a really useful way of evaluating negative circumstances in one's life.  If you are going through a rough time, or if a friend of your's is going through a rough time and seeks your advice, the source of the problem is most likely one of three things:
1) It could just be a temporary situation, just a rough patch that will soon pass.
2) It's underlying cause could be a sin, perhaps you are unknowingly bringing it upon yourself by a bad habit/way of thinking, or not taking care of your spiritual life.
3) It could be indicative of an actual mental illness.

Throughout the ages the subject of mental illness has always been a touchy subject because the mind is ethereal.  We know we are both material and spiritual beings, but how does the material interact with the spiritual?  Though this seems to be an aspect of human nature that God has hidden from us, we as Copts luckily have both a solid spiritual foundation in God and in science and medicine.  Mena therefore stressed that medicine is a gift God has given us, that the stigma against mental illness is a grave problem that needs to be openly addressed, that mental illness is actually much better studied and understood than we realize, and that being wary of this potential struggle someone may have is  part of truly helping one another as a body of Christ.

Pinpointing which of these three sources is the cause of the trouble is the means to giving sound advice.  And giving sound advice is not to be taken lightly: the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it's not simply the thought that counts, because bad advice, especially in spiritual matters, truly has its consequences.

The link to a recording of his talk is on his blog:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Guest Post! "Be Confident, Small Immortals" by CoptRx

I've been in touch with anonymous blogger CoptRx at and she's graciously written an awesome guest post about how medical school taught her the godly meaning of confidence.  Stop by her page and enjoy the read!

Confidence. It's a trait that I've come to realize you cannot really survive medical school without.

Is confidence a "spiritual" virtue? Is it a quality that we as Copts should actively be seeking as we would the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc)? Is possessing self- confidence essential to our salvation, or the salvation of those around us? Or is it much the opposite - should we be wary of an excess of self-confidence leading us astray into pride, arrogance, and contempt for others?

When I began medical school, I was under the naive, false, and somewhat arrogant impression that, having attended one of the highest-ranked undergraduate universities in the country, I had somehow garnered a superior education. Entering medical school was like a slap in the face. Not only did I realize that I had basically learned nothing of real value in college, I also realized that I was surrounded by extremely intelligent peers who were at the same time, on the whole, quite humble. I was myself humbled by this realization, as I was also by my own shameful lack of knowledge of many things, both about medicine and also about how to be a basically decent sort of human being who could perhaps be an asset to society.

Medical school is humbling in many ways. There are SO MANY things to know about the beautiful and complex human body that God created - it is impossible to know them all. You're never "done studying" for an exam in medical school - there's always so much more to learn, and when you realize this, you are painfully aware of your own ignorance in so many dimensions. It's never fun being pimped by an attending in the hospital, especially when you have no clue what nerve innervates the gracilis muscle and have to admit as much in front of your peers. It was a rough start at the beginning of first year, realizing that what I passed off as my own "intelligence" didn't amount to much since the fact of the matter was I didn't really know anything about anything.

But that's life. That's medical school. And I'm glad (well, if not "glad" exactly, then at least "grateful") that I was beaten down, humbled, embarrassed, slapped around a bit, because once I became aware of my own enormous limitations and weaknesses, not just as a medical student but also as a friend, sister, daughter, and Copt, then somehow, paradoxically, miraculously, for the first time in my life really, I began to be confident in myself. Because I stopped trying to find any kind of justification for my own existence within myself, and started finding my inner strength from my Creator who granted my existence in the first place.

This brings me back to my original question - is confidence a "spiritual" virtue? This is probably a question better answered by one older and wiser than I. But I know that though an army encamps against me, I will not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. I am confident that God made me as I am, that I am a sinful human being whom He will forgive when I pick myself up. Confident that I died and arose with Christ, confident that the Lord is my shield and will guide me in all my paths. Confident that what blessings I have, they have been given to me by Christ so that I may do good for others. Confident that my strength comes from the unshakable fortress that is Christ.

Do you see here that what I mean by "confidence" has nothing at all to do with "arrogance" or "cockiness?" On the contrary, when you are confident, it really displaces arrogance. Arrogance is not a manifestation of extreme confidence - it's not that self-confidence is somehow a graded scale sandwiched between humility at one extreme and arrogance at the other. Quite the opposite - I believe that arrogance is rather a shameful way of hiding the fact that one does not possess any self-confidence at all. One of my good friends has complete, 100% confidence in himself, and yet possesses not an ounce of arrogance; he is humbly aware of his own faults, and I have never witnessed him judge another human being in the time I have known him. This is the confidence I would like to have, one day, as an attending. The sort of confidence that allows room for prayer that God steadies my hand when I operate on a patient. The sort of confidence that obviates the need to beat down the residents and medical students working under me. Confidence is not pride. Confidence is as I have described above. Pride is "always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." (C.S. Lewis).

*The title of this post, "Be Confident, Small Immortals," is a quote from Perelandra by C.S. Lewis, "Be confident small immortals.  You are not the only voice that all things utter, nor is there eternal silence in the places where you cannot come."

Monday, September 15, 2014

You are responsible for everything. - Dostoevsky

Last year I read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky and one of the lines in it has stuck with me ever since: "There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For indeed it is so, my friend, and the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all."

I was reminded of it once again today, when a friend of mine was telling me about a lot of bad decisions she's made. It saddened me to hear it, but when I prayed for her after, I realized that perhaps God intended this as a wake up call for me. Perhaps my sinful thoughts are worse than her sinful deeds. Perhaps I am adding to the spiritual pollution we all breathe in every moment much more than her and all the people in her past combined.

Then I thought of a practical way of implementing this radical but real worldview Dostoevsky paints for us. What if every time I sin, I cause another to sin? Perhaps too often I focus on trying to convince myself that it is bad for me and bad for my relationship with God, and forget that my sin doesn't even have to be about me. We are all choking and gasping for breath in this dark grey air of pollution, and the moment I have a breath to spare, I use it on sin, and add once more to the pollution.

I think Dostoevsky would agree.  Every time I sin, whether in deed or in thought or in lack of deed or lack of thought, I cause another to sin.
Some more quotes from The Brothers Karamazov:

Fyodor Pavlovitch was drunk when he heard of his wife's death, and the story is that he ran out into the street and began shouting with joy, raising his hands to Heaven: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace," but others say he wept without restraint like a little child, so much so that people were sorry for him, in spite of the repulsion he inspired. It is quite possible that both versions were true, that he rejoiced at his release, and at the same time wept for her who released him. As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.

It is true, perhaps, that this instrument which had stood the test of a thousand years for the moral regeneration of a man from slavery to freedom and to moral perfectibility may be a two-edged weapon and it may lead some not to humility and complete self-control but to the most Satanic pride, that is, to bondage and not to freedom. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill- he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of others.

for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.

And secondly, the stupider one is, the closer one is to reality. The stupider one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence wriggles and hides itself. Intelligence is a knave, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.

Choosing “bread,” Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity—to find some one to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find some one to worship.

God is not in strength but in truth.

Remember, too, every day, and whenever you can, repeat to yourself, “Lord, have mercy on all who appear before Thee to-day.” For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will rise up to God though you knew them not nor they you.

Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive them of their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you—alas, it is true of almost every one of us! At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men's sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.

“There are moments when people love crime,” said Alyosha thoughtfully.
“Yes, yes! You have uttered my thought; they love crime, every one loves crime, they love it always, not at some ‘moments.’ You know, it's as though people have made an agreement to lie about it and have lied about it ever since. They all declare that they hate evil, but secretly they all love it.”

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

First Day of School Joy

Today is the first day of the fall semester.  The day got off to a seemingly bad start for me, but I've come to realize that it is not the case that life is difficult and devoid of joy, but rather that the joy is right in front of me but my self pity keeps me from seeing it.  When I let go of trying to use my mind to rationalize things and let God show me the answers, a sea of clarity floods my mind.  So I decided to start this day with joy rather than my first world problems.  If the joys in life were self evident, life would be boring.  I'm thankful God forces us to dig deeper and look beyond the small inconveniences.  The grander picture is so much more beautiful and astounding that way.

I slept horribly last night, but I am thankful that I have a bed to sleep on, and that I don't have any morning classes.  I'm thankful I have the opportunity to sleep at night, rather than having to work a late night shift to support myself or my family.  I'm thankful I slept horribly for no particular reason, rather than having some horrible thing to be worried about, like a relative in critical condition in the hospital, or having to be on call 24 hours to take care of someone, or myself being hurt in the hospital, or someone breaking into my apartment, or being frazzled from someone trying to mug or rape me on my walk home last night, or having a recent heartbreak or death in my life causing me numerous sleepless nights.

I got up at 6:30am to go to the gym, and the gym opened a half an hour late.  Me and 20 other people's schedules and plans for the day were derailed because some guy didn't wake up early enough for his job.  But I am thankful that I have a gym to go to, that I have health that permits me to do the exercises that I do, that I have such a good outlet and healthy way to start the day, and that it was actually a pleasant reminder that I'm not the only one in the world who screws up and inconveniences people.

I left the gym in a fabulous mood.  I smiled the whole walk back home and smiled at everyone I passed.  I like having a random huge smile on my face, because then people wonder what I'm thinking about.  It startled most of them, but it was such a joy looking these people in the eyes and having them smile back, acknowledging and appreciating one another's existence rather than passing each other by as quickly as possible and pretending we don't realize there is another human being next to us with a life and mind and soul and desires and hopes and feelings just like ourselves.

I got ready for the day, and as I was making breakfast, I spilled coconut oil all over my favorite dress.  I'm thankful I have the opportunity to make a healthy breakfast, that I have the luxury of coconut oil, and that I have a cute favorite dress, that the weather permits me to wear this dress, that I have running water readily available with which I could clean and hopefully salvage my dress, that I'm a female philosophy major and therefore the majority of my classmates and professors are male who will check me out and appreciate how good I look and drool over the fact that there is a rare female specimen in their philosophy classes.  I'm also thankful that I get to fantasize about the look of awe that will appear in their faces when I say something intelligent in class.

I started frying eggs, and realized neither of my roommates nor I brought a spatula.  But one of my roommates had this flat wooden spoon thing and I was able to improvise.  I'm thankful that this was an opportunity to appreciate the small things in life.  I've never longed for spatulas before the way I did this morning.  My point of view on spatulas has been permanently altered.  Frying eggs is from now on a sublime experience.  I'm also thankful I got to improvise.

I then started frying bacon and the fire alarm went off.  I started fanning it like a maniac, but that wasn't working.  Then I saw that it actually has a silence button.  I'm thankful that I have a fire alarm to protect me, that this one has a silence button, that I have a sturdy chair to put right under it in case of future similar circumstances that will no doubt occur, and that I got to show some people in my apartment complex that yeah I'm that a boss, waking up early and making breakfast and getting to set off the fire alarm while you're probably still sleeping.

Now my breakfast is sitting cold, since I decided to write this blog post before touching it.  I'm thankful that I'm a pro at making delicious breakfast sandwiches, that I have food to eat, and that I have a blog to write on, and that I have some people willing to read the entirety of my ridiculous thoughts.  (Subscribe on the right to get an email when I post, once ever 1-2 weeks.  If you do, you will forever be engraved in my heart.)

I wonder what other inconveniences and hidden joys the rest of the day has to offer.  Maybe one of my classmates will have horrible BO.  Glory to God for all things!  Have a wonderfully joyful day everyone!