Category Archives: Body

Into the Desert

The sea has parted forming a wall of water on both sides and a commanding voice booms, “You may paaasss.” That’s how I have always pictured the scene as the ancient Israelites marched, en mass, through the red sea on their way out of Egypt. I imagine Moses at the helm, smiling triumphantly, exuberantly and perhaps a little relievedly as his magic staff actually accomplished what God had told him it would: Let my people go!

Yet, according to the book of Exodus, the Israelites were none too sure about things, Red Sea parting or not:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” ~ Exodus 11:10-12 

“Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” Ironically, this was the phrase that overtook me as I encountered the actual desert for the first time. The Sahara of North Africa was stark, dry, and barren; sand upon sand as far as the eye could see.

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I had been looking forward to this family excursion for months. The trip was planned, a guide secured, preparations made, clothing purchased, and accommodations booked. All was made ready for our travel to Morocco. This day’s journey was the trip’s crown jewel: riding camels through the desert to a campsite where we would spend the night in tents under the expanse of a night sky, completely unspoiled by ambient light of any humankind. We would be alone with the stars in the desert. What bliss…

But first, the desert. Just mounting my camel was a bit harrowing as she lurched forward and then backward to achieve her standing, but as the guide led our small family group toward the dunes, I settled into the clippety-clop rhythm of my ride. I even loosened my death grip on the saddle slightly as we started up the first dune.

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The setting was like nothing I’d ever seen. It was the purest expression of two complimentary colors: an infinity in grains of carmelized sand piled against an inestimable expanse of sky blue. The line separating them as if a kindergartner had drawn it with a crayon. The scene was miraculous, both breathtakingly beautiful and ominously frightening.  Fear and awe all at once.

No greenery. No trees. No water. Only sprigs of dried grasses. Hardly a sign of life of any kind. And we were setting out into it. All I could think was: Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?  Those Israelites had a point. Just imagine being led away from everything you ever knew, all supply, all solace, and all resources into a promised land that looked anything but promising. My judgment of those Israelites was premature. I forgive them their doubt.

And yet, the awe and beauty was palpable in its simplicity, quiet, and tranquility as we upped and downed the dunes. Silent movement. Slow trudging progress toward… How did our guide know which way to go with no landmarks and no visual cues? Everything looked exactly the same to me. The occasional brave pebble rolled downward, displaced by our camels’ hooves, but a brief gust of sultry wind would wipe away the footsteps and remove all evidence that we were here.

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We had placed our well-being in the hands of our guide, a mere teenager. He was a member of a nomadic tribe whose family had lived and loved this land for generations. He didn’t speak our language and we didn’t speak his. Still, we let ourselves be guided and came to trust our sturdy rides – up and over, out and around, over and back, side hill and downhill – as one does the mule who carries you along the switchbacks overlooking the Grand Canyon. They don’t often lose people on these trips, I told myself.

IMG_5927When the campsite came within view, I confess I exhaled a relieved sigh. Light was growing dimmer and all of me could use a rest. It had cooled off from the daytime 105 degrees to an evening “low” in the upper 90’s. As evening fell and stars appeared overhead, we trudged up the nearby dune to get a closer look. Laying back and resting on the fine, dry Sahara sand, we looked up at the stars – the same ones that overlooked all the earth’s inhabitants and the very same that accompanied the ancient Israelites; these still they twinkled down at us. I was completely entranced.

IMG_7118The miraculous always astounds me. With reverence, we set off to see and understand and experience on holy ground. Then we come before God in complete awe and He reminds us of his promise to Abraham and his son Isaac, and through them, to us.

 “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” ~ Genesis 22:17

Now, it seems odd that the Lord spoke of the sand on the seashore to a people in the desert. Perhaps, he had in mind to part the sea.

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Wendy, the author, and her trusty camel, Rosy.

How Long Does it Take to Grow Up?

Stephanie LeBolt sr banquetMommy, when you are a hundred, will you be as tall as the clouds?

This, my little daughter asks me from her seat on the swing in our backyard. Her sweet up-turned face looks past me to the billowing clouds overhead. To her, growing up means growing taller so she can reach the monkey bars unassisted and ride all the rides at the theme park. Surely 100 years should be enough to reach those clouds, she concludes.

While our growing taller comes to an end during our teens and early twenties, our growth doesn’t stop then; it merely goes undercover. Throughout our lives, our bodies are busy reshaping, remodeling and renewing themselves, not only to heal after injury or illness but as a regular practice. Cellular turnover is part of our programming.

This notion always came as a surprise to the students in my anatomy class who, though quite a bit more advanced than my small daughter, generally assumed that once they stopped growing up they started growing old. Actually, there’s a whole lot of reconstruction going on.

Even our bones, which seem the deadest of things thanks to archaeological excavations and Halloween decorations, are active and changing our whole lives long. Even when they aren’t growing longer, they’re growing stronger in response to the pushes, pulls and pressures they endure. It’s the beauty of weight-bearing exercise. We’re designed to fortify ourselves. What breaks down gets rebuilt, only stronger, given sufficient time, good design and quality building materials. We are always undergoing renovation.

We call this maturation, and I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be a total make-over of body, mind and soul.

Kids think that once they’ve grown up they’re grown-ups, figuring they may have some “filling out” to do but otherwise they’re ready to take on the world. We, who have spent some time in the maturing phase, know that the growing never stops. Though we’re not getting any taller, we’re always remodeling and reorganizing: filling in gaps, replacing old notions, and fortifying things in light of new information.

We who have reached our full height are meant to be filling in: building spiritual muscle, agility and fortitude as God reshapes it along with our minds, hearts and souls. We are clay in the hands of the potter, teaches Jeremiah 18. A contemporary retelling might call us plastic, hardened at room temperature, but pliable at God-temperature.

God’s not done with us yet. That’s such very good news. God’s continually defining and refining, affirming and growing us, inside out, as we will let Him. That’s not just for our own good, but for the good of all of our relationships, including the precious ones we have with the generations to come.

They’re sure to ask us in Sunday school or confirmation class, around the dinner table or after ball practice, on their graduation day or on their wedding day, “Mom and Dad, do your think you’ll ever be able to touch the sky?” They ask, not because they really think we will, but because they want to. And they can’t see ever doing it without us.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 

Oh my yes, little girl, there’s every chance I will reach those clouds because, thanks to God, we’re both still growing.

The Message Our Body Brings to Life

Does it surprise you to look at these two photos, side by side?

The one on the left is among the tiniest of miracles, a cell in the brain. The one on the right is perhaps the grandest of miracles, the universe. Their similarity is striking. It’s all a matter of scale… and perspective. One wonders if they aren’t both the work of the same hand. (See my post: Divine Design makes you wonder.)

Why waste a perfectly good idea, right? As my friend Mary Lou puts it, “God is the ultimate economist and consummate recycler.” When we have the ability to look with appropriate perspective, we may see the signature of the designer.

But I wonder if the similarity isn’t just in appearance. Often the structure of a thing gives us clues to its function. Perhaps our growing understanding of the operation of the brain cell may shed light on interactions across our universe. Could what’s in us help explain what’s outside us and help us manage what’s between us?

20_week_fetusIs it so far-fetched to think that the God of the universe has intentionally planted the answers to our deepest questions inside us? Is He patiently waiting for us to find them? I, as a student of the human body, find myself both dumb-founded to consider this and excited to think it might be so. Are God’s answers hiding in plain view, waiting to be acknowledged?

Certainly the beginning of new life begs us to consider God’s hand in its midst. Can there be anything more miraculous? Is there any more convincing witness to the hand of a Divine Creator?

Biblical writers certainly had this same awe, even though they had no ultrasound images to confirm their suspicions:

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret, 

    intricately woven in the depths of the earth. ~ Psalm 139: 13-15

But let’s not stop at the miracle of the development of one body.  All of us, the Church Universal, are being formed into the body of Christ. 

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. ~ Ephesians 4:16

If we were designed to be joined and held together and thus to grow in love as we work together, our world today suggests we are far from God’s design. Yet, if God intends it, surely He has not made this an unsolvable puzzle. Perhaps the model for us as the Body of Christ is suggested in the workings of our own individual bodies.

Allow me, if you would, a moment of speculation as I put on my hat as physiologist. Science demonstrates that the human body is so much more than its anatomy – more than the skin we can see, the muscle we can bulge, the pulse we can touch, and the breath we can take in. Underneath all of these functions are the delicate and highly regulated interactions which make them work: organs and organ systems made up of tissues and cells all contributing what’s necessary for life.

The key to healthy life in the human body: cooperation among systems to co-exist while competing for a fixed supply of resources. Their successful interdependence is guided by a simple and familiar principle: to each according to its need. This delicate balance is maintained in response to the demands of life. Survival of the fittest is nonsense within the body because each part is necessary for the survival of the whole body.

No two systems in the human body are alike. Each is specialized for an essential task; none “considers” itself above the rest. How could it? What good would the heart be without blood to circulate? What good would the muscles do without limbs to move? What good is our breath if it can’t deliver what it inhales and exhales? What good is our skeleton without ligaments to allow it to stand? What good is a brain without means to connect and communicate? What good is sight without vision or sound without hearing?

Is this an echo of the message in First Corinthians?

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. ~1 Cor 12:17-20

Could our bodies hold God’s message for our world?

They demonstrate so beautifully and seamlessly the choreography of interdependent parts negotiating life, giving and responding obediently for the good of the whole. There is no greater and no lesser, no greed and no hoarding, no scarcity and no hunger. The better the parts work together, the more abundant is the life.

Who in the world could have ever thought of that?

If we are to believe that our God is the ultimate economist and consummate recycler who loves all He created, then God wastes not one bit. Each part is necessary and intended for the good of the whole. Each one is essential to the life of the body. Each interaction effects all others. Unique, for sure. Different, for certain. Interdependent, completely. No exceptions.

It is the genius of perfect living balance: I take only what I need, so you will have what you need. Our ultimate survival may depend on it. So simple that any body can show you.

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