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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.”

Daniel 3

“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

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Recently, I’ve returned to my normal hair style. The short bob, one that I’ve sported for years in grade school and college. As much as I wanted to have long hair, I had to admit that I have no patience for it. I’m the type of person that likes to spring out of bed and spend no more than the three minutes it takes to drag a brush through the tangled mess before sprinting out the door. So yes, I very much need hair that will withstand bed-headedness.

Yesterday, one of my mom’s friends looked at me with my mussed up nap hair and then at my mom with her pristine locks, carefully dyed each month and meticulously groomed each morning, before making this astute observation: “You must be very different from your mom, huh?”

Most definitely.

My mom is the embodiment of orderliness, beauty, femininity, cordiality and warmth. Whereas, I am slobness manifest. She makes a frumpy sweater look good. I make a frumpy sweater look frumpier. People gravitate towards my ever cheerful mom. People flee from my awkward social gestures. And when it comes to creativity, she’s the most creative mom I know.

I bake goodies because I can follow directions. But my mom knits because she’s technically skilled and aesthetically gifted. I’ve learned a long time ago to defer to my mom’s opinions for all things fashion related. Thus, everything that is presentable in my wardrobe has been her doing. I am 25 and I let my mom dress me. I am not ashamed. You would let her dress you too if you’ve seen my knitted sweaters, tunics, and scarves.

This is still in the works, but go take a look at my mom’s knitting blog at joyofknitting.wordpress.com. She makes the most adorable baby clothes with fine quality yarn. They would make perfect gifts if you’re looking for something special. She also takes custom orders if you want a certain design to be made with specific colors.

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Peach Pie from Smitten Kitchen

Vicky and I made this pie on a warm, sunny afternoon in her homey Cole Valley apartment, where I was seeking refuge from my own gloomy, fog-shrouded Sunset abode. I had been itching to make a pie with the eight ripe peaches sitting in my fridge–my last chance to make a quintessential summer dish before the season ends. We divided up the recipe; I took care of the crust while she handled the filling. Meanwhile, Bessie the cat snoozed on the kitchen chair. I didn’t do it here, but my favorite part of pie-making is when you crimp the edges of the top crust with the tines of a fork. It reminds me of the scene in Snow White where the birds use their feet to make the fluted edges of the pie.

I’ve never found a whole sand dollar in my life. Today, life goal accomplished.

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Ocean Beach, San Francisco.

I don’t think I’m a cat person, but it’s hard not to like Bessie.  Especially when she curls up in your lap and and nudges your hand with her head because she wants to be petted, now, right now.  And while she’s purring away, my legs will go numb and my knees will ache, but I won’t move her.  It just seems like a crime to disturb a snoozing kitty.

Yet, after she’s done lapping up all your attention, no amount of cajoling will get her to show you any love.  No gratitude for my suffering legs or my unwavering petting services.  Just yawn, stretch, and leave.   The minute I turn my attention back to work, though, she jumps onto my desk and lays on my laptop. Well, what could I do except to start typing with one hand, while rubbing her tummy with the other.

Since my roommates are allergic, Bessie had to stay in my room for the two nights that I’ve had her over.  And let me just say that no amount of cuteness or adorable shows of feline quirkiness can possibly win me over at 3 AM when I’ve woken up for the tenth time because she’s dashing around my room like the crazed nocturnal monster that she is.  That’s when I kick myself for having let her snooze on my lap earlier instead of shoving her aside and chasing her around my room to wear her out.  While she’s busy hunting some imaginary prey or mewing up a storm, I’m busy trying to fight the urge to throw her out the window.  Grumpy as I am, though, forgiveness always come in the morning.

Still, as much as I enjoyed the lap company, I much prefer seeing Bessie during the day.  And only at my friend’s apartment.

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I’ve spent the better part of the past month reading at my lab desk.  Experiments have come to a screeching halt as the lab prepares to move to the new neuroscience building.  And so I have seen countless hours tick by as I sift through pages of research, trying to find inspiration to write a research proposal for my upcoming pre-qualification exam.  Unfortunately, the only insight that I’ve gleaned from these reading marathons is: 1) the brain is complex and 2) my ideas are stupid and/or already done by someone else.  Oh the wonderful world of research.

It doesn’t help that my running routine has also been temporarily halted due to a strained tendon.  Thus, I cannot even look to exercise to relieve the insanity…and restless muscles.  All this sitting around has made me painfully aware of my incredibly awful posture.  My favorite position to assume, it seems, is to have my feet propped onto a slightly open drawer to the side of my desk, while I sit with my waist twisted to face the front.  And since all my work is tied to my laptop, I have to crouch my back with my neck locked forward.  This can’t be good.  One day, I fear, I will find that my body is perpetually stuck in this position.  In any case, this increased inactivity certainly spells doom in the future.

On another note, if you’re looking for a fun book to read, I found Jonathan Tropper’s This is where I leave you perfect for that purpose.  Comical, well-written, and light but not superficial.  It’s nice to find a book that can actually make you laugh out loud.  At least, for me, it’s a nice respite from all the science jargon that I have to deal with every day.

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These make great bite-sized snacks to bring to a party.  I used almond extract instead of ground almonds.  And slightly less butter to make the dough a little stiffer so that the piped stars would hold their shape; which, however, makes it much harder to pipe out of a bag and very hard on your wrist.

Brombeerbusserl from Delicious Days

We could spend hours in the kitchen.  Juan would be stirring something at the stove, while I drown out every sound with my electric mixer.  Juan will perfume the house with the wonderfully piquant smell of sizzling garlic, while I fill the room with the sweet fragrance of bread and cookies.  And in between all the cooking and baking, we somehow manage to fight the pile of dirty dishes at the sink.

We get really excited when we make plans for all the foods we want to make.  But more than that, we just love being in the same kitchen.  I love sitting at the counter with my laptop, ruining my appetite by stealing pieces of chopped vegetables from Juan’s cutting board.  I love that he never wants to tell me what he’s cooking despite my persistent questioning.  I love watching him carefully place the finished product on a clean plate.  And I love the look on his face as he waits for me to take the first bite, eager to hear my thoughts on his newest dish.  It’s not often that we have somebody special to cook for–that’s a blessing bigger than the food itself.

Here’s some of the yummy goodness that’s come out of the kitchen this week.

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It has oats in it, which means it’s healthy, right?

I love the smell of baked jam as it emerges from the oven.

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Today, I came home for lunch to find this waiting for me–Juan’s special twist on the Bahn Mi.  Chicken marinated with sesame oil and soy sauce, stuffed into a loaf of french bread coated with a garlicky butter spread.  Cucumbers, carrots, and scallions soaked with rice vinegar made it a full sandwich with a nice, tangy crunch.  I wish he could make this for me everyday.

And of course, Juan’s favorite meal that he insists on making for me almost every chance he can get…brunch!

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Cheery red tomatoes, simply sauteed

Bursting through the skin with its own juices

Portobello, lightly salted and unadorned

Makes the perfect side to a homemade breakfast

A dash of cinnamon and hints of citrus

Frames every bite of these golden toasts of happiness.

You know that feeling of clarity, the one that comes with knowing exactly what you want to do and where you want to be?  It was what I felt when, marveling at the simple and eccentric behavior of a fish, I realized that I could spend my life studying the brain.  It was the excitement when, touring the UCSF campus, I saw clearly how naturally I could fit in.  It’s the restlessness I feel, now that I know what lab I want to join for the next six years.

I haven’t finished my last rotation yet, but I have a good feeling that I will be choosing my second lab.  It’s not what I imagined I would do–not what I had planned at all.  I came to UCSF thinking that I would use molecular tools to dissect the behavior in fruit flies.  On a whim, because I needed to find a third lab to fulfill my requirements, I picked one that studies songbirds so I could at least say that I tried something out of my field.  I’m really glad I did, because it turns out that I love my “get in, get out quick” rotation.

I don’t know how to describe what jumping fields from molecular to systems is like.  It involves learning a completely different set of tools.  No more genetics and molecular biology, all the things that I had been trained on.  Instead of asking questions at the intracellular level, I will be stepping back to study how activity is coordinated and processed through circuits to generate behavior.  I will be diving head first into electrophysiology, so that I can understand how information is passed along ensembles of neurons.

Isn’t it funny how doing something out of your comfort zone helps you understand yourself better?  But it’s not that I am doing a complete 180.  I am just rediscovering what I really want to do and why I decided to pursue neuroscience in the first place: to understand the underpinnings of behavior.  Behavior, it’s what floors me every time.  Sure, I could study signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms that could affect behavior somewhere far down the line, but to know the functional interactions between neurons will require that I reach beyond what I am familiar with.  And I am so excited to start.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am a peanut butter fan, love the creamy stuff.  I finish a jar every 1.5 weeks.  For these, I used Trader Joe’s PB with Sea Salt, and I cannot stop thinking about popping the next cookie into my mouth.

 

You know, I wouldn’t be a Christian either if I hadn’t let myself take a chance.  It’s just interesting to think about, isn’t it?