Why I write what I do

If you picked up a copy of The Santa Clara on Thursday, you saw my face in there! I was included in a feature highlighting four student bloggers. My friends and fellow bloggers, Joanne Santomauro and Hannah Miller, were also featured. Click here to read Sharing Their Stories.

I was interviewed for the article by Michael Rosa, a fellow student of mine in Nonfiction Writing. His main interview question was this:

You have a unique outlook in your blog that I haven’t seen very much of with any other student bloggers. How has your faith affected the way you see the world, and thus the way you blog?

This question really got me thinking. Why do I blog about what I do?

I write about God.

A lot.

Not everyone who reads my posts is a Christian. Not everyone who reads this believes God exists, or believes in God the same way I do.

So why do I blog the way I do?

The banner at the top of my homepage has the answer: Acts 4:20. When commanded to stop speaking about Jesus, the apostles Peter and John proclaimed, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

I write about God because I cannot help it.

I choose to center my life around Jesus and surrender every day to Him. Including every blog post.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
– Acts 4:8-12

Wo-manning up

One of my favorite pastors is Mark Driscoll, an evangelical Christian pastor from Seattle. He and his wife Grace recently published a book called Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, which was received with a firestorm of praise and controversy due to his frank discussion of sex and boldly-stated complementarian views.

In the book and in his preaching, Driscoll does not hesitate to call men, particularly husbands, to a high standard of living. He uses Scripture to challenge them to live out of deep humility and repentance, ensure provision for their families, and love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loved the church.

It’s easy for fangirls like me to hear Driscoll’s preaching and cheer, Yes! This is what the men in the church need to hear. This is how men should act. But it’s much harder to recognize that the challenges he gives to men also apply to us.

I’m a girl, so I don’t have quite the same responsibilities as the men Driscoll calls out. But the challenges and responsibilities of women are of equal weight. We still need to live out of deep humility and repentance, care for our families, and love our (future?) husbands sacrificially.

It’s much easier for us to get angry alongside Driscoll, shaking my fist at those people — men — and rave about how they are not stepping up and need to get their game faces on. But we can’t call men out on the specks in their eyes without first looking at the planks in ours.

My dream

One of my favorite bloggers is my friend and Bay Area photographer Yasmin Sarai. She is an incredibly talented budding photographer and Santa Clara alum whom I admire for many reasons. You should click on her name and check out her blog. 😉

Yesterday, she posted a piece entitled “Go Hard” [click here to read], where she challenges her readers not to back down in pursuit of a far-off and intimidating dream or goal:

I have to learn, even if it is at a painstakingly slow-pace.  Piece by piece, I will build knowledge and gain experience, because there is no short-cut to excellence.

At the end of the post, she asked her readers what their big dream was, and what small steps they were taking to achieve it.

I knew immediately what mine was. Want to know? Are you ready for this? It’s silly. I’m a little embarrassed, to tell you the truth.

Well… here goes.

My dream is to be a mom.

Yeah, weird, I know. Most women wants to be moms. But few publicize it as one of their biggest dreams they’ve ever had, at least from my experience.

But for most of my life, motherhood has been my dream. I always tell people that even when I was a kid, I wanted kids. It’s true. Back then, I didn’t know the hard work it took to be a mother (and still don’t know the half of it). I saw motherhood through rose-colored glasses: cooing, giggling, baby powder, cuddles, and joy. I didn’t know the nitty gritty of a mom’s life; my parents’ humility kept me from seeing the endless hard work they toiled through for my siblings and me.

Now, with a little age on my side and a smidge more perspective, I can say that parenthood is one of the hardest jobs in the world. I also know, with all my heart, that I still want it… someday.

But where does that dream fit into Yasmin’s challenge?

  • I can take every opportunity to grow in patience.
  • I can strive to humbly serve my family members and roommates.
  • I can learn to eat healthy foods (to model proper eating habits for my future kiddos, of course!).
  • I can exercise and take care of my body so that I am well-equipped for the physical trials of life.
  • I can steward my finances well.
  • I can work with kids every opportunity I get — volunteering, babysitting, you name it — to get practice.
  • I can learn from mentors who’ve been there — my mom, my dad, my grandparents.
  • I can spend time with God daily, reading the Bible and praying, to grow spiritually.

I think I’ll give it a try.

Current favorites: Come to the Well (Casting Crowns)

Ever since I downloaded the album last month, Casting Crowns’ latest musical effort Come to the Well has been on repeat on my iPod. For some reason — yes, hello there, God — nearly every song speaks to me, calling me to confess, to repent, to pray, to long for God to move in the world around me.

I find my heart resonating with lead singer Mark Hall’s cries to the church (all Christians), who he has called out repeatedly in the band’s albums with words of rebuke and encouragement:
“If we are the body, why aren’t His arms reaching?”
“Are we happy plastic people, under shiny plastic steeples…?”
“Oh Lord, send Your wind into this valley; breathe the breath of life into our souls…”

My personal story is one of self-righteousness — the haughty church kid (and older sister) who would hold my ideas of perfect morality in front of people’s faces, rather than showing them with delight the face of the Jesus I claimed to serve. Hall’s effort to call out the church on its failures is something that often hits all too close to home. And yet, it hurts in just the right way.

So much of this CD brings me to my knees. There is so much beauty and forgiveness to be found in Jesus.

A few song samples:

“Jesus, Friend of Sinners”

This song calls out people on our ability to criticize others without first looking at ourselves and seeing our own failures. The hypocritical Christian, Hall says, is “a plank-eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided.” Wow, what an image. Instead, Christians are to become like Christ, and show mercy as He did at the cross.

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners,
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners,
Break our hearts for what breaks yours


Lyrics here

“The Well”

Jesus gives life and freedom to all who come to him in search for it. Surrendering to Jesus in obedience to Him is truly the most freeing decision we could ever make. This song encourages the hurting, saying that Jesus is the One to whom we can come with all our baggage and struggles, honestly lay everything that we are at His feet, and walk away more alive than before we came.

I was especially struck by the lyrics that mention specific things to surrender to Jesus: “your pursuit of perfection, your fear of rejection…” It’s as if the singers read my mind and saw the weights I needed to drop at Jesus’ feet.

All who thirst will thirst no more,
and all who search will find what their souls long for…


Lyrics here

“Just Another Birthday”

Stemming from Hall’s experiences as a youth pastor, the song tells the story of a teenage girl longing for love while growing up without a father. This song breaks my heart, gives me chills, and makes me smile every time I hear it. It’s best to let the song speak for itself:


Lyrics here

Despised

Satan hates you.

That’s what my friend said to me when I walked in the front door of my apartment, crying because I had a stressful day. It was a day filled with a lot of things that I love to do — ministry, my new internship, a much-anticipated class — but I broke down in tears by the end. There were too many things, too many decisions to make, too many new things to learn, too many details to manage.

I was crushed.

But my friend took me in her arms, let my tears fall onto her shirt, and reminded me: Satan hates me.

He is my enemy, and he seeks to devour me — destroy me from every angle. He hates everything about me — everything good — and especially everything in me that has been redeemed and restored by the grace of Christ.

He hates my involvement in ministry, along with everything that brings me joy. He hates my peace. He hates my dreams. He wants me broken down with despair, hating the things I normally love, fearful, anxious, bitter.

Well, guess what?

He doesn’t win.

Jesus does.

2011 year in review

In short, 2011 was THE most…
stressful
exhausting
tear-inducing
self-doubt-filled
challenging
humbling
frustrating
disappointing
embarrassing
miraculous
life-giving
pride-breaking
overwhelming
confusing
complicated
wonderful
glorious
heartbreaking
convicting
awe-inspiring
amazing
…year of my life.

And I haven’t had many years in my life.

So I know: if this is what God is going to do, in one year, with a little twenty-one-year-old, with so little life experience, so many failures and dropped goals, so many regrets, so many things to learn… what can He do with a lifetime?

What can He do with a single moment, committed to Him, no-holds-barred?

What can He do with me? What will He do with me? With 2012?

I can’t wait to find out.

On “good advice”

When you feel defeated by sin, burnt out by expectations, and discouraged by your inability to get it together, the last thing you need is “good advice.” … Advice meant to “help” will play a switcheroo on you and cause the kind of anxiety that keeps someone up at night watching bad Ab Buster infomercials. … But I’ve got some good news that will help you get a better night’s sleep.

If you are a Christian, God is pleased with you because of what Jesus has already done. To be a Christian is to be united to Jesus in faith, which means God sees Jesus’ moral record, not your checkered one. When we really get that, then our bullet point list becomes a grateful, worshipful response from the heart, rather than a list of Christian duties. You don’t have to have devotional time. You get to. You don’t have to do acts of Christian service. You get to. See the difference? …

For those with tortured consciences, know that, as you come to Jesus, you get welcome, not condemnation. For the overachievers in the crowd, you can forget the extreme spiritual makeover, and know that all the doing meant to gain you acceptance has already been done. …

Your spiritual striving didn’t accomplish your in Christian-ness. And after you came to Christ, and screwed everything up, he didn’t let go. Before you were born, before you thought a thought, and before you felt the gnawing guilt of not living a fully transformed Christian life, you were chosen, loved, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven. Period. 

— excerpt from Matt Johnson, “The Tyranny of Advice Column Christianity

On Christmas and Sister Yang

Stories like this one make me remember how significant Jesus’ birth day really is.

Click on the above link to see the short video, or read her story below:

At the height of the famine in North Korea, 10 or 11 people were dying of starvation daily in Sister Yang’s village. At times, she had to eat wood and even sand. In 2002, she escaped to China in search of food and a chance to earn some money. It was in China that she first heard about God.

“A woman in China told me about the existence of God and that if you meet God you will be blessed,” Sister Yang said. “I believed in God and returned to North Korea as a Christian. It was then I was overheard praying. When a co-worker asked what I was doing, I didn’t answer. But soon I was arrested and tortured for 30 days.”

Sister Yang was watched constantly by police, and her family disowned her. With no place to go, she again fled to China. But after reaching China, she was kidnapped and sold as a slave to a Chinese businessman.

“I had been raped by my slave owner and was six months pregnant when a friend and I hired some brokers to help us escape into South Korea. But we got lost on the Mongolian border. There, I miscarried and laid the baby in my handbag, which I carried with me. All around us were bones – bones of others who had gone before us trying to escape.”

Sister Yang’s friend died from the cold and hunger. Finally, she lay down next to the bodies of her friend and her miscarried child and prayed that God would save her. Two days later, she was discovered lying in the snow by Mongolian border guards. All of the toes on her left foot had to be amputated because of frostbite.

“My faith has been tested,” Sister Yang said, “but God has saved me and I am living for God. I want to be a missionary. I want to return to North Korea and tell my people of God’s love.”

Sister Yang wants to return to North Korea to tell them about Jesus.

That blows my mind.

If anyone has a “right” to be bitter about their circumstances, it would be her: the woman whose God failed to answer her prayers of rescue, and instead struck her with starvation, abuse, rejection by her family, imprisonment, miscarriage, slavery, amputations, and death.

But Sister Yang instead rejoices in God’s love lavished on her, and calls herself blessed for knowing this God.

Yang isn’t just an immutable person who just takes rape and torture with unflappable grace. Those people don’t exist. Abuse cuts to the very center of your soul– to the core of who you are. It shapes and defines how you see yourself and others from that day forward. Yang isn’t just a really nice woman (though I bet she is quite nice). Being disowned by her entire family and sexually abused by her captors had to tear away at how she saw herself and saw the world. But in Jesus, she is redeemed. She is recreated. She is whole. And she is more greatly loved than ever before and ever since.

You can’t make this stuff up. Nobody’s going to cling to a God who: (a) calls His way to heaven the only way; (b) sometimes calls His followers into times of unfathomable suffering for the sake of proclaiming His name — unless that God is real. Unless all that love, that grace, that freedom, is really real.

Jesus is that real. He really was born, a tiny baby in a dirty manger, to a young unmarried couple. He really was and is the Son of God, who came to save you from your sin and redeem you into a glorious life of freedom and hope.

He saw you. He knew you before you were made — he knew your every sin, even those ones you haven’t told anyone about. He knows all the times you chose to worship something other than Him, all those times you chose something else over following Him, all those times you failed those close to you.

He really knows who you are, all the way to the very bottom. And He loves you all the way to the top.

Enough to come as a vulnerable baby born to die for you, take on the sins of the world, and defeat Satan, sin, and death– for His glory and your gain.

That’s the Savior of Yang’s heart. And that’s the man whose birth day we celebrated yesterday.

Happy birthday, Jesus! Thank You for coming to earth to die and resurrect to save me… and save Sister Yang. Your love is better than security and worldly acceptance and control. It is really, really real… and it is life.

Peppermint chocolate-covered marshmallows

Really?! Another recipe??

You bet!

Since my nutella and banana wontons post was (and is) by far my most popular blog post, I thought it would be good to post another simple yet delicious recipe for all who care to read. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

A few days ago, a friend of mine posted a photo of herself on Facebook with a delicious-looking dessert: a marshmallow covered in chocolate and crushed peppermint, on the end of a peppermint stick. Seeing as I LOVE all three of those ingredients, I knew I had found a winner.

Plus, with my limited cooking skills, recipes with simple instructions and few ingredients (read: idiot-proof) are my favorite kind.

So, after visiting five stores (yes, five!) in search of peppermint candy canes, two friends and I finally acquired our ingredients and set to work.

To start, you need four things:
Peppermint candy canes, regular-sized
Peppermint candy canes, mini (or more regular-sized ones would work, too)
Chocolate chips (we used both dark chocolate and milk chocolate)
Jumbo marshmallows

Ilana says: yes, the marshmallows are quite large!

To prepare for marshmallow-making…

1. Place wax or parchment paper on cookie sheet.

2. Stab mini candy canes into marshmallows. The hooked ends are very useful for holding the marshmallow while you make the dessert… and while you eat it! Plus, you get to eat the holder 😉

3. Crush regular-size candy canes. We did this by unwrapping them, breaking them into fragments, wrapping these in wax paper, and smashing them with a rolling pin. (You want to create small chunks rather than just crush them into powder.) Then put all the broken pieces into a bowl.

4. Melt chocolate chips in microwavable bowl. We did this in 30-second intervals, stirring in between each one, until the chocolate was completely melted.

Then, when your ingredients are prepared… get to work!

1. Grab a marshmallow by the candy-cane handle and coat the outside and bottom surfaces in melted chocolate.

2. Then cover the chocolate coating with crushed peppermint.

3. Finally, place your finished marshmallow on the wax paper.

And… that’s it! You’re done! Easy enough, right?

Make all the marshmallows you want until you run out of ingredients (in our case, this meant 51 marshmallows… did we go a little overboard? Perhaps). Then let the chocolate on the marshmallows harden for a couple of hours before eating.

Wait… seriously, who am I kidding? Grab a finished marshmallow and take a bite.

Mmmmmm…. delicious!

This recipe is pretty simple, so I can’t think of many suggestions for improvement. Maybe you could speed up the candy cane-crushing process by placing the broken pieces in a blender for multiple two-second bursts? Not sure, since we didn’t try this. But it might be worth a try if your blender is strong enough.

Overall, the recipe was super easy and quite decadent. I ate one marshmallow for breakfast this morning (shhh, don’t tell my mother), and it was amazing! Thank you to Ilana and Caity for trying out the recipe with me. I look forward to hearing my extended family’s feedback when they taste the marshmallows tomorrow on Christmas day… and I can’t wait for more cooking experiments in the future!

Merry Christmas to all… thank God for Jesus, who on His birth day was given to us as an earth-shaking, life-altering, absolutely astounding, beyond wonderful gift. He is the One by whom we are set free from sin and death and given true life as new creations in Christ.

Thank you God for every other gift you give us, too… especially marshmallows.

Caity with our completed marshmallow display

That girl

If I’d known that girl when she was seven… that girl who ordered her brother around like a slave, who yelled and screamed at him to obey, who lashed out at her parents for not punishing him enough, who scowled at her stubborn little sister and called her unwanted…

…if I’d known that girl, I would have thrown up my hands and given up right then and there.

If I’d known that girl… that fourteen-year-old, the one with the weak will and the wandering eyes, who hid her dirty secrets from her parents and friends, who saw things she never should have seen, wrote things she never should have written, said things she never should have said; if I’d known that girl, the one who bound her family, friends, and acquaintances to moral legalism and grew furious at the slightest infraction; that girl, that double-faced deceiver, that sinner, the one who played with fire…

…if I’d known that girl, I would have shook my fist in her face and called her out for the hypocrite she was.

If I’d known that girl, the eighteen-year-old with the sharp tongue and snarky reply, quick to criticize and demonize, just as quick to elevate herself in a self-righteous haze… that girl, who hated those who got in her way, who melted at the slightest threat… that girl, who thought she knew so much, when in fact she knew so little.

If I knew that girl, that twenty-one-year-old who bristles at the slightest immaturity, who defends her own weakness to the point of breaking, who gets infuriated by the sins of others who parallel exactly the sins of herself… the same weaknesses, the same mistakes, the same immaturity, the same error, the same deceit, the same frustratingly short-sighted outlook, the exact same hypocrisy.

If I knew that girl…

 

I would have given up on myself a long time ago.

Thank you, Jesus, for never doing that.

The LORD your God is with you,
   he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
   he will quiet you with his love,
   he will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17