Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trusting like Tom Cruise

I am often up late at night, and quite frankly, the TV that is on between 2am and 5am leaves a lot to be desired. I don't want to cleanse my colon. I don't need to buy a total gym. And I'm really not interested in any aspect of "male enhancement."

When I'm feeling ok, I tend to keep the TV off and do work on the computer. However, when my health makes me feel weak and exhausted, a good movie is often just what I need. This past weekend, I felt exceptionally wiped out, so imagine my intrigue when I saw that the movie Minority Report was going to be on at 2:30am!

A) It was a movie I'd never seen before.
B) It was NOT the millionth showing of The Wedding Planner.

I tend to favor light, upbeat movies, so I was cautious about Minority Report. I didn't know much about the plot, and action movies can often turn dark and violent, proving to disturb me more than distract me. However, I was in a mood to take a risk, and a brief plot summary described Tom Cruise fighting crime in the future by arresting criminals before they commit their crimes. Neat.

I started watching and got roped in right away by Steven Spielberg's masterful special effects. The concept of fighting "pre-crime" with "pre-cogs" was also interesting. Having no "pre-conceived" ideas (ha.) or expectations, it was a wonderful surprise to enjoy the exciting suspense from beginning to end.

Anyway, there's one scene in particular that I want to share because it relates so closely with what I'm going through with God. To set it up, Tom Cruise is being chased, and he has with him a girl (Agatha) who perfectly knows what the future holds. Watch as he struggles to trust Agatha when all his instincts are screaming for him to do the opposite of what she says:

As she tells him to wait, exposed and without protection, Tom's character has no understanding of why. He simply has to lean on her understanding of the future, trusting that she has his best interest at heart the whole time.

I reflected today on how we are so much like Tom's character when we find ourselves in problems that God does not solve right away. It can be baffling why God tells us to "wait, wait, wait" when we are exposed and vulnerable to danger, pain, and grief. But if we trust God's infinite knowledge and his perfect plan, we find his navigation is always superior to ours. He is always our loving, good, and faithful shepherd. If God is asking you to wait in a tough place today, remember this movie scene and how trusting God is so very similar.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Just out of reach

In May, my laptop screen suddenly went black. Lights out. I had had a feeling for a while that things weren't quite right. Whenever I'd open the lid, a slight pinkish hue would appear on the screen for a second, and then quickly fade back to normal.

Using my Googling skills ("laptop," "pink," "dark screen") I became vaguely aware of some very electrical-sounding part that is "the most common cause" for this problem and could "easily" be replaced. Well, color me ready to do this the cheap and easy route rather than, say, buying a brand new laptop after less than 5 years of use. I combed Ebay for the best deal on my new part, and paid, only to realize post final-sale-click that the part number was off. After politely asking for a refund (and receiving a partial refund due to Ebay FEES - don't get me started!), I was undeterred and found the right part number on a rather reputable site - i.e. professional-looking web site with testimonials that shows up in the first page of Google results. I bought the part and decided to throw in some new lid-hinges while I was at it since my lid flopped around like a sleeping child's head whenever I wasn't careful.

Fast forward several business days for standard USPS shipping time, and my parts arrived! I tore open my laptop lid with the kind of cautious zeal you use when running in the dark. I am by no means experienced in computer repair. In fact, I was initially surprised that a mere mortal like myself could open a laptop without some sort of magical "break-it-open" tool.

Hinges installed? Check. New fancy-circuity-board-thing screwed in place? Check.

I pressed the power button. Ah! To have a fixed laptop with no service fees!

The screen came on. It was pink. OHHHHH! Pink.

I somehow rationalized to myself that this was ok. Perfectly normal. Screen is on. No problems here. But in my heart, I knew that fancy little fix was not my problem. I had the "other" problem. The more complicated one. The one that all the tech forums and help sites said might require taking your laptop to a repair center. The one that might cost 250-300 dollars for a brand new LCD screen.

But back to denial. I was convinced I had fixed it. So fully convinced I was that I faux-confidently signed in to my online job and began working with a client. Oh, the tangled webs we weave when we deny our problems. Of course, my screen chose to fail at that very moment. Instant black. I tried to hit various key combinations in semi-controlled panic and strained to find my mouse arrow in vain - only a faint outline of all my windows could be seen at the right angle. I disconnected in defeat. The computer, in spite of all my efforts with screwdrivers, parts, and dismantling, was NOT fixed. The backlight bulb was burned out.

I know that at this point I should have started looking for how to replace the bulb, but first I transferred my work to a temporary computer (read: my mom's). I had no idea how long it would take to get my laptop back up and running again, so I just put it off.

Many weeks passed as my laptop sat mournfully closed at my bedside, like a sports star sidelined by injury. Poor, pitiful, (expensive) paper weight.

Finally I realized that in order to make upcoming computer projects possible, I'd need to get to the bottom of Operation Sudden Blackout. It was time to finally Google that dreaded phrase: "backlight bulb replacement." How many procrastinators does it take to screw in a light bulb? One. But it takes her a really, really long time (and a very smart, patient, helpful boyfriend).

This was not as simple as just:
1) Remove old bulb
2) Put in new bulb

No. This bulb was INSIDE the LCD screen, which is a pretty intimidating contraption to rip into. There are yellow warnings with tape all over it and things that make it look entirely too forbidding (giving me the feeling that opening it might cause pixels to fall out or toxic gas to emerge). In addition, the bulb itself was very long, very thin, and very fragile. Breaking it was not an option, and did I mention that I didn't really know what I was doing?

So I ordered a bulb (again, off FEE-bay), hoping against all hope that it wasn't too long for my screen, because if it was, then it was game over. Once the bulb arrived, it was time to get to work.

I started by almost stripping one of the screws that held the screen cover on. Great start. After much time spent on removing the cover, I couldn't budge the screws that simply held the LCD screen in place to the frame. Whoops! Time to go back to Tech class 101.

Once THAT was accomplished, a lot of untaping and unscrewing and removing of thin metal parts ensued until a thin plastic bar the length of the screen emerged from the rubble. It contained the old bulb. Like the true technical archeologist that I am, I ripped the wire off and broke the bulb in my not-so-gentle removal. Pleased that I had ordered a bulb with new wires already attached (rather than having to salvage the old broken ones), I stuffed the new bulb into the plastic groove. Putting entirely too many fingerprints all over the inner layers of the LCD screen, I mashed everything back together and tried to ignore the slight bulge in the middle. Before doing anything else, I set it down, plugging it into the fancy new circuit card that I'd installed weeks earlier, and powered up. Hooray! The new bulb was a grand success!! Problem solved! Again!

Only, upon reassembly, I discovered a mildly disturbing fact when screwing the screen into place... the wires from the new bulb were too short to reach the power card. The screen was as useless as before I fixed it. No amount of tugging could bridge that irritating 2 to 3 cm gap. The plug end dangled just short of its destination. There appeared to be no way to fix it.

This was when my determination was tested. It was my give-up moment or my go-on moment. When my goal was just out of reach, I knew I had to fight harder than ever.

It wasn't long before I began to wonder if the computer would really make it. Was I just a fool to think I could get this thing running without paying a professional? Was I up against a problem that could not be solved? There was no way to lengthen the wires without losing power to the bulb. There was no connector that would extend the specialized plug to meet its socket. I appeared to be in a no-win situation.

The thing was - I just could not accept defeat.

I decided to let a week pass and then re-opened the screen once more - this time with a plan to stretch the wires as far as possible and maybe gain enough length to make it work. (This did not work, but it fixed the bothersome bulge in the screen.) As Mike and I sat there, we worked out a plan to move the power plug closer to the short wires. ("If you can't bring Mohammad to the mountain...") It was possible to do it if I stretched the components to the max, but that left a lot of things "loose" and "not screwed in," allowing for the plug to separate easily at any time. It was Mike who finally saw that doubling the screws for the cover as screws for the internal components would fix everything in place. And that was the moment my laptop was fixed.

After almost 2 months of being out of order, my laptop was back in business - for work, for socializing, and for sanity. I admit that I was a bit too excited to have my old, familiar, inanimate friend return.

It struck me that day just how important persistence, determination, and perseverance are when encountering problems that seem insurmountable. It's also a testimony to how much we need friends and supporters to help us "think outside the box." A fresh perspective, refusing to give up, and wise advice can often be the keys to tremendous success - not just with computers, but in life.

Hebrews 10:35-36 encourages me to always persevere, especially in those moments that make me want to give up the most -
"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."

On the Day of Judgment, we will be richly rewarded if we did not give up on our faith in Christ despite danger, persecution, and difficulty. We will shine like the stars in the heavens... with brightness that comes not from a new bulb, but from the glory of God himself.