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.