We're moving!

I decided to make the move to WordPress for this blog. I like how WordPress will give me the stats on my blog and I can't really get that as easily on Blogger. Sorry, Google! I still love you!

So you can find me now at http://christymwong.wordpress.com! I hope you'll continue to visit me there!

Race Report: FleetFeet SuperSprint Triathlon

Lexie, my cheer pug, and me on race morning.
On Saturday, I competed in my second triathlon (not counting the relay because I didn't do the whole thing). This was also my second time doing the FleetFeet SuperSprint Triathlon, part of the Chicago Triathlon weekend. This is a great race for beginners and new triathletes, so my goal was to just beat my time from last year (about 54 minutes).

CCUC-N Triathletes Pre-Race
This race was a lot more fun because I was doing it with a bunch of friends: Pastor Luke, Callie, Dan, Maria, Tiffany, and Josh. I loved watching all their swim starts (except Tiffany's because I was swimming at that point) and cheering them on in the bike and run if I saw them on the course.

Here's a brief little recap of my race:

Swim - 375 m - 10:32 (including swim to bike transition)
This year's swim went MUCH better than last year's for me. For one thing, the race weather this year was PERFECT. Sunny and in the 70's compared to last year when it was cloudy at the start and like 65 degrees. It was FREEZING. The water this year was still a little cold, but I had a full wetsuit (great investment) and it not only helped me stay warmer, but it helped me float. I could feel my body floating closer to the surface of the water. So this year I didn't feel like I was drowning and didn't resort to breaststroke for the entire swim. I did freestyle the entire time (except for a few breaststrokes when there were a bunch of people in front of me), but I breathed on every stroke and didn't bother with bilateral breathing. It went pretty well though and I felt pretty good about it. I looked at my watch when I finished the swim so I did it in about 5 minutes, which was great. My transition was so slow though--that took about another 5 minutes. Luke & Josh dominated on the swim (they both did it in less than 5 minutes), but they're also both swimmers.
Me & Tiffany waiting with our waves before the swim
I look so happy to be starting out!
Still happy because the swim is over & I had a pretty good swim!

Tackling the bike course
Bike - 6.2 miles - 26:03 (including bike to run transition)
Rode my own bike this year, which was nice! I had a pretty good bike time, but the four hills (that we had to go over THREE times) were exhausting. I was getting tired and as I thought about how I want to do a sprint distance triathlon next year, I was wondering how I'd be able to do it!

Run - 1.55 miles - 16:13
Sprinting toward the finish line
Did a quicker bike to run transition and started out slowly. I was pretty tired by this point. I'm still not sure how I'd be able to run a 5k after biking 12 miles and swimming half a mile for the sprint distance (*sigh* but I guess that's why you train!). There was this elderly man who was in wave 21 (I was in wave 19, so he started after me) who started the run at the same time I did and he finished before me! I know this because I was behind him on the run and I never passed him. Just goes to show you're never too old to do triathlons! But good for him. I decided to keep a slower and steady pace on the first half of the run until the turnaround. Then I picked up the pace a little bit. I saw Josh sprinting to the end when I was just starting and then I saw Dan while I was running too. I saw Callie closer to the turnaround and then a little later I passed her, but I didn't know it was her that I just passed until she said something to me! I kept going until I started seeing the orange cones and heard the announcer at the finish line, so then I sprinted with what energy I had left, passed a bunch of people, and finished strong.

We all finished!
Overall time: 52:49; 348/804 finishers overall; 126/451 out of the women; 41/139 in the 20-29 female division. I beat last year's time by 2 minutes, so I'm pretty pleased with my results. I wished I could've run a little faster at the end, but it's okay.

Next challenge: to train for a sprint distance triathlon for next year!

What are your race goals for next year?

the flip side


When I was in high school, I always blocked out the first week of August from any other activities so I could go to Teen Camp. Teen Camp is organized and run by Chinese Christian Union Church in Chinatown (my church's mother church). My first year of camp, I remember Greg Speck being the speaker and how amazing and convicting his messages were. I grew up in a Christian family, but that year at camp I recommitted my life to Christ (going into my sophomore year of high school). So I recognize the profound importance Christian camps can have in the lives of teenagers and their spiritual lives.

Jessica, Tiffany and me on the last day of camp.
This year I returned to Teen Camp (which takes place at the Lake Geneva Youth Camp & Conference Center), but as a counselor instead of a camper. I was excited to be able to be on the counselor staff with my fellow youth counselors, Gerald, Tiffany and Pearson, and with Jessica, another friend from our church. It was such a joy to serve with them all week.

One of the main reasons Gerald, Tiffany, Pearson and I decided to be counselors at camp this year was because we visited camp one night last year and realized the importance of being there for the kids in our own youth group. I know I loved it when just one of our youth counselors was a Teen Camp counselor when I was a camper. There's just something comforting about knowing that this person already knows you so well and knows where you come from. So if any of our youth needed to talk, they'd know that we're there for them and available if they need us.

Though that week of camp was one of the most tiring and non-stop weeks ever (it's way more work than my usual 40-hour work week), it's definitely one of the highlights of my summer. I also think I like being a counselor better than being a camper...and not just because of the special counselor privileges. ;-) Here's why:
All the counselors minus Gerald (he had to leave early).
  • Seeing God at work: Not that I didn't see God at work when I was a camper, but as a counselor you get to see how God is working in the entire camp. At our morning meetings, we always shared things that were going on, so we could hear how God was working in certain students and/or counselors lives throughout the week. There were many non-Christians at camp this year and God was definitely working in the hearts of many. Several students accepted Christ that week.
  • Connecting one-on-one: I loved having one-on-ones with the girls in my cabin. It allowed me to get to know them better and some of them really opened up and shared their struggles with me. At times I felt so inadequate because I just didn't know how to respond or what to say. I felt like I was just rambling and saying things sometimes, not really sure if they were making sense or helping at all. But by God's grace, He gave me the words to say and helped me to realize just how much I need to depend on Him and how He can work despite my weaknesses. I was also able to connect on a deeper level with some of our own youth group members, which is such a blessing because I'll still see these teens back at home and can continue to follow-up on the things we talked about.
  • Serving with the body: Our Teen Camp staff this year was an awesome group of people. Everyone had strengths that contributed to a great team. We all worked together, and I enjoyed getting to know the counselors from other churches better. It's awesome how you can instantly connect with people when you know that you're all bonded together in Christ. I also got to know Tiffany a lot better since we shared a room (where we stored our stuff & went for refuge). We shared what God was doing in our cabins and Bible studies and in individual students and we've been able to become more open with each other too about what's going on in our lives, which is another blessing. 
  • Serving with Gerald: My boyfriend, Gerald, and I didn't really get to see each other much during the week since we were always busy with our own campers, but we both felt that even though we didn't get to spend much time together that week, our relationship grew closer just through serving together in the same ministry. We did get to perform one of our songs, Hallelujah, together for our combined Bible study skit, which was a lot of fun. You can watch it here. This was Gerald's first Teen Camp ever and I'm glad I was able to share the experience with him. He's already planning what he'll do when he's a counselor again next year.
 So even though I did get bed bug bites at camp (I found out some of my girls found bugs in the cabin and also got bitten), I was sleep-deprived, and I had no free time, it was absolutely worth it. God was present and moving, and it's my prayer that what we all learned at camp will transform our lives so we won't ever be the same again.

What are some of your great camp memories?

CCUC-North campers & counselors!
Meredith Andrews came to perform for us.
Me, Boyi, and Angela, two of my youth group members.
My awesome Bible study group!
My wonderful cabin girls - Birchwood #5

Bed Bugs?!?

I got back from my first year as a counselor at Teen Camp about a week ago. Another post to come on that soon. But first, I wanted to write about the little blood-sucking vampires that I seem to have been plagued by for the past few days: BED BUGS! I may or may not have gotten them at Teen Camp. I'm not completely sure, but I'm pretty sure I got more bites since I've been home.

It's kind of ironic because when I was a camper at Teen Camp, my friend Priscilla and I made it a tradition to write sunshine mail (daily notes of encouragement) to all the guys at camp. This year I discovered that's been our legacy...all the other counselors who went to camp remembered me as "Pristy Chong." (that's Priscilla and my names combined).

Anyway, I know at least one year we used to write, "Good night, sleep tight, and don't let the flesh-eating bed babies bite." Now we all know "bed babies" is supposed to be like bed bugs, but I never really realized what a problem bed bugs can be until this past week.

You can see the linear pattern of 3 on my bites on my leg.
Maybe I noticed this on Sunday (day after I got home from camp), but I definitely noticed on Monday that I had more red spots on my body. I dismissed them as mosquito bites. Then when I was talking to a coworker at work on Monday, I felt some more bumps on my arm. I also thought I may have been breaking out since they kind of look like pimples too. But then I wondered why I'd be breaking out so much and everywhere. Somehow I started looking up "red, itchy spots on skin" (thank you, Google) and as I read more, I learned that most likely, these were bed bug bites. Bed bug bites look a lot like mosquito bites (and the bites weren't too itchy for me at first), but bed bugs like to bite in linear patterns, which they call "breakfast," "lunch," and "dinner." Well guess what the meal is? YOU!

Let's just say, I've learned a lot more about bed bugs than I ever wanted to know. It's kind of gross to think about them crawling all over you at night and biting you. I searched for all the signs of bed bugs in my apartment--looking for the spots on my sheets, checking and vacuuming the mattress and box spring, looking in all the possible cracks they could hide...I found nothing. I washed all my clothes and sheets and blanket in HOT water. I even had Orkin come in and check for me. They also didn't find any obvious signs of bed bugs, but that doesn't mean they're not there. It would cost me about $450 (and that's a special deal) to chemically spray my apartment for the bed bugs. That's a lot of money, and I don't really want to spend that if I can help it.

This used to be a line of dots on my stomach, but they allmerged together.
So a couple nights ago, my mom bought me a mattress cover and we vacuumed like crazy all over my entire apartment (it's pretty clean), vacuumed my mattress, put my sheets, blanket, and stuffed animals on high heat in the dryer, and sealed up the box spring with the mattress cover. Then that night I marked all my bites with a washable marker so I'd remember if they were there or not in the morning, wrapped myself up in my blanket like a cocoon and then went to sleep. I woke up these past two mornings and didn't find any new bites. I'm hoping that maybe there weren't really any bugs and that I'm safe now.

Needless to say, this causes some paranoia. I come home & I immediately check my bed, mattress, blankets, everything for any signs of bed bugs. If one shows up, I'll know (hopefully). So I'm praying that I didn't bring any bed bugs home with me, and if I did, that they just died (which wouldn't normally happen). We'll see what happens when I go to sleep tonight. All I know is from now on, I'm washing my sheets every week and vacuuming often and ALWAYS checking for bed bugs no matter where I sleep. Doesn't matter if it's a really nice hotel. They can be anywhere!

Have you ever had a bed bug problem? How did you deal with it?

Spa Day

Lexie here. I'm doing a guest post for Christy (one of my moms) today because we did something really fun and I wanted to share it all with you from MY point of view.

Mom's apartment complex was having a Doggy Day Spa, so even though I don't live with her, she invited me to come for some special spa treatment. I'd never been to a spa before so I didn't know what to expect. But when we walked up, guess what I saw? ANOTHER PUG! I met a 9-year-old pug named Puglsey. I'm just 9 months old, so it was fun to see that he still had energy to keep up with me.

After playing with Pugsley for a little while and hearing all the humans "oohing"  and "ahhing" over us, I got a bath. They made me get in this big tub full of water and bubbles. Then they sprayed me with this hose thing. The water was kind of cold at first, but after they shampooed me, they gave me warmer water which was much better.

They tried to put Puglsey in the tub too, but he jumped right out! I guess he doesn't like baths that much. Or maybe he was already clean. 

After my bath, they dried me off with a towel. I liked this part. It felt like a nice massage too. 

Then they brushed my fur and put some perfume on me so I smell like coconut. I don't know what a coconut is, but I think they thought I smelled good. They also gave me this red bandana so now I look like a cowboy--or...cowgirl. I was still kind of wet, but I didn't care because...

...lots of other dogs that were not pugs started showing up! I wanted to play with ALL of them. Stella, the cavalier king spaniel, came over and I shared my secrets on how to get the most treats by being cute. Hopefully she takes some of my advice.

Yep, the treats were the best part of this spa day. We went back to my mom's apartment and they blow dried me so I'd dry faster. But I really wanted this big milkbone. Yummy! I also ate lots more treats at the spa. I'd say it was a good day. No wonder humans love going to spas!

Review: Picking Dandelions

Author Sarah Cunningham asked me to review her new book, Picking Dandelions (Zondervan, Feb. 2010), as part of her blog tour. I'll admit that I have to give Sarah my deepest apology because I thought I had given myself enough time to read her book, but somehow life got in the way and I've only just begun her memoir. Today is my tour date and I'm only on part two of the book.

So Sarah, I apologize for not being able to read the entire book by the day I'm supposed to review it. I hate to be one of "those bloggers" because I know that as the manager for the Tyndale Blog Network, I want bloggers to post their reviews for scheduled blog tours on time. How horrible that I can't even manage my own schedule to do that.

From what I've read so far though, I'm enjoying Sarah's writing. This is a memoir of her spiritual journey and I can relate. She sets the beginning of her story in small town Michigan, which reminds me much of the small town of Upland, Indiana where I went to college. We had our single blinking traffic light too and the sole restaurant in the town, Ivanhoe's, which I happen to like. :)Small towns have their charm.

From the back cover copy:

Sarah Cunningham, the daughter of a pastor, is exceedingly familiar with coming to Jesus and being born again. But it took her a while to realize that a real Christian grows from the point of rebirth--that a God-following person is a changing person.

Cunningham admits that her conversion was sandwiched, almost unnoticed, between ordinary childhood moments. In recounting some of these moments, Cunningham candidly explores how she got stuck in her laissez-faire Christianity and shares what she learned along the way. Whether describing life as a child living next to a cemetery, or her grandmother's life as a WWII bride from England, the author's images of growth and renewal, planting and reaping, greenery and weeds remind us that life, even in God's grace, involves challenges and change.

My Thoughts:
Although I haven't really gotten very far in the book, I like how Sarah share about her child-like faith--believing so easily in God, Jesus, miracles, and the power of prayer. I can relate to that in a way because I grew up in a Christian family and always knew about God. It wasn't until later that I realized I needed to allow God to transform me too. It's not enough to just know about Him.

I also liked Sarah's subtle, yet satirical ways of describing things Christians get hung up on--like arguing over what color the shingles should be as part of the new church expansion project. When you see this through a child's eyes, it seems so innocent, and yet you feel the conviction when you realize that what the child perceives is true. Funny how kids often make adults see things the way they really are. I also really like the dandelion metaphor carried throughout at the beginning of each new section. Before part II, I love this last line:

"The seed cannot grow unless it detaches itself from the original plant and braves unfamiliar soil."

How true that those of us who grow up believing in our parents' faith cannot fully grow in our own faith until we separate our faith from that of our parents and go out on our own spiritual journey, learning more about God through the trials and joys of life. When our faith can stand alone (on nothing but Jesus Christ), that is when we know our faith is genuine.

I'm sure I haven't quite gotten to the "meat" of this narrative yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing more of Sarah's perspectives and insights as I continue reading.

Sarah also asked for three book recommendations. Given that I work for Tyndale, these all happen to be Tyndale books (that's mostly what I read), but I hope you'll check these out!

1) Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers (and watch for Her Daughter's Dream in September!)
2) Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos
3) Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes

Happy summer reading!

A, B, C's of Sun Protection


I'm a fan of Neutrogena products. I've used their face and body washes, and some makeup, and generally been pleased.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to review Neutrogena UltraSheer Liquid Sunblock, courtesy of Tidal Labs. I jumped at the chance because I was going to Mexico this summer and sunblock was a necessity. I thought that might be a good place to test this stuff out.

The small bottle of sunblock was perfect for travel. I spent my first full day in Mexico on the beach, so I used the Neutrogena UltraSheer Liquid Sunblock on my face. It has an SPF of 30, which makes it a good daily sunblock. I liked how the lotion doesn't feel greasy on your skin and is easy to apply.

It's super important to wear sunblock year-round. I learned in my high school AP Environmental Science class that UV rays are like your A, B, C's. UV-A causes aging, UV-B causes burning, and UV-C causes cancer. I don't really want any of those things (although some of them were not avoided...like burning), but any protection is better than no protection! I'd like to keep my youthful skin for a while. :)

I didn't really use the sunblock on the rest of my body since I think this is meant more for the face. The applicator doesn't really make it seem like you can use it on your entire body for sun protection (though I have used it since my trip on my arms for when I'm out running). For the rest of my body, I used another Neutrogena sunblock with SPF 100+. Unfortunately, the Mexico sun is so hot that I still got burned (and I probably needed to reapply though).

After a day out in the sun, my cheeks were a little red (as in you could tell I got some sun), but they didn't burn like other parts of my skin did. In general, I think this is a great sunblock for everyday use. It's always important to wear sunblock (even in winter) to help protect against those damaging UV rays that cause aging, burning, and cancer. I'm still using Neutrogena UltraSheer Liquid Sunblock daily on my face as my general morning moisturizer and sunblock.

Would you like to review UltraSheer®, too? Then go here. Or get $2 off your UltraSheer® purchase with this coupon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the product mentioned above for free for review purposes from Tidal Labs. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

I Want to Tri

Yesterday I participated in my second triathlon, my first sprint distance. I can't say I did the full distance by myself though since I did this triathlon as a relay team with my friends Tiffany and Callie. We called ourselves "Triple Latte" since Tiffany works at Starbucks, I love drinking Starbucks, and Callie's husband used to work at Starbucks.

Here we are post-race. A nice and sweaty mess.

Callie first approached Tiffany and me with the idea of doing the Trek Women Triathlon Series race in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. Trek does several sprint distance triathlon races like this around the country. None of us were confident about doing the full sprint distance just yet (we've all done the Fleet Feet SuperSprint Triathlon in Chicago and are doing it again this August), but as we talked about our favorite legs of the race, we realized we'd make a great relay team! Plus Callie just had a baby nine months ago and wanted something to help motivate her to work out--this race did just that.

I'm horrible at swimming, but I've been running so I was comfortable with that. Tiffany hates biking, but she's pretty good at swimming, and Callie really likes biking but isn't as great at the run. We estimated that we'd finish the race in about two hours, but yesterday (which also had the most perfect race weather, though still a little hot) we finished in 1:33:42. Everyone finished her leg of the race faster than predicted!

Here's how our timing broke down:
Tiffany's 1/2 mile swim: 16:15
T1: 1:53
Callie's 12 mile bike: 48:35 (14.8 mph pace)
T2: 1:17
My 5k run: 25:42 (8:17 pace)

That was my second fastest 5k time, so I was pretty happy with it. I really pushed myself at the end of the race though. I don't have exact times since I don't have a fancy Garmin watch, but I know I did negative splits. I also felt like I was going to throw up at the end, but I'm fine. The picture on the left is me just starting out the run. I got back to the transition area just as Callie was coming in with the bike...so good thing I was there on time!

Our team finished 6th out of 27 in our division and 301 out of 1683 finishers. Not too bad! If only we were one person!

It's always interesting to do triathlons and see all the kinds of people there are out there. Most people were doing the full race as individuals and when I see them--mostly people older than me, some slightly (or more than slightly) overweight, some really physically fit people, people who have survived cancer, etc.--then I think, "If she can do this, then I can do this!" There was an 80-year-old woman doing the full sprint triathlon! We saw an elderly lady (maybe it was that woman, I don't know) before the swim and she even needed help getting into her wetsuit, but she was doing the whole thing too. Kinda made us feel like wimps for only doing part of it. 

It's just really encouraging and motivating to show that if you put your mind to something and train for it, you can do it! It doesn't matter if you have to doggie paddle across the lake, ride really slowly on your bike, or walk the entire 5k...you still get a finishers' medal at the end because you finished. I usually like to finish anything I start, so I'm all about that--but I also have to remember that it's not always about trying to be the fastest or the best (both of which I would not be in any triathlon), but to just do my best and to finish well.

Callie, Tiffany, and I are also even more excited now about doing the SuperSprint triathlon again, and more motivated to consider doing the full Sprint distance triathlon next year! That has already been one of my goals, and I wasn't planning on doing a sprint until maybe two years from now, but hey--why not? I'm willing to work hard and "tri" it. :)

Here are a few other pictures from our race for your enjoyment:
 Tiffany getting ready for her swim.

We missed seeing Callie on the bike, so this is her after the race.

Me sprinting toward the finish line.

The backs of the awesome team shirts Tiffany made us. People gave us so many comments about them! Then a few times people told us, "You're out of order!" if we weren't walking in swim, bike, run order. haha

What are your motivators? Do you have any long-term goals you may be able to achieve in the near future?


A couple weeks ago, I got back from a family vacation in Mexico, but I haven't had time to actually do this post until now. So let me indulge you for a moment.

My family (parents, siblings, and I) spent a week in the Riviera Maya of Mexico, about an hour and a half south of Cancun. Our resort, the Grand Palladium White Sands, was GORGEOUS, and all-inclusive. We'd never stayed at an all-inclusive place before and I'm telling you, it was worth it. Much more affordable, actually, than when we went to Hawaii five years ago. The Grand Palladium had four different lobbies, so it was almost like four different hotels, but we had access to the amenities in all of them. Here are some shots of our resort:

This was my bed in our villa. Our parents had our own room. I had to share with Melissa and Nathan. Sadly we didn't get towel animals every day.

Here I am by the fountain in the center of our villa. It's open air, which I love about it. It was really humid every day though, so a lot of times the camera would fog up and it would take a while for it to get back to normal.

Below you can see a random shot of the resort as we walked around on the first day.

It was nice not having to carry money around and to enjoy huge meals (we ate WAY too much) and unlimited drinks. We usually tipped our servers a dollar or two because we heard they don't make much, which I believe. All the employees were so friendly and welcoming. I know they work extremely hard and sometimes I felt bad that we're just there lying around on the beach or at the pool when I know there are people out there working so hard so I could enjoy myself while they can barely make a living. It was nice to just relax though. I haven't been able to do that in a long time!

Mexico really is a beautiful country. I was amazed just looking out at the clear, turquoise waters and the white sand. I enjoyed seeing schools of fish (including Dorie from Finding Nemo!) as I snorkled in the Caribbean Sea, various colored crabs, and iguanas. It's hard to believe huge whales and other creatures live in the ocean too. God is just incredible to have created such things!

But I also couldn't help but notice the more run-down parts of town (or maybe these were the "normal" ways of life) as we drove from the airport to our resort. The resorts are perfectly manicured and well-maintained, but I know that's not how true Mexicans live. Reality for them doesn't look like an all-inclusive resort.

It was obvious to me that Mexico as a country is not as wealthy as the United States. All the money seems to go to keep up the touristy parts of the country, but the rest of the towns seem to be left to fend for themselves. We went horseback riding on the beach one day (my request, of course) and one of our guides told us how they pay taxes to the government but all the money just goes into the pockets of the policemen. I know that probably happens in the U.S. and we have great disparity here between the rich and the poor too, but it's just heartbreaking to see the stark contrast. It's quite a paradox.

Whenever I go to a foreign country, I always come home having a place in my heart for the local people (Canada seems to be the exception, but I love Canadians too! It's just too similar to the U.S.). Chicago has many Mexicans living here as well, but when I got back it was strange to have these same Mexican people serving me but speaking English, a foreign tongue. I know they spoke English to me at the resort too, but it just made me realize that these immigrants are here because they want a better life for their families. They're still hard workers. They're just trying to make a living for themselves in a land that promises "the American Dream."

I'm not trying to make a statement about immigration in the U.S.--I'm not well-informed enough about that issue at this point to come to a conclusion about it. However, I feel as though I'm starting to see people (right now the Mexican people in particular) the way God sees them. He loves them deeply and He wants them to know Him personally and to have not just the wine and spirits working in them, but the Holy Spirit moving through them. It's not that I "feel sorry" for the Mexicans and their living conditions, but I am recognizing that we're all broken people in need of Jesus to make our lives full and whole.

Whether we live in a comfortable suburb, on a beach resort, in the bustling city, or in the run-down part of town, we're all in need of Him. I've been praying for the people of Mexico, and I know God holds them close to His heart too.

What are some lessons you've learned from traveling internationally?

Making Connections

In the past few years, I've realized just how important relationships are in life. People are what really matter. This truth is apparent in my job as a publicist as well. I just spent the past three days at the International Christian Retail Show in St. Louis and wrote about my experience and what I've learned on the Tyndale blog.

Read my thoughts here, and feel free to let me know what you think about face-to-face relationships as well!

Senior Night!

Last Friday, we had our annual Senior Night in youth group. You can see a picture of our group below with our Oh, the Places You'll Go Dr. Seuss theme. This tradition started my senior year of high school when some of our youth counselors visited my friend's Senior Night for her gymnastics team at school. It was to honor the graduating seniors and to send them off to college well. They thought it was a pretty good idea, so my class--the class of 2003--was the first high school graduating class at CCUC-North to go through Senior Night.

Here I am, seven years later, as a youth counselor for this same youth group. It's incredible to see (and I think this is more true for my former youth counselors) how my own life has come full circle in this way. My various counselors over the years--Thomas, Elton, Jed, Michele, Ted, and Susan--have done their job well. It's such an honor and privilege to be back in my home church serving the youth group that so greatly influenced and shaped me as an adolescent.

This is a picture of our CCUC-N 2003 high school grads (before the youth group became SNL--we didn't have a name). From left to right is Wenny, Ryan, Bryan, Priscilla, and me.

So where are we now?
Wenny has been doing AmeriCorp after working for a couple years at Quaker with Gatorade. This fall she'll be heading to grad school at Stanford University. She has matured in her faith greatly since her high school days when we didn't really see her at youth group much because she was so involved in sports. This changed more in college and I know she' still seeking to serve the Lord with her life, wherever He may guide her in the future. We're also "twins" because we were born on the same day, same year, just 15 minutes apart. I'm the slightly older one. :)

I recently got connected again with Ryan after all these years now that he's back in Chicago post-college. He transferred schools a few times and I think changed his major too--finishing with graphic design and advertising, I believe. I saw him a couple months ago when he hung out with our young adult group and we played some old card games (like Screwy Louie), which we used to play in youth group. He also came on our youth group ski trip where he showed off his crazy skills because he's Canadian and everyone up there knows how to ski. Ryan now goes to Chinese Christian Bible Church of Oak Park.

I haven't talked to Bryan in years! I did see him about 3 years ago (Dec. 2006) though at the Urbana Student Missions Conference. After high school, he went to college in Canada (where he's from) and ended up switching schools a lot, but I think he's done now. I think he was also involved in his Asian Christian Fellowship in school as well.

Priscilla was my best friend for many years. We met in kindergarten and were friends through elementary school until our schools split into two and she went to a different school (3rd grade, I think). I reconnected with her in 5th or 6th grade, but our friendship became stronger again in junior high (7th grade). That's when she started coming to youth group with me, then eventually to church, and became a Christian. We were practically inseparable since then and even called ourselves "Pristy Chong," a combination of both our names. I have so many good memories with Priscilla, but starting our senior year of high school and then into college, we kind of drifted apart. I think Priscilla was also drifting away from her relationship from God as well, and unfortunately lost her life in a car accident on August 6, 2006. Even though I hadn't really seen Priscilla much in those three years since we graduated high school until her death, I still, even today, can't really believe that she's not here. I struggled too with wondering where she was in her relationship with God and wondering if I'll see her again in Heaven some day. I still struggle with that a little bit, but I know that in my times in youth group with her, she was completely passionate about her relationship with Jesus Christ.

So our class beat the odds of high school seniors walking away from their faith, right? The majority of us are still involved in our local churches and still have a relationship with Christ. Though we go through our own struggles, we make mistakes, we're still trying to follow Him.

As I was packing up my room for my upcoming move to my own apartment, I found a youth group yearbook I made for our group my senior year of high school (2003). I was on the yearbook staff in high school, so I can see why I was so passionate about creating this for the group. I forgot our unofficial name, W.H.A.C.K.--Whoa, Happy Asian Christian Kids! haha. As I read what I wrote to describe the theme, which had to do with a remote control--about pushing pause, play, and fast forward on life--I was somewhat surprised to see that my writing was very similar to something I would have written now, seven years later. Of course, my knowledge of God and the Bible has increased since then, but what strikes me in finding all these old things I've done for youth group when I was in high school, is my initiative in starting projects like this or even overseeing all the committees for our youth retreat even though we didn't have a student leadership team at the time. I guess it just came naturally to me and those were things I wanted to do. Pearson (another youth leader) and I were talking about how that seems to be something our youth group lacks.

It's not that I think I was better than our kids when I was in high school--I don't think that at all. In fact, some of our teens have a better understanding of God and the Bible than I did at their age. Somehow we have to motivate them to step up and take initiative--to take ownership of their youth group and to use the gifts and talents God has given them to serve. Our youth leaders didn't suggest that we make a yearbook or awards for all the youth group members on my Senior Night. I just thought it would be a good idea and got my sister to help me do it. I'm not sure how I had time to even do that during my busy senior year. So that's something God has placed on my heart for our youth group--to raise up leaders and to encourage them to lead and serve. It's something I can struggle with because I like to do a lot of things myself and then just have people help me. It's usually because I think I can do things better if I do them myself. Wrong attitude! I think now I need to be in that helper position and to let the youth try their hand at leading. If they make mistakes or it doesn't work it, it's okay. They learn from it and will be come better leaders.

Where has your own high school senior class gone since graduating from youth group? How do you motivate your youth to step up and lead?

In honor of Mom

Mother's Day may have been yesterday, but every day should really be dedicated to celebrate Mom.

This picture is a little old (from New Year's Eve 2008...when Jasmine (the pug) was still alive), but I didn't really find any recent pictures of just my mom and me! This one includes my sister, Melissa, (left) too. I'll have to remedy that picture thing this year though.

So in the spirit of Mother's Day, here are some great things about my mom (in no particular order):
- She (and my dad) supported me throughout college, which allowed me to graduate debt-free
- She went on college visits with me in Indiana even after she fell on the stairs in our garage and hurt her ankle (she then drove our STICK-SHIFT car with an injured ankle...hard to do!)
- She bought us our two pugs and turned our family into a pug-crazy bunch
- She went apartment hunting with me all day and on several days and helped me find my first place (which I'll move into next month!)
- She went to my horse shows (in college and some schooling shows) and riding lessons even though she's allergic to the hay and dust and her allergies drove her crazy
- My freshman year of college, she once drove me back to school from a break during a snow storm (4+ hours) and then drove all the way home by herself, noting that she passed several cars in the ditch on the way back
- I'm pretty sure I got my administrative gifts from my mom
- She expanded and directed the Vacation Bible School program at our church for 10 years (we helped, but we were little and she did most of the work)
- She went back to school while working and got her master's degree in Special Education and is now a Special Ed teacher!
- She is very involved at church (another trait I seem to have followed)
- She's always a phone call away whenever I need to talk to her
- Occasionally she'd bring me home a Starbucks drink or she'll order out Thai food just because she knows I like it (gifts is one of my love languages too :))
- She does a lot for our family and sacrifices a lot of her own time and needs for all of us
- She prays for her children and only desires God's best for us

There's a lot more I could say about my mom, but I really do appreciate having her in my life. I hope that I can be the same kind of mother to my own children some day. I love you, Mom, and I appreciate all you do!

Who are some wonderful women and mothers in your life? What makes them special?

Letting Go

The last weekend of April, we took our youth group to my alma mater, Taylor University, for the annual Youth Conference. Taylor was my alma mater and I love being back there. It's like visiting an old friend even though most of my good college friends are no longer there.

We left on Friday afternoon just as Chicago rush hour began. I drove my own car and the rest of the youth counselors and the kids went on a school bus. We needed my car so we could drive around off-campus (for those of you who know Taylor, you know it's in rural Indiana in the middle of nowhere) and in case of emergency. While I liked driving on my own and in the comfort of my own car, I also felt like I was missing out on bonding with the kids on the bus.

Since they were in a school bus, I got to Taylor about an hour before the bus did. When they finally arrived, I was pretty excited to see them. I passed out all the registration packets and some of our kids small group leaders (Taylor students) came out to meet our kids since they missed the first main session and the first small group session. All of a sudden, our group was completely split up and the Taylor leaders just took our kids away to their dorms and planned on meeting them for breakfast (last year the kids usually ate with us). The kids that I was ready to share Youth Conference with were suddenly taken away from me. Later that night I told Tiffany (the other female youth counselor), "It's like they stole our kids!"

I felt like these were the youth I've been working with and that I'm impacting through my ministry. So part of me was a little disappointed and for most of the weekend, I felt like I was supposed to be doing something with our kids and trying to build deeper relationships with them--after all, isn't that what you do on retreats?

But throughout the weekend, God showed me that the teens in our youth group are not my kids, they're His children. The conference speaker, the amazing Jeremy Kingsley, shared an image that stuck with me. He mentioned how the Bible says God can hold the oceans in the crevice of his palm (like that part of your hand that forms when you cup it). Then he had us imagine what it would be like if some guys were playing frisbee at the beach and all of a sudden a giant hand reached down and just scooped up the ocean. We'd say, "Wow--that's a big hand."

And isn't that true? I was struck by the idea of God's hands. His hands are so much bigger than my own and wouldn't I rather have our youth group be in the safety of God's hands rather than my own feeble ones? Really it's my own pride that kept me thinking that I'm the one who makes a difference in the lives of these teenagers--only God can change and transform hearts.

So while I felt as though our youth group had been taken away from us at Youth Conference, as I heard the stories and excitement of how God was working in the lives of our girls (during the short time Tiffany and I got to spend with them in the dorm on Saturday night) and saw how the majority of our 21 students went forward on Saturday night saying they wanted to lay down their pride and humble themselves before the Lord, I knew that it's God who does work--not me.

God used Taylor small group leaders, Jeremy Kingsley, and, of course, the work we've been doing with the youth group over the past few years, but all those things were to further His purpose in the teens' lives. So I'm learning to let go--I don't need to be in control of everything that goes on in this youth group because I know Someone greater holds it all in His nail-pierced hands.

What's something you need to let go of and entrust to God?

Recycling. So Easy, a Pug Can Do It

Happy Earth Day!!
In honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, check out this video of a "green" pug. Then go out and do one of the things this pug can do.

Romans 1:20 (NLT) says, "Ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God." If God's creation is a testament to his existence, we must do a better job of taking care of it.

I've also started bringing a reusable mug to Starbucks now to get my coffee. Not only do I get 10 cents off every time, but I'm also saving trees!

What do you do to care for God's creation?

Don't Leave Jesus in the Grave

Easter weekend has come and gone, but the words of our pastor from last week's Good Friday service are echoing in my head:
"Don't leave Jesus in the grave! Come back on Sunday!"

That statement was pretty humorous, and one of my friend's in particular (he's getting his MDiv right now) found it hilarious, but as I thought about that first part -- "Don't leave Jesus in the grave" -- the more I realized the statement doesn't just apply to the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. As believers in Christ's resurrection, we should live our lives in a way that shows we really believe that He's alive.

I shouldn't want to continue living a life marked by sin because I know that because of Christ's death on the cross and His resurrection, I am now a saint. I am holy and blameless in God's sight. If I continue doing things I know are sinful, then Jesus' sacrifice is in vain. It's almost like saying, "I know you died on the cross for me and rose again, but it doesn't matter. I still want to do what I want to do even though I know it's not good for me." This kind of attitude doesn't truly understand what it means to have a resurrected Lord. In essence, it's telling Jesus that He's still in the grave to me. He's not a Savior because I still see myself as a sinner.

But Jesus conquered death! He's no longer in the grave--He's alive! He conquered sin so that I would no longer be held by its bondage. I want to be committed to living a life that reflects this Truth. I don't want to live as if Jesus is still in the grave. Do you?

For Technorati: claim token: QB73958F7DEU

Shamrock Shuffle 8k Race Recap

Last Sunday, March 21, I ran the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k (4.9 miles) in downtown Chicago. This was my longest race to date and my longest running distance ever! I've never run more than 5 miles in a row (though I have been training with 6 1-mile repeats in the same session).

I ran the race with four other people from my church as part of Team World Vision to raise money for Haiti earthquake relief. We raised nearly $1,500.00 altogether so far! There's still time to donate if you'd like to participate. Thanks to everyone already who supported us!

None of the runners from my group had actually run 5 miles before (except Boyi since she's on the cross country team at her high school). It was kind of funny because our group included me, who has been training for races (triathlon & 5k) since last May; Tiffany, who started seriously training for this 8k a little over a month before the race; Josh, who apparently had been training for a while and running 5 miles every weekend; Boyi, who did cross country in the fall, but had to start running again to train for this race; and Craig, who didn't really train at all (he played basketball and then ran a little less than 4 miles with us the other day--we were doing 5--and was still really sore from it the day of the race).

Josh and Craig pre-race.

The girls: Tiffany, Boyi, and me before heading down to Grant Park. Tiffany and I made our team shirts. They say, "Everyone loves a Shamrock Shuffler." The Team World Vision logo's on the sleeve and our names are on the back.

Weather on race day was cloudy, windy, and around 30-something degrees. At least there wasn't any snow on the ground (it snowed the day before), but it was still a little wet. We got down to the race site at about 8:15 AM. Luckily Josh's apartment (our homebase) was a really short walk to Grant Park. So Tiffany and I checked our gear and then we headed over to the Team World Vision tent for a group picture (which I'm somehow trying to get a copy of). Then we tried to warm up a little (for the race and just because we were cold) while we headed over to the start corrals. None of us did this race before so we were all in the open corral. We seeded ourselves in the 9-minute mile group (which was the first one after corral C). Then we stretched and waited.

The race started at 9 AM for the elite runners (of which we are not) so by the time we got to the starting line it was nearly 9:30 (and the elite runners had already finished the race...haha). But it was pretty exciting starting out and running under a bridge with people cheering for you above it. I've raced in the city a couple times before (Chicago SuperSprint Triathlon and Santa Shuffle 5k), but none of them were actually running through the city streets. That was a new and fun experience for me.

So the first couple miles were mostly just dodging people and trying to pass them up (and trying to run carefully over a slippery bridge, jumping up onto the sidewalk then having to run up a short flight of stairs to get to the upper sidewalk, jumping back down into the street...). Tiffany, Boyi, and I stayed together for the first 2 miles. At the first mile marker, Tiffany asked me what our time was and I looked at my watch and said, "8:30...we're so slow!" Okay, so maybe we weren't that slow, but normally in races I tend to run my first mile faster than normal so I guess I was just surprised.

There were a lot of people throughout the entire race though, so it was generally still "crowded." The site says 36,000 people signed up though I know some of them didn't come because of the weather (which actually wasn't that bad for the race). I picked up my pace between miles 2 and 3 and lost Tiffany and Boyi somewhere behind me (though apparently Tiffany could still see me & follow me until after mile 3). So I just kept trying to run and keep a decent pace. It's kind of like a game. You pick someone, then you try to pass them. Then once you pass that person, you pick another person and try to pass him or her. I was getting tired by mile 4 though, but I knew it was almost over so I just kept pushing through. Luckily my knee wasn't hurting me during the race. I was concerned about that so I had my knee brace just in case but decided I didn't need it.

The worst part about the course was the slight hill right at the end (Roosevelt Rd.). I thought that's where I could push myself a little more to the finish line, but by the time I got up the hill, I was even more tired. So I tried to sprint a little bit toward the finish (which was still kinda far away), but had to slow down in the middle, and tried to push toward those last few meters to the finish line. I did it though!! Everyone in my group finished. The picture to the left is our post-race group pic. I finished in 0:42:35; 5,781 out of 25,567 finishers; and 528 out of 4,000-something women in my age group (I don't feel like looking up the exact number right now.) So not too bad for my first 8k. My eventual running goal right now is to continue building my mileage so I can run a half marathon (not this year) and as part of my triathlon training. I also want to improve my 5k speed so I'm under 25 minutes (or maybe even under 24!).

What are your running goals? Any race tips for me for the future? I'm still a newbie. :)


I wrote this post Sunday night, but I'm finally able to post it up.

Whirlwind. That’s the way I would describe my weekend. I just spent my entire weekend with my church youth group and now I’m writing this as I’m on a plane to Nashville for the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. I must say that I love flying at night. I love seeing the tiny city lights and right now the sun is setting and the view out the window is just breathtaking. It’s like a sea of clouds and just on one side of the plane I can see the horizon and the beautiful orange, pink, and blue hues of the sun. Then on the other side of the plane, there’s the moon--a single light in the midst of clouds. It reminds me of just how small my corner or the world and my life is compared to the greatness of the Earth and all God created. All I can say is, “WOW.”
This past weekend was another example of God’s greatness and glory. Our youth group participated in World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine from 12 noon on Friday until 6 p.m. on Saturday. The entire week leading up to the famine I’ve been stressed more than usual. There have been so many events and activities going on and I’ve just been overwhelmed with planning it all. I felt so unprepared going in to the famine this year compared with last year. It was almost like the event just snuck up on me. 
Of course, the 30 Hour Famine is more than just an event. It’s our way of helping see people the way God sees them and to share God’s love with those in need around the world by raising money to help feed children for which hunger is not a choice. Despite my feelings of unpreparedness and everything that seemed to go wrong Friday night (our projector didn’t work, one youth counselor lost her voice during worship for the remainder of the weekend, we were way behind schedule, etc.), God was working in the midst of it all. 
We had some meaningful conversations with some of the teens, built fellowship with one another, had great insights during our Bible studies, and were encouraged by the testimonies shared at the end of the famine. One girl said the famine helped “reconnect her with God,” which brought tears to my eyes. Just knowing that young lives were being transformed through our time together this weekend makes it all worth it. No amount of planning or preparedness can change what God is already doing in hearts. 
So even though I’m completely exhausted physically (only running on about 11.5 hours of sleep for the entire weekend), my spirit is refreshed. This weekend God made it so everything else I had to do was on hold and all I did was focus my attention toward him and toward the teens he loves. I love our teens and I’m already looking forward to spending more time with them and investing more deeply in their lives. I can’t wait to see what God will continue to do in our group and at the upcoming Youth Conference in April. As I drove home from the famine last night at 8 p.m., I thought, “Youth ministry sure takes a lot of time.” There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that it was time well-spent. 

I care. And so I run.

For the short time that I've been running semi-competitively (aka. competing in 5k races), each new race was mainly a competition against myself, trying to run faster and to improve from the previous race.

A couple weeks ago, I sort of spontaneously registered for the Shamrock Shuffle 8k (March 21, 2010) with a few other people from my church. This time I'm running with more of a purpose. We joined Team World Vision to raise money for Haiti earthquake relief as part of this race.

The four of us from the left of the picture are all racing again in the Shamrock Shuffle (plus one of our youth group members too!)

So the challenges of this race for me are twofold:
  1. It's the longest distance I've ever run (4.9 miles). I'm gradually trying to increase my endurance and distance over these next few weeks of training. I ran 4 miles last week, so I'll get there, but my goal is to just finish and not worry about my time.
  2. To raise at least $200 as a team for Haiti. Right now we're at $130, but I really think we can go above and beyond our $200 goal if we all kick up our fundraising efforts a few notches.
Will you consider sponsoring us in this race to raise money for World Vision and Haiti? You can donate to our Salt 'N' Light Team or you can donate to me (but I've already reached my personal fundraising goal, so I'd encourage you to donate to the team first).

If you have questions about donations or the race, feel free to contact me. If you can't sponsor us financially, consider coming out to watch the race on March 21 (if you're in Chicago) or at least be praying for us as we train and run!

Once a Pug, Always a Pug

Tomorrow marks exactly six months after our first and precious pug, Jasmine AnnMarie (left), went to doggie heaven.

Losing Jasmine was like losing a family member of our family. She lived with us for 16.5 years so I basically grew up with her. Jasmine was at my college graduation (literally...sort of. She was staying at my college house while we went to the ceremony), she comforted me when I cried, she brought so much joy and laughter to our home, and she was the subject of many of our family prayer times.  Those six months of being pugless felt like so much longer! Those who have dogs understand that life just isn't the same without them.

This past Saturday, though, our family welcomed our new baby, Lexie Madison (right)! What a joy it is to have another pug in our lives! Lexie has been adjusting well to her new home and has already proven herself to be smart. She learned "sit" in two days (though she still needs some practice)!

At times I've felt a little sad because now I want to change my laptop background and phone background from Jasmine to Lexie. I almost feel bad because it seems like I'm pushing Jasmine aside and paying all this attention to our new puppy. I realize this is partially true, but I also know that Jasmine would probably tell Lexie what a great family she has now. Many people get excited about their dogs when they're puppies and when they're new and then get tired of the daily care for the dog. Not so in our family! We always loved spending time with the pug or just having Jasmine around. Although all us kids won't be home much longer, I know Lexie will be well-cared for by my parents.

Jasmine, though you're no longer physically with us, you will never be forgotten. All our great pug memories are from you and we wouldn't have gotten Lexie if we hadn't enjoyed the past 16.5 years you gave us. We'll never get another breed of dog. Lexie, we'll try not to compare you to Jasmine. I know you've already proven yourself to be unique and we love you too!

Our family never expected to get another pug so soon, but that's the way it worked out. I'm excited to see what other great things God has in store for 2010!

Jasmine loved sleeping. Lexie may be the same way.

Dog (or animal) lovers! Do you have any dog stories to share?
Find More Free Custom Color Layouts at April Showers