Monday, January 5, 2015

Changes for 2015

Hi all!

    This blog has been left fallow for the past couple of years as I've been on an intense period of adventure in my life. Now that a major chapter of my journey is closing, I'm finding the words to start sharing about it, though really that's easier to do in face-to-face conversations. Since there are several of you who I won't be able to do that with any time soon, I'm working on "reclaiming" my blog space as I'm moving forward into 2015. I say "reclaim" because that's the theme of our corporate fast at Cornerstone AG this year. Its a very appropriate focus for me to think about after all the ups and downs since 2013. There are things I have lost, things I've forgotten, things that have been left on the wayside, and things I've become insensitive to without even realizing it. I think sometimes we underestimate the effects of the race on us, and trick ourselves into thinking that if we are "faithful enough", then no matter what comes our way we won't be affected by getting a bit roughed up as we are living for Christ. That is very dangerous to assume. Even our Lord regularly drew aside from His ministry, friends, and family to re-center Himself in His Father's presence and be restored. If I'm going to run my race long-term, I need to do the same, and so do you.

   I am going to start by letting you in on the latest leg of the race I've been running. I sent out my first Christmas letter in 2 years this past December, so pardon me if I borrow from that for the majority of this post. It was hard enough finding the right words the first time!

   Every story needs a backdrop, so: as you know, I’ve been working as a Lab Manager and technician for Dr. William Jeffery at the University of Maryland, College Park since I graduated from college in 2003. It has been a challenging and rewarding job and one I totally did not expect, but God clearly placed me here from the very beginning. One of the things I’ve learned to do in this job is to think 2-3 years ahead. This is because our funding tends to come in lumps that only last for 2-5 years, so we plan our projects according to that timetable. So three years ago I began to ask God what He was thinking about my future in science, since my boss was going to be 67 and would eventually be thinking about retirement. My position is one that lives or dies with a lab, and although I’m very good at what I do, that means that I don’t necessarily have a choice in where I go – I have to go where the science is. Despite this fact, God has kept me in this lab long enough that I’ve been very firmly planted here in Maryland. Both the church family that I want to support long-term and my brother’s young family are here now.

    These apparent contradictions were all things I couldn’t resolve on my own and I was starting to be afraid that I would have to make some very hard choices in order to move forward. But as I began to struggle with this, Cornerstone held its annual month of prayer and fasting with the theme being “Why Not?” We were challenged to ask ourselves what keeps us from asking God for the impossible things in our lives, the things only He can do. If I’m honest, I spend most of my prayers asking God for things I might be able to handle if He doesn’t answer the way I want. It takes a conscious shift in thinking to live in such a way that I will only succeed if He shows Himself to be God in my life. So after spending a year working on that idea in smaller ways, God called me to learn the lesson in a deeper way.

    In March 2013, sequestration made funding for science research in America highly inaccessible. Many grant applications were rejected outright as the bar for acceptance rose to a mere 10% of all applications, with most money being focused on human health or national defense. This directly affected our lab and caused us to fire most of our employees by June. As a result the lab shrunk down to just myself, my boss, and one other post-doc. Then the government shut down right during the week in October when most major grant applications are due, delaying the processing of grant applications by months and draining our reserve funds. In order to stay employed, in January 2014 I took on a temporary position with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA for 7 months. I spent most that time commuting between Maryland and Massachusetts as I split work between the two labs to do research on both fish and sea squirts. While that meant that I had to step down from serving in the young adults ministry at Cornerstone, family life picked up as my brother Tim and his wife welcomed their first child, Lucy Grace, in February (just hours before a major snowstorm). I also became a published scientific author for the first time a few weeks later! ^_^

    My time at MBL allowed me to see a different side of the scientific community. I’ve spent my entire career at a major research university where it’s difficult to get to know people and their work. My colleagues are friendly, but also very competitive because they are expected to be “the best” despite heavy responsibilities at the university and constantly dwindling resources. On the other hand, MBL was started over 100 years ago as a research institute owned by scientists themselves and dedicated to their work and development. Its only 1/10th the size of UMD and has a completely different culture. I really enjoyed getting to work there and experiencing that point of view, even just temporarily.

    In July I returned to Maryland full-time on leftover departmental funds. I co-authored a second research paper, helped rework additional grant applications, and prepped the lab for a major university-wide inspection for accreditation in animal research by AAALAC. In August my Chinese co-worker headed home for a month-long visit, leaving me as only the lab employee. When she was delayed from returning until late October by computer trouble in the State Department, I took on her two undergraduate students in addition to my own work. We soon found out that only one of our grant applications would be awarded in time to save my position with the Jeffery Lab. We had a 30% chance of winning it, but we would not hear until right around December 25th either way. Bill calculated that he would only be able to give me a month to find a new position if I had to. That was tough to hear, but all of my coworkers last year had been in the same position, and I knew from watching them that the best thing I could do would be to handle the situation professionally. That meant preparing my resume, cataloging my resources, and making a plan of attack while continuing to do my best work at my job until we heard. So I kept working and co-authored not only a book chapter but also a paper on research that I had done as an undergrad on cancer cell lines. I also started the planning stages for writing my own book on keeping cavefish in the laboratory. On December 19th we got the news that we did not win the grant, however Bill somehow managed to give me one more month than expected to find a new job and turn my responsibilities over.

    In a way, I’m relieved that the uncertainty I’ve been working under for the past year and a half is now ending. Now it’s a matter of moving forward and finding out where God is putting me next. I am sad to leave something I’ve invested so much into growing and supporting. There will be a lot of changes for me this year, and I’m hoping that as I change, God will answer some long-standing prayers as He shows me where my next race is going to be. For the Christian, its always “the best is yet to come”, not “the best is behind us”. Now it is time to finish this particular race well. I would really appreciate your prayers, both for myself and for the people I will be leaving behind. I know God would not be moving me unless it was the best way He could reach them. Jesus can bring life even into situations where everything is dying. It’s my job to make sure I don’t get in His way.

    So there you have it! By this time next year, I hope to share with you where God has put me next and what He has done in my life. I’m sure it will be more surprising than I can imagine. And for all the difficulties, the last few years have been so worth it. I fully believe that God wastes nothing we do, so even if I have to leave cavefish behind, He’ll do something amazing with the decade I’ve spent working on them. Now to wait and see what it is!

I truly feel that I am just finishing one race in preparation to start another. The whole situation feels more like a graduation than a death of something, which tells me that the Lord is totally in this. So, like graduation, my task right now is two-fold: first, to find the next place I'm meant to serve, and second, to pass off my knowledge and responsibilities to the people I'm leaving so that they can carry on and I can freely focus on my new challenges. Its going to be a very intense 2 months, but I look forward to seeing where I go from here.

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