Monday, June 20, 2016

An American Nightmare

I feel this storm brewing inside me, but it's lopsided, like a scatter-brained tornado. It starts to gather force and bare down, only to switch courses, dissipate into several little dust devils, and try again another day. So much in my life feels unstable right now, but I can't always put my finger on what aspect most needs attention such that all the others will begin to settle as well. 

My mom is a social worker and recently described a client of hers as having "existential depression". I'm plenty familiar with what depression is, but I asked her what the existential distinction meant, and she described this person as viewing Life as a game which he has lost. In order to avoid losing this game, he decides not to play. Man, I feel you. (image)

I hate reading articles about depression, because I never want to realize that I might have been going through a stretch without realizing it. LIKE I ALWAYS DO. I am what you might call a high-functioning occasionally depressed person, which makes it feel like lying or whining to say that "I can't see past the darkness, and I can't fix it". I even saw a headline that said "depressed mothers are almost never able to put their children first" and something inside me wanted to scream. I can not afford to drown in my own life or even the sorrows of the world at large when I have two precious and vulnerable people to love. Get behind me, Satan.

I have flicked my tongue in the ice cream bowl of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and found that it has no bottom. I'm sickened with awareness of all the truths I have no access to, tomorrow's shooting that I can't predict, and the hopelessness of pinning justice on culprits. I feel my desire for this knowledge and this justice stabbing in the dark, hoping to touch something solid. I am mummied by my smallness in the grand scheme of everything.

A big factor in this instability I've been feeling is a result of a history class I recently finished. I read about several historical events that I considered to be of major impact concerning the integrity of the United States as a nation that I'd never heard spoken of before in text books or classrooms or conversations. Apart from the invasion of Iraq, I would guess that 90% of my peers have never heard of these events or the US's handling of them either. I'm sure that part of this is because many things happened before I was born, but I'm also coming to grips with the realization that this country may never have been Great in the way that I thought it was, even though I have been more skeptical than most from the beginning. 

I feel that I have fallen captive to my own station, age, and place in life. I can't see anything other than what my outlook presents to me, and even when I can break through once in a strawberry moon, it only serves to make me schizophrenicly aware of how little I know. Sometimes truths flit across my screen or occur before me in broad daylight and I think, "this is too sad or obvious not to be news already" or "making a big deal of this makes me a loud nuisance" or "believing that this is real shapes me into a conspiracy theorist", so I move along to something clearer, sharper, bigger.

I can't carry the weight of every secret, but my keen awareness of the existence of ruinous secrets that I can't access makes it harder for me to trust anything. I know that I need not trust anything or anyone but my Savior, but I'm refusing to stop playing this Life game that I can never win. We are called to be in the world and not of it, but how can I even be in this world if I don't know what it is that I'm "in" anymore? Reality feels like a corridor of funhouse distortion mirrors. 

It has been very difficult for me to believe that politicians (and people in general) lie as much as I'm told they do. When I've heard, "well, he/she is a politician, afterall..." or "you can't believe anything you hear from the media", etc., I've always thought that was incredibly cynical. As humans, it is impossible to be completely objective in all circumstances, even if we witness something with our own eyes. 

Yet, there's a level of corruption in our media and our government that up until now, I've just refused to believe is anything but an occasional fluke. I thought critics of the response to Benghazi were just picking a fight, I thought Chris Christy and his staff closing that bridge was too ridiculous to be true, I thought there was something that must be missing to the story that would make a 6-month jail sentence for Brock Turner make sense. Instead, people in charge really do lie and really are petty and really do try and cover their own bums to progress in their careers. None of us are perfect, but even one lie tears a big hole, and there are more holes than fabric left in my worldview. 

Part of the ringing in my ears has to do with the futility of cutting through all the noise we/the media make on a daily basis, on top of scandals themselves. "The web’s algorithms all but removed any editorial judgment, and the effect soon had cable news abandoning even the pretense of asking 'Is this relevant?' or 'Do we really need to cover this live?' in the rush toward ratings bonanzas....And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic." (source)

I feel this so acutely, but the alternative to ignoring the news and the internet is to stop playing Life. Instead, I have to run faster and faster to stay in the game, and I'm more and more confused by what the rules are. Perhaps it's not that the trivial things in the news are not true, just that it becomes impossible to weigh and intake what important truths are, which gives one a sense of mistrust which is only compounded by the fact that many of the things we read - or parts of things we read -  are untrue, and it's very difficult to verify the facts.

Did you know that the US has been at war for 222 of its 239 years (counting from 1776)? That fact on its own is not inherently bad, though to me it suggests that we've been swift to arms for our entire life as a country. In the case of our recent war with Iraq, the US invaded Iraq in the name of deposing Saddam Husayn, which I'm sure was a genuine objective of the invasion, but Iraq had recently annexed Kuwait, and the tension threatened to cut off access to oil in the region which would have been economically disastrous for the US. 

I find that to be a despicable reason to wage war, but even if we overlook that, the US bombed Iraq for days and days and days, despite having wiped out the Iraqi military's capacity to retaliate on the first day. Instead of killing Saddam (which I would dispute the right of the US to do in the first place), they laid waste to an entire country, which ended ordinary life for the entire population of Iraq and severely impacted the refugee crisis that was already going on in the region.

I wouldn't quote textbooks at you if I didn't think it was really important. Since my entire point is that it's really difficult to decipher what is true, I'm trying to cite someone more authoritative than myself to provide as close to factual truth as I can manage. This is some more detail about what I described above, written by William Cleveland.
Throughout the Arab world, the Gulf crisis generated anxiety and ambivalence. Although Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait was generally condemned, the arrival of a major US military force to reverse the occupation was extremely unpopular. The US intervention tapped a deep source of Arab resentment that focused on the United States’ double standard in the Middle East. Arabs noted that though Washington was quick to enforce UN resolutions against Iraq, it had not tried to compel Israel to obey UN resolutions pertaining to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 
By concentrating on the figure of Husayn, the US administration gained popular support for military action directed against a ruthless individual ruler without having to explain the possible impact of such a war on the people of Iraq. Behind the rhetoric about the liberation of Kuwait and the cruelty of Husayn lay a more practical motive for military action. The rulers of the Arab Gulf states provided the United States and Europe with dependable access to reasonably priced oil. From the perspective of the Western oil-consuming nations, the stability of the Arab Gulf monarchies and their continued willingness to sell oil to the West were essential to Western economic well-being. Moreover, the Gulf rulers’ practice of reinvesting their oil profits in the West was vital to the health of the Western economies. 
Evidence released after the war revealed that US reports grossly inflated the size and the abilities of the Iraqi military in order to justify the massive force deployed against Iraq. The Iraqi conscript troops who had managed to survive the bombings were poorly supplied and thoroughly demoralized.

Beyond getting into things for dishonorable reasons, the US has a less-than-well-publicized record of making a massive mess and then not cleaning it up or apologizing. Two examples are nuclear testing in Micronesia and Iran Air flight 665

In the first example, the US detonated a H-bomb for testing purposes during the Cold War on an island called Bikini Atoll, from which they evacuated about 170 indigenous islanders beforehand. However, they did not warn surrounding islands, which woke up to 2 inches of radioactive dust on all surfaces, including sources of drinking water. Within hours, children and adults were experiencing extreme signs of radiation exposure, but it took the US government 2 days to begin treating and evacuating people. The islands have been uninhabitable ever since, and the islanders were ferried from one temporary camp to another, often with inadequate food and water provided. In the 1970s, the residents of Bikini Atoll were permitted to return home after being told that their land and crops were safe again, but the land certainly was not safe, and the entire process of radiation poisoning and evacuation was repeated. Admittedly, the strength of the bomb was not understood upon its detonation (which is an easy argument for why it should not have been detonated in the first place) and none of this destruction was intended, but none the less, great damage was inflicted and then aftermath handled shamefully by the US. The former residents of Bikini Atoll remain displaced today. (image)

In the case of Iran Air flight 665, I linked to the Wikipedia page, which provides a summary of the event, but I initially read about it in this book (which I highly recommend as a tool to see US international conduct more objectively). In one sentence, what happened was that a US Naval ship mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian airplane, killing 290 people. Here are the highlights from Wikipedia that explain how the accident was grossly mishandled by the US. 
When questioned in a 2000 BBC documentary, the U.S. government stated in a written answer that they believed the incident may have been caused by a simultaneous psychological condition amongst the 18 bridge crew of Vincennes called 'scenario fulfillment', which is said to occur when persons are under pressure. In such a situation, the men will carry out a training scenario, believing it to be reality while ignoring sensory information that contradicts the scenario. In the case of this incident, the scenario was an attack by a lone military aircraft.
"Contrary to the accounts of various USS Vincennes crew members, the shipboard Aegis Combat System aboard Vincennes recorded that the Iranian airliner was climbing at the time and its radio transmitter was "squawking" on the Mode III civilian code only, rather than on military Mode II.
After receiving no response to multiple radio challenges, USS Vincennes fired two surface-to-air missiles at the airliner. One of the missiles hit the airliner, which exploded and fell in fragments into the water. Everyone on board was killed.
Even if the plane had been an Iranian F-14, Iran argued that the U.S. would not have had the right to shoot it down, as it was flying within Iranian airspace and did not follow a path that could be considered an attack profile, nor did it illuminate Vincennes with radar.Prior to the incident,Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters, and was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched its missiles. Even if the crew of IR 655 had made mistakes, the U.S. Government remained responsible for the actions of the crew of Vincennes, under international law.
Three years after the incident, Admiral William J. Crowe admitted on American television show Nightline that Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched the missiles. This contradicted earlier Navy statements.   
George H. W. Bush, at the time vice president of the United States in the Reagan administration, defended his country at the United Nations by arguing that the U.S. attack had been a wartime incident and that the crew of Vincennes had acted appropriately to the situation. 
The U.S. government issued notes of regret for the loss of human lives, but never apologized or acknowledged wrongdoing. George H. W. Bush, the vice president of the United States at the time commented on a separate occasion, speaking to a group of Republican ethnic leaders (7 Aug 1988) said: "I will never apologize for the United States — I don't care what the facts are... I'm not an apologize-for-America kind of guy." The quote, although unrelated to the downing of the Iranian air liner, has been attributed as such.
Despite the mistakes made in the downing of the plane, the men of the Vincennes were awarded Combat Action Ribbons for completion of their tours in a combat zone. The air-warfare coordinator on duty received the Navy Commendation Medal, but The Washington Post reported in 1990 that the awards were for his entire tour from 1984 to 1988 and for his actions relating to the surface engagement with Iranian gunboats. In 1990, Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989." The award was given for his service as the commanding officer of the Vincennesfrom April 1987 to May 1989. The citation made no mention of the downing of Iran Air 655.
As you can see, the US handled the situation both dishonestly and uncompassionately. It is a great wonder to me why many Americans think that Middle Eastern nations harbor anger against the US for "no good reason", especially when our leaders publicly state that we never apologize for our actions. It's an entirely separate story, but did you know that the US removed a democratically elected prime minister in Iran without the consent of the people? Anyway, I do not believe that the US conspired to kill Iranian civilians in the airbus shooting, but consider that if the tables had been turned and Iran had accidentally/hastily shot down a US airline, the US military would most likely have bombed Iran to smithereens in retaliation

I understand that there's no need to flog ourselves continuously over past mistakes, but I'm appalled that I felt that these acts on the behalf of a government I have trusted and supported and spoke up for were not only swept under the rug, but never even owned up to as problems in the first place.

Now I want to pivot to what's currently happening in the US, and how it has affected my view of this country. I think we can all agree that whatever is happening is about as complicated as that pile of wires for electronic goods that you may or may not still own, but are afraid to get rid of in case you might need one of them someday. You know the one I'm talking about. I'm not going to be figuring anything out in any solid terms here, but I am trying to offer some critically considered avenues of thought, none-the-less. 

We can't talk about this American ball of wires without talking about Donald Trump. Strangely, he doesn't scare me as much as he did initially (once he became an apparently real option, that is). He's even said a few things I like. However, he doesn't represent me as an American, and that has really led me to question what being American means if I'm unable to align myself with anything that my country stands for. Ultimately, I think this 2016 election is less about the candidates and more about what We the People have become, and why. I don't really know what America is right now, and not knowing what it is or where it's going makes me wonder what is used to be, and where my place was and is and will be in it. 

This little bit (also from Revolutionary Iran) from Ernest Gellner from 1995 struck me, and I've read it over and over trying to fully grasp it: 
"A collectivity united in a belief is a culture. That is what the term means. More particularly, a collectivity united in a false belief is a culture. Truths, especially demonstrable truths, are available to all and sundry, and do not define any continuity of faith. But errors, especially dramatic errors, are culture-specific. They do tend to be the badges of community and loyalty. Assent to an absurdity is an intellectual rite de passage, a gateway to the community defined by that commitment to that conviction."
What I think that means is that we, as a culture, are defined by our collective beliefs (which are separate from Truth itself), and we are especially knit together by our dramatically erroneous collective beliefs.  Once again, I feel trapped in time and space and the probability that being part of the group called Americans makes me unable to see our collective errors at times. At the same time - and maybe this is a beauty of being American - I think the essence of American culture is being able to say, "no, I see the way this is going, and even if I'm the only one, I'm going to be a different kind of American." As of right now, that is still legal in this country, and that's something I'm proud of. The statement may come from weak and exhausted lips, but it's being spoken none the less.

Even more encouraging, I'm far from the only one who is trying to fall out with whatever the collective course of error is. I don't want to go back to the way things were - they used to be worse in terms of poverty and racial injustices in this country. I want to move FORWARD, just in a different direction than we seem to be headed. 

My brother-in-law shared this loooong but excellent article (by Andrew Sullivan), that simultaneously helped me understand how Trump has garnered so much legitimate support (for so long I wondered, who are these people who like him?) and made me more concerned of the possibility of him as President than ever. 

The article talks a lot about Plato having predicted an arc of democracy and how, rather than democracy crumbling and giving way to a leader like Trump, it's democracy on steroids (literally everyone's opinion matters, and the emotions of the people - many of them idiots - take over in the place of reason) that leads to Trump. Sullivan notes, "It’s as if [Trump] were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities....And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment...The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force".(Sullivan). Oddly, this is a very similar thought to what Michael Axworthy (Revolutionary Iran) puts forth, "In a revolution, new leaders emerge from unexpected directions, surprising those who were too quick to think themselves the masters, or proprietors."

In the past year or two, I have begun to question whether democracy is as worth promoting as I once thought it was. I'm embarrassed that the US pushes democracy on others in light of where ours has led us. I would rather be under a decent king than in the hands of a Trump-loving democratic mob.

I've been thinking a lot about revolution after reading about the Iranian revolution of 1979 and finding so many parallels to what is happening in the US right now. If you think that something like the Iranian revolution and its aftermath (generally thought of in the US as the epitome of oppressive societies) can't happen in the United States in the next five years, if not this very year, you are wrong.
"Mass movements, he notes (as did Tocqueville centuries before him), rarely arise when oppression or misery is at its worst (say, 2009); they tend to appear when the worst is behind us but the future seems not so much better (say, 2016)....When those who helped create the last recession face no consequences but renewed fabulous wealth, the anger reaches a crescendo."    
Sullivan goes into more (very helpful) detail about who Trump supporters are and why, but suffice to say:
"For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome."  
"The jobs available to the working class no longer contain the kind of craftsmanship or satisfaction or meaning that can take the sting out of their low and stagnant wages. The once-familiar avenues for socialization — the church, the union hall, the VFW — have become less vibrant and social isolation more common. Global economic forces have pummeled blue-collar workers more relentlessly than almost any other segment of society, forcing them to compete against hundreds of millions of equally skilled workers throughout the planet."
Don't get your panties in a wad when I say this, but I tentatively admire resistance groups like the Black Panthers (here's their 10-point agenda) and the Muslim Brotherhood, which were born out of a desire to retake pride and control from political power figures gone sour. Both groups are known for their periods of violence, but neither sought to be characterized by it. Both groups offered social benefits to people that the government was not providing. I must stress that I have merely surface-level knowledge of both groups (I know more about the Muslim Brotherhood), but I find it very interesting to study them as I ponder what my role is in an over-ripe democracy.

I'm contemplating what civil disobedience might look like under a President Trump. I can think of several things that he has suggested making into law which I would unabashedly disobey, even at the cost of going to jail or perhaps even harsher punishment. I would rather my children see me punished for breaking an unjust law than see me ignore injustice. (image source)

Sullivan's breakdown of Trump's character is very helpful, but also terrifying. I said before that I'm not afraid of Trump, and that is mostly true. I am more afraid of the atmosphere that has allowed him to gain prominence, and the possibility that that atmosphere will continue to encourage tyrannical leaders to rise up. As in Iran, even a democratically elected anti-establishment resistance leader can (and certainly does) seize control when trusted and that may well be the end of democracy as we know it. More than Trump as an individual, his rhetoric about shutting down the press (he's already banned the Washington Post from being in his presence) and threatening military and government leaders who oppose him signal something far scarier than a questionable individual for President. 
(Sullivan quoting Plato) A tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning,” a man who “throughout his entire life ... is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains.”....To call this fascism doesn’t do justice to fascism. Fascism had, in some measure, an ideology and occasional coherence that Trump utterly lacks. 
No modern politician who has come this close to the presidency has championed violence in this way. It would be disqualifying if our hyper­democracy hadn’t already abolished disqualifications....[He's] giving legitimacy to the most hysterical and ugly of human impulses.... It remains a fact that the interests of ISIS and the Trump campaign are now perfectly aligned. Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally.
I'm not entirely sure how to sum up all the main points of this post. Perhaps I can just say that I want my children to grow up thinking that being the President is a cool job, worthy of respect as it is meant to be a position of servant leadership. I'd like to see the return of dual-party tickets. I'd like to see Kasich or Bernie win and share his ticket with the other, instead of a candidate being investigated for varying degrees of law-breakage (pick your party...). I'd like to see millennial women and first generation immigrants in the President's cabinet. But maybe this is the beginning of the end after all, and maybe there is an upside to that. Maybe I will figure out what it is and write another really long, some-what disjointed post about it. 

When I was a kid and we lived in China, our home was in a concrete block of apartments on the 5th floor. My parents never drove in China, so when our family was out past bedtime, a taxi would take us all the way to our building, and then if we were asleep, my dad would pick us up and carry us up all those stairs (no elevator) and into bed. I was rarely 100% asleep, but I still played dead so that I could be carried. I remembered how safe it felt to be in my dad's arms, knowing I didn't have to do anything but rest in that space and have everything I needed taken care of.

I was praying somewhat dejectedly in the midst of the mental and emotional exhaustion I feel from everything mentioned above (plus debilitating sickness in our home and multiple mass shootings, stabbings, and assassinations in the news this week) when that memory came out of nowhere. I had this intense desire to be taken care of in the eye of this storm, and to relinquish my burdens (Matthew 11:28-30). I'll get back to you if I figure out what being American means anymore, but in the mean time, I'm googling "can white people join the Black Panthers" (mostly kidding, but did you know that there was a BPP endorsed White Panther Party?!) and trying to rest in the thought that Jesus has already won Life, even if I never do. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Paradise Found

California is significantly more expensive than most of the rest of the country, but so far, I can't bring myself to consider living in another state. I would rather be in a tiny place somewhere here than in a mansion somewhere else (usually...). One thing I love about living in California is the weather and the sub-tropical foliage. We spend almost all of summertime reading, playing, and eating outside. The Central Coast gets chilly at night, or else we might sleep outside too. Few things are more wonderful than warm summer evenings, the smell of fresh fruit, warm water to wade in, the smell of night blooming jasmine, cold lemonade in your hand. 

When I daydream about my dream home, the backyard is always one of the clearest places in my mind's eye. There are a few key components that I'd love to have, which I'll detail below, along with pictures, of course.

First of all, constructed walls and flooring give the air of an intentional oasis. I like wild greenery, but I can go out into the wilderness or something if I want to be dirty (can you tell I never do? haha). I prefer contained wildness in my dream yard. So, there will be tiled floors and high, solid walls. I think the proper word may be "courtyard". If this yard were ever to become a reality, I wonder if brick or stained concrete would be more affordable and tile could be used as accents. Whitewashed brick for walls (1, 2) is a look I like that's appropriately non-pristine, but in looking at pictures, I might also need some patches of lattice bricks. The second picture below is my favorite flooring. This tile gets honorable mention too. (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)

The second thing this oasis needs is a body of water. I'm not much into swimming, so a wading pool or a reflection pool would be perfect. It provides coolness without taking up a lot of room. Of course, the boys would love a pool and Jonas would love a pond, but for now, I get to make my dream rules up. ;) (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)

A daybed is a duh, and it needs to be shaded because heatstroke = not cool. Naturally, this begins to remind me that ideally, this yard also includes a Victorian greenhouse/sunroom/conservatory and a studio (1. 2. 3. 4, 5). 

If you're not sleeping outside, you should be lounging or eating outside. A long table would be best for dinner parties, don't you think? There are some beautiful outdoor or semi-outdoor restaurants that are inspiring too, like Hartwood or Commissary at the Line. Anything with a glass ceiling seems to draw my attention. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Outdoor showers are so luxurious, I definitely want one. At this point, with a bed, a table, and a shower outside, do I even need a house? Of all the yard fantasies I've had, I think the outdoor shower was the first. There is really a wealth of outdoor shower ideas on the internet, most of these source links have pictures of a bunch more. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Most of my other dream yard details are decor or plant specifics. I'd love to have some rugs in various places, a beautiful door or gate separating different areas of the yard, and some overhead plant cover in some areas. Stained glass is beautiful outdoors as well. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Last but not least, I really enjoy plants in their own right. There's nothing better than a garden that is that is both beautiful and functional. I am partial to tropical plants and fruits, but most plants are welcome in my yard. ;) Making whatever-is-growing bouquets is one of my favorite things to do, and picking stuff and eating it is pretty awesome too. Also, I generally don't believe in mowing grass. Some specific trees I'd like: Mangoes, limes/keffir limes/finger limes, pink bananas, mountain apples (tropical), passion fruit, mangosteen. Flowers I'll need: jasmine, bougainvillea, orchids, wild roses, wisteria, chinese lantern flowers, bird of paradise, passionfruit vines, black magic elephant ears, ferns, moonlight caladiumRavenala madagascariensis, tapioca plantand lotuses. Not to mention herbs, veggies, berries, etc. 

I like this collage (on the right, above) of my 3 favorite pictures from this post. I think it gives a good sense of the vibe I'd most like to have in my yard.  Most of these pictures are saved on my Pinterest board called "Dream Yard". Lots more gorgeous stuff pinned over there if you want to look through it! What would you add to your dream yard? 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Scandinavian Potato Salad

There are about as many ways to make potato salad as there are households in the United States, but a lot of them are pretty yucky. I don't like the overly gooey, overly sweet, under-flavored kinds, and in general, I don't like eggs in anything, although I have had a few potato salads where the eggs were small and tasteless enough to be ignored. 

I'm not the best at making up recipes from scratch, but I'm on a life-long quest to perfect several staples of the American diet (spaghetti sauce, pasta salad, etc.) and in these cases, I do feel more comfortable making it up as I go along or adjusting based on other people's recipes that I do or do not like. 

So, if you ask me to make potato salad, this is what you're getting. It's pretty delicious, and not conventional. 

Time: 45 minutes (ish)  

Yield: A potluck-sized bowl 

What You'll Need:

  • 10 small potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold 
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 sprigs of fresh dill weed, chopped
  • 1 clove of minced garlic (see step 3 for note on this) 
  • Juice from half a small lemon 
  • 1/2 cup of chopped smoked salmon 
  • 1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard (I prefer the less horseradish-y kinds. I didn't use the mustard pictured, that was just the only mustard we had in the house) 
  • 1/2 to 1 Tbsp. of cracked black pepper
  • Dash of sugar (you can't taste it, I just imagine that it rounds out the other flavors nicely) 
All of these measurements are rough. I adjust according to preference and taste on everything. 

1. Bring a large pot of SALTED water to boil, then boil potatoes for 15-20 min depending on the firmness you like. 15 minutes leaves some bits partly crunchy, which I like. 

2. Drain potatoes and run cold water over them until you can handle them painlessly. Dice into small/medium cubes. If you want to remove the skin, they peel off easily at this stage. 

3. Add potatoes to a large bowl, and mix in remaining ingredients. Taste, and adjust according to your preference. The raw garlic gives this salad quite a bite, so if you're not a fan, consider adding less. 

4. By the time you've diced and mixed all of this, it's usually about room temperature, but you can also chill the salad until you're ready to eat. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016


I'm so flattered when people notice that I haven't blogged in a while. You guys are great.
I haven't been writing because my classes are getting more intense and I've been buried in reading. I also had/am having a pretty rough patch as a mom (maybe I'll write about it eventually, who knows...) and I've been venting to my sister on the phone when she calls, so I get it out of my system. But it's only a matter of time before I get riled up enough about something that I can't focus on my homework AT ALL and I have to write it out. You know, cause the internet really deserves for me to put it in its place.

I draw a lot of what I write about from actual conversations I have with people (as opposed to, say, lizards ;)). You never know what you might say that gets gears whirring in my head, and within the next few days, I'll have spun it together with a few other comments and timely articles I read and voila, I go into what I call "videogame power mode". You know, that look where the character pauses, raises their head and hands, opens their mouth and eyes wide, and fire comes out and stuff? Jonas tells me this is called a "powerup", and it's actually from a show. Whatever. I think ya'll know what I'm talking about:

So here goes... I got powered up about feminism.
DON'T GO AWAY. I don't even know quite where I'm going with this yet or what all I might have to say about it, so I hope that means it won't sound canned.

I'm pulling from several posts by Rachel Held Evans in addition to my own thoughts, and trust me, the parts that I quote of hers are going to be the strongest. Sometimes I'm blinded by the fire coming out of my eyes when I PowerUp and I need help articulating why I feel so strongly. The articles I'll cite are parts A and D in a series she wrote where she breaks down specific questions that come up about women in the church (women teaching, women breadwinning, etc.). I love it when I stumble upon a community or movement that I identify with but previously did not know existed, and I'm drawing so much confidence from Evan's counter points to stricter, [culturally] traditional Christianity.

I don't really have time to brush up on when and why feminism became a bad word in society. Some feminists make that label their defining characteristic, and it is a little tiresome to hear anyone constantly bring up that one issue of theirs that they just have to weave into every conversation, telling you how hard their life is because of this or that. I get that that's annoying. For me, that thing is probably parenting. Parenting is ridiculously hard, and so far, it doesn't really get easier, so yeah, I think and talk about it a lot.

I don't feel particularly oppressed as a woman. I do think that being a woman makes some parts of life more difficult, but there are some things that are probably harder by virtue of being a man, too. The church should be the torchbearer of women's equality, but instead, it seems to focus on all the things that make women and men different, and many times, how women can be properly subordinate to men.

Feminism in the church, tends to a) NEVER gets talked about or b) be thought of as an unholy menace. This has much more to do with our cultural norms, religious and secular, than it has to do with the Bible. Not surprisingly, most (all?) men I know don't seem super worried about women's rights. I don't say this in a condescending way, but I know that I don't understand some parts of life that go along with being a man, and the guys in my life just don't have the same view on my life as a woman as I do. Duh. What I find much more surprising is that many women I know don't seem to be interested in women's rights. It really makes me wonder if I'm a mega complainer for pointing out (and being angry about) some aspects of my life that I view as being negatively affected due to my gender.

As a side note, I have this weird thing about the word "rights". I don't believe in rights, only privileges. I don't like the idea that anyone is entitled to anything, only that we fight for what we think is right and good. Perhaps that is naive, but since it is important to me, I just wanted to point out that when I talk about women's "rights", I don't think that men or women deserve anything in particular, only that men generally have more parts of society working in their favor and I'd like to see women have equal opportunities.

I'm not anti-men. I'm not even anti-respect for men. In fact, I'm not even of the mind that men and woman can do all the same things exactly the same way, or that they should. Google defines feminism as "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men". That's really not all that provocative anymore. And yet, alarmingly difficult to achieve

More than people (including women in the church) being blatantly anti-women or unconcerned with fair opportunities and treatment for women in all realms of life, I think we become accustomed to norms such that we don't even realize when women are getting the short end of the stick.  

I know this is duplicitous, but at the same time as wanting to be empowered and bold and regal as a women, I don't like being defined by the fact that I am a women. Perhaps my idea of successful feminism is that I'm just seen and treated as a person of worth, not simply as a woman, for good or bad. Put more eloquently, Evans quoted, "Femininity does not define me; as a woman created in the image of God, I define it, in community with my sisters." The church - as I see it - does not grasp this nuance particularly well, at least in terms of its rhetoric.

I have many wonderful women in my life, spanning many ages and skill sets and lifestyles. I really enjoy talking and hanging out with other women, but does that mean that we're doing "women things"? I don't think so. It means we're doing things, JUST THINGS, together, and we happen to be women. Why do we have to compartmentalize things further than that? I don't want to go to Women's Bible Studies and Women's Retreats and read Women's Books. I just want good fellowship and good books.

I grew up with a lot of Christian literature and voices saying, "you're a princess, we're the bride of Christ, you're a precious daughter", blah blah blah. Those things are actually true, but what's with all the girl language? Can I only be reached by the Word of God as girl in need of a self-worth boost at every possible opportunity? No. THAT image, of women as extra fragile, helpless, emotional jellyfish is a social construct that we buy into so much that we think the only thing that can help is these special messages "for women". It's a marketing ploy to make money off people who want to feel special because of their gender and it separates us from the true identity of a child of God - one where labels do not add or detract from our worth. Male or female, slave or free - these are labels that we use to define ourselves, not labels that God uses to parse out love or worth.

I don't think that the church should 100% mirror society or anything, and there's no denying that we're marketed to based on gender in many circumstances in the "real world", but Jesus didn't relate to people based on their gender alone. Jesus didn't write books for women and books for men. So why, then, do we find the need to approach men and women in the church separately?

I used to help decorate at my church and sometimes men in charge (both of whom I love and admire) would tell women who were doing most of the work that "it needed to be more masculine so that the church was inviting for men". I admit to being too easily riled up at times, but that infuriated me. I genuinely am sad that many men don't want to be part of the church, but let me tell you, that's a heart thing, not a decor thing. I hate it when church culture gets caught up in petty details like that. I want church to be inviting for people, but no amount of masculine or feminine or neutral decor contains the gospel message. Sorry to fling out stereotypes, but most men probably won't notice the decor anyway.

Church culture also gets very tied up in gender roles as they pertain to relationships in dating and marriage. An example from Evans that sounds all too familiar: "I remember countless conversations in the dorm rooms of my conservative Christian college about how to defer to a guy as the 'spiritual leader' in a relationship, an ideal that far too often resulted in women deliberately diminishing their own gifts, ideas, and dreams in an effort to better play second fiddle."

Most of you know that Jonas and I married very young - I was 20 and he was 21. I have always been a strong personality, bent on dictatorship, and Jonas is a much gentler, more thoughtful and introspective person. He does not sing in church because he prefers to take in the music as he worships (I used to be embarrassed that he wasn't "participating"), and he doesn't offer to pray out loud. We've been married long enough now that I respect that we have different approaches to many things, but when we first got married, I had this idea that Jonas was really going to need to "step up" and be a spiritual leader so that I didn't overpower him. My idea of him being a spiritual leader was him prompting me to have a morning Bible study with him every day, despite the fact that that is SO not either of our personalities. Jonas does lead in his own way, but it's not patriarchal. He is often the one who makes me step back and evaluate my runaway mouth or my un-Christlike behavior, and he's always the one who loves me unconditionally (I don't use that word lightly, as I am not a great unconditional lover), and this is pretty darn Christ-like.

As a wife, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether I'm respecting or submitting to Jonas. Sometimes I feel guilty about this, but mostly I don't think about it at all. We interact human to human, not man to woman. We interact as Karissa and Jonas, whose communication styles do not always mesh. Sometimes I do or say something disrespectful, and sometimes so does he. I tell him when I think he's wrong, and I don't always agree with him. If we argue and argue and can't come to a consensus, sometimes we just go our own ways with it. We also try and say sorry when we know we've been disrespectful to one another. This is a much more liberating and practical arrangement than worrying about whether I'm fulfilling a woman's proper role. Who decided on proper? In my experience, what church culture calls proper is usually not what Jesus actually said.

Evans: "I’ve sat through women’s Bible’s studies in which I was taught how to convince my husband that something is his idea, even if it isn’t, in order to keep the hierarchy intact while still getting my way. (I think manipulation is an unintended consequence of hierarchical marriages, which perhaps should be the subject of separate post.)"

I absolutely fall in to that trap (not unique to the church) where I say "let's" do this or that instead of "please do this for me" so as to "soften" my real meaning. I think diplomacy in speech is a good skill to have, but I hate that women collectively feel the need to (and are trained to) be non-confrontational. Most of the time when I suggest, "let's clean the car", I have no intention of being part of that chore (because I'm doing other chores, mind you), but I still say "let's" because I don't want to be a wife who orders her husband around. Contrary to popular belief, I do not like TELLING people what to do. In the words of Deadpool, "I'd learn to change the oil on our car with you, but I don't want to". Jonas doesn't dislike me for my candor or my "softened" requests, but I cut that "let's" BS out whenever I catch myself doing it, and as a result many people tell me "I'm so direct" [especially for a women]. Nuance and time-and-place considerations are good, but manipulation is not. {image}

Evans: "You see this sort of language a lot in complementarian literature: 'real men,' 'real women,' 'real marriage,' 'hardwired,' 'programmed,' 'blueprint'—as if masculinity and femininity are rigid, set-in-stone ideals to which we must ascribe, rather than fluid expressions of our unique selves."

The term "complementarian" is new to me, and I'm always secretly proud when I didn't realize that something had a name, because it means that I haven't spent gross amounts of time fighting over churchy technicalities. When people start throwing out terms like "complementarian" in daily conversation when they're upset, you know they've been in the church a long damn time. Get thee to a bar or something, seriously.

But since it came up, the definition of Complementarianism is: "a theological view held by some in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere". I agree with this on the surface, because as I said before, I do think that there are general differences between men and women. But if I dig a little deeper, that premise mucks up so much of what I love about marriage, in particular. My favorite moments of being married are not when I'm cooking dinner and Jonas is walking in the door from work. I actually love cooking and I'm thankful that he works hard to provide for us, but those roles are circumstantial in our family, not identifiers. The moments where I feel most alive and most "together" as a couple involve sharing an experience or a conversation that we find equally enjoyable, stimulating, exciting, or mind-bending (get your mind out of the gutter right meow). 

We do compliment each other, but I don't see gender as the primary factor in that. I have many personality traits that are more masculine and Jonas has many that are stereotypically feminine. We still manage to compliment each other (and bug the heck out of each other) because we're different people, but that complimenting is not solely (or even primarily) gender based. We are probably better suited to non-traditional family roles, but for the time being, we happen to fulfill fairly classic gender roles in our family. It's still very difficult for me to be confident about a non-traditional approach to gender roles in our lives, but it hardly takes any thought at all (on my part, at least), to realize that classic complementarianism is not the best - or even a Godly - approach for us. 

I know I've been harping on church culture a lot lately. It's hurt me a lot, and ingrained some serious character flaws in me that have and will continue to take me years to uproot. I'm resentful about that. But, I think that my church (and many churches) have many wonderful, Biblical, helpful things to say and teach as well. I want to be ever more like Jesus, not evermore like human's interpretations of Jesus, and that's why I get so angry when I believe something false that I learn from church culture. I don't think that very many people in the church set out to twist the gospel, but it's really easy to do. I'm positive that I've done it myself. Nothing makes me more upset than realizing that I'm going along with something that I consider to be "good" and Christian, only to realize that it's a lie. That's the main reason why I'm so critical of what I garner from Christian circles and so noisy about the things that I think it gets wrong. 

Now, let us return to feminism. Like I said before, I think what people find offputting about feminists is that they always seem to have an ax to grind. But why are you (hypothetical person) annoyed or silent when I point out how a situation is degrading or unequal for women? I'm sorry (#notsorry) that it makes you uncomfortable or that you didn't think that through before speaking. I'm not trying to shame people most of the time when I bring up how a situation pertains to women's rights - I'm simply trying to bring awareness to the fact that there is actually a problem that we often fail to see because no one [at church] talks about it!

There's been some recent backlash against being "politically correct" (thank you, Donald Trump...). I don't really get it. I understand that it's a little bit harder to think about everything you say so that you don't offend people, but that's actually kind of a good thing. It's a good thing for you just to keep your mouth shut sometimes or to go out of your way not to belittle or demean someone else. I'm not sorry it annoys you when I point out your offensive comments or actions. It's difficult to decipher what's a joke and what's actually demeaning sometimes (they're often one and the same), and I make some non-PC jokes, but I also really care about being respectful of everyone I can think of. I feel bad when I blunder, and I try and take it into account the next time I hear or see someone being mistreated. "Why can't I just be me in private?" Because "me" needs to cut the racist crap, that's why. Why is not being a bully all of a sudden uncool?

I kind of hate this quote because it makes me think about all the world's problems that I genuinely can't give my energy to, but seeing that gender roles affect all of us, every single day, I think I can use it here effectively and say, "if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor". I do have a bit of an ax to grind when it comes to how "the system" handicaps women in the workplace and essentially punishes parents, but I will give you a real world example of how men and women can learn to recognize and combat unfair treatment of women in society. Granted, this is kind of a first world problem example, but I think it's subtle and probably quite common.

I worked for a previous employer for about 5 years, up until I had Ira. I did not like my job, but I was good at it and I was respectful and a very low-maintenance employee. There was a man who joined the department I worked for toward the end of my time there, and he was not good at his job and he was disrespectful to his coworkers and immediate boss as well. He did, however, have an [unrelated] college degree (so I assume he made much more than I did) and he was full-time compared to my part-time. At the time, I was asking for additional and more complicated projects. Mind you, I had 5 years of this job under my belt and I had long since mastered the tasks that I already did. Instead of giving the new project to me (even when I offered to take work home or work remotely so that my schedule could accommodate the project), they gave it to him. I wasn't happy about it, but I didn't throw a fit, either.

Then, I mentioned it to my dad, who said that they probably chose him because he wasn't pregnant. That's what really set me off about the whole thing. From an employer's standpoint, I understand that maybe my life was less predictable than his, but considering that I had come back to work after my first child (before my maternity leave was even up, in fact) and the other reasons I already mentioned that I would have done the job better than my co-worker, I was furious at the thought that my womanhood had gotten in the way of my life. Actually, I wasn't furious about my womanhood, I was furious that I wasn't given an equal opportunity in light of it. That situation was a big part of my decision to quit that job, and that guy even got fired later for not being good at his job. It would mean a great deal (and not cost you much) to say something if you see women discriminated against on the basis of their gender in your workplace.

Also, don't freaking tell me I can't do something because I'm a girl. Even (especially?) if it's a role in the church. Evans has some excellent points in her blog posts about how women led in the church and society in both the new and old testament, and men didn't say, "we can't listen to them because they don't have any authority." Short of it having to do with higher levels of testosterone, it's probably not true that a girl can't do something. And hello, people can take testosterone if they're that worried about not being as buff, or whatever. Like I said before, I do think that men and women are different and there are some basic *general* characteristics that go along with a person's gender (there is something extra about having carried your child in your own body), but since the heck when is "is your husband coming" a good question about how qualified I (ME, not him!) am to complete a task. Are you kitten me right meow? Das rude.

I'm not just angry-writing here. I write posts over several days or weeks, so it's *somewhat* meditated upon. But it's okay to be angry about injustice. Jesus was publicly angry at times.  One more time, I want to reiterate that for me, being a Christian feminist doesn't mean that I'm angry at men. Maybe a few specific men at times, but I also get angry at specific women at times. Anyone who thinks feminism doesn't concern them is in danger of being an "oppressor by virtue of being neutral in situations of injustice". So go on, get mad. Pay attention to injustice, and don't stand aside and let it happen in front of you. Rip off your shirt (okay, not really), clench your fists, and get all anime on un-Biblical attitudes toward women in the church.

And now, I'm going to PowerDown....

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Style Icon: It's All Gucci!

Well kids, this is my 401st blog post. Thanks for sticking with me. This space is such a fun outlet for me and it has pushed me to be bolder, louder, honest-er. And that in turn has started so many conversations behind the scenes that have genuinely changed my life. This girl right here used to be as introverted as they come, and maybe I still am, but I never thought I'd have more true friends than I could keep up with. What a lovely problem to have. So once again, thank you all for being a part of this blog and the conversations that spring from it. Stick around for 400 more! 

I can't get enough of the 1970s revival going on in high fashion right now. Colorful, flowly, sexy, girly, edgy, and flattering to mom bodies. What could be better? My entire wardrobe is basically genuine 1970s, but a lot of the design houses have tweaked the color pallet just a bit this season and added some tropical elements. I'm loving that too.

Gucci is not a fashion house that I've thought of as "my style" before. Gucci bags are the pits. But as I looked through photos of the past several shows, my blood pressure starts to rise from the all-encompassing awe of how deeply exciting I find it.

I'm just going to throw a bunch of gorgeous pictures at you now, and hope you're catching all these glory rays. [some sheer tops going on, fair warning]

If this were all one big dreamy catwalk, pretend we were sipping girly cocktails in the front row and listening to this:

What's your favorite piece? The green wedge sandals, the mega eye brooch, the gold gloves, and the moto jacket.... I start picking my favorites and then I've picked every single piece. HEARTS FOR EYES.

Elements to look for when jamming your drawers with the fabulous 70s: plastic shades with big, colorful, and round lenses, strappy platform heels, embroidery, fringe, lame, 2010s do 1970s do 1900s (Victorian revival, rows of buttons/pompoms), boho, turbans, pastels, huge bow blouses, straight hair with bangs, nude lips, over the top sequins, pattern mixing, pant suits, velvet and big beads. In short: all my favorite things.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Graceful At Last

I've never loved my name: Karissa. I don't hate it, but I don't love it. It comes from the Greek word, "charis", meaning "grace". That's why Karissa is often spelled Charissa or Carissa. People try and spell my name Karrisa sometimes, too. I immediately love any barista who can spell my name correctly. That said, I'm not one of those people who is really particular about my name. As long as you talk at me using a name that starts with a C/K sound, I'll probably respond. Unless you're that one guy who immediately said, "Karissa, huh? That sounds like 'caress'..." Ew. Get away from me.

Like me, my mama takes the meaning of names very seriously. Growing up, she would remind me from time to time that my name meant "grace". This troubled me for the longest time, because I felt that it was very unfitting for me. I don't think of myself as a very graceful person. I bruise very easily and I'm also really talented at running into everything.  My legs perpetually look like a 6-year-old tomboy's. I tried to be regal and poised, and it was more trouble than it was worth. That struggle has become a theme in my life.

A decade or so later, it occurred to me that maybe "grace" meant more like, being gracious. That was a slightly higher calling, but as it turns out, I'm not great at that either. Self betterment and all, but seriously, some people on this planet are legitimately not smart. I try and love them still, but the struggle is absolutely real. Again, it really bothered me that my name didn't describe me properly in any sense that I could think of. 

I'm telling you all this because my sister encouraged me to share my testimony recently and as I've been thinking about it, the concept of grace takes center stage. I was struck by the suitability of my name at last, after all these years of being really "meh" about it. Thanks, mom. 

You see, charis refers to the grace of God, and even though I'm sure my mom told me that a million times, I didn't understand the grace of God at all until recently, and even now, I'm sure I don't fully grasp it. Even my Chinese name means "grace of God": En Dian, 恩典, which is very strange to Chinese people, because that's not a term that is widely known in China, and certainly not a proper name. 

I grew up in the Church - I mean, you can't get more churchy than being the child of missionaries. But even as a kid, I was very aware that my parents were the missionaries, and I was along for the ride. I received Christ at the ripe old age of 3. I don't even remember it. I got baptized at 13, mostly because my little sister was getting baptized and I felt that it reflected poorly on me not to be baptized before (or at least at the same time as) her. I did believe, but I was sure that I wasn't "good enough" to commit to truly following Christ (which I thought meant never sinning again, basically), and so I was kind of lying by engaging in the symbolism of baptism. At least, that's what I felt like I was doing at the time, even though it was a flawed view of what following Christ really means. I would come to find out that being perfect is kind of the opposite of what God calls us to when we decide to follow him. 

At any rate, I wore a hot pink bikini and got dunked in a muddy river in the middle of the Taklamakan desert, and then people got mad at me because we lived in a predominantly Muslim area and I wasn't supposed to wear a 2-piece bathing suit. Yeah, I was kind of a brat. 

I was a class-A little Pharisee, really. A bikini wearing Pharisee. I spent most of my childhood and all of my young-mid teenage years trying to be good, and I was good, as teenagers go, but I was also miserable. I struggled mightily with depression in high school, and I felt so betrayed that when I cried out to God for his help, I didn't hear anything back. That tormented me for years. I distinctly remember sitting in a blue bedroom, painting with clouds, forcing myself to pray and read the Bible for multiple hours a day, because that was what I thought would make me good. I thought it's what God wanted or required of me, and even if I didn't understand God, I understood how to follow rules.

I'm sickened by the fact that somehow Christian culture or youth group culture or Sunday school culture leaves a kid with the idea that salvation is on their own shoulders. Not every church misses the point of Grace, and I think that many of the church leaders I knew growing up were wise and genuine followers of Jesus. I don't know who to blame or whether there is anyone in particular really to blame for crippling legalism, but it was so ingrained in me and many kids I know who grew up in the Church. It's the biggest lie out there, and it absolutely destroys lives. Real lives. Lives that I have been and am a part of.

Understandably, parents (myself included, now) stress "being good" in all areas to our children. Hitting people is not good, lying is not good, etc. I want to teach my children morality, but it is so, so difficult to impart the truth that no amount of being bad (in any realm) changes God's love for you. I don't think any human parent can honestly say they treated their child with 100% the same unconditional love whether they never disobeyed or whether they wreaked havoc every second of their existence. Maybe that's why it's so hard to believe that God is a truly unconditionally loving parent.

When my parents moved back to the US for good, I was 16. Within a month of having moved to Santa Maria, I decided I was leaving the Church. I didn't broadcast this or renounce my belief in God, but I didn't want to be called a Christian or be a part of the Church as I knew it. This felt so dangerous, because I genuinely had no idea where I would go on this journey or where I would end up. Complacency? Eternal limbo? Hell? (The answer ended up being a 3 year - aka Eternal - limbo.) I didn't know anyone else who was going through the same struggle of faith - at least not openly. A lot of my friend's moms already thought I was a bad influence for dating a Catholic guy and listening to secular music and not wearing turtlenecks. You think I'm kidding, but I'm mostly not kidding. Imagine, then, the pressure of "coming out" as not-sure-I'm-a-Christian. Basically the only thing worse (and this is a joke, but actually kind of horribly sad and true) would be coming out as gay in the church culture. 
But I was so sick of failing to be good enough (my happiness or self worth being dependent on my own works or strength), and I was so sick of going to church and feeling like no one was being honest with me. I knew, in a textbook kind of way, that God was good for me, but I didn't know who he was anymore, and maybe I never had. If he was what the church said he was and if some of the church-goers I knew were accurate mini-mes of Jesus, I wanted nothing of that god. Ultimately, I found the agony of facing some sort of ostracization better than lying to myself that this version of Jesus was who I really believed in or that I wanted this kind of life. 

What was real? I didn't know, and I thought that I should start from the very, very beginning and only hold on to what I could be sure of. What I was sure of was very little, and honestly, it remains very little. I only continued going to church anymore because my dad required that I go to some sort of service while I still lived at home. I thought that was archaic and burdensome at the time, but it indirectly saved my life. 

For background, I was dating this nerdy, hot, art-dude named Jonas. Some of you may have heard of him. ;) We eventually got married. I was definitely not into the churches my parents had been trying out, but one church that they had tried out and decided against was Element. Their electric guitarist could really shred, and she was a girl! Some of you may know Michelle, she's now my bff. ;) But the pastor made a fart-in-a-wetsuit joke from the pulpit and my parents kept looking (sorry, Aaron! Lolzzz). (To be fair, that's a simplistic reason for why they kept looking for a church to join.)

So, like I said, I had to attend Church, per my dad's rules. I decided to go back to Element on my own (well, with Jonas), and soon thereafter, Aaron preached through a series on the Song of Solomon. I found Element engaging and I learned a lot every time I went to church. I was making some life choices that were not "good", and I was aware of that, but here I was, forced to be in church anyway. I had made it a priority to be honest with myself, and I knew that I couldn't pretend that I was on board with the Church or my life as a follower of Christ if I was knowingly going against his commandments. Kind of like the baptism scenario all over again, but sans bikini. 

I know this sounds incredibly arrogant, but I was not ready to live for Jesus. Maybe I had to experience being lost  - and know that I was lost - in order to want to be found. I think I had been lost all along, but I thought Jesus and I were on the same page, when we really weren't. Really, Jesus wasn't on my page, and it had been bothering me for a long time. [image]

The Song of Solomon messages pierced me. Song of Solomon, as it turns out, is rated R. There's a lot of steamy stuff in there, and it was not what I was used to hearing about in church. I appreciated the candor and was struck by the relevance of scripture. I'm a sensual being (not in a weird way, I'm just being honest), and I was made to be that way by God himself. I was told many times growing up that there was no place for that in the church. I had to be modest and pious and unattractive at all times. No one actually said the bit about being unattractive, but I always felt stifled by church culture and honestly, I liked being beautiful. I liked it when other people noticed. One great thing I learned from the Song of Solomon series is that it is OKAY TO BE HOT. God created all that is beautiful. I'm not a scourge of Satan if men notice that, and I'm not a pervert for noticing beauty in other people. 

I thought that following Christ meant surrendering myself, which is does. But I thought that if I surrendered myself, He would ask me to give up any and everything that I loved, and I wasn't willing to do that. I thought that it was inevitable that God would test my devotion to him by taking away what I loved most - Jonas. But another thing I learned from the Song of Solomon, is that sin ultimately destroys, even if it is gratifying for a time. That truth so clearly applied to me. I knew that my deliberate choices to be "not good" allowed me to be free, by my own definition of "free", but I was also beginning to see that the secrecy and guilt (even if that guilt was about disappointing my parents rather than hurting a Friend who laid down his life for me) was hurting my relationship with the one I loved most - Jonas - instead of binding us together.

Now, I wasn't about to be all, "I'm breaking up with you because I need to focus on Jesus." Bullshit. BUT, the realization that my lack of commitment to genuinely following Christ was actually hurting me and bringing me another brand of misery - that realization was a tipping point for me. In my memory, it was almost like I made this change on a dime. I was suddenly ready to own the fact that I could never be good enough or bad enough to change God's feelings toward me, and that freed me to love him with no strings attached. And that's it. That's what made me decide to follow Jesus. I finally truly believed that He loves me, whether or not I'm good at loving him, and no matter what loving him looks like in my life. 

That is, in very simplistic terms, what grace, charis, is. It is permission to rest in what God has given to me, free of charge. And you know what? It is so mind-blowingly great. There is really nothing more powerful or important in my life. My sister Annelise wanted me to share this because she said that not many people, at least not many millennials, get to hear a life story of how choosing to follow Christ made someone more free and more happy than they were before. Before my introduction to grace, "faith in Christ" was always the antithesis of freedom in my life. And yet, I honestly believe that Jesus does not call us to be slaves, he has RESCUED us from slavery! 

I often call my faith and the story of my journey to belief a "hard sell." It's pretty personal and pretty divine (as in not by my own willpower) and I don't know why someone who doesn't believe would buy it. It is not fun all the time, but it gives me hope, even when life is at its very worst. I have friends and siblings and siblings-in-law who haven't been able to reconcile an ugly world with the existence of a good God. You know what? I can't always either. I don't have answers for everything, or even very much at all, but that is what is so beautiful about faith to me. It FREES ME from having to answer everything out of my own finite brain power. I could never hope to understand fully what and why Jesus did what he did for me, because I sure as hell don't deserve it. Am I a logic-less, backward freak for trusting in the grace of God? Maybe! I am ridiculously okay with that. 

I have found so much joy and meaning in accepting the grace of God, that I don't give two poos whether other people think that is foolish or not. I'm done bending my belief system to fit other people's standards. And here's the semi-logical argument I find for believing something so strange and otherworldly as the gospel of Jesus Christ: better to believe it and find out that it's true than not believe it and find out it's still true. When I tell people that, I worry that they'll think that my logic is driven by fear. But for me, it dispels fear. True fear was the realization that I was basing my eternal destiny on my own goodness. I simply couldn't live up to my self-imposed ideas of perfection. 

I referenced earlier that after deciding to strip away all the ideas I had about what it meant to be a Christian and start from scratch, I ended up with very few things I knew for sure. Now, I'm not a universalist, but if there's one thing I've learned, it's that Jesus meets different people in different places. I know this in part because I've been so wrong about some things that I held to be so right, and if it happened once, it could happen again. I believe in the most basic form of the gospel (Christ died for my sins, rose again on the third day, and if I accept that gift, I'm his homegirl for ever and ever, amen), and most of the rest of my beliefs I hold more as informed opinions, for the time being. 

People who don't believe in Jesus as their savior tend to have a lot of questions about different philosophical points. I don't mean to belittle having doubts and questions - I have loads of them myself. I just no longer feel held back by my lack of understanding on so many issues. For me, that's the definition of faith, and it's all that separates me from anyone else who does not believe. 

Reveling in my freedom in Christ makes me feel like a bad Christian most of the time. And I kind of love it. I am so, so happy to be done with the church culture's idea of "good". BUT, I do believe in Truth, and I do seek to obey my Savior. I read through the Bible when I was 16-17, and ever since, I've felt pretty unmotivated to read any more of it. Is this a good thing, even if it's in the name of "freedom in Christ"? No! There is such a thing as discipline and obedience. I am still learning to recognize the good in rules that God has given to us and to follow them out of love. He has called us to evangelize (I could write another miniature book on my thoughts about everything that can fall under that category), pray, read the scripture, tithe, be baptized, etc. I am still recovering from the lies I cocooned myself in for so long, and even if this is dumb, I resist obedience if I can only do it out of shame or guilt. 

Change in my heart can be slow, but I've seen it happen, and I trust that God knows how to irritate me enough to get me to continue changing. In fact, he gets an A+ in irritating me. And still, I want to be with him and be more like him, and that's what makes me sure that I've made the right choice. If it sounds Kumbaya and not-scientifically accurate, you might just be right. And it is glorious.

[image] "I once was lost, but now I'm found..."

God calls some to be scholars, debaters, philosophers, theologians, and generally brainy and specific about their faith. I will always seek to know more and uncover solid truths and articulate my beliefs (including reading his Word, which is the main way he has chosen to communicate with us), but relying on those practices as the end rather than the means nearly cost me my life. Instead, I think God has called me to be a joyful, colorful, occasionally cussy witness to people who are done with a Pharisaical lifestyle. I wish that this story was less messy in the telling and much more intellectual, but the very fact that accepting grace is not my natural bent makes me think that it is what God wants for my life. He changes people, and by his grace, I am a very changed woman.

The enthusiasm I feel when I talk about how this affects my heart renders me unable to shut up. You've probably gathered as much. Being "poor in spirit" is one of the best things that ever happened to me. It doesn't feel totally safe, because sometimes I am faced with big and difficult questions about what it means for my life that I trust in God. I question whether my wishy-washy heart will still believe in the face of tragedy, but I would rather live in the tension of the unknown than live with the lie that I can reach God on my own merit or that I will ever have answers for everything. 

I don't think I've put this whole story and the word "testimony" together before now, but there you go. To me, escaping my original idea of Christianity is almost as miraculous as quitting a bunch of drugs. I can honestly say I am 10,000 times happier being a "bad" Christian than I was trying to be a good one. God has called me by name to be his own, and that name is Grace. 
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