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.


estherogen said...

Loss and gain kissing at the altar
Chinese aunties :D

Serenely said...

My latest story seems like such a frivolous, trivial thing compared to yours.

Whatever the case is, I think I would appreciate having someone ask me directly, rather than stare silently and make their own private assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing!

I love the poem My Me Thy Fuel, Flame of God

In college I turned the words into a hymn by adding music to it. I still think of it often.

Irene Sun said...

Esther - I was thinking about your phrase "Loss and gain kissing at the altar" this morning. Such a beautiful image. Thank you, friend, you always have a way with words. And YES, Chinese aunties. I am learning to appreciate them, as I am now (becoming?) one myself. =)

Serene - Dear, dear Serene. I was wincing the entire time I was reading your post. Holding my breath because I know a horrible thing is coming. It is during times of loss that we realize what we care most about. Your hubby's kindness will stay with you always.

Andrew - You were the one who convinced me to read Through Gates of Splendor! =) Thank you for the gift. Jim Elliot was so intentional, so fervent in every decision he made. "Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul -- short life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God's house consumed Him. 'Make me Thy Fuel, Flame of God.'" Thanks, again.

Stephanie said...

I didn't know your husband was previously a lawyer! It must be an interesting story how God changed this path.

Also, your thoughts here on "nothingness" have been a blessing to me.

Irene Sun said...

Dear Stephanie, Thank you for your visit. You are a blessing to me! =) Hans reminds me often how blessed we are to be God's servants. Though I see his resignation from being a lawyer as "a sacrifice," Hans disagrees and believes that God has given him the better life, that it was no sacrifice at all.