Friday, December 20, 2013

Be careful little eyes what you see

While I was spewing instructions to the boys today, I heard myself say, "I don't care about how many toys are on the floor, I care about your attitude and whether you are working with cheerful hearts." My own words hit me like a fat piece of humble pie, right on the face. "I am not looking at the toys on the floor, darling, I am looking at you."

The boys were discouraged that despite their effort, toys and messes kept appearing on the floor (how this happens we will never know). I knew how they felt. I was discouraged about the six loads of laundry that have yet to be folded, my preparation for the upcoming conference continued to be delayed, the schedule was not kept, baths were not given, diapers were not changed, the car needed to be fixed, dinner still needed to be made.

But the Lord was not looking at the mess, he was looking at me.

There is sometimes a great temptation to make our prayer and worship to be about us.

Lord, look at all that I am doing for you! Look at all that I am sacrificing! Wasn't that a good prayer? Look at all the good things I am offering!

But the Lord is not looking at my sacrifices, he is looking at me.

Obedience is better than sacrifice. Obedience requires faith. Faith that seeks understanding, faith that may not yet fully understand.

Hans and I hardly got a wink of sleep last night. The boys took turns crying throughout the night for different reasons, and before I knew it, the sun was up. At breakfast, I was ready to give up. I felt perfectly justified to be perfectly unpleasant and unkind. My less favorable option was that I could carry on and fulfill my duties—cheerfully. But I didn't want to be cheerful. From where I stood, I couldn't see where joy and energy and motivation would come from.

The Lord wanted me to trust him, not because I know how everything would turn out, but because he is faithful and he is mighty—to work in my heart, to work in the children's hearts, to work in and through the circumstances of our lives for his glory.

The Lord is not looking at the mess, he is looking at me.

Is my heart seeking after him and his purposes? Am I carrying out my tasks with a cheerful, non-freaking-out attitude? Am I working for his glory, or for my own glory? Am I working to serve others or to serve myself?

Instead of looking at the mess, I need to look to the Lord.
I need to look to the Lord, because they are watching me.
I need to look to the Lord, so they would look to him with me.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The most joyful of all pains

Some of the most spectacular things in life are also some of the least expected.

Like a mother's pleasure in her children.

The first step taken, the first word spoken, first book read from cover to cover. And perhaps (I can only imagine), graduation, marriage, and the likes. But these things are nothing in comparison to the surge of pride and pleasure I feel when I see my child struggling to overcome his fears, when I see him sacrificing on behalf of others.

There is nothing like it.

It makes me laugh and weep and pray and praise all at once. This joyful pain is a strange thing, unlike anything I've ever felt.

3 Queens from Matt Bieler on Vimeo.

I watched this video today. I loved the intimate glimpses of these mothers in their natural habitat. It made me wonder how my boys see me. How will they remember their childhood, how will they remember my voice.

It made me wonder how the Father sees me, from above. This was when I got all hot and cold. I know I have not pleased him with the words I spoke, the tone I used, the thoughts I thought. I am often selfish, often annoyed, often impatient and unkind. I am often controlled by my fears, and I often refuse to sacrifice for others. In short, I would not want my children to be running around with three video cameras.

Before I had too long to feel too horrible about my failures — grace hit me.

When the Father looks at me, he sees Jesus. I mean, that's crazy talk. Not only did he give his Son to die in my place, took the punishment of my sin, he even made me his. I am hidden in Christ. I am no longer exposed and naked and alone. Christ's righteousness covers me. His mercy covers my weaknesses, my flaws. Not only did he cancel my debt, God made me his daughter. The Father sees the Son when he looks at me.

His love frees me to overcome my fears.
His love frees me to sacrifice for others. 

So, my dear friend, wherever you are today, whether you are happy or sad or tired. Know this: When you put your faith in Christ, God is pleased with you. Not because of anything you have done, but because of everything Christ has done. I pray that you would know his pleasure and know his love for you, because this love — it's pretty spectacular. You are forever his.

Christ crucified.

The Gospel makes me laugh and weep and pray and praise all at once.
The crucifixion is the most joyful of all pains.
There is no one like him.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wild chases

I turned 32 about a month ago. I am now Jesus' age when he was walking around, healing the sick, changing the story of the world. I still can't decide how I feel about being 32 (not that I can change my age). I'm still breaking it in, so to speak, like a new pair of shoes.

Some days, I miss my 20s. Ah, the possibilities! The dreams! The thrilling chases! New jobs, new opportunities, new cities.

I miss my 20s, that is, until I remember the hungry days as a grad student juggling a few jobs. All I was chasing then was a warm and quiet place to study. It was so cold in my apartment that I could actually see my breath. And the apartment was mold-infested. And sewage flowed into my bathtub.

Yeah. That would cure anyone of any romantic delusions of my 20s.

These days, I am mostly chasing souls, boy-shaped souls that are running (and crawling) around on fast little feet. It's a very different kind of chase. For one, the stakes are much higher. As opposed to my previous dreams (that are now obsolete), these boys are eternal. They will live on forever. At the beginning of every morning and the end of every night, the question that I am to answer is this: What am I teaching my children to love?

Many ask us why we choose to homeschool our children. There are many different ways we would approach this question, but this sums it up nicely: Homeschooling is the method Hans and I have chosen to pursue our children, to win their hearts to love the right things. Like all methods, we want to hold this one loosely. We know that ultimately, we cannot move their hearts — only the Spirit can. Our job is to faithfully sing the tune, in hopes that the boys would sing along.

(In case you want to know how it is going, I am huffing and puffing from the steep climb up the learning curve. Thankfully, the boys are kind to forgive their mommy every time she apologizes for her unruly behavior.)

The boys and I are memorizing first Corinthians 13 this week.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind.
These are good words to cling to as I break into 32. A familiar passage, but this week I read the apostle's words with an ache, a longing to understand, to be. It was then I realized that I, too, am being pursued. My Father chases me still.

I write this with thoughts and prayers for those of you who are in your teens and twenties, in hot pursuit of your dream school, dream career, or perhaps you are, like I was, just planning to survive the exams and stay warm this winter. The thing is, I didn't have to wait until I am married and birthing kids to be chasing souls. Love should be our pursuit no matter how old we are.

Do not be deceived as I was and make your life about "finding yourself" and "finding your voice." Lies. You will find your life's purpose by giving yourself to others. Jesus said, "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever who loses his life for my sake will find it." Finders losers; losers keepers.

So, pour yourselves out as an offering to the Lord, into vessels that lasts forever — people, people, people.

We are teaching Emeth to pursue love. We are teaching Hanan to pursue love. And Khesed, well, he is still a baby, but his name means love. Speaking of love and wild chases, Emeth was fetching all sorts of things the baby was throwing from the high chair at dinner today. The big brother then explained to me: "We are playing Khesed's favorite game. He is human and I am his dog."

Their love for one another is God's kind mercy to me. Like a warm cup to cold hands. Like water to thirst. Their love for one another is the stuff my dreams are made of.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Take me instead

We know that God forgives sin. We talk about it often enough, how God is faithful to forgive us — all we have to do is ask.

We like to bring up David a lot, the poster child for forgiven sinners. David wanted something that did not belong to him. So, he took, he grabbed, he stole. David took Uriah's wife. He took Uriah's life. He took the lives of the men who were with Uriah to cover his own tracks. If God forgave David for murders and adultery, surely God can forgive me. We think we understand God's compassion and mercy. But do we really?

How exactly did God respond to David's rebellion?

When the prophet Nathan confronted him of his sin, Yahweh said to David: Remember all that I have given you. I gave you beyond what you could ever asked for or even begin to imagine. If this was too little for you, I would have given you much more. All David had to do was ask.

Yahweh could have said: David, why can't you be content with all the wives you already have? But he didn't. Instead, God reminded David of the One from whom all blessings flowed.

Just when we think we know where the story is going, the Lord blows us away. The Great River of God's compassion and mercy does not run straight. Its current twists and turns. Sometimes, the water breaks into a cascade, crashing onto jagged rocks.

Eve wanted something that did not belong to her. God gave her Eden. He gave her life. But this wasn't enough. She wanted more. So, she took the fruit, and she ate it. She then gave it to Adam. He took it, and he ate it.

How did God respond to their rebellion?

How does God respond to my rebellion?

Just when we think we know where the story is going, the Lord blows us away. He sends his Son, Yeshua, who took the penalty of our sin. He died in our place. With his nail-pierced hands and outstretched arms, his voice calls out to hungry souls:

Take me instead. 
Ask me.
Seek me. 
And I will be found by you. 

Daughters of the King: GRACE 2013

Hans and I are thrilled to be attending Grace Conference again this year. Hans will be teaching a series on worship, and I a series on womanhood (not during the same time-slot). I thought I would give you a summary here, in case this helps you decide which workshop to attend (as there are a few to choose from).

We will be searching through the Scripture, dwelling in a few stories together to understand womanhood, as God intended in the beginning. As for the gentlemen, you are most welcome to attend. Though this series may not apply to you directly, I hope that it may perhaps help you better serve and pray for the ladies in your lives.

I. Of Lady Eve
Eve had forgotten who she was. If she had asked God, "Lord, I desire beauty and wisdom. Please make me be like you." God would have reminded her, "You are like me; you were created in my image."

In the first workshop, we will examine what it means that Eve was created in the image of God and that she was created to be Adam's helper (Genesis 1-2). What are the implications of these truths for women today?

II. Of Lady Wisdom
I recognize Eve's hunger for beauty, knowledge, and independence all too well in my own soul. Instead of turning to my Father, who created me and gave me these desires, I gorge myself with deadly things.

In the second workshop, we will turn to the Lady who embodies Beauty and Wisdom, the first daughter of Yahweh (Proverbs 8:22-36). In following her instructions, she can help us transform into the women (and men) God has created us to be.

III. Of the King's daughters
What is your greatest, most dreadful fear? This is not a hypothetical question about bees or height. I am asking you about your day to day living. What are the fears that drive the story of your lives, the decisions that you make? Our greatest fears often correspond to our greatest desires.

In our third workshop, we will learn what it means to fear the Lord. This is the beginning of wisdom, and the mark of the King's daughters.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Notes from the inside of a rainbow

While I was driving the other day, Emeth chirped in the backseat about how the leaves of autumn made him feel like we were "living inside a rainbow." At the stop-light, I quickly scribbled these words on the back of my hand. How apt they were in describing our lives at the moment.

If you want to get me ranting for a while, try saying something like "this is not a black and white issue, there is a gray area." I would rebel against the rigidity of these options and talk your ears off about how God did not create the world in black and white or shades of gray. He splashed onto the mountains and threw into the oceans a spectrum of colors, billions of shades, patterns, textures, nuances, and contrasts. Not merely black and white or gray. Just because we can't see them or understand them does not make them "gray area."

Yes, indeed. That would get me ranting for a while.

Khesed now lays asleep across my lap. His slightly parted lips, each strand of his eyelashes, and his warm, soft breaths fill me with wonder. The house is quiet while they are asleep, and I can blessedly hear my own thoughts. These moments melt away like chocolate ice cream, dark and bitter. I savor each spoonful knowing the hustle and bustle of dinner time will soon descend upon us like tart lemon sherbet. And when I am rocking a crying baby in the twilight, I know that the sun will come, and there shall be coffee. My days are like a high towers of ice cream. I prefer some layers more that others.

Emeth's fish died. It is hard to believe Emeth named him Jolay Dalay two years ago. Early last week, he hid under a rock and went to sleep forever. The day he died, Emeth refused to run. Instead, he sat under the trees and thought about his fish. He drew a portrait to say goodbye and went to bed that night with a lump in his throat.

We had a funeral the next day. We placed Jolay Dalay in a tiny red coffin. Before we covered him with dirt, Emeth read the story of creation and we gave thanks for the gift of life. The stuff animals gave their condolences, along with a smiley baby. It was a glorious service, blessedly short because of the cold, and everyone cheered up and cuddled afterwards.

Life has been quite intense. It is never just one thing or one person at a time, but it is everything and everybody all at once. Nevermore alone, nevermore apart. Here, in the quiet stillness, I want to record a snapshot of this craziness, these layers of swirling colors, these autumn days, tart and bitter and sweet.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Brother ass

The sight of the loaded dishwasher has never been so pleasant.

I've been down with mastitis these past two days. I was really, really sick. Two things that I accomplished yesterday: nursed Khesed, laid across the living room floor. My head throbbed. My body shivered. I mumbled short instructions to the boys. They lent me their blankets and pillows, and covered me over and over again, which was really sweet. They had pasta, cereal, and bread -- for two days straight. They were quite happy.

When I was laying there, delirious, I thought of women in famine, women in refugee camps. What do they feed their children when they are down with mastitis and their pantry is not stocked up with ready-to-eat dried goods? I kept thinking of my mother, coming into the room and asking me to eat some porridge. I remember that though I did not have an appetite, sticky rice and soy sauce was comforting. I miss my mom. I wonder whether the boys will think of me when they are all grown up, and sick. (There I go again, being all morbid.)

I turned the corner this evening, elated when I was able to stand for more than a minute or two. Praise be to God. Tonight, I am a free woman.

In some of his correspondences, C.S. Lewis signed off as "Brother Ass." This was what he called his body.
Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body.
I often take my Brother Ass for granted. Pain reminds me that it is there, and how I am to be grateful for it. My body is a working donkey. I'd like to imagine it is happiest when I use it for the sake of others. My body is a tool, not some art display in a museum. So, by the time I die, if this body is a little dinged and dented, I will consider them my marks of honor.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bleeding faces {guest post by my sister Jean}

I'm so proud and so happy to introduce my sister Jean to you today. One of the dearest people in my life, she is currently studying Biblical Counseling in Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN. This following piece is her reflection on her acne. Her struggle with her extremely sensitive skin has been fierce and painful for well over a decade. Because of the way Jean pursues life, she is relentlessly theological, even in the way she observes her pimples. She is a woman of great courage.

This picture was taken right before my most recent breakout.

A few days ago, I saw some devastating pictures of Pakistani Christians suffering from a suicide bomb attack (some images are gruesome, here is the link if you want to see them). Hospital beds were crowded with injured patients waiting to be treated. The cement floor was dirty and the walls were covered with black stains. In another picture, there was a man whose shirt was soaked in blood, a little girl in a blood-stained dress, and a woman with a bleeding face.

Suddenly, the one valuable thing I had at that moment was something that had weighed me down recently: my acne-ridden face.

I have a carpeted apartment, a nice bed all to myself, mold-free walls, a stocked up kitchen, no missing limbs, but as to a bleeding face…I do have that. I don’t have one that’s bruised and injured but my skin throbs and bleeds more frequently as of late. My aching face was the one thing I could hold onto to enter into their pain, even if to a much smaller degree. I am suddenly grateful for what I had been despising.

It makes me think about suffering in a new light, another redemptive value about suffering I had never thought of. Perhaps another reason God has for allowing Christians in comfortable nations to suffer—due to the fallenness of this world—is to remind us of our brothers and sisters in other nations who are suffering death and persecution for their faith, not to mention poverty and much harsher living conditions. In other words, God knew I needed His help to consider the pain and suffering of others and that is one reason why he has allowed me to have this very, very light affliction — my acne-prone genes. He knew I would be a much different person, for the worse, without it.

Suffering of any kind also reminds us of yet another bleeding face, that of the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” who had “no form or majesty...and no beauty that we should desire him,” and who “was one from whom men hide their faces” (Isa. 53). If God did not spare his own Son of suffering, and this for our behalf, then we must not believe the lie that our suffering means God does not love us. As Robertson McQuilkin beautifully pondered, "...what always caught and held me was the vision of God's best loved, pinioned in criminal execution in my place. How could someone who loved me that much let anything hurt me without cause?...[T]he heavy heart lifts on the wings of praise."

So, bad acne as cure for the soul? Who would’ve thought? God would, and of course he would, because he is a God who redeems and refuses to waste anything.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison...”  -2 Cor. 4:16-17

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Under the open sky

On my eighteenth birthday

I love adventures.

When I was eighteen, I went on a medical service trip in the jungles of Borneo. My dad came home one evening and informed me that some of his acquaintances, a group of doctors and nurses, had just arrived from Singapore. They were scheduled to leave for the rainforests the next morning. And he asked me whether I wanted to go. (I know, I have the coolest dad ever.)

I said yes. A thousand times yes.

I left the next day, with a bag pack across my shoulder, and a heart so full I thought it would burst.

I drank it all in. I, the city girl, sat in the back of a pick-up truck, with no hood, the wind in my hair and sun on my face. We traveled on twisty, gravel roads the first day, and on narrow boats in a rushing, yellow river the second day. It was legitimately dangerous.

There was no electricity and no running water. The nights were dark. The sky was navy blue, dotted with a billion stars. While the others slept, I watched the fireflies and the shadow of a pig roaming for food. We slept on the ground. I washed myself under the open sky (with clothes on).

The entire village was a long, long house divided into about 40 narrow sections. Each family lived in one section. The villagers were poor, but generous. They fed us well, with tapioca starch from the trees. It tasted like glue, with sides of meat and vegetables. We were all very hungry. We drank coconut water straight from the trees.

The doctors examined and treated people all day. They assigned me to dispense the medications because I spoke Malay. Most people's teeth had rotted to the roots. The dentist who came with us plucked hundreds of teeth per day while we were there. We gave away toothbrushes and sang with the children.

I was enthralled. The week was magical. I was eighteen and life was just beginning. I wanted that week to last for a long, long time.

I fell asleep last night remembering that girl. It all seemed so far away. "Adventurous" would be one of the last adjectives I would use to describe the life of a stay-at-home mom. "Dangerous" would not be a good word either. In fact, I spend most of the day keeping the three boys away from danger.

But last night, I sat with the eighteen-year-old me. We chatted under the open sky, dotted with a billion stars. I showed her what her life would look like in thirteen years. I introduced her to her three boys, and to Hans, who would be the love of her life.

She cried. She didn't flinch at the thought of being a boy mom, or at the knowledge of her unsuccessful potty-training, or being a novice at homeschooling (probably because she was completely clueless). She was braver than me, to be sure, and so happy to be alive. She thought my life as a mom was pretty adventurous, and legitimately dangerous.

And so it is.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing

My dear friend Esther left this comment in my previous post on joy. She gave me permission to answer her here.
Irene, does your hair have highlights in it?
What about the mourners, who weep, but not without hope, as they know that a day of peace is coming? Is there not something to be said for comfort and stillness, that comes from hope in truth, even when the exterior circumstances remain in shambles?

I do find the joy/happiness distinction rather unhelpful. because both have to be inworked and outworked, but the joy/grief dichotomy is false... right? I think that's what people who say happiness [not equal] joy are getting at.

Is singing in the dark also joy? I guess I am asking if "waiting for joy" is the same as hope.

Dear Esther,

Your questions keep me awake at night. No wait, that's Khesed's job. I don't know all the answers. But here is a response to your (much appreciated) thoughts.

No, I don't have highlights in my hair. Though that would be so cool.

Honestly, I am not sure why people often make a distinction between happiness and joy. My attempt to understand the two together was mainly prompted by the war in my soul to rejoice.

I am a very emotional person. My facial expressions, the tone of my voice, my attitude are very influenced by my emotions. Because I am not my own, my feelings always affect those around me. Not only do I live before God, but I live before my husband and my children.

Therefore, I must learn to take the reins over my feelings. I want to know how to be emotional well. I want to rejoice well. Lament well. Laugh well. Weep well. Hope well. Fear well. Desire well. Hate well. Be compassionate well. Be zealous well. Be thankful well. Above all, the Lord has commanded us to love well.

Being emotional is not necessarily wrong. Scripture is full of expressions from highly emotional people. I find myself in good company, especially in Old Testament poetry. Jonathan Edwards described a "hard heart" as an "unaffected heart." The opposite of love, he said, is not hate—but indifference. "From love arises hatred of those things which are contrary to what we love." I don't want to have a "hard heart," but my heart needs to be moved by the right things.

Loving well means loving the right object. The phrases "I am happy" or "I am sad" need not imply an object of emotion. But the phrase "I love" raises the question "toward what or whom?" According to Augustine and Edwards, there are only two kinds of love: Love that drives people toward the City of Man and love that propels others to the City of God.

Weeping is not a sin; Jesus wept. Sorrow is not a sin; he is the Man of Sorrows. My sin lies in the reason for my misery, for I am often sad over stupid, worthless, fleeting stuffs. Being "happy" is not necessary shallow or less spiritual than being "joyful" (hence my long rant on how there is no distinction between happiness and joy). The question is upon what or whom do I place my hope for happiness?

So, I would say yes, Esther. Joy vs. grief dichotomy is false. The war within my soul is not between happiness or sorrow. It is a battle between two loves — my love for the world and my Lord's command to love him above all else.

You asked me whether waiting for joy is the same as hope. I would say yes, but—joy is not the object of my hope. I wait upon the Lord, for joy. My hope lies not in how circumstances might get better tomorrow; my hope lies in what the Lord has already fulfilled — on the old rugged cross. Or, to paraphrase another good friend, I can rejoice today not because of the promises this day holds; but because of the promises that day fulfilled.

Grace wins.

Writing this prompted me to think of two of my favorite passages in Scripture, Habakkuk 3 and Psalm 137 (the psalm after which this blog is named). They never fail to give me strength. I read the words of the psalmist during the worst parts of all three labors.

I read them because they are the fighting words of those who were sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. I read them because they are prayers. In the midst of their shambles, they spoke to God; they spoke of God. They prayed to Yahweh — the object of their faith, hope, and love.

These two men in the following videos embody a sorrow that rejoices so well.

I have been greatly helped by Richard Wurmbrand (1909-2001) over the years when I forget to pray for our brothers and sisters imprisoned for Christ. Here, he speaks about how he spent three years in solitary confinement with Christ.

Recently, I learned about John Barros, a man who saved 1,000 babies. With his broken body, he stands for the Gospel nine hours a day, six days a week, for the past three years — in front of an abortion clinic. He is a man who fears no man, and no pregnant woman.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Waiting for joy

Rejoice in the Lord always,
again I will say, rejoice.
These days, I've been learning to pick up my sword (and boy, is it heavy), fighting to rejoice.

People like to make a distinction between happiness and joy. They claim that happiness is all about the exterior, superficial and fleeting, whereas joy comes from deep within, and thus somehow more spiritual, superior, and forever. Or something like that.

I am not convinced.

First, I see no such distinction in the Bible. I see no "inner joy" in Scripture. Joy shouts, and sings, and it's loud. That sounds a lot like happiness to me.

Second, I don't know how joy and happiness would look any different in the eyes of my children. When mommy is happy, she is joyful. When mommy is joyful, she is happy. And when she is not, well, she's not.

I know I am not required  to be (and I don't want to be) a chirpy, upbeat, sugary-sweet-optimist kind of a mother. But I do want to be gentle, cheerful, compassionate, patient, and kind. And it's really hard to be these things when I am not joyful.

So, how am I to rejoice—always, in my soul and with my lips—even when I don't feel like it?

I want to fight, so badly, but I don't know my weapons. Sometimes, I don't even know my enemies. I am desperate to find some answers. So, I've been scouring the Scripture for passages on joy, rejoicing, happiness — what it looks like, when it happens, and particularly, what is the cause of joy.

I still have not figured it out, but here are some thoughts thus far.

1. Happiness flows out of right worship.

The distinction is not so much between the so-called joy and the so-called happiness, but the real difference lies in the object of my worship. Whom am I worshiping?

So often, the source of my joy is also the cause of my fears and worries. What I regard to be the source of joy becomes an idol in my life, whether it is my goals, my space, my schedule, an orderly house, my children's health, their education, their happiness, my family's approval of me, my husband's happiness, his affection — whatever it is. When the pedestals of my idols are threatened, when I feel that I may lose them, fear and anxiety are sure to follow.

So when I am discouraged or fearful or worried, when I have no joy, the thing to do is not to force myself to be happy (it doesn't work! I've tried it). What I need to do is to shift the object of my worship. I need to stop looking to my idols for hope and salvation, and fix my eyes on the cross.

2. Happiness is the response of those who are no longer afraid.
(Psalms 27; 31:7; Isaiah 41:14-16; 42:5-13)

Fear is such an obstacle to joy. When I find myself discouraged or anxious, it is helpful to ask myself what is it that I fear, or why am I afraid? Then, I would ask myself, is my Lord bigger than these fears?

The battle is often not a fight against my circumstances, but it is a fight to see the Lord for who he is. My Lord who calmed the sea and quieted the storm, fed the thousands, healed the sick, raised the dead. My Lord who created everything out of nothing, laid down his life, and reign over death and sin and me with mercy and compassion.

This Lord. Does he know? Can he see? Is he bigger than this fear that grips my soul?

Yes. Praise be to God. He is.

3. Happiness follows repentance.
(Psalm 32-33)

Whether it be with my husband or my children, tremendous relief and gratitude follows when they forgive me for the wrongs I have done. Such liberty is found after being bound up in my own little world of guilt, remorse, and self-justifications. Happiness is when I am able to come up to the surface and breathe again, knowing that they have forgiven me, that they still love me and want me.

This is all the more true with God. He always forgives. He always forgets. And his love is unchanging.

4. Happiness comes to those who dwell in the Word.
(Psalm 1; 119; Joshua 1)

The Father has given us the Word. He has given us instructions on how we may receive grace. If we do not place ourselves in the way of grace, it must be because we don't want grace.

Meditate on the Word day and night. Live there. Let that world become our reality. Let that world define how we perceive this world.
The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit
Autobiography of George Mueller, compiled by Fred Bergen, (London: J. Nisbet Co., 1906), 152-154.

5. Happiness is gift—for which we fight.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. The work is ours—to water, to pull out the weeds, to guard our hearts, but it is the Lord who makes the garden grow. We cannot attain happiness on our own, yet we must strive after it with our entire being.

In order to receive joy, we must keep ourselves in the way of joy. Like many promises in Scripture, we must seek ye first, and it shall be given. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you. Pursue wisdom, for the Lord gives wisdom.

Sometimes, joy comes. Sometimes, it doesn't. So while it is night, we weep, we mourn, we sing in the dark. For the nights, too, come from God.

We sit, and we wait. For joy comes in the morning. We wait in meditation and repentance, with prayer and worship. Thankfully, faithfulness is not measured by fruitfulness.

We remain in the way of joy. So when the Savior passes us by, we would recognize him. We would be ready to receive him.

Here is the link to a follow-up post, Sorrowful, yet Always Rejoicing.

An obligatory picture of my happiest baby. His joy is contagious.

Photo credit: Vivian Wu! Thank you for a happy day in your garden. =)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Meanwhile, I keep dancing

I came across this quote some time ago in a book on writing: "I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing."

Cooking and writing. These are my dance steps.

After I gave birth to Emeth, I did not return to the kitchen for weeks. One evening, I walked into the kitchen and prepared some salmon. At that moment, I started breathing again. A light flickered at the end of the tunnel.

Today is one of those tunnel days.

Now, I can either wallow in my incompetence and insufficiency, or, I can dance.

I choose to dance. And I invite you to dance with me.

I am going to dance about how I read my Bible.

(Was that a yawn?!)

I know, it doesn't sound spectacular, but it is.

For months and months Hans encouraged me write down the things I am learning in my readings. But like always, it takes me awhile to do what he asks of me. My (bad) excuse is that I have so little time. Writing things down would take so much longer. But, I finally decided to give his suggestion a try, and it made all the difference.

All I do is I read the verse, I paraphrase it in my own words, and I write it down.

Some days, I get through ten verses. Other days, I get through one. Not only am I better able to notice the details of the text, but I retain so much more of what I am reading. And as I retain what I am reading, I am better able to meditate on what I learned. And there is a bonus. Because writing is my dancing, I read with so much satisfaction. The Lord scribbles joy on my soul, as I scribble on the pages of my notebook.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had the privilege to speak and listen to Yahweh face to face. They had immediate access to the fullness of his glory. At the Fall, humanity was expelled  from Yahweh's presence. Since then, and until Christ's return, communication and communion with God has not been and will not be the same.

In his mercy, Yahweh gave us his Word. This is how we can be near God: by mediating on his Word.

I walk. I lie down. I rise up. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.

Sometimes, I find him under my chair.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My anti-honeymoon treatise

{For Cat and Gideon on the night before they leave for their honeymoon}

I recently re-read an email I wrote to Hans before our wedding -- my reflection on the concept of "honeymoon." I was hilarious, and not in a good way. I was opinionated and emotional (I still am). To this day, I wonder why he married me.
We should rid ourselves of this ridiculous concept of honeymoon all together!!!  It gives a false notion that the beginning of marriage is the best portion -- what an extremely perverted view of marriage!  The truth is, we, by grace, should strive to resemble Heaven more and more as we progress and grow in our love. Our affection should more and more reflect God's intertrinitarian love.
To call the first portion of marriage our "honeymoon" is unhealthy and misleading. Our true honeymoon, the sweetest days of our lives, should be the last few days of our earthly lives.  I shall look forward to them, and ask God that upon our death bed, we would be the versions of ourselves that most resemble our dear Savior. I hope that at the moment right before we die, our love for one another will most reflect Christ's love for us.
Apparently, I wanted our honeymoon to take place, not right after our wedding, but on our death bed. How morbid!

So, I insisted that we call the trip after our wedding "lobsterstars." Because we ate lobsters by the roadside. We ate with our fingers, with lemon and corn, and had them several nights in a row throughout the trip.

We made memories, our first memories together as husband and wife. We climbed a few hills, got lost in our canoe, caught in the rain, and fell into the lake. We had many serious conversations, a few disagreements, and laughed a lot.

I have no recollection of what we were trying to do.

We just got back from our big trip to Minnesota, celebrating Cat and Gideon's wedding. Traveling with three children, five years old and under, was no walk in the park. We made new memories, some I would rather forget. Sometimes, we were utterly exhausted. Even so, I can honestly say that I experienced more joy on this trip than I did during our honeymoon, or, whatever that was.

I have a few favorite moments from this trip. Among them is the seven-hour conversation we had in the car on our way home. I enjoy my husband, admire him, and appreciate him more now than ever before. Not because we are any less sinful, but I think that we have learned to be quicker in repenting and forgiving one another. We have learned to be a little better at listening and understanding each other, becoming less defensive and more trusting. And the Lord, in his mercy, gives us joy when we obey his commands.

I had very little idea about marriage and everything related to it when I wrote that anti-honeymoon treatise. I might have overstated a few things. But I am so glad I saved that email, if only for the pleasure of laughing at myself.

Time away from the normal grind of things are helpful for us to evaluate where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going. Stripped away from the busyness of life, we are better able to see, listen, and understand one another. These are perhaps the most precious aspects of our honey-lobster-moon-and-stars, every single one, until death do us part.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mission accomplished

{my gift for the bride and groom at their wedding feast}

Yee Ling, one of my earliest memories of you was how often you got lost. We would be at the mall, and you would suddenly disappear. As you can now imagine, this was quite unsettling for Ma.

So, she decided to put you on a leash.

It was pink. Ma tied it around your waist at the airport for fear that we would lose you among the throngs of people.

I was ten at the time and you were two. I felt horrible seeing you on a leash, so I begged Ma to take it off. I promised her that I would watch you instead.

Since then, we, your three older sisters, have been watching you.

Gideon, now that you are married to Cat, please make sure she does not get lost! And know this: her three older sisters are watching you.

No, seriously, we will be watching over, and praying for both of you. We are now family. And we are so excited.

My sisters made me cry at my wedding when they sang this song. They made me looked like a baby frog. I feel the need to reciprocate (the song, not the tears). So, I rewrote the lyrics. And here it is.
What made you hug me even in your sleep
Or give me these pearl earrings to keep?
What made you let us take all the best toys
Or babysit my three crazy boys?

Why do you always try to be there
when we really, really need you there to care?
You're always willing to share.

Love makes a Meimei be a Meimei like you
Love takes genetics and turns them into
Something to last eternity through
Love makes a Meimei be a Meimei like you

What made you brave and gave yourself away?
What made you say yes, and asked Gideon to stay?
Sharing the feelings that you held inside
No longer keeping secrets that you have to hide


Cat cried.
Mission accomplished.

Happy wedding day, baby sister.
We're still here, and we're not going anywhere without you.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

I am yours, save me

At the lowest point of our wedding planning, I laid on the floor of my apartment, face down, praying, chanting, "I am yours, save me. I am yours, save me." We were weighing the theological implications of a detail in the wedding liturgy. The decision was one among hundreds, but its implications were weighty.

We are the sum of our decisions. Thousand upon thousands of decisions, chiseling away at our souls, shaping our personhood. Every decision that I make today -- what I have for breakfast, which books I read to my children, every word I utter, how much time I sit, I stand, what I allow my eyes to see, the thoughts I allow in my mind, the minutes I waste -- they change me, little by little. With every decision, I am becoming and changing the person I will be tomorrow.

So, if you are wondering who you will grow up to be, look in the mirror. If you don't like what you see, change. Now. You are the sum of your decisions, including the ones you make today.

Our wedding day was the sum of many, many decisions. These decisions reflected who we were, what we loved, what we believed. If the wedding feast was a small world filled with our favorite things, the wedding liturgy was a space that embodied our theology of worship and marriage.

So, there I was, overwhelmed and defeated on the floor. I thought I was writing a wedding liturgy, but really, I was doing something so much bigger and I didn't even know it. I was forming my beliefs about God, worship, and marriage. I was asking big questions about timeless truths.

Figuring out our theology is hard, but living it out is even harder. Many throughout the history of the Church fought to their deaths for the sake of their creeds.

No, I did not die on my wedding day. Or did I?

My baby sister is getting married, and she is asking me questions about veils, songs, and such. These posts about weddings are my feeble attempts at helping her from a distance. So, here goes.

Big idea number one: This is worship.

Your wedding has an audience of one. Not two, not three, not two hundred. Just one. You have nothing to prove to anyone else. So, breathe.

A wedding ceremony is primarily a worship service, where a bride and a groom make vows to keep one another before God. Everything else is decoration.

Together, we respond to what God has done, what he is doing, what he will do. We give thanks, we praise, we surrender, we submit, we repent, we rejoice under the Lord's mighty hand. You have chosen to enter the front door of your happily ever after -- worshiping God. And this is an awesome thing.

Big idea number two: A Christian wedding proclaims the Gospel. A Christian wedding is about the Gospel. The bride and the groom point to something far, far greater than themselves. In the words of Apostle Paul: "'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."

Earthly marriages point to Christ and his bride. Christ proposed not on bended knees, but with outstretched arms. Not with a diamond ring, but with his shed blood for our sins. He died in our place.

Christ, the groom, is waiting for his bride. He is our bridal garment of righteousness. He has made the aisle upon which we shall walk. He will come again to take us away to be with him. He will be our new home. There, he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain.

I am yours, save me.

He saved me then.
He saves me still.
He will save me again.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Beyond death

Hans wrote my wedding vow. And I wrote his.

I made Hans promise all sorts of things I wanted. My first draft included several mentions of death. I wanted him to promise to follow Christ unto death. Here was my logic: If I had to follow to this guy, I had to make sure I knew where he was going. Thankfully, he convinced me that we should look beyond death. Our hearts should be set on the forever.

He was right.

I remember feeling quite nauseous at the thought of writing another person's vow. I was uncomfortable with having that much power over another human being. Funny. Because, at the time, I had very little idea just how much power our marriage would have over our souls. This power is now mine to wield everyday of our lives together. I hold it with much fear and trembling.

So, as the meaning of these words continue to unfold in our lives, we place each other in the way of grace, before the throne of God.

His vow
By the mercy and grace of our Lord, the triune God, I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife.

By the grace of God, I shall seek after him, to love the Lord our God with my whole heart, mind, and strength. I shall submit to him, incline my desire to him, and follow where he should lead us, seeking after the fulfillment of our sure hope of the perfection of our faith. I shall follow the example that our Lord gave us, seeking to love you as Christ love his Church and gave himself for her. I will lead you in the path of righteousness, for his name's sake, that you may become the woman that God desires you to be.

I shall not leave you nor turn away from you. I will set you as a seal upon my heart and as a seal upon my arm. I take you to be mine, and I give myself to you.

My vow
By the mercy and grace of our Lord, the triune God, I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband.

By the grace of God, I shall seek after him, to love the Lord our God with my whole heart, mind, and strength. I shall submit to you as to the Lord, recognizing that the Lord has made you my head, as Christ is the head of his Church.

Entreat me not to leave you, or turn back from following you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.

I will stir up and awaken your love for me, and enjoy you as the husband God has provided to me. I take you to be mine, and I give myself to you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

On loving boundaries

In the beginning, God spoke and he drew boundaries

between light and darkness,
between sky and sea,
between land and water.

Before the sun and the moon and the stars. Before the first signs of life. He drew boundaries. Three out of six days, he established the corners of the earth and sky and seas. He saw that they were good.

Then, for the next three days he filled these empty spaces with beauty and life.
And there was no life outside these boundaries.

There was a time when "boundary" was a bad word in my book. Limitations held me back. Rules prevented me from doing all I wanted to do and be all I wanted to be. And I was wrong. I had the wrong images of how God's boundaries looked like. He rules not in the way of mortal kings.

His Word is not like a fence, keeping us away from something. Rather, the Lord's instruction is like a trellis, or better yet, strong thick pillar, columns that uphold the four corners of the universe. If a vine holds fast, it will go far. It will reach places it has never been. If a vine grows apart from the pillar, it will die due to the lack of light.

We must learn to love boundaries. Love boundaries -- not merely tolerate, not avoid, not test, not question, not add our own fences around the boundaries.  But we must hold fast to the Word of God because he gives life.

A couple of weeks ago, Hans took me to a home improvement store and asked me to pick a trough. A what? What am I to do with a trough? My fingers of death (or non-green-thumb) and I were beyond skeptical.

But my husband was kind, and he was insistent, so I drew a deep breath, and I picked one out. When we got home, I was completely won over. Two weeks later, I am in love with the mini garden on my balcony. Now, I am dreaming of the day when I can have my own vegetable garden. Who knew?

He did, apparently.

My husband knows me. He knew that I would love this gift. In some ways, he knows me better than I know myself.

Sometimes, we do not understand the Lord's instructions and the limitations he established on our lives. We question his will. Why is this happening? What is that rule for? We are beyond skeptical.

Sometimes, understanding follows obedience. We may not at first understand the boundaries that he sets, but we must obey anyway. We obey, in hopes to understand. We believe, while seeking understanding. We do not merely tolerate, or question, or avoid, or test, or add to his Word.

We must hold fast to his Word. We may not fully understand his purposes, but we can rest in our knowledge of him, and his steadfast love for us.

The Lord knows us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. We can rest in him.

Emeth wrote his first song the other day, "When God Loves You, Obey God."
God, your God,
obey God,
obey parent, with you.
God, your God,
obey (musical notes) parent, with you.
He sang it to auntie Jean Jean. He said, "This is not really the song I want to write, but I want to remember this when I grow up." This kid. "He is our God, we are his people."

Though I don't fully understand Emeth's song, I find it strangely comforting. I may not understand all of the Lord's instructions, but I know that Christ has gone before me in his obedience, and he has fulfilled all righteousness.

So, I follow,
and I obey, with you.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Living our good old days

I had a few bosom friends when I was a teenager. You know who you are. I made it through puberty because of you. I think about how we stayed up at night, how we talked, while we were driving, sitting, being, walking on the beach, wishing and hoping, waiting for life to happen. Little did we stop and think, we were living the good old days.

Well, here we are.

The days are relentless. Dear friends, I feel like a hostess who left you at my front door, forgetting to invite you in.

As I am typing this, Emeth just disappeared into the bathroom with a pile of books. My little old man, in his relentless pursuit of meaning and reason. Am I using the word "incredible" the right way? Does "mend" rhyme with "friend"? Tell me when it is the right time to ask "why."

Hanan holds my hand and calls me best friend. He gently stroked my hair the other day. "You are a brave little mommy, I am petting you." This kid. His favorite part of the day is when we count to one hundred -- forward and backward. Like I said, this kid.

Khesed is plump and round and soft. Nursing takes time. But I love the thought that every bit of him came from me. Except for the dimple on his right cheek. That was a gift.

Hans and I are remembering the tenth anniversary of our first conversation. The summer I lived with my parents after graduation, after traveling along the East Coast. The summer I was waiting for life to happen. That was some conversation.

I am sorry this space is collecting dust. I just want to pop in to let you know that I am alive and well, living my good old days, the days I have been wishing and hoping for thousands of summer nights ago.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I hope you are filling your days with plenty of things to talk about when we are old and wrinkly.

The candles burn.
The pages turn.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

15 things I loved and learned during our wedding feasts

{a reflection on the week of our seventh anniversary} 

1. It was my wedding!
Weddings -- the bookends of the Bible. God himself "walked Eve down the aisle." The marriage feast of the Lamb is the culmination of redemption history. Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding of Cana. My wedding was a big day.

2. But it was just my wedding.
We have had countless better days since our wedding. Our wedding was awesome. I smiled. I cried. It was beyond our expectations. But since then, there was Emeth's birth, and then Yohanan's birth, and then Khesed's birth. And many awesome days in between. I haven't looked at our wedding pictures in years.

3. It was our front door, not the house, not the foundation, not the garage. It was a front door and front doors are important. It was the beginning of our lives together, but it does not define our marriage.

4. Disclaimer: Here, I'm mostly talking about the feasting and the hotels and the transportation and the photography and the invitations and the menus and the flowers. I'm NOT talking about the liturgy, or the worship service, or the exchange of vows. That would require another post all together.

5. They were the firsts of many, many dinner parties we hosted in our home. Planning a wedding required the skills of basic hospitality -- on steroids. We created a little world filled with our favorite things and invited our favorite people to share and enjoy this world with us. At the end of the day, it was about loving our neighbors. That is all.

6. What were our favorite things? It was important to us that we were generous. So, we had two feasts -- one on the night before the wedding and one on the night of the wedding. Because our friends came from all over the world, we wanted the food to be international. Many wore their national garments and the colors were spectacular. We wanted it to be communal and we (mostly crazy Irene) wanted to have a pot-luck, until I realized that it would not be realistic with 200 guests. So, in the end, though the ladies in the community made a lot of the food, I also hired a caterer to prepare the first feast, and two of the five courses for the second feast. I wanted an open tent where strangers, joggers, and random people were welcomed to join the feasts.

7. It took a village. I had the help of a group of ladies who were more organized than myself. They kept me focused. They forced me to delegate.

8. Trust people. People were awesome and they had awesome ideas. I was very loved by my village. People brought flowers. People moved chairs and tables. The bridesmaids chose their own dresses. The children cleared the table after each course. People may not do things the way you would, but trust them anyway. Because people are awesome.

Lev and Vova, the boys who are now young men, from Russia.

9. People were sometimes frustrating. They made mistakes and they forgot things. But it was important to let them know we appreciated and trusted them.

10. It was good to have a plan and expectations. But it was also good to hold them loosely.

11. Every dinner party produces mess and dishes. Don't ever forget about the clean up. Ever.

12. Yes, I was that bride who forgot to plan the clean up. It completely slipped my mind. I had just graduated two days before the wedding. I was a busy bride. Everything up to the wedding was about getting things done, and getting things set up, and getting things there. I had completely forgotten that things needed to be removed once the wedding was over.

Trust people.

 13. Hiding, crying, and a nervous breakdown was acceptable -- once the wedding was over. Hans hid me in the closet of his parents' room. I sat there and cried out of sheer exhaustion.

14. People got things done even when I had forgotten to delegate. It took a village. People were awesome.

15.  It was the coolest, most complicated dinner party ever. And I enjoyed every second.

Because it was my wedding.
But it was just my wedding.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hand on my mouth, my mouth in the dust

Hans is neck-deep in writing sermons for a retreat next weekend. He will be expounding on how our worship of God (or other idols) overflows into the other areas of our lives. He requested that I speak to the women on how this plays out in our lives as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. In preparation for that workshop, I've been studying passages on Lady Wisdom in the book of Proverbs.

The process has been slow and humiliating.

A few nights ago, I found some time to sit down and study. I was so glad that I had finally made some progress and was feeling quite lofty about the whole thing. Mere moments later, I found myself tangled in a petty disagreement with Hans, my mouth hurling foolish, hurtful words. To make matters worse, instead of apologizing right away, I even tried to justify myself.

How do I fall so far and so quickly? One moment I was listening to Lady Wisdom, thinking I understood her. The next moment, I had my face planted in dirt.

With my hand on my mouth, and my mouth in the dust, I give thanks. The Lord chastens me still. He has not given up on his disobedient child. The question is whether I am listening.

I do not have the strength to utter the words of Charles Simeon, but they serve, nevertheless, as a good aim to pursue.
Repentance is in every view so desirable, so necessary, so suited to honor God, that I seek that above all. The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit, are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears. I long to be in my proper place, my hand on my mouth, and my mouth in the dust... I feel this to be safe ground. Here I cannot err... I am sure that whatever God may despise... He will not despise the broken and contrite heart.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Her unbound feet

My mother was raised as the seventh of eight daughters in what was a sexist culture.When she had four daughters of her own, she made sure that we knew we were precious, and that we were made in the image of God.

My mother and my grandmother ate bitterness for my freedom and happiness. They defeated tigers and cobras for my unbound feet.

This is my grandmother's story.

Ting Ming Hui was born the only daughter to a wealthy family in Fujian. She was given the name "bright wisdom." The apple of her parents' eye, she was given the same education as her seven brothers.

Ming Hui was known particularly for the strength of her will. In other words, she was very stubborn. As a young child, she knew of her father’s tender heart for her. When the time came for her feet to be bound, she screamed night and day, begging for her feet to be freed. She became the first woman in her family to have unbound feet.

She was also the first woman in her family to choose her own husband. Instead of submitting to her parents' choice of a suitor, she persuaded them to give her hand  to the man she loved, Lim Hing Yu, a son to a rich merchant in town. Their love story began triumphant and beautiful. Ming Hui bore two girls during their early years of marriage.

With the rumors of war approaching, Hing Yu and his brothers were forced by their parents to escape the draft. Hing Yu fled to Indonesia. Ming Hui and her young daughters were left behind the high walls of the Lim family, which was quickly crumbling due to the economy.

Soon after, the Lim household declared bankruptcy. Feeling as though he had lost his face, Hing Yu’s father attempted suicide — in front of his family. Ming Hui, the daughter-in-law, got on her knees and begged him to restrain himself. She also swore that she would provide for the family. Being the only woman with unbound feet, she tended the garden, sold produce on the street, and fed the mouths of her in-laws, her sisters-in-law and their children, and her own daughters. Once the precious jewel of her family, Ming Hui was now collecting dung for fertilizer with her bare hands.

In their nine years of separation, Hing Yu returned to China only once, merely for a short visit. During their temporary reunion, Ming Hui came to be with-child, a third daughter. Overseas communication was difficult; it took months for a letter to reach its recipient. Driven once more by her will, Ming Hui sought a way to leave China in search of her husband. She was only able to gather enough money for herself and her youngest daughter, who was seven. She was forced to leave her two older daughters behind in Fujian.

After a two-month journey, by foot and by boat, Ming Hui finally arrived on the island of Java, Indonesia. At her husband’s door steps, she saw sandals — a woman's sandals, and others that could only fit children's feet. Only then Hing Yu told her that he had been living with another woman, and he had two sons by her.

That was the beginning of a certain turmoil that lasted for decades. A turmoil that I can only imagine. The two women lived under the same roof. Many more children were born, my mother being one of them. Ming Hui, though claimed the status of the principle wife, had five more daughters, eight daughters all together, no son. The second wife had five sons and two daughters.

Armed with her education and wit, Ming Hui managed the household and her husband’s business. She accompanied him on all his business trips and served as the “public wife” of Lim Hing Yu.

My grandmother received no honor for birthing and raising eight daughters. She received no accolade for her fight against a treacherous cancer — that she won. When I met her, she was quiet and tired from life's battles. Her smiles and laughter were rare gems. My favorite memory of her was when she taught me to memorize a verse from the Bible: "Do not fear, only believe" (Luke 8:50).

This must have been the sword she used to slay the tigers and cobras.


The Song of Ting Ming Hui
My unbound feet served as a bondage to my oath,
Taken for granted like the sun and the moon.
At least dignity was mine when I dug through dung,
When I believed I was your one and only, your only one.
Who can understand my anger, betrayed by one I love?
My voice fled like a bird when I arrived at your new door.
Silence is my only plea, silence—my cloak and protector.

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

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

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

Spirit has not flown from me,
Though my voice for a time might have ceased.
Though the bamboo might seem hallow,
Do not be deceived, air is not nothing.
One cannot bend me easily
Nor can one take my life,
For my roots go deep and my life is long
Striving towards the Heavens.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Salty and bright

{a reflection on the collapsed factory in Bangladesh}

When I found out about the collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh, the first thing I did was to check the tag on my shirt.

Was it made in Bangladesh?
Who made my shirts, my shoes, my scarves, my pants?
Was it one of the 400 ladies who were killed?

My heart sank as I glanced at my closet.
So. Many. Clothes.
Too many.
(Why do I have so many clothes?)

I may not own anything made in that particular factory, but I am sure some of my clothes were made by people working under similar conditions. People who are underpaid and exploited because they need to feed their families. Some of those girls, they looked so young. Am I responsible for their deaths?

No, of course it's not my fault.
I have no way of knowing the conditions of the places where my clothes were made.
Blame greedy factory owners. Blame greedy and corrupted governments. Blame greedy capitalists.
I am innocent.

Or am I?

When it comes to issues of the public squarelike sweatshops, abortion, and terrorism, we can sometimes feel so powerless. We feel as though there is so little we can do to create real change.

At the root of these great injustices is sin. We can begin fighting injustice by fighting the sins of our own hearts. After all, I am the only person I am able to control.

I am greedy. I covet things. I fall prey to the allures of fast fashion and cheap chic. I love branded bargains and slick deals. I love stuff.

Fighting injustice begins in my own heart. I am called to be salt; I am called to be light. I cannot force people to taste justice and see goodness. However, I can learn to be salty, and I can learn to be bright.

The Lord is my perfect garment. I shall not be in want.
Therefore, I can buy less. I can buy secondhand. I can buy wisely.
I can love simple living.
I can love people, not stuff.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The prayer of a wise fool

I am weary, O God;
I am weary, O God,
and worn out.
When I read Proverbs 30 for the first time, I could hardly believe that the words were just there, in the holy scripture, staring me in the face. I mean, how did he know? Agur, a stranger with a strange name gave words to the prayer my soul so desperately needed to pray.
Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
It was strangely liberating to confess my stupidity. Though my version is so much less poetic. It usually goes something like this: "Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! Why am I so dumb?" Sometimes, the most truthful thing we can pray is simply, I don't know, Lord, I just don't know.

Who knew? The Word of God is so vast and so complete that it even has a chapter on "How to Pray on Days When You Feel Stupid and Tired: For Dummies." While the Psalms teach us how to weep over our iniquities and meaningless suffering, Agur gives us words for grey skies and a weary heart.

Here at the end of the magnum opus of Hebraic proverbs, Agur had nothing but a heavy sigh. He understood just how far short he measured from what was required of him. The chasm between life before God and life in the world can sometimes be overwhelming. The Bible is not a checklist of all the things we need to do in order to be saved. Rather, it is a mirror for us to see ourselves, in order that we may know how much we are in need of a Savior. So, Agur prayed — tired and empty.

But he doesn't stay there.

Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name?
Agur beckoned his soul to remember the creation, the greatness of his God. Suddenly, the frame of his vision was blown up. Agur's focus shifted from the narrowness of his introspection to the vastness of nature, from his own limitations to Yahweh's limitless power.

Who is able to hold the hurricane captive in the palm of his hand? Yahweh. Who can contain the oceans in the fold of his garment? Yahweh. He speaks and the mountains obey. The height of the heaven is nothing to him.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.

And then Agur asked,
what is the name of his son?
As Hanan, my two-year-old, would say, "Jesus!"

Wait, what?

Um... Isn't Proverbs in the Old Testament? Jesus wasn't born yet.
Who, then, was this son of Yahweh that Agur spoke of?

The relationship between father and son is the backbone of the book of Proverbs. Chapters 1 through 9 are instructions told in the voice of a father to his son. They are the foundation, the context, the setting of the entire book. The son is the recipient of the father's discipline and reproof, the one listening to his father's voice.

Yahweh is a father.  "The Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov 3:12). Therefore, whoever listens to Yahweh's voice and follows his way is a child of God.

Who, then, is the son of Yahweh? Who is his daughter?

You are, O weary soul.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
(Matthew 11:28)

Here are my take-away points from Agur on "How to Pray on Days When You Feel Stupid and Tired: For Dummies."

1. Remember Yahweh
     a. Speak to him
     b. Beckon your soul to remember his power and his strength
2. Remember the nature of your relationship with this great and awesome God.

He is your father. He loves you and he delights in you.
And for our weary days, this is enough for us to live on.