Thursday, February 4, 2016

Useless, yet wanted

A few months ago, my tooth broke. Eight years of pregnancies and nursing can do that, apparently. Being awful at taking (postpartum) vitamins did not help, I'm sure.

For weeks, I preserved that piece of broken tooth like a priceless treasure. I painstakingly made sure I would not lose it before the dentist appointment. That thing had been attached to me for nearly three decades. It was a part of me. I'm sure the dentist would find some use it, somehow.

The appointment day arrived. I carefully presented the tooth to my dentist. She did not take her eyes off me as I jiggled the tiny zip-lock bag in front of her. Don't you want to see this important specimen? She continued listing my options, and none of them included using my tooth.

I hate useless things. And I am sad that my tooth is now useless.

My tooth in a zip-lock bag.

All of us want to be used by God. We want our lives to mean something. We don't want to miss out on God's purposes for us. So, we ask, what is God's will for my life?

To be used by God, however, is not that special. The Lord can use anything, anyone. In fact, he uses everything for his glory. He used the hard heart of the pharaoh and the betrayal of Judas for his purposes. He can speak through anyone; he spoke through a donkey. So, it is not a special thing to be used by God.

Mark, though he wrote the shortest of the four gospels, he often embedded details within his stories that other writers did not. For example, it is Mark who tells us that Jesus not only called the rich man to sell all his possessions, but Jesus loved him. It is also Mark who tells us that Jesus not only called his disciples to him, but he desired them. Jesus, the Maker of Stars, wanted them.

Being wanted by God far surpasses being used by God.

Jesus did not call his disciples to use them. He did not need them. He called them to follow him, to be with him, because he loved them and he wanted them. Some followed Jesus not for his sake, but for their own ambitions. Jesus wanted Judas, but Judas wanted other things.

The reality is that we are dust. Like my broken tooth, we are useless to him. Yet, he wants us. He makes us his. He died so we can be with him, to be a part of him.

In the scope of eternity, it would not matter that I had lived. No matter what I achieve in this life, even if it was for "the glory of God," it would not matter that I existed. My footprints will not stay on the sand. I matter only because I am wanted and loved by the Maker of Stars.

When Elisabeth Elliot turned 65, she said, one of the splendors of being old is the heightened perspective on all of life. The higher she went, the more she could see. The things of the earth became strangely small. "There is only one thing in the whole universe that matters," she said, and that is to know God.

Betty Scott Stam was a missionary to China. In December 1934, Betty and her husband John were captured by the Communists, and paraded through the streets in their undergarments. They were then beheaded.

Betty wrote this prayer when she was eighteen:
I give up all my own plans and purposes,
All my own desires and hopes,
And accept Thy will for my life.
I give myself, my life, my all,
Utterly to Thee, to be Thine forever.
Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit.
Use me as Thou will,
Send me where Thou will,
And work out Thy whole will in my life,
At any cost, now and forever.
Elisabeth read this prayer and then copied it into her Bible when she was twelve. These women gave up their own plans and purposes, all of their desires and hopes. They gave themselves to him, to be his forever. And they accepted God's will for their lives.

God's will for them, and for us, is to know him. God's purpose for us is to conform us into the image of his Son. God is calling us to follow him, and to obey him in small, ordinary things.

Take me, Lord, I am yours.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

His face on us

I didn't want to turn 34 because I didn't want to be older than Jesus. Hans reminded me that Jesus rose from the dead. So, strictly speaking, he is much older now.

I was being ridiculous, I know.

Yet, God met me, as he often does, in my ridiculousness. On the day before my birthday, we walked into my most favorite garden in the world. There, waiting for us, was a rainbow hovering over the face of the waters.

Nature holds for me the signs of my living God. The Lord paints and pours out his quiet explosions of grace so generouslyover the face of the waters, and onto my kitchen floor. They are visible signs of my invisible God.

Years ago, my friend Beng Cher gave me a book, The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason. She told me it gave her great encouragement. I read it, but I found it difficult to understand. Recently, I heard Elisabeth Elliot recommending this very book in one of her lectures about marriage.

I am now turning the pages as though for the very first time. When I first read the book, I had just been married for a few months. Nine years later, the words that once seemed so dark and vague, now glow with meaning.

This line smote me at my core: "to be in the presence of even the meanest, lowest, most repulsive specimen of humanity in the world is still to be closer to God than when looking up into a starry sky or at a beautiful sunset." To my sunset-obsessed, starry-sky-loving heart, this was absurd.

I used to climb Mount Kinabalu for the sole purpose of seeing the world from the top. We would begin the second day of climbing at 2 a.m. under the dome of stars. At 6 a.m., we would watch the sunrise from the peak of Borneo. Above the clouds and looking over the mountains, I felt God's existence, his mystery, his power.

I do not feel this way when I look at people.

Yet, if every person "really is fashioned, more than anything else, in the image of God, then clearly it follows that there is nothing on earth so near to God as a human being." Therefore, we are to love God and love our neighbors. These are the first two commandments. Two sides of the same coin. The words and the tune of the same song. Love God, love neighbors. Not the sunset or the sunrise or the starry sky. 

Jesus says, "As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

It is difficult for me to imagine that when I am wiping the drool off my baby's chin or when I am pouring out cups of orange juice, I am nearer to God than when I am watching the most gorgeous sunsetby myself. As I wash the dishes and fold the laundry, I am washing the dishes and folding the laundryfor Jesus. When I (learn to) serve my husband and (learn to) think about his interests before my own, I am submitting my life "as to the Lord."

For my birthday, the Lord sent two of his image bearers to stay with us. Esther flew in from New York City and Joshua, her brother, flew in from Seattle. They entered our door with the reality of God himself. Visible faces of my invisible God.

To be nearer to people is to be nearer to my Lord.
To love people is to love my Lord.
"I have set my bow in the clouds," declares the Lord.
But he sets his face on us.

*Both quotes are taken from Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, 46.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Do the next thing

Our path has been quite narrow lately. "Do the next thing" brings great comfort and clarity. The next thing is often painfully obvious. Vacuum the floor. Teach the children. Read to them. Shop for food. Cook the food. Eat the food. Wash the dishes. Look for missing puzzle pieces, again. Praying, waiting. Discipline, discipline, blessed discipline (for me, not necessarily for the children).

The way is paved for us, and I am grateful.

Narrow is the path that leads to life. This narrowness leads to the gates of splendor, where there is an entire universe waiting on the other side.

My dear friends, I have missed you. Thank you for dropping by. This space is collecting dust, again. I cannot wait for that glorious day when we will have forever to feast, and praise the Lord for the all the ways he leads us. How he is always with us, never forsaking, always helping.

For friends who will be in the Chicago area during the holidays, Hans and I will be teaching at Grace Conference this year (December 27-30). Beu Love Batayola will be teaching on the power of God's Word, Hans will be teaching the Five Solas of the Reformation, and I will be teaching from the book of Psalms. We would be so glad to see you, to feast on God's Word with you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Learning notes: First drafts are always ugly

Things we did

Two months ago, I found a frame at the seminary's thrift "store" (where everything was free). It held all kinds of re-purposing possibilities. The shape of the frame reminded me of Chinese calligraphy, long and narrow. But my Chinese handwriting was—outside the realm of possibility. Definitely, No.

So, I thought I could write something in English, with black paint to imitate the ink in Chinese calligraphy. It seemed like a good idea, simple enough at the time. But it turned out that my brushstrokes in English were also a definite No.

Full of possibilities.

A definite no.

Things we cherished

I often tell the boys to "practice, practice, practice," and "first drafts are always ugly." In my case, however, my first dozens of drafts were ugly. So, I practiced, and practiced some more, and then some more. Last week, I finally got tired of having papers and brushes and that big frame taking up my floor. And because some friends were flying in for a visit, it was time to frame—something.




Things we pondered

Learning takes time. This exercise helped me to be (a tiny bit) more patient with the boys.

I found that learning one skill often requires the practice of a dozen other smaller skills. While writing with a brush, I needed to control the hair on the brush, the amount of water I use, and the color of the paint. In order to distinguish my thinner lines from my bolder lines, my hand needed to incline the brush at certain angles and assert varying degrees of pressure.

Whether my children are learning to multiply or to love vegetables or to sit still, I have to remember that they are fine-tuning more than just that one skill. As their mother, I am learning to isolate their specific struggle, and help them by breaking the challenge into smaller, bite-size pieces.

Learning to write with a brush also taught me to pay attention and appreciate the details, especially in other people's art. What may seem like nothing in our eyes may have taken the artist hours, perhaps days or weeks or months to capture.

I was catching up with my friend Tina after the service on Sunday, and she shared a few yummy morsels of powbab with our family. These superfruit-chews were amazing, and I could not believe that she created the recipe and is now selling these across the country.

Do you see that butterfly logo on the corner of the packaging? She spent an entire year earning that detail. One year. Non-Genetically Modified Organisms. I am taking a moment to appreciate the butterfly.

The story behind powbab was even more shocking. Back in 2009, Tina fell and hurt her knees. The medication severely affected her entire body, and her mind. For a year and a half, she could not stand or walk and was bound to a wheelchair. Her parents brought her home and nursed her back to health. During that time, she learned about the baobab tree.

"Look! I am wearing heels today!" She showed me her tan pointy heels. I like her taste, in shoes and vitamins. I am all the more grateful to be worshiping the Lord with her, standing.

Learning and detailing takes time. A lot of time.

p/s I'll be going to the Gospel Coalition Women's Conference 2016! I've been watching (and nursing) from home during the last two conferences. Extra early (and least expensive) registration ends on October 31.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hate enough to love

Weeks ago, I had a nightmare where the government was forcing parents to kill their children. All parents were given an orange bottle of pills, and we were to administer the drug to our children. In the dream, I saw girls in pink dresses, their arms wrapped around their tummies, laying on the floor. Little boys were disappearing. My sons were crying, holding unto my legs.

Perhaps the most unsettling of all, there was no sound. Even the children's cries were silent.

I woke up disturbed. In the dream, I had refused to give the drug to my children, but I went about life in the usual way. Why did I not take my children and flee? Why was there no riot? Why was I not doing something to save the other children? Why did I not care enough—to fight?

I woke up, and see that my world is not all that different. Mine, too, is a violent world. Here, too, children are being slaughtered.

I woke up, and see that I am as I was in my dream. I do not care enough.

Some of our close friends are fighting for the lives of children. A few committed themselves to be foster parents. We have a brave number of friends who adopted children. There are those who are advocates and helpers of refugees in their communities. Others are voices for the unborn in high places. Another friend is a counselor to battered women. I long for their sense of urgency, their fierce compassion.

Rosaria Butterfield saved me from some kind of folly when she said, we are to "love the sinner, and hate our own sin." I don't love my neighbor because I don't hate my own sin. I am not revolted by my self-centered, this-worldly priorities. I am, in fact, quite comfortable with my lack of love for my neighbors. I find excuses to guard my space, my time, and my reputation. I cast blame. I console myself by imagining how righteous I am in other ways.

I had several bouts of hives this summer. My entire body, from toe to scalp, was covered in red, swollen patches. The itch, and the pain from my own scratching, nearly drove me mad. My reflection in the mirror was revolting.

I must hate my selfishness the way I hated my hives. I need to pray as David prayed, "My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning." His prayer of repentance in the following psalm is so unexpected, so different from my own: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

The fight to love life must begin in my heart. I don't love my neighbors enough because I don't hate my sin enough. I don't hate my sin enough because I don't love my Lord enough.

my sin crucified you to a tree.
My heart is foul, harden, and foolish.
Help me know how fleeting I am,
Give me hate enough
to love.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Learning notes: It takes a village

Things we did

There are countless ways a homeschooling parent can feel inadequate. The feeling of incompetence can be quite uncomfortable. This has been one of those uncomfortable weeks.

For our language study, we are reading Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride. Being Malaysian, Boston Tea Party and Declaration of Independence are subjects completely out of my depth. Also, I know so very little about horses. 

Things we cherished

I found a ranch that offered riding classes to children. It was only about ten minutes away and I thought, "Why not?" So I called them to arrange a visit, asking simply whether we could come and watch the horses.

When we arrived, Ellen, a 14-year-old young lady, was receiving her riding lesson. The boys and I were awestruck by the sheer power and height of these creatures. Ellen's mom, Kate, offered to take us on a tour around the ranch while she waited for her daughter to be done with her lesson. I told her she was a homeschool mom's dream come true.

Kate was patient with the boys, understanding their initial fears. She took us to the stables and showed us all the nooks and crannies that might amuse us. She taught us about all the gears Ellen needed to ride a horse. We met Elva, the farrier who was trimming and balancing the horses' hoofs. He gave each boy a horseshoe and taught us about horses' hoofs.

Things we pondered

Education really does take a village. I am inadequate to teach, but I am not on my own.

The children are learning—from and because of—the kindness and sacrifices of people, people, and more people. I am moved by the generosity we have received from strangers. The boys (and their mother) have had countless of educators at zoos, botanical gardens, butterfly conservatory, museums, grocery stores, and libraries. And most importantly, we have you — our friends and family. Thank you for reading, drawing, listening, playing, sharing meals, and sitting on the floor with us.

Thank you for teaching us, and learning with us. We are so grateful for you.

A horse on his treadmill

Elva the farrier.

What he thought of us humans.

What he thought of my camera.


The boys making horse faces.

Strawberry eating her favorite food.

The triceratops got to try on the horseshoe, "so she would not get lost."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dust, not donuts

As I child, I often wondered what God meant by "you shall surely die." Adam and Eve were walking and talking after they ate the fruit. Did God mean they would die a slow death? Or that they lost their "eternal" life? What was this death?

I had a song stuck in my head."Life without Jesus is like a donut. There is a hole in the middle of your heart." I learned it as a child in Sunday school.

But life without Jesus is not like a donut, not even one little bit. Life without Jesus is death. And death is nothing like a donut.

Adam and Eve chose death. The serpent counseled Eve to love herself. She should get to decide what was good and evil. She loved the fruit hanging from the forbidden tree, more than she loved her God. So, she took, and she ate. She then gave it to Adam; he took, and he ate.

Death came immediately. They died the moment they ate the fruit. No, Adam and Eve did not die a slow death. God said, "in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Their eyes were opened, just as the serpent promised, unto death. They lost not only their eternal life but life—altogether.

Death was never walking beside your God in the Garden again.

Death was choosing to believe a lie, instead of the truth.

Death was seeing the bone of your bones, flesh of your flesh—ashamed.

Death was losing the bold, unhindered trust you once had in your friend.

Death was being afraid of your Father when he called—because you betrayed him.

Death was homelessness.

Death was hunger.

Death was losing both your sons, because your firstborn child killed his brother.

Death was hate, jealousy, pride, shame, fear.

The rest of Genesis echoed this death. And he died, and he died, and he died.

No. Death is not like a donut. The "hole" in our hearts are not holes. Our hearts are aching abysses of desires, universes of emptiness. We rebelled against our Father who made us. We betrayed him to please ourselves. Lost in sin, we are dead souls, shells full of dust.

So, Jesus wept.

Jesus wept as he stood before Lazarus' tomb. He wept not over Lazarus' physical death; he knew that Lazarus would rise again.  Jesus was weeping for death—altogether. He was weeping for his broken people. Mary and the Jews—the flesh of his flesh, and the bones of his bones—were dead in their hate and jealousy and pride and shame and fear.

So, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and life. I am the door to life. I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."

Soul, come.
Soul, there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.