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!

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?

Weekend Reads (and Watches)

Happy Friday! I’m off to winter camp this weekend with the high school kids from church. We’ll be spending the next few days with youth groups from several different churches in our area, attending seminars and worship services, playing games, and learning what it means to be faithful to God in all aspects of our lives.

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To tide you over until Monday and keep you entertained this weekend, here’s a compilation of some of my favorite internet gems from the past week or so.

What one guy learned from his week of wearing makeup.

A fellow believer’s take on why people leave the church.

The cutest little seashell ever.

As a wife, am I treating my husband fairly?

A vending machine of sorts that gives food to stray dogs!

I don’t actually live in San Francisco, but I’ve definitely thought, said, or heard almost all of these things at some point.

Looking for a new job? Avoid these five cover letter clichés.

On the list of the 25 most amazing college concert halls, number one looks awfully familiar!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

2014: Looking Back

What a year it’s been for us. 2014 took off running and never slowed down. I feel like every time we got through one major thing, something else major came up. Here are the highlights (and some lowlights as well).

Travel: T and I went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February, to visit friends. It was my first time in South America and T’s first international trip ever, and the language barrier was quite a challenge. I also went to England and France with my grad school chamber choir, where I explored Oxford, nerded out at Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studios, attended an Evensong service at Westminster Abbey, took in tons of champagne and World War-era history in Reims, and admired the Paris Opera House, drank incredibly thick hot chocolate, and stood in awe of the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Finally, I spent a month in Weimar, Germany for a summer opera program.

T and me with Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

T and me with Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

Work: I started two new jobs, one at the dental office and the other as the director of our church choir. T made great strides in his job as well, getting promoted and working towards some certification tests.

Family: Three new babies were born into our family, which has been a huge blessing. My dad got married, and my mom sold her house, bought a new one, and moved just yesterday. Multiple family relationships have been stretched thin and subsequently healed this year, and I hope for further strengthening over the next year.

Baby T and me at Christmas.

Baby T and me at Christmas.

Friends: Two of our best friends got married in July in a wonderful celebration. Three weeks later, one of them was diagnosed with cancer. It was a big shock to everyone, and it definitely caused T and me to think about our own health and lives. After surgery and chemo, our friend is now cancer-free. In the midst of all this, we’ve continued to strengthen the bond we have with our friends and learn to trust in God for His mercy and healing.

Singing: I made the difficult but absolutely right decision to quit my pursuit of singing as a career and instead focus on the things that truly matter to me. It was a long, hard, painful process, but I know it’s where God has been leading me for a long time. I will continue singing as a hobby and a passion, but from now on my career choices will be ones that contribute to our current and future family. On a positive note, I did get to sing one of my favorite roles for the second time, as well as add a couple of new roles to my resumé, and I will be starting rehearsals for a new show next week.

Church: Our church had been going through a process over the past couple years of determining whether or not to leave our denomination, Presbyterian Church (USA), because of some faith-based issues arising in the upper levels of PC(USA). After months of discussion and debate, a straw poll in June, and more months of discussion and debate (and lots of fragmentation and division within the church), our church body voted earlier this month to leave PC(USA) and move our church to a different Presbyterian denomination, ECO. None of it was easy or pleasant, but seeking the will of God and following His direction is ultimately more important than anything else.

Personal: I achieved many of my monthly and yearly goals, including saving money consistently and adding at least one new role to my resumé (see above). I also overcame one of my biggest fears, and I made the extremely important decision to quit the business of singing and focus on creating a future for my family.

And now, my goals for 2015!

  • Look to God’s will for my life and use it above all else to determine my choices.
  • Create a solid savings account that will go towards a down payment on a house.
  • Develop a healthier lifestyle, whether that means cooking at home more often or being more physically active.
  • Figure out what sort of career path I might want and take steps to get there.

Happy New Year, everyone! May God bless you in the coming year.

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.

Opening Nights and New Beginnings

Until this afternoon, I had not opened my laptop for 48 hours. That’s unheard of for me.

Since my last post on Friday, I have sung three performances of The Pirates of Penzance, taught five hours’ worth of voice lessons, gone to church for Sunday morning service/Sunday night youth group/band practice, and started a brand new job as the front desk assistant at my dentist’s office. As you can see, not a lot of time to do much computing. (I did, however, have time to take a nap and watch part of the UCLA-Arizona basketball game. Go Bruins!)

So here’s what you missed:

  • Opening weekend of Pirates was a great success. All three nights were almost sold out, if not completely sold out––it’s hard to tell when you’re focusing on so many other things onstage, not to mention staring into bright lights. No major mishaps, except for one broken doorknob and one missed entrance (thankfully not by me), and the good news is that it will only get better from here. The other good news is that now that we’ve opened, we don’t have any more weeknight rehearsals, so I get to return to all of my normal evening activities. Huzzah!
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My very first entrance onstage, in which I sing about a thousand notes on one syllable. Photo courtesy of Lance Hundley.

  • On Saturdays I teach at a local music school/studio that provides private music lessons, dance classes, and performance opportunities. Most of my students are between the ages of 6 and 12, and almost all of them are obsessed with the movie Frozen, which means I get to hear “Let it Go” about ten times a day. I’m working on redirecting some of them into songs that are, shall we say, more age-appropriate (i.e. no Katy Perry either).
  • It’s so great to be back at Sunday night youth group after a few weeks off for rehearsals, especially because it’s one of the things that T and I enjoy doing together. Last night we did a photo scavenger hunt, where we looked at a list of possible photo ops and tried to cram as many of them as possible into 15 photos, and then posted those photos on Instagram. You can view our team’s 15 photos (as well as my other Instagram material) here and see how awesome our students are.
  • Because nannying is a split-shift job, I’ve spent the whole year up until this point trying to fill my daytime hours. Most of the things I’ve found to occupy myself, while certainly worthwhile and productive, have not been fruitful in the financial department. Last week, though, I managed to get hired as an office assistant at my dentist’s office, and I started today. I have a little bit of prior office experience, plus I’m good with computers and technology (until they break), so I think I’ll learn pretty quickly. I’ll even be able to continue working there after the school year ends and I’m no longer nannying, so hopefully I’ll be able to pick up a few more hours then.
  • Special bonus news: Cal Poly, my alma mater, won the Big West championship on Saturday and are going to the NCAA March Madness tournament! This is a big deal because Cal Poly historically sucks at most of the sports that the rest of the country actually cares about. They’ll obviously go all the way, so adjust your brackets accordingly.