Visiting Temples as Christians

First and foremost I want to remind you to read this-our Creed on Culture. To reiterate, we love culture. We love the differences among people, languages, countries and customs.  Also, this is a post to Christians and for Christians. If you are not a Christian, obviously, some of this won't make sense to you, will probably be offensive to you, or you simply will disagree with it. That's totally cool. Maybe you'll still find it interesting. But for Christians, I think this is a topic to consider & something that I know I have wrestled with in the past.
 *** I am not the voice of God. (obviously) nor do I claim to be. These are simply my personal tips, understandings, opinions and beliefs. ***

Being Christians living in Asia we have gone to a million and one temples. And there are probably 100 million and one temples that we have yet to see. Going to so many temples, I've asked myself, "Why?" 

Why visit a temple?
They're Beautiful.
Often times in Asian cities temples are one of THE main attractions of the city. They are labeled on tourist maps & raved about by locals. Most Asian cities have much pride for their temples. This is totally understandable, considering most temples are gorgeous. They are often ornately decorated, bursting with color, and covered in gold. They usually have prime real estate, too. They are usually  atop famous mountains with excellent city, nature or ocean views, placed sea side or river side. Going to a city's temple usually ensures you will get a great view & most of the time temples boast the best picture spots in the city.

They can help you understand other Religions & how they have helped shape a Culture.
Temples usually offer inside peeks at a culture, their beliefs and their way of life. Understanding the predominate religion in each specific county can really help you understand the people and why they do some of the things they do. Why are there so many stray dogs running around Thailand? Why are  abortions so common in China? Why do Chinese people drink hot water so often? Why do the Japanese and Chinese often look away if someone is in trouble? Why are their crosses all over Korea's skyline? All of these cultural questions can be answered by looking at the religious beliefs that have helped shape people's thinking in the past and today. 

They can help you understand a countries' history.
So many of the temples we have seen in Asia have been there for hundreds sometimes thousands of years. Walking in to many temples is like walking in to a preserved fossil. The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is a great example of how a temple can teach you about the history of a country. 

They can help you connect with others.
I love and care about my Buddhist friends. If their faith is important to them, I want it to be important to me, too. Visiting temples and asking questions can help me better understand what my friend believes & what's important to her. If I love her, I will care about what she believes. That doesn't mean that I have to believe it or even that I think it's true, it just means that I love her and respect her thoughts and beliefs.

They help you see the world's longing for God.
Temples have shown me that people long for purpose, meaning, value and love. They long to be held in the midst of this huge Universe. They long to know God. Not all people there long for that. But every so often, I can really see on a person, that they are longing for God. They want to know Him. There in a temple, when I see that, I have this unique opportunity to pray for them. I can pray that God increase that hunger and that they find Him in Jesus.

Knowing why I go to temples is important, but knowing HOW to go in to temples is equally important to me.
How to go to a temple?
Not as in, how to get there by bus, car, train or boat etc, but how as in, how in my heart.
Go Humbly & Respectfully.
When visiting someone elses' place of worship it is important to go humbly and respectively. Take off your shoes, cover up your arms and legs, stay quiet, don't take photos. Follow the rules of respect while in a temple. Do this out of love for your neighbor, your fellow man. I don't take off my shoes out of respect for the idol. I take off my shoes in respect of the people there, whom I love. 

Stay true to your convictions & the Word.
I will take off my shoes, wash my hands and feet, stay quiet, whatever I need to do to be respectful that does not compromise my faith or go against my conviction. I will not bow to an idol. I will not kneel and pray before an idol. I will not burn incense either. Anything you do in a temple has to be with in your convictions & commitment to the Lord. If for some reason you feel very strongly about not taking your shoes off in a temple, don't go to a temple that asks that of you.

Go Prayerfully.
 When going into a temple Zachary and I always try to go prayerfully. We pray for the people we see. I especially pray for the people I see praying and children there. I pray for the people praying that they may know Jesus, someway, somehow, through their prayers. We often pray out loud. The Bible says that where two or more are gathered in my Name, there I will be. I think the Spirit is there, even in the temple. But even with that being said, temples can be very spiritually heavy places, too, so as I mention further down, go prayerfully on guard.

Go Worshipful.
My goodness at some of these places that a temple is located, it is hecka gorgeous. I can totally see why people in the past have thought to put alters there because you look at some of these places and they just shout glory be to God. They're beautiful! When we go to temples, we praise God. When we go into beautiful caves, with idols everywhere, we praise God for the beauty of the caves. Where ever we are, even surrounded by city walls, we praise Him. 

Go with Open Eyes.
When we go into temples, we want to always go with open eyes. I don't want to be distracted by the bursts of color, huge statues or tons of people taking pictures. I don't want to forget that this is a place of worship, spiritually dark and in need of light. I want to remember where I am. I don't want for one minute to view what's before me as strictly cultural or a tourist sight. These places are spiritual and filled with spiritual things. I want to see those things & pray for Jesus to come. 

Go on Guard.
Again, remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood. We are not only flesh but spiritual. There is spiritual warfare going on in those places. Go on guard. Ask the Lord to protect you. To keep your mind fixed on Him. If you are sensitive to spiritual things, temples will probably be really difficult places for you. Remember to be constantly in prayer.

Go, Listening. 
 Always, always, listen to the Spirit inside of you who leads you, whispers to you, gives you wisdom and reminds you of the words of God. There have been times that I have felt sick outside of temples or felt sick when I saw an idol. Those times, I don't care about culture or seeing this sight. I care about following the wisdom God has placed with in me and about following how the Spirit is leading me. I don't have to figure out why I feel that way, I just have to trust that the Spirit is using my body to show me what I shouldn't do and where I shouldn't go. Only God knows why some temples have been okay but other ones have not been. I could speculate about spiritual strong holds or God simply giving me opportunities to practice listening & obeying to Him, but I won't. I'll leave the why with God. I must simply obey. In Chiang Mai, Zachary had spent some time with the Lord one morning and felt very heavy for all the people & alters he saw around him. He spent some time in prayer over people we came in contact with. Later that day we ended up going to Chiang Mai's most famous temple, Doi Sutep. Because Zachary had felt such a heavy spirit earlier that morning, he knew he'd rather stay outside and pray. So, that's what he did while I went in and looked around.
Nothing is worth compromising your conviction, disobeying God, or making yourself feel uncomfortable. Trust me, nothing is worth it. I can think of the most beautiful temples we've seen, with the most beautiful views, and even those were not worth it. Don't worry! You will not miss anything. 
Do you often visit temples? What is it like for you? Do you have any other suggestions? Or any other reasons why visiting a temple is a good thing?

**As a side note, we also don't buy anything from temples that is related to idols or idol worship, small statues, paintings with Buddhist verses, etc. because we are very cautious and careful about what we put in our house. I know for each person there is a different conviction and standard, this is just what we feel strongly about.***
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Care for Dogs Foundation

While we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand last winter, we had the privilege of learning about the Care for Dogs Foundation. This foundation is doing amazing things for the lives of hundreds of dogs and dog owners living in Chiang Mai. 
The hands and feet of the Care for Dogs workers & volunteers are constantly busy. They serve as a rescue facility for injured dogs with over 200 dogs at their facilities (as of January '14). They treat & care for dogs that have diseases, cancer or have been injured from car accidents or abuse.  A huge part of their mission is seeking to stop the spread of diseases and overpopulation of temple and street dogs through immunizations and sterilization. . Any and all dogs they find  on the Chiang Mai streets, they sterilize and immunize, if possible. In May 2014 alone they sterilized over 400 dogs. They also act as an adoption center for abandoned dogs and puppies. Another huge part of their mission in Chiang Mai is to educate Thai people through schools and community outreach, on the importance of caring for, immunizing and spaying their dogs. You can read more about their objectives here
If you've ever been to Thailand you no doubt noticed the dozens and dozens of street dogs. Street dogs, beach dogs, temple dogs, stray dogs, they're every where.  Dogs are dumped off in the streets and abandoned. Many are ran over, poisoned or abused. Some are watched over by compassionate neighbors or shop owners that lay out food for them at night but most are left to scrounge for food and shelter on their own. Some roam around and some stick to specific store fronts, corners or temples, where they might find some food. Most are extremely nice and just like any dog you'd love to take home with you, just a little dirtier, in need of tender, love and care & definitely a bath! But there are always some that have been previously abused and are now quite aggressive. Because of these more aggressive street dogs, I've always had an overarching view towards all street dogs, which was as follows; they are all ready to attack me at any second, they all have mange & most definitely on the verge of rabies. Our time at Care for Dogs changed my view towards all street dogs. Of course they should all be approached with caution but most, you will see quickly, are longing for love and attention. Also, always, wash your hands after loving on them!

We saw every sort of  rescued dog at Care for Dogs. We saw the super friendly, the more standoffish, the "I'll bite your face off if you try to pet me, though I don't have rabies, but please take me for a walk," the puppies, the diseased but super cute, the diseased but not super cute, and so on. We saw every personality and they were all wonderful. Even the standoffish or aggressive ones, once you hear their stories & all the terrible things they've gone through, you can't help but want to hug them but you don't of course, because you like your hand.
Not only do the majority of the workers and vets volunteer or work for very little, but they know these dogs, all 200, as if they were their very own pups. They can tell you which dog went through what, all their names, and how each particular dog has grown, changed, started trusting, went from not being able to walk to walking, etc. They truly love and care for these dogs. 

Like Care for dogs on Facebook to read some amazing stories and to stay up to date on what Care for Dogs is doing in Chiang Mai. Though we don't live in Chiang Mai, I love reading the stories of progress they've seen. It's so encouraging.

Check out these amazing transformations. It's unbelievable to see how with the right care a dog's life can completely change. 
We were so encouraged by the work Care for Dogs is doing and we loved spending time with some of these dogs. We saw first hand the great need they have for more laborers and resources. Think about volunteering for a week or a few months at Care for Dogs next time your backpacking around South East Asia! Not a backpacker? Think about sponsoring a dog for one month or donating. Or you can even just buy a t-shirt! If you live in or around Chiang Mai, consider adopting one of these fur balls! I found this sponsorship page especially awesome because almost every dog on there we met & spent a little time with while at Care for Dogs!

Thank you Care for Dogs for how you are serving and loving the dogs of Chiang Mai! 
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A Chinese Bride

Last weekend, my coworker, Elsie was married to her love, Gracen. Elsie was gorgeous in a high necked, capped sleeved wedding dress. I absolutely loved the lace & neck on this dress. Her dress looked timeless but still didn't lack the Chinese flare, the bling. Most Chinese dresses I have seen include touches of to entire bodices lined with the Chinese bling, large faux diamonds. Elsie's dress had touches of these around her waist, but they added to her classic look, without being too over the top or gaudy. This dress, she so loved, was rented. Most Chinese brides rent their wedding dresses. Wedding dresses are expensive, they're only worn once & they argue that they're too big to keep with such little space in their apartments, so renting is the way to go in China.  It makes sense but I'm not going to lie, I love that I still have my wedding dress & that I was the only bride to wear it & then "not" wear it our wedding night, if you get my drift. ;) In China, renting is normal, so of course they don't mind about any of those things. Elsie's dress also had a bit of a train, which she told me about a few days before. She was super excited about this! Trains are all the rage in China. Have you heard of the Chinese brides competing for the longest train title? They get crazy long & people spend ridiculous amounts of money to add meter after meter to their dresses. One bride just last week broke the record with a 3,000 meter long train (about 3 miles!!!). Elsie's train length was perfect, though. Have a look at this beautiful Chinese bride, Elsie, as she prepares for her big day.
Congratulations Elsie!
Photos by Grand Photography
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Fall Baking & Cooking List


Seriously, all of these just look so amazing to me! I can't wait to make them! Zachary's kind of obsessed with Top Pot Starbucks apple fritters, so I think if I could perfect these little bites, I'd be in his favor for always. You know, even more than I am now. ;) I'm excited for the oat meals on chilly fall mornings in the future! Also, the donuts and muffins MUST only be baked when I am taking them to someone else. There is NO WAY those things can sit around my house for days. They wouldn't make it. They look like my favorite kind of pastries! Scones! Why are there no scones on this list?! I must change that. I added a persimmon recipe on here because there are tons of persimmons here in Qingdao every Fall and I've never known what to do with them. I'd also love to make a persimmon pudding or get a persimmon recipe from my Great Aunt. Yes, I should do that. Also, please know, that I will also, most definitely be baking pumpkin chocolate chip bread. But that's a given.

And because we can't eat sweets for every meal & snack of the day (like, who would want to do that anyway? ;)  ), here's 9 soups I'm X to the Cite to the Ed (excited, in case you missed it) about cooking! I'm a sucker for soup. Especially soup you can put in a crock pot which in my world, could be any of these (even if the recipe doesn't permit. I just do my own thang, you know, yo.).

Is it crazy that I'm actually feeling all cozy and saying out loud, "Mmmm" at the sight of some of these soups? Can you tell I'm a sucker for creamy soups and red bell peppers? I would also love to make a Roasted Red Pepper and Gouda bisque. Yum. I love the uniqueness of some of the soups above and can't wait to try them! I challenge myself to bake & cook all of the above!

Self, I'll give you fall AND winter, so no excuses! If Julie Andrews could cook through the entire Joy of Cooking in a year, you can make 18 things in a fall and winter. You can do it!

Pep talks are good. Don't you worry though, I won't need any pep talks to eat any of the above!

What's on your fall baking and cooking list?
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Making Perfect Stir Fry

We are now obsessed with stir fry. It's our go to dish. It's the most versatile dish I know, too. You can toss almost anything (any edible thing that is) into a stir fry and it will most likely turn out fantastic!
We eat stir fried vegetables and chicken probably 2-3 nights out of the week. Usually, I have no specific plan as to what vegetables will go in a stir fry on which night. Most nights, I open the fridge and choose the vegetable combination that sounds most delicious to me that night that we have available. My Stir fry style is unplanned, unmeasured and thrown together. Most nights I use vegetables, chicken, a tsp or two of oil, a squirt of Braggs and call it a night. It's delicious just like that. 
I say now about as referring to the last 5 years. Since right before we've moved abroad basically. Just before we moved to Korea, I lived with grand parents for the summer, and saw them stir fry often. Seeing them stir fry so much placed a little bit of stir fry knowledge in my brain, stored away, ready to be taken out upon our arrival to Korea. In Korea, we didn't have an oven, only a stove top, and had something like a whopping 3 man fleet of pots and pans, which included the glorious Wok, the King of stir fry's. 
Growing up we never saw our mothers make stir fry (besides fajitas! We ARE Texans after all. Or sauteed mushrooms and onions to top our steaks on steak night! Holla!). So, it made us think maybe others were the same, and are still living in a stir-fry-less world.
So, because we love stir fry so much, I decided to share with you some of our best stir fry tips and recipes!

Why Make Stir Fry
1. You only use one pot! Easy cooking and easy clean up!
2. They're super easy and fast.
3. They're healthy.
4. They're a great way to clear out veggies in your fridge.
5. It's a great way to add more vegetables to your diet!
6. They're delicious!
7. You don't need a recipe. 

My Stir Fry Tips

-Buy a Wok. I good, thick wok. Our wok is our most used kitchen accessory. Woks are perfect for stir frying because of their fantastic heat retention.

-Only use a few tsp of oil. Seriously, this is all we use for a huge wok-full of stir fried veggies & meat. Depending on what kind of oil I am using, I usually put 1 to 2 tsp down first, tilt the pan around to coat the bottom, then I place the veggies. I usually cook the meat last. Before placing the meat in the pan, I push all the veggies to one side, drop another tsp of oil on the other side, and place the meat on top.

-Any vegetable will do!  Any vegetable is stir friable (is that a word?). Before you slice up your veggies, think about flavor combinations. Some things just go great together! Making stir fry is also a great way to get your leafy greens in. In China, any and all greens are cooked. Thinly chop a whole bunch of spinach, kale or other leafy green and throw it into your stir fry the last 30 seconds.

-Use garlic and ginger. Add more flavor to your stir fry without increasing the sodium or adding fake junk into your veggies. 

-Think about how you should cut/slice/chop. Some days I go with long sliced vegetables. Other days, if I'm making stir fried veggies as a side dish, I go with chopped small veggies. Some days, its all random.

-Think about order. If you're adding large pieces of potatoes, carrots or other hard vegetables, put those in first. If your cooking large chunks of potatoes with thinly cut mushrooms, you don't want to cook away your mushrooms while your potatoes are softening.

-Get creative! Try different oils. Add a drop of sesame oil. Add some nuts. Sprinkle with some sesame seeds. Add a vegetable you seldom cook with or have never tried. Sprinkle with some fresh herbs. Throw some kimchi in there.

 -Seasonings. Kind of a repeat but I'll touch on it. First, try to season with natural, low calorie things, like ginger, garlic, onion, kimchi, lemon, lime, red chilli and fresh herbs and spices. If you still need more flavor, add some low sodium soy sauce, or better yet add Bragg's Amino Soy Sauce. Try a tbs or two of oyster sauce or fish sauce (these are go to flavor boosters in our house). I have even added a little mustard to some stir fry. Again, get creative!

-Try adding fruit. Pineapple is a great one to add! But hard apples, oranges and pears also work. The fruit is great for bringing out the meats flavor. 

-Think about steaming. If you have a lot of hard vegetables your cooking with or you want things to cook even faster throw all your veggies in the wok. Put 1/2 or so of water, put that amazing Wok lid on, and let your veggies sit for awhile steaming under that glass dome. After 5 minutes or so, remove the lid and let the veggies stir fry uncovered, so all the water cooks up. If I steam them, I don't use oil, and just cook the meat in a thin layer or the left over water.

-Protein Sources. We use chicken most often but there are nights we throw shrimp, salmon, clams or tofu in instead. We rarely use pork or beef, but both are great, too! 

-Think about trying some new curries. Curry paste packets are extremely easy to find and can turn your stir fry into something even more amazing! I rarely follow the vegetable recommendations on curry packets. I add the coconut milk or water it calls for, and then load it up with the vegetables I want. 

 -Serve with rice, quinoa, noodles or eat plain. 

-Make a straight veggie stir fry as a side dish to a main. I've done this the last few nights. I've made a baked chicken dish with a finely chopped vegetable medley stir fried on the side.

-Save the left overs. There's so many things to do with the left overs. You can throw it in eggs the next morning. Throw it in a soup the next night or make lettuce wraps with it, to name a few examples. 
-Remember portions! Just because it's healthy and mostly vegetables doesn't mean you can eat the whole pan. I am seriously just learning this. I mean I knew, but I didn't think about it. It was just good! And so I'd eat more and more. Ugh, sad but true. Use a measuring cup to serve your self, or if you're cooking for two and you have enough for four, dish the 3rd and 4th serving into containers before you serve your self for dinner. It's perfect for lunch the next day!
A few of my Stir Fry Obsessions 

I am obsessed with..

Mushrooms, red bell pepper and broccoli.
Previously any stir fry I made you could guarantee that it would have these three veggies in it. But then Zachary requested that we take a break from broccoli, "What husband? You don't love having broccoli every night?!" So, now you can guarantee that there will always be red bell pepper and mushrooms included. And if there's not, I get a little sad. 

Cabbage. It's kind of an obsession in our house. In Dongying there were months where we'd eat stir fried cabbage with peanuts almost every single night. It was just amazing.

Coconut oil. Oh man. I'm in love. Currently, I am loving cooking the chicken first in coconut oil, then adding mushroom, red and yellow bell pepper and zucchini. Stir frying it all together and topping it with a few cashews. 

Happy Stir frying! 

Do you stir fry often? What are your best tips?

*Original Photo Source by Ginny
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The Chocolate Hills

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Everywhere we went in Bohol was soaked in beauty. The earth was rich with all the best hues of green and the sky was always a beautiful blue. The Chocolate Hills, one of Bohol's most famous sites, if not THE most famous, was no exception. The Chocolate Hills are pretty awesome to behold. They are all perfectly circle at the base and are said to look like little, or rather huge, Hershey Kisses, in the deep of summer, when the grass has turned brown.
We visited the Chocolate Hills area twice. To get there the first time we rented a driver, who took us to all the Bohol sites in a morning to afternoon for 1200 pesos. The car entrance fee into the Chocolate Hills was 50 pesos, after that, your good to climb on up to the top of one of those Hershey's, where they have bathrooms, a staircase and a viewing deck. The second trip, we rented a scooter and drove out to the Chocolate Hills area but we stayed below since we had already done the observation deck. On scooter it took us around 2 hours from Loboc. As an alternative to the deck, we went to Chaps, a ropes course arena and park, which boasted more great views. 
Half of the viewing deck was under construction due to the most recent Earth quake.
The views were beautiful no matter which way you turned your camera, Chocolate Hill or no Chocolate Hill.
But I will say I liked the views that included the Chocolate Hills best.
At the entrance of the park you can also rent ATV's to roam around on and explore. You can rent them at a whopping 800 pesos for 1/2 hour. To which I say, so not worth it! But hey, to each his own.
To one direction of the hill we were on, a storm was rolling in. Short, nightly storms this time of year are what make everything so lush and green in the tropics!
 It was a bummer because some of the best views of the hills were straight ahead, which often included the earthquake damage in our pictures.
Exhibit above, the construction "site."
Let's try this again, sans construction site. Darn, still there.
There we go! Oh, but no hills! Boo. Dumb earthquakes.
The Chocolate Hills did not disappoint. They were as stunning as everyone says they are. It's obvious why they are Bohol's trademark. The Chocolate Hills, just another reason added to the long list of why we've fallen in love with Bohol!
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