Thursday, July 28, 2016

'sup Tension

On Monday, I joined an awesome group of women from my SoCal church to go paddle boarding and kayaking. I, among many others, decided to try stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) for the first time. It's something I've been wanting to do for a while, so I was excited for the opportunity. 

It was harder than I expected. 

I have experience surfing and kayaking, so I thought SUP could be no different. In surfing you paddle into a swell and let it take over before you pop up. But in SUP, you instead haphazardly push at the water on one side of the board while already standing. And it doesn't take a PhD in physics to know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Don't worry, I didn't fall in. But as I felt the board toss to and fro, all of my muscles tensed up. My body perceived the threat of this great instability, and it was ready to fight!

I hobbled around the harbor for a while in that rigid state, not falling over but also not moving particularly fast or well. But this was supposed to be easy and fun, so I would persevere and stick it out, darn it!

One of the few experienced folk in our group gently suggested I bend my knees as I begin each stroke, and another recommended leaning in to each stroke to get more power.

I felt the difference immediately.

By bending my knees, my legs were able to loosen up and compensate for the rocking board. In addition to more power, leaning in to the stroke also helped me travel in a straighter line. I started moving faster and more confidently through the water, passing the group and doubling back. It felt wonderful.

But my feet remained tense. Though I wore water shoes that stuck to the surface of the board, my feet continued to desperately try to clamp to the board. (In other words: the effort was utterly useless since my feet could not, in fact, contribute to my grip on the board). It took a conscious effort to tell them, "Feet! You can relax... It's OK!" 

I had to repeat the message several times because my feet were convinced of their need to hold on tightly, still persisting as they began to cramp. 
Eventually, my feet relaxed and I had a delightful time on the water, even jumping in a few times!

The story reminds me of how my summer (and let's be real, my life) has gone. I've found myself feeling unstable in this time of transition, leaving the dock of the familiar with future waves coming toward me. My primary reaction has been to tense up, both literally and figuratively. It's a summer of "freedom" but I've often found myself stressed, on edge, and unable to sleep at night. Yet I sense God gently telling me to lean in to the challenges and let go of my tension:
"Leila! You can relax... It's OK!"

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Barn Dance
Last Saturday, I went to a barn dance, and it was great!  It was the second time I had been to one at Pie Ranch, a small idyllic farm off the ocean-front Highway 1.

Barn dances (aka square dances) are super fun for many reasons. One of the more unexpected ones is because they are so structured. That seems a bit counter-intuitive; shouldn’t structure restrict the amount of fun? Au contraire, the structure gives you freedom to more fully enjoy, especially as a beginner! With the basic motions settled, you are free to focus on adding life to your movement and your interactions with others.
Photo from Andy Wilson
The dances actually are a bit like marching band. In both, you have a set of patterns that everyone must follow. In following them together, it becomes something grand!

But if someone decided to just stop and do their own thing,
it could cause a giant pile-up...

In sacrificing your independence, 
you can become part of something bigger than yourself.

Granted, the marching band requires a bit more prior instruction/practice to put a field show, but a marching unit/parade band can respond to commands on the fly:

“Forward march; Left flank; right flank”
“Swing yer partner, round and round!” 

OK, so the tone's a bit different, but there are definite similarities there too.

As a bonus, for whatever reason, the structured environment attracts a lot of unique individuals. Maybe both activities are just enough “against the grain.”

Here’s to all of you weirdos!

Photo by Ian Billings

Sunday, October 27, 2013

All in.

It's been a while since I last posted, but do not fear: my life has not and does not suck, as Nicole so eloquently described.  It's been full, but good… things like moving to live with friends instead of by myself, with mice :-)

Another example, a few weeks ago, I presented a poster at the SLAC LCLS/SSRL Users Meeting (that's a ton of acronyms/words just to say a gathering of people who use powerful x-rays for science). During the main talks of the meeting, the organizers scheduled a window of time where poster presenters could briefly advertise their poster in hopes of attracting more visitors later during the poster session.  I opted to participate and sent in a basic slide with my name and the title of my poster.  So far, this story is rather straightforward and somewhat mundane.  But here's where it gets better…

They encouraged us to be creative in our 45-second spiel. This instantly grabbed my attention due my family's favorite saying:
Creativity is ALWAYS an option.

But it would require work. If you're going to do something truly unexpected, you have to do it well. 

I went for it.

At the poster blitz, I was in the middle of the 20 presenters.  That doesn't sound like a lot until you realize that you're hearing about 20 completely different areas of study.  After around 2, it's hard to focus.  So we get to 10, and here's what I said:

No one knew what to expect after that intro, but by the time I got to the "top of a substrate," the audience was laughing. It was marvelous. They ate it up, and broke the rule of "save the applause for the end," instead loudly applauding me after!  I didn't get many extra visitors, but people did tell me that they really enjoyed my song!

I'm trying to live life like that.
No, not necessarily the singing, though I do enjoy it. 
I'm trying to live all in.  Going for it.  Really digging in to the opportunities I have.

This morning I got the opportunity to do the announcements at my church here.  It was a roller coaster!  I put lots of preparation and practice in, and I still felt nervous up there!  But it was also fun to ham it up a bit and make people laugh. It was quite a rush...

I'm really thankful for the church home I've found here. It took me almost a year in Santa Cruz to actually settle in to a church!  But now I'm connected with a lot of people and involved.  And it feels great.  I know that I do benefit from knowing that I'll be in this area for a while, which makes it easier to put roots down.

But even without that assurance, or others like it, life is more satisfying when you are more present and willing to engage.

Photo Cred Printable Decor

It might not always turn out well (just ask about my brilliant idea to learn to ride my bike with no training wheels!).  But as Don Miller would say, regardless of the outcome, it sure makes for better stories!

And sometimes, you hit it out of the park.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Life Stinks – By Nicole

Howdy ya’ll. Guest writer today, I suppose you could say I’ve taken Leila and her blog hostage. But it’s with her best intentions at heart, I swear. On a recent visit I got to participate in a “day in the lab” under the pretense of “a day in the life of a grad student.” Let me be perfectly clear: it’s horrendous. Why did I commandeer her blog, to do what she can’t, verbalize the warm noisy Hades that has become her life.
All photos by Nicole, of course
The first think you’ve got to know is everything is MacGyvered. Apparently it’s amazing they even get results, and when you look at the tin foil surrounding everything you understand why. Sorry, “aluminum for insulation.” It looks like tinfoil. (Sadly, they haven’t quite mastered the aggie art of “duct tape” to solve all their woes). I must admit, I am impressed that they keep finding ways to make it work, even if it has issues half the time.
Of course if everything had been running smoothly, I wouldn’t have gotten a real glimpse of lab insanity.  True to form, the machine, which had like three things fixed the day before, still needed the almighty solution, power cycle. Thankfully after a moment of foolishly searching for something labeled OFF Leila gave up and just shut off the whole power strip. “Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles” it WORKED!!!
I’d like to pause and put in a disclaimer: In case you haven’t figured out, I don’t understand all the details of what she was doing. She explained in very nice Prof tones, and I tried to follow, but when things get beyond 2+2 I have a way of tuning out. So if you want the actual, sciency details of what Leila’s doing, which’ll probably have you sleeping and drooling within 5 min, you’ll have to ask her.
Here’s how I understand it, you’ve got a square piece of quartz that you’re putting tiny layers of stuff on, like putting fudge frosting on top of mint frosting on brownies. That’s not quite right, maybe more like layers of paint, trying to create a new color? Only I think the first 1 to touch is the strongest? I don’t know, suffice to say, its weird, has tiny layers and if you could see it would ultimately be like a layer cake or something. 
Back to my story; once the beast is running again comes second half of the 1 hour of “fun” or at least the interesting bit. You have to mix some chemical that’s apparently dangerous, so you have to be careful and use only a little bit, otherwise you could die. Like I said the cool part. Sadly, although Leila wore gloves and had a protective glass in front of her, it looked more like someone measuring out Aunt Tilly’s lunchtime medicine at the Nursing Home than anything else. (I do not have an Aunt Tilly. Please know this is a fictitious character not based on anyone specific).
The cleaning and tightening of the chamber for the dangerous substance was kinda cool too. (Small bits of metal can be heavy, who knew?) And then that’s it. You run the “program” to vacuum out the chamber a million times, make sure there’s no life damaging leakage, watch the first minute or 5 of the program and then you sit. Babysitting a stupid machine that makes twice as much noise as a host of bratty, angry two year olds on an airplane.

I’m not kidding, the noise is ridiculous. It makes it so you can’t even think. (Which is not conducive to getting school work done or technical science papers written). When she flipped the blessed switch off in the morning, I didn’t realize what a blessing from heaven that was. 7 hours and a blistering headache later I DID!!!  Do you know how utterly boring it is to sit in a room, not being able to really go anywhere, with tremendous racket for 7 hours with nothing pressing to do? It’s miserable. Its torture, it’s like living murder. Frankly I don’t know how anyone does it.
The title of this blog is “God Loves Leila”. How does this fit that description? First off, it’s definitely teaching her patience, while also forcing her to do things she probably never would have done. (I’m referencing the constant fixing of the machine. Now if only that could translate into practical everyday stuff…Ah drat, I’m teasing Leila. Look, here’s a Kleenex. You can move enough to reach your eye. Oh, that’s your contact, ok, I’ll let you go in a sec).

Now to the real “love of God”, He sent a role model in the form of an angel (that’s me you cynics) to verbalize how truly miserable her lab existence is, that her school life stinks, and it’s ok to feel that way sometimes. What can I say, I’m a Godsend.

Anyway, that’s a glimpse of Leila’s life. If you wanna pray for her, apparently the future research for the remainder of her grad school time’s kinda up in the air. So I know wisdom and guidance will be needed for that. Also, if you have any brilliant ideas of how she can survive the lab, while still maintaining concentration you should shoot those her way.

Ok, ok, I’ll stop holding you hostage. If you’ll excuse me folks, I think it’s about time for me to dash out and make a fast getaway. See ya, when I see ya.
-Nicole Out!

Thursday, July 11, 2013


This morning I found my car door ajar, my stuff ransacked, and my GPS gone. My car was in my driveway, not 10ft from where I was sleeping.

At first, I was largely frustrated at losing the GPS and my apparent failure to lock my car (since there was no sign of forced entry).  But I realized that besides the foolish loss of property, I was shaken.  I felt violated, unsafe, and vulnerable.

Just last night, I spoke with a friend about how some neighborhoods in the area are less safe and that I considered mine to be more safe.  But this too was taken from me.  I found myself jumping at street noises and feeling suspicious of people in the neighborhood, after just last night feeling safe and content walking to and from Safeway in the fading light.

Yet the more I think about it, the more I'm finding myself grateful for the experience.

I can now see a little bit of how much I find security in the world around me, and how that isn't nearly as safe or reliable as I thought.  And in placing so much weight on the stuff I can see (and feel like I can control), I'm not really relying on God for safety. 

Yet He's the only one with any true control over my life.  

Each and every breath I breathe is a gift of God. 

He guards my life.  And I can't compete with that. I have nothing to offer that can be bigger or stronger than the Creator of the Universe.

All I can choose is how to respond. I can cling to my fears and the things in this world that make me feel safer*. Or I can live into the truth that the LORD is my shepherd, and I shall not want.

The latter promises a freer life.  Simpler, yes. But happier. 

And I've just seen how the first can crumble overnight.

I praise God for this experience that showed me places I'm holding back, areas I haven't entrusted to Him, and I thank God for keeping me safe from harm.
(In this case, my possessions too – even the GPS unit was later found in the car!)

*As a disclaimer, I still fully support being smart about your safety – we have brains for a reason – and I for one plan to be extra conscientious of locking my car after I get out! :-)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Not Working

A true Sabbath always seemed impossible in my mind. As a student, Sundays were the key to getting things done before the week started. But I realized I'm not really taking classes anymore, so why not now? What excuse do I have?

This line of thinking started almost three weeks ago at a small group meeting where we talked about work:
  • God values all work since it is cultivating Creation
  • Work for God instead of other people/yourself
  • And to that end, working HARD and giving your best
  • But with that, it's also okay to take breaks when needed – God approves and it often makes you more productive overall!
Today is the third Sunday I've endeavored to take a Sabbath, both by not working and by resting. Both are difficult in their own right!

Not working has meant more discipline on Saturdays and the other days of the week, something I still lack.  The first Sunday of not working, I was so excited. I really felt energized and ready to face to full week of work! ...That lasted all of two hours on Monday haha.  It was a really good two hours!  But then I lost my focus, and the week piled on the work and sleep fell by the wayside...
(This is hilarious at 2am)
So, I still have some growing to do in discipline!  But even with the struggles involved with not working, it is really nice to take a break from even just thinking about things I could/should be doing.

The act of resting is one I'm also still figuring out... more than just not working, it takes an effort to rest. Today I lay down for a while and took some time to journal these thoughts.  I'm trying to find ways to create more space in my Sundays, spending less time distracted on the computer and more time being present. So far I've been able to connect with people more, and I hope that continues.

At this point, I'd say my taking a Sabbath is not working all the way yet, but I think I'm heading in a good direction. I'm trying to avoid legalism, and I'm instead focusing on the heart of what I'm moving towards.

In the big picture, it boils down to remembering and enjoying how God loves me!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Javert vs. Valjean

Last night I finally got to see Les Mis!!!
[Naturally, this contains SPOILERS if you haven't seen it yet.]
[all images from]
The powerful story and beautiful music already captured my attention years ago, but the movie brought it all together magnificently.  Particularly impacting to me was Javert's gesture of respect to the boy. Utterly unexpected, and a beautiful glimpse of a softened heart.  This started a discussion with my companions on Javert, that later kept me awake in thought:

Why did Javert say Jean Valjean sparing his life cost him his life?  Why did he then kill himself? 

Javert is the law.


All of Javert's life, all of his being is dedicated to following the law. Justice as not just the ultimate, but the only solution.  A person who steals a loaf of bread to keep his sister's son is forever identified as a criminal: "Men like you can never change" The law permanently views anyone who does wrong as a failure.

But then Javert's world collides with that of Jean Valjean, and we see the clash of justice and mercy.  An act of mercy (and grace) redefines Jean Valjean's life.  He moves away from the law's mentality of "an eye for an eye," and an incredible life follows of him loving  and serving others.  This is expressed most powerfully by his decision to spare Javert when given the chance to kill him.  Javert recognizes the good and spares Valjean's life because of it, but he cannot reconcile Valjean's mercy with his rigid observance of the law.  Javert couldn't conceive of life with more than just the black and white of the law.

Besides answering an interesting question (and reminding myself of my long-past days of AP English), why does this matter?

Beyond the scope of this movie and beautiful story, beyond the country of France or any other, the law exists in my life. The law, like Javert, is relentless in its fairness. And by doing any one thing wrong, I become a criminal. A person not to be welcomed or trusted. [This may be hard to believe, but I've already done things wrong, folks.]

But, in an act of wild mercy, God created and offered the way of freedom from the law. He re-identified me as his beloved daughter, not as a criminal.  Much like the priest identifying Valjean as his brother.


"Mercy triumphs over judgement!"

Valjean and Javert each received a wild moment of mercy when they were facing death.

(Did you notice they both had been bloodied on the the side of the head?) 

Their lives mirror the two basic responses to mercy.  I can choose:

to continue in the logical and fair way of the law, 
even with its harsh and exacting requirements
to accept the unfairness of mercy and live in new freedom.