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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

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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.

Two weekends ago, I went to the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon to gorge myself on chocolate samples.  If you’re interested in reading about it, I wrote an article for my school newspaper.  Chocolate

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chocolate display

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There was a booth that was selling special infused olive oil.  I fell in love with the basil and sun-dried tomato.  But I also didn’t want to spend $30/bottle.  Maybe I will try to make my own!

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Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands.  And then eat just one of the pieces.
— Judith Viorst

A long time ago, I told someone that I wished I could believe.  I wanted to, I really did, but I didn’t think I could.  That’s a weird thing to say when you’re not Christian.  Why would any rational and sensible person want to believe that some guy, claiming to be the son of God, died and rose again for us so that we can be saved from our sins?  You may say, It’s a nice story.  But it’s not, it’s not nice at all.  There’s nothing nice about death, betrayal, and injustice.  And redemption and grace is only “nice” if you only believe that humanity needs saving.  Otherwise, the gospel is just some cooked up story that’s implausible.  Fanciful.  Ludicrous, even.

When I said I wanted to believe, I asked for a lot more than I had realized.  It’s not just about accepting what Jesus did on the cross, but it’s acknowledging that something is broken.  And that brokenness isn’t from all the mess ups in my life; bad decisions, regrets, mistakes and whatnot.  It’s not about how I’ve wronged others or how I’ve been wronged.  Nor is it about weakness, pride, and insecurities.  Yea, all those things point you to the brokenness in yourself and in others.  But I believe that brokenness is when I lose sight of my purpose.  Brokenness is when I reject who I was made to be with.  Brokenness is when things are not the way they are supposed to be, because I, or we, chose to have it another way.  So when I say I want to believe, what I’m doing is bringing to Him all that I have twisted, forced, and distorted, and asking for Him to make it right again.

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I still ask to believe.  Because, damnit, believing is hard.  There are days where all I can see is ugliness and nights where I entertain thoughts of “freedom.”  I imagine how much easier and lighter it would be if I didn’t have to believe.  But I don’t have to; I can turn around and walk away.  I am not held against my will or intimidated into submission.  The ease with which I can deny my faith is frightening.  But I choose this, because even when I don’t feel like praying, even when I don’t want to seek Him, even when I am tired of believing what I cannot see or touch, I still want to believe.

That desire, it comes out when I sing in worship.  Maybe it has to do with the music, but when I let my body sway to the rhythm and I hear myself sing these words, I am convicted once again by my own desire to believe.  The desire, it feels like breath caught in my chest, as if a weight is gripping me from within and stretching out to meet God.  My eyes moisten and my heart bursts with emotion, and it reminds me that I can still feel on the days that I feel numb.  It reminds me that He can still penetrate my heart on the days I that I feel impenetrable.  It reminds me that, little by little, He is re-claiming my heart.

Some people think that when you convert to Christianity, you become “different.”  Maybe they assume you are more fake–disingenuous in your compassion, weirdly emotional, brainwashed or something like that.  But I think when we accept Christ, we are just becoming who we were always meant to be.

Shout it
go on and scream it from the mountains
go on and tell it to the masses
that he is God

Pumpkin Chocolate Truffles from Blunder Construction

Last week was Juan’s birthday!  Even though I couldn’t celebrate with him, I figured I could still bake him a tart and eat it for him.  Since both of us love chocolate, this double chocolate tart was perfect for the occasion.  And to show my appreciation, I thought I’d write about a moment in our conversations that really inspired me.

This is a post about my weakness.  About a moment that I am not proud of, but I will write it here so that I do not forget.

You’ve always said that you see so much good in me.  The truth is that it’s so easy to put up a kind face and speak kind words and do kind acts.  Sure, some of that may genuinely come from the heart, but more often than I care to admit to, I do it because I know it’s the right thing to do.  But just when I want to pat myself on the back for being so righteous, I see that I’ve never been Good at all.

Juan, I confess that I am fickle.  In love and in life.  I find it easy to be discontent because my heart always wanders to the things that I don’t have.  My eyes see all your deficits but are blind to my own.  And I love with a selfish affection–only when I feel like it and hardly when it’s inconvenient.

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It was a snide comment.  I can blame it on stress or fatigue, but neither can really justify my words because they were said with the intent to wound.  I knew they would, so I said it: “You’re not so bright, are you?”

Yea, I knew it was wrong, but at the same time, I took in smug satisfaction knowing that I had said the thing that would cut you the most.  And the most horrible thing was that I wanted to say more; I trembled to see just how far I can push you.

I never thought that I would judge you for your educational level, socioeconomic background, professional accomplishments, financial success, or even physical appearance.  Not only because it is not fair–you were not privileged, you were not lucky, you were not raised in affluence, you were not me–but because none of these “markers of success” says anything about strength of character.  Yet, my cruel words showed that I judged you for everything that I didn’t want to.  There was something inside me that wanted to say that you were not good enough for me.

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I expected you to be angry, yell or shout, maybe even cry.  But what you said in response completely blew me away. Instead of telling me off, even though you had every right to, you told me about your moment of weakness:

There is guy in my class who obviously grew up in the ghetto.  I could tell because he walked and talked like a guy from the ghetto: uneducated and pretentious.  It made me mad to see him act like he was better than everyone else.  I thought, “I’ve done better than him even though I had grew up in the ghetto too.”  After class, I saw that he was walking and trying to impress a girl; so I got into my car and drove past him, thinking that I can use my car to show off and make him look like he was less than me.  “He has to walk home, but I don’t.”  And it suddenly struck me that I was judging him for things that he probably couldn’t control.  But even worse was that I thought I was better than him.  This is not why I was blessed with this car.  So I stopped and asked God to forgive me.

And then you said:

I want to see our relationship like I see mine with Christ.  I may not always see Him all the time, but I know there is nothing else out there that can compare to Him.

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Juan, thank you for your story.  I can’t quite articulate why it “spoke to me.”  I just know that I was struck in that moment by your gentleness, steadfastness, and grace.  I knew that what I needed in a guy wasn’t riches or prestige, but someone who walks with God.

Thank you, for grounding me in the things that matter the most.  I may have been blessed with education and opportunities, but you…you were blessed with faith.

Feliz Cumpleanos!  Treinta y dos!

Chocolate Tart from Dulce Delight (I used almonds instead of hazelnuts)

I’m in my second week of graduate school, but it feels like I’ve been here longer.  In the past two weeks, I’ve tried to cram a lot of material on Statistics, Matlab, and Action Potentials into my head.  Unfortunately, I must be doing a shoddy job because I can barely keep up with lectures.  It also doesn’t help that I feel like I’m the dumbest person in class most of the time.  Sometimes, I really just want to run and keep running and not think about anything.  Hence, I’ve been going to the gym a lot.  But as stressed as I am about understanding all these new material, it’s also pretty exciting just to be here and learn all this stuff.

A few weeks ago, I received a text message from my mentor and friend from Boston:

“I really miss your energy in the lab, no one walks past my bay with such great attitude as you! You are brilliant and beautiful, so don’t let anyone get you down!

I am sure I haven’t even touched the hardest part of graduate school yet.  And I am sure I’m going to go through a lot more moments of doubt and frustration.  But I hope I can remember this message and know that somebody else believes in me.  It means a lot.  Thanks D-!

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Two weeks ago, I bought some delicious almond butter from the farmer’s market.  I finished that jar in five days because it was just that good.  But I figured I could make my own!  It turns out that it’s incredibly easy to do, especially if you have a very efficient food processor.  Just throw two cups of almonds into the machine and let it go for about 15 minutes.  The oil from the nuts themselves will slowly turn the mixture into creamy “butter.”  It absolutely does not require additional oil.  I mixed in a few tablespoons of the lavendar honey, which I also purchased from the farmer’s market.  The result is a jar of heavenly goodness that is going to be a breakfast staple from now on.  I love eating almond butter toast in the mornings.  Who needs to buy almond butter when you can make my own?

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Sometimes, I literally just eat the butter by itself.  Spoon by spoon.

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Last weekend was hectic, but I managed to squeeze in some time to make Brigadeiros.  Or chocolate truffles.  They are probably the best and most successful thing I’ve done in the past two weeks.  I feel like I should’ve made them for a special occasion, but really, I just wanted to make SOMETHING and feel good that I’ve accomplished it.  They’re the perfect sweet snacks.  Bite-sized, chewy, and keeps well even if you let them sit on your counter top for a few days.   Since I still have another can of condensed milk left, I might use it to make another two dozen for my classmates/neighbors/whoever wants to help eat candy.

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Brigadeiros from 17 and Baking

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.”

It’s been a woeful week of working blues.  And I don’t think it’s just me.  Almost everyone I talked to seems to be tired or restless.  Lunch breaks are turning into hour and half affairs with all of us laying listlessly around the table long after we’ve finished eating.  Sighs and complaints are common, and the phrase “I can’t wait until the weekend” heard more than once.  A friend recently told me she found herself absentmindedly listening to the same voice mail on her phone over and over again before realizing she was hitting the repeat button.  Another stressed coworker is already planning to stay in lab again this weekend (the same one who, for awhile, vowed not to shave his facial hair until his project was finished—but eventually gave in out of disgust, thank god). 

                           

Two weeks ago, I was on fire—figuratively.  Everyday I arrived to work, eager to tackle the next experiment on my list.  Would I say I had passion in my heart?  Yes.  Did I have a strong sense of purpose?  You betcha.  I walked from bench to fridge to centrifuge to incubator, snapping tubes and pipetting liquids with fluid and effortless motion.  I was doing science like nobody’s business.  In other words, I own this shit.

                            

Not this week.  On Tuesday, I crashed onto the couch in the common room.  Usually I feel too guilty to sleep at work, but the late afternoon, post-lunch languor overwhelmed my sense of discipline.  And since we’ve installed a new coffee machine the in the lounge, I was able to snooze in a nice, cozy aroma of “Costa Rican Roast.”  Thankfully, I didn’t drool like I sometimes do when I accidentally push my mouth open—another reason why I try to avoid public napping.  I would never live it down if my coworkers caught me in a puddle of my own drool.  It’s just not ladylike.

I promised myself no more napping for the rest of the week, but Wednesday morning found me sleeping on my desk until I lost feeling in my arms.  Maybe it had to do with the crummy weather, or maybe it’s that time of month (if you know what I mean), but work has been unbearably joyless.  

                            

And you know what really does not help with bottled up frustration?  Whiny kids.  Rainy day, packed shuttle.  A father and his four year old sat down next to me at the back of the bus.  The kid is throwing a tantrum because he wants to sit closer to the front—for what reason, I have no idea.  One of the passengers chuckles.  But 10 minutes later, he ain’t chucklin’ no more.  “Cute kid” has reached obnoxious decibels with his crying.  Pouting and scrunching his face as if he were in agony, he whines, “I don’t want to sit at the back.”  Then he dissolves into tears.  Unbelievable.  Sir, kindly allow me to smack your kid if you won’t. 

Twenty years later, that kid is going to have major issues.  I imagined him getting rejected by a girl—“B-b-but I want to go out with you!”  He’s going to be one of those guys who can’t admit he’s an ass.  Lose his job?  Probably mumble something about his boss being a prick and how he didn’t like his job anyway.  I am sure of this. 

I digress, but I talk about this because these are the kind of thoughts I have when I’m in a sour mood. 

                            

Thursday evening, as I’m riding home on the train, I decided that what I needed—and what my coworkers needed—is a morale booster.  I bought a bar of milk chocolate, cream cheese, and milk and hit the kitchen.  For three hours, I forgot about the papers that I have yet to read and just focused on mixing, beating, and stirring.  I always did enjoy the process of baking than the end product itself.  It’s warming to the heart to see the batter come together or to pull out a fresh, fragrant cake with a perfectly golden top.  After a week of fruitless labor, I think I really needed this cake. 

And judging by my coworker’s reactions, I think they needed this cake too. 

                  

                            

                            

This is the first cake I’ve made from scratch and it turned out better than I expected.  Usually, I try not to use recipes that calls for more than a 1/2 cup of butter, but I made an exception here.  By far, this is the most indulgent thing I’ve made.  But oh so delicious.  The cake was dense and flavorful, but the frosting itself was even better.  I’m so glad that it survived the commute to work, even though I couldn’t find anything big enough to hold the cake.  I resorted to carrying it in a bowl with saran wrap sealing the top. 

On Friday, after cake time, I was finishing the last bit of my experiment.  For a moment I sat there with the salty smell of broth (for brewing bacteria) and the whirring of centrifuges in the background, and felt proud to be there.  Wouldn’t trade it for anything else. 

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Shavings from Tell Love & Chocolate