Thursday, December 20, 2012

Things I wish people told us about babies

Our friends Ivan and Sherri just had a baby (so happy!). And Ivan was the one who suggested the title for this post.

Because I didn't think I would write a post like this.


Within the first year of motherhood, my sentiments about people's (kind and well-meaning) advice were more along the lines of "things I wish people would not tell us about babies." Some were helpful, some were not, and others sent me into bouts of worries, guilt, and despair.

This is not a list of advice. These are just some things Emeth and Hanan have been teaching me.

1. Every baby is different.
True, we've only taken care of two babies. Yet, they are so different.

Other people do not know your child. Writers of books and articles do not know your child. Doctors and nurses and lactation consultants do not know your child. They do not know how your body feels or how your family functions. You do.

So, glean with caution. Glean from their years of expertise and knowledge, be grateful that they are available to help, but do not allow their opinions to rule your lives.

2. Every baby comes broken
3. into the arms of broken parents.
Emeth was not a compliant baby and he was very high maintenance. The first few weeks of his life were dark and happy and confusing. Now that he is four, his "difficult traits" are blossoming into his love to be around people and his intense need to understand his surrounding. But we had no way of knowing at the time.

He was a difficult baby. And I was constantly overwhelmed with guilt. I remember crying to Hans, convinced that I broke Emeth. Hans wisely and lovingly told me that Emeth was already broken. He was broken the moment he was conceived. Only the Lord, in his goodness and mercy, can save him — as he first saved us.

4. I have nothing to prove.
Still learning this one. Should have lived by this before becoming a mom. Better late than never, right?

5. The concept of time will never be the same again. Ever.
Me-time, us-time, work-time, play-time, sleep-time, shower-time — all comes crashing into one overwhelming blob.

Time is no longer linear, no longer compartmentalized, no longer predictable. The rhythm of life changes all together. And that's normal. Learn the new song. And don't try to sing the old tune to the new beat.

Nowadays, my time management mantra goes something like this: Stop chasing after what I would like to do. Learn to love what must be done. Repeat.


6. Hold principles firmly, hold methods loosely.
Principles are things that we must do as parents. Love your children. Rejoice in the Lord. Be kind. Be patient. Be faithful. Be gentle. Train up your child in the way of wisdom. These are non-negotiable.

Methods are the many ways, the different tools, we use to carry out our principles. I was so caught up in finding all the best methods in the beginning (oh you know, epidural or not, breastfeeding or not, co-sleeping or not, scheduled or demand-feeding, and all those baby gears!). I am not saying all methods are created equal, but I am saying that we need to hold our methods loosely. Don't get too invested in them. Because, at the end of the day, God has given you to your child. No matter which method you use, you are there. You are the best method. God has chosen you for your baby, and your baby for you.

That said, there was one method I held on for dear life when the babies were little. Baby-wearing. It's awesome, if your baby enjoys that sort of thing. Women (and men, I suppose) of ages past knew what they were doing. When Hans wore our babies, other moms commented on how he secure he must have been of his manhood.
 
7. Hold your baby. A lot.
Because they tend to wiggle more as they get older.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In the unquiet darkness

The hay in the manger was still warm when war horses charged into Bethlehem. The cows and the donkeys knew the boy they came to destroy. His secret was safe with them.

Blood and tears covered the stony ground of Bethlehem. In the unquiet darkness, Herod commanded the slaughter of all the little boys ages two and under.

Fathers fought for their sons in the battle of their lives. Beaten to dust. For years to come, mothers still rose in the night to nurse their infants, only to find their cribs empty. A deafening silence.

Not too far away, Mary and Joseph fled with haste holding the newly born Messiah, wrapped in rags.

Behold your King,
to our weakness he is no stranger.


____________________________________

For years, I have enjoyed John Piper's narrative poems. The Innkeeper is among my favorites. Happy Advent, dear friends. May your waiting this week be full and joyous.


The Innkeeper from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My crooked belly, my crooked heart


I love Avis. She's like a big sister to me. She is also an awesome physical therapist. I had a severe backache when I was pregnant with Hanan. She made it go away. It was magical.

Recently, the pregnancy backache came back. Avis took one glance at me and knew right away that I was in pain. More importantly, she knew why I was in pain. "Of course your back is aching," she said, "you are carrying the baby on your right side." I have learned not to doubt her. But still, I asked: "How do you know that?!" She answered, "Because it is so obvious. Go home, look in the mirror, and you will see that your belly button is to the right side of your tummy."

Sure enough, she was right.

My belly is crooked, people!

How was it that I look at myself in the mirror everyday and not see that my entire torso was lopsided?! Like Avis said, it was so obvious.

I am that person in James 1 who looks at herself in the mirror and yet I do not understand what I see. And I forget what I look like the moment I walk away.


At our church, there are two bathrooms. The smaller bathroom has a mirror that made people look thinner. The bigger bathroom has a mirror that made people look fatter. Guess which bathroom I like to use?

We choose to see what we want to see.

We want to see ourselves in the best light. We want to look thinner or taller or more in shape. We want to look symmetrical. Belly buttons should be in the center (is this too much to ask?!). We want to see ourselves as good people, who commit very few wrongs. And when we are wrong, there must be good reasons (a.k.a. excuses) for our mistakes.

Hans preached on Psalm 33 two Sundays ago. He concluded with a point that went straight to my heart: the upright and the righteous are not those who do not sin. Rather, the upright and righteous are people who see themselves as they truly are — sinners who cannot save themselves. Therefore, they hope in the steadfast love of the Lord.

The object of their their hope defines them: What are you beholding?

Scripture is like a mirror. It reveals our true selves. It reflects our crooked hearts. We do not love God with our hearts, minds, and strength. We do not love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We cannot do or be better tomorrow, because we are crooked and twisted to the core. When I attempt to destroy my idols, I only make new ones.

So we pray as David prayed,
Lord, create in us clean hearts.

A bold request. We ask for nothing short of a miracle. To ask God to do in us what he did in the beginning — to create something out of nothing. We ask our Lord to do this, not because we deserve anything, but because of his steadfast love.

In your mercy,
oh Lord, remove the scales from our eyes.
Help us to see our crooked ways,
twisted and deformed.
Create in us clean hearts,
that we may trust in your steadfast love.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How I want to die

I think about death a lot. I write about death, often.

I am not sure why.

A few Sundays ago, a guest preacher told us a story about his grandmother, and how she died. On the days leading up to her death, hundreds of people came knocking on her door, asking to bid Grandma March one last farewell. Former drug addicts, recovered alcoholics, people she met on the streets, at the grocery stores. They sat by her bed, tattoos and dreadlocks and all, telling stories about how her kindness changed their lives.

The preacher ended his story with this thought,
We are all going to die, right?
I want to die like that.
And I need to start living differently now.




We begin the journey to our deaths at the moment of our births. How I choose to die does not begin the moment I receive a fatal medical diagnosis, or when I am met with a car accident, or the day I turn 65. No, I am dying right now. At this moment.

The length of time I am about to spend finishing this sentence. This is how much closer I am to my death.

How I choose to live is how I choose to die.

I have many favorite quotes from Jonathan Edwards. Some of my favorites are among the words he spoke moments before his unexpected death. For his wife Sarah, who was far away when his sickness struck, he left these words:
Give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever.
Shortly after leaving his messages for absent members of his family, he looked about and said,
Now where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never failing friend?
I want to die like that.
I want to die longing to see the face of Christ.
But I know I would not wish to see his face at my deathbed
if I do not wish to see his face right now.

Soul, love rightly.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

That which is necessary


Repentance and forgiveness are daily, necessary routines in our marriage. Routine unlike eating dry, plain oatmeal. But the routine of waves. Ebbing, flowing. Covering, returning. Wide, open shores. Big, generous waves.

Repentance and forgiveness do not define our marriage. There is so much more to our lives, entwined. But without them, there would be no us. There would be no life.

On this side of eternity, we dance this awkward waltz. We laugh, we cry. We step on toes, we let it go. We turn and return. We give and forgive. We dance with arms wide open, hands holding fast.




Repentance and forgiveness are daily, necessary routines in our worship. Routines unlike boring, redundant worksheets. But the routine of hungry boys at meal times. The routine of children running outside, of autumns warm and golden.

Repentance and forgiveness do not define our worship, our allegiance. There is so much more to our lives, entwined with Christ. But without these, there would be no life. There would be no worship.

On this side of eternity, our repentance and God's forgiveness are necessary. Rebels before a holy God. Are we to be like a standing tree or the chaff that the wind drives away?

Children, turn and return. God gives and forgives. He waits with arms wide open, his hand holding fast, holding us.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fly

Hans told Emeth the other day that being a missionary is better than being a doctor. Instead of heartily agreeing with my husband, my mind's immediate reaction was, "Really?!"

Hans was right, of course.

I want to be like Hannah who offered her son to serve in the Temple.
I want to sharpen three arrows who would fly and fight in the Lord's winning battle.
I want to raise three men who would lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel.

Yet, in moments like these, I realized just how bound I still am to the ways of the world.


Let's face it. Our dreams are not outrageously creative. You've seen them. Those inspirational quotes about dreaming big dreams, chasing the moon, falling among the stars. Blah blah blah. To be the best at this, to be the first at that. To be fulfilled, to be distinct, to be authentic. To be "most-something," anything. All is vanity. Nothing is new under the sun.

This is not what I want for my sons.

We are eagles created to fly. We were once bound, dragged down by the miry bog. The Lord in his grace and by his truth has set us free. We are now free to soar. Instead of spreading our wings, however, we are busy, busy, busy—building cages. Cages engraved with our earthly titles. So we can sit in them and have others admire how beautiful are the edifices we have made for ourselves. Some are made of sticks and bricks, others silver and gold. Very impressive. Not really.

Because a cage is a cage is a cage.

We must chose one or the other. Either we seek first and work hard to build the kingdom of heaven, or we seek first and work hard to build our own kingdom of one.

Soul, grace and truth has set you free.
Burn the cage.
Fly.





*Photo credit: our friend Vivian. Thank you!




Thursday, November 8, 2012

This strange child of mine

This has been by far the strangest of all three pregnancies. I blame my weird behavior on this boy, while I still can.

1. He is very particular. I woke up one Sunday morning, and I knew the exact handbag that I wanted to use that day. A black patent leather bag. He absolutely insisted.

2. He adores stripes and patterns in black, white, and gray. Occasionally, he enjoys splashes of bright red and sage green.

3. He would not let me settle until I find the thing that strikes his fancy. His pickiness has been handy as we have been decorating our new home. He knows exactly what he wants. Last week, we finally found the perfect lampshade. Three months later.

4. His brothers were so easy to please when they were in my belly. They wanted rice, soy sauce, and eggs for breakfast. This guy wants prosciutto. With crunchy toast and French brie.

5. When I was at the deli counter, I heard myself telling the server, "The baby thinks this tastes too much like ham." The kind server actually took me seriously. After evaluating their selection of prosciutto, he chose the most expensive kind. Of course he would. My taste buds are suddenly keenly aware of the different textures, depths of flavor, and the fat contents -- of prosciutto, of all things.

FYI: He only get a quarter of a pound per week.This kid needs some boundaries.

6. Like his brothers, he loves meat. But he likes meat in very particular ways. While I am typing this (at 10:30 p.m.), I am eating a warm chicken salad, with avocado, dried cherries, and a good squeeze of lime juice.

7. He is the most active of the three brothers. His kicks are the most frequent and the strongest, especially when I am trying to sleep. At twenty weeks, the brothers felt like butterflies in my tummy. With him, I could see my belly shaking and protruding at various places.

8. Occasionally, he wants an icy drink of squeezed lemon juice. With salt. His dad prefers honey.

9. He gives me severe writer's block.

10. But he makes me paint and draw. A pleasure lost to me for the past six years. He somehow brought it back.

11. He makes me cry. Not a lot (thankfully). But about the most unexpected things. I would be chopping vegetables, and bam! A thought would come and the tears would start.

12. He is a late bloomer. During the first and second trimesters, the ladies at church were convinced that I was pregnant with a girl. Everyone kept telling how "normal" I looked, and how I "glowed." According to them, I was so big, swollen, and puffy during the first two pregnancies.

Yeah. I think I lost my glow. And I am back to being big, swollen, and puffy again.
I am definitely having another boy. I can't wait.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A diptych for the kitchen








That I may cast my eyes on the true bread and the true wine
as my hands work to create mere shadows of divine things.
That I may remember how manna rained from heaven and water gushed out of rocks
when little hungry people are crying to be fed.

Soul, be still, for our God provides all our needs.

That the Lord may feed true food to all who gather at our table,
family, friends, travelers, foreigners, strangers.

That we may taste the Feast of Life.
That our hunger may be satisfied, our thirst quenched.
That we may love rightly and truly.

That we may remember the Body that was broken for us,
the Blood that was shed for us.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.







Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mud soaked in grace

Here is my answer to another favorite question from my single friends: "How do I know whether this person is the one for me?"

First, stop asking the question.
Because this question is fundamentally selfish.

Or perhaps you are dating and already thinking, "I have found the perfect one for me!" Watch out, you are also in for a rude awakening.

You are making your tastes, your needs, your values, your personalities as the central, deciding factors. So really, you are loving you, not the other person. And marrying a person because you love you is generally a bad idea.

While Adam was sleeping, God made Eve. Adam was awakened to the dawn of nuptial love. God did not throw Eve somewhere in the Garden and tell Adam "go find her!" No, God brought her to Adam. In the twilight, they walked in the Garden while the earth was still young. No other husband and wife knew joy so great, though their time was brief.

Therefore, the first thing to say about marriage is that it is a work of grace.

Marriage is God's work of grace in the lives of his children. Grace of the most profound sort. Grace we do not deserve. We were given, entrusted with the life of another human being. For this reason, marriage is suitable a picture of the Gospel. A picture of how the God-man Jesus Christ gave his life for his Bride.

So, do not ask "Who is the one for me?" Rather, we should be asking, am I standing in the way of grace? Do I have the right disposition to receive grace? Grace that I do not deserve.




What is this way of grace?
The way of grace is given to us by the entire counsel of Scripture.

We are not left with our ever-changing, unreliable feelings, and random, subjective experiences (Thanks be to God!). We have been given the counsel of God's Word, which remains true forever. He has revealed his will to us, including whom we are to marry. And we have been commanded to seek after, not husbands or wives, but the kingdom of God.

Our understanding of marriage, however, must not rely merely on the "marriage passages" or the "love passages." We need know the whole story in order to understand the specific passages about love and marriage. We need to know who God is, who we are, our struggles with sin, how God rescues us from our sin, and how we are to live in relationships with one another.

Emeth, who is four, has long started asking me about "his queen." And my answer to him is always the same: he must first learn to love Lady Wisdom. In this way, he will know how to love his queen. He must first learn to walk in the way of wisdom, by fearing God and keeping his commandments. Here, he will learn to stand in the way of grace.

With much fear and trembling (and a teeny bit of reluctance), I pray that my three sons would love wise women. In order to win wise women, however, they must first be wise young men. I don't want them to be exquisite vases looking for other exquisite vases. I want them to be good mud finding good mud. Mud soaked in grace. I pray that they would become suitable clay— broken and yielding—in order that they might be useful vessels for the glory of God.

So, how would you characterize someone who is wise? Here are just a few traits gleaned from the book of Proverbs. The wise person fears the Lord. Unlike fools, the wise person is aware of their foolishness and loves correction and discipline. The wise person prays, trusts in the Lord, bears much fruit, is hard-working, resourceful, kind, and knows how to reign over their tongues. Fools manipulate and take advantage of others; they are flirtatious, proud, dishonest, provocative, and lazy. They have no self-control especially over their tongues and their temper.




A few more words.

Not only have we been given the entire counsel of God's Word, we have also been given a cloud of witnesses. You should not be making this decision alone. Seek the counsel of God-fearing people who love you and who would watch out for you. And listen. Wisdom is discernible by others. In fact, your own vision might be a little (or more than a little) compromised by your feelings.

No matter how well we think we know the person we marry, we always marry people who are somewhat of a stranger to us. Because dates are not the same as real life. Because people change. And believe it or not, that's a very good thing. The knowledge that we are able to change is the very hope of marriage.

Part of me died at the altar on my wedding 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.

The way of grace is narrow.
But its narrowness
is the narrowness of a birth canal.
There is an entire universe waiting on the other side.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Make me a butterfly

Hans, and my Mama. Nobody can set me straight the way they can, and do. They see through my excuses, self-pity, and self justifications. Call me out. And even tell me to change. They say some of the most furious, painful things. Render me speechless.

Because they are usually right.
And because they love me.

I prefer my grace to come sugar-coated, please. Nope, not from them. They demonstrate grace to me in all its wholesome glory—by laying bare the depth and ugliness of my self-deception, and offer a way out.

These days, the wisdom they give can be summed up with this:
Stop chasing after what I would like to do. Instead, learn to love what must be done.*
This is hard stuff.

To stop wishing that my circumstances were different, or that people were different, or that I was different.

To love what must be done.

To love doing dishes. To love wiping up spilled milk for the third time today. To love repeating myself for the fifth time within the past five minutes. To love going to bed early. To love paying bills and filling out forms. To love holding my thoughts captive, and keeping my tongue hostage. To love being pregnant (yes, my mom actually said this. Isn't she awesome?).

Because I get to do these things for the ones I love. Because in serving them, I am worshiping the God who saved me and gave himself for me. He saves me still, from myself.

To love His will and His way. To see my duties as my delight. To not think of them as chores, but as summons from the King. To believe that his commands are not oppressive. Instead, they are his grace to me, that he would use these hands to help, these feet to run (or, more like waddle), these lips to teach and kiss, this body to bear life.


My allegiance and my affection is again called into question. What do I love? Whom do I worship?

To to love dying to self requires nothing short of a miracle. In my self-loving soul, to love God and others is like telling a larva in the cocoon to fly. This is where I fall into despair.

I am learning to pray as Augustine prayed centuries ago: "Command what you will, and grant what you command — Make me a butterfly, O my God!" For I am incapable of such metamorphosis on my own.

This transformation, however, is not the passive, unconscious kind of a larva in a cocoon. Rather, it requires striving of the most rigorous and desperate kind. It requires persuasion of the mind and a change of the will. It requires faith, through the hearing and careful consideration of the his Word. It requires divine intervention and enabling in order that I might love truly and rightly.


One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.

The saints and martyrs throughout church history did not live merely for the one to two events where they marked history. Instead, God was molding them in ten thousand mundane, everyday ways to make them who they became.

Therefore, do not be downcast, my dear friend. Be persuaded by the truth and beauty of his Word. Be convinced that he is faithful to finish the work he has begun. Smell the blossoms, taste the nectar, desire the Garden.

Command what you will,
Grant what you command.
Teach me to love your narrow way.
Undo me in order that I might do what must be done.
Make me a butterfly.



*Goethe said it so well. This is a modification of his words that I first saw over at Gracelaced.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Crush management

crush [kruhsh]
noun
1. The state of being infatuated. Intense, all-absorbing, short-lived passion for something or someone.
2. The object of such an infatuation






Crushes, and how one handles them, are so revealing. They are telling ways to look into the state of a person's soul.

Here are some things to remember when you fall into one of those intense, all-absorbing state of being infatuated:

1. This too shall pass.
I know it may seem impossible. The songs on the radio and chick flicks are no help. But crushes do not last forever.

Do I still have a crush on Hans? Um. I hope not.
I can already see you protesting. I shall explain.

2. Because having a crush is not love.
A crush is more about you, and less about the other person. This is why you can have a crush on a person you hardly know at all. Fantasies about crushes generally seek to fulfill our own desires, a self-centered attempt to satisfy our own longing or lack. Love is the complete opposite. Love is intensely and intentionally self-forgetting and self-sacrificing.

When I said yes to Hans' proposal, my crush on him was greater than my love for him. At the altar, I promised to love him all the days of my life, come what may. As I get to know him over the past few years, I am learning to see him for who he is. I get to see new sides of him—as a husband, a father. The new knowledge increases my love for him, and grace helps me to love even when I don't feel very loving.

3. If a crush is not love, what is it?
Hunger pangs. Your soul is hungry. That and your hormones are talking. We were created for relationship. It was not good for Adam to be alone. It is right and good for us to long for companionship. We were created for that.

The hunger is not what's bad, but eating garbage to satisfy the hunger is. Whether you are nibbling on some trashy fantasies or stuffing yourself silly with another wrong-headed relationship, garbage is garbage — none will satisfy.

4. What are you hungry for?
Acknowledging and identifying our hunger is an essential life skill. What are the idols in my heart? What am I lusting after? Am I seeking affection? Am I seeking people's respect or approval? Do I lust after the desire of men? Am I seeking security and comfort? Am I wanting to escape from my current circumstances? Am I bored and restless, without purpose and end?

5. That crush of yours cannot satisfy your hunger.
In fact, not even the most self-sacrificial husbands and the kindest wives can satisfy your hunger. No one on earth can. There is only One who satisfies. The Bread of Life, who was broken for you. He proposed not on bended knees, but with outstretched arms, praying for you. Not with a diamond ring, but with his shed blood for your sins. He died in your place.

6. So, guard your mind, guard your heart.
Another life long skill to master: holding our hearts accountable. Keep your heads on. Learn to ask yourself honest questions and give honest responses. Pay attention to what makes your emotions run wild; what makes it hard to keep your head straight?

Is it chatting for hours into the night? Then, stop. Is it being in the car alone? Get a ride from someone else, walk. Sitting together? Walk away, sit somewhere else. Talking too much about things too personal? Flee from temptation. Don't linger under the forbidden tree. Train your minds to walk away, stop daydreaming. It's called self-control.

Be honest with yourself about why you do what you do. Is this another attempt to satisfy our cravings with garbage? Don't worry about offending him "in case he likes you" or hurting her feelings "what if she likes me?" If they are also striving after godliness, they would appreciate that you are trying to keep your minds pure.

When temptation is in your face, the way temptation annoyingly does, fight. We were created to be warriors and rulers. We were not left to be weak and helpless. We have been given everything we need to to live godly lives. We lack nothing. We have no excuse. Temptations and sins are coming from the within. The problem is not your crush. So, fight sin.

7. What if (I think) I am ready for marriage, and this is more than just "a crush"?
I think that would make an entirely different post. In fact, I think people have written books answering this question.

When a crush comes crashing in, be sure your soul is filled.
Do not live on hungry souls.
"Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."

Monday, September 3, 2012

A letter to the King's Daughter

Dearest sister,

I received word that you have been weary. I am writing in hopes to remind you of who you are. You are the Daughter of the King. Let your confidence not be in yourself or in other human beings, but rest your hope in the Gospel -- by which you have been rescued.

Our Father did not create us to be weak and powerless. He has given us strength to work and minds to think. Remember your charge. The children of the King are to be fruitful and have dominion over his creation. We were created to be rulers.

Therefore, the daughters of the King must know the King's law. For how shall we rule if we do not know the will of our Father? His Word gives life. Let his instructions cover our tongues and our lips like sweet honey. Be quick to apply it first to ourselves.

Remember our Father, and how he rules with patience and mercy. Remember our eldest brother, the Firstborn of our Father, and how he ruled. The cross was his throne, where Prince of Peace was glorified. He ruled by dying in our place, in order that we might be his family. Rule likewise in God's kingdom.

Look around you, for this is the domain to which you have been entrusted by the King. Is your domain your home? Is it your work place? Is it your school? Who are the people you see everyday? Who are the people nearest and dearest to you? What are their needs? How can you make your sphere a brighter, lovelier place?

Be ready to give grace, as the recipients of grace. You are an ambassador of our Father, you represent the King. Be a hostess wherever you go. It does not mean you are necessarily outgoing, or that you have to be the leader. Being a hostess simply means that you are attentive and mindful of other people. Do not wait around or expect others to be kind to you first. Engage people in conversations. Be watchful for those who might be in need of a friend. Being "shy" is sometimes another excuse to be self-centered. 

Our Father calls his children to be fruitful. So do not be idle. Never be doing nothing, always be doing something. Be busy with good works. Be certain about your purpose and your end. Labor with hope and joy. Go after things that last forever. Seize every opportunity to serve others. Make things for them, write to them, cook for them.

Dress as the daughters of the King. Present yourselves in a befitting manner, for we live and stand in the King's court. Our eldest brother suffered shame and nakedness in order that we might be clothed with his righteousness. So, cover yourselves — with humility and good works.

Love your brothers, for they are the sons of the King. Respect and protect them. Do not lead their hearts astray. One of them may be your husband (someday). As for the rest of them, you don't know to whom they belong. So, back off. (Until, of course, you know for sure he is yours to keep)

The daughters of the King rest in the King's thoughts towards us. We rest in our relationship with our Father. Therefore, we give, we love, without expecting to be loved in return. We do not need to freak out about today, or worry about tomorrow. When other hurts and despise us, show grace in return. Have the heart of an ocean, and not be shallow and easily disturbed — like a puddle.

Be self-aware, especially of the motivations in our hearts — why we do what we do. When we find sinful and self-glorifying intentions, repent. Let all reflection turn into repentance and thanksgiving.

We are passionate creatures. We were given emotions to love God and love others, though our tendency is to love ourselves. Resist morbid introspection, a.k.a. dumpster diving. Resist sentimentalism. Resist self-pity. These do not bear fruit. Do not work up all kinds of emotions and daydreams, indulging ourselves for the sake feeling something. When we fall into despair, lift our eyes to cross. When we feel needy, give.

Weary though you may be, keep your eyes on the cross and keep walking. Walk with your sisters, and occasionally — dance! Run! Rejoice always! For we belong to our Father, and Christ is our Brother. Remember who you are, by grace, you are the King's daughter.

Much love,
Your sister


Saturday, September 1, 2012

A cure for the delusional

So I thought I was a pretty thankful person. I appreciated life, generally speaking.

When I complained (which was often), I tried to end my whining and groaning on a cheery note. e.g. "I am so grateful I get to learn about blah blah blah." Rule of thumb when whining: Always end with a smiley face. =)

To be sure, I was sincere, I think -- both with my smiley faces and the giving of thanks. But it wasn't hard to be grateful when things were going well. It's like when I thought I was a pretty good person back in high school.

A seventeen year-old me, laying in bed after school, reading fictions, writing in my journals about how life was not going the way I expected. No real responsibilities. No one depending on me. It was easy to think of myself as a kind, patient, and happy person.

My self-image was at best delusional.

As it turns out, I've been delusional about my sense of gratitude as well. For these past two months, the little conveniences of life were systematically removed, one after another. Some for a few weeks, some for a few days. I swallowed a fat slice of humble pie and it was not yummy.


My sense about what is lovely and wonderful has been redefined. Here are a few of my new favorite things, in case I forget this lesson and suffer from conceited delusions again (not too long from now, I'm sure).

1. A pipe under our kitchen sink was clogged with plaster.
Don't ever think, a home could work without a kitchen sink.
I love my sink, even when it stinks.

2. Refrigerator, often overlooked.
Without it, I could hardly cook.
And no cooking is no good.

3. There may be tantrums, big or small.
Our own walls now contain them all.

4. Hanan spilled yogurt smoothie all over himself two days in a row. I nearly laughed (but I didn't) because my husband just bought and installed my very first --
mean, lean washing machine!
It's shiny and it cleans!
And it makes me happy, like caffeine, and dark jeans.
The children calls it our TV screen (we don't own a TV).

I am reading one too many Dr. Suess books, I think, words that rhyme sound happier, somehow.

For the record, I am typing this while sitting at my very own desk, in my very own chair, with my own very own cup of Earl Grey -- for the first time since June 30. I never knew I loved being at a desk so much.

happy sigh.

I am grateful. =)

Friday, August 24, 2012

When to obey



Those who spend time with our family would hear me say this a lot: Obedience means that you obey now. Right away. Immediately.

Not after you think about it. Not in a little bit. Not when you are ready to obey. The only time that is appropriate for obedience is the moment you receive the instruction, not when you decide you want to obey.

Oh how difficult is this lesson! And how deceitful is the heart.

I do the exact thing I am teaching my sons not to do. Seeing my own foolishness in them stirs in me much annoyance -- and much fear -- as I know exactly where this path leads. Been there. At the same time, it also stirs up compassion for their little souls, and the urgency to steer them away.

They must learn to heed my voice, and trust in my love for them. Obeying right away can be the difference between life and death. And yet, I am somehow able to justify that my own sin is not as deadly.

When God instructs, I beg for more time. Or, I demand more time. Or, I simply ignore his commands. What makes it worse is that in my delay I start basking in my self-righteousness and consoling myself with my OK-ness. When the truth is that I am as OK as a four-year-old walking accross a busy intersection, and as safe as a two-year-old opening the door of a burning oven.
Well, at least I am aware that I need to be more consistent in my prayer life, or reading and meditating God's Word. Next year, I will serve and participate more at church. I promise I will be more hospitable or more patient after my pregnancy, or when the kids are older. I will reach out to that person at church when I finish this project. I will be more faithful in my church attendance after this season exams or (activity of your choice). I will put an end to this fling after graduation, it's not like I am going to marry him. I promise I will stop wasting time. This is the last (fill in the blank) I will ever watch. I need more time to think about getting baptized. This is a big decision! This is so hard! I am sure God understands.
Promising to obey is not obeying. Thinking about obeying is not righteousness. If I am not obeying right now, I am not obeying. Like Jonah, my prayers can be so full of conceit and deceit when the only prayer acceptable to God is the prayer of repentance.

I know I am asking my children to do a hard thing. An impossible thing, in fact. Immediate obedience requires death. To deny our own understanding, intuition, curiosity, and desires, and simply trust in the wisdom of our Father.

Thanks be to God that Christ has first demonstrated his obedience to the Father on the cross. The great shepherd laid down his life for his sheep. I can stand before the throne of grace only because I am covered in his blood, clothed in his obedience.






Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hananese

Hanan, who has been fairly quiet in the past two years, suddenly decides it is time to start talking. He has been telling us about the little person he is becoming, and we've been enjoying getting to know him.

At 26-months, Emeth was obsessed with wildlife, stories about trains, and the characters in those stories. Little brother also loves trains, but for entirely different reasons. These two boys are growing within the same walls, yet they are worlds apart.

Hanan is more of an abstract thinker. He is obsessed with numbers and colors and shapes. He takes things apart (sometimes permanently) and analyzes how they work. Turning wheels, pushing buttons, making music, and eating are among his favorite things. He adores his big brother, and says "hi ge ge!" and "thank you ge ge!" about hundred times a day.

Distracted. Always.
What I do when mommy says, "smile!"

In celebration of his aunties week-long visitation tomorrow, here is a glossary of some of my favorite words by the little bear.

waji - H2O

meee!!! meeeee!!! - MORE!!!!!!

eye or winkle winkle winkle - star.

pah-mei - please

te-te - a shape with three sides

ku-air - a shape with four sides

gle -  a shape with four sides, two sides are longer than the other two.

pen-gon - a shape with five sides.

ok-gon -  a shape with eight sides.

hoyee hoyee hoyee - my favorite song.

hoyee God in love be cake - (emphasis on cake) my other favorite song. (I have a lot of favorite songs)

buchen - mommy's heart when I disobey. This also happens to most things I take apart.

thona - the very useful engine. What I sleep with.

wowo - canine creatures. The other thing I sleep with.

mana - long yellow fruit, my new love.

turtle - not what you think. What mommy uses to wrap burritos.

crapper - crunchy cheesy things (crackers).

pah-per - what mommy changes when I go to the bathroom.

sillay, farnay - what I say when people are trying to make me laugh.

enenen - the number after ten, rhymes with seven.

ka-ga-mee - what I say when I need reassurance that I am not alone ("cover me")

haa-jee-ga - what I say when I need a hug

ge-ge pee ge - what I say when I want something from big brother

ding! - you and me, we are the same! (when he has a similar cup, cap, etc. with another person)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Take me with you

When I was in second grade, my parents sent me to live with my uncle's family in the city for a few months. My parents were ministering to the churches in the rural parts of Malaysia, but they wanted their daughter to receive a good education. This was the best temporary arrangement at the time. I suppose it was a bit like boarding school.

I am sure that they tried to explain their good intentions to me. But I was seven. The purposes of their ways were beyond my comprehension. The nights were particularly frightening and lonely. How I grieved that I had to pray by myself. I am sure it did not help that I peeked at the video my older cousins were watching during the day -- Michael Jackson's Thriller.

zombies + seven-year-old alone in a dark room = a bad idea

My parents visited as often as they could, driving through those mountainous roads. I know now how difficult it must have been for them. My mom was pregnant with my youngest sister at the time. I remember holding her and hanging onto her green maternity dress. Take me with you. Please bring me home. Let me stay with you.

Tonight marks the last night of our homeless, drifting living. I am done and undone.

We are filled to the brim with the kindness and generosity of our friends and family who took us into their lives. They swallowed us whole, loved us, and made us their own. Though I can see dimly how I have been changed, the purposes of my Father's ways are beyond my comprehension.


Pilgrim through this barren land,
I am weak but thou art mighty,
hold me with thy powerful hand. 
Take me with you.
Please bring me home.
Let me stay with you.

And tomorrow, we shall.
We shall be home.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Things that will be funny, someday

But you don't see me laughing, yet.

1. I crave strawberries, with balsamic vinegar, salt, and sugar.

2. I would put chilli in the mix, but I don't want Hans to judge me. Not that he would.

3. And while I am eating, I daydream that I am really eating cringe-worthy, sour, crispy mangoes. *drool*

Tangent, when my mom was pregnant with me, she had my dad knock on their neighbor's door begging for young mangoes from the neighbor's tree. I blame my cravings on her.

4. It took me three months to write a 24-page paper for my class on the book of Job. Three months.

5. One morning, I woke up and found out it was my professor's birthday (thanks, Facebook!). I decided that this paper must be turned in (two-months overdue, at that point). My children celebrated his birthday by watching nine episodes of Baby Einstein, and they had bread and jam for dinner. Like I said, this will be funny someday, but not yet.

6. Confession, I have never purchased a single bag of chicken nuggets in my life, and I have never fed my children chicken nuggets. Until now. I purchased three bags of chicken nuggets at Target the other day. I justified my irrational behavior to Hans by claiming that it was on sale -- buy two get one free!

7. I happily ate them with my concoction of ketchup and chilli sauce (the Vietnamese brand with a rooster and green lid).

8. I had a great disdain for fried chicken. Those greasy things! Out of the blue, it was all I wanted for dinner. Hans graciously indulged me, and drove his embarrassed wife to Popeyes. I feel a little nauseous just thinking about them.

9. I don't like chicken anymore. And I can't stand pork either. I am not a rational being.

10. I heart cheetos.

11. For two out of three meals last Thursday, I had toasted bagels, polish sausages, and jalapenos. The meat made me a little sick, but at least it was really salty. For two out of three meals on another day, I had toasted bagel with mashed avocado and salt. I do not crave bagel, but I do crave crispy things.

Speaking of crispy things, please excuse me while I go grab some multigrain chips, to be eaten with lots of salsa, and jalapenos.

12. When we were at Portillo's, Chicago's famous hotdog joint, I had no shame asking for lemons. Five times. They really should have given me a plate full. (Emeth devoured them with me! I wasn't the only one eating them!) I heart lemon with salt.

Did you know that farmers put blocks of salt out for pregnant cows to lick? It has something to do with the drastic increase of their blood volume. Makes sense to me. I feel like a cow nowadays.

13. I am as clumsy as a duck (I just spilled salsa on my mom-in-law's carpet), and my memory is as bad as a squirrel's. And I am (even more) hopeless now when it comes to numbers.

14. If I had the option, I can eat porridge with century eggs for every meal. But I don't know how to get my porridge to be sticky and gooey the way they serve it in Chinese restaurants.

15. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I am pregnant.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Breathing, bleeding stones

I woke up on Saturday morning to Hans' voice humming Moon River to me. It was the perfect song to begin our day together, the day we would be homeless -- together. With the help of dear friends, we packed up our earthly belongings, and drove away just as the sun was setting.



This was not part of the plan. How I fought and resisted the thought just a few weeks ago. But it was most difficult to remain sullen when we were drowning in love and kindness.

A small army invaded our home. They scrubbed beside me (sometimes instead of me), braved through the boys' toys and my kitchen things, and loaded up the trucks in the scorching sun. They filled the last few hours of our apartment of six years with roars of laughter, and their fine friendships.

So, until further notice, we do not have an address. We are drifters drifting. This world is indeed not our home. No, our home is not made of sticks and bricks, but living, breathing, bleeding stones.
Moon river wider than a mile
I'm crossing you in style someday
You dream maker, you heartbreaker
Wherever you're going I'm going your way

Two drifters off to see the world
There's such a lot of world to see
We're after the same rainbow's end
Waiting 'round the bend
My huckleberry friend, moon river and me

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Harlotry was in my blood

{A review of Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, sort of}

When we were house-hunting, we came across a house that was described in the listings as having "good bones." Seeing that it was within our price-range, we went and had a look.

As we walked through the door, stench of urine hit us without warning. Strong and concentrated. The carpet was blackened with grease and mud. I could see where the couch had been. There was a time when the carpet was not black. I heard water dripping somewhere behind the walls of the moldy bathtub, covered in thick black slime. But I can't be too sure because none of the lights were working.

Then, my heart sank. Along the walls, I saw the familiar scribbles of crayon and markers. Children lived here. Babies crawled on this carpet. Good bones or not, my children will not step foot in this place. It's not worth it. Forget this.

But I couldn't.

Weeks later, the scribbles along the walls and the crawling darkness stayed with me. My mind was staring the chaos of my heart when the Lord found me, devastated and lost. That godless place I thought I had forgotten, or try to not remember. There was nothing desirable or beautiful there. Certainly nothing that was worth his death on the cross, the atonement of his blood.


There was a time when I loved historical fictions. I probably still do, but reading fiction is a luxury I cannot afford with two little boys running around. Years ago, when I was in my teens, I read a retelling of the story of Hosea, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. A few of girls at church read it recently and asked for my thoughts. I am revisiting it for their sake. Because it is my (delightful) duty to teach them the Bible, I am primarily going to comment on whether this book is drawing us nearer or further away from the original story.

As I scrolled through the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, I was most concerned to find that so many (women) identify themselves with Gomer and see God as the husband who continues to love and pursue them. Though there are some things to say about the depiction of Hosea, for the sake of your time, we are just going to focus on Gomer for now.

In Rivers' retelling of the story, Gomer is depicted as an exclusive, upscale prostitute. In fact, she is the most desired prostitute among lustful men. A victim of a horrifying childhood, she is raised by a pedophile, and knows nothing else except bad, bad men who take advantage of her. The rest of the story is about how she fears happiness and distrusts his husband's love, runs away from him again and again, and how her husband continues to pursue her.

Unlike Redeeming Love, the book of Hosea does not tell us very much about Gomer's background except that she was the daughter of Diblaim. But one thing is certain: Gomer is not a victim. Gomer loves being a prostitute. She adorns herself and pursues after her lovers. It concerns me whenever we give excuses for our sins and put the blame on our lot in life. I would know, I am the queen of excuses. Just ask Hans. Or, maybe not.

True, we are all victims of deceits in one way or another, but we are also fully culpable. We want to believe in these lies. We love our idols more than we love God. It's not that we are incapable of being happy, it's that we seek after happiness in things other than God. And other things can never fulfill.

Secondly, the book of Hosea does not say much about Gomer's looks. The Bible is not incapable describing fine-looking women (think Genesis). However, it is silent in this story precisely because it doesn't matter. In Redeeming Love, however, Gomer's beauty is emphasized again and again. She is described as the desire of every man, the most beautiful woman, a frozen heart behind a "flawless veil." Men are enthralled, they get lost looking into her eyes, etc. Though it may not be historically inaccurate, emphasizing her beauty changes the story.

Imagining Gomer as a beautiful victimized woman changes the story. Women lust after the desire of men. We want to be desired and rescued. This is what women daydream about. The story sells. But in the original story, Gomer is despicable in her unfaithfulness. She pursues and loves other men. We should be disgusted with Gomer. We should not desire to be like Gomer in any way.

When Nathan tells King David the story of the rich man who killed the poor man's beloved sheep, King David is disgusted with the rich man. He does not identify with rich man, or try to see things from his perspective. No, David finds the rich man to be revolting. In fact, it is his abhorrence toward the rich man that propels him to see his own sin, and repent.

To emphasize a fictional detail that Gomer is beautiful is like saying, the house that we saw had some good features, but it had a pungent odor. That's not the same story! The house now sounds as though it has desirable quality that is worth saving. In such imaginings, we de-emphasize God's grace, his mercy, his compassion, his steadfast love -- which is the essence of the story of Hosea.

God loved Israel. He chose Israel not because she was better than the other nations. In fact, Israel was powerless and her people were slaves. She was rebellious and ungrateful, unworthy in every way. She continued in her unfaithful ways and pursued other gods. There was nothing desirable or beautiful there. Certainly nothing that was worth his death on the cross, the atonement of his blood.

I find John Piper's narrative poem on Hosea to be a more faithful rendition of the original story. In it, the old woman Gomer tells her husband at the end of their years together,
Your love for me
Was like a mountain waterfall,
And I the jagged stone. Of all
The knives and hammers once applied
None made me smooth or clean. They tried,
But harlotry was in my blood,
Until your love became a flood
Cascading over my crude life
And kept me as your only wife.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Now, I must fight



I love my mom.

While I was growing up, one thing I loved about her was that I could tell her anything -- infatuations, bad decisions... well, almost anything. Now that I am a mom, I cannot imagine how much self-control it took for her to not completely flip out and smack me around. Probably because she was wise enough to know that it would not work.

When I fell apart, (oh, how I fell apart) she knelt with me, and searched for all the broken pieces. She never said "I told you so." Instead, she took up the sword and fought with me through the brambles of my foolishness and pain (oh, the pain). She was awesome.

I love my mom. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

The year I turned fifteen, I remember telling her about one particular infatuation, a bad one (I had a lot of bad ones). I told her I had it under control. And that I wasn't going to do anything stupid (riiight). To this day, I remember her words so clearly.

Ling, pride comes before a fall,
ni dong bu dong? (do you understand?)
Pride comes before a fall.


During these recent months, I long for her counsel and her sword, fighting beside me, fighting for me. I want to be a child again and curl up next to her, in the dark.

Crushes are no longer what they used to be, but they are as foolish as ever. Teenage boys no longer  appeal to me (thankfully). But once in a while, I find myself ambushed by new infatuations with the world. With things that I used to turn my nose up at. With things that I thought could never-ever-in-a-million-years tempt me. I have it under control. I would never do, or want, or think anything that stupid.

But again, I was wrong.

Instead of fleeing, I dance on the edge like a two-year-old (or a fifteen-year-old). I take a stroll under the forbidden tree. I gaze at the forbidden fruit. I have a little chat with the serpent. What's the harm in a little...education? Instead of crushing the daydreams in my mind, I treat the monster like a pet. He is so cute, so interesting. So I put him in my pocket. I take him out and admire him once in a while. Thinking, no body would know, he is my little secret.

All the while, the idolatry grows. Its foul smell eats me up inside. The monster peers its ugly head, ready to kill and devour.

Ma, you have given me the sword.
Thank you for preparing me.
Now, I must fight.

________________________________


Here are six ways that pride often manifest itself. I found them to be quite instructive. I am learning to be self-aware. I must say, though, having Hans around is great because he catches me before (and after) I fall.

This excerpt is taken from The Gospel-Centered Life,
Six Ways of Minimizing Sin.

Defending
I find it difficult to receive feedback about weaknesses or sin. When confronted, my tendency is to explain things away, talk about my successes, or to justify my decisions. As a result, I rarely have conversations about difficult things in my life.

Pretending
I strive to keep up appearances, maintain a respectable image. My behavior, to some degree, is driven by what I think others think of me. I also do not like to think reflectively about my life. As a result, not very many people know the real me (I may not even know the real me).

Hiding
I tend to conceal as much as I can about my life, especially the “bad stuff”. This is different than pretending in that pretending is about impressing. Hiding is more about shame. I don’t think people will accept the real me.

Blaming
I am quick to blame others for sin or circumstances. I have a difficult time “owning” my contributions to sin or conflict. There is an element of pride that assumes it’s not my fault AND/OR an element of fear of rejection if it is my fault.

Minimizing
I tend to downplay sin or circumstances in my life, as if they are “normal” or “not that bad." As a result, things often don’t get the attention they deserve, and have a way of mounting up to the point of being overwhelming.

Exaggerating
I tend to think (and talk) more highly of myself than I ought to. I make things (good and bad) out to be much bigger than they are (usually to get attention). As a result, things often get more attention than they deserve, and have a way of making me stressed or anxious.



Monday, June 11, 2012

Seven habits of miserable people




1. Count your troubles, name them one by one. Begin at the breakfast table, to anyone who would listen, and as soon as possible thereafter.

2. Worry about something everyday. Do not let yourself get out of practice!

3. Pity yourself. You are not a bad person, but why do bad things always happen to you? If you pity yourself enough, nobody else will have to do it for you.

4. Devise clever and subtle ways to serve God and money, think of ways to gain the approval of God and the world. Why not have both?

5. Always covet. Always desire what is not yours, yet. Always compare yourself to others and want what you don't have, and show off what you do have.

6. Think of yourself first. Put your needs and troubles before thinking of others. Make sure you get your rights. Your deserve the best, and other people can just... well, you don't need to think about other people.

7. Do NOT let eternal things get in the way of what matters now. Make sure you check your email and Facebook now. Make sure you watch that movie, and finish that drama series today. Bible reading and prayer get you nothing in this world. So, stick to the things you can see, that's where it's at.


Adapted from Elisabeth Elliot's "Several Ways to Make Yourself Miserable" in Keep a Quiet Heart, page 93. I pretty much just described myself.




Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Singing in the dark

My children cry, a lot. We tell them to stop. Big boys don't cry. But --

Jesus cried. The manliest man wept. The king of glory groaned over his lost sheep. The divine warrior mourned in the garden.

So what are we to teach the boys?

On Sundays, we sing praises to God in the congregation. We sing about his greatness, what he has done, what he will do, and we make petitions for grace. We sing songs that lift our souls out of the miry bogs of the week.

Nothing wrong with singing happy songs. Sundays are happy days. But praises are not enough. They cover only part of the Psalms. Remember the laments, chaos, disorientation, hopelessness, meaninglessness. They, too, are part of God's Word. This is the story of God's people, from the beginning. This is the story of the Psalms. This is our story. We move from lament to praise, chaos to order, again and again and again.

So, cry, weep, groan.

The shepherd is listening, and he suffered. He cried, and he died for his lost sheep, for you.

So, in time, we will teach our boys to weep, for the right reasons, in the right way -- to God. For this, too, is worship. Let the tears fall, little ones. And remember his tears thick like blood that washed away our sins.

Let God's people mourn. Let us weep together, and weep over sins and meaningless suffering. Give us songs to sing in the dark.



A reflection on Psalm 42
I have lost my appetite
And a flood is welling up behind my eyes
So I eat the tears I cry
And if that were not enough
They know just the words to cut and tear and prod
When they ask me “Where's your God?”

Why are you downcast, oh my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
I can remember when you showed your face to me


As a deer pants for water, so my soul thirsts for you
And when I behold Your glory, You so faithfully renew
Like a bed of rest for my fainting flesh

I am satisfied in You.

When I'm staring at the ground
It's an inbred feedback loop that brings me down
So it's time to lift my brow
And remember better days
When I loved to worship you in all your ways
with the sweetest songs of praise

Why are you downcast, oh my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
I can remember when you showed your grace to me


As a deer pants for water, so my soul thirsts for you
And when I survey Your splendor, You so faithfully renew
Like a bed of rest for my fainting flesh

I am satisfied in You.

Let my sighs give way to songs that sing about your faithfulness
Let my pain reveal your glory as my only real rest
Let my losses show me all I truly have is you

So when I'm drowning out at sea
And your breakers and your waves crash down on me
I'll recall your safety scheme
You're the one who made the waves
And your Son went out to suffer in my place
And to tell me that I'm safe

Why am I down?
Why so disturbed?
I am satisfied in you