Friday, December 23, 2011

The Interruption: a Christmas play (epilogue)

As part of the Christmas celebration this Sunday, the young people will be contributing a play. I had so much fun writing the script, and even more fun watching them practice, I thought I would share it here. May your preparation this Christmas be a merry one.


That was more than 30 years ago. I am an old man now. Some years ago, I met this baby -- the son of Joseph the carpenter, Mary’s boy. Well, he was not a baby anymore.

People told me about this Jesus by whose touch the blind could see, and lame could walk. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to meet him, to hear him.

One day, I heard he was coming to Bethlehem. So I sat by the road and I waited. And waited. When I heard the crowd coming, I shouted as loud as I could: “Son of David! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”

To my surprise, he stopped. He touched my shoulder. And he said to me, “I was born in Bethlehem, did you know? Like you, my father and mother were beggars at Benjamin’s door. I've come back for you.” My heart swelled with so much joy at the sound of his voice; it hurt. This stranger knew who I was, though I have never met him. He said he came back -- for me.

He then asked me, “Do you believe that I can heal you?” With all the hope that was left in my heart, I whispered, “Yes, yes I do believe.” And then, he touched my eyes. And for the first time in my life, I could see. I saw his face smiling at me. I saw the face of God.

Wherever he went, I followed. Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but Jesus and his followers laid our heads on stones.

Jesus became a beggar, to save beggars like me. Jesus became homeless, to bring us home to the Father. God came in human flesh, to live with us, to die for us – so that we may have everlasting life.

Come to him, he came for you.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

My cup overflows

Yohanan had diarrhea earlier this week. In those two days, I must have washed him every other hour. The poor boy was feverish at night. My lower maintenance child became a koala, a sweet but sick bear who wanted to be held at every waking moment. I was glad to offer him some comfort, as I imagine the pain was a little scary. I must confess, however, his chubby arms felt slightly constraining.

I was a lot younger than Hans when we first met. I still am. When he first talked to me about our friendship, he basically proposed a marriage. No, he did not utter the words "marry me" or anything that one would typically associate with a marriage proposal. But his words were hope-filled.

He talked of carrying my suitcases when we visit China, walking in the rain, and drinking cups of hot apple cider by the fireplace. His intentions were clear. With him, I never had to guess. Always secure, always safe. Nonetheless, to the twenty-two-year-old me, commitment to one person for the rest of my life seemed so -- narrow.

On this side of eternity, God's will can seem so constraining. His law seems so rigid, his boundaries so restrictive. Jesus -- the way, the truth, and the life? Why so exclusive? I am guessing this is the way Emeth feels about our rules.

This is far from the truth, of course. Life only seems constraining when we choose to see it that way.

We ask, "what is God's will for my life?" Though in reality, we've already decided which way we would prefer. "God's will," in our minds, would only lead to one place, or one vocation, or one person. When things do not happen the way we prefer, we "accept his sovereignty" with resignation, rather than with gratitude and trust. We despise his guidance and discipline; his rod and his staff do not comfort.

In the beginning, God drew boundaries. Out of nothing, he created everything. Out of chaos, he created order. He separated light from darkness, the sky above from the waters below, land and seas, day and night. Boundaries were placed to protect, to preserve, in order that life may flourish.

In one sense, God's will is narrow. After all, Jesus did say, small is the gate and narrow is the path that leads to life.

this narrowness
is the narrowness
of a birth canal.
There is an entire universe waiting on the other side.

In Hans, I found a universe.
It expanded with Emeth. And again, with Yohanan.

I used to be grateful for a cup of freshly ground, french-pressed coffee. But anyone would be. This week, my cup overflowed with instant coffee. In my universe of koala bears, time is a luxury not to be wasted on trivial things. And I'm learning to give thanks, and to love my new brew.

This is freedom and grace indeed.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

in the way of grace

Hans asked Emeth to close his eyes. In his hand held a sweet surprise. A morsel of chocolate-covered ice-cream. He planned to pop it into Emeth's mouth after his eyes were closed. It may not seem like a big deal, but to our three-year-old, it required a great amount of trust and faith in daddy. These days, "Why?" is a common response to the instructions we give to him. The request was simple: obey daddy and trust that daddy has only what is good for you in mind.

God asks his children to pray. Too often, however, our hearts rebel again this exercise and ask "Why?" What difference does it make? God is sovereign, so why does it matter whether we pray or not?

Prayer is not a shopping list; it is not a to-do list. It is not merely meditation, or a means of unloading our fears and worries. It is not even "just talking to God."

In the language of Jonathan Edwards, when we pray, we are placing ourselves "in the way of grace." I think of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, or the woman who touched Jesus' cloak, or the Canaanite woman who threw herself at Christ's feet for the sake of her daughter. They each placed themselves in Jesus' path, and their hope in his mercy.

Compare to the many other things we can be doing, praying can seem so -- unproductive -- because it is (on our part, anyway). It is as unfruitful as when the sons of Israel circled around Jericho again, and again, and again.

Prayer is a picture of how grace is to be received -- us on our knees doing "nothing." It is us living out our dependence on God, a realization that we can do nothing apart from him, and a proclamation that he has done everything for us. Praying is hard because it requires sacrifice, yet it yields no measurable result. Surrender with little honor. Hard work with no glory, especially having been asked to pray in the closet.

Prayer is a kind of death lived out,
a daily dying to self.

This way of grace, however, is also how we get to participate in God's work, and take part in God's joy. We get to. Like the four friends who believed. They made a hole in the roof and lowered their sick friend at Jesus' feet. They got to be a part of Jesus' miracle. They got to be a part of the story.

Close your eyes, darling,
and trust daddy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A strange and frightening kind of day

November 21, 2011

2:00 p.m. Emeth laid down for his nap with not much bouncing or laughing. Unusual, but I did not think much of it.

3:30 p.m. Emeth woke up. We had our ritual of hugs and whispers, and he requested to return to his crib "to rest" a little longer "because he was too tired." This never happened before, but there is a first time for everything, right?

4:30 p.m. Emeth woke up from his second nap (?!). We talked a little and he proceeded to lay on the floor and watched his brother playing with toys. Again, never happened before.

5:00 p.m. Emeth requested to return to the crib a second time to rest. I was getting a little worried.

6:00 p.m. He was still under his blanket, holding his bear, staring blankly into space.

The house was quiet. I heard only the light footsteps of the little brother's fat feet. When I washed the dishes, I did not have to remove my gloves every two minutes. No one was talking, or telling me stories, or roaring like a lion, or asking questions.

My imagination ran wild. I had read several articles on meningitis a few days ago. Lethargy was among the symptoms; death was among the "complications." I checked his temperature several times. Is your neck hurting? How are your knees? Can you straighten your legs?

6:40 p.m. He sat up and said, "Emeth is not feeling too tired any more," and slowly regained his momentum of chattiness.

7:30 p.m. He was singing Pop Goes the Weasel at the top of his lungs. He was not eating his dinner like I wish he would, but it was well with my soul.

I record this for days to come when I might foolishly wish for a quieter house. I might wish to whine about all the interruptions or the giggles and squeals when they are supposed to be sleeping. I record this to remember how frightened I was when Emeth was quiet, and how grateful I was when I had my a boisterous and endlessly chatty three-year-old back.

Here are some Emethese for good measure:

ker whale -- killer whale 
os-posit or o-sipit -- opposite
long long time ago or last morning -- a few hours ago, yesterday, weeks or months or years ago.
maybe -- definitely. E.g. "maybe I spilled my yogurt" means "I spilled my yogurt."
almost -- already. E.g. "It's almost two o'clock" means "It's already two o'clock."
deft-ly -- definitely
um-set -- upset
sammich -- sandwich
opportunist -- what daddy calls me and my little brother when he comes out from his study.
Jolay and Dalay - me and daddy when we are pretending to be Jolay and Dalay. Mommy is also Jolay but she doesn't like to play along. And Hanan is Dalay, like me, but he is too little to understand.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On absurdity and unkindness

Years ago, I had a dear friend who had anorexia and bulimia. One night, very early in our friendship (when I didn't know about her eating disorders), she looked at me and cried, "You are so thin, and I am so fat!" I was so confused. Her size-zero pants looked baggy on her. I will not tell you the size of my pants, but I can tell you that I was (and still am) not a size-zero.

I told her that she needed to love herself more.

A year after that incident, I was asked to give a workshop in the juvenile justice facilities on sexual harassment. I walked into a classroom containing twenty-two blank stares in blue uniforms. By the end of the workshop, we were a wreck. Some were crying, most were distraught, four admitted that they had been raped.

I left them with colorful bookmarks telling them to love themselves.

Weeks ago, Yohanan was teething (the well-used excuse for fussing). He just had a flu shot. His skin felt warmer than usual, a slight fever. He looked at me and his hand patted his chest, signing "Please." Hold me, mommy, just hold me.

Then, I understood
the absurdity
of the colorful bookmarks,
the unkindness
of telling my friend to love herself.

Girls in blue uniforms stood before my mind's eyes, their blank stares judged me. No, Miss, we cannot love ourselves. Can't you see, Miss? We are hurt, and broken, and sick.

How do we see ourselves?
Are we gods and goddesses -- the way they sing about us on the radio?
Or do we see ourselves as God sees us?

Children, toddlers, babies--
faces of beauty in the fullness of their glory,
helpless, rebellious, center of our universes,
always manage to get our hands on some poison or choking hazards,
prone to wander, falls, and pain.

We are children
like Yohanan,
we are not able to love ourselves.

When I see my children sinking in their self-inflicted misery, I don't tell them to love themselves. No, I tell them that Mommy and Daddy love them. I tell them that their Maker and Savior loves them. And then, we would dance, and sing, and hold on to one another (until, of course, I have to make dinner).

looks to others.
When love looks to the self, it becomes something else.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Emeth's first poem

At the breakfast table this morning, Emeth composed his first poem.
Chubby little fingers,
Chubby little toes,
Chubby little winter on Hanan bear.
I thought it had just the right amount of ambiguity for a poem. I get it, but I don't get it. He said it was to "make Hanan laugh." I thought it was perfect.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nutella on my priestly garment

I've loved history my whole life. I mostly kept this to myself in high school. History, or "Sejarah" as we called it in Malaysia, was among the most despised subjects in the public schools. There was little to love when government exams expected students only to memorize dates and events.

So, when I came to the United States, I freely indulged at the fountain of a liberal arts education, and drank myself silly. I declared my academic love to the history department, even though I was a biology major.

Here, I was introduced to the nuns of the Middle Ages. They enthralled me. Life in the the convents and monasteries sounded most -- liberating. When so few women knew how to read, nuns wrote books. The ascetic life seemed so noble. Monks and nuns sacrificed much freedom and devoted their lives to prayer and spiritual disciplines. I thought if I had lived in the Middle Ages, it would be so cool to be a nun.

I have since grown out of that (weird) daydream. (thank goodness)

And then, I became a mom. The freedom that I was ready to sacrifice as a (Protestant) nun paled in comparison to the sacrifices of becoming a parent. I am not saying that the monastic life was easy, not at all, but at least monks and nuns got full nights of sleep, the time to be with one's own thoughts, the luxury of being in one's own mind, the freedom to come and go. As my friend Charisse said, she can be having "intense devotional thoughts" at one moment, and be upset by the sound of children fighting at the next.

Our worship is tangled up with the ordinary. Nuns and monks clothed the naked and fed the hungry as their acts of spiritual discipline. (Wait, that's what parents do.) We offer our lives as worship; we sing, we play, we eat, we drink, we wash, we comfort, we listen, we teach, we pray. Repeat. This is our service unto the Lord, even when my priestly garment is stained with Nutella, and the floor of the sanctuary may have a few Cheerios on it.

So, when Martin Luther wrote "intense devotional thoughts" about stenchy diapers, I try to pay attention. A monk turned family man, he knew what he was talking about:
[Natural reason] turns up her nose and says, "Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores?"...

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels.
It says, O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight. . . . God, with all his angels and creatures is smiling—not because the father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On dying and becoming

{On the sixth anniversary of his proposal}

Six years ago, Hans flew to New Haven. There, he mopped my floor and asked me to marry him. That girl who said "yes" had no idea what was coming for her.

Here are some thoughts from the past six years. They have nothing, yet everything, to do with celebrating our marriage.

1. Became and becoming.
Two months after our wedding, we moved to Trinity. Since then, we have lived in the same apartment, served in the same church, and we are still working on the same illusive degrees. In one sense, we have not gained anything; we have not gone anywhere. Yet, we are so different now. By the grace of God, we are not who we used to be. And this is a very good thing.

We became, and we are becoming
husband and wife, mom and dad, children of God.

2. Life is a string of little deaths.
Marriage and childbearing are much like second and third conversions for me. They are milestones that mark new phases of learning how to die to myself. Marriage was somewhat of a gradual death. Motherhood, on the other hand, struck me down like a thunderbolt. I am a tree in the storm, bent beneath the weight of the sky.

But feeling small is not a bad thing. Pain has been a kind teacher to me.

3. Finders losers; losers keepers.
I cringe when I think of the lofty words in my graduate school applications. I wrote something about finding myself, and helping others to find themselves. Bleh. Life cannot be found this way.

Finders losers; losers keepers. Jesus said, "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever who loses his life for my sake will find it." I had neither the discipline nor the selflessness to live life giving myself to others. So God sent the boys, tiny faces of grace speaking truth. Their cries of hunger and outstretched arms rescued me from my self-idolizing heart. They are rescuing me still. For their sake, I want to be the kind of mother who would lay down her life for others. Though it may not feel like anything spectacular, somewhere between mastitis and sleeplessness, the dying and the losing, God gives life.

I read somewhere that blood is poured out during childbirth and at the Cross--for the giving of life, "great loss holding hands with great gain."

4. I like holding hands.
We first held hands when Hans visited me in Denver, while I was sipping on sesame boba tea (he ordered something else). I have not seen this flavor for years, until a few weeks ago when some friends from Denver sent us three pounds of the good stuff.

We are still holding hands. He still cleans my messes. And I am so happy to have said "yes." Thanks for asking, darling.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On whales, trains, and stories

One night, after the children were in bed, I went into Hans' study and started spewing information about pregnant humpback whales, the growth spurt of baby humpbacks (100 pounds a day), and how they nurse (40 times a day, yielding about 130 gallons of milk, 50% milkfat). Fascinating stuff, right?

I stopped when I saw a huge grin on Hans' face. "What is so funny?" I demanded. "You are talking about breastfeeding whales," he responded.

OK, fine. I can see how that can be perceived as a little weird.
I blame this on motherhood. Emeth gave me his sea-creature-fever and I didn't even know it.

Mommy cow scolded baby cow for standing on the train tracks.

The train was, of course, carrying an octopus and a shark.

These are familiar sights around our home. This is Emeth's world. And it has become our world. Colliding stories. They make perfect sense in the mind of their creator, "Mommy, let me tell you a story. One day..."

Emeth lives in stories; and Emeth lives out stories.

During dinner one night, he was licking rice off the his plate. When I reprimanded him, he answered: "Emeth is not a cow?" Ah, thank you for the explanation. I am never sure where we are during our walks anymore, "Emeth, are we a school of fish in the coral reef (the bushes) or are we trains on the tracks (the sidewalk)?" I need to pay more attention.

I am well aware that one of the biggest advantages I have over all the other voices in his life is that I get to tell him his first stories. Stories make his world. Stories draw boundaries between light and darkness, day and night, sea and sky, right and wrong, good and bad. Stories give him people and things to love.

Mr.Squash meeting the wild animals at the zoo.

Hans found it slightly disturbing when I became fascinated with North Korea. I was digging around the web for articles, videos, pictures, anything really. And as always, after the children were in bed, I sat in Hans' study and spewed information.

How do they bear the weight of their fear? How do they endure the silence and the emptiness of their streets? How did they become so deceived?


The same can be said for the concentration camps during World War II. Or how people captured other human beings and make them slaves. Or how pimps deceive young girls into prostitution. They each began with a story -- very, very bad ones.

We expect to be entertained when we walk into the cinema. As we drive down the highway, we are bombarded by streams of billboards. Movies, dramas, video clips, reality shows, commercials, books, the news. We think we are above them. We think they are harmless. In fact, we don't think very much of them at all.

Kim Jong Il, the dictator of North Korea, thinks very much of these things. He knows the power of storytelling. Some call it propaganda. Actors and actresses in North Korea are handpicked by Kim Jong Il, and they are counted among the most privileged of the country. They live and perform to give joy to their "Dear Leader."

In Pyongyang, there is a shrine dedicated to the "Dear Leader." Well, actually he has many shrines, but this particularly one is a museum of cinematography, in which he is the star. Of all things, the people revere him as a genius of the cinema, the theater, and the circus. Prime ministers and presidents of other nations do not receive such praise in these fields. But it seems that his strategy works, the level of control Kim Jong Il has on his subjects is astounding.

When I spewed information about North Korea on my sister Catherine (my poor family), she thoughtfully responded: "I wonder whether I am living in a delusion?"

Yes, of course we are. Like children, we live in stories, and we live out stories. But unlike children, we don't think very much of them. In fact, we don't think very much at all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On Repentance

My friend Janice had a way of seeing ordinary things. I loved looking through her eyes. She would say of a rock, "this is lovely," and somehow, it would be lovely.

Hazelnut coffee. The color blue. Mountain climbing. These things she made lovely because she loved them.

One of my fondest memories of her happened late one night when we were up talking, typical for two teenage girls at a sleepover. We were getting ready for my first mountain climb the next morning. This was our only climb up Mt. Kinabalu together. Yet, it feels as though we've climbed it many times together since.

As our hungry stomachs growled at each other, she gave me two phrases that stayed with me for a long, long time:
In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.
(Isaiah 30:15)
I carried these words up the mountain the next day, with Janice climbing beside me. Or rather, with Janice pulling me along. When I entered my years of wilderness, these words came with me. An echo from the past, they called me to return to the high hills of Kinabalu.

These words beckon me still.

I read the other day, for the first time, the first of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses. He wrote,
Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said “repent,” willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
The trumpet call of the Protestant Reformation: All of life is repentance.

Not merely a guilty confession, or an apology, or even a prayer for forgiveness.

I had it all wrong. I've always thought of repentance as a U-turn. Yet, after many many turns (sometimes in a single day), the destination still seems so far away.

No, repentance is much more than a U-turn. Repentance is a climb. A long and arduous climb where we fight against the gravity of our sin, the weight of our flesh, and the weakness of our will. To repent is to press on, to take another step closer to the summit yet unseen.

The Shepherd found me in the deep ravines, broken and lost. He rescued me, and restored me. He is teaching me to climb these high hills in search of the rising sun.

Soul, return to the mountains.
Repent with tears, and years.
Repent in thanks and praise, and worship-giving.
Repent with others, sharing and believing,
Repent in songs, and dance,
Repent in quietness, and trust,
Repent in rest.

Soul, return to the mountains with joy, much joy.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I am my mother's daughter

Among my earliest memories were the comments people made about the way I looked.
"Your daughter is so tall!"
"Your daughter is so round!"
"Look at that mole on her chin!" And then they would proceed to interpret what the mole meant according to Chinese superstitions. Don't even get me started on the comments I got about my nose.

By far, the most frequent thing I heard was how I looked exactly like my father. "You will never get lost," people would tell me, "you look just like your father." I grew up knowing that I was my father's daughter. No mistake there. For this, I am grateful. I've always wondered though, whether there was any trace of my mother in me, since no one ever told me that I looked like her.

My sister Catherine took few shots of our family of four a few months ago. As I scanned through them, I spotted something strange. Something I had not noticed before.

I saw my mother's smile
on my face.
Pa and Ma during their engagement.

Ma, look! What do you think?

I am my mother's daughter (finally!).

I found something else of mine that resembles my mother -- my dry and cracked heels. (Sorry, no visual aide will be provided)

Ma, I have your cracked heels!

Ma had cracked heels when we were growing up. Day in and day out, she was on her feet, running after us, serving us. For five years, Pa and Ma were ministering to three churches scattered in the interior area of Sabah. My father preached three sermons every Sunday. And my mother taught three Sunday School classes. How the churches in Malaysia needed workers during those years! Even when Ma was pregnant, she made home visitations with my dad, hiking on muddy paths. Her cracked heels took her into the hills.

I have cracked heels because I am lazy. I am sure she did not have several different kinds of moisturizers sitting on her shelves. If she did, I'm sure she would have diligently applied them on her heels.

I've been thinking about Ma a lot these days, especially in these joyful trenches of motherhood. I've been recalling memories from my childhood that I have long forgotten. I find Ma in the most surprising places, reminding me of the years she poured into our lives. It's funny how the past sometimes makes more sense when we gaze at it from a distance. At last, her words came true: "When you become a Mama, you will understand."

When we were little, my parents would save every penny in order to take us to visit Amah, my mother's mother, in Indonesia. Among our friends, my sisters and I had the least "stuff". But we would be the few who had traveled to another country.

I remember like it was yesterday when Ma and I were standing at the supermarket and I coveted some silly Hello Kitty whistle-and-lollipop-thing. I remember her resolute and resounding No. She was so wise.

Every year, Ma would buy each of her daughters a beautiful dress. This would be the dress we loved and cherished. It would be the dress we wore every Sunday. She was teaching us how to live simply. She was teaching us how to live truly, and truly live -- even when I wasn't listening.

During her last visit, Ma gave me a blouse made of batik. It's my new favorite. I wear it to church every Sunday. I'm learning to listen (finally).

When I corrected Emeth the other day, even without a mirror, I knew I was giving him the stern look my mother gave me years ago. This is serious, pay attention. Emeth sees my stern face, just as I saw my mother's stern face. But he does not see the hopes I have for him, the joy he gives to me, or the pride that is in my heart because he is my son.

My sons do not understand. But they will, hopefully.
I think I'm just beginning to understand.
I am my mother's daughter.
Ma, I want to be just like you when I grow up.

Monday, August 15, 2011

On this outrageous joy

Our hearts were full as we drove home from church yesterday.

We had just sent three girls off to college with a (not-so-surprising) surprise party. They said they knew something was going on (thanks to my bad acting skills). But I think that they were at least surprised by how much their friends prepared for them at the party, and how much they laughed.

We laughed so much and so hard that my jaws still hurt. We had a few rounds of charades. The boys were the designated actors, while the audience guessed whom they were mimicking. And they were outrageous. A little mean, the way that brothers can be mean. But they were so funny, the way that only brothers can be funny.

My heart swelled with pride as I watched the three graceful young ladies received their graduation gifts before the church. So different from the eighth-grade squirrels I met five years ago. Squirrels with braces and ponytails. And on Sunday, they stood before me, like Ladies at the King's court.

And to think that I nearly missed out on this outrageous happiness.

Here a picture of me with some squirrels.

A few months before our wedding, five years ago, a Chinese immigrant church approached Hans and asked for help with their English ministry. Knowing that Hans was about to be married, they kindly gave Hans a few extra months to consider. This was one of the main topics of discussion during our honeymoon: to serve or not to serve.

I gotta say, I was not very enthusiastic about jumping into ministry. Especially so soon after our wedding. Hans and I never lived in the same city up to this point and I had hoped that we would spend a few months in our "newlywed bliss"... or something.

Foolishness, I'm now certain.

Hans was committed to be in ministry while we were in seminary. And here was a wide open door. So, he took me by the hand, and we walked in.

Looking back, this was the best way to begin our life as husband and wife. There is nothing like learning about the other person while being in ministry together.

Here is one from our early days at the church. Pre-Emeth-and-Yohanan.

I found myself in the book of Jonah the other day. Again.

Throughout the story, Jonah was whiny. When Nineveh repented, his grumpiness turned into outright anger--at God. Then suddenly, there was a change (albeit very brief ) -- the only point in the story when Jonah was actually happy. A plant grew and covered him from the sun. He was ecstatic.

I can relate to this, because I get whiny when I'm hot. There was Jonah, before a harvest that was plentiful, and he would rather sit under a plant and do nothing. Because it was shady.

I was Jonah. There I was, before a harvest that was plentiful, and I was dreaming about some obscure "newlywed bliss."  I wanted comfort and ease more than I wanted to do God's work.

I am still like Jonah, in so many ways. As it turns out, what I am most happy about is a pretty good indicator of the idols in my heart. Air-conditioner and my comfortable chair make me happy. An undisturbed nap schedule for my babies and relaxing weekends make me happy.

I am my own idol. I want to be my own god. I would rather serve myself.

I am so glad God was merciful and sent a worm to eat the plant (if you are confused--read the story! It's a good one).

If I had my way, we would have missed out on a bunch of delightful squirrels--beautiful ladies and gentlemen--whom we love, and we would have missed out on this outrageous joy.

Baptism, Easter 2007.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Because he loves me

I get my weekly dose of feel-good-about-myself-music in the grocery store. While I shop for food, people on the radio sing about what a wonderful human being I am. That I am amazing, and perfect -- just the way I am. There is nothing they would change, they say, because I was born this way.

I'm glad Hans doesn't tell me things of that sort.

Recently, I made a mistake. The same kind of mistake that I made for the 798th time. Except this time, Hans bore the brunt of the consequences. Because I was careless, my husband suffered.

As always, he forgave me. I married a kind man. He comforted me, and gently encouraged me -- to change.

It wasn't pleasant to hear, of course. But it was the most loving, the most hope-filled thing that he could say to me. He didn't give up on me, or leave me to be the way that I was. My husband believed that I could change because he loved me. Because he loved me, I wanted to change.

"Love yourself." This is the first commandment in the religion of self-esteem. It is the chant of our generation.

I was once a preacher of this religion, along with those singers on the radio. When I was teaching in juvenile prisons and teen pregnancy centers, I gave each girl a bookmark with the words "love yourself" on it. I now cringe at the thought that a few girls even said they were going to make tattoos of  these words. I hope they didn't. And if they did, I hope they will forgive me.

My problem is not that I don't love myself. On the contrary, my problem is that I only love myself. There are other (less flattering) words to describe this: selfish, self-centered, self-righteous. I was born this way.

I don't want to remain the way that I am. I want to change. I want to love others more than I love myself. But I don't. And on my own, I am unable to change. I make the same mistake 798 times.

When I was deep in my rebellion, Christ died in my place. He didn't give up on me, or leave me to be the way that I was. He rescued me, and set me free -- so I am able to love God and love others.

My Lord is changing me because he loves me.
Because he loves me, I want to change.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Broken when spoken

When Emeth was younger, he would (loudly) announce that he was being quiet.

Broken when spoken.

We've been teaching Emeth that he should not compliment himself. It might be cute that he praises himself now when he is only three, but I am sure it will not be cute five years, ten years, forty years down the road.

Self-praise is no praise, we would tell him. The concept is still, however, a little tricky for him to grasp at this point. After he does something kind, or when he shares a toy with his brother, he would say in his seriously voice, "Mommy, Emeth should not say that Emeth is being good. Only mommy and daddy can say that Emeth is being good."

Broken when spoken.

Adults do this all the time, here is a list of things that we break once we speak or think of them.
  • I should never think that I am prepared. When I think I am prepared, I stop thinking, and when I stop thinking, I forget things. (OK, so this only applies to me.)
  • After you tell a joke, if people respond with "that's funny!" -- this means that the joke was not funny. Because if it was funny, they would be laughing, not talking.
  • When you are waiting in line, or when you are stuck in traffic, and you think you are being patient -- you are not. It's like what they say about a watched kettle -- it never boils. So, look away! Think about other things! Have conversations! Keep busy!
  • Whenever I hear organizations talking about being "diverse" or "multicultural" or "authentic" -- I doubt that they are. If they were truly diverse or authentic, they would not need to talk about it -- they would just be. That would be the norm. Cool people don't need to call themselves cool. That would be un-cool.
  • When I think I am wise, I am not--because wisdom loves correction and rebuke. It is not enough to just accept rebukes, but we are to love them, to treasure them. Wisdom would seek correction, longing for ways to be better. The wise person would think that she is a fool.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On liberty and strength

Someone asked me the other day, what am I doing "other than being a mommy." It was a kind gesture, to be sure. But here were a few things that went through my head:

1. Um... What?!
The friend happened to be male, single, and living his dream career. Obviously, he was not a mom, or he wouldn't ask me that.

2. But how should I answer his question?
What do I do "other than being a mommy"?
Wow. I've got nothing.

3. Wait. Really? Am I just a mom?

4. Fine, but I'm not just any mom. I am a mom who cooks intelligent food.... and plays intelligent games... and makes intelligent decisions for my children.

5. You are absurd. And you say (and think) absurd things. Since when did intelligence become so important?

6. Since it became the definition of a successful woman, that's when! A strong woman. A liberated woman.

7. And that is what you want to be?

8. No... Yes... but...

9. And you were just teaching Emeth that being kind and patient is more important than being smart. Nice job at walking the talk, Mom.

10. Do they look like chains to you?
After all these years of trying to break free, I am still bound by what culture thinks about motherhood: being a mom is not enough.

Once upon a time, I worked for a feminist organization that educate girls to be "strong, smart, and bold." That was our motto. Girls can be whatever they want to be -- other than being "just a mom."

Lies that I apparently still believe.

Soul, you are very slow to learn.
Not so intelligent after all.


Here are some quotes from Chesterton that I often revisit:
(Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World, 1910)

1. Like the fire, the woman is expected to illuminate and ventilate, not by the most startling revelations or the wildest winds of thought, but better than a man can do it after breaking stones or lecturing. But she cannot be expected to endure anything like this universal duty if she is also to endure the direct cruelty of competitive or bureaucratic toil. Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a school mistress, but not a competitive schoolmistress; a house-decorator but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she...may develop all her second bests. This is what has been really aimed at from the first in what is called the "seclusion," or even the "oppression," of women. Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad.

The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was enabled to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades. But the woman's professions, unlike the child's, were all truly and almost terribly fruitful; so tragically real that nothing but her universality and balance prevented them being merely morbid. This is the substance of the contention I offer about the historic female position.

2. Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that the woman who frequently fulfilled her functions literally could not be specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second, that the same natural operation surrounded her with very young children, who require to be taught not so much anything as everything. Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren't. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.

3. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe?
How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This freedom of ours

{in remembrance of the children in the African drought}

The sink was full of dirty dishes.
Books covered our floor like ill-fitted pavement.
The hand-knitted tablecloth from Afghanistan was hidden under piles of Emeth-drawings.

They were the evidences of our freedom, our abundance.

The dishes were dirty because we had food. In fact, I was free to make whatever I wanted for dinner. My only restriction was whichever meat I had defrosted this morning. I chose sausages. Long pockets of salty, spicy, (and yes, fatty) meat.

Books covered the floor because they were free. We were free to borrow as many books as we wanted from the library.

The little brother did not think he was free though. All he wanted to do was get out and disassemble big brother's train tracks.

Emeth requested that I draw a picture of our family. So I did. And I drew myself in a red skirt. As I was drawing, he exclaimed: "WHAT'S THAT?!"

I am grateful for the freedom to wear pants every day for the past two years.
Because mommy needs to run after you, darling.

Emeth is free to scribble. To his heart's content. On clean and smooth pieces of paper (he doesn't mind the letters on the other side). The drawings themselves are free in all kinds of ways. Our family can be without bodies, yet we're still holding hands. We can be armless, but we are always smiling.

Pictures, pictures everywhere! On the refrigerator. On the door. On the floor. Aren't they grand?

I am free to have a cup of coffee. At eight o'clock in the morning. Or in the case of today, eight o'clock at night.

I am free to buy mangoes. A dozen of them, in fact.

Whenever I peel one of these, I think of Ma. I've tried different ways of stripping the flesh off the seed, but I found that Ma's way was the best after all.

During mango season, my sisters and I would eagerly wait at the dinner table as she peeled fruits picked from our yard. Every mango was perfect. We especially liked loved the sour ones, young and crunchy. (I'm salivating just thinking about them) We dipped them in sugar and soy sauce. Or fish sauce. Or just salt. We loved salt.

I am free to wear white shoes. So what if they are ridiculous and impractical? Emeth steps on my feet all the time. And I somehow manage to roll Yohanan's stroller over my feet a lot. But these are washable, and if I need to -- there is always bleach.

Emeth and I were watching the BBC news report about the drought in northeastern Africa. I was not sure how he would react to the images of children with sad, sunken eyes in the Kenyan refugee camp. Afterward, Emeth kept squishing Hanan's arm and saying, "Hanan is so chubby, Mommy! Hanan is so chubby."

Yes, darling, you are so round and so chubby.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Waiting for fireworks, seeing the moon

The world was waiting for fireworks last night. Well, the world in the US of A. It was the fourth of July.

At about 9 p.m. Hans heard the faint sound of explosions from our apartment. He took the elated Emeth out of his crib and sat him on his shoulder. And off they went into the night. Within a few minutes, I heard my husband's voice beckoning me, as though I was Rapunzel. He said to come down and join them.

And so I did. I love fireworks.

It was a warm summer night with just enough breeze. There in the darkness, we watched the sky, all four of us. Well, three of us. Hanan was fast asleep on my shoulder. I was torn between standing still and dashing off to grab the camera.

But I stood still. And I'm glad I did.

Under the lights and the sparks and the grand spectacle, Emeth exclaimed: "Look at the moon! It looks like a banana!" My immediate reaction was to think, "Silly boy! The moon is there every night. Look at the fireworks! Don't you think they are so cool?"

But he was right. The moon was not outshone last night. Even next to the fireworks, it looked pretty spectacular. And to think that we get to enjoy it every night!

People make fun of parents who give the "children-in-Africa-are-starving" speech to coerce their children to eat at the dinner table.

Confession: I give those "speeches". Once in a while.

Sometimes, we talk about the children in Japan. This week, we talked about refugees in Kenya. No, not to get him to finish the food on his plate (because it would not work), but for him to learn compassion. To learn to have a grateful heart. The keyword here is "learn" because the lesson is a difficult one, for both of us.

Thankfully, I don't have to give these speeches myself, because pictures (and videos) are worth a thousand words (Thank you, Internet!). Here is one that I showed Emeth when he complained about having water in his eyes during his (clean water!) bath.

Page CXVI from Living Water International on Vimeo.

I remember the days of old when Hans and I were considering the possibility of a relationship. I was waiting for fireworks, but Hans was like the moon. Bright and steadfast.

Soul, taste and see
what is true, what is good.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Four red spots

I found four red spots on my left arm the other day. I read somewhere that red spots are symptoms of leukemia.

Let's just say that my mind wandered far, far away for the next fifteen minutes. I couldn't believe the intensity of my fear. It was so unexpected, especially because I didn't really believe that I had leukemia (or did I?).

At one point, I was worried that I would not be able to nurse Yohanan during chemotherapy. And whether the boys would understand why mommy can't answer them when she lays in the coffin.


I've never been one who fear death. I knew it was an awful thing. And I felt terrible when I heard people losing their loved ones. But I have never feared my own death. It seemed so... inconsequential. If I die, I die. Besides, I was curious to see the world to come. Or perhaps, I just thought that death would not happen to me, not yet.

Of all things unexpected about motherhood, the fear of my own death is most surprising. In a strange way, I think it can be a good thing -- a reminder for me to truly live, and live truly.

Life is weightier now. I am a mom.

I have a distinct purpose for waking up every morning: I have people to feed. And when I collapse in bed (or on the floor, or in my chair) at night, I can feel good about one thing: People are clean. These might not be grand purposes, but they get me out of bed every day.

After a few more clicks around the internet, I don't think I have leukemia. Phew.

Cheers to more meals to cook and more baths to give!
(Even though sometimes people would rather eat flowers)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On the Tornado and a Flood

The tornado siren went off right before the boys' bedtime last night. It ended with the words: "Take. Shelter. Now." I nearly finished vacuuming the apartment and was annoyed that I had to rush the end of my routine. I love watching crumbs disappearing into the powerful machine. The siren was loud and deafening. They test the warning system the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. I have two words: baby-waker.

Thankfully, my common sense kicked in right around when the wind started howling. We grabbed the boys and headed into the basement. Shortly after, our building lost electricity for the next 14 hours. The boys had a dark and exciting night, but they settled down quite well after all the commotion.

We survived. The tornado, and the flood of questions and comments from Emeth.

Why is there no light, Mommy?
Emeth wants to see, Mommy.
Why is there no number on the clock?
Why is the bathroom so dark?
Switch on the light, Mommy.
Mommy's stove is not working.

There is no lec-tris-ty, Mommy.

I tried to explain this new concept to him. This all-important thing called "electricity" that apparently makes (almost) everything work. Hans came to my rescue.

Hans:   Emeth, everything in this world is made of atoms. And atoms are surround by a cloud of electrons. (Sorry, but I can't recall the exact words between p-orbital and positive holes) ...Do you understand, Emeth?
Emeth: Yes.
(End of questions. Amazing.)

I married him for many reasons.

The world was dark and quiet last night. Perfect for conversations.

We thought about Emeth's questions and his fierce need to understand the world.

We talked about the tsunami in Japan, and imagined how parents of young children would explain why their homes were no longer standing, and how all their belongings were washed away.

We talked about the Holocaust. We talked about the children in concentration camps. The babies and their nursing mothers. We thought about the horrors of explaining violence and cruelty to three-year-olds.

We talked about our world with little children. And how life is so different since they came. And the happiness of belonging to them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In search for love

Sunday School has been way too much fun lately.
The topic? Marriage.

Teach about marriage to high school students? None of them are even dating yet. But in actuality, this makes it so much more fun (for me). Because none of them are attached, there is little fear of hurting feelings or stepping on any toes. Just plenty of laughter and giggles all around.

Along the way, I giggled a little about Hans. I thought about why I married him; I thought about us, five years later, and what we have learned.

I recalled a silly conversation we had when we were dating (though I refused to call it "dating" for the same reason I refused to call him my "boyfriend"). I told Hans I didn't want to be called a "spouse" because it rhymed with "mouse". I did not mind being a "wife", even though it rhymed with "knife". But a "spouse" just sounded... bad.

You can say that I was seriously confused.

I had questions. Like, how do I know whether I was ready for a relationship? Or, how do I know whether he was "the one"? Should I just go by "feelings"? Because I felt pretty strongly about not wanting to be called a "spouse".

I think it would have been helpful if I had known what I was looking for. What the Bible teaches about marriage. What marriage should look like. What is the goal of marriage.

First, we went through Genesis 1-2, Ephesians 5, and Hosea 1-2. Then, we studied Proverbs (3:13-20; 4:1-9; and this week 8:12-36). Here, we read the words of a father teaching his son about life and love.

In search for love, the father does not give his son a list of things to look for. There is no mention of religion or ethnicity (things that would be important to the law in ancient Israel). Rather, his son is to pursue only one thing: Wisdom. In Proverbs, to have wisdom means to fear the Lord and keep his commandments.

In search for love, the son is not to be searching for love at all. Lady Wisdom is to be his first love, his best love. Wisdom promises to guard and keep him; she will love him and fulfill him. Love wisdom, and wisdom will teach him to love.

So, how do I know whether he or she is the right person for me? Love wisdom. Fear the Lord and keep his commandments. This, in actuality, applies to many of the questions we direct to God. What should I do in this relationship? How should I raise my children? What job should I apply for? Which college? What do you want me to do and where do you want me to go?

Love God and keep his commandments.
If we do not love the Father, we will not love his will and his ways.

We resemble whom we love. We become what we worship. In search for love, we love not love itself, but we seek after God. In doing so, we become like him. In him, we find love.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

This Parade

A few days ago, I wrote to a close friend telling her I was lost in a fog. Unable to see very much, or think very well. Tired. Overwhelmed. Defeated.

I had an epiphany in the shower today. Foggy days, I discovered, was not the right way to think about these past few weeks.

I actually quite like foggy days. I love to walk in the fog, wrapped in that quiet stillness -- which is the exact opposite of how these past few weeks had been.

Here is a better way to describe the state of my mind: drowned in a parade. Deafening music. Clashing cymbals. Blinding colors. And the most annoying thing -- it doesn't go anywhere. I did not go anywhere.

I dislike parades in general. Especially this present one of dirty sinks, laundry, allergies, infections, broken bone. Oh my!

Strangely though, identifying the nature of this chaos has provided a great relief. A parade seems somewhat more manageable than dense, unyielding fog. 

Oh, this is only a parade! I know what to do with parades.

and walk away.

Pompous and exaggerated. An unimpressive distraction.
There is more to life than this.

Soul, remember your destination,
where do you need to be?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Dying Together

{celebrating our fifth anniversary}

To say that I am not a very organized person would be an understatement. I am that person who borrowed Organizing for Dummies from the library and actually learned new things from it. What seemed to be common sense to others I had to learn by reading a book. It never occurred to me that I could collect all the pens on the counter top in a cup. The wonders of a container!

Hans, my very organized husband by nature, must have really loved me when he asked me to marry him.

When Emeth was an infant, the comments about his looks came largely from two groups of friends. Team A thought Emeth looked like Hans. Team B thought Emeth looked like me. And these two teams (at church) would have same debate week after week. I will always remember the day when someone (at the peak of one of these arguments) concluded that Emeth looked like both of us -- because Hans and I looked like each other.

That was probably the nicest thing anyone can say about me.

I attended one of my funerals -- at my wedding. Though I knew not the magnitude of my words, I died at the altar that day.

I died, in more ways than I understood. And I promised to be a new person, in more ways than I knew possible, with the one singing beside me. The amazing thing was that he promised to do the same. That he would die for me, to be with me, to be me.

Consider yourselves warned. Remember the magnitude of it all. For better and for worse, in marriage, the two resemble each other. Know well, and choose well, the person you want to resemble. Years from now, whom do you want to look like?

My love, thank you for these five years of dying together.
I take you to be mine, and I give myself to you

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Vampire, Werewolf, and Desires (a reluctant part 3)

I know, I know. Who knew there was going to be a part 3?! Vampires are so out of style. (See part 1 and part 2 from last year)

In my effort to think of an illustration for Sunday School, I could not resist. Alas, Sunday came and only four students showed up that morning (I am not bitter, obviously). One of the four was a boy who didn't even read Twilight (we appreciate you, Kevin!).

Oh well.

I wanted to make a point about idolatry, namely to discuss the differences between surface idols and deep idols. Surface idols are things like grades (you must understand that I teach Chinese high school students), money, family, careers, dreams, addictions. Deep idols are the cravings of our souls for approval, control, admiration, power, comfort, security, pleasure.

In one of the books, Bella was going back and forth between liking Edward the vampire and Jacob the werewolf. She was in despair (Oh, the agony!). And then, she discovered that she she was in love with both (this is where I resist the urge to pull my hair out).

Here was my point: The vampire and the werewolf were merely surface idols, Bella's deep idol was her desire for approval, admiration, and security. Or, in other words, she was in love with both Edward and Jacob because what she really wanted was something else.

Deep idols are the roots that hold the weeds; deep idols are the currents beneath the waves. Surface idols may look different from one person to another, or change depending on the stages of life, but so long as the root remains -- we are bound.

Jesus repeatedly warned his listeners against the love for money. Money serves so well as the surface idol to a variety of deep idols. For those who desire praise and admiration, they flaunt their money. For those who desire security, they save and invest. For those who desire power and control, money paves their path of influence. So for those of us who are frugal, we need to beware that we might be frugal precisely because we love money; or we love the control and security that being frugal gives us.

Therefore, fasting from coffee or facebook or chocolate or texting is not sufficient. Fasting might be necessary -- to wean us from a dependence on these things, but eliminating these things will not change our idolatrous hearts.

Purging must take place from within. Parting from our idols is a painful thing. This is where we scream, "but that's just the way I am" or "how I am wired" or "the way I was raised."

So, it is not enough to identify what I daydream about and what freaks me out. I then need to ask why. Why are these things so important to me?

The truth is, no amount of praise or control or power will ever satisfy. There is no lasting comfort or pleasure or security on this earth.  This tells us perhaps we were made for another world.
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. -- C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On the mountains and that timeless shore

{the story of Yohanan's birth}

The stars sang the night my contraction began. We had been waiting for weeks, though in reality it was only five days after his due date. He was overdue, but not the way this post is overdue. Now that he is turning one in less than two months, I better jot some things down before it all escapes me.

A few things will always remind me of that night: 1. Star Wars Episode II, 2. Triscuits with sharp cheddar cheese. The contractions started at around 7:30 p.m. I called my friend Jenni who months before had kindly promised to watch Emeth while we go to the hospital, we put Emeth to bed, and Hans and I sat back to "relax" with a movie.

The silly contractions stopped at around 10:30 p.m. I blame this on the horrendous plot of Episode II. To my great dismay, we went to sleep.

At around 8:30 the next morning, I was ecstatic that the contractions had returned! I felt pain! Yes! (Can you tell that I was done being pregnant?)

Everything was in place; every star was aligned. In fact, if you look very closely at the morning sky and squint a little, the stars spelled "Yohanan" -- the name we discovered just days before. Apparently, he didn't want to come out without a name.

Grace. "Hanan" means grace in Hebrew. And grace indeed overflowed that day.

We dropped Emeth off with Jenni at 10 a.m. and checked in at the hospital shortly after (we were about 10 minutes away). We used the same birth plan. Oddly enough, because both Emeth and Yohanan were born on Tuesdays in the same hospital, we had the exact same obstetrician/gynecologist, pediatrician, and many of the same nurses. Very surreal. Apparently, they kept the same schedule after two years.

I was already at 8cm dilated when the nurses checked me in. I know, I was very grateful. The labor had progressed throughout the night while I was sleeping.

Alas, labor pain is labor pain.

In those last hours, I was every woman.

I was Eve, lost in my longing to return to the Garden. I drank deeply the cup that was mine, the bitterness that was mine because I had disobeyed my Maker.

I was Mary, yearning for redemption and completion. The pain was cold and lonely. I wondered what were her thoughts, laboring in the stables that night.

Hans was so loving, as always. Giving me counter pressure. Reading the chart. Anticipating each contraction. Reading from every psalm that contained "Yohanan" -- "Yahweh, be gracious." Be gracious. Be gracious.

At 1:13 p.m., I heard Hans' voice, "he looks exactly like the one we have at home, honey." We greeted Yohanan Zi-Han at the shore of time and seasons. Unlike my awkward meeting with Emeth, this time I did cry. Seeing Yohanan's face was like a homecoming to me, though we were seeing him for the very first time.

He had two knots in his umbilical cord. Very rare, the doctor said, and potentially dangerous. But we had no idea. His placenta was "above average," according to the doctor. I asked to have a glimpse. Human anatomy is fascinating.

I often tease Hans about his nonathletic, physically-uncoordinated wife. He is one of the best athletes I know. My (short) list of strenuous exercises includes my labor, and mountain climbing. Mount Kinabalu and an entire rain forest was our backyard in Malaysia.

I loved mountain climbing. And I did it solely for the view from the top -- the bright stars, the sunsets, the sunrises. Recently, a video brought me back to the mountains. Watching the waves of clouds and the Milky Way was like a homecoming to me.

Perhaps returning to the Garden will be something like this -- when we arrive at that timeless shore. Perhaps our Father's face will look somewhat familiar, like a homecoming, though we will be beholding him for the very first time.

The Mountain from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Buckling Down and Sweat

This morning, both children were screaming simultaneously while I was trying to vacuum the floor (for the past two hours) because a guest was coming over for lunch (which I thought was overcooking on the stove, but I forgot I had turned off the heat) while I was due to return my sister's call 10 minutes ago.


As I was soothing Yohanan with the tummy ache in one arm and helping Emeth to go to the bathroom with the other, the only appropriate thing to do was -- to laugh. Because the combining effect of all of that reminded me of something else:

a contraction.

You know, like the kind I got when I was in labor.

This was one of life's contractions. A thunder storm. A wave crashing.

Now, we can't take analogies too far, but here are a few ways how this tiny segment of life was like a contraction:

1. They are both inconvenient.
2. The pain does end (hopefully sooner than later).
3. Years from now, I will be able look back on this season with much fondness.
4. They serve good purposes, i.e. giving birth to a child and stretching my patience.

Just for the record, they were also very different:

1. There was no option for an epidural for this kind of pain.
2. No baby was about to be born.
3. OK, there are a lot of ways how they are different. I don't really want to list all of them.

So, this morning, I did what I did in the labor and delivery room:

1. Buckled down and sweat.
2. Be very grateful that Hans came to my rescue. I am sure glad he picked me to be on his team.

Monday, April 4, 2011

On Daydreams and Freaking Out

In preparation for Easter, our high school Sunday School class is purging -- the closet and our hearts. To help us see what needs to be purged, I am teaching a series on idolatry.

Growing up in Malaysia where Buddhism is a common religion, idols are ubiquitous in all forms and sizes. As a child, I remember being afraid whenever I saw distorted images of gods who reside on red altars. I did not realize at the time that idols reside best not behind incense and offerings, but on the altar of human hearts. My heart.

Violation of any commandment is always a violation of the first commandment: "I am Yahweh your God... You shall have no other gods before me."

When I am impatient, when I am unkind, or jealous, or proud, or selfish, I am worshiping something else; I am serving something else other than God. Something else has become more precious, more desirable than my Creator and Redeemer. Something else has absorb my heart and imagination. Unless I can say that I perfectly love Christ and I perfectly love others, I am idolatrous.

And I am.

Therefore, the question is not whether I have idols in my heart, but what are the idols, and the idols-in-making, of my heart?

To help us see the idols, with the hope of purging them, I asked the youth (and myself) a list of questions:

1. What are your daydreams? What fills your imagination? When you allow your mind to wander -- in the bus or on the highway or when you are doing the dishes, where do you go?

2. What are your hopes? What do you think would fulfill you? What is the next big thing that must happen to make you happy?

3. What gives you a sense of control, a sense of confidence, as you stride down the street? What gives you a sense of safety? What gives you a sense of identity?

4. What are your nightmares? What are your fears? What is the worst that can happen?

5. For whom or what do you make sacrifices? Looking at your expenses, where do you spend the most money?

6. What do you think would gain approval, recognition, and acceptance from people? What would give you success?

7. What do you freak out about? What are your strongest, most painful, uncontrollable emotions (guilt, anger, fear, etc.) and what is causing them?

{gathered and rephrased from different sources,

Many of the answers are not necessarily evil. Some are likely very useful -- like education and jobs and homes and caffeine. However, we must treat them for what they are -- utensils. Some may even be rightly ours to keep -- family, parents, husband, wife, children. But none of these are to rise above God -- the one and only who is worthy of worship.