Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Capsule

Here are some random thoughts floating around this Christmas. I am recording them as a verbal time capsule, so I can look back many Christmases from now and reminisce about these little years.


1. Christmas is perfectly and wonderfully mundane this year. And it's nice. Our celebration awaits us next week when the family comes together. Our Christmas Eve activities included soothing a crying baby and nursing a lot -- hey, that's probably what Mary did! I am happy to announce that our babies have at least one thing in common -- they are both humans.

2. What I consider a monumental feat at this stage in life: Having empty laundry baskets and shiny sinks at the same time. Monumental? Yes. Worthy of my pursuit? No, not really. There are greater mountains, more important ones, to climb.

3. Something incredible: I have a husband who does not complain about his empty sock drawer. What is even more incredible -- that he married me in the first place. Being so systematic and organized, he probably would not have married me if he knew the acuteness of my non-systematic nature. I knew he was a kind and compassionate man, but I was not aware of just how kind and how compassionate.

4. Herod's soldiers killed all boys ages two and under in Bethlehem. Emeth and Yohanan are two and under.

5. Yohanan recently developed so much in his awareness and curiosity for his surrounding. I find him so funny nowadays. Having number two is like watching my favorite movie all over again. Except this time, I notice the subtle humors and not worry too much about the story line. The best part? The ending is still a mystery to me.

6. The son of our university's president died of a rare strand of the flu yesterday. A sudden heart attack, they say. He left behind his wife and two very young sons.

7. I've been fighting a cold and an awful cough. The best thing about this cold is that I don't have to hold my breath while changing Emeth's diapers. An incredible gift. I better appreciate it while it lasts. And yes, I am that plugged up.

8. I had a hard time hearing today, an added bonus of this cold. I could hear Yohanan's screaming just fine though. Along with his curiosity and motor skills, his will to fight off sleep also had a huge growth spurt.

9. My right hand gloves for washing dishes tend to get ruined within a couple of weeks. I have a collection of left hand gloves in good condition. I used two left hand gloves to wash the dishes tonight. One was blue and the other was yellow. The world did not end, and my hands stayed dry. A Christmas miracle.

10. Dear future Me, I made a batch of whole wheat chocolate chip cookies tonight and I think you should make some too. Remember to brown the butter, they are crispier that way. Also, I hope that you still get to kiss the boys' cheeks as much as I do. Their cheeks are the most lovely and soft in all the world. Perhaps nights are silent where you are, they most certainly are not where I am. I am guessing though, the first Christmas was more like mine and less like yours.

The kettle is whistling. Good things await.
Merry Christmas, dear friends.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Watery Grave

Hans lowered me into my watery grave today.
I proclaimed my death. I was buried, and I was raised.
Among God's people, I declared my testimony:

It was Easter Day 1982. Among a congregation in Indonesia, my parents brought me before the Lord in baptism. I was around Yohanan's age, about five or six months-old. They offered me to the Lord in faith and according to their conviction. This was their love for me.


As I was growing up, Pa and Ma continually taught me the way of the Lord. They reminded me daily that my life belonged to God, and that Jesus is always near. They taught me to treasure the Word of God. Christ was the foundation of our home, I never doubted this. I stand here today, because of my Papa and my Mama. I am who I am because of their labor and their love.

When I was around 14, I was slowly awaken and made alive in Christ. His Spirit became real to my young mind. I realized the evil that was in my heart, and asked for his blood to wash away my sins. My sister Jean told me that for the first time in her life, I treated her like a sister -- I was actually nice to her. Ouch.

On Easter Day 1995, I underwent confirmation and began partaking the Holy Communion. I looked forward to this every month. This, too, was precious to me.

Six years ago, in 2004, after many months of studying the Scripture, I came to a different understanding of baptism. I came to believe that baptism is a believer's proclamation of repentance--a turning away from the world--toward faith and obedience to Christ. In baptism, the believer identifies with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Thus, immersion, the dipping of the entire body in water, is our public proclamation of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.

What immediately follows is this: I realized that I have not been baptized. I was not a believer during my infant baptism.

That was six years ago.

Accepting the truth that I was not baptized was most difficult, most painful for me. If I indeed believe that I have not been baptized, then I should, right? Because God commands it in his Word. But for a long, long time, I could not bring myself to do this.

Surely, the Lord would understand how difficult this is for me. Surely, he would make an exception for this disobedience. So I brushed the thought aside; I hid it under the carpet, hoping that no one would ask, no one would notice.

This act of my parents, bringing me before the Lord in baptism left a deep impression, a lasting mark on me. It was a sign of God's faithfulness and my salvation. It was my parents gift to me; it signified their promise to bring me up in the way of the Lord. These things were precious to me and I did not want to let them go. These things were more dear to me than my immediate obedience.

I felt like a man who was given a gem. It was blue and it was gleaming. He thought was a sapphire. He placed it in his treasure chest, loved it, and admired it for many years. Years later, he finds out that it was not sapphire after all.

When someone first proposed that the Earth was not flat and we were not the center of the universe, I am like the people who refused reason and rejected all evidence.

Admitting that I have been wrong was hard; changing was even harder.

During this Christmas season, I think of Mary and Joseph, Peter and John, and the first disciples, even the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus' day. Each had their own conception of a Messiah -- how he would look like, the way their savior would come, how their King would deliver them. No one imagined God as a helpless baby among sheep and goats. No, not a God-man crucified among criminals.

To have faith was to first admit that they were wrong, that they did not have the right understanding; and to believe the words of Christ, that he was indeed God in human flesh.

The Lord is kind and patient. He is a merciful God. He is gentle in the discipline of his children. So very gentle.

I was wrong. So the gem was not sapphire. And that's OK, because the light it reflects is still true and still real. It is still blue, gleaming and unchanged. The Earth was neither flat nor were we at center of the universe. And that's OK, because the sun rises every morning, and the God who made the stars is unchanging.

What my parents gave me was not baptism, but this does not change their gift to me -- the knowledge of the one true God, and he is real.

He remains the same -- every Easter, every Christmas.
My life has never been my own, because He has always been my Creator.
I now belong to Christ. I now bear the mark of his death, burial, and resurrection.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Somebody at the Door


The boys and I were playing at the table this evening. Out of the blue, Emeth pointed at the door and in his urgent voice, he said, "Jesus knocking!" My mind was scrambling, thinking about how I should respond. He interrupted my thoughts and cried again, his finger still pointing, "Somebody knocking! Jesus! Mommy open door!"

"Mommy should get the door?" I asked. He nodded furiously. "Jesus is at the door?" I asked again, just to make sure I understood him. He nodded again.

I know this is silly, but fear shot through my heart. I was afraid to open the door. Afraid that I would find Jesus standing there, staring back at me.

I couldn't do this by myself.

So I knocked on Hans' door. He was in the room studying at the time. "Honey! Jesus is knocking at the door!"

Hans, my dear, sweet husband, rushed out and headed for the door, "Well, why is Jesus standing outside? Let him in!"

He opened the door.




Hans preached a sobering sermon last Sunday. Most of the time, he said, we live for the things of this world as though they are real -- wealth, stuffs, beauty, recognition, respect, the attention and affection of others, even the comfort and health of our earthly bodies.

We worry, we labor, we love, we hang onto them for life. But these things are imaginary. They are fleeting. They are not real. They will not matter.

Yet, towards the One who is real, we speak and act as though he is -- imaginary.





The hallway was empty.

"Where did Jesus go?" Emeth asked, disappointed. I was a little sad too, I think. I was half expecting Jesus to be there. Hans replied, "Jesus is here, sweetie, he is always here. Jesus is in mommy and daddy, and someday, we hope Jesus will be in you and Hanan."

Emeth pulled up his shirt and stared into his belly button for a while.

Hello, Lord.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On patience, or the lack of it

For as long as I can remember, Ma reprimanded me for being too slow. "A little faster, Ling. A little faster," she would say. All my life, I've been trying to catch up to the next big thing. Somehow, I missed Ma's lesson on how to be patient. She must have known much about being patient having to raise four girls. Four!

This flaw of mine has been haunting me lately, as it is becoming painfully obvious. "Be patient," I would tell myself while grinding my teeth, "be kind."  Yet, something tells me that merely keeping myself from boiling over is not being patient.

Self-discovery has not been flattering. My sweet children, who bring me worlds of joy and delight, helped me discover a tyrant in me. I did not see this coming.

Hello, meet Mommy the Dictator.
You. Must. Obey.
Like all other dictators before me, I want control.

Wait, I thought parents are suppose to control their children? That's good parenting, right? Producing unfussy babies who eat in three-hour-intervals and sleep through the night at two-weeks old? Well-behaved children who obey my every command and say please and thank you? Who eat organic food and are always bacteria-free?

Where did you get that?
Um. Books?
What books?
Parenting books. Bestsellers... And the internet.
Ahhh.
Wait, doesn't the Bible say that I should know how to control my children?
Actually,... no.
So, am I suppose to just let them run wild?
Um... no. But it has plenty to say about teaching the them to love the Lord, and love others. And that includes being patient and kind.
Hmm.

~~~

I am seeing a pattern within my heart. The more I want control, the less patience I have, the less kind I become.

This was why, perhaps, the newborn stage with Emeth seemed so difficult. For the first time in life, we had to take care of this little person who belonged to himself, with his own desires and will, and who did not speak English, yet. Also, perhaps this was why Yohanan felt easier as a newborn, because I learned that toddlers are even harder to control. And it was helpful that Emeth taught me some babies do not eat at three-hour-intervals.

So, perhaps, this is the first thing I need to learn.

I have no control.
None of the kind that lasts anyway.
I cannot cause them to grow anymore than I was able to cause them to grow in my womb.
So I made him say sorry, or I trained him to sleep through the night, etc.
So what? I am not able to change their hearts.
I have no control over my children, my husband, or whether I will be alive tomorrow. And I should be grateful that it is not up to me.

We are merely keepers, in our Savior's Garden.
We name, we plant, and we water. We must.
We pull weeds, we prune, and we build trellises for our precious vines.

He is their Creator.
He is their Redeemer.
He causes them to grow and bear fruits.

And so I wait and I watch,
Cry a little and laugh a lot.

Friday, December 3, 2010

One Nose and an Old Song

When Emeth was a baby, we were very, very careful about germs. I remember his grandfather wore a mask during one of his visits for fear of passing his cold to his precious grandson. And we appreciated his effort.

We've been fighting at least two or three strands of viruses in our household for the past two months. Yohanan does not have the luxury that his brother once had. Emeth has no restrain sneezing and coughing into his brother's face. Not on purpose, of course, but he is after all a two-year-old with limited hand-to-mouth coordination.

After withstanding several rounds of colds and coughs (yay for mommy's milk!), Yohanan finally caught something two weeks ago. His poor little nose. Oh, and he is teething too.

He was sitting on Hans' lap earlier today and within a few minutes, Hans was wet with drool and snot. Hans, who comes up with rhymes of all sorts, said in response:
One nose to spray them all,
One nose to goober them,
One nose to sneeze on them all,
And in darkness slime them.
This reminds me of the song we made up for Emeth a long, long time ago.
OK, it seems like it was a long time ago.
I am ten months going on eleven months,
I know that I'm naive.
People I meet may tell me I'm sweet,
And willingly I believe.

I am ten months going on eleven months,
Curious as a bee.
Sharpness of metals, heat of the kettle,
What do I know of these.

Generous with my smiles am I
To face my world of fans,
Whimpering, crying, and sad am I
When I am left alone in my playpen.

I need someone bigger and taller,
Play with me, change me, feed me.
You look like a pretty friendly person,
Would you please take care of me?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Chauffeur

It will be our 4.5 wedding anniversary tomorrow. And you know I have this thing about anniversaries.

To be honest, I don't really keep track of anniversaries. Most days, I don't even know what date it is.

What I do is I create anniversaries when I need excuses to celebrate. Like when I want to bake a cake, or eat salmon, or share a sweet story about Hans.

This is how it works: I look at the calendar, discover that tomorrow is the 27th (we were married on May 27), do a little more calculation -- and voilĂ ! We have an anniversary!

A while ago, we went to pick someone up at the airport. We were behind a fancy black limousine as we approached the terminal. I was quite amused by the chauffeur in his slick, black uniform climbing in and out of the car opening and closing doors for his patrons. Daydreaming, I said, "mmmm... maybe I'll have a chauffeur in heaven."

Hans turned to look at me, squinted his eyes, and said, "How is that different from now? You don't even drive!"

And he is right.
In fact, I don't open or close my doors anymore.
He even has Emeth trained to open my door and offer his hand to me.

Oh I remember the days when I was so embarrassed that my gentleman-friend opened all the doors for me. It took my pig-headed skull a while to understand that he knew that I knew how to open doors (imagine that!). That he actually enjoyed serving me. That he did this to honor me.

He promised to remain my chauffeur when we get to heaven. I doubt that I would need his service much at all; I am guessing we will mostly be traveling on foot. I only consented to keep him close.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Things I Learned While Purging

A helpful step towards simplicity -- purging.
Here are some of the things I've been learning:

1. Purging can be fun, and a little addicting.
There lies a great satisfaction in seeing empty hangers and precious space.

2. The best part: The process requires me to be really, really picky.
Too small? Purge!
Too little? Purge!
Too many? Purge!
Too much? Purge!
Just plain ugly? Purge!
I haven't worn this for over a year. Purge!
There is always something else I would rather wear. Purge!

3. I had way, way too many turtlenecks.
Three white ones, two black, dark blue, gray, brown, purple, burgundy.
Lots.

4. Two pregnancies and two births later, my body has changed (no, I did not just learn this). And I decided that I don't like wearing turtlenecks anymore. Purge!

5. I like saying "Purge!" in my head (maybe this is the best part).
It makes me feel powerful. It's like saying to that piece of clothing "I refuse to be bound by you. Christ is my perfect covering. I do not need you. You mean nothing to me." Fun times, do you see? A little over the top, I realized, but it works to keep things moving along.

6. Black is not always slimming.

7. Fact about purging: Out of sight, out of mind.
I've purged about a third of my wardrobe, and not once did I think, "Oh, I wish I still have that!" Honestly, I can't recall most of the things I've purged.

8. Clothes no longer look attractive after the purge.
I saw some of the clothes I had donated hanging at the thrift store, and there was no part in me that found them at all desirable.

9. I kept many things "just in case I need them in the future."
I kept an ugly black skirt just in case I needed to go to a funeral.
Purge!

10. I was surprised by how easy it was to get rid of some things, and how hard it was to get rid of others.

 Christmas 1999

11. Things I found most difficult to purge were clothes that had been with me the longest.
You see that red skirt? And that brown top Evelyn is wearing? I still have those. The skirt because it reminds me of the last Christmas and Chinese New Year I celebrated in Malaysia (where all Christmas trees were fake). It also reminds me of the time when I turned down my dear friend Wini who wanted to borrow the skirt when it was still brand new (you can borrow it now, Wini!). As for the brown top, it was a present from Evelyn. These are happy, happy memories.
Among my other relics are a few long-sleeves shirts that Ma and Pa packed for me. They feared that I would be cold in the US.

12. I have the same struggle with some of my unrepentant sins -- the sins most difficult to purge are those that have been with me the longest.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the squirrels' lunch under the glowing trees

The other day, I asked Emeth to be quiet (by toning down his voice) because Yohanan finally fell asleep. The sweet big brother that he is responded obediently to my instruction...

Mommy, Emeth quiet!
Good job, Emeth! Thank you for being quiet.

(a few seconds later)

Mommy, Emeth quiet; Hanan sleeping!
Good job, little bear!

(a few seconds later)

Mommy? Emeth quiet!
*sigh* ...
~~~~~~~~ 

When I think I am humble, I am not.
Because humility is not a virtue to be spotted in oneself. When I prize my moment of humility, I can be sure that it quickly turns into something else. A humble person would not be thinking about herself at all. 

When I think I am wise, I am not.
Because wisdom completely trusts in God's instruction, not my own understanding. Wisdom loves correction and rebuke (is this even humanly possible? I mean, really). Wisdom recognizes oneself as a fool.

When I think I am being patient, am I or am I not?

There was a time when I thought I was patient. I did not mind traffic jams. Long waits in lines and airports did not bother me. And then, I became a mom. And then, I became a mom of two. There are days I look at myself, or worse -- listen to the tone of my voice -- and wonder whether there was ever that patient version of me. I had no idea what I was talking about.

I was outside with the boys the other day, for the autumn sunshine and dancing leaves. There was no agenda, no where to be. Emeth cooked with sticks and stones -- "squirrels' lunch," he declared. The sky was round and golden at that hour, like the whole wheat cookies I baked this morning, speckled with bittersweet chocolate.

Under those glowing trees, I think I caught a whiff of patience. Long-sufferance was definitely not on my mind -- it was no suffering at all!


Emeth is quiet when his attention is directed away from himself. He is most quiet when he stands by the window looking for the moon, singing about twinkling stars. Likewise, we draw near to humility when we fix our hearts on loving our neighbors; we approach wisdom when we fear the Lord. Perhaps patience can be gained the same way.

Soul, look away from self,
Look away from my schedule, my rules, my goals, my comfort,
Soul, lift your eyes to the hills.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On Bearing Faces

I think I must have had a nose complex as a child. I spent too many of my waking hours pinching it, hoping it would "grow" a little higher.

When I was teaching in the juvenile justice facilities, my favorite way to break the ice was to show the girls a trick.

I showed them how I can touch both my eyes at the same time, with a pen across my face.

Now, you have to know that these are some intimidating girls. They've seen too much in their short lives to be easily impressed. But there they were -- a bunch of young criminals with pens across their faces, baffled that they can't do this simple trick. "How can anyone's nose could be so flat?!" they exclaimed. Sometimes, I would even get a few laughs.

At least this nose is good for something.

Confession. I almost immediately checked Emeth's nose when he was placed in my arms. I wasn't even really thinking about it, but I remember looking. When we called my sister Catherine to tell her the good news, the first question she asked: "so, whose nose did he get?" I found it tragic that she knew I cared.

But yes, he did. Emeth did get my nose. And so did Yohanan.

Hans thinks it's cute, but he is my husband.

Genetic inheritance is quite a fascinating, delightful thing. People naturally look for resemblances between parents and children. They love to give their (very strong) opinions about who the children look like -- more like mommy or daddy? Grandpa or grandma? I know I enjoy seeing my friends' faces in their children. I love seeing my beloved's likeness in our sons.

As I watch the boys sleep, I force my mind to contemplate this truth: In much deeper ways, my children resemble their Creator.

This baffles me. These little people that I cradle with their runny noses, yummy cheeks, teary eyes -- look like God.

He made them,
in his likeness.
They bear his face.


Long ago, a group of petty men asked Jesus whether they should pay taxes. Jesus asked to see a coin. "Whose image is this?" he asked. "Caesar's," they answered. Then he said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” He was telling them to give up much more than just taxes here.

Soul, you are a creature,
He made you,
in his likeness.
You bear his face.
Render.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Emethese

A selection of words spoken by Emeth at age two and a half (30-month old) 

Applecado -- A green fruit, mommy and daddy eat it with seaweed and rice.
Bay -- What I do when I listen to mommy, what is better than smart, the verb for bedee. 
Bedee --  The kind of boy I am when I bay. 
Bet -- A B C D E... 
Boon -- Ball-like things that fly, usually attached to a string.
Brea-kes -- What I eat when I wake up, eggs, cereal and milk, yogurt. 
Bun-ton -- What is on the shirt I wear to church.
Chicken -- The place I cannot enter, where mommy cooks and washes the dishes.
Goolala -- Large, black, monkey-like animals. 
Mana -- Yellow fruit, often associated with monkeys. 
Magget -- Shapes and letters that sticks to the refrigerator and other metal objects.
Patter -- What I cannot touch, screen, keyboard, mouse. 
Plan-tets -- Neptune, Earth, Eenus, the one with rings. 
Sheen -- The thing with the button I get to press when mommy does the laundry.
Tapa -- Known also as funny shaped noodle (or "doodle"), a favorite food, sometimes pronounced with an "s" sound, "Tapas." 
Troy -- What I like to do to my buildings and blocks, when I do this I like to say "CRASH!" 

Some favorites from Old Emethese

Deedah -- The big guy who plays hide and seek with me, whose shoulders I sit on, who builds planes and trains with me.
Dahdee -- The other big one, the one who feeds me, a.k.a. mommy.
It was a little sad when he stopped saying these.

Up-pang-ge -- Upward motion, the act of coming out of the crib.
For a few months, Emeth would attach meaningless syllables after short words. He still says this for fun.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Greatness

Sometimes, I hear testimonies and think: "wow, I wish I had an experience like that" or "I wish I was special like that." More often, our testimonies are about us, rather than about who God is and what he is doing. Recently, I came across testimonies of two young women that are great examples of the latter.

Like resounding bells, I continue to hear "Great is the Lord! Great is the Lord! Great is the Lord!" long after their voices ceased. It is a wonderful truth that God uses the weak and common among us to reflect his glory.

The woman who survived abortion (watch part 1, part 2)

The hidden Christians of North Korea (read here)

Discipleship is as visible as light in the night, as a mountain in the flatlands.
To flee into invisibility is to deny the call.
Any community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 113.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dreams of Dust in Jerusalem

Part of my job as Hans' wife is to remind him of all kinds of obscure anniversaries. Such as May 22 -- I call it The-Universe-Stopped-and-I-Fell-in-Love-with-You Day. Today, October 15, is one of the big ones. The fifth anniversary of our engagement. Hans calls it You-Said-it-was-OK-to-Ask-You-to-Marry-Me Day.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I did not want a diamond. So instead, Hans proposed to me with seven gifts. (Sweet, right?) We took many walks together that weekend. I showed him my favorite streets in New Haven.


For two hours, he proposed, over pizza. Thin-crust. Brick oven. Bacon and Onion on one side, Eggplant Parmesan on the other. I said yes -- to both the pizza and the proposal.

The first of the gifts was my ESV Bible;
My favorite was the promise of a trip to Israel, together.

Being Malaysian, my passport explicitly states that I am not allowed entry into Israel. I used to joke around about how I would marry an American just for the passport.

I am not yet a US citizen; and with two little ones, this is hardly the time to travel such a distance. But, the hope is a joyful one, and I can hardly wait.

Meanwhile, we dream.

Standing on the Mount of Olives,
walking under the trees of Gethsemane,
covered with the dust of Jerusalem,
catching a storm by the Sea of Galilee.
I close my eyes and see him
talking to fishermen, playing with children.
My foolish heart imagines
that he would somehow be nearer -- there.

Until then, I will miss Jerusalem.
Happy to be on the road, with you.

Happy engagement anniversary, darling.
Thank you for dreaming with me.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Stuffs.

I have a very wise mom. Since we were babies, she was adamant about not allowing us to be attached to "things." For example, she despised pacifiers because she didn't want us to become dependent on "things." When I was two, she instructed me to say goodbye to my most beloved blanket and had me throw it into the river. (I shiver even at the thought of throwing Emeth's Precious -- Meow Meow the polar bear -- into the river. It would be like murdering a family member.)

I am sorry to admit, however, all that training did not wean me from wanting the stuffs of the world.

Just two days after my big resolution to keep a simple wardrobe, my eyes are already distracted by all sorts of end-of-summer sales.
Clearances. Coupons. Free shipping.

But I'll need it for next summer!
"Need" is a very strong word for another pair of shoes.

But it's so cheap!
Fertilizer is cheap ($1 can get you 40 pounds), do you buy fertilizer?

But, so pretty...
Don't you have another one like that?

Coveting things that are on sale is not
better than coveting things that are full price.
A house overloaded with stuff from the thrift store is not
better than a house of stuff from Pottery Barn.

Stuff is still stuff,
Excess still excess.

Soul, learn to live with less.
Soul, learn to see true worth.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Necessity of Clothing (On Simplicity)

A while ago, I posted a few reflections on why we wear what we wear. I ended the series with some applications. I read the last post again today. I can barely recall anymore why I wrote some of the things I wrote.

So, here is another go.
And here is another resolution.

Resolved, to keep my wardrobe simple.

Simple.
Uncluttered, keeping only clothes that I regularly wear.
With a few "special occasions" items.
Clean, practical, pleasant to the eyes (especially of my husband).

(Hans is going to read this and know I have a lot of purging to do. *yikes*)

Simple.
So I would not allow what I wear to define who I am.

I am grateful to know a few older, godly women. One of them befriended me during my time in New Haven. When I first met Judith, I certainly did not think, "My, she dresses so modestly!" In fact, what she wore was of little significance to my first impression of her. Instead, I noticed how friendly, how kind she was to me. She asked thoughtful questions, and was genuinely interested in my responses. She invited me over for lunch, or tea, as she called it; she was from the UK. I remember feeling so comfortable, so grateful, so happy, even though our meeting was brief.

As I got to know her, spent time with her three children, and attended church with her family, I began to notice her wardrobe -- because there were very few items. She had two skirts, a few tops, a few pairs of pants, and a very nice pair of tall black boots. Simple.

Modesty and humility are very similar virtues. C.S. Lewis describes humility so well, in the following quote and elsewhere:
To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.
Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.
If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
(Mere Christianity, p.128 of this edition)
A modest woman would not be occupied by how modest she looks,
she would not be thinking about herself at all.

Now, there is something to aim for.


Here are the links to the series:
Part 1: In the Garden
Part 2: Shame
Part 3: Sackcloth
Part 4: Bridal garment
Part 5: Christ
Heart-Applications
Hunger: Modesty is not just about clothes

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On omg, etc.

Excuse me, my toddler is listening. He is absorbing words the way water is to a person with a fierce thirst.

Years ago, I was chattering away with a friend on a bus when a parent turned around and requested that we change the subject. My friend Meghan and I were talking about our "weight issues" and how we wished to lose a few pounds. There was a little girl sitting in front of us. Her dad overheard our (apparently very loud) conversation. And he put a stop to it.

My face was hot with embarrassment. We were quiet the rest of the ride. I was glad that he shut us up when he did. Wouldn't it be awful if a couple of obnoxious college girls made the child thinks that she needs to lose a few pounds?

This post is not about a healthy self-image.
It is about taking the Lord's name in vain.

Though I hear / read them often enough -- "God," "Lord," "Jesus," "Christ," I am still surprised and distressed whenever I hear Christians use them in their exclamations over trivial things. I am not sure what is behind it. Ignorance perhaps? Is it fashionable? Is it so we can look somewhat "edgy" as Christians, more like the world? Or it is a mindless habit?

I grant that the fourth commandment "do not take the name of your God in vain" covers a whole lot more than just "do not use his name as a casual verbal filler." But shouldn't it at least require that we pay attention when we do use God's name?

Jewish people, ancient and present, refuse to even say God's name out loud when they read Scripture. Instead, they read "adonai" (lord) at every place where Yahweh occurs. So much care goes into how they utter, how they bear God's name with their lips.

This brings me to the oh-so-vague acronym OMG. Yes, yes, your G means "gosh" or "goodness" or "god with a small g." But, you know what? I can't tell. It's like when girls tell me that they are wearing shorts under the oh-so-short skirt. Well, um... I can't see your shorts! And frankly, does it matter? What matters is what I do see.

All of this will seem ridiculous someday before the throne of the Almighty. There will be nothing cool and convenient about the careless words that we speak. By our words we will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).

Hans puts it quite bluntly:
People are dying for the sake the name. What are you doing?

So, please. Toddlers everywhere are listening, please watch what you say.

This is a plea for you, for us.
We are all toddlers
learning to walk, learning to talk.
Wouldn't it be awful if I cause a little one to stumble?

Monday, September 27, 2010

No space

This day marks four years and four months since our wedding. Hans said his vows to a very different person that day. I have a hard time recalling who I was, mainly because I cringe at the thought of her. Be assured that I am still that selfish little person, but she was a lot worse.

We had not lived in the same city before getting married. So, those first few months were very sweet. Every meal was a date, every dinner an event. The phone seemed especially repulsive. Its one worthy function was no more. I think I am just beginning to recover from my disgust towards that object.

I enjoyed exclaiming silly things like "No space!" Sometimes because his presence was too good to be true. Sometimes because I was feeling insecure. Either way, I wanted to be with him.

I liked clinging to him, I still do. I even made him miss Emeth's birth because I was clinging to his neck. But that's a different story.

In Hans' sermon this morning, this was his illustration for Matthew 11:28-30. It was no more than a few sentences at the end, but it made me cry, because I knew exactly what he meant.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Having a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light? How is this even possible? The utter abandonment of the world and all its pleasures? A sword between parents and children? When is following Christ "light and easy" like the fat-free butter in the refrigerated section at Target?

Yet, it is.
It is the easiest thing in all the world
when we desire nothing else
but to be married to him.
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death...
(Song of Songs 8:6)

Friday, September 17, 2010

On Dark Chocolate

Welcome to my head.
I am about to let you in on a conversation I had with myself earlier today.

Oh no, oh no! Don't explode!
... *sigh*
Nooo! This is the second time in 10 minutes!
And why does it always have to be on the cute outfits?
Come on, let's change your diaper,... again.
Argh. More laundry to wash.
And I still have to vacuum...
I. Am. So. Tired.
I try and I try and I try.
And I fail.
*feeling reeeal sorry for myself*

Stop it. It's not that bad.

I can't! There is so much to feel bad about!

Stop whining.
Things can be a lot worse, you know.
Just think of the days when disposable diapers did not exist.
No washing machines.
No OxyClean.

How did they get rid of stains?

Think of people who live in the desert.
Women had to walk miles just to get pails of water!

Fine, fine. I get it. *sigh*

It's been a bad afternoon.
Let's have chocolate.

OK! *my heart smiled*

mmmm.... Dark chocolate with bits of sea salt.

*reading the label*
Yikes.100 calories for 2 squares?!
It's worth it.
Wow... Made in France?
Hans is such a sweet husband.

See? Things are not that bad.

OK, fine. Life is actually quite good.

*rolled my eyes* Drama queen.

~~~
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?... This self of ours -- Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control. The devil takes hold of self and uses it in order to depress us. We must stand up as this man did and say, “Why art thou cast down? Why are thou disquieted within me? Stop being so! Hope though in God, for I shall yet praise Him…" (Psalm 42:5)
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 20, 21.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Time-Out

My tongue hurts. I bit it. I bit it real hard yesterday while trying to contain my annoyance, while telling Emeth he needed to be patient, while I was trying to calm the screaming Yohanan in my arms.

Wait. I thought I was the disciplinarian in this parent-child relationship. Why do I often get the feeling I am the one getting the time-outs?

My tongue was not able to move very much today, which meant I wasn't able to raise my voice. I was forced to talk at a slower pace, with fewer words. I listened to myself, I sounded somewhat gentler. I wonder how I usually sound like when my tongue doesn't hurt.

Law and grace are not polar opposites. They flow in and through one another. My hurting tongue is God's grace to me -- reminding me to obey his law of patience and kindness. It is grace that we require Emeth to hold our hand when crossing the street. It is grace that we have laws in our home.

Apostle Paul was really onto something when he told those Corinthians that love was patient and kind. Are you sure he had no children? And by children I mean toddlers and babies. Somehow, he knew that's exactly what parents needed to hear. I thought I was pretty kind and patient until these two little ones showed up.

Again, why do I feel like I am the one getting the time-outs?

Because I am.
Because He loves me.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Because I have not died enough

Every now and then, usually around seasons of transitions and uncertainty, I get all worried about the future. In my head, I imagine myself standing before all these different paths, leaving me confused as to which of these paths to take. In my head, I imagine all these different options of where I would like to go, who I want to be.

I never seem to learn, because the truth is, there are only two paths.

The path wisdom
and the path of folly

The path of the righteous
and the path of the wicked.

Two.

And there are only two destinations.

Blessedness or Destruction.

Hans reminds me that God is always letting us know where he wants us to go, the question is whether I am listening.

Each day presents hundreds of little moments where I have to decide which path I want to be on.

Am I patient, or not?
Am I kind, or not?
Do I forgive, do I believe, do I love?

I would like to think that these hundreds of smaller moments are chiseling away at me, helping me to die little by little, in order that I may become that new creature who would know better the will of my Father.

I am grateful that I do not yet know what the Lord would have me do five/ten/fifteen years from now. Because the me of today would probably not like it, not understand it, rebel against it. Because I have not died enough. Because I have not lived enough.

So, until then, help me see the step immediately before me.
The night is dark, Lord, I need your light.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Getting Places

Our friends got married last Saturday. The wedding was remarkably kind to young children. (Thanks Ivan and Sherri!)

It took place in a park, completed with a zoo! The pavilion had all the benefits of an outdoor wedding (overlooking a lake!), but was cool and shaded. A good fraction of the crowd was children, yet their voices and laughter were not the least bit distracting. Crayons and coloring booklets were distributed before the ceremony.

It was incredible. I was grateful.

The zoo had giraffes and polar bears. It was not an opportunity to be missed. Emeth made sure of it. He repeated the phrase "see giraffe!" at least 77 times that afternoon.

Walking around in the heat, I enjoyed every look of wonderment in his face. Like Adam did in the beginning, he named all the animals.

When we got to the giraffes, he proudly declared: "Emeth found giraffe self!" (translation: I found the giraffe myself!")

Never mind that he was sitting on daddy's shoulders.
Never mind that daddy's back kindly bore 30-pounds for hours.
Never mind that it was daddy who walked everywhere.

*sigh*

I am convinced that the Lord gave me children so that I might see myself more clearly.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"I will be praying for you..."

I am beginning to think that I need to have a "Hans' sermons" label as I am noticing a trend...

OK. Done.

Matthew 9:35-10:15
Scene One.
Jesus had compassion upon the crowds, seeing that they are like sheep without a shepherd -- harassed and helpless. He instructed the disciples to pray that the Lord will send laborers into the harvest.

Scene Two.
He called his twelve disciples and gave them authority to cast out demons, and heal every disease and affliction.

Scene Three.
He sent them out.

Conclusion.
The disciples are the laborers.

Note to self #1:
The next time I say "I will be praying for you,"
there is the possibility that I would be the answer to my own prayer.

Note to self #2:
Do not use "I am praying for you" lightly and without commitment.

Note to self #3:
Before even telling people this, I need to ask myself how I can serve them in their situation.

p/s His sermon had an entirely different emphasis. He only merely mentioned this in the passing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Conversion

I have a relatively boring conversion story, except for the part about how I was redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, delivered from eternal damnation, and obtained the hope of everlasting glory. Apart from that, I have a pretty boring story.

All of this is to say: I love listening to other people's conversion stories. I love hearing them and thinking about them.

There are two stories I think about often, because they make me chuckle in wonder.

We have a friend from Singapore.
His mom was a practical Buddhist, and his dad was a traditional Hindu.
He chose to be an atheist.
The more superior way, he thought to himself.
And then,... he had a crush. (hmmm...)
On a Christian girl, (ahh...)
my dear friend Deborah,
who rejected him. (go Deborah!)
So, he decided to visit her church. (so typical)
Bored and lost during the sermon, he flipped through a pew Bible.
The Lord met him there.

In the maps.
Yes -- the ones in the back, the ones that were hardly ever used.
"Maps of actual places?" he wondered,
"Christianity isn't just based on myths? God in human history?"
He is now a full-time pastor.
Deborah married him, and they have two little boys.

Listen and be afraid,
the Lord God can use anything to turn hearts to himself --
boyish infatuation, maps, and all.

We have this other friend, an Igbo woman from Nigeria.
Bold. Intelligent. Articulate.
A PhD degree from France -- rare among her community.
Long braids. Make-up. Jewelries. Her tall figure flaunted the latest fashion.
After rejecting a long line of suitors,
she married a doctor from a powerful family.
Her earthly edifice looked expensive.
One night, a wave came crashing in and washed everything away.
She was accused of adultery,
forced into a divorce.
The name she made for herself -- shattered.
The Lord met her there.

In her devastation.
She shaved her long braids (her hair remained this way, even when we met).
She washed her face (never again did she apply make-up).
She became a secretary in a Christian organization (for which she was definitely over-qualified).

Listen and be afraid,
the Lord God changes people --
cleans faces, purifies hearts.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Beyond my wildest dreams


I am grateful everyday that the Lord did not grant me the man of my dreams. Not that I had such a man, or such dreams. Though I think people should. No, I did not know what I was looking for, but the Lord gave me Hans. He is beyond my wildest imagination.

We met during my intentional year of repentance. I got lost during my years in college. I had forgotten who I was. I was tired, and I didn't want to not be lost anymore. So, I set aside one year to hope that I would be found.

I met Hans the summer after my graduation, though we didn't start talking until months later. I told Hans about my lost and wasted years, and he told me that he was not interested in who I was or what I had done. "I am only interested in knowing who you are right now" was what he said. I thought he was kind, and very sweet to say that, but I don't think I believed him.

But here we are, seven years later, married, with two children, and he has not once asked me about the past. Not once. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a husband like this, who would love me in this way.

As I was getting Emeth ready for bed tonight, I thanked him for being such a good boy. He then recounted something wrong he did this morning, reminding me that he hasn't been good.

I paused. The Lord is gently teaching me this lesson about forgiveness, again.

I have forgiven him. I do not want to remember. It gives me so much pleasure to tell him that mommy has forgiven him, and we are now going to forget about the whole thing.

My husband loves me. It matters not to him who I was before I met him.

Lord, teach me about your grace, for I cannot imagine it.
I do not know how far the east is from the west.
Those who are forgiven much, love much.
Those who are forgiven little, love little.
Help me to know how much I have been forgiven.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

In Defense of Being Busy (Rant #1)

I walked into the bathroom and noticed puddles of water near the toilet.
*sigh*
"Emeth, did your play with the toilet brush again?"
*silence*

This is what happens when my child is bored -- he gets himself in trouble. When I do not keep his little hands and feet busy, and direct his attention toward constructive activities, his little mind quickly fills with ideas, often mischievous ones.

Being busy can be a good, and even necessary, thing.

Unfortunately, busyness has gotten quite the bad reputation, especially among Christian circles. Often, it is used as an excuse for "not doing devotions" or not coming to church. There are many silly jokes about how busyness is a "weapon of Satan" or "the devil himself." I think someone ought to correct this over-simplification.

First of all, the opposite of busyness -- being idle -- gets us in trouble. The book of Proverbs speaks against sloth, again and again. I do not recall, however, the Bible speaking against being busy. Lady Wisdom is a very busy woman -- established and fruitful in her home (Proverbs 31), whereas Madame Folly is loud and flighty, here and there, gossiping and seducing.

If boredom gets little boys in trouble, idleness gets adults into trouble all the more. When we are lazy/procrastinating/bored, in other words -- not busy, we indulge in entertainment. Each of us has places we go to fulfill our own pleasures, where we are at the center of the universe.

So. Being busy can be good. We should be busy.
The question, then, should be:
Why I am busy? What is the reason for my being busy?

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Burmese Uncle

People I meet along the climb up this mountain are precious to me. The first moment when I knew Hans will always be someone special was when I realized how much I loved having him as a traveling companion. Hopefully, we will be walking side by side for a long, long time. Meanwhile, I will attempt to record the footprints of some of those we met along the way.

I had a neighbor from Myanmar (Burma). He was like an uncle to me.

He was a Christian from the Karen tribe, a group who suffered much persecution for their faith. Where he came from, people traveled on foot. On Sundays, they trod upon many hills to worship.

He was dark and thin, a quiet man with kind eyes. One day, when we were grocery shopping, I asked him what was the monthly household income in his community . He thought for a moment and answered, "Ten dollars." I can't remember how I responded, but I can almost hear myself exclaiming something that made me looked quite silly.

He once showed me a picture of his family. With his wife, they had three children and adopted five. Every year, they took care of at least four to five homeless children who lost their parents due to the persecution.

Because we lived in an intentional community, some of the chores in the compound were done by volunteers. In the fall, I saw him outside raking leaves; in the winter, shoveling snow; in the spring, planting flowers. He was that kind of neighbor -- the kind who made people throw open their windows and shout friendly greetings.

He was heading back to Myanmar two days before our wedding. When we were saying our goodbyes, he took out a red envelope.

I wept.
He insisted.
We still have that ten dollar note.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Are you praying about ketchup stains too?

Did you know that it is possible to begin a conversation with a digression? Because that is what I am about to do.

When I was younger, I told a fellow PK (pastor's kid) friend three things I would never do:
1. I would never go to seminary
2. I would never go into ministry as a profession
3. I would never marry pastor

I have learned since to not make statements that begin with "I would never." They are dangerous.

Technically, ministry is not my "profession," but having invested ourselves in years of theological education, I can't promise it will never be in our future. Besides, mommy-hood is quite the ministry. My mom used to call the four of us her sheep.

And technically, I am not married to a "pastor," but I am married to a preacher. And I love being married to this preacher. For one thing, he gives great illustrations.

End of digression.

In my previous post, I recycled Hans' ketchup stain illustration. Originally, he used it to explain the scenario in Matthew 9:1-8. Seeing the faith of his friends, Jesus healed the paralyzed man -- by forgiving his sins.

What's that? The guy can't um... move? In Jesus' eyes, apparently, that was secondary. Jesus' main concern was the sickness of his heart. He declares, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2). In the following narrative, while "sitting with tax collectors and sinners," Jesus identified himself as the physician to those who were sick.

Too often, my prayers must sound pretty silly. They go something like this: "Dear Lord, please remove the ketchup stain from my hospital gown, and please remove the mustard stain from so and so."

Yes, Jesus was able to cure the man of his paralysis, and he did. But the concerns of this body and this life are like ketchup stains. Temporary. Superficial. To God, the sin of the heart is our true death, incurable except by his mercy and forgiveness.

Years ago, when I was teaching inner-city youth, delinquent girls in the juvenile justice facilities and schools for pregnant teens, I was feeling pretty useless toward the end of the year. They were dead and dying before my eyes, and I was teaching them futile things like "your need to love yourself," "feel good about the way you look," "please, don't get into abusive relationships." Ketchup stains!

Lord, teach us to pray.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ketchup Stains

A man is dying. The doctor comes into a patient's room with the cure to his disease. Upon entering the room, he notices a ketchup stain on the patient's hospital gown. With great efforts, he proceeds to get rid of the ketchup stain, and neglects to administer the medication.

Hans gave this illustration to make a point in his sermon yesterday. Here, I am recycling it for a somewhat different purpose.

Most of the day, I am busy cleaning ketchup stains, disinfecting hands, and making sure he eats his vegetables. Now, there is nothing wrong with cleaning ketchup stains, but too often I forget that my children have an infinitely greater need -- they are little souls in need of grace and the Gospel.

It's Monday, and here is to a new beginning.

Resolved, to demonstrate grace, in hopes that when the time comes for us to explain the Gospel to them, they may understand what it means to be forgiven and to be loved in ways that we do not deserve.

1. I need to remind myself to look at my sons the way the Lord looks upon me.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:14-15)
In his mercy, the Lord remembers we are made of dust.
I need to remember Emeth is two years old,
and Yohanan is one month old.
They are "new here" and have a lot to learn.
I need to have more patience and compassion.


2. Forgive and forget, immediately.

3. I need to pray with them and pray with them often -- in joy and in want. Especially when I feel like I am losing patience, we need to beseech our Lord together for strength and grace.

4. Throughout the day, I need to fill them with words of praise and assurance, with reading and drawing, holding and kissing. Instead of reacting to bad behavior or responding to whines, I need to initiate love and anticipate needs. Even when they are non-cute looking (unthinkable, I know), I need to be kind and gracious towards them, as the Lord has been kind and gracious to me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Being Sons

Many have kindly asked us how we are doing since Yohanan was born. With sympathetic eyes they would ask whether the baby is sleeping well at night, and whether we are getting enough sleep. Laughing, I would answer "no" to both these questions, but continue to let them know how much we are loving this time, and that it is really ok that we are not getting enough sleep.

The other day, I came across the article "Abba Changes Everything" by Russell Moore (dean of Southern Seminary and author of Adopted for Life) in Christianity Today. This is the second time I came across the story in the opening paragraphs since I became a mom. It sums up very well for me the joy of being parents.

The creepiest sound I have ever heard was nothing at all. My wife, Maria, and I stood in the hallway of an orphanage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, on the first of two trips required for our petition to adopt. Orphanage staff led us down a hallway to greet the two 1-year-olds we hoped would become our sons. The horror wasn't the squalor and the stench, although we at times stifled the urge to vomit and weep. The horror was the quiet of it all. The place was more silent than a funeral home by night.

I stopped and pulled on Maria's elbow. "Why is it so quiet? The place is filled with babies." Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.

The silence continued as we entered the boys' room. Little Sergei (now Timothy) smiled at us, dancing up and down while holding the side of his crib. Little Maxim (now Benjamin) stood straight at attention, regal and czar-like. But neither boy made a sound. We read them books filled with words they couldn't understand, about saying goodnight to the moon and cows jumping over the same. But there were no cries, no squeals, no groans. Every day we left at the appointed time in the same way we had entered: in silence.

On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.

And that's when we heard the scream.

Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now.
Yohanan cries. Emeth cries. Because they know they would be heard. Because they know they are not orphans, they are sons. They have a daddy and a mommy who would come when they call.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday School

For four years now, Hans and I serve in a small English ministry of a Chinese immigrant church here in the suburbs of Chicago.

This morning, we officially launched a new Sunday School class and I was their appointed teacher. As usual, I was up last night preparing the materials for my class. As Hans was teaching the high school and college students (my former class), I was next door having a blast.

I had two students. One was extremely involved, responsive, attentive--best student ever, really. And the other slept through my entire lesson.

We read stories from Genesis. We colored. The picture of Adam and Eve had a butterfly, two giraffes, a rabbit, some trees, and a mouse. We sang. We learned a Bible verse. We ate snacks. It was fabulous.

This is the Sunday School class for ages two and under. I am Mommy, your Sunday School teacher.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sharing

We've been teaching Emeth about sharing. As he grows older and continues to develop his sense of possessiveness, it has become harder for him to share. Let this serve as a good warning for those of us who are much older than our precious two-year-old boy.

Just the other day, Daddy asked Emeth whether he was willing to share some cereal with him. Reluctance was written all over his face as he quietly said, "no."

We then gave him the mini-speech about how it is good to share, how it is good to be kind and generous. He thought about it for a bit, paused, and shared one piece of cereal with Daddy. This was followed by many thanks and encouragement from the parents, and Emeth clapping for himself.

My little boy gave me a glimpse of my own foolishness.

Facts:
1. My cereal is given to me.
2. God asks me to share only a teeny-tiny portion of my cereal.
3. Reluctance to give to the One who gave us life, and everything else we have to live on, is a very, very sad sight.
4. I think I deserve praise and indulge in self-praise when I do share.
5. In the Lord, there is an unending supply of whatever I am hoarding.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Balloon

Some friends came by today to celebrate the birth of the little brother. They brought with them a balloon. It was a cheerful thing. Yellow with colorful patterns and the words "Welcome Baby" on it.

Emeth adored the balloon. He was fascinated that it could "fly" and that it was so "tall." He held onto the string while running and dancing around the apartment.

At around the third-hour with his new favorite toy, he took a bite. I quickly patched the little hole up with some tape, managed to save most of the helium, and tried my best to explain to a two-year old how a balloon works. I warned him that if he wants it to "fly," he cannot bite it.

Alas, his curiosity got the better of him. He took another bite and that was the end of the flying balloon.

As he stared at the remains of the balloon, looking a little confused, I was so sad.

I wondered how often I ruin my own gifts because I was not able to enjoy them in the right ways. The balloon reminded me how I have destroyed good and precious things because my curiosity overcame my self-control, and rebellion overtook my sense to obey instruction.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lob-star

Besides refusing to call Hans my "boyfriend" when we were dating, he had to put up with a lot more when we were preparing for our wedding.

I didn't want a diamond unless it resembled the sunset and sunrise.
I refused to call the period of time married couple spent after the wedding our "honeymoon."
So I called it our LobSTAR, because we ate a lot of lobsters that week (we were in Maine), and I like stars.

We've had four fabulous years, or what will be four fabulous years on May 27. Some days, it feels as though we said our vows yesterday. Other days, it feels as though we've always been married from the beginning of time.

When I try very, very hard, I catch glimmers of my pre-marriage self. These are usually followed by questions along the lines of: "Why did you marry me? I was so..." These are then followed by: "Thank you so much for marrying me! I can't believe you married me."

As we've been discussing possible names for our second little boy, I am once again reminded of why he is such a wonderful a companion when faced with a seemingly impossible task. The air is charged with the same sort of laughter and thoughtfulness four years ago as we stayed up late into the night planning our wedding.

We had decided that he would write my wedding vow, and I would write his.

In our rough drafts, I had wanted him to promise that he would follow Christ unto death. Because if I were to follow him all the days of my life, I needed assurance that he would follow Christ... unto death. He gently (and wisely) suggested that this might not be the best thing to declare in front of hundreds of people on our wedding day.

See what I mean? How did he choose to marry me?

So, we changed it. He promised he would "follow where He should lead us, seeking after the fulfillment of our sure hope of the perfection of our faith."

With a companion like this one, I really shouldn't worry about not being able to come up with a name for our second child.

As I declared four years ago,
"I take you to be mine, and I give myself to you."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I see you

Much of my day as a mommy can be summed up as being here to say, with and without words, "I see you, darling."

Whenever Emeth chokes on his food or water, he would prolong his cough until I look him in the eye and ask, "Emeth, are you ok?" Then, he would nod and go on eating.

When he builds with his Lego pieces, usually into shapes that he calls either a "truck" or a "plane," he would always come over to show me the finished product.

The other day, as he was near tears after a fall, daddy picked him up and comforted him. After a few magical blows and kisses, he was brand new and off running again.

He is a toddler who prioritizes cleanliness. He doesn't like it when he gets a yogurt-mustache on his lips or spaghetti sauce on his fingers. So today, because we had both those things on the menu, I spent most of dinner wiping his mouth and his fingers.

When he knows he is being obedient, or kind, or when he is sharing, he would look our way and clap his hands as if to say, "Do you see me?"

By watching and listening, I am shaping Emeth into the man is he becoming.

We are each a witness.* We stand as witnesses before the lives of those we encounter everyday--our husbands, wives, parents, siblings, the librarian, the cashier, stranger on the sidewalk. As selfish creatures, it takes great effort for us to see beside ourselves and look to others--how are they kind or admirable, how are we to appreciate and honor them.

We shape one another into who we are becoming. We are given to one another in order that we may say throughout the day, with and without words, "I see you."

At 28, I am really not all that different from my two-year-old.

When I conjure up some interesting recipe in the kitchen, it is a ritual for me to offer the first bite to Hans. With my curiosity at the verge of bursting, I wait for him to scoop/cut/bite his first taste. Then, like a gentleman, he offers his verdict, noticing the subtleties, commenting on the new ingredients, the new technique.

You see me. And I am loved.


*My friend Serene wrote about being her husband's witness. The concept stayed with me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

This is not just a phase

A good reminder from Hans today.

All my life, I have been restless and moving. There is always a next big thing, a next big move. In one sense, our whole life is "a phase," a transition to something bigger and better.

In another sense, however, this life is it. This life is the preparation, the one rehearsal, for the life to come. Once the clock stops ticking, there is no going back. Once the rich man is in Hades and Lazarus is at Abraham's bosom, there is no going back (Luke 16:19-31). This life determines eternity. This life is it.

Sometimes, I am so focused on what the next big thing is I am barely here for the big thing that is right before my eyes. I am anticipating the birth so much that I am missing the pregnancy. In mommy's language, nursing/teething/running around with toddlers/fill-in-the-blank is only "a season." Sometimes, we may even imply that we can't wait to be free do our own thing again.

Hans emphasized in his sermon last week, the Father gives only good gifts to those he loves (Matthew 7:7-11). Listen now, the Father gives only good gifts to those he loves. Not just the things we think as good, but all of it.

Our disappointments and failures,
Sickness, weariness, betrayals,
Unfulfilled hopes and dreams,
Death and darkness.

These are all good things from our Father who loves us. They work together for good in order to draw us to Himself -- the ultimate Good. They help us to become the women and men we were created to be, we are to reflect who He is.

I am exactly where the Lord wants me to be right now.
This is not just a phase.
This is it.
I need to live it.

When I am doing the laundry, I am doing exactly what I am suppose to be doing. Is there something else I am suppose to be doing? In fact, there is.
I am to do the laundry cheerfully.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rampage

Looking through our pictures on facebook, friends wonder why the refridgerator is next to Emeth's crib. Now, if they look at enough pictures, they would realize that the dining room, Emeth's nursery, my study, our library, and our kitchen (separated by a counter) are all in the same room.

This is our world. Our first home as husband and wife. The place where we had our first child, where we will welcome our second child. And it is precious to me.

In preparation for our new arrival, I've been on a rampage! I've been digging through closets, rummaging through shelves, opening boxes, and uncovering carpet. Most delightfully, I've been donating and throwing things away. I am learning to be ruthless. Clearing clutter is serious business.

I mean, I had food hidden deep in my shelves that expired back in 2007. GROSS.

At church, Hans is preaching a series on the Gospel of Matthew. We've been dwelling in the Sermon on the Mount for a few weeks now (Matthew 5-7). Last Sunday, concerning laying up treasures in heaven (Matt 6:19-24), he asked us what our treasure were.

What do we love? How do our lives reflect where we place our affections?

Our time is limited. The space of our lives is confined, and is precious. To have an orderly home, we must be ruthless when it comes to what needs to stay and what needs to go.

There is much clutter in my life. There are things hidden in dark corners that had expired back in 1985. GROSS. Am I really going to eat that?

Grudges and youthful infatuations,
Rotten, infested sins,
Useless expensive things,
Things that do not even fit anymore,
Stubborn habits, bloody stains.

Lord, enter my heart like a whirlwind and make me clean.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Flower

While walking on campus today, I saw the husband of my friend who recently passed away. He was deep in thought, eyes downcast.

She entered into new life as he read Isaiah 40 by her side,
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people is grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.

(Isaiah 40:6-8)
Her death has been a gentle and effective instructor; it teaches with a rod.

As I kneel down and look into Emeth's eyes, "Darling, I want you to obey immediately," I hear my voice echoing the same instruction given to me. "When mommy says come, you come."

No excuses.
No delay.

When I am tired and weary, her death forces me to turn, to repent from my great urge to complain, and acknowledge my ungrateful heart.

I have another meal to serve and share.
Another walk, while holding hands.
Another song to sing, even with this broken, imperfect voice.
I get to hear "mommy" and "darling" just one more time.
Another new word to celebrate, new alphabet to conquer.
Another cuddle.
Another conversation around the dinner table, even with the frustrations of misunderstandings and inadequate words.
Another night to sleep with the hope of seeing another sunrise.

Another day,
One more chance to obey, to repent
before I must stand before the throne
and give an account of my choices,
what I have done,
what I have left undone.

Obey immediately, darling.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Bearing Fruits

For about three years, we lived in a small home on Pokok Palma lane. One of the redeeming qualities about this nothing-to-brag-about-house was the big mango tree in the front yard. Every year during mango season, it would be laden with fruits. The branches were heavy with clusters of sweet and sour goodness, waiting to be harvested. The tree would be covered with specks of yellow and green, and here was the best part -- our tree was uncommonly worm-less. Every fruit was a good fruit.

Surely, this is the image we should see when we read in Genesis, "be fruitful and multiple" (Genesis 1:26-30). Often, we think of this as the mandate to procreate, as in producing children "to fill the earth." However, having one or two or even twelve children is nothing compare to how nature bears fruit.

There are days when I wallow in discouragement and self-pity. It happens most consistently when I am looking for the wrong kind of fruits. You know, the worldly kind. The kind that comes with a grade, human praise, a degree, promotion, money, etc.

Last Saturday, as I was doing the dishes, I had an epiphany. I realized that right then, I was bearing a fruit. By performing this mundane task of applying soap and rinsing the plates, while obediently wearing my yellow gloves upon Hans' request to protect my dry hands--I was bearing a fruit, unto the glory of my Father in heaven. A tiny fruit, yes. An unappreciated fruit, perhaps. A fruit, nonetheless.

Vacuuming. Cleaning the stove top. Scrubbing the toilet. Fruits.
A thank you note. Another fruit.
Doing homework. Yet another.
Getting enough rest. Fruit.
A walk with Emeth to see the ducks and squirrels. Several fruits.
Homemade yogurt that saved the milk. And another.
Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. A slow growing, but essential fruit.
An email. Fruit.
Keeping my body tone in preparation for the delivery. Fruit.
Peeling grapefruits. Making dumplings. Baking that cake. Fruits!

We bear fruits when we obediently and faithfully carry out the tasks that God has set for us. Each task should bring about joy, contentment, and gratitude.

Many of these fruits do pass away and go unappreciated. Some will fall to the ground and be forgotten. Others will be eaten by squirrels rather than kings. But so what? The idea is for our branches to be laden, heavy with clusters of sweetness. Hopefully, by being a fruitful tree, we give glory to our creator and draw others to him.

Even as I am typing this, a friend is fading because of cancer. Very soon, her five-year-old daughter will not be able to see her for a while. Do I have any excuse to remain idle?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Let there be light

From our bedtime reading:

Dad: Do you know how God created everything?

Emeth: *nods*

Dad: Simply by speaking words.
God says, "Let there be--"

Emeth: *sneeze*

Dad: *staring at the book* Saliva.

Emeth: *sneeze*

Dad: And more saliva.


You really have to be there to truly appreciate the sight. The splatter of drool on the pages is quite necessary for the full effect. And Emeth's giggles after each sneeze to top it off.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On Vampires and Desires (Part 2)

The second discussion took on quite a different tone. By then, I realized the girls' infatuation with the series was no laughing matter. I was very grateful for Hans' stabling and non-giggling presence next to me that Sunday morning.

There is in each of us desires. Certain yearnings are more forceful and obvious than others, such as our need for intimacy and our desire to be wanted, to be attractive. And then, there are others that are more subtle--things that we may not even realize. These desires are not inherently evil. Our crooked hearts do, however, often turn toward the wrong direction in search of their fulfillment.

Vampires, as depicted in the Twilight series, are repeatedly described as being like gods and goddesses--even the evil, human-blood-drinker kind. They are Beautiful. Powerful. Immortal. When human beings are transformed into vampires, their senses and "gifts" intensify and are made even cooler. They are supernatural, surpassing humanity in every way.

Stephanie Meyers' vampires is strangely comparable to, though a much less descriptive and imaginative version of, C.S. Lewis' solid people in The Great Divorce. Human beings, on the other hand, are like the weak and non-substantial ghosts.

Throughout the story, ever so predictably, Bella wants to be a vampire. So that she can be with Edward. So that she can be beautiful next to Edward. Why would anyone want to remain a plain, non-sparkling human when you can be a godlike vampire?!

Even Emeth recognizes the picture on the cover of Twilight--"Apple!" he declares.

Now, what does an apple have to do with vampires?
When you eat of it, you will become like God. (Genesis 3:4-5)
The lie is not very original, is it? In fact, it is the oldest one in the book.

Give into your desires. Being your own god is really much better than being a creature. Take the bite (pun intended). And your dreams will come true. And you will live happily ever after (the title of the last chapter of the saga).

As at the first, the lie is not completely devoid of truth. We can become like God. We are created in his image. We are created to be beautiful, powerful, and immortal. We can become like God--by obeying our Creator-King-Father. We become like God by worshiping him.

Even sadder still, when Satan tempted Eve and promised a God-like existence.She had forgotten a fundamental truth -- that she was already like God. Her Maker created her in his image. So, she betrayed the One who loved her for absolutely nothing.

The world hungrily devours the Twilight series. They are hungry for love, beauty, power, and immortality. Yet, they are eating jello (grosser things come to mind, but let me spare you) which does absolutely nothing.

Jesus is the Bread of Life. He alone fulfills.


Link to Part I

Thursday, March 4, 2010

On Vampires and Desires (Part 1)

I spent two Sunday School lessons on vampires. The girls were thrilled. They were actually excited to be there. Go figure.

I promised my Sunday School girls I would read Twilight and give them a treatment of my response. Everyone, every single one, of my girls read the book, except for Hui--who just moved here from China.

I started by giving them a character analysis. Keeping my face straight while describing Edwards Cullen, the vampire, was quite a task. I lost it when I got to the part about his "set of perfect, ultrawhite teeth." We then talked about the highly volatile nature of the relationship between the Bella and Edward.

The girls accused me of over-reading. They said, and I am going to quote them word for word: "We don't read this the way we read the Bible, okay?" I replied by asking them whether they really wanted me to quiz them on the characters in the Bible. Needless to say, they regretted saying anything.

I was intentionally scrupulous. I wanted them to see how much goes by unobserved--the underlying assumptions that create the story that they liked so much. The unobserved is often the most dangerous. These have a way of leading our hearts astray without our knowing.

I actually found the series quite fascinating as a case study for human desires, particularly of the female kind. We know that it sells. We know that girls and women of a spectrum of ages love it. It sells because the story resonates with what we want to daydream about.

We desire to be desired. And this story provides a god-like, dazzling vampire who lusts after an ordinary and clumsy human girl--for her thoughts, her touch, her scent, her blood. We want to be loved, to be protected. We want to be in the story.

Link to Part II

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Edifice


On our last night in Honduras, mom and dad took care of Emeth to give us some time by ourselves. We took a long stride by the ocean as the sun was setting.

While we walked, Hans told an elaborate story of a man trying to make his mark in history.

How he labored.


How sure he was of its worth and grandeur.


How all will see and be amazed, and remember its builder.


How it lasted.


Until the waves came.

It was a very sad story. A very true story.

Lord, let me be content with the ebb and flow of your waves.
May I see the foolishness in my desire for a sandy edifice.
Let me find joy in you, the Ocean.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Song of Ting Ming Hui, with Preface (Part III)

These were her words, composed when she was an old woman:
My unbound feet served as a bondage to my oath,
Taken for granted like the sun and the moon.
At least dignity was mine when I dug through dung,
When I believed I was your one and only, your only one.
Who can understand my anger, betrayed by one I love?
My voice fled like a bird when I arrived at your new door.
Silence is my only plea, silence--my cloak and protector.

Twice exiled, my heart and of my body,
Banished from my homeland, the country of my brothers.
Like animal without affection, I abandoned my young daughters.
Roaming in my own home like a foreigner in the land,
I neither spoke nor understood your tongue.
When is love ever equal? Who says love can be shared?
If I had known, I would not have come for you.
Such as one who looked for moon in the lake,
When I jumped in, you disappeared.

My daughters suffered, singing my song of bitterness,
I was unable to love them.
Walking in constant snare and stare of the Others,
My daughters were scorned and mocked, abandoned and beaten.
My wings were not wide enough to hide them.

Strong Jade is the name of my daughter,
Though Heaven may give me no son.
My daughter bears the mark of a Dragon,
Yet gentle as the ocean is deep.
Victorious in battles and beautiful are the sisters,
Eight with strength like the River, ever pressing on.*

Spirit has not flown from me,
Though my voice for a time might have ceased.
Though the bamboo might seem hallow,
Do not be deceived, air is not nothing.
One cannot bend me easily
Nor can one take my life,
For my roots go deep and my life is long
Striving towards the Heavens.
*The names of Ming Hui’s eight daughters: Jade Coral, Beautiful Jade, Jade Dragon, Victory in Battle , Aromatic Jade, Gentle Jade, Strong Jade, and Assured Triumph.

Life was difficult for my mother, whose name is Strong Jade (pei chiang). A masculine name was given to her because they were sure the seventh child must be a boy. My mother grew up with the expectations of the name placed on her.

At 25, she met my father. He proposed. Among her essential expectations? That he remains loyal. That she will always be his one and only, his only one. Together, they raised four daughters, who love their femininity.

This is the story of my grandmother and my mother, who ate bitterness for our unbound feet.

Part I
Part II