Mold Me

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” — Jeremiah 18:1-6

In the days of the Old Testament, clay for pots came straight from the ground. The lump of clay was dirty and had no beauty about it, especially with its disarray of twigs and pebbles. The potter would have to pick out the impurities by hand if he were to use the clay properly. Kneading and pressing the clay, the potter also removed air pockets so the clay wouldn’t explode in the heat of the fire.

Even today, as in the Old Testament, skilled potters have a vision for each lump of clay. There is purpose in every measurement, in every stroke of the hand, in every tool used, and even in the speed of the wheel. Eventually, the dirty lump of clay, full of sticks and stones, is shaped and molded by the potter’s hand to make a beautiful vessel to be used and to be shown for the glory of the potter.

It’s not easy for us today to fully comprehend this imagery of the potter and the clay, especially because most of us are not skilled potters. But this week, our team ventured out of Ljubljana, to Radovljica, for a day to learn about this Old Testament imagery and the chance to put ourselves in the potter’s shoes. (And let me tell you, if you’ve never used a pottery wheel, it’s harder than it looks!)

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The first and only time I used a pottery wheel was in eighth grade, and it was kind of a disaster. But I decided to give it another go this past week.

I started by throwing the clay onto the wheel and struggling to adjust it to the center. (If the clay isn’t centered, it will be unstable and will most likely collapse.) When the wheel starts to spin, I learned I needed to keep my hands steady while putting tremendous pressure on the clay. This was no easy task, because the clay wants to move from the center. So, I had to continue applying pressure until the clay stabilized (nearly 10 minutes!), all the while keeping the clay from drying out by sprinkling water on it.

Next, I pressed both of my thumbs into the middle of the clay to start the formation of the mug. Slowly, as I continued pressing the clay with my left hand, I was able to start forming the design I wanted with my other hand. I was so excited at the shape it was taking. But soon, the clay started to shift because I didn’t keep on as much pressure. I struggled to keep it from distorting, but eventually, I decided I needed to collapse the clay and start over. I was sad, but I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a distorted mug. I wanted a pretty mug. So finally, after more pressure, more struggle, more shaping and guiding, my product was finished on the wheel. But I wasn’t satisfied with just a clay mug, I wanted to give it color and decoration. So I painted it and added some decorative flowers, and finished it off with my initial, signifying that it was my work.

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As followers of Jesus and believers in His promises for us, we are the clay. We came from the ground, being dirty and full of twigs and pebbles. Through the sacrifice of His Son, He cleanses us of all our impurities and gives us relationship with Himself. But He doesn’t stop there; God envisions beauty from clay.  He puts us in the middle of His wheel and applies pressure so we are centered and stable. And He keeps us centered throughout the process, always keeping one hand on us to direct us and shape us into who He wants us to be. When we start to dance away from the middle or go lopsided in our sin, He pulls us back, for He is not satisfied with a second-rate, distorted lump. He desires beauty. He has purpose. He desires to mold us into exquisite pieces of art that resemble Him and are used for His glory. And He desires marking us with His initial, saying, “She is mine.” If God, our perfect and personal Father, is the potter, what better hands could I ever be in?

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. — Isaiah 64:8

Food for Thought

After undergoing treatment for heavy metals these past 10.5 months, my way of thinking about food has drastically changed. I never realized how much diet plays into your overall health, especially foods with sugar, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and preservatives. After all, food was probably the major cause of my metal toxicity. As a result of nearly a year on a sugar-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, low-sulfur, mostly organic and antibiotic/hormone-free diet, I can honestly say that I don’t want to go back to a “normal” diet, especially now that I’m feeling so much better! (You’re probably wondering what on earth I have been eating for the past year. You can view the original diet plan here. Some other foods have been added back in because my food allergies went away!!) And all those who were around me at any point in this process know that I still have a weakness of Kettle Brand potato chips. I don’t think that will ever go away.

But, despite all that God taught (and has been teaching) me spiritually, I’ve also learned how to make wiser decisions in food choices. I’ve learned that fruit and honey are naturally sweet as they are, and I’ve learned that food in the simplest of forms actually tastes best. Who would’ve thought that minimally processing foods would actually bring out more of the simple, natural flavors? And even more, who would’ve thought that this once sugar-and-chocolate-addict would actually prefer homemade desserts without added sugar? Amazing, isn’t it? And I bet some of you are cringing at the idea of not having sugar in desserts, but trust me, with the right ingredients, you can totally do it!

Though I could talk for days about food and what I’ve learned through this process, I decided to spare you all the scientific and technical jargon, get off my soapbox, and actually post my recipes. These recipes are pretty easy, and most of the ingredients can be found at a normal grocery store. (If I’m able to do these recipes in Slovenia, I’m sure you can do this elsewhere!)

Without further ado, here’s my version of Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo, inspired by one of my favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh, Eden.

Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo Sauce
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Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup coconut milk
2 medium red peppers
1 medium zucchini (sliced)
1/8 cup water
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon basil (I used dried, but fresh works, too.)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (fresh ground pepper works best)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.

2. Cut red peppers in half. Clean out seeds. Place face-down on baking sheet. (I put parchment paper on the baking sheet first.) Bake for 15 minutes, or until the peppers begin to turn dark brown on the outside.

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3. Purée cashews, coconut milk, and water in a good blender. (The blender worked better than a food processor for this dish.) Blend until smooth.

4. Add garlic powder, basil, red pepper flakes, pepper, and salt. Blend thoroughly.

5. Add roasted red peppers. Blend until smooth.

6. In medium skillet, pour olive oil and sauté zucchini until golden brown. Pour Alfredo over zucchini and simmer until hot.

Serve with grilled chicken over your favorite pasta! (My favorite is brown rice pasta.)

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Here’s to clean eating! Dober tek!

Farmers Market Juha

I’ve always had a hard time resting well. Until last year, I thought rest meant being a vegetable, relaxing on the couch and watching movies, hanging out with friends, or reading. And I really didn’t understand the concept of spiritual rest or resting in the Lord. At the beginning of last year, during my first year of full-time ministry, I spent the first few Saturdays doing movie marathons. But then, when it came to Sunday, I was still tired, stressed, and worried about the week to come. I didn’t feel mentally, physically, or spiritually rested; I just felt dread over my lack of preparedness for the next week. Thankfully, my good friend and ministry coach pointed that out to me right away. “I don’t think you’re resting well,” she said, concerned about my well-being. When I asked what that really meant, she replied with a question, “What brings you life?” She said that I can glorify God by doing activities that bring me joy and refreshment. So, I asked God to reveal the activities that give me rest and joy and bring glory to Him.

Flash forward to the present. Though I feel like I’ve adjusted to a new city and back into ministry pretty well, especially after a summer of ministry partner development, I’ve realized in the last few days that I haven’t exactly been resting well. And this made me think, What can I do that will give me rest and joy and bring glory to Him? I’ve decided that the things that currently bring rest are having “me” time, taking walks, exploring new places (at my own pace), shopping at outdoor markets (or just grocery shopping in general), budgeting (It’s like a game for me.), exercising, reading books that capture my affection for God, cooking and baking, writing, and spending time with friends in small group settings or one-on-one.

So today, I decided to do a good majority of these things. But rather than giving you a play-by-play of my day so far, I wanted to share a few snippets.

First, I explored a new part of the city, the Saturday Farmers Market. (It really made me miss the Athens farmers market, especially because I just love fall in Athens. And it’s such a happy place.) The Ljubljana Farmers Market is probably about 5x bigger, though. And although it’s a dreary, rainy October day here in Ljubljana, the market was alive with color, live traditional Slovene music (complete with accordions!), and the joyful chatter of fellow food-lovers. In fact, Melissa, one of my friends/teammates who met me there, said, “It’s just so happy here.”

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To get to the market, I had to walk through souvenir vendors with their Ljubljana snow globes, jewelry boxes, hand-painted pottery, clocks, and wooden toys. I was surprised by the number of tourists still in town at this time of year! I then emerged into another part of the market, the “Bio” section. Everything in this area is certified organic and fresh. There were rows of seasonal produce — apples, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, peppers, and zucchini — rows of cheeses, grains, dried meats and salamis. I even found a raw, organic, and vegan stall that sold pumpkin and sunflower seed crackers. (I splurged and bought some, of course!)

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On the other side of “Bio,” my nose led me through what I call the “Alley of Flowers.” The fresh scents, as well as the pinks, purples, and reds, brought a smile to my face. They illuminated the gray day. Not to mention, those who were selling the flowers constantly greeted me with a friendly “Dober dan” or “Dan,” which means “good day” or “hello” in Slovene.

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At the opposite end of the Alley of Flowers, I came upon the conventionally grown produce, the biggest part of the market. It takes up the entire square. There were stalls upon stalls upon stalls of apples, apple cider, pumpkins, peppers, lettuces, grapes, pears, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and much more. Best purchase of the day: a kilo of green beans for €1 from a sweet, elderly female farmer with a warm smile.

I finished my time by swinging through the grains and baked goods, and then through the fish and meat markets. (For you Pittsburghers, the fish market is a lot like Wholey’s in the Strip, especially the smell! Mmm mmm.)

After two hours of meandering through the markets, I lugged my multiple kilos of goodies back to my flat, in the rain. I was cold and my feet were soaked. I decided the best remedy was to make potato soup. But potato soup quickly turned into, “let’s throw all my veggies in and see what it tastes like” soup. (The recipe is below.) And let me tell you, that soup was good for my soul. So delicious!

I’m so thankful for a day to rest and be refreshed. (It’s not even over yet!) And I’m thankful that I serve a God who wants me to rest from my work and also provides rest in Him.

So let me ask you, what brings you rest, joy and refreshment? Have you taken time to do that lately?

Recipe: Farmers Market Juha (Vegan, Gluten-free, Low-sulfur, Sugar-free)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: About 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes about 5 servings.

Ingredients:

7 small potatoes (peeled and cubed)
2 dozen cherry tomatoes (halved)
2 medium green peppers (diced)
1/2 small cabbage (chopped)
1 large carrot (peeled and shredded)
1 medium zucchini (shredded)
1 cup of fresh green beans (chopped)
1/2 cup millet (or rice)
Olive oil, salt, pepper, curry, garlic powder, coriander

1. In a large pot, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Heat on medium. Sauté the potatoes for a few minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Once the potatoes start browning, add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and stir.

2. Add the cabbage, beans, carrot, zucchini, green peppers, and tomatoes. Stir. Turn heat down to medium-low. (You want the veggies to cook down but not get too soft.)

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3. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. (Fresh cracked pepper tastes better, in my opinion.) Add 1/4 teaspoon of curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder, and a pinch of coriander. Stir thoroughly. (For a very low-sulfur diet, omit the curry, garlic, and coriander. Rosemary is a great alternative.)

4. Allow mixture to cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. (Add salt and pepper to taste.)

5. Add 1/2 cup of millet or rice. (Brown rice will take longer to cook.) Adding millet or rice will thicken the soup because it absorbs a lot of moisture. If you like your soup thinner, you may need to add a little water.

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Serve hot. And enjoy!

Just GO somewhere: Reasons you should travel

Recently, I’ve been dreaming more and more about traveling the world. You would think that going out of the country twice this year would be enough, but there’s something that is just so appealing to me about traveling, and it makes me want more.

Like you may have read on the “Who I Am” page or in my last post “23 Things,” my parents started exposing my brother and me to travel when we were tiny. (They’ve been all over the world, too!) When I was 10, I took my first overseas flight and the four of us toured six countries in Europe for three weeks. I’m pretty sure that when you’re exposed to travel, you don’t want to stop. Or maybe that’s just me!

Skip to my college years. Throughout the last four years, I’ve had the amazing opportunities to visit 11 countries on four continents to do mission work, study abroad, complete thesis research, and just to explore. During each of these travels, God opened my eyes to new experiences, cultures and ways of life, as well as to the stories of the people I met. And I want to encourage you to do the same.

I’ve compiled reasons I think YOU should travel to new cities, new states, new countries, and new continents. Here’s my plug… Just GO somewhere!

To see the world and to see God’s beautiful creation. This may sound obvious, but there’s so much beauty beyond what we see in our own worlds.

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(The Norwegian Fjords)

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(The canals of Amsterdam)

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(The Atlas Mountains of Morocco)

To experience new culture and new ways of life. We have a tendency to be ethnocentric and think our ways are the best. But we can really learn from seeing how other people and the rest of the world functions. When I lived in a village in Morocco, I was able to watch how the villagers walked through each day. While their lives were difficult, and most of them worked very hard, there was a simplicity to their lives that I envied. Read more about my experiences here.

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(Grand Mosque, Casablanca)

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(A traditional Berber house, Tighza, Morocco)

To try new food. While I do love hamburgers, fries, cobb salads, and most American foods, the rest of the world has so many flavors that are so much better! Fresh salmon in Norway, masala and curry in India, French cheeses and bread, Belgian chocolates, Mediterranean olive oils. And not to mention the coffee!! I may be biased, but Americans miss out on some good flavor.

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(Moroccan mint tea and cookies)

-To meet new people. Everyone has a story to tell if you take the time to listen. Most women I talked to in Morocco were readily willing to share their stories with me. What an incredible opportunity it is for us to love people by simply listening. An example is Fatima’s story (pictured below).

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To learn new ways to communicate. Not everyone speaks English. It means a lot to nationals if you try to speak their native languages. I remember learning short phrases like “Aapka naam kya hai?” (“What is your name?” in Hindi) and “Salaam, la bas?” (a typical Tachelhit greeting, like “Hello. How are you?”) to help relate to the nationals.

To appreciate what you have and to put things in perspective. Hearing about a place or different people is not the same as actually seeing it for yourself. I heard about the brothels in Mumbai, but until I actually met the women in the brothels, I could isolate myself from this tragedy. This is the same for how women are treated in Moroccan villages. I’ve read and heard so much about how women are treated in traditional Muslim cultures, but I didn’t fully grasp it until I saw it for myself.

It’s a call to action to participate in what God is doing outside of yourself. Life is not about glorifying ourselves; it’s about glorifying God. We are called to be the hands, feet, and mouthpieces of Jesus to the world. Jesus’s command to believers is to go and make disciples of all nations. We are called to serve others and share Jesus. We have been blessed to be a blessing.

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I love how Paul says this in Romans 10:11-15. He writes, “As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

If you haven’t already, create a bucket list of places you want to visit, and make it a point to see one of these places each year. I have a lofty goal of stepping foot in all 193 countries, meeting nationals, and sharing their stories and my experiences. Just the thought of that thrills me! I would also love to complete the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

In honor of all these places, and because of my love of maps, my dad and I bought an enormous world map (shown below) and put pins in all the locations we’ve visited. (I have one of my own in my room in Ohio.)

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Why do you think it’s important to travel? What places are on your bucket list?

Caché: Tighza Valley

For my senior professional project, I wanted to combine hands-on journalism with my French language studies. So, I chose to spend five weeks in Morocco to compile interviews and observations in order to produce my final product, Caché. My friend, Kim Hackman (pictured below), a photojournalism student, served as my photographer throughout the trip.

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Because ethnographic and immersion journalism place the greatest importance on understanding the lives and cultures of others, I chose this method to research the Tighza Valley and the people who inhabit the region. By immersing myself into the Tighza village life for a period of time, I now have a better and understanding of the people and their traditions through in-depth interviews, conversations and observations. My stories, in the form of ethnographic and narrative journalism, attempt to place readers directly into the scene as the subject talks.

To provide a sense of the subjects’ lives, I interviewed approximately 55 villagers and had informal conversations with many others. The stories also capture events and daily life through observation. While in the village, we attended wedding ceremonies, watched women bake bread, went to a Ramadan feast and hiked four hours uphill to camp by Lake Tamda and talk to shepherds. We were also able to observe social gatherings and the villagers’ daily lives.

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By attending social events as an observer, I had the ability to see life from an insider’s perspective but without altering the event. Because I did not speak the language, Tachelhit (tesh-la-heet), it was impossible to know everything happening at social events, or even in everyday dialogue. So, I gathered much of my background information through interviews and unstructured coversations with interpreters or with villagers (with the help of interpreters).

Throughout my time in Tighza, I conducted interviews in French, which my three interpreters then translated into Tachelhit. The interpreters, all of whom were born in the village, spoke Tachelhit, Arabic, and varying degrees of French. I worked closest with Mina El Mouden (pictured below), a 24-year-old woman with a strong academic background and a proficiency in French. El Mouden interpreted for a majority of the interviews, including all interviews with female villagers. Because of El Mouden’s gender and the lack of men present in the rooms where I interviewed, the women shared more openly about their stories and daily struggles. The most powerful stories came from the lives of women, who seemed empowered that someone would take an interest in them and listen to them.

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When in Tighza, I stayed at the home of Carolyn Logan (pictured below), originally from the United Kingdom, and her husband, Mohamed El Qasemy, who was born and raised in the village. Logan, the only English speaker in the village, was my primary source of contact because we could communicate without interpretation, and she was familiar with the culture and people of the region.

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Throughout the process, I trusted Logan to provide insight and explanation of events and cultural differences because she had lived in the culture for five years, and she explained these things in a way a Westerner could understand. Her views of village life proved to be very similar to my own perspective because we were both foreigners.

The 29-year-old Mohamed and his 25-year-old brother, Ahmed, served as my other interpreters. Both left school in their pre-teen years, but because of their experience working alongside foreigners visiting the village, they picked up French. The brothers, sons of a respected village elder, were well known among the people of Tighza, giving us access to more sources and contacts.

Our purpose is to present an accurate account of the lives of the villagers, both through text and through photos. My hope with the magazine is that after reading the stories of the villagers of Tighza, readers will come away with a better understanding of their lives and the rich culture of the Berbers of the High Atlas Mountains.

Click HERE to see the digital version of the magazine!

(Sample pages are shown below.)

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