Thursday, December 3, 2015

Do the next thing

Our path has been quite narrow lately. "Do the next thing" brings great comfort and clarity. The next thing is often painfully obvious. Vacuum the floor. Teach the children. Read to them. Shop for food. Cook the food. Eat the food. Wash the dishes. Look for missing puzzle pieces, again. Praying, waiting. Discipline, discipline, blessed discipline (for me, not necessarily for the children).

The way is paved for us, and I am grateful.

Narrow is the path that leads to life. This narrowness leads to the gates of splendor, where there is an entire universe waiting on the other side.

My dear friends, I have missed you. Thank you for dropping by. This space is collecting dust, again. I cannot wait for that glorious day when we will have forever to feast, and praise the Lord for the all the ways he leads us. How he is always with us, never forsaking, always helping.

For friends who will be in the Chicago area during the holidays, Hans and I will be teaching at Grace Conference this year (December 27-30). Beu Love Batayola will be teaching on the power of God's Word, Hans will be teaching the Five Solas of the Reformation, and I will be teaching from the book of Psalms. We would be so glad to see you, to feast on God's Word with you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Learning notes: First drafts are always ugly

Things we did

Two months ago, I found a frame at the seminary's thrift "store" (where everything was free). It held all kinds of re-purposing possibilities. The shape of the frame reminded me of Chinese calligraphy, long and narrow. But my Chinese handwriting was—outside the realm of possibility. Definitely, No.

So, I thought I could write something in English, with black paint to imitate the ink in Chinese calligraphy. It seemed like a good idea, simple enough at the time. But it turned out that my brushstrokes in English were also a definite No.

Full of possibilities.

A definite no.

Things we cherished

I often tell the boys to "practice, practice, practice," and "first drafts are always ugly." In my case, however, my first dozens of drafts were ugly. So, I practiced, and practiced some more, and then some more. Last week, I finally got tired of having papers and brushes and that big frame taking up my floor. And because some friends were flying in for a visit, it was time to frame—something.




Things we pondered

Learning takes time. This exercise helped me to be (a tiny bit) more patient with the boys.

I found that learning one skill often requires the practice of a dozen other smaller skills. While writing with a brush, I needed to control the hair on the brush, the amount of water I use, and the color of the paint. In order to distinguish my thinner lines from my bolder lines, my hand needed to incline the brush at certain angles and assert varying degrees of pressure.

Whether my children are learning to multiply or to love vegetables or to sit still, I have to remember that they are fine-tuning more than just that one skill. As their mother, I am learning to isolate their specific struggle, and help them by breaking the challenge into smaller, bite-size pieces.

Learning to write with a brush also taught me to pay attention and appreciate the details, especially in other people's art. What may seem like nothing in our eyes may have taken the artist hours, perhaps days or weeks or months to capture.

I was catching up with my friend Tina after the service on Sunday, and she shared a few yummy morsels of powbab with our family. These superfruit-chews were amazing, and I could not believe that she created the recipe and is now selling these across the country.

Do you see that butterfly logo on the corner of the packaging? She spent an entire year earning that detail. One year. Non-Genetically Modified Organisms. I am taking a moment to appreciate the butterfly.

The story behind powbab was even more shocking. Back in 2009, Tina fell and hurt her knees. The medication severely affected her entire body, and her mind. For a year and a half, she could not stand or walk and was bound to a wheelchair. Her parents brought her home and nursed her back to health. During that time, she learned about the baobab tree.

"Look! I am wearing heels today!" She showed me her tan pointy heels. I like her taste, in shoes and vitamins. I am all the more grateful to be worshiping the Lord with her, standing.

Learning and detailing takes time. A lot of time.

p/s I'll be going to the Gospel Coalition Women's Conference 2016! I've been watching (and nursing) from home during the last two conferences. Extra early (and least expensive) registration ends on October 31.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hate enough to love

Weeks ago, I had a nightmare where the government was forcing parents to kill their children. All parents were given an orange bottle of pills, and we were to administer the drug to our children. In the dream, I saw girls in pink dresses, their arms wrapped around their tummies, laying on the floor. Little boys were disappearing. My sons were crying, holding unto my legs.

Perhaps the most unsettling of all, there was no sound. Even the children's cries were silent.

I woke up disturbed. In the dream, I had refused to give the drug to my children, but I went about life in the usual way. Why did I not take my children and flee? Why was there no riot? Why was I not doing something to save the other children? Why did I not care enough—to fight?

I woke up, and see that my world is not all that different. Mine, too, is a violent world. Here, too, children are being slaughtered.

I woke up, and see that I am as I was in my dream. I do not care enough.

Some of our close friends are fighting for the lives of children. A few committed themselves to be foster parents. We have a brave number of friends who adopted children. There are those who are advocates and helpers of refugees in their communities. Others are voices for the unborn in high places. Another friend is a counselor to battered women. I long for their sense of urgency, their fierce compassion.

Rosaria Butterfield saved me from some kind of folly when she said, we are to "love the sinner, and hate our own sin." I don't love my neighbor because I don't hate my own sin. I am not revolted by my self-centered, this-worldly priorities. I am, in fact, quite comfortable with my lack of love for my neighbors. I find excuses to guard my space, my time, and my reputation. I cast blame. I console myself by imagining how righteous I am in other ways.

I had several bouts of hives this summer. My entire body, from toe to scalp, was covered in red, swollen patches. The itch, and the pain from my own scratching, nearly drove me mad. My reflection in the mirror was revolting.

I must hate my selfishness the way I hated my hives. I need to pray as David prayed, "My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning." His prayer of repentance in the following psalm is so unexpected, so different from my own: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

The fight to love life must begin in my heart. I don't love my neighbors enough because I don't hate my sin enough. I don't hate my sin enough because I don't love my Lord enough.

my sin crucified you to a tree.
My heart is foul, harden, and foolish.
Help me know how fleeting I am,
Give me hate enough
to love.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Learning notes: It takes a village

Things we did

There are countless ways a homeschooling parent can feel inadequate. The feeling of incompetence can be quite uncomfortable. This has been one of those uncomfortable weeks.

For our language study, we are reading Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride. Being Malaysian, Boston Tea Party and Declaration of Independence are subjects completely out of my depth. Also, I know so very little about horses. 

Things we cherished

I found a ranch that offered riding classes to children. It was only about ten minutes away and I thought, "Why not?" So I called them to arrange a visit, asking simply whether we could come and watch the horses.

When we arrived, Ellen, a 14-year-old young lady, was receiving her riding lesson. The boys and I were awestruck by the sheer power and height of these creatures. Ellen's mom, Kate, offered to take us on a tour around the ranch while she waited for her daughter to be done with her lesson. I told her she was a homeschool mom's dream come true.

Kate was patient with the boys, understanding their initial fears. She took us to the stables and showed us all the nooks and crannies that might amuse us. She taught us about all the gears Ellen needed to ride a horse. We met Elva, the farrier who was trimming and balancing the horses' hoofs. He gave each boy a horseshoe and taught us about horses' hoofs.

Things we pondered

Education really does take a village. I am inadequate to teach, but I am not on my own.

The children are learning—from and because of—the kindness and sacrifices of people, people, and more people. I am moved by the generosity we have received from strangers. The boys (and their mother) have had countless of educators at zoos, botanical gardens, butterfly conservatory, museums, grocery stores, and libraries. And most importantly, we have you — our friends and family. Thank you for reading, drawing, listening, playing, sharing meals, and sitting on the floor with us.

Thank you for teaching us, and learning with us. We are so grateful for you.

A horse on his treadmill

Elva the farrier.

What he thought of us humans.

What he thought of my camera.


The boys making horse faces.

Strawberry eating her favorite food.

The triceratops got to try on the horseshoe, "so she would not get lost."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dust, not donuts

As I child, I often wondered what God meant by "you shall surely die." Adam and Eve were walking and talking after they ate the fruit. Did God mean they would die a slow death? Or that they lost their "eternal" life? What was this death?

I had a song stuck in my head."Life without Jesus is like a donut. There is a hole in the middle of your heart." I learned it as a child in Sunday school.

But life without Jesus is not like a donut, not even one little bit. Life without Jesus is death. And death is nothing like a donut.

Adam and Eve chose death. The serpent counseled Eve to love herself. She should get to decide what was good and evil. She loved the fruit hanging from the forbidden tree, more than she loved her God. So, she took, and she ate. She then gave it to Adam; he took, and he ate.

Death came immediately. They died the moment they ate the fruit. No, Adam and Eve did not die a slow death. God said, "in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Their eyes were opened, just as the serpent promised, unto death. They lost not only their eternal life but life—altogether.

Death was never walking beside your God in the Garden again.

Death was choosing to believe a lie, instead of the truth.

Death was seeing the bone of your bones, flesh of your flesh—ashamed.

Death was losing the bold, unhindered trust you once had in your friend.

Death was being afraid of your Father when he called—because you betrayed him.

Death was homelessness.

Death was hunger.

Death was losing both your sons, because your firstborn child killed his brother.

Death was hate, jealousy, pride, shame, fear.

The rest of Genesis echoed this death. And he died, and he died, and he died.

No. Death is not like a donut. The "hole" in our hearts are not holes. Our hearts are aching abysses of desires, universes of emptiness. We rebelled against our Father who made us. We betrayed him to please ourselves. Lost in sin, we are dead souls, shells full of dust.

So, Jesus wept.

Jesus wept as he stood before Lazarus' tomb. He wept not over Lazarus' physical death; he knew that Lazarus would rise again.  Jesus was weeping for death—altogether. He was weeping for his broken people. Mary and the Jews—the flesh of his flesh, and the bones of his bones—were dead in their hate and jealousy and pride and shame and fear.

So, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and life. I am the door to life. I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."

Soul, come.
Soul, there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Choose the harder way

Esther and I met in the rain. She found me under a tree.

Hans and I were newly married, and he was the new minister at our new church. He was playing ultimate frisbee with everyone else, and I did what I always did when I felt insecure — I hid behind a book.

Esther, seventeen at the time, came over in her pale blue t-shirt, with a smile that unveiled her perfect teeth. She said, "Hi, I'm Esther. Which high school do you go to?" I didn't look like the pastor's wife, apparently.

She saved me from sulking that day.

I came across a strange advice from Elisabeth Elliot:
Choose the harder of the two ways. If you have eliminated all other possibilities and there still seem to be two which might please God, choose the more difficult one. "The way is hard, that leads to life," Jesus said, so it is likely that he is asking us to will against our will (A Slow and Certain Light, 115).
She placed this counsel at the very, very end of her book on knowing the will of God. After all is said and done — after we prayed, searched the Scripture, evaluated the motives of our hearts, counted the cost, listened to the counsel of those wiser than ourselves — if both choices seems to be equally good and right, choose the harder way.

But what if the harder way is not God's will? He commands us not to be afraid. God is with us and he is near those whose hearts are bent on knowing and doing his will. Just as he prevented Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, and David from building the temple, he will help us know if this is not the right way. Trust him.

The Lord is always looking at the hearts of his servants. Are we willing to take up staggering tasks for his name's sake? Are we willing to sacrifice, to die to ourselves? The Lord was please with Abraham and David because they were bent on doing hard things—for him, "You did well that it was in your heart" (I Kings 8:18).

"Choose the harder way" has been most helpful in my ordinary, daily deaths to self. Should I wash the dishes or check Facebook? Should I wake up when my alarm rings or sleep for another "five minutes"? After the service on Sunday, do I hang out with my friends or introduce myself to the new person? When provoked, do I speak my mind or sulk or pray for the one provoking me?

Clearly, I am not applying Ms. Elliot's advice quite right. I think she meant it for bigger decisions, when the all the options seem right and faithful. My daily choices are neither big nor are they equally "pleasing to God." The better thing to do is most of the time painfully obvious. The question is whether I would do it.

But—because I am prone to wander, "choose the harder way" pulls me away from my tendency to take the easy route. Ms. Elliot reminds me whom I am following, and why I am doing the things I am doing. I am to follow the pierced feet of my Lord. He chose the steep and the narrow, all the way to Golgotha.

Esther could have just focused on playing frisbee. And our lives would have gone on. And I would have kept pretending like I was reading my book. But the Lord was, and is, gracious. Esther chose to stop playing, and she came over to the lonely person under the tree, in the rain.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Loved, not lover

In the gospel according to John, he omitted his name entirely and called himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved." I did not understand him. I wondered whether he was a little presumptuous.

Lately, the Lord has been showing me the ways I have been conceited. My motives, preferences, and fond desires are all hopelessly entangled in a mess of self. Even my tiniest sacrifices, moments of selflessness, are drenched in selfish and prideful thoughts. On my own, I do not, and cannot, love Christ.

In the words of the Puritans,
My best prayers are stained with sin;
my penitential tears are so much impurity...
I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed.
Valley of Vision, 136-137.

In John's eyes, he was unimportant, his name unnecessary. He was a witness to the Light, the Word who became dust—for dust's sake. John was not presumptuous when he called himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved." His love was nothing—compared to Christ's love for him. He was not a lover of Christ, but he was loved by Christ. The love of Christ defined John.

"Summer Showers" by Franklin Chang (title his)

A friend sent me a picture of the "art" he made with a respiratory mask, his medical journal, and an old envelope. I was strangely moved by the little gentleman with a hand in his pocket. I have seen this before, somewhere. I woke up the next morning and saw the story my soul knew well. My Savior once stood under the rain of death that I might live.

"We follow a stripped and crucified Savior," wrote Amy Carmichael to a prospective missionary, who was coming to India to serve her family of orphans. "Those words go very deep. They touch everything — motives, purposes, decisions, everything... Dear, you are coming to a battlefield" (A Chance to Die, 304).

Like the apostle John, the love of Christ compelled and constrained Amy Carmichael. They loved the dust at the foot of the cross. They held their lives loosely, and crucified themselves with Christ. It is difficult to imagine that they once struggled with selfish and prideful thoughts. But they must have, as they were sinners saved by grace.

So, the Lord is giving me strength and courage through their witnesses. I am tracing their footsteps, "the way of the Cross leads to the Cross and not to a bank of flowers." I am finding comfort in confessing that I am not a lover of Christ. But I am his, and I am loved.
Lord crucified, O mark Thy holy Cross
On motive, preference, all fond desires;
On that which self in any form inspires
Set Thou that Sign of loss.

And when the touch of death is here and there
Laid on a thing most precious in our eyes,
Let us not wonder, let us recognise
The answer to this prayer.
 Toward Jerusalem, 96.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Labor while you live

I love old letters. And this one was particularly meaningful today. It was written by a father to his daughter Esther on March 28, 1753:
Dear child,

We are glad to hear that you are in any respect better, but concerned at your remaining great weakness...

I would not have you think that any strange thing has happened to you in this affliction: 'tis according to the course of things in this world, that after the world's smiles, some great affliction soon comes.
God has now given you early and seasonable warning, not at all to depend on worldly prosperity. Therefore I would advise, that if it pleases God to restore you, to let upon no happiness here.
Labor while you live, to serve God and do what good you can, and endeavor to improve every dispensation to God's glory and your own spiritual good, and be content to do and bear all that God calls you to in this wilderness, and never expect to find this world anything better than a wilderness.
Lay your account to travel through it in weariness, painfulness and trouble, and wait for your rest and your prosperity till hereafter, where they that die in the Lord rest from their labors, and enter into the joy of their Lord.

These words, they strengthened me. And then, he made me smile.
As to means for your health, we have procured one rattlesnake, which is all we could get. It is a medicine that has been very serviceable to you heretofore, and I would have you try it still. If your stomach is very weak and will bear but little, you must take it in smaller quantities. We have sent you some ginseng...

Commending you to God, before whom we daily remember you in our prayers, I am

Your affectionate father,
Jonathan Edwards.

I have loved and used my Jonathan Edwards mug for ten years. I am happy to finally read the letter in its entirety. And ginseng was apparently available in New England in the eighteenth century. So weird.

I raise my mug to you, dear friend.
Let us labor while we live.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

That nothing be lost

Our friend Eshan is living with us this summer. She cares for the boys in the mornings while I study for my Hebrew comprehensive exams.

We were talking one evening while I was picking up the boys' crumbs. We had rice for dinner, so the mess was quite a sight. Suddenly, Eshan froze. I realized then that I had popped a piece of teriyaki chicken into my mouth. "The chicken was fine," I explained. "It was clean. Not as juicy. But I rather not waste it."

She laughed. And I continued with my crumb picking. Later that night, we heard that Elisabeth Elliot died.

Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015)

Emeth saw that I was sad. "Was Elisabeth Elliot your friend, mommy?"

"Kind of," I answered.

"Did you know her?" he asked.

"A little," I said.

"You knew her?" he gasped. "Did she know you?"

"No, she didn't know me," I replied. Thank you for making me smile, my inquisitive child.

Elisabeth Elliot didn't know me, though I had many cups of coffee with her. I met her in the beginning of January. At her table, I feasted on her stories and counsel. She gave me answers, and asked me new questions. I read and re-read her books as though they were long and wonderful letters to me. She feared no one and nothing, except for her Lord. She was my "older person," as Paul was to Timothy. And she died.

Jesus instructed his disciples to gather the crumbs after he fed five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fish; I imagine there were also women and children. What a curious instruction. What did they do with the crumbs? "That nothing may be lost"—was the reason he gave to his disciples.

So, I continue with my crumb picking, gathering the bits and pieces that my teacher created. She left many baskets full. They are not as juicy as at first, but they are quite fine. Much tastier than dry teriyaki chicken.

Here are four of my favorite morsels from Twelve Baskets of Crumbs (1976).

She taught me to be a free woman:
"Missionary," of course, is a term which does not occur in the Bible. I like the word witness, and it is a good, biblical word meaning someone who has seen something. The virgin Mary saw an angel and heard his word and committed herself irretrievably when she said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord." This decision meant sacrifice—the giving up of her reputation and, for all she knew then, of her marriage and her own cherished plans. "Be it unto me according to thy word." She knew the word was from God, and she put her life on the line because of it. The thing God was asking her to do, let us not forget, was a thing that only a woman could do.

The early history of the church mentions other women who witnessed—by ministering to Christ during his earthly work, cooking for him, probably, making a bed, providing clothes and washing them—women who were willing and glad to do whatever he needed to have done. (And some of you who despise that sort of work—would you do it if it was for him?) (163)

She taught me to love and mind the gaps:
The admired was, in all cases, something the admirer was not. There was a gap. It was noticeable and was accepted... They also bridged the gap somehow...

Mind the gaps—between men and women (God help us all if the idea of Unisex gets hold of us), between the stage and audience in a theater (I don't want an actor coming up my aisle), between those who know and those who don't know (let teachers teach, please, don't make them forever ask, What do you think?), and between the generations (let the young be young with all their hearts, and let me be old and admit it gracefully).

And let me be—let all of us—be humble enough to be enriched by what someone else is that I am not (51).

Writing was hard, even for her:

Writing, for me, is a painful business... An awful lot of time I spend trying to get things down on paper goes eventually into the wastebasket. And I hate to think how much of what doesn't go there should have.

Housework is not like that. You don't start out with any foolish and high-flown ideas about creativity and all that. You can do it without concentrating, and you can count on the results. The dishes sparkle, the bed is smooth, the meal—even if the cake falls—gets eaten (54-55).

She taught me to hope—in another world (when her second husband died):
It is out of the question for us to collect the crumbs "that nothing be lost." When a man dies it seems that nearly everything is lost, but that is not true. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been fed.

And although we have but fragments of a life, although we know even ourselves only in a fragmented way, eternity has been written in our hearts, and the pieces will one day be put together exactly as they were meant to go (69).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Be unafraid of nothingness

Chinese grocery stores are nostalgic places for me. A whiff of fishy odor greets me at the door. I am suddenly transported to a different time and country. I am a little girl again, walking behind my mother at the marketplace. Only I am the mother now, and three little boys walk behind me.

Months ago, my youngest sister was visiting and I decided that she would be my perfect excuse to splurge — on beef shanks and tendons. As I walked up to the checkout counter, I bowed slightly to the cashier. That day, I was given a brand new appreciation for Chinese aunties, and their curiosity.

"Why are you on food stamps?" She asked me.

No cashier had ever asked me this. Perhaps she wondered why someone "in poverty" or "on welfare" would choose to have three kids. Perhaps not many Chinese people use food stamps. For whatever reason, this stranger was curious and comfortable enough to ask why I was poor.

"My husband is a student," I answered.

"Oh, where is he studying?"


"I know Trinity! The seminary. What was he doing before?"

"He was a lawyer," I responded. Hans was a patent attorney. I was twenty-one when I met him, I did not even know what a patent was.

"What?! A lawyer? For how long?" She shook her head in disbelief.

"Thirteen years," I answered.

She turned to her friend who was stacking groceries, and repeated our conversation to her. Now there were two aunties staring and shaking they heads at me.

"But he will not make money," said the first auntie. "He will make some money," said the second auntie, trying to comfort me. "Nothing compared to when he was a lawyer," assured the first auntie.

"The Lord will provide," I said, amused by this conversation at the checkout counter.

Abel brought his firstborn lamb before Yahweh. He laid it on the altar, slitted its throat, and burned it. The offering, then, was accepted.

What is left of his beloved lamb?
But these strange ashes, Lord, this nothingness,
This baffling sense of loss?
I did not think about Hans' sacrifices very often, the life he had before we were married, until a stranger asked me why we were poor. It has been nearly ten years since he resigned from his law firm. Nine years of learning and failures. Nine years of labor. Yet, we have gained nothing—that can be measured. It struck me, for the very first time, how strange our lives must seem to strangers.

By his mercies, God met us at the altar of our strange ashes. Our Savior spoke into our nothingness.
Son, was the anguish of my stripping less upon the torturing cross?
Was I not brought into the dust of death,
A worm, and no man I;
Yea, turned to ashes by the vehement breath of fire, on Calvary?
O son beloved, this is thy heart's desire:
This, and no other thing
Follows the fall of the Consuming Fire
On the burnt offering.
Go on and taste the joy set high, afar, —
No joy like that to thee.
See how it lights the way like some great star.
Come now, and follow me.
The Lord accepted this sacrifice. Christ, the Lamb of God, laid down his life for our sins. This absurd and glorious exchange, that the Lamb would take our shame and guilt and evil and sickness and death upon himself—in order that we might meet God at the altar.

Therefore, by the mercies of God, we ask that the Lord would make us his living sacrifices. Jim Elliot once prayed, "Make me Thy Fuel, Flame of God" (Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor, 18).

Fall on us, Consuming Fire.
Make us your fuel, Flame of God.
Help us to be unafraid of nothingness.
Turn us into strange ashes — for your glory.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A divine and supernatural chemistry

My dear friend,

Hearing from you brings me great joy. In your letter, you asked, is it wrong to desire "chemistry" in a potential marriage partner? Shouldn't "important matters" be "enough"? (quotation marks are mine) I have loved thinking through these questions with you.

Let us enter by a side door.

Peter (through Mark), Matthew, and John all recorded Mary's anointing of Jesus in their gospels. This meal at Bethany was one of the last meals they would share with Jesus before he died; their memories of it were vivid. They were among friends, those who had witnessed Jesus' power and heard his teachings. Lazarus was there; he was dead but was now alive. Simon hosted the party; he used to be a leper.

But Mary was the focus of their story.

Peter and Matthew recalled the moment Mary broke the jar and poured pure nard on Jesus' head. John remembered how she poured the rest of the perfume onto Jesus' feet, how she used her hair to wipe the dirt away. He could still smell the fragrance of pure nard filling the house.

All three apostles recalled how Mary offended them. "What a waste!" they cried, "the money should be given to the poor." If only they had known the blood that Jesus was about to pour out for their sins. If only they had known the body that he was about to break for theirs.

Jesus defended Mary. He called her offering "a beautiful thing."

"She has done a beautiful thing to me," he said. He did not call it "a good thing" or "the right thing," though Mary's act possessed both goodness and truth. It was good because she sacrificed for her Lord; it was right because Jesus was worthy of her worship. But why call her offering beautiful?

Back to your questions, is it wrong to desire "chemistry" in a potential marriage partner? Shouldn't "important matters" be "enough"?

When we speak of "important matters" in a marriage partner, we often think about goodness and truth. Is this person kind, patient, hardworking, faithful, truthful, and teachable? The list can get quite long. Beauty can seem less useful than goodness and truth. "Chemistry" or the attraction to beauty (which is in the eye of the beholder) can seem rather shallow. So, is it wrong to desire beauty? Shouldn't goodness and truth be enough?

My short answers: No, it is not wrong to desire beauty; and no, goodness and truth is not enough.

Without beauty, goodness loses its attractiveness and the self-evidence of why we must carry it out. Why be good when we can be evil? Without beauty, truth loses its persuasiveness; logical conclusions are no longer conclusive. Without beauty, excellency and truth would not captivate or compel the soul. So, no, it is not wrong to desire beauty. In fact, we need beauty. Beauty is essentially for understanding goodness and truth.

Chemistry, as we call it, is the attraction we feel towards beauty, the ability to see beauty in someone or something. When there is chemistry, we feel pleasure and delight (fireworks and weakness in the knees are nice too). Chemistry is real; it is not imagined. Not only is chemistry precious in a marriage, but it is also precious in our worship of God.

Jonathan Edwards called the "chemistry" of delighting in God — "the spiritual light." The spiritual light, according to Edwards, was a gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus, he called it "a divine and supernatural light."  This light was “a true sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the Word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them.” A person who truly worshiped God did not merely have a rational belief of the divine excellency, but had a sense of the gloriousness and loveliness of God in her heart. She not only had the opinion or the knowledge that the honey was sweet, but she tasted the sweetness of the honey.

Therefore, in order to glorify God and enjoy him forever, we need a divine and supernatural chemistry. We must have a sense of his beauty, his glory, the loveliness of his holiness and grace. We must taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

True beauty reflects God's beauty. Mary's love for Jesus was beautiful because hers was a love that reflected the love of God. His was a twelve-baskets-of-leftovers kind of love. Everyday at every moment, God pours out his beauty and pleasure and delight on his creation. Trillions of intricate snowflakes fall from the sky only to melt. Fields of wild flowers bloom only to wither. Forests of leafs turned into the colors of the sunset—while they are dying. God's love is the excessive, extravagant, wasteful kind of love. And Mary's love for Jesus was a little bit like that. And Jesus called her love "a beautiful thing."

Desiring chemistry in a future spouse is not a bad thing. But we must earnestly pray for a divine and spiritual light — chemistry that is governed and given by the Holy Spirit, chemistry that helps us see beauty that reflects the excellency and truth of God. We must cast ourselves at his feet and seek first, adore first, the beauty of our Savior's face.

Godly chemistry is a gift. After nine years of marriage, I still ask the Lord that I might love my husband more and more truly (fireworks and weakness in the knees are nice too). After twenty years of seeing Christ, I still ask the Spirit that he would give me a greater delight and affection for Himself.

Make no mistake, however, chemistry can be deadly and demonic. There is such a thing as an improper, sinful desire for beauty (or counterfeits of beauty). The forbidden fruit was a delight to Eve's eyes. Eve's chemistry for that fruit—killed her. When she desired, took, and tasted something other than God, she died.

So, dear friend, make no mistake.

Lastly, allow me to leave you with Edwards' tribute to the most beautiful lady in his eyes. Sarah Pierpont was a pastor's daughter in New Haven. She was seven years younger than him. When they first met, Sarah was likely too young for Jonathan to view romantically. But here was what he wrote of her:

They say there is a young lady in [New Haven] who is beloved of that almighty Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him—that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up into heaven; being assured that he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love and delight forever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections; is most just and conscientious in all her actions; and you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; especially after those seasons in which this great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly; and seems to be always of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, and to wander in the fields and on the mountains, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.
Douglas Sweeney, Hans' professor, summarized their chemistry so well: Jonathan and Sarah "were kindred spirits. Jonathan loved Sarah's beauty, but attributed her attractiveness to the fullness of God in her soul. To call theirs love at first sight would be to mislead most modern readers. These two fell in love with the image and glory of God they saw in each other" (Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word, 61).

Forever yours,
Your sister

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Red leafs must break

Our lives are held together by a string of deaths and births.

We lose things; we gain things. We say hello; we say goodbye. Hope is born; hope takes flight; hope dies. Red leafs tell us about death every autumn; green leafs tell us about life every spring.
The seed  must break in order to let go the shoot,
the leafbud must break to let go the leaf,
the flowerbud break to let go the flower,
the petals drop off to let the fruit form.
- Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering
So, in breaking, the purpose of each is fulfilled. By losing and gaining, in coming and fading, we live out the ebb and flow of this shore we call time.

Life and pain often comes hand in hand, from our very first breath. Newborn babies cry because they are forced to leave the warmth and comfort of their mothers' womb. At our births, we felt the first cold that cut our skin, the first light that pierced our eyes. We felt the pain of hunger and needles and being alone.

But these were small in comparison to the pain that our mothers bore for our sake. We are alive because of our mothers' pain; their bodies were broken that we might live. Water was spilled, blood was shed. In their worst hour of pain, we were crowned—with the gift of life's first breath.

April 1 marks one of the more memorable births and deaths in my short existence.

Even as I am typing this, I hear the voices of doctors and nurses and Hans telling me to breathe. Breathe! Take another breath, now push! Now breathe. I thought I was pushing Emeth out. But we gained much more than a baby boy that day. And we lost much more than blood and water and sleep.

Seven years ago, Emeth was born at 9:41 a.m. Seven years ago, Hans and I died, again. I became a mother; Hans became a father. Just as we left our former selves behind at the altar where we were wedded, we left other parts of me, of him, of us—in that hospital room where Emeth was born. We did not know it at the time, but we would never be the same again. We were broken for the sake of another.

So, today, I give thanks for our brokenness, for the brokenness that is the very fount of life. Red leafs must break in the fall for new leafs to grow in the spring.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Waiting for the end

Last week, we welcomed spring with open arms, thrilled to see the grass again. I rejoiced over that warm gray hue on the lake. The ducks seemed to be laughing as they swam between melting chunks of ice. Even the weeping willows looked cheerful against the deep blue sky.

But, this week.
Snow, again.

Winter is bidding farewell, with passion. The hills and roofs and cars were clad  in white, again. Today, the sky is heavy with gloom.

Spring snow

The world grieved for the death of a stranger this week.

Kara Tippetts (1976-2015) was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 36. For me, 36 is only three years away. She had four young children. She battled against the cancer in her body for three years, but she called it her "fight for a tender heart."
I feel like I am a little girl at a party, whose dad is asking her to leave early, and I'm throwing a fit. I am not afraid of dying, I just don't want to go.
Most of us only met Kara through our electronic screens. Yet, she compelled us to walk with her through her kindness and beauty. She wrote on her blog last December,
My little body has grown tired of battle and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live.
Kara died last Sunday. She lived and loved and died so well. Her life made me think about how I would want to die. She left us with her book, and her call for us to die to ourselves and follow Christ, "When you come to the end of yourself, that’s when something else can begin.”

Dying seeds

So, I hold Kara in my thoughts as I am waiting for the end of this winter and the beginning of spring.

If I would listen, the fields are teaching me a lesson about acceptance. They received the snow in quietness and trust. With open hands, they rest in the goodness of their Creator. The soil and plants are teaching me a lesson about patience. The dirt is vibrating, the trees are humming, the branches are pregnant. Soon, they will burst into life and blossoms and fruit. But for now, they are content to grow in secret places.

Just because we cannot see what is happening, does not mean nothing is happening. Growth often happens in dark and hidden places.

Soul, wait not for spring,
Wait, instead,
for the Lord of the Eternal Spring,
the Lord of Life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

These Strange Ashes

Elisabeth Elliot continues to be a faithful companion. Her book, These Strange Ashes, is a collection of stories from her year as a jungle missionary in Ecuador, before she married Jim Elliot. For the first time in these past few months, I saw that my heroine was indeed made of flesh, bones, and blood.

For many years, Elisabeth Elliot had been preparing herself for the work of translating the Bible into a yet-to-be-written language. But much of her book was a confession about how distracted she was from the work she set out to do. Should she boil her milk and butter, how was she to keep her stove lighted, why it was such a trial to transport and boil the water from the river infested with human excrement, and how she made peace with wrinkled clothes.

There were points in the story when I had to put down the book, walk to my kitchen, and appreciate what she called "miracles of ingenuity"—the faucets and drains and my kitchen sink.

"The familiar became the stuff of dreams," she wrote, "and the stuff of former dream—the jungle, Indians, thatched roofs, campfires, a strange  unwritten tongue—became the familiar." Going to a grocery store became to her "almost a dream of paradise." Scotch tape, nail files, pots, vegetable parers, and notebooks became precious things, but they were always getting broken or rusty or mildewed.

Life was very stale, she wrote, and the days dragged by. But, when life was eventful, there was sure to be landslides, thefts, getting lost in the jungle, sickness, and deaths. I do not know which I would prefer.

And then, there were her losses. She quoted Amy Carmichael,
But these strange ashes, Lord, this nothingness,
This baffling sense of loss?
Son, was the anguish of my stripping less
Upon the torturing cross?
I stumbled across these words that did much good for my soul, though I do not yet understand them fully.
This grief, this sorrow, this total loss that empties my hands and breaks my heart, I may, if I will, accept, and by accepting it, I find in my hands something to offer. And so I give it back to Him, who in mysterious exchange give Himself to me.
Hers are among the strangest books I have read, and loved. There was no conclusion, no triumphant ending. I was left wondering why she suffered so, after she had poured out so much. And the losses she recorded in this book were not even the worst of her pain. After five years of waiting for the man she loved, Jim Elliot would die in another jungle just two years after they were married.

Loss after loss after loss.
Faith, prayer, and obedience are our requirements. We are not offered in exchange immunity and exemption from the world's woes. What we are offered has to do with another world altogether.

My miracles of ingenuity.

She ended her book this way:
A story is told of Jesus and His disciples walking one day along a stony road. Jesus asked each of them to choose a stone to carry for Him. John, it is said, chose a large one while Peter chose the smallest. Jesus led them then to the top of the mountain and commanded that the stones be made bread. Each disciple, by this time tired and hungry, was allowed to eat the bread he held in his band, but of course Peter's was not sufficient to satisfy his hunger. John gave him some of his.
Some time later Jesus again asked the disciples to pick up a stone to carry. This time Peter chose the largest of all. Taking them to a river, Jesus told them to cast the stones into the water. They did so, but looked at one another in bewilderment.
"For whom," asked Jesus, "did you carry the stone?"

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Before her King

Mary was always at your feet.

When you came by for a visit and her sister wanted her in the kitchen, she listened to your teaching at your feet. When her brother died and she did not understand why you did not heal him, she wept at your feet. When her brother was raised from the dead and people wanted to kill you because they refused to understand, she poured precious oil on your feet and wiped them with her hair.

On bended knees, this was how she always received you. On good days and hard days, she always came to your feet.

My sister Jean once told me that we are like teabags. We release our flavor, our aroma, our true selves—in hot water. Will I be faithful, kind, and patient when I am under pressure, when I cannot understand, when death is near? What are the words that will come out of my mouth when I am provoked, when I cannot help it, when I am despised?

Will I remain in your love, my Lord? Will I fall at your feet? Will I stay here?

Mary's love for you was so indiscreet, immodest even. She held nothing back. When other people were blind to your beauty and deaf to your voice, she was held captive. You, the Maker of Stars, was in her home. The voice who spoke the universe into place was speaking. So, Mary listened.

She ran to you when you were near. Blinded by tears and confused, she fell at your feet. Here, she was safe; you were her refuge. She did not try to explain her pain or keep herself together or ask you why her brother had to die. She just wept.

Mary's love for you made people squirm in their seats, uncomfortable. Her love seemed so foolish and wasteful. Surely, she was showing too much, pouring out her respectability like that pound of expensive oil. The crown of her head wiped the dust of your feet. Again and again, she abandoned herself and other people's expectations. Her love was not respectable, or useful, or reasonable.

When people despised her, she did not try to defend herself or explained what she was doing. When people criticized her and rebuked her, she remained silent.

She knew you understood.

You saw her, and that was enough. You defended her before the scoffers and their disapproving glaces. You commended her. You wept with her.

My mother on bended knees.

On ordinary days, Mary was probably an excellent helper to Martha; this would explain why Martha could not do without her help. I am guessing she washed the dishes and helped with the clean-up when Jesus and his disciples left.

The difference between Mary and everybody else was not merely differences in their actions or postures. What set Mary apart was her certainty that Jesus was who he claimed to be: The Son of God. Those were no ordinary days. Those were the days when God walked and ate and slept among his people.

Therefore, she came to Jesus on bended knees. Her encounters with Jesus were not meetings between two equals. Mary came to Jesus as a subject before her King, a worshiper before her God.

bend your knees on ordinary days,
bend your knees on hard days,
bend your knees on days when you are not sure.

behold your King,
his feet hanging on a tree.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Psalms: The story of a place between two worlds

I cried in my Hebrew class.

It was my first semester at Trinity, almost nine years ago. Dr. Magary was explaining grammar and syntax in the book of Ruth. He loved every jot and every tittle of God's Word. Every letter, every stroke was precious and full of meaning in his eyes. Not one word was empty.

During that same semester, I was taking another a class on the Psalms. Dr. VanGemeren took us up into the air, and showed us the world of the Psalms. See! The wilderness, the green pastures, the hills. Behold! The trees of the forest, the battlefields, the valley of the shadow of death. Look! That was the willow tree where they hung up their lyres. Here, this is where we hid under the shadow of the Almighty.

These two men offered me cups of cold water, and only then I realized that I had been thirsty my whole life. Some days, my heart would burn and ache just listening to their teachings. I cried in my Hebrew class because in and through his reading of the Word, I heard the voice of my God.

Here are some lessons I learned from them about how to read the Psalms:

1. The Psalms is a story.

It has a beginning and an end. The first two chapters set the stage for the rest of the book. Dr. VanGemeren would say that all the themes in all the other 148 chapters are introduced here, in the beginning. The story has an ending. The last five chapters are called the Hallelujah psalms. They are the grand finale to the story.

The book of Psalms contains five books, the same number as the books of the law — the Pentateuch. Each book has its own characteristics, its dominant writers, its dominant themes.
Book I: 1-41
Book II: 42-72
Book III: 73-89
Book IV: 90-106
Book V: 107-150

For example, Book IV begins with the prayer of Moses. The person of Moses evokes the stories of creation, the great Exodus, and forty years of wandering in the wilderness. These are the very themes that dominate Book IV. Each book end with a similar doxology: "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen" (Psalm 41:13, the doxology of Book I).

Because the Psalter is a story, the place of every song, every line, every word is meaningful. The 150 psalms are not randomly arranged. Whenever we read and interpret a psalm, it is crucial that we read what precedes it and what comes after it. One psalm is one scene in a bigger story. In order to understand this particular scene, it is helpful to know its context, its location, the questions and concerns of the person uttering this prayer.

So, for example, Psalm 111 and 112 should be read together. They begin with the same words: "Praise the Lord!" Psalm 111 tells us about Yahweh, and Psalm 112 tells us about the blessed person. Right in between these two psalms, we see that the blessed person is bound to Yahweh by "the fear of the Lord" which is the beginning of wisdom (111:10). The fear of the Lord is the meat that brings this sandwich together.

Because the Psalter is a story, the 150 psalms moves forward, and its movement follows certain patterns. From a bird's-eye view, the psalms move from lament to praise, chaos to order, conflict to resolution, shame to glory — orientation, disorientation, reorientation. Sometimes, the movements are small, from one verse to the next, or from one chapter to the next. Other times, the movements can span across a few chapters. The themes flow from one to another much like how the scenery changes on the highway. A mountain might first be at the horizon; it then becomes nearer; and soon, it is behind us.

Therefore, Psalm 23 is comforting because of Psalm 22. "The Lord is my shepherd" is the answer to David's question "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" These two psalms are embedded in a greater body of psalms about kingship, and the shepherd is a symbol of the king in the Old Testament. In Psalm 20, David prayed "O Lord, save the king!" In Psalm 24, David declares, "Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!" The theme changed from an earthly king to the heavenly King.

Photo credit: my sister Catherine

2. The Psalms is a place.

Christians live in a place between two worlds. We left our old lives behind, and we set our feet on a pilgrimage towards the Celestial City. The Psalms is that place, that path, between these two worlds.

David, Moses, Asaph, the Sons of Korah were the people who once walked on this narrow path. They knew the terrains of this wilderness. They showed us that there are two ways: We could either walk towards to City of Life on the Path of Wisdom, or we could turn back to the City of Death on the Path of Folly. Every day, in every decisions, we are talking steps in either direction. We could either fix our eyes on Life or on Death.

The psalmists did not leave us with mere breadcrumbs. No, they carved out mountains with their bare hands. They dug deep wells of never-ending springs. They established ancient rocks that conquered the test of time. They paved the road with their prayers, their tears, their joy, their blood, their strength, their songs. They showed us the path that leads to Zion.

But, they failed. And they died. The path was unfinished.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and walked along the path of the Psalms. He went into the wilderness. He spoke and the mountains moved. His steps were sure and steadfast; he never looked back. He paved the way to the Father with his tears, his sweat, his blood, all the way to Golgotha where he gave his life and said, "It is finished."

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the Story; he is the Place. In him, we hide.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Come, and do ordinary things

Revival meetings were in vogue among the churches in Malaysia during the 1990s. The charismatic movement swept through the land and there was much talk about prophecies and visions and tongues. My friends attended many of these revival meetings, and I wanted to go as well.

But my parents said no.

My parents felt it was unsafe to send their naive teenage daughter to sit under the teachings of strangers. I obeyed them, though I recall there were some tears. My friends spoke enthusiastically about their mystical experiences, and some even received "words of prophecy" about their futures. I told my parents that I, too, wanted to know God's will for my life. My parents told me to read my Bible.

They were so, so wise.

Twenty years later, the questions that used to trouble me as a teen are no longer so weighty: will I continue my education, where will the money come from, will I marry, will I be a missionary doctor, etc. The Lord faithfully answered. There were some yeses, and they were some nos. But all things worked together for my good.

New questions came, new concerns for the future. My prayers now include questions about our children, our sisters and parents, our friends, our church. The list is long. My parents' words still ring true: Read your Bible.

So, Pa and Ma, I am reading my Bible. And I see that God's guidance came in two ways:

1. God's guidance came to people when they cast themselves at his feet.
God came to people who were seeking after him, blind beggars who called out to him, a man who climbed up the sycamore tree, a barren woman who wept at the temple, a sick woman who touched Jesus' cloak. These people knew they were desperate and in need, so they came to him.

God wants us to come to him. He is constantly calling us to return, repent, and come. He has given us the way, the truth, and the life through Jesus Christ. He has equipped us with prayer, communion, baptism, fellowship, and his Word. In order to received grace, we must come. We must cast ourselves in the way of grace.

2. God's guidance came to people when they were doing their ordinary, everyday duties.
God called people who were doing what they were supposed to be doing, a farmer who was farming, fishermen who were fishing, a shepherd boy who was shepherding. When we faithfully carry out the small duties that are set before us, we are preparing ourselves to know and accept the will of God.

You might be thinking that you are just doing the dishes or your homework, just going to bed early, just waking up when the alarm rings, just going out for a jog, just typing the Power Point presentation for the worship service, just disciplining your children for the sixth time in one hour, just making food for friends who are sick — you are not. These thousands of decisions, thousands of tiny moments are chiseling away at our souls, shaping and teaching us to obey, and to sacrifice.

In words of Amy Carmichael, "A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a very great thing."

Between writing this post and making a birthday breakfast for Hans, the toilet overflowed. Perfect timing. Because there is no duty more ordinary than toilet duty.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Bend your neck, bow your head

Khesed calls sheep "baa-baa." For some reason, I think of baa-baas whenever I hear the words, "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

I think of the green pasture in Psalm 23. Jesus takes me and lays me by the still waters. I am his little sheep and he is my shepherd. I would then play all day with other sheep, happy and free of my burdens.

Wrong. Wrong animal.

When Jesus calls us to come and rest, he also says, "Take my yoke upon you."

A yoke. As in that thing farmers attach on their oxen. Not exactly the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of rest.

It has been another Elisabeth Elliot week for me. For two days, I have her sermon about meekness on replay on my desktop. She opened my eyes to see my opposite-of-meek ways. Yesterday, as I was folding laundry, the Holy Spirit performed several open-heart surgeries on me. There was no anesthetic for the pain. With utmost precision and care, the Lord cut into my soul and placed his fingers on the sickest, most vile places of my heart.

Right between those piles of laundry, the Lord broke me.
I needed to be broken. And brokenness was a good place to be.

In order to take the yoke of Christ, I must first bend my neck, and bow my head. I must submit my will to his, and go wherever he leads me. But, this yoke—with its weight and constraints on my shoulder—I do not like it. I want to stretch my neck and look around. I want to evaluate all my options and decide for myself, where I want to go, who I want to be. I want to run and be free.

But running wild, I should know by now, is no freedom at all.

Imagine a frail animal in the wild. In the cold, in the rain, in the ditch. Thirsty, starving, hurting. A prey for fiercer beasts. Lost and alone. It could fall off a cliff, or worse, it could be captured for chains and slaughter.

This yoke doesn't seem so bad now, does it? Jesus calls it "easy" because the yoke is his steadfast love. He bound himself to us because of his faithfulness. All I have to do is bend my neck and bow my head, and receive it with a grateful heart.

In his grace and mercy, God bound his fate with ours. To be under his yoke is to be one with Christ — the One who bent his neck and bowed his head under the weight of the cross. To be under his yoke is to belong to God, to be in God's field, to work God's soil, to bear fruit for God's glory. The yoke is heavy and constraining only when I am fighting and pulling away.

Soul, bend your neck,
Soul, bow your head,
Take his yoke upon you,
this is his steadfast love and faithfulness.
His yoke is easy,
and his burden is light.
Learn from him,
for he is gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest, Oh my soul.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Be more than a mother

My friends have talked about the books of Elisabeth Elliot for years. I do not know why I had not picked one up until now. I chose her biography of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die. Encountering authors for the first time is much like meeting new friends. In this book, I met not one but two incredible women who were not afraid to die. They embraced their chances to die, to be crucified with Christ, as the door to life.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote in her preface, "We read biographies to get out of ourselves and into another's skin." And getting out of my own skin has proven to be incredibly useful.

During the boys' nap time and between chores, I opened my book and flew to India. There, under some shades in the hot and humid jungle, I sat and watched Amy Carmichael as she taught her dark skinned toddlers to sing. She required even the smallest children to help, "A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a very great thing." As their hands swept the floor of their bungalow, peeled fruits, and husked rice, their lips sang these words,
Jesus, Savior, dost Thou see
When I'm doing work for Thee?
Common thing, not great and grand,
Carrying stones and earth and sand?

I did common work, you know,
Many, many years ago;
And I don't forget. I see
Everything you do for Me.

Motherhood for Amy Carmichael began one morning when Preena ran up to her as she was sipping her chota (early tea). The little girl climbed into her lap and began to chatter away, "My name is Pearl-eyes, and I want to stay here always, I have come to stay."

Preena ran away from a Hindu temple, where her biological mother offered her as a child-slave to the temple guardians. Amy was convinced that an angel helped her escape, because fleeing the temple would be quite an impossible feat. Crowds from the village and the temple women came to Amy's house to reclaim the child, but Preena would not go with them, and Amy would not force her. Amy later learned stories from this child that "darkened the sunlight," and Preena had the scars to prove her words.

More and more children were brought to Amy. Her home would sometimes be filled with thirty or more babies and children. She had rescued and raised hundreds of children into adulthood by the time she died at age eighty-three. Many stayed with her and helped her. Some were rescued from the temple; others were brought to Amy by pastors and Christians who found babies by roadsides. Since the day Preena arrived at her door, Amy gave her heart and her missionary feet to be bound by her beloved children, "for the sake of Him whose feet once were nailed."

Inside the front cover of Amy's Bible were written these words:
These children are dear to Me.
Be a mother to them, and more than a mother.
Watch over them tenderly, be just and kind.
If thy heart is not large enough to embrace them,
I will enlarge it after a pattern of My own.
If these young children are docile and obedient, bless Me for it;
If they are froward, call upon Me for help;
If they weary thee, I will be thy consolation;
If thou sink under thy burden, I will be thy Reward.

I would return from these trips restored, rested. The toys on the floor and dishes in the sink do not seem so daunting. Even though the window announces that it is still winter here in Chicago, my heart is warmed by the heat of the Indian jungle.

*Pictures taken from the website of the Dohnavur Fellowship, home to thousands of children in South India, continuing the work that Amy Carmichael began in 1901.