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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

I love testimonies. I loved them before I was even a believer. I love the ones that talk about some dark, desperate moment in the speaker’s life that led to the discovery of God, self-transformation, and a happy ending. Most skeptics, I think, would agree that there is beauty to these stories, even if they don’t believe in the existence of God. I know, because I was a skeptic who found the stories of vulnerability and hope deeply moving.

But these testimonies, as raw and emotional as they can be, always made me wonder whether those life-changing events were really acts of God or just a turn of fate. Whether your recovery from addiction/self-destructive behavior was motivated from above or brought about by self-determination. Whether God was really there in your time of need or just an imaginary presence fabricated out of a profound desire for hope. I don’t think there is an answer to that if you are outside of the faith.

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But maybe the question we should all be asking is, “If there were no happy ending to your story, if there were no redemption, if things hadn’t turned out, would you still believe in God? Is your story still a testimony of the glory of God?”

Our stories of overcoming hardships aren’t meant to be validation for God. We don’t celebrate God because he saved us from illness, unemployment, or broken relationships, even though these things are worth rejoicing over. Our stories exalt God not because they end with victory, but simply because they demonstrate the tenacity and strength of our faith despite our circumstances. That even when we are caught in the midst of pain and heartbreak, we will still acknowledge something higher than ourselves. We do this because our faith saves us from being consumed by our circumstances. We worship because we refuse to let ourselves be defined by what happens to us. We are more than what others label us, more than what we can make for ourselves. Our hope isn’t in a happy ending or earthly salvation, our hope is in the promise that we are meant to share in something much greater than anything we could imagine.

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This is one of my favorite stories in the bible:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon… Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

But three Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego, refused.

Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego…and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now…if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king,

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

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“But even if he does not.” Even if God does not come through. Even if He does not answer our cries. Even then, we will still believe. And God is still God, and nothing that He does or does not do will change that truth. We aren’t Christians because we want to be protected when the going gets tough. We are Christians because we believe, someday, when the old order of things has passed away, He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or pain; and we will be His people, and God will be our God.

Apple Cider Caramels from Smitten Kitchen

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.

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)

For the past three days, I was on a retreat with my graduate program in Asilomar.  The conference grounds is in Pacific Grove (next to Monterey), right near the dunes and only steps away from a beautiful sandy beach.  During the day, I milled around the rocks near the waterline, peeping into the shallow pools that gather in the crevices.  Green algae and anemone line the walls of these pools.  I loved squatting down and looking at the bony, crater-like barnacles and clusters of small, black mussels clinging near the bottoms of these rocks.  They are are submerged with each wave, reappearing as the water recedes.  Strewn across the sand are carcasses of kelp, their long, brown limbs tangled up with each other.  They smell of sea water and decay.

The sand next to the water is moist and firm.  It feels cool underneath my toes; occasionally I let the waves crash over my feet, rising towards my knees.  The water is ice cold and numbs my skin.  The sand around me moves with the force of the water, and for a moment, the ground becomes soft and loose, except for the small bit of sand underneath my feet, trapped by the weight of my body.

It’s not a quiet beach, but it’s not crowded either.  Mostly there are residents walking their dogs and mothers with their toddlers.  It’s a nice place to come to when you need to be reminded of life’s enormity.  When I look at the water, I imagine what it feels like to swim into everything and nothing.  I think about the complexity and fragility of habitats.  I think about the diversity and connectedness of life.  I think about all the things that happen with or without our knowing.

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Night is when the beach is most incredible.  There are no city lights to disturb the shine of the stars.  There are no bridges and cars to distract from the darkness.  There is only you, the crashing waves, and a glimpse of what lies beyond our world.  This is the place where you go to be humbled.

On our last night there, we crowded around a small fire on the beach.  The sparks and embers fly away on the wind, and the smell of burning wood clings onto our clothes.  I imagine what we look like from far away, a speck of red-orange light glittering in the dark.

Because we are students, we talk about school, labs, and professors.  The conversation is light, so I am surprised when I hear an older student speak candidly about her struggles with graduate school.  About depression, confusion, and dissatisfaction.  “It isn’t that I don’t know where I want to be and how I want to get there; I’m just tired of waiting for things to happen.”

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I do not know how to respond.  Briefly, I wonder if that is what I will be feeling in the next six years.  Suspended in time, trapped between stages, too far in to turn back–too far in to dare to turn back.  After fighting so hard to get here, was I supposed to be here at all?

“I believe happiness in this world is unattainable.”

Someone asks, “What is your definition of happiness?”

“The freedom to do what you want to do.”

I say nothing because I do not know what to say.  I wonder what it means to have that freedom.  If I would know what I wanted to do; if I would be satisfied with what I wanted to do; if there would always be something else that I’d what to do; if I am, then, responsible for everything that I want to do.  Will I find myself in all the things that I want to do?

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I catch the streak of a shooting star.  We are engulfed in mysteries, surrounded by emptiness with millions of unknown stars staring back at us.  Somewhere out there are processes that we do not understand–cannot even begin to imagine to understand–even as we stand here, trying to understand ourselves.  Yet, in this directionless and overwhelming expanse, I don’t feel lost.  I am awestruck.

I may not know much, but I know enough that the creator of everything in this world and beyond, from the microscopic plankton to the fiery masses in the celestial heavens, knows everything there is to know, including me.  “For now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

There was a time when, seeing a shooting star, I would’ve wished for health, success, or love.  Tonight, I wish that You will always be with me.

“I see your power in the moonlit night, where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright.  It’s all proclaiming who you are.  You’re beautiful.

Almond Biscotti from Edible Moments

In the past few weeks, I’ve caught up with a few college friends.  Always in our conversations, I am asked what I’ve learned in Boston during the past two years.  How has Boston changed me?  Professionally, it’s easy to say that if I hadn’t went to Boston, I would not be where I am right now.  Yes, my job had redefined my research interests and inspired me to pursue this career.  But that’s not what I think about when I wonder what Boston means to me.  No, what comes to mind is God.  I’ve realized, the most important thing I learned in Boston was how to want God more.  

When I think about how easy it has been to move to San Francisco, I cannot help but remember how horrible it was to move to Boston.  I think about the shock of seeing the filthy apartment I was supposed to live in for the first time (I didn’t have time to visit before signing the lease).  I think about walking into a different church every other week and feeling lost and disconnected.  I think about the frigid winter days spent inside my room, wishing that there was somebody I could talk to.  I think about the disappointment of how even though I had moved across the country, I was still the same person after all.

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I turned to the faith when I was in college.  I went to a wonderful church where a strong community of fellowship was always available to me.  On Sundays, the atmosphere in church is almost euphoric when everyone is jumping to Christian Rock during worship.  When you are surrounded by peers who are feverish for God, it becomes really easy to believe.  But faith should be more than following the crowd and awesome worship music.  Because if you only know God’s presence in that context, then it feels like you’re lost from God anywhere else.  

I have never wanted to see God more than when I was stripped of friends and community.  I tell people that I hated my first winter in Boston.  But it was more than just the endless snow and biting wind that made it winter; it was the absence of God.  Yet, those periods of spiritual dryness is where I learned to desire God the most.  I have never prayed so fervently, never scoured the Bible so earnestly, never sought the comfort of His presence so sincerely than in that winter of solitude.

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It would be a lie to say that it never crossed my mind to question whether my prayers were heard.  But I could not stop, because even if I lost all other reason to pray, I will pray for His sake.  I will not ask Him to save me from my problems; I will not ask him to make things work out in the end; all I will ask is for Him to walk with me, everyday, for all the days of my life.  And this is all it takes sometimes, to fight for your faith.

I see now the purpose of my time in Boston.  It has never been about boosting my career, but it was all about pursuing Christ in my life regardless of any circumstances.  Right now, I am incredibly blessed to have family and close friends living nearby.  But I don’t think I would have really appreciate what they mean to me if I had not lived in Boston.  As excited I am about starting my graduate school career, I am even  more excited about finding community here.  I don’t know whether I will find success as a scientist, but wherever life takes me, I know that all I really need, I already have.

“No place I rather be, than here in your love.”

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This past week, I visited the farmer’s market at UN plaza and indulged myself in some local products.  I sampled some homemade chocolate covered candied oranges, bought a jar of deliciously fragrant lavender honey, a jar of smooth almond butter, and finally, some caramel sauce that I intend to use over some poached pears.  I cannot wait to use these ingredients in my next baking projects.

Foodwise, I also tried the Arizmendi’s pizza, which tastes a lot like Cheeseboard, in my opinion, except Arizmendi has a better sourdough-y crust.  Finally, I also discovered the Banh Mi sandwiches from Wooly Pig cafe, which is just around the corner from my apartment.  The raw papaya and mint leaves really make the sandwich.  This will  probably be my favorite go-to lunch sandwich from now on.

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Matcha Cake Roll

I’ve been wanting to use Matcha powder in something for awhile now.  I finally found it while shopping at a Japanese supermarket.  And I was pleased to note that you can really taste the green tea flavor in this cake.  I see many more Matcha flavored baking goods in the future.

A friend recently asked me, “What would God say?”  I was prepared to listen to his troubles, ready to commiserate and sympathize, taking care to leave my faith out of the conversation out of respect for his beliefs.  Because I figured the last thing a dejected friend needs is someone to preach at him.  So I was taken aback to have this question thrown at me.  I’m definitely not the fastest thinker and neither can I articulate very well in awkward situations.  All I could muster up was: “He would say, trust me.”

After stewing over this for a good couple of days, there’s nothing I would change about my answer.  It’s generic and cliche, utterly dissatisfying, I know.  But truth is, if we were looking to God for an answer to right all the wrongs in our lives, then I think we would be sorely disappointed.  He would never tell you what you have to do to get ahead in your career.  Or how to repair your relationships with your family and friends.  Whether you should make that decision or turn another direction.  He would leave those choices up to you.  But he would ask you to find him first.

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Maybe “trust me” isn’t what you want to hear when you’re down in the dumps, but maybe it’s exactly what you need.  We all pray when we feel helpless in our circumstances.  If you listen to those prayers, they’re all about getting into that particular school, getting that girl, getting that promotion, getting the perfect house; because we think that if we get all these things, then we won’t have to ask for anything more.  But there’s always another thing after that hurdle.  When we do get into that school, get that girl, or get that promotion, we rejoice: “Hallelujah! Our prayers were answered!”

But what do we do when things don’t turn out the way we want them to?  Are we prepared to say, that even though we have no clue how things can be solved, and even if he does not answer our prayers the way we want him to, and despite our confusion and despair, we will still trust that what he does is exactly what we need.  So the only thing that we ask for, above everything else, is that he stand by us for whatever comes.

If I can say this prayer genuinely, then I think everything else won’t be so difficult.  Oh, it’ll still be hard.  But at least now, I have peace.

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So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:31-34

Maybe the best thing you can do for yourself, is to stop trying so hard to solve everything.

White Balsamic Custard Tart from Bon Appétit

It’s easy to reach out for God when I am lost.  Those are the times when a prayer is never far from my lips and thoughts of Him linger at the back of my mind at every second of every day.  In my uncertainty and fear, He is the only thing that matters; the only light that shines; the one person who grounds me; the refuge from my sorrows.  Every thought and action leads me back to him.

You may call that obsession.  Infatuation.  Self-delusion.  But sometimes, even I question whether I am holding onto empty promises.  Yet I cannot deny that my faith leads me through the most vulnerable seasons of life, not in resignation and defeat, but in the spirit of the greatest joy and peace.  Therefore, I am not afraid, even as my plans fall through.  Even if those closest to me, fail me.  Even as I stand at the edge of the precipice, because I know He will not waver.

It is difficult to see God when I am comfortable.  Those are the times when prayers are mumbled quickly, more out of routine than out of desire.  When obligations, chores and schedules occupy my mind at every second of every day, and leave no room for thoughts of Him.  In my complacency, I am fooled by the deceit of the world that everything else could matter more than Him.

I am thirsty and I do not even realize it.  I cannot seem to stop myself from spending empty hours checking Facebook, surfing youtube, reading blogs, scanning news headlines, chain-watching tv shows, all in an exhausting effort to preoccupy myself with every scrap of entertainment.  As if I am afraid to let my mind rest, that if I find myself sitting in silence, then I would have to confront Him.

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What I want is to run to Him again.  Not just when I feel like it, but because I need to.  Everyday.  To run until I feel that pain my chest and the fatigue in my muscles.  To push, claw, crawl, and fight my way through every obstacle that distracts from Him.  To burst in song, erupt in praises; to throw up my hands and proclaim His name in unabashed joy.  To seek Him with every fiber of my being, so that I cannot be satisfied with anything else but Him.  Even if I stumble, even as I gasp for air, do not let me stop.  Run with me, and I will follow you.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.

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The best thing about this recipe is that it doesn’t require kneading at all, which is a great because I don’t own a bread machine or a stand mixer—yet.  Still, I had enough trouble just spreading the dough out in a round enough circle so that each piece could be rolled up nicely.  But that’s just inexperience.  I liked these because they were fun to make and seemed like a new twist on the regular cinnamon roll.  However, they’re also less sweet and could use a bit more sugar, in my opinion.  Nevertheless, the butterhorns are great to eat while they’re still piping hot from the oven, and served with a glass of milk.

Cinnamon Butterhorns from The Cilantropist