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.