Pesto Pizza & Other Ways God Owes Me

An encounter with pesto pizza traumatized me for my whole life.

Growing up as a missionary’s kid, we had very little money—Christmas gifts were a luxury, rent money was something we prayed for as a family to come in every month, and we used water and electricity very sparingly (I would time how long I used water in the shower, turning it off and on as needed). Those are all pretty normal things-- it really wasn’t a horror story.

Until the pesto pizza came. Dun. Dun. Dun.

We ate the same food we served the homeless: whatever was donated to the local food bank, and whatever was left over at the San Francisco Giants & 49ers ballparks—hotdogs, burgers, fries, etc. It was pretty baller. One year, Candlestick Park installed a new restaurant: a pizza restaurant. And this season in particular they had garbage bags left over filled with pesto pizza.

Yum.

Livin' that Food  Bank life.

Livin' that Food  Bank life.

We were excited. We looked forward to it. And we ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For a week.

And then the next week.

And then the next week.

And the next.

Kids at school began to make fun of my consistently boring lunch. I started hating waking up, knowing what I had to heat up for breakfast. But my family and I were not complainers, we were very grateful, and we knew how to live with little, so I held it all in-- thinking that this was what it took to be in full-time ministry. It was about a month and a half of eating this once-amazing meal when at the dinner table, as my dad was praying for dinner, I started crying. “Daddy, PLEASE don’t make me eat pesto pizza anymore!” I couldn’t control it any longer; I start bawling my eyes out. My mom looked at him, “Yes honey, I think it’s time to buy some groceries.” My dad laughed, and later that night bought us some fresh food.

Not only did this story make me unable to enjoy pesto, pizza, and specifically pesto pizza for the rest of my life, but I commonly reference this story whenever God calls me to do something I don’t want to do. I see it as a hilarious example of what I once thought was “sacrificing for the Kingdom.” Because we were missionaries, we commonly gave up luxuries for the sake of the Gospel. But for whatever reason—this is the story that sticks out—whenever God asks me to sacrifice something else, be humbled once again, or live with little once more, I am known amongst my friends for joking, saying, “God! Don’t forget about the pesto pizza!”

Of course, this isn’t serious. I’m not really bitter towards God about this (though I can’t say the same towards my parents). But this is a childhood story that shows a real, adult truth. Sometimes, I feel the need to remind God of the sacrifices I’ve already made for Him, letting Him know I’ve already paid my dues, and if anyone owes anyone, HE owes ME.

When God called me in my adult life to leave a job, be in full-time ministry, and live by faith once again, I thought, “Haven’t I been poor enough already?” When He called me to leave relationships behind, I thought, “Haven’t I lost enough people already?” When I had to couch-surf, and be practically homeless for years so my traveling ministry could continue, I thought, “When is this going to end? When is He done asking so much of me?” Time and time again, I constantly want to say, “God! Don’t forget about the pesto pizza!”

Galatians 6:9 states, “So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up.”

I know sometimes we get tired of doing what is good. I know we feel like we’ve sacrificed enough, worked hard enough, and frankly are exhausted from this never-ending dying to ourselves. But through His Word, and through the Apostle Paul, God urges His children to not grow tired, weary, or faint. Keep forgiving that one friend who doesn’t make you a priority. Keep trying to reconcile with that one family member who hurt you. Keep investing into your kids, even when days are overwhelming. Keep putting in the blood, sweat, and tears into your youth ministry. Keep giving back to God a percentage of your income. Keep asking God what more you can do in your community. He says at the right time, we will be blessed, there will be fruit to our labor—but we can’t give up.

That's my crazy dad.

That's my crazy dad.

Mi familia - ministering on the streets together. About a decade ago.

Mi familia - ministering on the streets together. About a decade ago.

My dad once said something like this when I very little. After a particular week on the streets serving the homeless, where a demon-possessed women was physically violent towards me, a man assaulted my mother, hit her and broke our ministry’s equipment, and my dad was pulled of the stage and beaten until he was bloody everywhere, I remember begging my dad to not make me go on the streets again that week. I was tired, I was scared, and I had paid my dues for the month. My dad said, “Hosanna, do people still need Jesus?” I cried, “Yes, Daddy.” He said, “Then we can’t stop going. Get dressed, and let’s go.”

We can’t grow tired of the sacrifice. We can’t get discouraged from the vast amounts of setbacks. We can’t stop doing good. God promises us blessings if we don’t give up—and His blessings are the best.

I want to remind God of all the days I was on the road going hungry, the pictures in my mind of my father beat up on the cement in front of me, the days when I desperately wanted a long, warm shower—I want to remind God everyday of the pesto pizza, and let him know, the buck stops here.

But God doesn’t owe me. He has given me salvation, the greatest gift. My life is His. It is no sacrifice—it is a privilege and joy to serve God again today.

I reflect on this verse. I will not get tired.

I reflect on what my dad said. People still need Jesus.

Today, I’ll get dressed, and go.

God remembers the pesto pizza.

And still…

We can’t stop going.

Waking Up When It's Dark

Waking up in Alaska is difficult— at 8 am, the sun is still nowhere in site. Though I’m normally an early-morning person (way earlier than 8am), I have to put extra effort into getting up and getting moving, even though it seems that the world around me is still asleep. I know the sun will come, but it’s hard to function—when it’s still dark outside.

This isn’t just a weather phenomenon. This is something we deal with in all of our lives. This happens when we lose our job. This is when a loved one dies. This is when someone we thought we’d spend forever with leaves us. This is when the future is unclear. This is when our closest friends have hurt us. This is when money is low. This is when the cravings for past addictions come back.  This is when we are in that place where we know we’re supposed to get up, but the sun hasn’t risen yet. We all know—it’s hard to function when it’s still dark.

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In the book of John, we read of a story of a man who also lived in life’s darkness. For 38 years he was what different versions call sick, disabled, lame, or invalid—we’re not sure if he was crippled, had cancer, was depressed, or what—but either way, he lived days without the sun coming up, and spent 38 years drowning in discouragement. Maybe it helps that we don’t know exactly what was wrong with him—truth be told, this man could have been any of us. When Jesus approached him He asked the man, “Do you want to be well?

This story found in John 5 continues as the man has many excuses for why he hasn’t been healed. He says that he’s tried many times. He says that others have gotten in the way. He says there’s been a lack of people to help him. But Jesus didn’t ask Him, “What are your roadblocks?” He asked, him “Do you want to be well?” Jesus then commands him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” The man was healed, and he walked.

Do we want to be well?

Or are we so comfortable being sick, sleeping in darkness, that we almost prefer it?

We've memorized our excuses so well, putting the blame on others, circumstances, and past failures-- are we like the man from John 5? Just telling Jesus our roadblocks?

Jesus gives us a reason to rise. He gives us a reason to keep going. If we want to be well, if we want to be healed, if we want to be rid of laziness and apathy, if we want to have a life that we are proud of—we need to wake up-- even if it’s dark, get up-- even if no one helps us, and keep going-- even if the world seems against us. Why? Because there is healing. There is joy. There are things more important than our comfort. A new life is available. But it can’t be attained while sitting. It’s worth the extra effort to be awake. It’s worth the pain of standing up to be alive.

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I Said, "Yes."

When I was 5 years old, I learned the importance of saying, “Yes.” It changed my theology of ministry for the rest of my life.

My family’s church holds services outdoors in a homeless-congested park in downtown San Francisco (we call it Church in the Park—be jealous of our creativity). My dad was setting up the sound system when he noticed a man far from the crowd, in a corner by the gate, looking down at the cement. As the man rose to get up, my dad handed me a Bible and a pamphlet about Jesus, and said, “Go, run, hurry-- give this to that man, say ‘Jesus loves you,’ and come back to me.” I replied, “Yes, Daddy.” And ran.

My dad leading worship through music at Church in the Park. I'm the little one, just hanging with my dad.

My dad leading worship through music at Church in the Park. I'm the little one, just hanging with my dad.

I was 5. I had not yet discovered the beauty of rebellion, the questioning of advisement, or the distain towards authority. Rest assured, those glorious years were just around the corner, but at that moment in time-- at 5 years old, I had no reason to ever question my dad. I had a good relationship with my dad. If he told me to do something, I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t question him-- I didn’t need to know why he was asking, I just needed to say, “Yes,” and do it.

Life was so very simple.

Was there a time in life when we approached God this way? Was there a time when our desire to please Him was so deeply rooted within us, that when he asked us to do something, we didn’t hesitate—it was enough that he said to? Nowadays I find myself a part of a society that wants to analyze the call of God. When he says, “Go,” I want to know, “Why? What will happen?” When he says, “Go to them,” I want to know… “Why them?” When he says, “Hurry,” I want to look back, pause, question and figure out what the pros and cons are of me hurrying. When he tells me to do anything at all, I want to know first and foremost what the outcome will be. It’s no longer enough that He said to.

Indeed, we have lost our theology of obedience.

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”

Many addicts, convicts, and prodigals coming to the Lord at Church in the Park. 1992.

Many addicts, convicts, and prodigals coming to the Lord at Church in the Park. 1992.

We’ve heard this. But do we get this? We know this by heart. But does that translate to how we live our lives? The Son of God came into the world to save us from eternity without God—the biggest event in our Christian history, and as he was going back to Heaven to be united with His Father, this call was in the last phrase He chose to say on Earth. This was the last thing He told us to do.

That is a very big deal.

But we want to know “Why?” We want to pause and figure out our life plan. We want to rethink our reputations, the costs, and if the reward is worth it. We want this call explained, before we say, “Yes, Daddy.

Because let’s be honest, we’re not 5. We’ve had some trial and error. We’ve had some doubts about God. We’ve been exposed to rejection. We’ve had some lame authority figures. And as adults who have it all figured out and know what’s best for ourselves, someone merely telling us to do something, is rarely enough for us to get up and go.

I remember running to that man on the street, handing him the Bible and pamphlet, skipping back to my dad and exclaiming, “I did it!” and not understanding what I did, or what the impact could have been. My dad would later tell me that night, and try to explain it to me in the years to come, the events that transpired that day.

“After the service, I went up to that man you gave those things to earlier today. He told me that before you came to him, he was about to leave. He had never been to this park before. But he needed somewhere to sit and think. He had a gun in his pocket, Hosanna. There was a man in the building behind us that murdered his niece, and he was about to go into the building and kill that man. But he told me, ‘After that little girl ran up to me, told me Jesus loved me, and handed me this pamphlet, I read it, and I couldn’t go through with it. I want Jesus instead. I have to change my life.’ Do you understand that, Hosanna? I led him to the Lord and he didn’t kill somebody today. Do you get that?”

I remember not getting it. I remember saying, “That’s good, right Dad? Are you happy I did what you told me to?”

My dad smiled, and probably realized then what it took me years to see: the joy of ministry is not the joy of being patted on the back; the joy of ministry is the joy in obeying God. I didn't need to know the outcome. I just knew that he said to-- and me saying "Yes" made him happy.

Years later, hanging out with my homeless friends at the release of my new album in downtown San Francisco.

Years later, hanging out with my homeless friends at the release of my new album in downtown San Francisco.

Decades later, as I live a life striving to obey this call, I remember this story. Days when I’m tired, days when I doubt my abilities, days when I want to analyze God and figure out why I’m doing what I’m doing, I remember this. I remember that man on the street. I didn’t know his story. But I ran. I didn’t know he had a gun. But I hurried towards him. I didn’t know he had the potential to turn his eternity around that day; I didn’t know the impact that small act would have on his life; I didn’t know why on earth I was running down that street. But it wasn’t my job to know. It was my job to obey.

There are times we want to know the impact we have on people in order for our sacrifice and obedience to be worth it. I hope we get set free from that disgusting pride. I hope that you and I reconnect with this child-like heart of obedience. We don’t need to know why God is telling us to hurry towards people. We don’t need to know how we impacted them after.

Life is actually, so very simple.

We just need to say, “Yes.” Because He said to. Lives could be hanging in the balance, relying on us… to not hesitate.

“Go, run, hurry….”

A Homeless Life

I grew up on the streets of San Francisco and spent most of my days hanging out with the homeless, drug-addicted, convicts of the city’s ghetto, the Tenderloin district. If there was one group of people I understood from a young age, it was the homeless. Not everybody had the same story or same life situation, but for the most part, the people I came across had nothing to their name—a few clothes on their back, a shopping cart of belongings if they were lucky, and they roamed the city with no place to call their home. When God opened the doors and challenged my heart to downsize my belongings, become a minimalist, forfeit having a home base, and start a traveling ministry, I knew exactly what it looked like. I knew what it meant to have close to nothing. In order to say, “Yes” to what I was challenged in my heart to do, I threw 2 closets and 3 duffel bags worth of clothes & shoes onto the floor and downsized to two suitcases. I sold & donated large amounts of childhood and college memories, including memorabilia from living in China, furniture, and other random items that once meant a great deal to me. In order to have this traveling ministry, I couldn’t take all of this stuff with me—it would get in the way of me going. Having so many things would weigh me down, and though some of them were extremely important to me, I couldn’t have both. Answering God’s call won out in the end. To this day, everything I own fits in the backseat of my car (about the size of a shopping cart).

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This was not just a physical cleansing—it represented something far deeper. In order to go on the road and be the woman God was calling me to be, I had to let go of a lot of—stuff. I was in unhealthy relationships. I was putting myself in terrible, compromising positions. I was living to please people who did not care about me. I was holding on to hurt, grief, and unforgiveness. I was still allowing myself to be defined by insecurities that have been haunting me for years. And when God said, “Go,” He was also very clear: “You can’t take it with you.”

Chances are, we aren’t exactly alike—perhaps God is not calling you to minimalize your material things to be practically homeless (though minimalizing is incredible—I highly recommend it), traveling from state to state every week. But maybe there is other baggage that is weighing you down from truly embarking on the adventure God has for you. Maybe you need to dump your closets and duffel bags of scars, hurts, painful memories you hoard, and let it all go. Have you felt in your life, ministry, or relationship with God that you just can’t move forward? Maybe it’s because of all your stuff. If we want to obey God, we can’t take it with us.

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I’ve watched thousands of homeless men and women on the streets of the Bay Area surrender and give their lives to Christ. The reckless abandonment they embody as they throw their heroin needles on the ground and kneel in tears crying out to God is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in a conventional church setting. Maybe it’s because they have nothing else. Maybe it’s because they have to have Jesus. There is nothing else to fill the void in their hearts; they are desperate for a Saviour. I want that. I want that desperation for Jesus. I want to throw my pain and hurts on the ground and cry out to the Lord—fully aware that He is all I need, fully aware that I have nothing without Him.

I’m convinced God is calling us to be "homeless"—to not rely on any person, material thing, or earthly identity to define us, but to be rid of all that we put before Him. He is calling us to not hold tight onto our possessions as if they are our home, to not collect our scars as if they are our identity, and to not allow our baggage to weigh us down when God has something new for us. Our home is not here. Our home is far greater of a place than we can possibly imagine. And if we hope to be there—if we hope to recklessly worship God there one day—then we must know, all of our stuff: we can’t take it with us.

Let us be identified by our true home—it’s not here. Let us let go of the load we’ve been carrying—isn’t it heavy? If we want to walk down a road of healing & restoration, we can’t take our past with us—don’t we want to be empty enough for Him to fill us?

Let’s be rid of the old—so He can do a new thing.

Let's make room.

Living in Fear, Being a Failure

A major wall I hit when the telling my world about Christ is that I am filled with fear. Filled.

I fear being rejected. Or worse-- being rejected on a platform where everyone can see. I fear being laughed at. I fear trying anything—hoping for anything, and then failing. Oh, how I fear failure.

I fear like my life depends on it.

I fear like my reputation depends on it.

And you know what? It does.

My reputation is most definitely at stake-- the more I try to talk about a man whose life, and death, and life again is a symbol that we are innately broken and messed up and we need a Savior. No one wants to hear that. Every other day I don’t want to hear that myself. And I fear the world thinking I’m socially ignorant, rudely forceful, or blindly religious if I mention something like salvation, or hint at someone like Jesus.

These fears used to drive me. And then something happened.

I went out on a limb—it was horrifying— and left my selfish, self-righteous, hedonistic self behind, and I sacrificed my comfortable world to use whatever gifts I had to tell people about the hope I had found. I let myself be seen for the world to ridicule, make fun of, and allowed myself to reach in ways that would be obvious if I failed. And you know what happened?

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All of my fears came to pass.

I lost friends. I lost respect. I’ll be honest—I lost cool points. I was excluded. I was publicly humiliated. And I failed a ton of times.

But this is why I don’t care…

Greater than my fears of being rejected, losing friends, or being out casted-- I fear people dying without knowing Jesus. I fear that there is something I know that can save people from an eternity separated from a loving, joyful, compassionate God, and that they will never know Him—never experience Him— if I don’t speak up.

Indeed, I have found a fear greater than all my other fears.

My theology on evangelism is not “Be fearless!” On the contrary, I am filled with fear.

Filled.

It keeps me up at night.

I am afraid for my friends that do the same disgusting, demeaning things I used to do not knowing that Jesus could change their life around. I am afraid for the prostitutes in Amsterdam who are traded and trafficked never knowing that they are fearfully & wonderfully made. I am afraid for the strangers walking by me on the street always being strangers and not spending eternity alongside of me as I worship God for forever. Oh, how this fear fills me.

I fear like their lives depend on it.

And you know what? They do.

So what do you fear? Are you like me? Rejection, loss of relationships, failure?

Now what do you fear more than those things? Do you fear people never knowing the life-changing Salvation you have come to know? Are you afraid that perhaps you have a gift or talent that could make the difference in someone's eternity if you hoard it in? Do you fear people existing for a moment, if not forever without Christ?

Do you fear enough to move your feet?

God, help us to fear for them, more than we fear for us. May we live our lives in this fear.

After all, our reputations can’t possibly be as important.

Eternities last way longer.