Faithful

What does it mean to be faithful? It’s a broad subject, and it could mean a lot of things. How do we stay faithful to God? What about to ourselves or to other people? In what areas can and should we be faithful? And what about when people aren’t faithful to us?

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A couple of weekends ago, T and I and one other leader friend took twelve of our high school students to a weekend winter camp, where we attempted to help our students answer these questions. We attended large worship services/teaching sessions with youth groups from other churches, and the kids also had the opportunity to go to two smaller seminars taught by the youth pastors. Each of the seminars covered topics related to being faithful, such as “Faithful with Technology” and “Faithful in Stress and Anxiety.” There was one specifically for seniors, called “Faithful from High School to College.”

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Our whole group.

Along with all of my girls, I went to “Faithful in Relationships,” where we learned that that really means remaining faithful to God and yourself within a relationship as well as faithful to the other person. Every person has needs in five different categories (physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual), and each of us must have our needs met within our relationships in certain ways. According to the youth pastor teaching the seminar, in order to be in a healthy relationship, we should look for our needs to be fulfilled in reverse order of that list (spiritual, then intellectual, then social, then emotional, then finally physical). Of course, most of us don’t usually do that, but rather look first for someone who we are physically attracted to or who we think can fulfill our physical needs (or desires). Spiritual compatibility often comes as a last priority or an afterthought, if it’s even considered at all.

Listening to the speaker.

Listening to the speaker.

I also chose to attend “Faithful in an Anti-Christian World” because our current series in high school ministry is about apologetics (knowing and sharing why you believe what you believe) and various worldviews that are different from Christianity. The youth pastor explained how he began to question his faith in college because of people who were hostile toward him and his faith. As a history major, he did lots of research into the historical background of the Bible and the life of Jesus. Once he had gathered the facts, he said, he reached a point where he had to make a decision about whether or not to believe that it was all true. He encouraged the students to do the same.

For me, one of the biggest takeaways from the weekend was that God is faithful even when other people aren’t, and he is faithful even when we aren’t faithful to him. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like God’s presence in our lives is contingent on our presence in his life, but that’s absolutely not true. His faithfulness is unchanging no matter what we do, and because of that, we should strive to be faithful to him in return.

Faithfulness is one characteristic of God that I don’t think we talk about enough. I know in my head that God is faithful, and I’ve experienced his faithfulness in my life, but usually we focus on “love,” “mercy,” and “justice” when we study the character of God. Sometimes one of his traits can be highlighted for us because of our life circumstances, and for me right now, I need to know that God is faithful. I need to know that he will never give me more than I can handle, because I feel like I’m at that point. I need to know that even when I don’t necessarily follow the path that he has laid out for me, he won’t turn his back on me, but instead he will go in front of me and lay a new one. I need to know that I can trust him to guide my steps and my choices, confident that I’m going in the direction he is sending me.

Tell me how God has been faithful to you!

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Tamale Making

Every February for the past five years, our church has sent a team of people to Mexico for a week to work at an orphanage called Rancho Santa Marta. It’s a very successful trip each year because of the variety of projects available for people of all ages and skill levels. I’ve never been, but T is going for the first time this year, along with several of our youth group kids and many other multi-generational volunteers.

It costs a bit of money for each person to go on the trip, so in order to lower the cost for everyone, we do a fundraiser in January where we make and sell tamales by the dozen. We have one family in our church who are all expert tamale makers, and every year they coach the rest of us through the process of making them. It’s pretty simple, so even some of the younger kids in the church can come help out.

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Some of the leaders showing us all how it’s done.

To make tamales, there are a few items you need:

  • Masa, or tamale dough (plenty of recipes available online)
  • Some sort of pre-cooked meat (we used pork)
  • Corn husks (the bigger the better)
  • Plastic gloves (it gets messy)

The first thing to do is create a small pancake of masa on top of a corn husk. You want it to be thin, but it should cover about the upper 2/3 of the husk. Then place a small-ish amount of meat in the middle of the masa. You can spread it out a little, but not all the way to the edges.

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It should look something like this.

Once you’ve put the meat in, fold the whole thing in half or in thirds, making sure the masa seals on the open edge. Fold up the bottom (pointy end) of the corn husk and push the masa and meat towards the top, but don’t let it come all the way out.

After that, the tamales have to steam for a while. Food and Wine recommends an hour and a half, but I don’t think our cooks did it for that long. So sue me, I was helping with the preparation, not the actual cooking.

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Students working.

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More students (and T) working.

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A tortilla press, which you can use to make the masa flat and even on the husk.

It's a messy process.

It’s a messy process.

Pan full of assembled (but not yet steamed) tamales.

Pan full of assembled (but not yet steamed) tamales.

One of our students hard at work making it just right.

One of our students hard at work making it just right.

We sold the tamales in bags by the dozen, with instructions for reheating at home. Of course, T and I bought two bags, one of which was completely gone within 24 hours. They are always so delicious, and we raised a good chunk of money toward the Rancho Santa Marta trip.

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The finished product.

And they are even more enjoyable as a consumer!

And they are even more enjoyable as a consumer!

Have you ever made tamales before?

Giving Thanks(giving)

Well, here we are, Thanksgiving Day. I’ll admit that I have a tendency to view this particular holiday as just a speed bump on the way to Christmas. Sure, the food is good and all, but CHRISTMAS! Starting tomorrow, holiday music will officially be acceptable, as will T’s and my slightly crazed excitement about putting up our stockings and getting a tree.

As much as I can’t wait for this weekend when we can start working on those things, it’s definitely important to recognize what we’re celebrating today. Many of us are enjoying time with our family or closest friends, watching the great American sport of football (go Niners!), sitting down to an elaborate, home-cooked meal, and expressing our gratitude to God for all the blessings we have in our lives. Whether it’s for our loved ones, our health, our homes and jobs, or something else entirely, we can all find something to be thankful for.

During this time of year, it’s also important to remember that there are people in our communities who may not have as much to be thankful for as we do. So many people are struggling with so many different things right now that make the holidays a tough, emotional, bittersweet time for them. We need to find ways to reach out to those people during this season.

Every Thanksgiving season, our youth group does an event called Thanksgiving Baskets, where we put together food “baskets” (actually boxes and grocery bags) for several needy families in our community, then go out and actually deliver them. We’ve been doing this since I was a student in the youth group (and probably before that too), and now T and I participate as leaders. This past Sunday was our annual Thanksgiving Baskets event, and I’m glad to say that we successfully delivered food baskets for thirteen local families.

It’s always a fun event, but also very exhausting. For weeks we’d been collecting donations from our church congregation of dry goods as well as money. On the day of the event, the first step is always to sort the donated goods and figure out what we still need to buy.

Students sorting food.

Students sorting food.

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Tons of canned veggies, and most of them weren't even expired!

Tons of canned veggies, and most of them weren’t even expired!

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T and a student.

T and a student.

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Me and several of my students.

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After the food is sorted, our youth director figures out what we still need to buy, based on the needs of each family we’ll be serving. Then he comes back with a big shopping list, divided into several groups by leader. This leads to what is usually the most fun part of the day: walking across the street to Safeway as a big group, dividing up, and taking over the store as we empty out shelves of flour, sugar, milk, yogurt, cheese, bananas, lettuce, frozen turkeys, and anything else that we didn’t get donated to us. The students always love the looks they get from regular Safeway customers as we take over an entire checkout aisle and rack up over $1,000 worth of food (in many smaller transactions, to circumvent the director’s credit card limits).

So many turkeys!

So many turkeys!

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Part of my team's haul: yogurt and mini marshmallows. Not pictured: sacks of potatoes and blocks of cheese.

Part of my team’s haul: yogurt and mini marshmallows. Not pictured: sacks of potatoes and blocks of cheese.

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The director and cashier deep in action.

The director and cashier deep in action.

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Once we get back to church with a van full of food, we have to unload and re-sort everything before we can begin packing the baskets. Each anonymous family has a list of items and quantities, and the leaders and students pair up to work on packing the boxes and bags. Once all the food has been packed, we divide up into cars and head out to deliver the baskets.

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Let the packing begin! Students hard at work.

Let the packing begin! Students hard at work.

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All packed up and ready to go!

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It’s amazing to see our students hard at work serving the families of our community. I’m always so proud of what they accomplish at Thanksgiving Baskets and how they touch people’s lives through their giving hearts. We always pray that the people we serve will understand the love of Christ a little better because of these teenagers and their love for him and for his ministry on earth.

What Being a Wife Means to Me

It’s no secret among married couples that relationship growth never stops. You spend your entire life learning who the other person is and who they need you to be. Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to me to be a wife and what kind of wife I want to be to T.

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Proverbs 31:10-31 is an excellent reference point (long passage alert).

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

Here’s what we can learn from the wife of noble character:

  1. She is a rarity in the world. Very few women are truly this kind of wife, which is what makes one so valuable.
  2. She brings good, not harm, to her husband, and her goal is always to build him up and support him.
  3. She is a diligent worker. She gives 100% to everything she does and has a good attitude while doing it.
  4. She contributes in important and unique ways to the provision of her family.
  5. She shows grace and compassion to people who are less fortunate than her.
  6. She stands strong in her faith and is always dignified and classy.
  7. She is wise enough to put her trust in God for the future.
  8. She is called to teach and guide others in their own faith.
  9. Ultimately, she loves the Lord above all else and knows that her true value is found in him.

What do those things translate into for me, practically speaking?

  1. I will always take opportunities to build up T to other people. I once read somewhere that you should always affirm your spouse in front of others and never, ever put them down, and I try my best to abide by that. I should do whatever I can to support him however I can. Whether it’s bringing him dinner when he doesn’t have time to go home between work and youth group, taking over driving on a long trip when he gets tired, or doing the laundry/cleaning/grocery shopping so he doesn’t have to, I constantly look for ways to make his life easier and better.
  2. Individually, my attitude at work (any kind of work) should be positive, committed, and selfless, which not only allows me to benefit other people through my job, but also helps me provide for my family.
  3. I can be an example and a role model for others, especially younger Christians. Right now I’m learning how to do this in youth ministry, and someday I hope to be able to guide my own kids in their faith journeys and relationships with Christ.
  4. My own faith should be the number one priority in my life, after which everything else will fall into place. I need to trust in God’s provision for my life and know that I was created to be a child of God and to find my ultimate identity in him alone.

I know I’m not always the perfect “Proverbs 31 wife,” but the beauty of marriage is that I have a lifetime to work on becoming one. I also have a godly husband who will (and does) encourage me in my efforts to be the kind of wife for him that God wants me to be.

Ladies, have you ever heard of the “Proverbs 31 wife”? What does being a wife mean to you?

Who Am I

Earlier this week, I posted a little bit about the career/existential crisis that I’m currently going through and the criteria for my mysterious, elusive dream job. Last night, as I was driving home from seeing Susannah at San Francisco Opera, I had a revelation.

I was listening to the song “Who Am I” by Casting Crowns, which is still a fantastic song even though it was released when I was in high school. One repetitive section of the lyrics goes, “Not because of who I am, but because of what you’ve done / Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who you are.” I was singing along, and all of a sudden I realized that so much of my time and energy during this existential crisis has been devoted to wondering how I would identify myself if I decided not to pursue opera as a career anymore. I wouldn’t be able to call myself an “opera singer” or a “professional singer,” and that’s been a hard bridge to cross.

But what if the very reason I’m struggling with singing and having this existential crisis is just that?

What if God is actually, purposefully taking away the possibility of a singing career BECAUSE he wants me to find my identity in something other than being a singer? Specifically, being a follower of Jesus?

And also, how did I not realize this before?

1 John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” There’s no better identity than that.

I know many of you don’t share my beliefs, and that’s okay. I know some of you might think I’m overreacting to the rejection that comes as a normal part of a singing career, and that’s fine too. But as soon as I made this realization last night, I knew it was the truth. God doesn’t tempt us or test our faith, but sometimes he puts up roadblocks or challenges in our lives in order to bring our focus back to him. I’ve known for a long time that I need a new perspective on singing, and now I’ve taken the first mental step towards not letting it control my life.

Finding my identity and worth in God instead of singing won’t hurt me at all––I know I’ll be able to continue singing. It’s not like God is asking me to never sing another note. What it will do is put me on the path that I should be on, that I should have been on all this time: living my life with Jesus as the central focus, not how/when/where/what I will be able to sing next. It will only be good for me, and I know it’s the truth because just thinking about it gives me peace.

I wish I had three-hour solo time every week... I might have made this realization a long time ago.

I wish I had three-hour solo time every week… I might have made this realization a long time ago.