The following is our first every GUEST POST!! Featuring Amy Zhao, who was my “Head Dumpling Czar” for our wedding, successfully leading a small army towards the ridiculous but delicious goal of making 1,300 homemade dumplings! Amy’s journey with God in her Chinese-American identity has brought me great joy and her thoughtful, precise, and powerful voice has encouraged many others, including my own.

In the third grade I practiced writing 新年快乐, happy new year, over and over again. I remember sitting at our kitchen table with a sheet of scrap paper with my mom’s example handwriting at the top – clean and natural compared to my ugly and lopsided scripts. But I was practicing it so that the next day, my scratch paper reference would be ready and I could write it on the class whiteboard so everyone would know it was Chinese New Year! A special, very important day!

In subsequent years, my signifiers changed form and then slowly fizzled out. Some years I wore a simple jade necklace, the classic red string with the pearly jade stone. “It’s Chinese New Year today,” I liked to inform people. “Did you know that?” Throughout elementary school, I was usually the only Asian student in my class and sharing this one part of Chinese culture seemed to be exotic, special. “See me, I’m Chinese.”

When Chinese New Year rolls around every year, with its bright red and gold colors and dragons and music and delicious food, it is the most overt expression of Chinese pride that I know. And as a kid, it was like my one Chinese thing that I could be proud of, that my classmates were actually curious about. I clutched onto it as my proof that I was Chinese and that that was something to be proud of. I had language to describe it and explain it, images to point to, the lion, the red envelopes, a whole history of traditions that I didn’t know but could at least Google. On that one day it didn’t matter that I was the only Asian in my class, and all my other defensiveness and insecurities about being Chinese hid themselves in pride.

By high school, though, I felt like a poseur and stopped wearing the necklace on Chinese New Year and didn’t really bring it up at school unless someone else brought it up. Chinese New Year meant going to church and eating slightly overcooked dumplings with random Chinese dads and bringing a book to read while the Mandarin congregation carried on their festivities. It meant good food at home and occasionally at my mom’s friend’s house too, but mostly, my participation was that of an obedient Chinese daughter. The tight clutch shifted to a loose grasp, like I didn’t know why I was holding it anymore.

On the outside, I am pretty Chinese. I can speak Mandarin without an accent (most of the time). I make pretty good tang cu pai gu and can fold dumplings really fast and I prefer to cook Chinese food for myself most of the time, even if it is the simplest interpretation of Chinese food. I go to Asian American Center events and lead a community group for Asian American students and (after a few years of questioning) am beginning to have language to name both beautiful and broken things about Chinese culture.

Amy and the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community group!
Chinese New Year treasures!

But when I’ve made dumplings with friends and roommates for Chinese New Year in college, my ownership over the tradition has felt feigned for some reason, like I’m pretending to have ownership over something that doesn’t feel like mine. This is probably imagined and self-imposed but when my non-Chinese friends ask me about new year traditions and dumpling recipes, I feel this pressure to know or at least pretend to know the answers. When really inside I do not know how much salt to put in the filling or how long to cook the Chinese celery!!! Or really how to do anything without my mom on the phone, patiently giving me instructions while I back track and double check everything she says, anxiously trying to hold on to all the details.

On Friday I went to Chinatown after class to get ingredients for dumplings and some decorations for Kaitlin. I thought it would be a quick trip: I always go to the same grocery store (Jia Ho) and know where to find the dumpling skins, ground pork, and Chinese celery from my previous trips. But then they were sold out of the dumpling skins I like and the meat counter man understood my Mandarin but I didn’t understand his and I couldn’t find the red envelopes even after asking two different workers. And then I had to walk to Cmart and I couldn’t find the entrance and I couldn’t find this other preserved vegetable thing I wanted and my parents weren’t picking up their phones and suddenly what was supposed to be a restful quick trip to Chinatown turned into a confusing bumbling 2-hour affair of me wondering what the heck I was doing there.

Chinatown discoveries

What does it mean for me as a Chinese American daughter of immigrants that my culture is not and will not be the same as my parents’? What does it mean for years and generations of traditions to be transplanted into a whole new country and whole new experience, and that translation, not replication, is how I will pass my heritage on? What does it mean that loss and generational change are inherently a part of my narrative as a Chinese American?

In reflecting about all this, I think in some ways my relationship with Chinese New Year from year to year tells a story of my relationship with Chinese culture, from a sort of forced pride to hesitancy to shame to shy reclamation. And even with the questions that still remain, for me, my hope is in the God who made me in his image, who made me intentionally as his Chinese American daughter. That my identity is not just a narrative torn between a binary of Chinese and American, or defined by confusion and loss, but was intentionally made by Him, and made well. Although at times all I see are lost details and undersalted dumplings, there is a God who has ordered it all behind the scenes, who has given me a chance to experience first-hand wonder in the discovery. Many days I begin the day imagining God kindly inviting me to eat with him at his table, and because it’s breakfast time, we eat congee together. As a kid, I used to hate congee, but it is in this time that I get to savor it, a simple and familiar comfort, a reminder of how God has made me.


Streets lined with red lanterns, firecracker debris scattered on the streets like red confetti, lion dances outside restaurants and storefronts with that dun-dun-dun-dun drumroll with the crashing cymbals that lets you know that the new year has come! Listen closely, and come see the bright red banners with shiny gold Chinese characters, the fresh shrimp chips with the oil dripping into its three-tiered paper towel cushion, and hear the sound of the wok’s sizzle song as the wooden spoon keeps the stirfry on beat. Artfully displayed cuts of fresh fruit, shiny red Chinese candies, gold coins of solid milk chocolate. It’s like Valentine’s Day, but better! No one is alone and sad. Everyone is together, there is decidedly less pink, and there are hung baos (red envelopes) full of cash.

Lion dances on Mott Street, Chinatown NYC. Dragons eat cabbage!

These Chinese New Year memories have sharp sounds and savory smells and flavors and feelings and little kid wonders. As a third-generation Chinese-American whose parents were born in New York City and whose Chinese is limited to “Gung Hay Fat Choy” (happy new year), a few food dishes, and “ne mo gaw cho-ah” (what is your problem?), I have sometimes felt like an outsider looking into a culture not quite my own. Is this mine, too? After years of the slow work of God healing my understanding of my identity (more on that in another post!), I have been freed to say yes, it is also mine. From a much greater distance than my ancestors in China, but yes, it still speaks to a family whose story and culture has shaped me deeply. It’s a culture about which excitedly enjoy learning and celebrating!

One of the things I most appreciate about my Chinese culture is the sheer generosity in expressing love. Through many perspectives, that might sound odd because Chinese communication could be seen as stingy – quiet, passive, not direct enough to say “I love you.” But if you look closely you’ll see that it is not passive but quite active; we communicate love through quietly anticipating needs and thoughtful, generous acts of service. It is not a deficiency of love but a different means of expressing it. It’s the best.

My family out at Chinese New Year in 1994! Guess which child I am 🙂

If you listen curiously to the indirect communication within a Chinese family, you might be surprised to see the subtle but strong ways need, love, and appreciation are expressed with lavish generosity, yet subtly so that the recipient will not feel ashamed. If you listen closely, you will hear stories of my dad coming to my apartment when I’m away for the weekend and dropping off two watermelons, a Costco ream of toilet paper, and containers of hearts of palm (something I love but don’t want to spend money on). You’ll see the group text between my mom and sisters and the ways we care for each other by constant updates and pictures of Harper, cats, and me with yogurt masks on my face. You’ll see softly given, unpretentious generosity from Chinese church families who support the ministry to students continuously and with great faith. You’ll see my parents driving to Boston to bring snow tires up for Andrew for the winter.  You’ll see tables abundant with all of our favorite Chinese food whenever we come home, communicating an affection without words. But, to us, it’s understood as plain as day. You will see me trying on wedding dresses with my sisters and mom, falling in love with the most expensive one in the store, crestfallen at the price, then receiving a text from my dad the week after saying “Don’t worry about the dress.” And then getting similar texts from my sisters to see if I needed help to get the dress. You’ll see me cry. You’ll see my parents ensuring that we had real hot food and a tent for our wedding so that we didn’t have to do a potluck picnic haha (a real option). You will see the cards from my parents, with prayerful and powerful words of pride and joy. Rarely spoken, but heard and treasured forever.

My dad got a first look of my golden-flower princess poof wedding dress! Photo by Shipra Panosian Photography

It is a beautiful song of call and response that you will miss if you’re not listening. Families seeing each other deeply, anticipating each other’s needs, and helping each other. Whole communities functioning and flourishing with this sweet, subtle communication to help one another, to save face and protect honor. It is a song that that communicates pain and softness, strength and wisdom, courage and pride. It is not without missteps – harshness where there should be softness, passive aggression when it doesn’t feel accessible to express negative feelings, needs not well anticipated. And in emergencies when decisions need to be made quickly, indirect communication doesn’t work so well. But when it is just right – when there is learning and giving and receiving, and a shame-lifting grace, it is powerful. It would bring tears to your eyes.

As I’ve walked with God I have found that he sometimes he speaks boldly and directly in  moments that change your life forever. But there are also times where he is subtle and indirect, where you feel seen and gently invited if you so choose to trust him. There are the bold declarations of the prophet, and also the gentle whisper of the Lord after the wind, earthquake, and fire. You see Jesus blatantly chastising the self-righteous, and you also see him teaching in parables for him who has ears to hear.  Those earth-shattering “ah ha” moments are powerful, but the indirect ways he speaks to me are some of the sweetest. I often find myself crying and repenting when reading for pleasure; God speaking subtly and yet powerfully through fictional characters! Or through a thoughtful note from a friend gently suggesting the very thing I need, reminding me of how seen I am.  Or in writing – as I wrote the last post on generosity via our wedding cake, I heard God’s invitation to be radically generous to a brother when I really didn’t want to be generous (haha, irony). But I heard God’s voice constantly as I wrote (it was annoying but endearing) and eventually said yes to him. And it has brought life. His indirect, gentle beckoning and care is one of the ways that his long-suffering love comes along side of us. It is a deep seeing, soft with kindness and strong for the long road. How has God shown you his love in subtle, gentle ways?

UP NEXT: I believe curiosity is one of the greatest gifts we give people. It opens up the door to storytelling and deep listening, to journeying with each other as we grow and change.  I’m excited to announce that the next few posts will feature the voices of some of my dear Chinese-American and Chinese friends. Grab some green tea (it’ll help you digest and also live til 105) and your most curious ears and enjoy listening to their stories!


Whenever I host dinner parties, I never think of dessert. If a guest doesn’t bring dessert, I usually don’t have anything sweet other than a few oranges, like a proper Chinese restaurant (minus the divine hot towel service and the pink tablecloths). But ever since I got married, that has all changed. Andrew is literally my southern sweet. He has a sweet tooth that involves browned butter caramel cakes with glazes and frostings and things that make me thirsty just thinking about them. On days of rest or special occasions, you can find Andrew humming to himself, covered in butter and flour, baking something very special and very sweet. So when we were planning our wedding, orange slices were out of the question. We needed a cake.

I take a picture of all of his cakes! He hates it haha. This is his browned butter cake!

As we planned for our wedding with us both in full-time ministry, we knew the wedding would mostly have a “do-it-yourself” vibe. Neither a cake nor orange slices even made it as a line item in the budget.

In September, eight months before the wedding, I got a Facebook message from Mandy, a friend from college whom I hadn’t seen in ten years. The message contained a short update on her life and ended with this: “I make cakes for a living. Did you know this? Birthday cakes, anniversary cakes…WEDDING CAKES… If you haven’t already made plans for this part of your special day, I would love to make your wedding cake as a gift to you and Andrew. I’m hoping to make it up to Boston this October, and I’d be glad to do a tasting for your guys. It’s just a thought, and of course if you have other arrangements, that is wonderful!” I read it right before bed and I remember groggily looking at it and thinking it was a dream.

It was not a dream. Mandy is actually a real-life sugar plum fairy! She was very serious in her cake offering and magically showed up in my apartment in Boston a month later laden with piles of little cakes of six different flavors and nine different buttercreams that she had made in her own New Jersey apartment and transported in an impressive arrangement of baking pans and tupperware. She set up a professional cake-tasting for us. You were supposed to take small bites of each mini cupcake, but Andrew downed them whole and was in heaven. Andrew is a baker himself, with annoyingly high standards and strong opinions on flavors and moistness, so to see his thorough enjoyment of Mandy’s baking had me at ease — we were going to have a wedding cake! She had bold rich flavors for Andrew and light subtle ones for me, somehow satisfying both the southerner who glazes everything with an extra layer of sweet and the Chinese-American who would almost always rather eat fruit. Mandy was determined that we could each be satisfied because, after all, “cakes have tiers!” What a gift, somehow reconciling our opposing taste buds with buttercreams and green tea.

TASTES OF HEAVEN: Six different cakes and nine different buttercreams!
Notice the plate piled with wrappers from Andrew’s thorough demolition of cake.

Now, when we started the guest list endeavor we realized we’d likely have upwards of 250 people. That is a lot of cake. I wanted to give Mandy a way out in case this was more than what she bargained for. “So Mandy,” I said, “what if we have a lot of guests …” To which she cheerfully replied, “Then there will be lots of cake!” As simple as that. The generosity of that response blew me away. We were being thoughtfully, abundantly cared for by a friend whom I hadn’t seen in ten years, a magical sugar plum fairy baker from New Jersey with a heart of gold and a knack with buttercream.

For the wedding, Mandy took three days off of work, drove up to Toah Nipi two days early, labored hours and hours making so many cakes, so many buttercreams. Andrew and I weren’t even there yet! Mandy made us a beautiful three-tiered cake and two huge sheet cakes — the most delicious labor of love. She somehow cut and served all the cake on the wedding day, and even though there were no forks (we forgot that small detail -whoops), cake was abounding and guests were so happy! As predicted, the Asians loved the green tea cake with green tea buttercream and the lemon cake with the strawberry buttercream (my choices!!) and the southerners were keen on the chocolate cake with the caramel whiskey, while the hummingbird cake with the cream cheese frosting was a crowd favorite that spanned people of all ethnicities and tastebuds. Somehow she also made sure that Andrew and I were stocked with cake for the honeymoon. We ate cake all honeymoon long, Andrew indulging in abnormally large slabs of it at any given hour of the day. We froze the rest and ate it for months after the wedding. Generosity overflowing so much that it ended up in the freezer.

Mandy saved us the cake tops to “test” the night before the wedding! Everyone approved.
Picture by Shipra Panosian Photography
Picture by Shipra Panosian Photography

That cake. That colossal, thoughtful, time-consuming, delicious cake was one of the most beautiful displays of undeserved love and sacrifice showered on us that day. It tasted sweet like something costly and way out-of-your-league wrapped up and given excitedly with your name on the tag, like getting an Audi when all you wanted was a bike tune-up, like holy grace so undeserved but so undeniably meant for you. It was generosity in the shape of a three-tiered cake with its two sweet side sisters. This kind of generosity makes you question what you’ve done to deserve such a gift. And the honest answer? Nothing.

That cake was a reminder of the sheer lavishness of God’s love, the ridiculous lengths He has gone to to get our attention, to express his love, to give us real life-changing hope. How will we respond to his over-the-top sugar plum fairy kind of love? A love that comes down to be with us, that is entirely self-sacrificing, that promises never to leave us, and to lead us in the way everlasting? I hope we learn to receive, savoring and delighting in the gifts, enjoying the presence of the Father, who uses all things (the waiting, the aching, the receiving) to draw us nearer to himself. Because, after all, that is the real gift that can never be taken away. May the lavishness of his love inspire us to go over the top in our love for others. “How can I give like Mandy?” is a question I now ask. How can I be unselfishly generous? How can I show the heart of the Father, and heap on as much buttercream as possible?

Picture by Shipra Panosian Photography


PS: Here is photo evidence of Andrew’s post-wedding mini-moon cake consumption. Half of that chocolate cake was gone when we left 🙂


Picture by Shipra Panosian Photography
Picture by Shipra Panosian Photography
Picture by Shipra Panosian Photography
Picture by Shipra Panosian Photography
Picture by Shipra Panosian Photography

These pictures capture of one of my favorite moments of the year. Partly because I forgot to practice walking in my big poofy cupcake princess dress, partly because our “aisle” to the altar was like a mile long DOWNHILL, and partly because my dad and I were cracking up as he tried to not be blown away by the cupcake skirt. The wind was strong that day.

It’s also one of my favorite moments because it had be pouring rain for two days straight and had been forecasted to rain all weekend. I had wrestled with this for weeks because, excepting the dumpling hour, the entire wedding was outdoors. We had prayed for it to be “as dry as when the Israelites walked across the Red Sea” because I told God, “I don’t care about rain except that our guests would have wet feet. I am a host, but you’re a better host, and you have power to stop the rain. Wet feet are not ok, Lord! Think of those southerners! Bring dry ground.” And somehow the rain stopped and the sun came out a few hours before the ceremony. And there I was, trying not to roll down the aisle with my unwieldy dress, laughing and almost gleeful that my heels weren’t sticking into the mud because there was no mud! The ground was dry. “Oh, how the Father loves you,” said Rosa to me that morning. Oh, what a gift! My heart burst with delight. I didn’t trip.

And then there was Andrew, with his dewy eyes and kind smile. People we loved surrounding us, our parents’ blessing, and a holy covenant.

The Father’s hospitality is thoughtful, thorough, and sometimes outrageously over-the-top. Almost uncomfortably so. Like, who am I? In my Chinese-American family, when we get “too good” gifts, we say “No, you must be crazy! You better have got that on sale!!” Surely we are not worthy of such generosity. And so with God, with his pure goodness and overflowing banqueting table, we often say, “No way, who am I?” We shy away from giving our desires to him, acting like a servant in the corner who may scrounge some crumbs if we’re lucky. We think his guests must be befitting of his riches on his table, “worthy” in some way to have a seat. And yet in his upside-down kingdom, the guests we wouldn’t think fitting to sit at the table of a king, He deems worthy of high honor. He says, “Come out from under the table silly Kata, and take that crumb out of your mouth. Sit here and feast with me.”
In some moments, our souls are awake enough in surrender to see the lavishness of his sheer delight for us. This year has been marked by his generosity; it has been confounding me, changing me, softening me. Crumbs are not satisfying, after all. In the next few posts, I’ll be reflecting on some of the moments of God’s generosity where I heard clear invitations from groveling and eating crumbs to standing tall and feasting at the table; moments experienced through elaborate cakes, a Chinese banquet, lavish grace when my head was bowed in shame. My hope is that your eyes will be opened to see the Father’s generosity towards you. He hasn’t forgotten you. He is inviting you to the table, also. The food is really good, and the Father’s prepared a seat for you.


After seven years in an apartment with three human roommates and an unknown (but alarming) number of rodent roommates, I can safely say that I don’t like mice. Don’t get me started on how much they creep me out. I welcome creative murderous thoughts when I see them. (I’m sure that’s a great third sentence to write on this fresh new blog. Hello, world!)

But Reepicheep is different. Somehow in the magic of fiction and the imagination, he is a mouse I adore, admire, and want to be like when I grow up? Reepicheep is a character that captivated me as a child and captivates me still now as an adult when I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (arguably the best of the Narnia series). He is “the most valiant of all the Talking Beasts of Narnia, and the Chief Mouse,” a warrior whose fighting won him “undying glory” in many battles. He is small (but much bigger than a normal mouse, about three feet tall..slightly alarming if in real life. Don’t think about it too much) but it would not be wise to think less of him because of his size, as he doesn’t seem to think he’s any smaller than anyone else in the room and fights with a sword as good as any man. He fights with ferocity for the honor of his king and for the glory of the name of Aslan. He’s pretty intense and I LOVE IT:

“He was a good [chess] player, and when he remembered what he was doing he usually won. But every now and then Lucy won because the Mouse did something quite ridiculous, like sending a knight into the danger of a queen and castle combined. This happened because he had momentarily forgotten it was a game of chess and was thinking of a real battle and making the knight do what he would certainly have done in its place.”

I literally laughed when reading this, imagining this fierce talking mouse picking up chess pieces way too big for him and making valiant, ridiculous moves because he momentarily forgot it was only chess, and not a real life battle scene. Oh Reep, you are the best.

And yet with all of his intense desire for adventure and glory on the Dawn Treader’s quest, his desire to go home to Aslan’s country is as intense, and more majestic. For all his zeal for fighting and honor, his desire to follow the hope planted in him since a child carries him:

“Where sky and water meet
Where the waves grow sweet
Doubt not, Reepicheep
To find all you seek
There is the utter East.”

More than anything, Reepicheep yearns to go eastward to Aslan’s country, even if it means he has to swim there. This yearning to go home never wanes, but deepens and intensifies throughout his journey. Toward the end of the book, as Reepicheep paddles out with Lucy and Edmond and Eustace at the world’s end, he gets more excited to get toward Aslan’s country. For the children’s sake he pretends to be sad as they embrace and say goodbye, but his heart is overflowing with joy. He throws his sword into the Lake of the Lilies, “I shall need it no more” — and he goes with joy down to Aslan’s country. And there I am, weeping with Lucy and Edmond and Eustace as we watch our friend, Reepicheep the valiant talking mouse, paddle away in his coracle to Aslan’s country.

In a way, Reepicheep and I are kindred spirits. We are both small but never feel small (I perpetually think I’m the same height as everyone else. I am 5’2″), and if anyone voiced doubts of our significance or asked “Why are you even on this boat?” we would be confused by the question and likely say, “Because I am on this crew, you’ll likely need my help, and I’m going to Aslan’s country.” We fight. Brazenly and boldly. Like Reepicheep playing chess, I need to grow in wisdom to know which battles are worthy ones, and which are not. We are fierce through and through.  In our hearts there is a desire for more than fighting, a desire to be home with the one we are fighting for and with.

Honestly, the scene in the picture above (made by my sister!) is one that always brings me to tears. Somehow I am on that boat with Reep, almost giggling with excitement and yet also crying as we near Aslan’s country. I cannot wait until I get to throw my sword into the Lake of the Lilies and be at rest with him. I’ve prayed this prayer on that coracle with Reep, “Lord, you’ve made me a fighter, and I’ll fight. You have to teach me to discern which battles are worthy of fighting. I’ll need your training, your strategy, your strength. The sword, and the valiant fights and foolish moves I make, the close calls and the victories, will all be a shadow compared to the sheer delight of being home. Until then, I fight. But please, do come soon so I can throw away this sword and be with you.”

So here is a blog with fights I’m battling, how I’m training, ways I’m un-learning bad form and learning correct form, ways I’m strategizing differently because my perspective is shifting, etc. My fighting is the way I’m learning to sacrifice in order to see God’s kingdom brought from heaven to earth. It is in declaring that Christ is King and his rule is best. It is the thoughtful, prayerful, full-of-mistakes discipleship that happens in friendships, in marriage; it is in learning how to rest, how to forgive, how to be radically sacrificial; it is in learning how to be both fierce and gentle; it is in the struggle and joy of living in reconciling community; it is learning how to mourn, how to celebrate, and how to send a birdie to the enemy and declare that a new reality has been established in Christ and everything is forever changed. Intense, I know. “It’s just a game of chess, Reep!” “NO, IT’S SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.” 

In it all, what carries me isn’t the fighting itself but the hope bubbling up that one day I will arrive at the sweet waters of Aslan’s country, where I can throw down the sword and be at rest with the one who loves deeper than anyone I’ve ever known. It will be a place of wholeness we don’t ever fully realize here on earth, a place of full reconciliation, a place of real rest, real togetherness, real peace with the One who made us. Oh, I wait for the day! Until then, I fight. Come with me, the water’s fine and gets sweeter as we go along!