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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

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This weekend marks my first round of graduate school interviews.  As excited as I am about these campus visits, I’m already exhausted by the withering pressure to socialize, mingle, and “schmooze.”  I can’t imagine how much more draining the next few are going to be.

Surprisingly, what I found most difficult weren’t the one-on-one interviews with professors, but the receptions and dinners that required a level of social interaction and networking skills that I, frankly, just plain suck at.  Perhaps it’s the introversion or the Asian upbringing that teaches you to not speak unless spoken to—maybe the two are related, I don’t know.  But too often I find myself the only person on the side, blending into the background and outshone by others more charming and adept at navigating group dynamics.

Ok, I’m not saying that I’m a complete loser.  I’ve got humor, and a pleasant smile.  And I can hold myself in a private conversation most of the time.  But throw me into a group of more than four people I’m unfamiliar with, and I’ll feel less inclined to put myself out there; my attention wanders and I let myself retreat.  I figure, I’ll let the extroverts do their jobs.  Once I get into that quiet mode, it’s harder to break out.  And a whole dinner will go by before I realized that I was the only person who spoke fewer than two sentences through the whole affair.  It’s awful.

(Who else thinks this picture looks like pac-man on the left?)

My only hope is that age will bring self-assurance.  If not that, then at least better conversation starters than “Awful weather today, huh?”  Maybe someday, I can speak with someone in a conversation devoid of awkward silences and filled more with comfortable pauses.

I know I made Pumpkin Cheesecake awhile back, but I found this recipe to be much more flavorful than the other one; even though the pumpkin flavor is still quite subtle.  And personally, I prefer the spongey-ness here than the creamy/silky texture of the previous cake.  Sure, there’s a huge gaping crack in the middle, but I think it makes it more rustic, no?  Personally, I don’t really think a water bath is all that necessary to bake a cheesecake, unless you mind the cracks.  And most people don’t.

I think I’m cheesecaked out for awhile.

Pumpkin Mascarpone Cheesecake from Slice of Feist

As a kid, I used to dream about moving to someplace where nobody knew me.  Now that I’m 23, I still fantasize about hopping onto a plane at a moment’s notice, except the prospect of being cramped up in a small space for more than six hours makes my knees ache.  Nonetheless, the idea of starting with a clean state is an attractive thought; that if you could change your environment, then you can fashion yourself to be whatever sort of person you always wanted to be.  Now that I’ve actually done it, I can’t really say that I’ve changed much, personality-wise.  What was it about myself that I wanted to change so much?  I’m not quite sure what I expected when I moved to Boston; maybe not a complete 180, but at least a 90 degree or something, right?  What I have learned is that I am who I always was, and who I’ll become is what I’ve always had the capacity to be.  I don’t need to force myself to change anything; I’m just going to let the “growing up” take care of that.

With the new year and pending interviews for graduate school, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I want to end up for the next five or six years.  If I were myself two years ago, I would’ve jumped at the opportunity to try somewhere completely different; not California and not Boston.  But I don’t really feel like pulling another major move anytime soon.  As much of an introvert as I am, building a social network from scratch is a lonely feat that I’m not quite up for doing again, yet.  And now that I’ve found a comfortable rhythm and routine here, I’ve been able to appreciate Boston much more for its beauty and vast number of places/things that I have yet to discover.  Even in this frigid weather, I am still excited to step outside and feel the drops of cold as the snow falls on my face.  The question is whether I can see myself spending the rest of my 20’s here, or anywhere else.  Wow, that’s such a loaded decision.

Recently, an old friend came to visit me.  It’s always somewhat of a surprise to see old friends now, since I rarely see them, so any lifestyle change is especially striking.  And for X—‘s visit, the first thing I noticed was the change in wardrobe.  He has graduated from slightly over-sized flannel shirts to form-fitting, and dare I say it, attractive “Urban Outfitter-esque” clothes.  I’m so glad to see that one of us has made the fortunate leap of buying our own clothes instead of relying on our parents’ best guess at youthful fashion; albeit, my mom still buys most of my clothing, but only because she is blessed with better sartorial sense.

We spent a bit talking about our immediate futures and reminiscing about sunny California while we braced against the northeastern winds.  Like me, he will also decide where he’s going to study for the next few years.  While both of us have fond recollections of the golden state, we are reluctant to return home for the next decade of our lives.  More surprising for him since I distinctly remember how adamant he was about living near home for medical school (and how he hated the idea of recreational drinking—well, guess who drank with me last weekend?).  It’s nice to see that people do change over time.  Who knows, maybe in a few years, I might change my mind about that PhD.  Maybe I’ll fall into teaching or turn around and pursue political science, or something.  As scary as it can be when plans fall apart, maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t always follow linear lives.

Right now thought, I’m going to graduate school.  Regardless of where I’ll end up, I think I’m going to have one “helluva” time.  I’m so excited; I can’t wait.

Pumpkin Garlic Knots from Handle the Heat

This morning I stumbled on a cache of old “love” letters, if you will, from high school.  Reading them wasn’t so much nostalgic as it was amusing (and somewhat cringe-worthy).  They are filled with corny endearments, from “honey bunny” to “smoochie wookums,” with a healthy smattering of “darlings” thrown in.  This is only made funnier by the fact that my “ex” and I are currently great friends, and I can no longer imagine him uttering the phrase “dearest Joanne” unless it was dripping with sarcasm and followed by some cheeky insult.  Yet I have, in my possession, a reminder of his “whipped-ness,” once upon a time.

But on a sentimental note, the letters chronicle our adolescent angst and fears during a transformative period where both of us were navigating our transition into college while trying to cling onto each other.  So eager to leave our suburban childhood and yet wholly unprepared to give up on this relationship.  Funny how life seemed so much more simple and dramatic, at the same time, when you’re only 17.  By golly, that was six years ago!  To think that I was a nerdy, naive college freshman, walking around campus with my dorm key hanging on a lanyard around my neck (oh God, how did I ever think that was COOL?)  Religiously attending every 8 AM lecture and fantasizing about marrying my high school sweetheart.  Can you imagine?

There is not a drop of regret or wistfulness when I read those letters from the “yonder days of youth” (oh gawd, I crack myself up).  I still remember the sense of freedom and peace when I realized that we had come to the end of our story, but not of our friendship.  A revelation that was tinged with satisfaction and not resignation; gratitude, not bitterness.  I could not have asked for a better person to share in the excitement of adolescent romance.  And it was with excitement that I greeted our new friendship, which I can say with the utmost certainty, would last for a lifetime.

These days I make a point to catch up with him every few weeks.  Occasionally he picks up the phone to my mournful wailing.  You know, the usual “My life is in shambles!” call.  But I think we have been truly blessed to watch each other over the years, as we find our callings, pursue our passions, and slowly grow into the kind of person we always wanted to be.  And D—, if you’re reading this, you can be sure that “honey bunny” is forever eliminated from my vocabulary.  I doubt it would ever make its appearance again in my future relationships.  Because seriously, wtf were we smoking?

Yours truly,

“Honey bunny”

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust from Cook & Be Merry