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I wasn’t planning to spend my Saturday morning baking this olive oil cake. But I had some leftover coconut milk sitting in the fridge, and I hate to see that go to waste. And that bag of tangelos, practically begging to be zested and juiced. What else was I going to do with all these strawberries? I mean, I could eat them by themselves. Or…they can be embellished with a little cake. See, my hands were tied.

So it wasn’t long before I found myself carefully separating bits of tangelo from pith and connective membrane. The counter top was splattered with juice and I had managed to get bits of egg white on my pajamas. So much for a relaxing weekend morning away from the kitchen where I spend most of my weeknights making home-cooked dinners. But baked goods have a tendency to settle, stubbornly, on my mind. This cake in particular occupied most of my thoughts during my 40 lap swim on Friday night. That’s a lot of laps to be thinking about moist yellow crumbs.

And as long as I’m here, I might as well throw in that bottle of lemon scented olive oil that I had been saving for something special.

Dan and I each had two slices of warm cake studded with bits of tangy tangelos, topped with a generous heap of coconut whipped cream and served with honey-sweetened strawberries. Perfect breakfast.

orange olive oil cake
orange olive oil cake
Tangelo Olive Oil Cake from Smitten Kitchen

  1. I used tangelos instead of oranges. They’re easier to peel but more sour than your average navel orange.
  2. I halved the amount of sugar in the cake, because I knew the whipped cream and strawberries will be sweetened. And it was perfect.
  3. The whipped cream was made with heavy cream, coconut milk, a few spoonfuls of powdered sugar, and flavored with a bit of vanilla.

“I’m afraid that everything I’ve done in the past two years will go unacknowledged.”

Today, my friend turned to say these words to me. I recognized the tired sadness in his voice, because I heard it not too long ago, from myself. And the funny thing is, on that particular day as I was moping outside the door to my lab, my friend was there to share my sorrows as well. Today, I get to return the favor.

red velvet cheesecake

D-, it’s sobering to hear your disillusionment. Because you’ve always cheered me on when I’ve expressed my doubts with science. Your optimism was refreshing, especially when so many of our peers, including myself, have long since lost that optimism. But I guess, nobody is immune to fears.

This is the problem with doing something that you love. You start to be afraid. Afraid of falling short. Afraid to be disappointed, in others and in yourself. Afraid that after pouring out heart and soul, you wake to find that none of it mattered.

And some of these fears, you know they’re irrational. But fears don’t have to be rational to be real. Fears don’t need to make sense to be felt. They exist not because we don’t have the fortitude to beat them down. Sometimes fears are borne precisely because we care so much about this thing that we love. And maybe that’s good, because if we were indifferent, we wouldn’t have these fears at all.

red velvet cheesecake

Why should it be so damn hard to do the thing you love to do? There are always unexpected complications, technical challenges, interpersonal conflicts, experimental setbacks–and as if that weren’t enough–our own insecurities. It’s so easy to lose ourselves in the frustrations and complaints we have against everything and everyone.

I’ve realized though, the things we hate about our work–the imperfections and road blocks that we like to blame for our misery–these are also the things that drew us here in the first place. I chose my lab because the people there are passionate about what they do; even if it means that strong opinions lead to conflict. You chose your project because it’s never been done before; even if it means there’s a good chance you might fail. We chose science because it is challenging; even if it brings out everything we fear about ourselves.

Everyone. Including those who seem to stand obnoxiously in our way of doing the thing we love to do, are simply trying to do the thing that they love to do. Affirmation, we all seek it. But there’s a difference between finding affirmation by what you do, and finding affirmation in what you do.

If I defined myself by what I have done, what impact I will leave in this field, what lasting contribution will I make in this career, how paralyzing would that be? You decide whether you love something because it elevates you, or whether you love something because it’s above you.

I’m going to switch gears right now and speak about God. Because everything I have just written, I learned from my faith.

I may not call myself Christian anymore, but this quote still speaks to me:

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:19

If I believe in You, then the greatest fear I have is to find out–after running madly and desperately after You–that You don’t exist.

I can let that fear stop me from running. Maybe I can prevent all this wasted energy and fruitless effort. But I choose to believe that if You are real, then You are larger than my fears.

So I’m still running. Madly, desperately, running with You.

Red Velvet Cheesecake from 17 and Baking

Seven years ago, I started going to church. I remember asking myself what the hell I was doing as I walked to my first bible study. Religion was never something that I found attractive. I didn’t consider myself the type of person who needed to find strength in a higher power. Certainly, I could never be one of those Campus Crusaders for Christ, who went around asking unsuspecting students trying to enjoy their lunch in peace whether they’ve ever thought about Heaven and Existence. I did not go to church because I was persuaded by some well-meaning, starry-eyed evangelist. I’m going to be really honest here: I went to church because I was trying to get over a guy.

Seven years ago, I met a someone who I only knew for three days. I don’t know what it was about him that I found so intriguing. He spoke of his faith with a passion that I found charming. Charming, probably because I was flattered by his attention. And because our interaction was so fleeting that it made the connection I felt all the more dramatic and intoxicating. So when he said that knew I could believe, that I was meant to believe, I drank up every word. It really doesn’t take too much to captivate the mind of a twenty year old girl.

I went to church because I wanted to understand his passion. I wanted to understand the person who claimed to understand me. So I learned to speak the words and to act the part of the Christian girl he saw that I could be. It’s such a foolish thing to do, isn’t it? But I’m not the first young and naive girl to put some guy on a pedestal.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that I’ve let someone else define me. Not him, really. But the version of him that I’ve built up in my mind. An imaginary person whose approval that I inexplicably sought. I’m not mad and I’m not bitter. Because even though I ventured into the faith for all the wrong reasons, I have found in myself, a genuine, deep-seated desire to believe.

red wine chocolate cake

I have not gone to church for a long time. Nor do I plan on going back anytime soon. Not because I’m reacting out of spite or anger. Not because I finally came to my senses. Rather, I left because I’m trying to extract the part of my faith that is my own. I can’t say that I believe everything in the bible. That is an intellectual struggle that I suspect I will always face. But I can also never say that I don’t believe in God.

Some people probably think that I’ve fallen from the faith. Fallen, as if failed to live up to some standard or arrived disappointingly short of some ideal. But I don’t think that I want to know God any less. If anything, I want to know more. I just know that I don’t want to claim that I believe in Him because I think it’s the right thing to say.

Others might say that I’ve wasted the last seven years of my life. That is absolutely not true; it is anything but. I’ve had the good fortune to meet people in church whose faith astounds me. They have shown me that faith isn’t a product of weak-minded people desperately trying to find an escape for their fears. These are people whose struggle for belief is a reflection of tremendous courage and strength. And it has shown me how the desire to know God can be a beautiful expression of humanity.

Last night, a friend asked me how I pray to God. Yes, I still pray. I used to fret over the right words and phrases to say during group prayers. Prayers like that were always such self-conscious and forced ordeals. But I’ve found that my favorite way to reach out to God doesn’t involve any words. I simply close my eyes and imagine myself standing in front of the ocean under a star-filled sky. There are no resounding pleas or desperate cries; there is only the weight of what I am feeling in that moment, matched only by the weight of existence that so profoundly surrounds me. And in this wordless prayer, I am not asking for words in return. Only that I am not alone as all these feelings pour out.

Smitten Kitchen’s Red Wine Chocolate Cake

I’ve posted about this cake before, but it’s worth posting again. It’s the cake I dream about as I slog through a tough week. And there has been many tough days lately. It doesn’t take too much to cheer me up. Just the aroma of red wine, creamy mascarpone frosting, and some Margaret Atwood.

Juan received a call from his father on his 30th birthday. He asked him whether he could come over with a DVD he was bringing from CVS. When he arrived, he handed Juan the disc and said, “Happy Birthday.” Juan figured it was a movie that was probably on sale at the pharmacy. He didn’t expect, when he pressed play, to see images of himself as a child flash across the screen. His dad began to narrate. Here was Juan and his mother walking through the Boston Commons when he was three. Here was Juan walking down Thornley Street in Savin Hill when he was seven. And here were pictures of Juan as an infant being held by his smiling father. For twenty minutes, Juan relived moments from his childhood captured by his dad’s old 8 mm film camera, moments that he never realized his dad had recorded and kept. And for the first time in more than twenty years–twenty very hard years marred by fear, brokenness, anger, resentment, chaos, violence, and poverty–he could finally feel the love of God through his father. And he wept.

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to meet God at the end of your life? I used to think that I would ask him to reveal the answers to all the scientific mysteries of the universe. Demand an account for all the horrible things that have happened in the history of humanity. Maybe even ask him to clarify all the contentious and confusing parts of the Bible. But I think, the question that matters the most to me, that I care most to hear the answer for, is simply, “Were you there?”

tiramisu cheesecake

tiramisu cheesecake

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

John 1: 47-49

tiramisu cheesecake

I always wanted to know, what happened under that fig tree? Why was it so important to Nathanael? I used to wish this story had more details, but now I realize that it wouldn’t make a difference. It doesn’t matter if Jesus had said, “I saw you under the fig tree when you were at the lowest point in your life and couldn’t find another reason to live.” Or whether he had said, “I saw you under the fig tree as you rejoiced the birth of your first child.” It doesn’t matter whether we know the details and circumstances, because we could never understand the significance of any moment in somebody else’s life unless you were walking in their shoes.

What if, when you meet God, instead of a series of questions and answers, you were shown a movie of your life? And in this movie, you saw every instance that you’ve experienced sadness, fear, despair, anger, and embarrassment. What if you relived your life through the eyes of God and realized that he was there to see everything, including the moments that you hoped nobody would see or prayed that somebody would? And what if you knew, that even if nobody else could ever understand what you’ve seen and how you’ve felt, God does, because he had been walking beside you from the beginning?

I can see myself that night, standing under a light drizzle, gazing across the deserted field in front of Doe Memorial library, and felt sadness. I can see myself, braving the wintry streets of Cambridge, gingerly picking my way over the icy brick sidewalks, and felt loneliness. I can see myself, standing behind the bedroom door, listening to the uneasy stillness of the household, and felt helplessness. I can see myself, huddled up in my chair in the solitude of my room, and felt despair.

These are my fig trees.

Tiramisu Cheesecake

Lady Fingers from The Cilantropist and Tiramisu No-Bake Cheesecake from Guilty Kitchen

I baked this cake because I finally passed my qualifying exam. Now that I’m officially a candidate for the PhD (my mom was surprised to find out that I wasn’t a “real” graduate student before the test), I can finally do things for fun again. This called for something really indulgent, like a cheesecake or tiramisu.

Instead of the cookie crust in the cheesecake recipe, I made a lady finger base from The Cilantropist. I also halved the recipe to fit my six inch pan (mostly because I forgot to buy enough mascarpone for a full sized cake). I also used Philz Coffee instead of espresso, since it was pouring rain outside and didn’t feel like leaving the house to get espresso. I’d get the espresso if I wanted a stronger kick.

My friend invited Juan and I to go rock climbing at Planet Granite in July. I agreed, reluctantly, buoyed more by Juan’s enthusiasm than my own affinity for thrill-seeking, physically exerting activities. As I strapped myself into the harness and surveyed the beginner’s wall, I told myself that it was okay if I don’t reach the top. Halfway would be respectable. Except that I’ve seen six year olds dauntlessly and effortlessly scale these routes.

Juan belayed me as I hoisted myself up the wall. The first few feet were easy. The rocks were easy to grip, and there were plenty of them. But my nerves failed at the halfway mark. I peeked down, nauseated by the seemingly enormous distance between the ground and myself. I desperately clung to the rocks, elbows contracted as I fought to keep my body as close to the wall as possible. I was really glad that Juan and Vicky were out of earshot, because something like a whimpering whine escaped from my throat. They were chatting down there with each other, oblivious to my physical and mental anguish. I could give up. I could shout for them to lower me down. I could tell them that I’ve tried it, and it just wasn’t my thing. But I looked up at the endpoint, so tauntingly close, and I knew that I didn’t want to take the easy way out.

meyer lemon chiffon cake

It’s been four months and I’m still climbing. There’s so much I’ve learned. How I should hang from my arms, instead of bending my elbows. How to step up with my legs, instead of pulling up with my arms. How to balance with feet apart, instead of standing with feet together. I have come to love the smell of chalk on my hands. The way the rocks feel under my fingers. The scraped hands and bruised knees. I love the triumph that comes with every conquered ledge, the exhilaration with every successful climb. But more than anything, I love that when I’m up high, there is nothing left except for me and my fear.

meyer lemon chiffon cake

A few weeks ago, I found myself stuck in one spot on a particularly difficult climb. I needed to step right with my foot, so that I can grab the hand-hold that was out of my reach. I needed to trust that this rock would catch my weight as I made this lunge. I knew what I had to do, but I didn’t want to do it. Or rather, I didn’t think I could do it. So I clung tight to that spot for a good 20 minutes, straining to keep from slipping. I felt my grip loosen from the rock as it became slick with the sweat pouring from my palms. I called down three times for Vicky to let me down. But she wouldn’t let up. She told me, do it even if you fall. Try something even if you slip. Just don’t do nothing.

What if every instance we had accomplished something that surpassed our own expectations and self-estimation was not a fluke nor a stroke of luck. What if every time we break out of the box we put ourselves in, we were meant to see a much greater truth. What if those are the moments when God breaks down the deprecation and the doubt, so that our real selves can shine through. What if this is His way of showing us that there is a presence in our hearts that cannot be contained, deeper and more powerful than we can ever fathom. What if this presence is what determines how we fall on the precipice between victory and defeat.

meyer lemon chiffon cake

For the past month, I have struggled with writing my qualifying exam proposal. For a long time, I had no idea what I wanted to study for my thesis. Didn’t know if anything I did was going to amount to anything. Every day, I found new ways to tell myself that I didn’t belong. I wasn’t smart enough, or as thoughtful and driven as my classmates. I feared that somebody would see through my guise and discover my mediocrity. I spent countless hours re-reading the same phrases and sentences in my proposal. Second-guessing every point that I put down on paper. Suspended and frozen in my fear of failure.

Rock climbing wall

Sometimes the hardest part about climbing is trusting that the harness will catch you when you fall. I know that the rope will hold. I know that my knots are good. Yet I can still imagine myself plummeting to my death. I am terrified that if I don’t fight with every muscle to keep from letting go, then there would be nothing there to hold me up. So I waste so much energy, put myself through so much pain, until I realize that the easiest way to move forward is to let go. And every time I do, every time I get back up on that wall, I believe a little more. I don’t want to be afraid to try, I don’t want to be afraid to fall. I know, and I believe, You will catch me.

Triple Lemon Chiffon Cake with Meyer Lemon Curd from Notes from my Food Diary

Juan came to spend Christmas with me and brought along a nasty cold from Boston. With my powers of gentleness and patience, I nursed him back to health. But, of course, he had to give it to me too, because that’s just what boyfriends do. So while he started to recover, I found myself incapacitated by a drippy nose and muted taste buds. We spent most of our holiday curled up in my living room couch under a comforter with a box of tissues and a bottle of Robitussin to share between the two of us. But even in our misery, our appetites for good home-cooking were not thwarted. With my new Smitten Kitchen cookbook, we made gnocchi in tomato broth, leek fritters, and roasted tomatoes and onions over garlic toast. Easy recipes that make great food without too many fancy ingredients and too much prep work!

The rest of the time, we spent marathoning Alien movies. Alien. Aliens. Predators. Aliens vs Predators. Prometheus. Nothing brings out the holiday cheer like creepy chest-bursting humanoid bugs. I like cheering for tough monster-kicking heroines while jerky male characters get eviscerated. One note on Prometheus, if you haven’t seen it, you might not want to bother. It has all of the action but lacks the good plot lines that made Alien and Aliens so good. It touts itself as a prequel to Aliens but answers almost none of the questions about how Aliens came about, leaving you with just plain confusion at the end. The only thing that made this movie worse was the terrible acting. The main female lead was especially annoying and pales far in comparison to Ellen Ripley. Also, what’s up with Charlize Theron here? She’s awful! Spitting out cheesy lines for a role that I’m still not sure was even necessary for this stupid film. They could write her out and use the 10 minutes it would’ve saved to answer HOW ALIENS CAME ABOUT.

Finally, this holiday, Juan got me hooked onto the animated series, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I can’t believe I was such a snob about cartoons and comics before, because this show is awesome! It’s so much better than the 2012 Avengers movie, which I thought was way too cheesy and predictable. But that’s because cheesy hero lines aren’t cheesy when they’re coming from animated characters! The writing is also pretty impressive. In the span of two short seasons, they’ve managed to introduce, interlink, AND finish several story arcs. All my questions were answered by the time I breezed to the end of the series. My only disappointment is that they’ve canceled this show only after two seasons. Nay, say it ain’t so! What can I do, except to now turn to The Ultimate Spider-Man series, which is also proving to be quite good.

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Crepe Cake from The Primlani Kitchen

By the time Juan and I finished with this recipe, we have become experts on crepe making. Our first couple of ones were soggy, broken messes until we realized that the reason we couldn’t flip them over was because we were undercooking! It was smooth sailing from there on. I kind of wish that I had used the crepe cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen’s cookbook instead of this one. This was kind of plain even when I substituted the milk with Trader Joe’s vanilla flavored coconut milk (which turned out great if you just dial the sugar and vanilla down when making the pastry cream). This cake could’ve shined more if I had used some fruit. Next time, I may use berries or banana slices to decorate the top. Or even mash up the berries into the pastry cream to spread between the layers.

Last month, Juan and I discovered that Boggle on Xbox is extremely addicting. We also discovered that I am a huge sore loser. Normally, I don’t have such a competitive streak and I know how to lose gracefully for most things. I’m sure most people are the same way until they find that one sensitive spot. Well, Boggle seems to be mine.

If you play Xbox Boggle, the best–and potentially most dangerous–option is the one where the combination of tiles can rearrange when you’ve found a word. This is great because you’ll always have novel combinations to work with when both players are stuck. But it also means that you have to race against your opponent if you’re trying to grab overlapping tiles; otherwise the letters will get scrambled and the wonderful, beautiful, perfectly arranged word that you were just about to enter would disappear right before your eyes, leaving you with the cold fury and bitter irritation of one who just had a golden opportunity stolen from them.

Unfortunately, when it comes to handling game controllers, Juan has the advantage of adept fingers with hours of practice playing RPGs. I, on the other hand, touch a controller maybe three times in a year, maybe. In fact, I’m the person who runs into the banana peel in Mario Kart even though there’s only one peel in the middle of the freakin’ wide road. That’s how adept my fingers are.

So after losing my tenth game in a row, I couldn’t help but throw my controller aside in a fit of hurt pride.

“Why do you keep taking words from my area?!” I yelled. And I’m searching for a good insult. Something that will really hurt.

“Space hogger!” said I, the best name-caller in the world.

“But baby, at least you won the first game.”

I rolled into a ball in the corner of the bed. From my sulking position, I look over with tears in my eyes, “Yea, but I like to win in the beginning and the end.”

And Juan just laughs.

These days, I’ve discovered Scramble with Friends on my iPhone. Not only does it take the problem with controllers out of the equation, but I’m also kicking Juan’s ass. So for now, I’m quite content. I’ll even be okay if I lose a game or two.

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Double Chocolate Sour Cream Cake from theKitchn

I made this cake a few weeks ago for somebody in my lab who was leaving. This probably would be my favorite go-to recipe for simple, moist chocolate cake that’s easy to impress with the right frosting and decoration. Personally, I adore mini-cakes, so I used half of the batter to fill two ~4 inch cake pans to make a mini double layered cake. And the rest I just threw into a regular 9 inch pan and gave away to my friends. Not only are mini-cakes easier to transport, they make you feel like you’re not indulging too much when you eat it. I don’t know if I especially like the pistachios with chocolate. Maybe almonds or walnuts, but I do love the green and brown colors.

I used to be embarrassed if I cried during church.  Actually, I still am.  I hate the sting of tears welling inside my eyes, the way my gut clenches and my jaw tightens.  I hate the telltale sniffle and the way I bring my hand up to brush away that stray tear.  I tell myself no, because I don’t have any tissues.  Because I don’t want to be a slobbering mess.  But mostly because I don’t want anybody to see.  I don’t even like to let my parents see me cry, let alone the stranger standing next to me.  But what is it about these tears that I fear so much?  Is it so terrible to let slip that your’e human, or is it the work of God in me that I want to hide?

It’s so easy to think that you can keep God behind the four walls of your bedroom.  Because that’s where you should shed those tears, right?  That’s where you can speak to God, clean and quick.  And yes, I do this all the time.  Because when I go out, whether it’s at work, in a restaurant, or in a conversation that veered too closely to religion, I find myself downplaying my faith.  I make excuses, smile apologetically, deflect probing questions.  I care more about earning my peers’ acceptance than receiving the acceptance that God already gives me.  And no matter how subtle you may be, no matter how innocuous those acts may seem, is it so very different from Peter’s denial?

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I have not seen God for a long time.  I spent awhile asking others if they hear God’s voice.  What does he say and what does he sound like?  And yea, it sounds crazy, but I wanted so much to hear Him speak.  Because I thought, if I can just hear Him say one word–please, just one word–I would never have to struggle with my faith again.  I wanted my encounter with God so that I can believe in Him, wholly.  But maybe it doesn’t work like that.  Maybe you have to believe in Him, wholly, before you find Him.

A rich man died and begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family.  Abraham replied, “They have Moses and Prophets; let them listen to them.”
“No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16

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I tell you, when you shut God behind the walls of your room, you will find less of him.  And less of anything to pray about.  Your requests and wishes will be about you and you alone.  What is there for Him to say even if He were to speak to you?

I’ve spent almost a year trying to find the right church.  And even though I’ve stayed at my current one for half a year now, I still feel incredibly disconnected.  I tell myself, the church is too big, I hate socializing, there’s no point in making an effort if I choose another church later.  I realized that it was never about choosing a church that serves me; but it’s all about choosing a church that I can serve.

I’ve put myself in a place where the only way I can see God is in the tiny confines of my room.  And I suspect, the way out of this bubble isn’t more quiet time or more prayer.  It means more risks and putting myself in situations that challenge me–financially, socially, and spiritually.  Because I think, the more I need to trust Him, the more I allow Him to work in my life, the more I will see and hear Him.  it’s not quite what I meant when I asked to hear God.  But maybe that’s how He speaks–in the ways that we choose to share our lives with one another.

When I cry, it’s because I am floored by God’s grace.  Not just by His sacrifice on the cross, because as amazing as that story is, let’s admit that sometimes Jesus’ death seems like an abstract idea.  It’s hard to remember that God’s work doesn’t just end at the cross.  He’s been walking with you your whole life.  So when I look at where I am and where I’ve come from, the prayers I’ve prayed and the blessings I’ve received, when I think about times I’ve been lost and the times I’ve been found, and all the ways that He’s pursued me, I cry.

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Hot Milk Cake from Kirbie’s Cravings.  Possibly the best chiffon/pound cake that I’ve ever made.  I would use this to make the bases for a double or triple layered cake.

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Lately, I’ve been doubting my faith.  It’s always troubled me that, if asked point blank to defend my faith, I wouldn’t know how to.  Yea, I could say stuff about how God changed my life, lifted me from darkness, endowed me with a spirit of rebirth, etc etc.  And I bet you that 90% of the Christians you ask out there will give you some variation of this.  It would sound like snippets of Christian song lyrics that make you seem enamored with God without really justifying anything.  But it seems silly to reduce God to a feeling, doesn’t it?

When I hear words like that from my mouth, I question myself if I really “feel” God is there.  I’m not saying that these feelings can be false or that they can’t be legitimate indicators of your experience with God.  But how can you base the beliefs, which fundamentally define who you are, solely on emotions?  Because if you do, then faith is a temperamental thing; inconsistent and unreliable.  And I realize, more and more, that I need to be able to say something more concrete, something close to rational.  I need that reason to cling onto when the feelings pass away.  Otherwise, I would live my life always hiding a fear that my faith can be shattered by the next mood swing.  And the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I’ve convinced myself to love a God just like how I can convince myself to love Football if I really wanted to…by thinking about it real hard or surrounding myself with football fans or forcing myself to watch a hundred games, whatever.

The main thing is, I need something more to support my faith.  Because where I am right now is not enough.  I can do my morning and night prayers, praise God for his blessings or cry out for his grace in my affliction, and still wonder in the times between despair and joy whether there is a God who hears.  Whether the things that I claim to see him do in my life are actually his works or just the desires of a mind too afraid to admit the alternative.

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I am not denying God.  I don’t believe in him any less; if anything, these doubts mean I care about my faith so much that I will fight for it.  And because I am responsible for my faith, I cannot ignore these doubts and just hope I’ll be in a better mood tomorrow.  This is the season where I question my faith, question God so that I can understand why I believe in him.  But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am scared of what I will find, or not find.  That is another fear, the thought that I could seek and lose heart; or seek and find myself right where I started.  And there is nothing I can do about that except to trust that God would bring me back.  He will pursue my heart even when I am too tired to pursue his.

This past Sunday, I spoke with a 70-something-year old retired youth pastor.  It was refreshing to speak with someone who was so seasoned in his faith.  In our conversation, he told me a story about his spiritual encounter with God.

I smiled and said, “A burning bush kind of encounter?”
He said yes.  And it was a story that I didn’t know whether to believe or dismiss.  But the point isn’t whether I did or did not want to believe; the question is whether I wanted it for myself.
So when he finished, I said, ruefully, “I wish I could have that too.”
“Ask him for it.”
“What if he doesn’t answer?”
“Keep asking him.  Don’t give up.”
He looked at me and I wondered if he knew that I was close to tears.

People always talk about having a relationship with God; but what does that mean, what does it look like?  What is that intimacy they talk about?  If I could have anything, it would be to know God.  I’m not talking about being able to recite all the verses in the bible.  But to know him, personally.

To know that my prayers are not one-way conversations.  To know the ways in which he speaks with me.  To know the ways in which he is undeniably, incontrovertibly true.  So that when I speak to him and when I speak of him, my words will carry the force of my conviction.  I don’t know how or when I will find that encounter, but I suspect it would start when I begin to know him.

Conquer me, overwhelm me in mind and heart.

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Sara Lee Pound Cake

I usually don’t like to eat pound cakes.  But I do, however, love the Sara Lee ones.  My brother and I used to devour those dense little cakes, fighting over who gets to scrap the remaining soft brown crust from the aluminum tin.  I tried to find a recipe that would re-create this and ended up with this one.  It’s not quite exactly a Sara Lee cake, but it’s delicious (actually, it’s quite unlike the store bought brand).  It’s the lightest, fluffiest, softest pound cake I ever made.

This week was the start of my rotation.  So far, I’ve been playing around with vials of fruit flies that are usually kept just beside the work desk.  Occasionally, lone flies that have escaped land on my laptop while I’m reading.  Funny to think how fruit flies are the kitchen scourge of the summer months, and here I am with my precious bottle trying to grow myself a colony.

Under the microscope, these critters are actually quite cute.  To discriminate between flies that we’ve genetically tweaked and those that are normal, we look at several physical markers.  Some will have red eyes, others white.  Curly wings or straight wings.  Long bodies or tubby bodies.  And even count the difference in the number of bristles next to the eye!  For my project, all the ones with red eyes and curly wings are expressing transgenes, or the genes that we have engineered .

To make specific mating crosses, I’ve learned how to sort out the virgin females.  We need to use virgins because the females that have already mated can store sperm inside their bodies to use overtime.  So to be sure that all the offspring are from a specific male, we separate out the virgins, which are fatter, whiter, and “shinier.”  I place these in vials with males from another strain, and after a day or two, I can see several eggs that have been deposited on the bottom.  And if I look again the next day, the whole culture is crawling with tiny little maggots that make my skin itch just by looking at them.  It’s pretty marvelous.

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Drosophila have a rich background in science.  They were first used by Seymour Benzer to study whether genes can influence behavior, a revolutionary idea at the time when most people thought that behavior was solely a product of our environment.  Using some elegantly designed tests, Benzer demonstrated that fruit flies exhibit simple and reproducible behaviors.  Phototaxis, for example, where flies are attracted to the brighter side of the test tube.  Time-keeping, or circadian rhythm, where flies emerge from their pupal cases (after metamorphosis) always at a particular time of the day.  And memory–flies can recognize an odor that had been paired with an electric shock.

For such a small critter, flies have an amazing repertoire of actions and responses to visual, gustatory, and olfactory stimuli (to say the very least).  But more importantly, Benzer demonstrated that mutants for these behaviors can be isolated and used to pinpoint specific genes that regulate these functions; thus, opening the field for the genetic dissection of behavior.

Another great advantage of the fly system is that the development of the neural system is stereotyped and uniform for every fly.  For example, in the larvae, there are four classes of sensory neurons that innervate the entire body wall.  Each class is characterized by the morphology (or appearance and shape) of the cell.  You can locate the same class of neurons in the same exact location in every single fly.  This makes it very easy to study what genes determine the development of these neurons.  For my rotation project, I will be looking at the interaction of these neurons and the surrounding glia (accessory cells that facilitate the development and function of the nervous system).

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And finally, just to geek out a little, the professor who runs my lab had actually came from the lab of Seymour Benzer during his postdoctoral training.  Which means (if I decide to stick with this fly lab) that I could be a “descendant” of Benzer!  I am a link in scientific history!

Apple and Lemon Cakes from Technicolor Kitchen