Vacation time – New York City!

So this is way overdue, but I’m still getting use to this blogging thing…

vā-kā’shən – a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday

And this is exactly what we did a couple weekends ago in the Big Apple! Jason’s Christmas gift to me was a weekend exploring the city and celebrating Chinese New Year (also known as Tet for us Vietnamese folk). This would also be the first real vacation we’ve taken since we gotten married, and the first time we’ve been to a city together. And what a weekend it was – we ate, we explored, we were tourists, we slept, we left technology at home, we had FUN, we bonded, we vacationed.

And here are the top 10 highlights of our trip:

The Plan

{1. Planning is fun}: We had each day planned out, what mode of transportation to take, what we wanted to see/do and it worked out really well for us.

{2. NYC has amazing FOOD!} (and you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to find it): Gourmet Mac n cheese, lychee sangria, Malaysian food, pizza, tofu desserts, nutella French toast – the food tour was delicious and it was fun to play asian and take pictures of all our food (but now it’s back to the gym) If there’s a long line, the food is probably worth the wait! We loved doing a “restaurant crawl”. We’d get an appetizer at one place, main dish at another place, and finish off with dessert at a 3rd place. This kept things interesting and we got to try a lot more food!

{3. Being a tourist is fun}: I didn’t think I’d enjoy just sightseeing, but we had so much fun going to all the tourist spots in the city and doing what tourists do best, take pictures of everything! We went to Central Park, Chinatown, Rockefeller, Times Square, SoHo, East Village, Brooklyn Bridge, etc.

{4. Well known cupcakeries are a hit or MISS}: Magnolia’s was a total let down – I’ll stick with my own cupcakes 😉 (www.cupcake-delight.com)

{5. Top of the Rock is worth the money}(look for a coupon because there are plenty out there): it was sweet seeing a view of the whole city. And of course, we got great pictures that look like we are on top of the city!

Top of Rockefeller Center
{6. Going to a broadway show is a must!}:Buying broadway tickets online beforehand is not a bad idea – you avoid lines, you still get a discount, but just make sure you look at what ROW you are buying. We bought our tickets to Jersey boys thinking we were in the middle of the theater, turns out, we were all the way in the back! But we could still see everything and the show was awesome.

{7. Happy Year of the dragon}: The whole point in going to NYC was to celebrate tet. We showed early to the parade at 11a, only to find they were running on Asian time and the parade didn’t start till 1:00p! FAIL.

{8. We (I) really like taking pictures}: I had a blast taking over 600 pics to document our trip. My goal is to do this on most vacations and then make photo books to relive the memories.

{9. Taking walks – one of our favorite activities}:
And how perfect this was for NYC because you walk EVERYWHERE! We walked around Little Italy, SoHo, the streets of Chinatown, and even an early morning stroll over to Brooklyn.

{10. Doing it together}
: All in all, exploring the big apple was great fun – but mainly because we did it together…awwww

On the way home we listened to Mark Driscoll’s sermon on “Real Marriage”, and his sermon focused on being friends with your spouse. He described that there are three types of relationships,

  • back to back: when you’re at each other’s throats
  • shoulder to shoulder: when you’re good at doing projects together or doing tasks; and
  • face to face: where you are hanging out with each other, and you and your spouse are friends

Our trip was definitely geared towards building more face to face time for us. Jason and I are great at being shoulder to shoulder, but when it comes to hanging out, we struggle. We’re learning that a key ingredient for having a great marriage is really that you have a friendship with your spouse. It’s really amazing to see how God has grown our relationship in just the past few months of marriage. He really is my best friend.

Our next vacation adventure is off to Florida for a week to visit the grandparents!

Into the world of talent management I go – {the divine journey}

I’ve always known that my career calling is not to be an engineer. But staying here was comfortable. It was familiar. And quite frankly, it was easy. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being comfortable, but joy and peace are far better. God expects and directs us to wisely use our time, treasure, and talent. So I cannot avoid asking myself, “God, how am I using the talents you’ve given me?” And the blatant answer was that: I wasn’t. And thus began a long journey of prayer, introspection, networking, courage, and faith.

This past summer I hit a wall of frustration with my current job situation. What was I doing with my life? I knew my engineering job wasn’t the right position for me, but what was? Frustration ensued as friends would ask me, ” what IS it that you want to do then?” and I responded with a blank stare. “I don’t know God, what IS it that you would have me do?” How do I even begin a job search if I don’t know what type of job I was looking for? My frustration led to many nights in tears with my husband, depression, and feeling of hopelessness. I got so frustrated one day I snapped and applied to 20 different jobs just to get out, but nothing. I decided that I would not run away from my current situation, only to end up with a different job to hate, and end up exactly where I was.

You hear the cliché saying so frequently – “just pray about it”. But usually I don’t pray because it doesn’t seem tangible. But I had nowhere else to go, and so I did just that, I prayed (hours of quiet time). I thought about where God has gifted me. I read articles about how to find your calling. I sought counsel from close people. Through these steps of faith, God started to divinely intervene.

One morning, hope peaked over the horizon. My husband sent me an article about discerning your calling {divine timing} and how we should start with thinking about what “people needs” resonate with us first, then assess your gifts, then look at the opportunities available. In my journaling, I explored things that bring me joy and where I feel alive and concluded with two simple words – talent management. “Wow, where did that come from?”; I didn’t know what those words meant and hadn’t thought of such a career before. God pressed me to find out more about this career field by networking. Exactly what I did NOT want to do. I don’t like going out and asking for a job. I don’t like doing informal interviews. I just wanted to sit at my cube, stay in isolation, and apply to jobs behind a computer screen – easy.

That same week, I attended a department meeting to help people hone their career path. Usually I wouldn’t go to these things because well, I really don’t know how it’d benefit me. But, God was intervening and leading me to go to the meeting and at least see what it was about. Well lo and behold, our manager uttered the words talent management {divine appointments}, and this time, my heart moved. The next 5 months was one step of obedience after the next. Reaching out to the director of Talent Management. Reaching out to executives to network. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. What does an engineer know about HR? How was I going to move into a job where I had NO experience? But all along the way, God put people in my path who wanted to help me; I still don’t know why {divine favor}. I remember one time getting invited to an impromptu meeting to go over the department’s career guide. I sat down next to a lady, she introduced herself to me and asked me what role I was playing in this meeting and I explained to her that I just had an interest in talent management and that my manager invited me along so I could learn. I barely spoke to this woman and within 30 seconds, she was already telling me all about the career field and how she worked directly for the director of Talent Management (the man I wanted to work for). God then put two other high level people in my path, and just like with the lady, these two execs for whatever reason found a liking to me, my personality, and my excitement toward talent management. Each of these people sent along a recommendation to the director of talent management without my request or knowledge.

So one glorious day, I was sitting at my desk when the director FINALLY called me. He said, “You know, I don’t usually listen the first time, but when three people I respect tell me the same story, I know it’s time to listen.” We scheduled a meeting for me to meet him. I walked in to the meeting thinking I’d need plead my case so he’d hire me, but God had already done all the work. I didn’t have to convince him of anything, he was ready to hire me (no resume or business case needed)!

Today I am in the process of making the career change into my dream job. My story isn’t anything out of the ordinary. People make career changes all the time. But, 6 months ago I would have NEVER EVER even considered talent management nor did I even know the career field existed. If anything, I was going to pursue a career as a wedding planner, or an event planner, or a business analyst, or ANYTHING else besides talent management.

Through prayer, God literally placed a desire in my heart. Without any doubt, I know this is where I am supposed to be. How incredible it feels to KNOW that I am fulfilling God’s purpose and to not anxious about where I am suppose to be or what I should be doing. This dream is not my desire alone, but His calling on my life right now. And how do I know? Well, scripture says God gives you the desires of your heart {Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.}. If you think through that verse, He gives you those desires because He will literally place those desires in your heart. I never had this desire before. The journey, while long, was effortless. I get to keep my engineering salary (super sweet), stay with my company (no disruptions), and transfer into this new position. Oh, and did I mention that HR has never done something like this before? And, we all know how the government usually responds to things that are new. I’m not qualified for this job; I have zero experience for this job. And yet, here I am, about to get out of engineering and into a dream I’ve been pursuing for the past 7 years.

Am I scared? You bet I am. This career change is so much bigger than me. The theme of 2012 for Jason and I is “faith, change, and peace: in the midst of uncertainty.” This job situation aligns perfectly with where I believe God will take us this year – a testing of our faith. James 1:3-4 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

I start in February- how absolutely awesome 🙂

RIP Target: 21 years as a faithful feline friend

Target has been my faithful feline friend for most of my life. I picked her from a litter of kittens from another local farmer when I was 8 years old. She has been my responsibility and faithful feline friend for the past 21 years seeing me through grade school, middle school, high school, college, my move to Arlington, and my marriage to my beautiful Ngoc.

Today (Dec. 8, 2011), Target passed with both Ngoc and I present at 5:10pm. I expected her to pass earlier, but I always believed that God would keep Target in my life until I was with the mate He had destined for me. I’ve held this conviction for many years that He would grant this as a sign for me of hope, excitement, responsibility, and joy. God is so good; for Ngoc is my wonderful soul mate.

Target had notified us that she was ready to go by eating her last meal two weeks ago (Nov. 22, 2011). She continued to drink water every day, but refused to eat. When brought to the vet, we were told that she looked healthier than many 5-year old cats because nearly everything about her health checked out to be top shape (dental, organs, etc.).

Target’s attitude even until the moment she passed was positive and friendly. Here are a few memories that made her a faithful feline friend.

  1. Target and I shared a bed-time ritual for as long as I can remember. I would lay down each night and she would crawl onto my chest to sit there while I petted her and scratched her back and then her chin. She would turn around and lay on my legs as we went to sleep.
  2. Target wasn’t judgmental. Many times I would have friends over and she would be sure to meet anybody who stopped in (even in the frat house). I remember many weeks where I held Bible studies, feasts, parties, or other events at The Embassy where she would greet everybody with a friendly purr.
  3. Target loved to be nearby, particularly settling down on some paper. For many years, she would sit (or stand) between me and the monitor or settled on a nice cozy stack of papers. Of course, if I would get up for even a moment, she would jump into the chair to claim it as her own.
  4. Since being married, Target was faithful to help us rise in the morning. Around 5am she would arise, sit near Ngoc’s face, and watch intently until Ngoc moved. If she got impatient she would gradually purr louder and louder until Ngoc moved. Once Ngoc moved, she would purr louder, lick her face, and then walk over top of her and do the same for me. Ngoc thought it a joy to be awoken around 5am each morning. Maybe that’s why Ngoc so much enjoyed getting her back throughout the day (see video).

I’m sad to see my feline friend gone, but it’s been a great 21 years full of memories. It was much harder for me to say goodbye today than I expected, but I’m glad that I was there until the very end. And while she was only a cat, she was my feline friend. Ngoc asked me if we should get another pet because making these decisions and losing something we love is hard – my answer is an emphatic yes, because love is absolutely worth the heartache.

We’ll miss target, but we celebrate her life and the joy she brought us.

[jwplayer mediaid=”938″]

40 days – Until I’m Married

40 days, there’s something significant about the 40 days before a change. The number 40 is used throughout the Bible to indicate a period of probation or trial. The Israelites wandered for 40 years (Deut. 8:2-5). Moses was on the mount for 40 days (Exodus 24:18); 40 days of Jonah and Nineveh (Jonah 3:4). Jesus was tempted for 40 days (Matt. 4:2).

Nowadays, we remember Christ’s resurrection with Lent – a 40 day period of fasting and preparation before Easter. In following with the tradition to fast during Lent so that we can further focus on our Lord, Ngoc and I have chosen to fast from making out. While there is nothing wrong with making out, we’ve chosen this because we believe that it honors God and each other and is in alignment with the parameters which God had directed (see 1 Corinthians 7:5).

Additionally, while talking to a friend, mentor, and pastor, Pete Bullette, he provided a perspective that flies in the face of the sexual/intimate temptations couples face even more so as they get closer to their marriage. He gave the simple analogy of a bank account. Each time that we want to be physically/sexually intimate before marriage we have a choice – are we going to make a deposit into our marriage “bank account” by abstaining or are we going to draw against whatever is in the “bank account” and go into debt before we’re married? Personally, I think this analogy is very powerful for me because I can grasp the perils of debt and the freedom of compound interest.

So, as Ngoc and I enter the final 40 days before our wedding day, we are excited to continue to make deposits into our marriage “bank account” that we’re hoping lead to many healthy, fun, fulfilling, and God-honoring both sexual and non-sexual experiences through our marriage. Through this final period of 40-days, I will specifically practice various ways to love well – to love Ngoc well.

It’s not easy to love well (at least for me). How do I put aside my own interests for her? How do I regard her perspective above my own (see Philippians 2:3-4)? How do I forgive her again (see Matthew 18:21-35)? How do I have compassion and care for her even when I’m tired, frustrated, or have my own needs (see Matthew 14:13-14)? How do I lead her into who Christ calls her to be – since God will ultimately hold me accountable for her (see Ephesians 5:23-24)?

What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage)

TLW Aconcagua: Donate, Give Water, Accumulate Experiences

I know that you’ve heard of the many needs around the world of those in poverty and those without clean drinking water (more stories). Is the problem too big for you to solve? Yes! But, can you solve it for just a few (starfish story), or maybe all of Liberia? Yes!

I am partnering with The Last Well (TLW) to provide safe, affordable drinking water to the entire nation of Liberia and preach the Message of Jesus Christ to those we serve (TLW Vision). I ask you to support me in changing the lives of hundreds of Liberians by donating to the cause.

Aconcagua Expedition: I will be climbing Cerro Aconcagua (Argentina), the highest peak in South America (22,841′ -the highest peak in the world outside the Himalayas), January 2011. This team has a fundraising goal of $5000/person toward providing water to Liberia by drilling or repairing wells. All costs of climbing the mountain are paid by the climbers (your support isn’t paying for our adrenaline highs or perils).

Engaging in something bigger than yourself: I recognize that going on an expedition like this isn’t for everyone, but we can all agree that having clean, affordable drinking water is. Why is this my current passion?

  1. Dream dreams destined to fail without divine intervention: Providing clean affordable water to all of Liberia isn’t something that I can myself, it’s not something this team can do, and it’s not something that our organization or church can do. This dream is something that can only be done if God is involved – What other type of dream would you want to be pursuing?
  2. Criticize by creating: Rather than criticize the big companies, massive charities or governments to solve Liberia’s clean water issues, I will point the finger at myself and ask, “What am I doing to leave a lasting impact on lives I can impact?”
  3. Accumulate experiences: There are many worthy causes, but for me this one provides an experience of a lifetime – with many stories to share and challenges to overcome. Aconcagua is an experience that will test my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual character.
  4. Share your best: Think of a time when you were excited about a deal you got, a song you heard, or a hilarious joke. What’s the first thing you wanted to do? Of course, share it with your friends and those around you.
    In the same way, I believe the best thing we can share is gospel of Jesus Christ. I can’t think of anything more exciting, more valuable or more appropriate. That’s why every community that receives clean water from your support will hear the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Something rather than nothing: You and I are fortunate to not have been born in these destitute regions of the world, but that doesn’t mean we should fortunately ignore or forget those who are. It’s not fair that we have so much, which compels me to ask myself, “Is it true that when we choose not to help the poor, needy and thirsty that I’m actually robbing them?” We’re all in this together.

Celebrating Mom's Strength

I think te are a lot of things that we don’t share with each other for some reason or another. I hope that I don’t continually miss the opportunity to share. I believe that one of the tactics of Evil is to keep us isolated where we believe lies such as “they won’t understand” or “nobody really cares or knows me.” Community is radically healing and empowering for joy!

So, I admire my mom (not just today) for allowing her friends and family to be with her as she fought the good fight this past year. She continues to bring joy and blessing into our lives just as before. I was asked yesterday of one of the good memories of my mom and the first thing that came to mind was this:

When I was in grade school, my mom would come into my brother’s and my room (with me on the top bunk) to wake us up for school. But, she would take the time to make it fun. She had these little hand puppets that were such an expression of her being – fun and loving. She would poke at us for a bit and then have them talk to us in funny voices and they would sneak around when I rolled over as if these little animals wanted to play. I also distinctly remember many times waking up before she came in, but pretending I was sleeping hoping that it would be a morning of the little hand puppets.

So, I wanted to take this as an opportunity to share a bit more about my mom and consolidate some of the notes, activities and details of this past year for me, my family and friends.

  • My mom’s breast cancer blog that she updated throughout the journey (registration required, but free): http://www.carepages.com/carepages/strongtower
  • Pictures of a party celebrating the last chemo treatment: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2317991&id=1508003
  • Excerpt from my dad’s take on the journey (75MB): Dick’s Celebrating Strength Speech
  • My first publication about how I was dealing with it (not long after the news): http://www.jason1365.com/2009/05/03/i-trust-you-audioblog/
  • Finally, more than anything, my friend Abby absolutely was/is an angel. She jumped in as soon as she found out and called my mom frequently (having never met her before or anything); she sent flowers and packages to my mom with all the items that would make her day; she drove down to the farm to work and support my mom; she made a scrapbook for my mom; she reminded me about how to support my mom and she eased my own fears. I cannot say enough good things about her; she is probably the sweetest girl I know. She is a nurse and helps run Georgetown’s ICU. Finally, she has battled breast cancer twice and knows the difficult journey well. I don’t know how our family would have dealt with this without her. Was it divine intervention that I met her a few months before my mom was diagnosed? Or just coincidence?

Strongtower / Celebrating Strength Scrapbook

Continue reading Celebrating Mom's Strength

Dream Session – April 2010

When was the last time you daydreamed? Have you dreamed about life goals, ambitions and the full life?
Let’s dream dreams that are destined to fail without divine intervention.
Some of us have dreams that we never talk about or pursue. Some of us share the same dream and would go for it, if only there was somebody to go with us.

The Guidance/Input

  1. Guiding Deck: Dream Session 2010-04-24
  2. Book Highlights: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
  3. Men for Marriage (for men only)
  4. Living a Good Story, an Alternative to New Years Resolutions
  5. Let Story Guide You [MP3 Excerpt (2MB)]
  6. Facing the Giants [YouTube, MP4 (13MB)]
  7. The Best Motivation Video [YouTube, MP4 (3MB)]
  8. Lecrae – Go Hard [YouTube, MP4 (9MB)]
  9. Disney Pixar Up! – Married Life, Carl & Ellie [YouTube, MP4 (66MB)]
  10. Randy Pausch – Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams [YouTube, FLV (229MB)]

In Action

Results

We each leave the time with a list of goals, dreams, ambitions and new friends. We realize that wanting to have lived a good life requires intention throughout. We have looked at each other’s goals and have figured out ways to take the next step for each other. We are connecting our friends with other friends and colleagues; we are affirming dreams; we are coming alongside our new friends to pursue the same dreams – together!

Next next step is accountability. We’ll need to make sure that we all take the time to move on the next step:

  • Develop the plan
  • Call the friend, relative or connection
  • Do the research and move in the direction we know to be right

There seems to be some demand for another one of these sessions from some friends who weren’t able to attend. We’ll see what happens – who wants to spearhead the next one? Follow your dreams and make simple things like this happen!