Cafes · Diaries · encouragement · Inspiration · Japan · Jesus · Tea

Well done, Darjeeling

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#1: This Darjeeling has a very gentle subdued color.

I have realized that I am apt to choose artsy, enigmatic titles for my blog posts. This is a habit that has likely been in place since I was young and constantly creating stories, ideas, random logos for my own clothing lines. I could not simply say what it is that I was writing about, or the item I was creating. I must make some metaphoric, symbolic, mind-twisting title – I am still unsure if this is for my own amusement or if I think the title will somehow serve the general public. I also enjoy wordplay, hence the title which will make more sense as you read on…

In those stories and ideas I came up with, I would always, ALWAYS start with the title. It was the leaping point, a sort of summary of what the story would be about. I would always rationalize the empty page with “Well, at least I know what it is gonna be about!” It was a sort of security blanket as I stared at the blank page. I would even go so far as to draw all of the characters, create the title pages for each chapter – carefully choosing fonts and page layouts. Yet, still I would not start the actual story. Little did I know that although this could be a very effective writing strategy, having the whole story and its point all mapped out actually limited the creative breadth of the story.

This can be applied to one’s life story, and it is what I discovered as I sat with my dear friend Amber digging into my American-sized strawberry pancakes, single sunny-side egg on the side, and sipping on a lovely Darjeeling tea in the corner Cafe Dantorels (read photo captions for more information).

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#2: Our lovely spread: Strawberry pancakes, sunny-side up egg (not pictured) Temple Darjeeling tea, banana bread French Toast, and house drip coffee.

One thing that I truly admire about my friend Amber is her natural ability to take life not for what it may bring in the future, but what is has already brought. She remains grounded in the present, and takes a back seat letting life and the day unfold in all its beauty. I tend to be one who is always thinking about what is next or what I think should happen next, which leads me to easily disregard the beauty of life that is being written before my eyes. I have come a long way… I used to worry about everything and was never satisfied with my present.

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#3: Temple Coffee and Tea’s Darjeeling: Not at all bitter. A smooth and delicate alternative to harsher British black teas. Does not need pairing with something sweet, but it tasted lovely alongside the pancakes.

Due to our complimentary natures, there is this beautiful balance that occurs: she can reaffirm me of the present and that I am doing just fine, and I can encourage her and help her to carry a hope and vision for what may happen next.

Next… we talked for awhile about what may be next for each of us. I talked with Amber about how it feels as if my desires for what to do keep changing. I do what I normally do for my life’s “story” – write an an engaging title, get excited, only for my desires to change or be changed by God for me – If my life were a blank sheet of paper, there would be MULTIPLE titles crossed out in frustration, and some rewritten with slight adjustments. Maybe I should stop trying to write the title for my life’s story and just let it unfold instead. I do not want to limit the beauty God may have in store by playing God and deciding what it is my life will be defined by. Then, at the end, when I see God face to face, he can brand my life with the phrase “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23 same in multiple translations)

 

I started writing this post with whatever came to my mind first and am sitting here amazed at what is has become. Now, I am going to go change the title (ha ha).

-Bethany

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Amber and me Spring 2016. Easily one of my favorite people, although I may be biased – who else is not Asian and yet shares my passion and affinity for Japanese culture AND loves Jesus. Love you.
Cafes · creative writing · Diaries · encouragement · Inspiration · Poetry · Tea · Uncategorized

I Envy the Birds

Purple Rose @ Insight Coffee Roasters

I walked beneath the rain-soaked skies. Smiling as I looked up, gentle rain greeted my face with a kiss. We’ve needed this rain. California’s biggest fire in a century, whose flames destroyed countless lives and livelihoods, and whose noxious smoke had took captive Sacramento air, had finally dissipated. I breathed in the purified air deeply and it felt as if I had finally caught my breath after sprinting – a release spread from my chest to my fingertips. I can finally breathe again. 

I had never been to this location before. It was front and center in an indoor food court, and its neighbor is a Gelato shop ran by a lady whose feet never stop moving. Insight pays attention to details. They opted for serving up their tea in a way that was closer to how initially such a tea may have been enjoyed. No teacups with handles, but a more eastern approach. This made my experience drinking this white tea harvested in China all the better.

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It came with a little caddy – mysteriously where the bare tea leaves lived sans steeper – and a cup that was a cross between a Chinese teacup and American cappuccino cup. I must admit I have the least experience with white tea, so I will do my best to describe its flavor. When I first took a sip, I wasn’t necessarily impressed. Yes, this tastes like white tea. Was my thought. However, the more I drank it, the more its distinctive floral high notes became characterized by the more subtle lower nuttier notes. It was not a typical white tea, which, in my experience, is dominated by high floral or fruity notes and whose tannins linger on the tongue. This flavor rounded out the more you drank it and was very refreshing. I steeped these leaves three times and the flavor remained fairly consistent, which is not something I could say of other white or Chinese green teas.

I believe that I found their source of the tea (correct me if you know better): https://songtea.com/products/purple-rose 

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If this is the right tea, it is not a typical white tea, but has been uniquely made “using a new oolong cultivar”. The hybrid leaves are said to be long and forest green. When I looked into the caddy at the leaves, I did notice their unusually long shape. They are said to be processed slowly during oxidization in order to round out the flavor. My observations were correct. The oolong parts of the tea bring more depth to the flavor. I will be drinking this tea again, and will buy my own leaves when I get the chance.

Check out Insight Coffee Roasters! They have a brilliant tea menu.

“Lately I have been wanting to hop on a plane and just go…”

I stared at that prompt. Haiku started forming in my head:

Eyes looking at mine

Digging, searching, and with care

I am pulled closer, still

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Eyes looking at mine

Picking, planning without care

I’m left exposed, bare

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Eyes to the open sky:

Holding naught, nor deciding

I envy the birds

I am in a space where I still fear true intimacy, but also cannot return to the lonely, closed off place I used to be in… My body wants to run, thinks movement is the answer, when stillness if the only way to see clearly.

Just like the Purple Rose tea, if I open myself up to people more, continue past the first sips, I will taste all the subtleties, its flavor will round out, and its gentle warmth be a comfort.

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-Bethany

Diaries · encouragement · Healing · Inspiration · Jesus · Tea

Endurance to Keep Blooming

Bethany Dreams of Tea

Today, I finally began something that I have been thinking and dreaming about doing for about a year: Tea Tourism. Only those who know me know that I absolutely adore tea. And by tea, I don’t mean Earl Grey, or the next fruit-infused flavor released by Teavana, I mean the real stuff. The whole leaf, or the loose leaf; the pure and exotic teas. I want to expand my knowledge more through experience. I know more than the average bear about tea, but not nearly as much as I wish. I seek the branch out into even the more rare and exotic and want to bring people into that experience by writing about it. The review will usually follow with some sort of creative short piece: a memory, micro-short story, poem, reflection, etc.

Bethanybloom-4The history and culture of tea is much older than coffee, and more culturally pervasive; this fact ignites within me a passion even more to explore the depths and intrigues that the world’s most popular drink holds.

“Endurance” Tea at Bloom Coffee and Tea, Roseville, CA

Pressing my scarf to my face amidst the unseemly haze this late mid-November, I walked a familiar path. I looked up to see Bloom’s familiar storefront: complete with charming awnings that made me feel as if I was transported to some European cafe and wasn’t enduring the current hazardous air of Suburban Roseville.

I glanced through the glass in the door briefly, searching up and down its natural wood tables that were littered with young faces. Only when I pulled the door open did I see the tanned complexion, emotive eyes that stood out from afar, and eager face of my kindred friend Colton. He smiled gently as soon as he spotted me. He appeared to have already made himself at home and had been chatting it up with the barista (which later I discovered he had been receiving a very informative and enlightening history lesson on coffee in California). We sat down, and in our normal fashion, words of hyperbolic and dramatic nature escaped our lips – small talk is not our thing.

I spotted the tea menu. It has changed. Man, its been awhile since I have been here. My eyes almost immediately fell upon the word “Endurance”. I could use some of that right now. I think I might have actually said aloud. I carefully looked over all of my options, most of which were blends, I could not decide immediately. However, with a tip from the barista saying Endurance was his favorite, I chose it. Here is the menu’s description:

I have only had Pu-erh tea only one other time, and it was a pure tea. This had a very well-rounded taste that did not get bitter as I let it sit and steep for an extended period of time. I did not ask the barista, but I assume the Pu-erh grade was higher in this blend – meaning it was more aged/fermented – because of its lack of bitterness. The cinnamon spice was only very slight, I could also taste the tang of the goji berries, and a little bit of a more blunt spice that most likely came from the roots. When I say spice, it was nothing like Chai due to the berries, and it had a taste and aroma that reminded me of Christmas. I could not say I tasted the tea very much – I am not apt to get tea blends – but I really enjoyed this Pu-erh blend and will likely get it again. This could have easily been an herbal tea, but the addition of the silky smooth, aged Pu-erh gave it more body making it ideal for a kick of “Endurance” at any time of day, without the sometimes more punchy bitterness within most black teas. It had a taste that was in harmony with the chilled weather and merry season.

“Endurance” to Keep Blooming

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Colton Newkirk Photography

I chose to go to Bloom first, amidst Sacramento’s many cafes that now offer a decent selection of whole or loose leaf tea, by chance. I had forgotten that my theme word for this year was “Bloom”.

Minutes before I left my house to go meet with my friend at Bloom, I made a difficult phone call whose duration only lasted six minutes put whose preparation took hours of tearful prayers and turning over thoughts as I stood in the shower. I wanted only to say the things that needed to be said. My voice shook during the first three minutes as I struggled to say what it was my heart needed, and what it could not – would not – endure in its current fragile state.

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Colton Newkirk Photography

The past few weeks, I had been having flashes of oppressive imagery. Images of ashen vines breaking in and wrapping around my already fragile heart that was trying to bloom in the best way possible. I feverishly wrote out what it was I saw and saw its meaning unfold as the words flowed from my heart, to my loving Father’s, and back down. I had been feeding and giving light to the wrong vines and plants in the wrong season and they were crowding out, taking all the light and air, choking my heart’s flower that had been unfolding so gently and delicately. I needed to make more space, so as not to resort to having to disentangle myself from, or in the worst case, to sever vines of people or situations and risk parts of my own heart or others caving in or foundations cracking.

“We Are the Branches” John 15:1-17

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I just discovered that vines can actually be of benefit to a building: it can fortify and also nourish the environment. The danger comes with lack of pruning and care. If I want to sustain, allow myself to endure and continue to bloom, I must take care to not let vines come in and crowd my inner room, the sacred space where God continually works on my heart and I grow closer to Him. The anterior rooms can be allowed for people to come and sit, stay awhile, some for a day, some for a lifetime. To keep the house from toppling upon all inside, I must continue to prune the branches, and fight for the health of my house, my community. Alone I can only grow so much. Allowing some new foliage to grow can help to nourish and fortify my house, and my relationship with my God. It will also liven up the place with various colors and aromas!

Jesus is the “true vine” (John 15:1). Any other ashen, wild vines that try to choke and crumble our soul and community are not of him. We are the branches (John 15:5), and continually need to allow ourselves to be pruned by God (John 15:2). Only then will our community grow in endurance to grow and keep blooming in manifold number as an example of God’s love- the rest of the chapter can be summarized by this scripture a few chapters earlier: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 (ESV)

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-Bethany P.

(Thank you Colton for being awesome and taking these impromptu photos for me! ALSO, bonus points for anyone who gets the allusion and play on words in the first subtitle “Bethany Dreams of Tea”)

Diaries · encouragement · Inspiration · music

Live at The Fig Tree: First Gig Reflections

Hello!

It has been awhile since I have written anything on here. Since the beginning of the year, I have spent the majority of my time writing music, trying to be more social, and also maybe I have watched one too many Japanese and Korean dramas…

Anyways! Yesterday, I had my first gig, or show as an “artist”, or as my lovely friend Yurika (who is going back to Japan soon for awhile 😦 ) called it: my debut. This has been a dream and it quickly arrived at my doorstep only after pushing myself to do a few open mics. Most people seek quick fame doing Youtube covers, or going on singing shows – which granted, takes a lot of guts and ambition – but for me, I would be contented just to be noticed, and affirmed by one stranger. That has happened and more.

However, the swiftness of being noticed by local connected people seemed too smooth and easy… this morning as I woke up, my brain still half-way in dreamland, and came up with an impossible notion that I was being lured into some sort of trap, and my ego was being stroked. After I came to my senses out of such a wild, cynical thought, I nearly laughed. Am I that insecure? Am I really that afraid of recognition? Being noticed? Many times throughout the evening, the host would mention my name, reminding everyone of who I was, how amazing he and everyone thought I was, and I had to consciously push back the feelings and thoughts that cried lies! They are lying! You aren’t THAT good. You didn’t do that great. They are just being nice. You and I both know we still have a long way to go before we desire any compliments like that. My old self was trying to push its way back into my thoughts and destroy my evening. Even now, I sit wondering why people thought I did so well when I look back at footage of my performance and only see every flaw and every point it fell flat. The plight of every artist: perfectionism, a blessing and a curse. I think what even startled me more as I listening back to my performance was how when I was listening, I wasn’t thinking: Wow, I hit that part perfectly! but rather I felt like I was truly hearing myself, unfiltered, and raw coming back at me through my car speakers. I was sharing myself, and that was that.

Yurika also reminded me last night: God cleared the path for me to get to where I am,  after I took that first step. When she said this, I pictured a forest where all the brush and the trees had been cleared and before me a pristine path is stretches out to unforeseeable places. I still need to train my mind, body, and spirit for endurance along this path.

Here is the livestream from last night’s performance! I secured another gig at the same time opening for Nick Beale again. We might even sing a few songs together.

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-Bethany

Diaries · encouragement · Healing · Inspiration · Japan · Jesus

Equipper Conference ’17: Reflections

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A picture from my time in Japan, looking out over the islands to the east of Okayama Prefecture from an island called Okunoshima. Photo by Hannah Carson

Do you even believe what you are praying for could happen?

These words have been echoing in my mind ever since my brother-in-Christ, and determined missionary to the Japanese people, Ariel Lee, expressed this challenge during his workshop on Evangelism in Japan. It was a convicting question, yet it was lined with hope and encouragement that prayer is essential and is the sharpest tool in our arsenal; the sword of the spirit, as we declare his words of truth. It made me reflect even deeper into myself. The first thought that floated up to the surface of my mind was I am not doing anything for Christ which was a statement that connoted that I did not have value as I had not been involved in any official ministry in the last year. However, realizing that I had been in a season of personal healing, through the Holy Spirit, I was able to reframe that deficit-minded statement into a question full of hope: What can I do for Christ, right now?

I realized that all my efforts in ministry in the past, my prayers, and my interaction with those who I was “ministering to” had been largely motivated by this insecurity: I am doing nothing for Christ: I have no value.

Note: Theme verse from conference: “Now the Lord is the Spirit [that tore the veil that separated us from the presence of God], and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17 ESV (note added in reference to prior verse) The theme centralizing around the idea クリストにある自由を生きる (kurisuto ni aru jiyuu o ikiru) which means to live freely in Christ.

I have experienced a massive emotional healing in the last year. I drew near to God with a heavy heart, broken mind, and felt as if all who I thought I was had been shattered: I was made blank, and I didn’t know how to recover a true sense of identity. This past year, I made a few mistakes along the way such as drinking too much alcohol on a few occasions, and also by involving myself with a guy who did not value me at all and who only turned cold when I did not give him what he wanted. I wandered around for awhile in a strange land – I was actually in Japan at the time – and felt as if I had nowhere to anchor my weary soul. Throughout this time, I still fully believed in God but was ignoring him as the source of my identity. God took my around Japan, a pilgrimage of sorts, but it was as if I was taking a tour of my own heart’s condition. Through the prayers of many, and the friends that God had prepared in advance to surround my while I was in Japan, I was able to come to a sound conclusion: I am a child of God. This is my value. It is NOT in works and it is NOT in the number of people I see come to Christ.

I am a child of God. After I came back from my pilgrimage in Japan, I fully believed that and the more I said it, read it, the more I believed it. Whenever I felt I had messed up, or fallen short of my own or others expectations, I was able to counter those lies with that truth of my heritage as a child of God, his beloved daughter. I have been in a season where I have been withdrawn under the shadow of God’s wing where I could be healed and reminded of my identity; but, there was still more work to be done: I was to step into the next season, a season of active service for the kingdom of God.

As I stepped on to the campus where EC would take place – it would be my second time doing so – I did not know what to expect. I felt a slight sense of being unqualified. Even though I had been on the planning committee for the conference track (RJC: Reaching Japanese for Christ – English-speaking) I was a part of (I led the music for RJC morning sessions, and coordinated the English Conversation Partners), I had to fight the feeling of not belonging and not deserving the position I was given. Well, from an objective standpoint – not yet fluent in Japanese, not currently active in any ministries – I am unqualified; but, in God’s kingdom qualifications look a lot different and he chooses the least likely to accomplish things for Him.

 

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With some girls in the RJC track, princesses of God in training was the idea haha

First and foremost, as God’s adopted daughter, I have the privilege of participating in efforts for His sake, for I share that heritage with Christ. Second, it is God that ordains and anoints for doing good works in his name, and he is unbiased in his choices (he can even use a donkey hehe). Third, willingness can go a long way on the part of the believer. “Here I am, send me!” expresses a faith and trust in God, which is counted as righteousness just as Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness. It is no trick, for it is clearly laid out in scripture, that all of this is NOT the easy path. It is that narrow path which requires laying down selfish ambition. However, those who rely on the Holy Spirit experience the full spectrum of its inheritance; the fruits of the spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control. As his child, full of joy and the a profound understanding of the love of Christ, I can be a vessel to carry that to those around me. ‘Tis a joy.

 

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I had the privilege of coordinating the English Conversation Partner Program. The preparation was hard, but the actual event was so fun!

 

As I mentioned, I had been out of official ministry for virtually all of 2017. Before that I had been involved in an ministry to International Students for about 2.5 years, and had been doing music ministry casually as well. Music, as a ministry and even hobby, had been pushed aside in my life for awhile. I even got to the point where I doubted all that God had affirmed to me throughout my life; he had anointed me to use music as a tool to communicate the gospel and his love. Also, he created me to enjoy it, and that I felt fulfilled and close to him when I was playing music and singing. It was during the third (second?) night of Equipper Conference, when Pastor Yuuichiro was speaking about ministry as an overflowing of Christ’s love towards others, rather than something done out of fear, that I experienced a shift. I sat and reflected. In that moment, God was restoring in me the love and joy of music, and that he created me to enjoy it freely in his love. It felt as if he was restoring music to me. I sobbed as I sat in the pew, tucking my chin so as to hide my face in my winter scarf. I felt overwhelmed with the pain I had endured the last year, all the time I felt I had wasted not doing anything for Christ, and feeling as if I could not get started again. I was also crying because I felt as if God was sitting beside me with his arm around me, holding me close, telling me things such as be who I created you to be, it’s okay to love music this much, through me you can do the impossible. I felt hope and my ability to dream of doing amazing things for Christ increase and was gaining strength through this time of emotional release. As the conference continued, I was given practical tools and tactics to use what God has given me to be a witness for Christ. Rather than thinking, I am doing nothing for Christ, I began to ask what can I do for Christ right now with what I have? 

 

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Helping people in the English Conversation Partner Program find their seats! Thanks Roberta for the photo~

 

I had avoided being sick until the last day of the conference. A bunch of attendees had come down with the flu, and I was showing signs of coming down with it as well. I went to my room, a little sad because this day, the last day, was the only day I would be able to move around more freely because all of my duties were done. Instead, I was in my room all day, sleeping, or being bored. Luckily, due to amazing technology that is Facebook Live Stream, I was able to watch the final Plenary Session as well as the New Year’s celebration and sing along with everyone else while lying in my bed. My body was weak, but my spirit was 元気 (genki: lively). I left encouraged for the next stage, but also reminded me of God’s love towards me as his child – it is not dependent on what I am doing. I want to pray bolder, specific prayers – on my behalf, family and friend’s behalf, and for those in Japan who need Jesus’s redeeming love -, and I want my faith to be built through persistence in these prayers. I can do nothing a part from God, so I MUST turn to him in prayer at every stage and in whatever I am doing. Life is still not easy, and I received a bit of a shock as I returned to my normal life, but the work that God has begun in me he will complete!

-Bethany P.

 

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Walking the streets of Shibuya, Tokyo. Lord, heal the nation of Japan.

 

Healing · Inspiration · Jesus · music

Lead Me to the Cross (Hillsong Cover)

My friend Jen requested I do this song. I used to lead this song often back in high school church youth group days. Let this be my mantra: “Lead me to you heart!” It is only when in God’s presence that I feel peace. No matter what what I pursue in this life – education, romantic ventures, success – pales into comparison of the peace and love from simply sitting in the presence of God, following on the path he guides, and allowing him to shape and mold me.

I rearranged it and did what felt right, which happened to be a Latin groove with an ambient 3 part harmony during the interludes. It is not perfect, but now that I have use of a better program and equipment, hopefully more songs of this quality will come about.

-Bethany

Diaries · Healing · Japan 2017 · music

Clarity- Zedd cover on Sound Cloud!

This was on of the songs that I found myself singing in karaoke rooms all over Japan this past summer. My heart was broken in Tokyo. Although I needed to move forward, I still found myself left with lingering feelings of attachment and affection for that person. When I sang this song, I felt as if I was singing out of the open wounds in my heart. The crazy, exciting emotions that come from romantic ventures can be so strong that it causes you to ignore the inevitable end of a doomed relationship.

My capo kept slipping so the guitar sounds a bit more clang-y and boisterous but I was too impatient to do over for the tenth time, so I just posted it. Plus, I am procrastinating right now anyways. Time to finish my homework!

-Bethany