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.

Friday, April 1, 2011

You and Me

To Mommy's Big Boy,

Mommy was so unprepared the night you arrived. I had one more load of laundry, I still needed to line your crib, and the bag for the hospital was not yet packed. But, the time had come for you to arrive. And our lives were changed, forever. Mommy and daddy were never the same.

You look so long now, asleep in your crib right next to me. My heart swells with pride and hope just thinking about how you will someday be taller than mommy, maybe even daddy. You are so eager to grow, as you should be.

We have been reading a picture book with trees and blossoms for two weeks now. Mommy is always the one who chooses it. You have been very kind to go along with mommy's choice because I know you would rather read about animals and Thomas the tank engine.

Mommy loves reading the last few pages with you:
Everything you hear, smell, see
All the world is everything
Everything is you and me

While you were drawing the other day, you held four crayons together and said: "Mommy, Daddy, Hanan, and Emeth -- a family!" You were so right. I pray that God would bind us to one another just like this. No space. That we would be close together, forever and always.

You, Hanan, daddy, mommy,
we are a family.
Each of you, a part of me.
You are what I hear, smell, see.
The Lord created, made us free,
gave me to you, and you to me.

on your third birthday