California, Christianity, & Kin

I have a little bit of fun news to share. I've placed second in the California Pluralism Contest! My video, along with the other winning videos, will be part of lesson plans + lectures for high schoolers and early-college students to celebrate California's religious diversity + promote religious literacy. 

What a sweet opportunity to share a bit of my heart and encourage others to delight in their faith and heritage! Thank you so much to the Religious Studies Departments of the University of California, Santa Barbara; San Diego State University; California State University, Fresno; California State University, Chico; and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. 

Joyfully in Christ,

Living with Visual Snow

Hi, friend. This post is a little more serious in tone + content than what I usually post, but I hope you find encouragement from it.

On November 22, I was fine. On November 23, my world looked unrecognizable. 

Living with a chronic condition sucks. I may be an English major who knows lots of prettier and more sophisticated words to use,  but there is no other word I would put there. It just really sucks. And although keeping it bottled up inside is also quite sucky, I've had a lot of hesitations about writing about my experience. I worried that writing about my chronic condition would make me feel worse—that writing this post would only make me more aware of my challenges. I worried that I would sound like I was complaining or asking for sympathy. I worried that people would scoff and testily remind me how other people have it so much worse. I worried that my words wouldn't help anyone. But as I neared the one-year "anniversary" of living with a chronic brain condition called Visual Snow and started experiencing an ironically timed flare-up in my symptoms, I knew I had to put pen to paper. It was time to find some sort of creative release. 

You've probably never heard of Visual Snow. My doctors hadn’t either. As an extremely rare, under-researched condition, Visual Snow is only "treated" by one doctor in North America. And just why did I put the word treated in quotes? Visual Snow is untreatable. 

Visual Snow is a condition in the brain that causes me to see television static ( “snow”) in my entire field of vision in both eyes and in all light conditions—even with my eyes closed. It’s hallucinogenic, meaning that this thick layer of little tiny dots moving and swirling and pulsating are not actually present in my physical environment. My Visual Snow causes double vision in the very center of my field of vision, light sensitivity, and palinopsia. It makes me feel like moving objects are flying at me much faster than they are, and that nonmoving objects are moving. It's a struggle to read a sentence without accidentally skipping up or down several lines, and I have trouble transitioning between focusing my eyes on something near and then far (or vice versa). I see stars à la old-school cartoons. Visual Snow has also caused my tinnitus, dizziness, heavy pressure in my head and face, lack of concentration, the feeling of my whole body buzzing, bright red eyes at the end of the day, and general cognitive fogginess. (Here I am sounding like an elderly lady at the ripe, old age of twenty-two. Pass the prune juice.). Looking at me, you probably would never guess that I have a brain condition. Since VS is traced back to the occipital lobe, knowing that Visual Snow is "all in my head" doesn’t make it any less real—it actually makes it worse, as it means my condition is completely inescapable. The problem is inside my brain.

It's hard to put into words what Visual Snow looks and feels like, but there are several online simulators to help you with visualizing it. Click here, then click on each of the five options ("text on a page," "text under difficult lighting conditions," "the countryside," "sunsets," and "solar eclipse") to see what Visual Snow looks like in different situations. As I didn't make these animations, they don't perfectly align with my experience. If I could edit them, I would make the dots more transparent (which means I can still definitely read and drive and do all that, but it's like there's this staticky layer in my vision that I desperately want to peel away).

To someone who isn't afflicted with Visual Snow, this all sounds hard to comprehend. I get it. In the early days of my VS, I remember the pure frustration of trying to explain to the urgent care doctor what was going on. He was baffled, took X-rays of my neck (all clear), and told me to seek medical help elsewhere. A few weeks went by, and my weird symptoms hadn't cleared up, so I went to the emergency room and got a CT scan of my brain. The scan came back clear, and the ER doctor told me it was probably a migraine aura that just so happened to be lasting for a month. He gave me a muscle relaxant and shooed me out the door. I then went to my primary care doctor. He had no clue what I was going on about, but he ordered a cervical spine MRI for me, as I had experienced a low-key whiplash event (slamming on the brakes in the car—not even a true car accident) right around the onset of my Visual Snow.  The cervical spine MRI came back clear, so I was then referred to an ophthalmologist and a neurologist. After several tests, the ophthalmologist said that my eyes were structurally fine, and that there was nothing he could do to help me. The neurologist also did several tests and ordered a brain MRI for me. The tests and the brain MRI came back clear, so she told me to wait it out and come back in six months (!) if I were still having problems. It felt like one very frustrating game of hot potato. I, the patient, was the potato that none of them wanted to deal with for more than a few minutes. I so badly wanted to hear a doctor say, "wow, you're dealing with a lot, but we're going to work hard and figure out what's going on and get you back to normal." Instead, I was passed on from one doctor to the next, none of them wanting to take on my case and advocate for me. 

I had exhausted my local options. I suddenly felt like I was so, so alone in dealing with my mysterious condition. 

I had always pictured doctors as these all-knowing superhumans who, with their incredible intuition, could quickly figure out what was wrong with a person, treat them, bandage them up, and send them home with a lollipop in a matter of a few hours. Through my several-month escapade trying to find treatment for my Visual Snow, I realized that doctors and researchers are just humans. And that in the case of this exceptionally rare, under-researched condition, their guess was as good as mine. It was a very, very scary realization. 

There are Facebook pages and support groups and websites and forums populated by people suffering from Visual Snow and trying to find relief. And although I looked at those resources for a short while, I quickly realized that reading about other people's struggles with VS made me feel worse—reading other people's posts made me feel helpless, anxious, hopeless, and ultra-aware of the jumbled, whirling visual mess in front of me. I needed a plan to help me cope. I did nothing. 

Well, I very strategically did nothing about my Visual Snow. I decided that if dwelling on my condition made it worse, then I needed to do the opposite. I needed to teach myself to forget about my condition. So I clicked out of the forums and Facebook groups. I stopped reading the jargony medical literature that I could barely comprehend anyways. I told my family to not even utter the words "Visual Snow" in front of me unless it was absolutely necessary. And I almost never brought it up with my friends. I was carefully guarding myself from spending any extra mental energy on my condition. I then turned to a twofold plan of my own invention: 

1- get my anxiety attacks under control, and 2- be very, very busy to distract my mind.

The latter was undoubtedly the easier of the two. Anxiety is something I haven't written about much here, as I try to keep my public writing centered on more joyful topics. But anxiety has had a presence in my life for a very long time, and its sharp edges make VS all the more mentally painful. Once I started reeling in my anxiety—which is probably worth a post of its own—I turned to part two of my coping strategy. I needed to be very, very busy in order to distract my mind. I thought about the things I was passionate and curious about (Religious Studies, filmmaking, literature, nature) and began pouring out my heart and soul into meaningful organizations, activities, and relationships. And after a few months, a strange and wonderful thing began to happen. I started to forget (at least on a surface level) that I had a brain condition. I just sort of stopped noticing that I was seeing the world through a very muddled lens. 

Of course, it hasn't been a perfect plan. I mean, it basically centers on denial. And there are certainly days or weeks where I have flare-ups, and my symptoms feel worse than usual, and my brain can't stop obsessing over it ( this week, for instance). But I try to forget. I try to stay busy. And I try to stay calm. I am, of course, praying for new development in the medical world. I'm praying that the research currently underway in Europe is fruitful. But until then, it's reduce anxiety and do really neat things so that my brain has other thoughts to occupy itself with. So, friend, if there's something you're going through that's leaving you bruised and battered, I encourage you to sit with it and figure out a plan of action. Unlike mine, it probably won't include techniques for forgetting. It just might be one of those bear hunts (à la Helen Oxenbury's picture book), where you can't go over it, you can't go under it, and you've got to go through it. I'll be praying for you. 


Abounding in hope,


"May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." -Romans 15:13

Travel Guide: Portland, Oregon

Between working for a publishing house, filming for several start-ups, and studying for the GRE, I've been craving a change of scenery and a bit of a break. Luckily, flights were cheap, and my globetrotter of a brother has never been known to say "no" to a trip...

We packed our bags and headed off to Portland, Oregon, for a little soul food. Here are some of our recommendations from what turned out to be an incredible visit.

Stay - The Society Hotel

My oh my. I can't even begin to express how utterly obsessed I am with this hip little hostel. The building originally functioned as sailors' lodging in the late 1800s and then transformed into a Chinese dance hall, movie set, and housing for gypsy royalty. (Luckily none of these transformations damaged the absolutely stunning original wooden staircases...swoon). The Society Hotel now serves as a dreamy little landing place for the adventurous and community-minded traveler, and it will completely change your perception of hostels. They offer a few different boarding options ranging from a hostel-style bunk in a communal room to a private (read: tiny) room with communal bath, to an entirely private bed and bath. The space also boasts of several communal living areas, including a homey reading room (complete with gorgeous leather chesterfield sofas and a fireplace), a rooftop deck, and a cafe. The aptly named Society Cafe was so wonderful, I was tempted to list it below as one of the best places to eat and drink, as Kyle and I kept stopping back in during our adventures for iced coffees or slices of avocado toast.

Eat - Ned Ludd 

Ned Ludd was quite possibly the best meal we had all week, which is a tall order since Portland is such an excellent food destination. The restaurant only cooks with fire (!) and uses local ingredients, which pairs nicely with the very eclectic pioneer-esque decor. Kyle and I split an order of spring radishes with green garlic butter (life-changing) over fluffy spiced flatbread, and I also had the handkerchief pasta with local zucchini, fresh cheese, pine nuts, and mint (...are you drooling yet?). It was the kind of place where the chefs make you extra food that you didn't order just so you can try whatever it is that they're perfecting at the moment. Bliss.

Filled with the glow of the fire and surrounded by copper pots, gnarled limbs, wooden stumps, ceramic chickens and a host of kitchen artifacts, we hope the restaurant feels familiar or maybe even a bit like home.
— Ned Ludd

Savor - Salt & Straw

Although I'm a chocolate lover to the core, the gal behind the counter at this (mega-famous) ice cream shop gently bullied me into trying "sea salt" (And no, not caramel with sea salt. The ice cream was actually sea salt), and it rocked my world. I also tried "olive oil" (which was stupidly delicious) and ended up with a generous portion of "honey lavender." We were bummed that we discovered this shop on our last day in the city, as we wanted to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths (although I think Kyle mostly wanted to go back because he took a liking to the girl working there...).

Sip -  Heart Roasters 

Heart was a refreshingly understated little shop that served as our pivot point between a morning of shopping and an afternoon nap (if you know us, you'll know it was Kyle, not me, who did both the shopping and the napping). I'm still thinking about that basil iced tea that I downed much too quickly.

Shop - Alder & Co.

This sweet shop was pure magic. For starters, it smelled heavenly, and the ambiance was something out of my most decadent daydreams (think Anthropologie, but about seven thousand times more lovely and soft and pure and wonderful). Every item had me absolutely in love, and if I weren't a penny-pinching college student, I would have bought the entire store. (Also, Alder & Co. houses just about the sweetest little flower stand in all of Portland.)

Alder & Co. is a space of timeless and transportive things, as useful as they are beautiful.
— Alder & Co. Website

Wander - Horsetail Falls 

We were trying to get to Multnomah Falls, but we couldn't find parking (it was a perfectly blue, sparkling day, so everyone else in Portland had the same idea as we did). In looking for a place to turn around, we stumbled across Horsetail Falls, which is where we ended up spending the most soul-nourishing afternoon. We picnicked beside one waterfall, munching on Oregon berries and creamy bites of brie, before packing up our knapsacks and heading up the trail. I wasn't wearing hiking shoes, so I wasn't sure how far I could make it before the soles of my trusty white sneaks gave out, but the hike turned out to be more of an uphill stroll. During the hike, we turned a blind corner and were faced with the most spectacular sight of a huge waterfall and pond nestled amongst the forest. Jaw dropping. We sat behind the roaring water, soaked up the perfectly green, lush foliage around us, and thought about how crazy beautiful this world we live in is. How's that for a little soul food? 



P.S.: You can find Kyle over on his site, Edward Imaginative.

Five Lessons from 2015

2015 was a year of humility and change. It was a year of growth and of character over comfort, of postcards and patience and a whole lot of prayer. But amidst it all, 2015 was a year of unexpected joy and the most precious of blessings. Here are five lessons I've learned along the way this year...

1. Treasure your health (and your mama). 

Brain tumor. Two words that I never thought would become rooted in my vocabulary and daily life. When my mom was diagnosed with a plum-sized brain tumor in September, life underwent a radical change overnight. Our “new normal” consisted of MRIs, appointments with specialists, hospital waiting rooms, and taking endless phone messages. Dinnertime conversation revolved around the anatomy and function of the temporal and parietal lobes. And after my mom’s brain surgery—which, by the way, was beautifully successful, and she handled everything with such grace and bravery—I found myself thrust into the position of nurse, pharmacist, caregiver, chauffeur, and housekeeper, while balancing college finals and dealing with a sprained neck. I was running on empty. Exhausted and stressed to the core, I still knew undoubtedly that I would do anything for that sweet “patient” of mine. That’s what love is. Though this season of life has been a bit trying, it’s shown me just how much I treasure my family. Now that my mama is beginning to recover, we are so joyful. We laugh at her punk-rock haircut (half shaved, exposing a rather gnarly horseshoe-shaped incision). We joke about her fifteen prescription bottles. And, most of all, we talk with new urgency about what changes we want make in our lives and how we will more actively pursue our passions. Brain surgery has been a wakeup call for our entire family. Cherish your family, cherish your health. 

2. Buy the plane ticket. Take the long drive. 

Part of having a non-linear college path means that my closest friends are dotted all across the country. As someone who tends to have fewer but closer friends, I’ve realized the importance of having highly intentional friendships. For me, this has meant saving my money for train tickets, or spending long, percolated hours in the thick of Los Angeles traffic—doing whatever I have to do just to get there and be with people that I love. My “love language” also happens to be quality time, so I’ve found it incredibly fulfilling to be able to see faraway friends and spend the weekend or even just the afternoon together. This intentionality in friendships has also meant more emails, text messages, and written letters exchanged (with emphasis on the latter... I love writing and receiving letters in the mail). 

3. Savor the little things.

Everyone goes through a period of inevitable drought, when the finances are tight, morale is low, and things feel hopeless or just monotonous. In such times, savor the small moments—the golden retriever napping next to you, a catch-up phone call with a friend, a steaming mug of something delicious paired with a well-loved book. This year, I’ve had to rely on God more than ever, and I know that he’s blessed me with an abundance of beautiful moments in return. The little things have kept me feeling joyful, blessed, and grateful for each day. 

4. Forge ahead, even if you can't see (literally). 

With my sprained neck in November came an influx of vision disturbances—a catalyst for several MRIs, neurology appointments, ophthalmology appointments, and blood work (my family has gotten quite comfortable at the doctor's office this year!). At first it felt like life was on pause as I was waiting to heal. But my normal vision didn't return, or at least not yet, so I’ve had to learn how to adjust and forge ahead. And the crazy thing is that forging ahead has made me feel more normal; some of my symptoms have become mere annoyances that I can forget about. Although I have to take extra good care of myself, I’ve actually found more relief from pushing myself to do more, even when I don’t feel like it. Every day is much too precious to be wasted (I think that’s been one of the overarching themes of the year).

5. Let yourself dream. 

As much as I advocate living in the present moment, I’ve recently found a lot of joy in letting myself just dream—of being completely impractical and getting lost in daydreams about the future. And I’ve found that it’s maybe not so frivolous after all; dreaming helps me better understand where my heart is without that pesky practicality getting the way. I dream about being an author (...without thinking about the unstable paycheck). I dream about my future vegetable garden and neighborhood and family, of the books I’ll write and the people I’ll meet. I also like to dream about the future that’s right around the corner: 2016. How will Friday, January 1st look different from today? What can I do to actively make 2016 excellent? What does this fresh, new year have in store? 2015 was a humbling year with some jagged edges, but it also was a year of wonder. I am wonderstruck at how everything—the good and the bad—worked together seamlessly in 2015. Looking back, I see God’s hand in every single moment, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store next. After all, "we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).

Happy (almost) New Year, friends!

California Religious Pluralism

This video won second place in the statewide "California Religious Pluralism Video Project," a contest put on by the Religious Studies Departments from California State and University of California schools. 

I think we tend to forget that diversity exists even within the terrain of a single religious tradition. This is the story of my ancestorsof four diverse forms of Christianityand how California was the very place where my international ancestry (and their respective forms of Christianity) converged. This is my California Religious Pluralism story. 

Joyfully in Christ,

Videography in San Francisco

Hello friends! I spent this past weekend in San Francisco, so I took the opportunity to film another little lighthearted video.

I seem to be on a sort of video kick as of late! As with the last video, I used a Canon Rebel T2i camera with a 50mm lens, and I edited the footage in Final Cut Pro. I'm still just starting out with cinematography, but I feel like the practice is already paying off in subtle ways (i.e., I actually understand some of the buttons...). Enjoy! 


P.S.: If the embedded video doesn't load properly, you can access the video by clicking here. 

Life Lessons from Nancy Drew

I still pore over those hardcover, yellow Nancy Drew books with the same genuine enthusiasm and admiration as I did when I was in elementary school. Nancy, though a fictional character, is still one of my greatest role models. And Carolyn Keene, though a pseudonym composed of several different people, will always be one of my favorite "authors."  

Nancy Drew has been a formative influence since her first appearance in the 1930s. Wholesome, even tempered, and fearless, Nancy Drew is adored by equally kick-butt women like Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Hillary Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Laura Bush. One of the original Nancy Drew authors, Mildred A. Wirt Benson, was fed up with what she called "namby-pamby" girls' books of the 1930s and made sure that Nancy was just the opposite: feisty, charming, and wildly intelligent. 

I also love the inherent old-fashioned texture of the book. I love the Nancy Drew series for the sweet and dated lingo—George, one of Nancy's best gal pals, always says "Hypers!" instead of "Wow!" People are "nifty," not "cool."  Telephone calls (from a payphone or house phone), telegrams, and letters are the mediums of communication. Nancy and her best friends, Bess and George, often stop for lunch at little roadside farms for sandwiches and large glasses of milk. Ned takes Nancy out on dates (though they usually end up sleuthing) and to dances at Emerson College, which I know must be nothing like today's college dances.

And then there's the fact that Nancy gets attacked, framed, kidnapped, robbed, whatever in just about every book, and she still manages to be calm and quick thinking. I love her practical, reasoned way of assessing situations and her innovative solutions to complex problems. Though Nancy has been around for 85 years, her spirit is timeless. Her character has since been modernized, sporting puffy 80s hair in the Girl Detective spin-off series and donning a cell phone in the Nancy Drew Files, but I will always be unabashedly partial to her original character from The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.


Be Humble

“Ned said, ‘Nancy Drew is the best girl detective in the whole world!’ ‘Don’t believe him,’ Nancy said quickly. ‘I have solved some mysteries, I’ll admit, and I enjoy it, but I’m sure there are many other girls who could do the same.’” — Carolyn Keene, Nancy’s Mysterious Letter

Focus on What's Important

“Chuckling to herself, Nancy said aloud, ‘Romance and detective work won’t mix tonight!’” — Carolyn Keene, The Bungalow Mystery

Exercise Reserve

“Do act mysterious. It always keeps them coming back for more.” — Carolyn Keene, Nancy’s Mysterious Letter

Follow Your Curiosities 

“'When one is intensely interested in a subject, he never becomes tired of it, even on a vacation,' [the professor] said. 'Look at Nancy, for instance. I suppose she was invited up here [to the lake] just to have fun, and now she’s involved in all these mysteries.'” — Carolyn Keene, The Secret of Mirror Bay

Expand Your Skill Set 

“Who knows, Hannah, the trick [horseback] riding may come in handy someday when I have a mystery to solve.” — Carolyn Keene, The Ringmaster’s Secret

Think Clearly; Act Courageously 

“‘But The Clue of the Black Keys is not yet finished,’ Dr. Anderson spoke up, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Not until Nancy Drew has visited my classes at Clifton [College]. I want you to tell my students, Nancy, that the best way to discover treasure is to have an observing eye and a brave heart.’” — Carolyn Keene, The Clue of the Black Keys

Have an Open Mind

“‘And now,’ she added, laughing, ‘I’m ready and willing to take on any new mystery that comes along.’”  — Carolyn Keene, The Clue of the Leaning Chimney

Set a Good Example

“‘You earned it, Miss Drew, catchin’ up with a couple of pirates like Fay and Lane. You taught me a good lesson,' [said the thief].” — Carolyn Keene, The Secret of the Wooden Lady

Treasure Your Friends; Express Gratitude

“The pretty detective gave an exclamation of delight and admired the gift for a long moment…At last she turned to Laura and said with genuine sincerity: ‘The ring is priceless and I’ll always treasure it as a reminder of you—although no one can place a value on a true friendship like ours.’”  —Carolyn Keene, The Bungalow Mystery

Have a Servant’s Heart

“[The suspicious stranger’s] face softened and she stood for an instant, looking intently at Nancy. ‘You’re a good girl to help a stranger like me [when I fell and turned my ankle]. I wish—‘ The woman turned away abruptly.” — Carolyn Keene, The Secret of Red Gate Farm


I leave you with one last thought. When researching Nancy Drew history, I stumbled across a compilation of all of Nancy's talents and interests. It was, in short, intimidating and inspiring. 

At sixteen she had studied psychology in school and was familiar with the power of suggestion and association. Nancy was a fine painter, spoke French, and had frequently run motor boats. She was a skilled driver, who, at sixteen, ‘flashed into the garage with a skill born of long practice.’ The prodigy was a sure shot, an excellent swimmer, skillful oarsman, expert seamstress, gourmet cook, and a fine bridge player. Nancy brilliantly played tennis and golf, and rode like a cowboy. Nancy danced like Ginger Rogers and could administer first aid like the Mayo brothers.
— Nancy Drew, Wikipedia

Channel your inner Nancy today-

P.S.: I just found out about this bookThe Official Nancy Drew Handbook: Skills, Tips, and Life Lessons from Everyone's Favorite Girl Detective, and I'm in love with it. All of the pages are outfitted in blue and yellow (the iconic colors from the original hardcover books), and it has chapter titles like "How to Tap Out a Morse Code Message with Your High-Heeled Shoes," "How to Savor the Important Things in Life, Like a Rich Cup of Hot Cocoa," and "How to Determine a Man's Character by the Shoes He Wears." Interested? Click below to visit the book's Amazon page.