Journal writing

2014 In Review

Every year I do the same thing.

Sometime around the end of December or beginning of the New Year I write a year-end review in my journal. I reflect on the year’s highs and lows and usually will reflect how my relationship with God progressed or regressed.  The following is an excerpt of this year’s:

* * *

January 2, 2015

About a year ago I rounded up 2013 in a very angry and bitter manner. I know why, and I am ashamed to remember it. I can only say that I am sorry that my lack of faith and my selfishness made me dishonor God in such a way.

2013 was a year of trials, 2014 was a year of…what?

Honestly, I have mixed feelings as I write. The end of 2014 brought an end to something that I’d been holding on for a while. My old love is officially old business; he has really moved on. How do I feel? I am neither bitter not jealous, just a bit… I don’t know… Is it wistful? Sad? Maybe just a bit resigned to the way my heart chooses to work. How did Anne Elliot say it? We women tend to love the longest even when all hope is gone. It’s silly, and to the most experienced I’m sure it’s laughable how in love I’ve always been the one to unreservedly give my heart to someone, and when it doesn’t work out it is the one that always lingers. But I have not been alone all this while, because despite the loneliness, the discouragement, the failed attempts, the uncertainties and the setbacks of this year, I end it in victory.

I have returned from my first day at my new job in a position that seems to have been tailored just for me, my skills, and my attention-level. It’s like God himself took that mental checklist I had about the job I needed and led me to it at the perfect time. I have finished December having passed my certification exams, I am planning to buy new gear—and have the funds to get it. I am starting a new business, I have acquired a valuable investor who believes in my vision. My family is healthy (I can hear their laughter outside my room), home is a warm place. I am happy, blessed, and so incredibly favored by my Heavenly Father. Is it presumptuous for me to feel warm and fuzzy when I think that the great King of Heaven loves me—indeed, favors me? Is it insane that at night the last thought I have is a prayer to Him and in the morning my first conscious thought is to breathe His name?

* * *

Unlike all the other years, there will be no resolutions this year.

There will only be a single prayer request every morning and every evening of every single day of the year. Yes, I will batter the gates of heaven every morning and evening with this single request.

Show me your will for my life.

Teach me to be able to discern your voice even in the noise and bustle of everyday life. Once I know your will and once I know that it is you speaking to me, empower me to obey you.

As to my heart—my foolish heart—I’ll leave it with you. I’m really, really sick of dealing with its excesses. So…this year I’ll trust you first to heal it and then to set it to rights, so that my heart will overflow with thankfulness and praise instead of aching from unfulfilled longing. Let it soar like an unfettered bird and let it sing with joy because of the hope that you instill in me.

For now, my heart beats steadily, strong and sure in my breast. My life feels very warm and quiet for now, and I like that just fine, for I’m gearing up for a very busy year.

What I learned in 2014 is that life with God is an adventure.

So with that in mind, Welcome 2015.

Devotion, emotions, the kitchen and God

My love of the kitchen goes back to my infancy, back when grandma and grandpa still looked after me while my parents worked. I lived a happy childhood in the big grey family home located on the mountainous, sparsely populated fringe of southern Mexico City. We lived on a very quiet house located on a very quiet street were hardly any cars passed by; getting the mail was the biggest event of the day (the mail was delivered by a guy in a motorcycle), and really—aside from the variations in weather that could go from intensely sunny to oppressively gloomy or even stormy from one day to the next, there was no change or variation in the tenor of life. It was a very gentle time.

My life centered about everything related to the house. Whether it was seeing to the upkeep of the family home, plants, and sundry pets with my grandfather, or “helping” with laundry or the cleaning with grandmother, I learned to love being at home—especially in the kitchen.

I was grandmother’s assistant. I remember the infinity of peas we shelled together, as well as the never-ending rivers of various soups we prepared: vegetable soup, tortilla soup (which we call chilaquiles), potato soup, fideos, coditos, chicken caldos, alphabets, et al. We peeled potatoes and carrots by the truckloads, de-feathered chickens galore, and when I, the humble neophyte, was deemed ready, I was given a knife and taught how to strip a cactus of its thorns. After all the kitchen activities were completed, with kitchen wiped clean and the dishes put away, grandma would make some tea, in preparation for the family to arrive and find the house filled with the delicious aroma of chamomile.

Grandfather was instrumental in fostering in me a love for experimentation the kitchen. When Grandma was not around he would steal in there and make various concoctions using mysterious herbs he’d gathered in the mountain. I witnessed many explosive reactions in the kitchen when he jammed up the blender with fruit for a refreshing mid-day drink. He would leave a mess then just as he did whenever he chopped up an onion and made a giant omelet for the two of us—wrong, the three of us. He always shared his repast with the cat (as did the cat with us now and then: whenever grandfather bought him a can of sardines, grandpa and I ate our share with gusto along with plenty of warm tortillas and pico de gallo). Grandpa taught me that food was meant to be shared.

My formal training in the kitchen began with mother once I was a teen, but by that time I was already aware of the most important rules of the kitchen, besides “safety first” of course:

Cook from the heart. If you’re not happy, your food won’t be good

And the corollaries to that are as follows

  • If you’re angry, eggs will be spoiled, and hot food (as in spicy food) will burn the mouth
  • If you’re feeling lazy or don’t feel like cooking, your rice will not properly cook and will burn on the bottom.
  • If you’re sick, don’t even step foot in the kitchen. Everything will go to the dogs.

* * *

Everything in me was averse to cooking one day last week. I was tired from being in front of the computer working on a design, and trying to communicate with a finicky client on a rush order. I was getting a pounding headache too. I did not want to deal with the kitchen, and cleaning up after cooking on top of that. But I didn’t want to eat tacos from across the street, and besides, my mother who was coming from work deserved more than Del Taco. So on I went to the kitchen and gathered all my ingredients on the countertop.

And then I thought.

How am I gonna cook if I’m feeling like this? The way I’m feeling, my rice is not gonna cook well, my food could go to the dogs (figuratively speaking, for we have no dogs). I can’t do it!

I looked at my ingredients: the finest vegetables and legumes, red-ripe tomatoes, smiling white onions, gentle mounds of rice, tumbling potatoes. Perfectly good ingredients bought with hard-earned money. They deserved my respect.

And so, rather than it being an exercise of fake it (i.e. happiness) ‘till you make it, I began preparing the meal with care. I wasn’t particularly happy, and I was still tired and my head was hurting more and more with the heat of the oven, but I concentrated on doing my best on preparing every dish. The result was food that really tasted good.

I revisited my idea on the attitude of cooking. And I thought that perhaps it could be tweaked a bit, or maybe changed altogether.

* * *

Devotion goes past emotion.

How else can a chef consistently make good food even when his personal life is bleak, and he knows that the woman he loves won’t call him again? Or how can a musician play the performance of her life when she knows that on a hospital room in a far off country a loved one is dying? It’s all about devotion. Giving something the time and care and energy that it deserves in order for it to be done right, even when life is not making it easy for you to do so, is devotion.

* * *

We moved to California, and ever since I’ve never returned to my family home. I was blessed to see my grandparents every few years or so, and the love that I had for them only increased with time and distance.

When my grandma died after struggling with cancer, my world as I knew it seemed to shatter. It was seriously one of the most difficult times of my life, and for a while I thought I could not comprehend God. I could not draw to him. How could he take her away like that? Why did she have to go through such intense suffering, such anguish? Life did not make it easy for me to do the right thing: which was to draw to him and trust him.

When we as humans rely on emotion or on “feeling” a need in order to draw closer to God, we will just drift. Devotion goes past the emotion; it goes past discipline, too. Emotion will mean that you will be led this and that way because your fickle and volatile heart dictates what you do. Discipline often makes it necessary to remove the heart from the equation, because it’s doing what one ought to do for the sake of the better good in the end. But devotion is all about the heart put in its proper place.

So my attitude was, I’m angry at you God, I don’t understand you, or your motives, and perhaps I never will. But don’t let this be a matter to break us apart. Please give me solace, and continue to anchor my life, continue to give it purpose. Continue to guide me as I open your word and try to learn your will for me today…

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:4-7

What is that? You guessed it–Devotion! Despite what life throws at you, your heart and mind is kept safe in Christ. That is a promise we can’t do without.

* * *

Grandma has passed away.

I miss her, but I have placed my hope in heaven. My heart too. One day Grandma and I will be reunited, and I’m sure that my mansion in heaven will have a HUGE kitchen (or an equivalent of such). And guess what I’ll be doin’?

That’s right. Cooking.

Oh, and by the way…

You’re invited.

Everything and Nothing

The grief and longing of the human soul for things lost are made almost tangible by the poetic words. In the story, when the lovers reunite once more, the young maid cries,

So many times have I waked when the stars were sinking, to long for thee, beloved. It is cruel, at such a time, to be alone in love. . .

They marry in haste that same afternoon. She—the love of his life, now a beggar, a faded beauty. And she is dying. He—a counselor to the Sultan and exceedingly rich.

The judge officiating the wedding asks for the terms of the marriage. What can she bring to her husband as dowry?

“Property?” Omar smiled. “Hair dark as the storm wind, a waist slender as a young cypress, and a heart that knoweth naught but love. She needs no more. Make haste!”

The judge tells the scribe to writes down “Nothing of tangible value”

“And Now, what property doth your Excellency bestow upon her?”

“Everything—all that I have.”

“Will your Excellency please consider that we must place reasonable terms on record? ‘Everything’ will not stand before the law. We must have itemization…and their approximate value—”

“Write ‘Everything of tangible value,’” Omar instructed the scribe . . .

Later, before showering his bride with gifts of silk, jewels, gold, damask, and pearls Omar whispered to her “O my bride, never wilt thou know other arms than mine.”

* * *

I like stories. Don’t you?

Here’s another one.

Once upon a time, there came a Prince sent from Heaven. He was humble in garb, but was still the Son of God, and he captivated the world. He brought joy, healing, and good news for everyone. After all, he came to earth to be with the fallen race, a people who were poor, and dying…

To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

In short, he gave them Everything, when they could give him Nothing in return.

This, my modern friends, was rash indeed. The exchange of the dowry was customary in the Eastern culture. A marriage contract had to be made official with the exchange of monetary gifts. It was as important as what we would consider an exchange of vows.

Yet time and time again in the Bible, it is God who makes the initiative to seek you out, and take you as you are as his Bride. Because the one thing you can give him–that which is “nothing of tangible value” to others–means everything to him.

So will you give him your heart?

– – –

[1] Lamb, Harold Omar Khayyam (New York: Bantam, 1956) p.94

 

While Reading the Bible, Discard the Brain (But Keep the Heart)

Most cultures in antiquity designated the heart not only as the seat of emotion, but also the seat of thought.[i] That’s why the Egyptians, for example, extracted and discarded the “useless” gray matter (i.e. brain) prior to the mummification of the dead (“Who cares what this mushy stuff is?It’s just gross… Hurry up and get it out”).

The heart, however, was jealously and carefully stored, because it was responsible for life, desires, and thoughts.

This same attribution occurred in the Jewish culture, which is why in the Bible the meaning of so many passages in which the heart is mentioned should be re-considered—there is additional depth to the heart than we can suppose upon a cursory reading. It is, therefore, convenient to re-define the meaning of heart as used in the Bible. Better yet, discard the notion/function of the brain as the seat of thought and keep the heart instead.

According to some sources, the heart was the “seat of all morality and of all moral and spiritual functions.”[1] This encompassed the conscience, and the thinking self.

In short, what came from the heart was much more than emotion. It was thought of as “the authority within.”[2] In other words, the will.

* * *

 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

By the fact that “heart” is mentioned in this passage, it describes this love as being much more than a love based on emotions; it is based on a total surrender of the will and the self. A love coming from what makes you you—a conscious love, not a heedless, reckless thing.

This begs the question—how does one love God like that?  How can we, people who have so distorted the definition of love to include everything from affection, to fleeting infatuation (even erotic passion), properly respond? Is God simply asking for the impossible?

* * *

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

God’s promise is to give you a new heart—and with it a new way of thinking, a new way of making decisions, a new way of being your own self. That is what makes the promise in Ezekiel so much more meaningful than before. God wants to give you a new set of values by which you are able to live by. Obedience of his law comes natural to the new heart he gives you, because it has transformed the “authority within” you. It is no longer you, but Christ who lives, thinks, and is in you.


[i] It wasn’t until Herophilos in Alexandria (Egypt) did many studies in human anatomy by means of dissections, that the center of thought was relocated from the heart to the brain, and the mechanical connection between the heart, the pulse, and the flowing of blood in the veins was first grasped.

Long-Distance Relationship

I still remember the boy I loved. How can anyone ever forget the first requited love of their life?

It’s been years since then, and I’ve turned into a wry spinster of sorts. But still, I can’t forget random small memories of him. Like how, for example, he once caught me in a hallway as I passed, pulled me inside an empty classroom, and laughingly whispered a few bits of nonsense in my ear before letting me go on my way, with my face burning, because he’d just kissed me.

Ours was a tender relationship, with the blessing of our respective parents to boot. Who knows, maybe it would have fledged into something serious. Alas, it was not to be, because the inevitable happened—my first boyfriend moved away, ending the small gestures of affection that characterize puppy love, and leaving behind a little girl crying out for her first love.

* * *

I am the first to tell my friends that a long-distance relationship cannot work. Lovers’ promises of undying affection and devotion cannot survive the great divide of time and space. Or can they?

* * *

“…and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)

When I read the last chapter of Matthew a few months ago, I was incredibly perturbed. I felt a great and extreme sadness. How could anyone that loved Jesus, that walked with him, that enjoyed close friendship and communion with the Son of God not be overcome by the sorrow? Sure I knew about the logistics of the master plan—the Holy Spirit coming to earth as the comforter, etc. That wasn’t the point.

You see, I knew the singular pain that comes with the realization that things are not the same, and that the hope of eventually meeting up again is not enough to keep a relationship going.

* * *

“…I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3 NLT)

If it were up to us humans to keep the relationship going (if it were based on our love and faithfulness), then surely whatever relationship we could have with Jesus would end soon after it sparks into being. But God’s love is as everlasting as God himself is.

I take hope in the knowledge that God himself is the guarantee of this relationship working out even when we can’t enjoy physical proximity. I believe that the ties of love that bind you and me to heaven are stronger—infinitely stronger than any human-forged ties. There is no beginning of His love, nor an end of it. It is boundless and ever present.

Physical separation is not enough to break such ties, and neither is our betrayal or our sin or our forgetfulness powerful enough a reason to break the love of God.

* * *

I bask in the knowledge that there is one who loves me greatly and tenderly. I read his love letters every day, and talk to him continually.

I’m 27 years old, my love life is a total wasteland. To most people I appear to be the one that disdains romance, who is proud of being the opposite of a man-magnet. A cynic. But truly, that’s all just a flimsy front.

My Heavenly Prince is the one that makes and keeps me hopelessly and incurably romantic.

This Awful Ache

It is beautiful how God has done everything at the right time. He has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds. Yet, mortals still can’t grasp what God is doing from the beginning to the end of time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 GW)

I’ll be the first to confess it. I am not happy. I am not content. I want more–I am starving for love, yearning for perfection, and seeking a purpose with great desperation. Sometimes, I am so melancholic (or nostalgic?) for…somewhere or someone I don’t even know. So much so that I feel like I want to die.

Obviously I am not always like that, so please don’t try to put me on medication. Let me explain. It happens when I am very quiet and am on my own talking to Jesus. I will “hear” an unearthly note that somehow resonates inside me and sets my heart on fire. It’s this awful ache, that makes me restless when I should be feeling complacent and happy and fulfilled.

I used to think it was just some abonormal yearning for love–that I was love-starved. But even when I was with the one I loved that ache did not go away.

I used to think that it was something to do with the artist in me who yearning for ultimate perfection–a vision, an inspiration needed for my life’s great work. But no. This awful ache may increase the creative output, but it is not the cause.

I used to think that it was a kind of desperate need for fulfillment. But no amount of awards and success can make it go away.

And then it came to me.

It is eternity. It is God himself calling to me. Reminding me that there is something more. Some great mystery. Something higher, better, more perfect, pure, and meant just for me. Something that the spiritual in me recognizes–vaguely–but can’t yet define.

It sounds lovely, but there is a downside to it: while I am on earth, I can never hope to be free of it. I will yearn for my true home. I will always be a foreigner while I am here. I will never feel fulfilled, always feel like I never quite fit in, because for the whole of my life I will be under the spell of …. this unknown. And so, this downside turns into an upside. Because it is my insurance against loving the world.

And so between spiritual numbness and this awful ache I’d take the latter any time.

Wouldn’t you do the same?

One-Sided Love

The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee (Jer 31:3)

* * *

It’s him!!!!

Every cell in my body thrilled. I became short of breath as a million tiny pink butterflies suddenly burst into existence inside my stomach and began cavorting inside in a wild and chaotic manner. Crazy, bothersome things. I bet they were to blame for my racing pulse, for I could hear my heartbeat drumming—nay, thundering—in my ears. Deaf and blind to everything around me, I was only conscious of a strange, delicious, weakness. And yet, my fingertips tingled as if charged by electricity.

In my hands I held my cellphone. And in it I read the first text message he ever sent me.

He asked me how I was!!!

He hoped my week was going well!!!

It was poetry! And the best part was at the end when He asked if it was ok to call me!!!!

I laughed. I could not believe my eyes. YES!!! Yes of course you can!

And so began a steady correspondence with Mark. Every text he sent me triggered the rebirth of the crazy butterflies, and caused me to drop whatever I was doing just so I could read it, dwell in every single word—and, of course, to reply to it.

* * *

And yet . . . I knew that Mark did not mean anything romantic by it. I just knew it by what I read in his eyes whenever we would look at each other. If our eyes met he smiled as he would to a good friend. I, however, melted under his gaze.

I was, of course, very conscious of the fact that I was the only one who felt excited over the frequent texting and calling. I was also very conscious of the fact that my love was one-sided, and that the nature of this relationship could very well mean that just as he had capriciously began this habit of calling/texting me because of the big project we were working on together, to tell me what he thought of this or that or to ask me what I thought about something or other, he could very well choose to end it at any point.

And that was my greatest fear. What if that happened? What if after the end of this semester there would be no excuse for that constant conversation—what would my life look like during the winter break if I did not have that to look forward to?

* * *

I have made so many promises about praying more to God to know him better, and seek him and his will….but….I think I am at times capricious about it. Even more than Mark was. I am the one who breaks it off, and despite having some idea of this great wonderful love that is mine for the taking, I break his heart by not realizing its full value.

We all tend to be that way. That is why I don’t think it’s necessary for me to explain it further.

Only let me tell you this: Remember that, above all, God is a Lover.