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My dad and I, we have never been close. We moved to California when I was four, but he chose to stay in Hong Kong for work. I say “chose,” because despite what he may say about the lack of job opportunities here, he made a choice to live away from us so that he could pursue a career that never went anywhere. I never knew if he intended for this arrangement to be permanent. But for as long as I can remember, we have always been a family of four minus one.

I used to picture my dad, selflessly driven to support his family financially while sacrificing the comforts of home. But I’ve seen the look of relief on his face as he leaves for Hong Kong after each short visit. I’ve seen it enough times to know that, maybe, he actually prefers living without us.

I remember the few weeks that my dad had spent here once. It was possibly his longest stay yet, I don’t know. I was in middle school. He had just lost his business. With creditors breathing down his neck in Hong Kong, he had flown here to ride out his bankruptcy woes. My mom didn’t take it very well, of course. And between the fights and screaming matches, I’d sit with him at the table offering my quiet comfort. I helped him scour the newspaper for jobs, secretly glad that his unemployment meant the possibility of him finding work here permanently. During a particular somber moment, he turned to me and asked, in a way that I knew he really needed to hear what I’d say, “Am I good father?”

I looked him right in the eyes, and I said yes. Because who’s going to kick a man when he’s down? But even as I assured him, I knew that I would look back years later and wish I could have said something different.

A few weeks later, he left for his new job in Hong Kong.

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I remember the day when I found my mom in bed, crying. I climbed into the covers with her, and listened to her cry. For the years lost. For the years spent alone. For the trust that my father had broken. And in that moment, I had no more excuses I could make for him, no more words I could use to defend him. That was the day I lost my faith in my dad.

I write this post not because I want sympathy. This isn’t intended to be some self-pitying sob story of my “daddy issues.” But I share this because I believe that, at some level, my relationship with my dad affects how I relate to God. I used to think that sounds like bullshit. I’d tell myself that it may be true for some people, but it certainly wasn’t true for me. Because I turned out just fine without him. Because I don’t need a relationship with my dad to be who I am. Because his absence doesn’t matter anymore and hasn’t mattered for a long time.

But when you walk with God, He reveals all the things in your heart. Even the ones that you thought you had laid to rest.

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Recently, I shared a phone conversation with my dad. One of the few ones that we make when we remember to call each other. I asked him, after all these years, if he still thinks he could achieve his dream of being CEO of his own company. After the countless attempts and failures, if he had learned anything about his purpose in life.

He told me that there was no doubt in his mind that he can and will be CEO. That despite everything, he still firmly believes that he is meant to to be rich and successful. But I know, even though he wouldn’t say so himself, that he’s not pursuing fame and fortune for his family. It was never about making the money to take care of us. But it was all about making something of himself to prove to the world that he can.

I hung up because I didn’t want him to hear me cry. Because, despite how much I say that it doesn’t matter, I still wanted to hear him say he’s sorry. I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and scream, Don’t you feel regret? Don’t you feel bad? Look at what you’ve done. Look at where it’s got you. Say you’re sorry. Say you want to make amends. Say that our relationships matter more than your dead-end career. Say you wish you had the courage to share the daily struggles of being part of a family instead of cowering behind the 6,910 miles between here and Hong Kong. Say anything but this load of crap.

And even though I sat there, intensely hoping that he would never fulfill his stupid dream, a tiny part of me still cares that he would lose himself if he didn’t. And that tiny part of me sincerely hopes that when he loses himself, he would find his way again with God.

I will not deny that loving and forgiving my father is probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and is still trying to do. There are times that I don’t think I can, nor want to, embrace the person who fell so disappointingly short of my hopes. But the only way that I have found to do so is through my faith.

God is not a distant father. He will never be so blinded by his own pride that he cannot see me. He will never be so deafened by his own voice that he cannot hear me. He does not fall short. He does not break promises.
And he will not leave me.

We have received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘”Abba, Father.”

Red Wine Chocolate Cake from Smitten Kitchen

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.

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

I have one more graduate school interview.  So far this month, I’ve visited three schools and heard back from none.  I know this process takes awhile, but the waiting is killing me.  As I type this, scenes of my past interviews are running through my head and I can’t seem to decide whether I want to jump out of my seat and walk around impatiently or sit here in quiet anguish as I accept the fact that there is nothing else I can do to enhance my eligibility.  I started this month with too much confidence only to progressively lose my cool as I confront the very real possibility that I may not be accepted anywhere.  Maybe I should’ve applied to more schools.

Maybe I’m not good enough to do science.

The thought that I might have to stay at my lab for another year as I reapply for the next cycle mortifies me.  More so because of wounded pride.  I cannot imagine how I would write to my professors again to request another set of recommendation letters.  I cannot even bear to imagine that I would be the only one of my friends still trying to get into graduate school while everyone else is on their way to a medical degree.  What bothers me most is the fact that all the reasons I just listed are so superficial.  Who cares about what other people think when this is MY career? This is when I know I have lost sight of what matters most.

It’s funny how some people say that I’m overly modest, because pride is something that I struggle with a lot, especially when it comes to science.  I think that’s probably true for a lot of people who have ever poured heart and soul into something they really love.  You become so attached to that one thing that it’s hard to face people and circumstances who challenge your sense of entitlement.  As much as it pains me, I’m grateful that God continuously breaks me down in this area so that I can clearly see what has been His all along.

It’s not that I don’t think I’ve worked hard for the things I’ve achieved; but I just don’t think I would’ve gotten this far without His grace.  I think I’m qualified for the work that I do because He has equipped me with the necessary skills and opened the doors to opportunities that led me here.  Even though a lot of other lab techs could probably replace me, I am at a place that best fits my skills and where I have the most to gain from.  As uncertain as the future can be, I think right now I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  Exactly where He wants me to be.

Why I want to do science shouldn’t be about prestige or the pursuit of validation.  And maybe it’s not even because science leads to innovations in medicine and health.  But above everything else, Science—either as a way to marvel the natural world or as a humbling career that demands perseverance—points me to the grace that is in Christ, my Savior.

“Now the poor, stand and confess that my portion is Him, and I’m more than blessed.”