Saturday, December 18, 2010

This Christmas

This Christmas, we at the MAK school family, rocked a cynicism blasting, injustice butt kicking, poverty fighting campaign by raising an incredible US$16,000+ to provide clean water for children in Cambodia.

It's cliche and kind of untrue to say it's not about the money. After all, it is with these very funds that water purification systems will be built. But I've learned how relative money is. A dollar means different things to a billionaire, to a middle class family, and to those living in extreme poverty. Rather, the significance is in the impact of each dollar, both in the the people from whom it was given and those who received.

I can't speak for each student/staff/parent of the school community, but judging from the generous outpouring from beginning to end of this short campaign, they resonated deeply with the cause and believed in making a difference in our world. It is a delightful testimony of the character the community exhibited, that they would give so willingly to people who will likely never get a chance to say thank you.

For me, I can't think of a word to capture my joy in this campaign, so I will steal Gabe Choi's phrase which he repeatedly used when I was translating: "blown away". (Note to Gabe, blown away - no equivalent in Chinese!) To be honest, I had fairly low expectations of this project. I've had some experiences with the workings of NGO's so I know for a fact it is not an easy task to ask for donations in this economic climate. This is the first time the school has done a project targeted to help people off-island, so I pessimistically angst over the obstacle of not being able to show our families the actual location and people of the project. Our target goal (10,000) was higher than the amount ever raised before: another stretch of faith.

So these dollars are going to change the lives of thousands of kids living in extreme poverty, and I hope it has changed the hearts and ambitions of our kids. To me, it was a mind-blowing reminder of God's faithfulness to us and the desires He has given us to bring hope for the poor. It was a sweet gentle call to faith in community, because it was together with so many people working in various ways that this project was accomplished. And above all, it was a display of His love, abundantly showered on myself and others involved, to share in His joy and delight through our compassion and generosity, and on the children in Cambodia, to whom He has brought light in the midst of their darkness this Christmas.

The temptation is there. The pull to despair about how many continue to suffer and die in poverty and injustice for every child we have helped. Our work is far from being done. But for now I revel in this mountaintop experience and simply say thanks to my good and loving God.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boundaries in Family

I've been reading Boundaries for Kids, the infamous Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend adapted for parents. So far, I dig it. The book fleshes out some of the principles I use in parenting my children, and offers some very practical advice in various situations. From what I've read (I've never actually read the original Boundaries), the idea of drawing healthy boundaries in our lives is to develop a clear sense of self, identity, purpose, in order to functionally engage in thriving relationships. As applied to parenting, they advise parents to seek to have a life outside of their children, not only to protect themselves from burnout but also to model actively living a purposeful life. In doing so, we also foster a self-identity in the children beyond their relationship with us. As I nod and mutter my "Amens" throughout the book, a nagging voice in my head seems to provoke: "Rebel! Exactly what point did you abandon your Chinese upbringing and adopt this Western nonsense and raising your kids to draw boundaries and be independent? What do YOU know about family? What if YOUR family "drew boundaries" with you, would you have the privileges of the life you enjoy now?"

The truth is, I've heard some horror stories of Chinese families with absolutely no sense of boundaries. One of Jason's students recently married a man whose mother still tucks him into bed at night. Even more disturbing is when I told this story to my family, they shrugged and said it's very common. Some of these "attachment" issues between a son and his mother causes tremendous distress to Chinese wives and I have seen destruction of families over the impossible "po-po" (mother-in-law) relations. I think a book on Boundaries could truly lift some Chinese families out of their miserable, enmeshed tangle of relationships. However, I am also weary of Western missionaries preaching the "leave and cleave" passage without comprehending the complexities of the Chinese family network. It resembles the "be White to be Christian" paradigm too much for my comfort.

So I am again left in the lovely grey area where I find myself most of these days. I want to sound the trumpets and recommend Boundaries to my friends, but am not sure how the Chinese audience would receive it. In the end, I don't think Chinese families need a Boundaries book, written by people who have not operated in a Chinese context. This is not to say there are not "boundaries" problems in Chinese society, but that the solution needs to come from the Holy Spirit breathing His gentle nudges of change within Chinese culture. When a Christian Chinese xi-fu (daughter in law) falls on her knees crying for help to our God, perhaps she will receive what she needs without abandoning the amazing breadth of commitment and sacrificial love that typical Chinese families exhibit for each other.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Living a Good Story

I just finished reading the book by Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand years. It's all about his process of making a movie about his life, and whether he is living a story worth telling. I couldn't stop chuckling my way through the book, his dry humor kept me entertained in those sweet post-children's bedtime-husband engaged in the new Assasin's Creed game-just Cindy moments. He considers the various elements of our lives and whether they are ingredients for a good story. For example, in every good story, the protagonist suffers setback in order to advance his character, which then leads one to ponder whether we sometimes choose uncomfortable paths to live a good story.

With his words tumbling around inside my mind, I journeyed along with some of my friends' roller coaster dramas in the past few weeks, meanwhile putting through my own humble, not-without-its-craziness, life, and saw some amazingly beautiful redemptive stories in the making.

My friends and heroes, Leslie & ZB, are on their way to adopting a little girl from Ethiopia. They've prayed, angst, celebrated, grieved, and moved forward on this journey of international adoption. Little Siri has yet to officially become a part of their family but their faithfulness in pursuing her is a beautiful picture of the way God pursues us - urgent, unconditional love.

Gloria and Brenda - two sisters' stories intertwining in pursuit of a potential adoption of Ladybug - a cerebral palsy baby. Doctor's visits, skype conferences, trips to the Children's Home, and endless phone calls. The details are mundane, but underlying these small steps of faith are big hearts for orphans, for God's calling, for hope. Theirs are the stories of a bond in family, so close-knit to do the impossible for each other, and yet stretches enough to include a little Ladybug.

Lizzy's playmate in China, Adah Morris is fighting an aggressive form of leukemia in the most heroic way. Through all testing, treatment, and chemo, she continues unwaveringly in loving and caring for her sister, her friends in the hospital, her aunties from China, and friends all around the world. Even six year olds can live good stories!

Then I hear of my friend Dave, who has a PhD in neuro something or other, and yet not afraid to take a leap of faith and pursue a career in web design and application. Recent trophy = an iphone game approved! I am so inspired by the story he's living and makes me want to walk with eyes on the prize and away from the fears and anxieties of life.

My friend Marissa - mother of three young boys. She's busy loving on them and yet fulfilling her dream of becoming a published author (and well on her way!). I can't imagine how she juggles in editing in between diaper changes, preparing toddler snacks and supporting her husband, all in the same 24 hour window that I have. Great story. Busy story.

On and on the list goes, and I feel so overwhelmed and privileged to be watching story after story of hope and redemption, to experience the joys and sorrows of each story the way I laugh and cry in my favorite books, and knowing deep in my soul, that each story is a signpost (oh yes, I'm an NT Wright groupie) towards the Kingdom of a good God.

How can anyone think life is boring?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Our Unique Bond - Logistics

As you can see, I've lost count of my continuing series on Cross Cultural Marriage. We're moving forward with subject titles from this point on. I've gone over some of the theoretical concepts of what it may mean to be married cross culturally and thought it might be helpful to zone in on the logistics.

What's in a name?

Chinese women keep their maiden names, but may be referred to as Mrs. "Husband's Surname". American women generally change their last names after marriage but these days it's kind of your choice. I didn't think about it much and by default took on my husband's name and became Cindy Brandt. Here are some of the issues I know of in picking the right combination of names:

-when people see my name without seeing my actual person they assume I'm Caucasian as Brandt is a German last name, so there's a bit of a disconnect with my heritage.
-If an American woman takes on their Chinese husband's last name, there is sometimes the problem of family/friends not knowing how to pronounce your name.
-choose wisely because once you decide, you better stick with it unless you want to become more entangled in red tape than you already have to be. See upcoming section.

Location, location, location

When you marry someone who is not from your country, you have the joy of deciding where you will live together, and the not-so-joyful process of going through VISA, or RESIDENCY applications. I've ranted about this before, but most people automatically assume when you marry someone of another country, you can easily become a citizen of nation of your spouse. Untrue. Our world may be globalizing but the immigration processes are still developing. In the meantime you'll have bureaucracy to deal with. I think (hope!) things have already improved from when J and I got married, so I hope future cross culture marrieds will have an easier time. On a side note, for some reason unknown to our present selves, ten years ago we decided it would be a good idea for me to apply for the US green card. At the time, we were planning to move to China. So go figure, stupid young Jason & Cindy, what a waste of time and energy. As of this summer, I cut up my green card. Moral of the story? Try to decipher your personal crystal ball and avoid unnecessary paperwork.

Party, baby, party

Cross cultural marriages is a life long fusion event. Your wedding celebration can incorporate lots of fun traditions from each other's cultures, and that's only the beginning. The advice I gave my friends when I had the honor of marrying them was to celebrate all the holidays. That's right, I'm all about partying. In addition to it being plain fun, it's a great way of incorporating both cultures into your family life. Of course, the year calendar might turn into one long party so sensibly you pick and choose. For example, we don't celebrate Halloween, or Valentines, or obscure festivals Teacher's Day. But we do hit most of the major ones like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Chinese New Year. We cross cultural marrieds have to work extra hard to make areas of our marriage work, so we deserve the extra break. Live it up, people.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Our Unique Bond #6

I'm not even going to pretend like I have any decent advice to give concerning raising children in a cross cultural marriage. I have two kids, at the time of writing, seven and four. There is a long way to go before anyone can make judgments of our parenting skills. So without offering any solutions to people seeking advice on how to raise bi (tri, multi) cultural kids let me offer you the challenges of cross cultural parenting. (I know, you're welcome.)

If culture shock is an issue for you before your pregnancy, having a baby is going to kick it into high gear. Because, with that final contraction and push, you've birthed an entity outside of yourself which has your entire heart wrapped around it, your culture bound expectations of life attached to her, and an innate instinct to protect and defend him no matter the cost. This is a precarious position to be in while encountering culture shock because you're confronting something that is attacking not just your cultural values, but also attacking the little being through whom you naturally want to preserve the values you hold to be true. Many times, this very dilemma has kept us from embracing Chinese culture while we lived in China, because we simply didn't have the courage to subject our children to the cultural differences they will inevitably confront. For example, we decided to pull our daughter out of the Chinese preschool system because we sensed the teachers using tactics like shame, which is very sensible within Chinese culture, to teach our very free-spirited daughter. For more on my experiences with my kids in Chinese school system, see here and here.

Every cross cultural couple, or expats, who think about having children anticipate raising their children bilingual. No one can deny the benefits of the gift of bilingualism. But it is never as easy as you imagine, and although I have seen, or heard about, people doing it successfully, they are few and far between. The best advice I can give to people is to set realistic expectations. For me, it means grappling with the reality that my kids are never going to be as bilingually fluent as I am. My bilingual abilities are a product of my environment which my kids do not have. Of course, being bilingual may mean different things to people. I am bilingual in that I can speak and understand both languages and be comfortable developing meaningful relationships with people of both Chinese and American culture. For some, being bilingual may mean being able to read, speak, write, and get PHD's in both tongues, for others it's being able to simply speak "market language". The best outcome I have seen of people raising bilingual children are instances where the mother and the father have a different dominant language. Jason and I both have dominant languages in English so it was an uphill battle to raise our kids in Chinese. If you are committed to raising bilingual children, there are certainly some quality resources out there to help you.

Language is only one aspect, though certainly a significant aspect, of culture. I grew up with lots of missionary children and some of them can speak Chinese fluently but very few of them embodied Chinese culture. And that's because their Western families were the primary influence in the formation of their worldview. With parents coming from two cultures, the challenge is to decide, hopefully together, what worldview and values to pass on to your child. Note some of these will be conscious decisions that you and your spouse discuss, but I think many of these are simply passed on subconsciously because of our unquestioned assumptions. These decisions range from material things such as food, clothing, routine (no sensible Chinese family puts their child to sleep anytime before 9:00), to the way you treat your parents, people in your community, etc. Sometimes I see the way my children behave and am astounded by how American they are. Those are the moments of disconnect for a Chinese Mom raising children with an American husband. Just the other day I was in tears to J, grieving that some of my favorite things to do (okay eat, I'm Chinese!!) when I was a little girl are not things my kids love. But I know we are giving them countless invaluable experiences by exposing them to the best and worst of both cultures. I also know, from deep personal experience, that it is not the easiest life journey. My prayers are they will learn at a young age, sometimes being uncomfortable is the path to treasured blessings.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Our Unique Bond #5

There are infinite number of scenarios that mark cross cultural marriages in relation to in laws that it seems a daunting task to pull any overarching themes together. You could have parents who supported your marriage, those who grew to support it, those who opposed, those whom you live down the block from, under the same roof, across the world, divorced parents, dysfunctional parents, etc. But I'm going to try. And I'm going to use my old friend Alliteration to help me.

R-edefine your idea of family. This is poignant between American and Chinese marriages like us. Simply because the definition of family differs so drastically between the two cultures. Generally, Chinese culture places stronger emphasis on the joining of two entire families when two single individuals choose to marry. What sort of model your marriage will adopt is something the couple will have to work out together. I know my American friend chose to live with her Chinese mother in law after they had their first child. J and I most likely will never find ourselves in that situation, ahem, by choice. Whatever ends up being characteristic of your marriage in your relationship with your spouse's family, it's not a bad idea to begin by recognizing some of your assumptions of what that picture might look like is not universal, and to be open-minded and humble enough to stretch the definition of family to accommodate your new family of another culture. This will not be a comfortable process, but again, the reward is there. All cultures supply solutions to society's problems differently, and you will be enlightened by some of those solutions which you never considered within your own culture. (Of course you will discover problems you never knew but let's stay positive, shall we?)

R-emember your families didn't choose to marry you into another culture (unless they did so through arranged marriages which would be subject for an entirely different sort of blog post as this particular one), so you can't expect them to make the effort to reach cross culturally as you did. It takes a lot of work to engage another culture. Your parents have their own lives, and yes ideally they would be the type of people who make that effort, but if they're not, you can't really blame them. J and I try, not very hard to be frank, to explain to our own parents why our spouse acts the way they do, and meet with blank stares. Both our parents have grown up in a very monocultural world without too much meaningful encounter of other cultures, it is sometimes too far of a stretch to get them to see from our perspective. And it is unfair because they don't live in close proximity with someone of another culture daily as we do. Perhaps lowering expectations in this area will improve life with in laws in a cross cultural context.

R-espect your parents/in laws. It's common courtesy, it's civil, it's Christian, it's filial piety, whatever you call it, just do it. Perhaps it's the Chinese part of me, but as a parent myself, I know firsthand the kind of unconditional love you have for your children, and it's important to respond in respect. And I believe doing so goes a long way in displaying respect for your spouse. The problem with being in a cross cultural marriage is respect is shown differently in each culture. My advice is to take cues from the local, ie., your spouse. For example: Chinese people generally only make a big deal of birthdays when you are a young kid, but I've learned acknowledging birthdays is a very meaningful event in my American family and try to adapt to that custom.

And by popular demand (okay 2 people suggested it), raising children up next.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our Unique Bond #4

Culture shock is the pruning process. It's the Good Friday before Easter Sunday. It's the dark night before the dawn. It's the pain before the gain. But let me be clear on one thing: though culture shock is inevitably painful, it is not inevitable. We experience culture shock only if and when we actually desire to engage with another culture in a meaningful way. I personally know couples who marry cross culturally who don't make an effort to engage in their spouse's culture and I suspect they don't have culture shock issues in their marriage. Just as an expat can live in another culture and exist purely in an expat bubble without engaging local culture, they too, won't encounter culture shock issues.

And here I break the bad news to people considering cross culture marriages. Gulp. In my humble opinion, you WILL have to make sacrifices and be ready to lose aspects of your culture if you want to make your marriage work. And if you, as I did, decide being married to your man/woman, was worth those sacrifices, it doesn't mean you won't later on in your marriage miss and grieve those losses. There are parts of my Chinese self, that I can never fully share and relate, with J. Though I try with every effort throughout our marriage. I believe it is ultimately healthy for the relationship to recognize and come to accept this. If you find yourself in a cross cultural relationship, you will have to decide the things you value in your relationship is worth the cost. In my case, I saw a character I admired, a common vision for life, and a deep friendship that bonded us even despite cultural differences.

The problem is you can never fully discover everything about your significant other until after you've married and when those losses are experienced later on in marriage, that's when we come face to face with culture shock. J and I practically minored in cross cultural issues during seminary so we kind of have an advantage in dealing with culture issues in our marriage. On the other hand, we also chose to move to China, where we both had to encounter culture shock in addition to our own issues - that's the down side. I can give some specific examples of how to deal with culture shock, but my very private husband might object to me hanging out our dirty laundry (ahem, Americans value privacy). But here are some general principles that have helped us:

1) Listen. Culture conflict occur because we can't get past our own culture bound assumptions of reality. It is really difficult to understand something that you have never questioned in your life. But you love your man/woman, so listen and try your best to understand.

2) AFTER you've listened, explain your perspective. Sometimes what you know to be matter of fact isn't matter of fact at all to a person of another culture. J and I have had to explain some very basic things about our own culture to each other.

3) Talk using very specific terms. Avoid saying, "I am frustrated Americans do this.....", when what you want to say is, "when you did that, I felt hurt." Very often, it is because of our culture that we behave a certain way to hurt our spouse of another culture, but it's not helpful to point that out, it's much better to focus on the specific incident.

4) Allow your spouse time to ride through the waves of culture shock without taking it personally. When J would get frustrated with certain aspects of Chinese culture, I would take it so personally, as if he was frustrated with me. I've learned that it is normal and healthy for him to vent and cope in his time.

5) Some things are better left unsaid. It takes time to struggle with culture shock and to get to the end stage of total engagement and acceptance. During the phase, if you do feel tremendous frustration with your spouse's culture, refrain from expressing those frustrations with too much liberty to each other. Find another outlet, preferably someone else who can understand your frustrations. And once the emotions ride out, you can find a more peaceful way of communicating what you've experienced to your spouse.

Easier said than done. But it is worth doing. Please don't be the kind of couple who just is content with living life according to one spouse's culture. You are robbing yourself of the gift of being in a cross cultural marriage. J and I have learned so much about each other, and it has provided us with the invaluable skill of being able to encounter people who are very different from us with respect. And we hope to pass this on to our children to help them navigate themselves in our increasingly diverse yet interconnected world.

Shall I touch on in-law issues next? yikes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Our Unique Bond #3

Preconceptions or assumptions of husband/wife roles is an issue even in mono cultural marriages because we are all shaped by the individual families we were raised in. In cross cultural marriages, those role perceptions are even more diverse. Esepecially the joining of two people from such a vastly different culture as Western and Chinese. Let me quickly highlight a few (please remember, as always in my blog posts about cross cultural issues, there's no right and wrong, just different!):

1) Chinese culture views the wife as marrying into the husband's family and are obligated to xiao shun (filial piety) the husband's parents. It is not uncommon for the wife to move into a home with the husband's family. Western culture defines family as the nuclear unit, once man and wife marry they form their individual family. (Just a sub note, Christian subculture in the West seems to me have deemed this nuclear unit model as the designated Biblical model, which is untrue, and is a subject for another post. I recommend Rodney Clapp's book "Families at the Crossroads" for a more detailed examination of the topic.)

2) Chinese culture takes a pragmatic approach to marriage - seeing it as a unit of society of which people belong to in order to better chances for economic prosperity and increase social standing. Westerners place a higher emphasis on romance and the pleasure of companionship in marriage.

3) The specific household division of chores (who brings in the cash, who does housework, who raise children, etc.) has morphed so much and is so varied in modern China (also between Taiwanese traditional culture and China's communist influences) that it's hard to find a clear distinction between Western and Chinese culture. Although, the cultural assumptions attached to spousal role definitions clearly impact a cross cultural marriage.

So what did it mean for J to be the American husband to his Chinese wife and vice versa? The short answer: we had no idea. And like all other young married couples, we stumbled along and slowly figured out what worked for us. And the result is to be expected: we came up with our own unconventional definitions of husband/wife roles. And therin lies another gem of being a cross cultural couple, we get to come up with our own ideas and chalk it up to our unique position. We decided to go to seminary together (which was quite unheard of, we were the rare couple at Fuller attending at the same time), and because of being equally educated, we were able to serve in ministry, work, and share our housework and child rearing responsibilities almost equally. This defied the models of both of our original families, but no one seems to question it, and I believe it is because we have made the unconventional decision to marry in the first place.

to be continued: dealing with culture shock in marriage

Monday, October 11, 2010

Our Unique Bond #2

I don't think there's a magical number of months that is appropriate for an engagement period. I think what matters more is the quality of that time spent preparing for marriage, rather than the quantity of time. For J and I, we dated in our senior year of college. Which meant, we were mentally checking out of school, we weren't working yet, and we lived on the same campus in adjacent apartments. Even though we dated for a short year, it was a pretty intensive block of time together. However, the number one best thing we did for our engagement period was for him to pack up his bags and move to Taiwan for six months (the longest time the visa situation would allow).

We all behave differently in different contexts. You don't act the same way with your peers as you do with older people or with young kids. Factor into this our cultural environment. One certainly does not act the same in a Chinese context as you would in a Western context unless one did not care for, or are ignorant of, any sort of social conventions. Needless to say Jason was in for a MAJOR shock when he encountered the Chinese me. Somehow, he still managed to get that ring out of his bag and propose as we entered this adventure of our intercultural marriage. During our time in Taiwan, he caught a glimpse of what it meant to be part of a Chinese family, how I behaved when I spoke Chinese and every other aspect of living life in a Chinese context. What was confirming for us that our relationship was headed in the right direction was that he saw a whole new part of me he didn't know before but continued to love and embrace that person. My friend Shannon (American), after spending time with her Chinese fiance in his home town, decided she loved him even more.

With all of my cultural identity issues with the complex background I had, there was no better way to begin my marriage than to have the rock solid belief that my husband has seen all sides of me and can love and appreciate who I was in every context. This anchored me through all kinds of cultural issues after we were married - whether I was rebelling against the Americanized aspects of me or feeling depressed over my lack of engagement in Mandarin, and trying to come to terms with all of this in my faith in Christ.

Next up: differing cultural perceptions of husband/wife roles.

Our unique bond #1

When I think of my marriage I can think of very few books that have helped me. There are no lack of marriage books on the market, it's just that there aren't many who speak to a bicultural girl married to a white guy who felt called to China. You don't find tips for my American girlfriend who lives with her Chinese mother in law on their way to adopting Ethiopian child. Who can give advice to my recently married friends (Chinese/American) who are moving to study in the US? Each marriage is unique. My marriage (and those described above) are very unique.

I'm back from vacation with my in laws and spending time with my American family always disorients me as the stark differences between my upbringing and my husband's are magnified. I found myself pondering, "wow, how did we work?" So here I am, inspired to write and share some thoughts on how we've managed to be married, going on almost ten strong years. Hope it is helpful to some of you out there who may be considering an intercultural marriage. You know who you are.

First of all, I'm a firm believer that culture is all encompassing. I remember intense debates in our Anthropology class about whether faith supersedes culture with absolute truth or is even faith in Christ passed down to us within a particular context. I hold the latter position which leads me to believe every fiber of our being is colored by the culture we are raised in. J, in small town America, and me, well, that's complicated, suffice it to say I am bicultural. The longer J and I have been married, the more we discover those cultural differences surfacing, from managing a household to raising the kids (that's a biggie). Tackling these difference in our marriages have been a beast. Try defending the very core value of what you have always believed to be true to the person you consider the most intimate person in your life. There is much pain in the process, but so much to be gained. To understand your husband more deeply and appreciate the culture which made him the way he is; to turn towards the beauty of your own culture seen in a different light and knowing your children have the privilege of encountering both is the precious gift our amazing Creator gives to us intercultural marrieds.

Stay tuned for the next post: how we prepared for our marriage.

Friday, September 24, 2010


According to my Kindle, I am 64% in to Philip Yancey's book called "Prayer." But I have to say my satisfaction level is at well over that percentage score - say at 90%. I'm a big fan of Yancey. He opened my eyes to God's grace (What's so Amazing about Grace), he gave me an appreciation for the Old Testament (The Bible Jesus Read), and supplied insight on the problem of pain (Disappointment with God). He is one of the most prolific writers among Evangelical circles, and I admire him because of the honesty in his writings and his deep compassion for marginalized peoples (he speaks often on behalf of his gay friends and his experiences with Dr. Brand who is a surgeon for leprosy patients in Nepal and elsewhere). However, anyone who has read some of my previous blog entries and followed a bit of my faith journey will soon realize I have, for a while now, battled Evangelical subculture and some of her main tenants, and so it is with some hesitation that I picked up Yancey's book on Prayer and began reading.

First, let me give a little background as to why I have been dwelling on the subject of prayer. For a long time, years I would say, I have not been having regular quiet times. There, I said it. If I haven't abandoned Evangelicalism by now, at this proclamation I'm sure Evangelicalism will have abandoned me. Part of the reason is because I started having children, whom, if you're not familiar, are little human beings who demand your attention/resources/energy 24/7, and the Q in QT is a bit of an elusive concept for a new mother. But the bigger part of the reason is most likely the earlier reference to my rebellion against Ev. subculture, a dare, if you will, to see if I dropped QT's if I will still be able to live and thrive with vibrant faith in our Lord Jesus, who is so much bigger than the constructs of Christian subculture. Along with QT's, I also questioned prayer. The buzz word us post-Evangelicals, progressives, Christian hipsters, whatever the heck we're called, love to use is "authenticity." I want to pray what I honestly think and believe. So explain to me how a prayer that goes like this: "God I pray for my beloved friend's cancer to go away, but your will be done" doesn't sound like the most empty, holier-than-thou-by-copying Jesus' words, INauthentic prayer ever?! What I want to say is "God, I want my friend's cancer to go away, I know You desire healing and wholeness, and yet I know as I speak, there's a 95-100% chance my friend will die in three months of this cancer." Now that's the truth.

And so it is with these issues that I decided to crack open Yancey's book, hoping to shed some light on these contentions with prayer. Part one bored me and had me entertaining the thought of writing a book "Disappointment with Yancey". It was all about prayer being central to our relationship with God and it is through coming to God that we realign our perspectives with God's perspectives. Sounds good, except for I've heard it all before many many times, and I have some serious issues with the implications of, quote Yancey at location 477, "Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God's point of view." Horrible things have happened because Christians have gone to prayer and decided reality from God's POV. I get what you're trying to say, I disagree with it, let's move on.

Ah, part two was much more interesting, confronting questions of what difference does prayer make, does prayer change God, etc. I really enjoyed this as it addresses some of the issues I had and I came away encouraged and hopeful. Some of the main points that I resonated with are as follows:

- for some reason we can't fathom (well, love), God chose to work in partnership with us. We see this all over Scripture and history, He chose to choose a people, a nation, through whom to bless the world. In prayer, we acknowledge and engage in the partnership to bring forth His kingdom in this world.

- in prayer, whether it's praise and adoration, weeping and chest thumping in pain or a myriad of other expressions, we both change God and ourselves. And God knows I need to be changed, so much for the better, thus prayer is a worthy enterprise - to be shaped into a person of holy character for use in His Kingdom. See, isn't this getting so much more interesting?

- "we gotta pray with our lips and we gotta pray with our legs", okay that's not a direct quote from Yancey, but my paraphrase (I'm sure I got it from some other famous person.) In this section he speaks of prayers leading to social activism, loving our enemies, and caring for our environment (er, my husband said that last one, not Yancey, but it's a good addition).

- we all know about answered prayers and unanswered prayers. And we also know the pat answers given: sometimes it's not the right time, God knows better than we do, etc. etc. But one thing is for certain, despite the outcome of our prayers, God can redeem even the most horrific circumstances, and much of that redemption comes because we pray. I may have never witnessed a supernatural healing, but I have witnessed account after account of supernatural response from godly men and women. Most poignant example in my own life has been seeing my friends lose their baby and come through that experience continuing to serve in faithfulness on the mission field. Amazing.

The climax of the book undoubtedly came at the chapter called "Prayer and Physical Healing." I recommend this chapter to anyone who doesn't want to read the whole book if you have questions/doubts about this issue as I do. The big shocker to me was that he actually quoted Dr. Paul Brand (mentioned earlier as surgeon for leprosy patients in developing countries) this: "From my own experience as a physician I must truthfully admit that, among the thousands of patients I have treated, I have never observed an unequivocal instance of intervention in the physical realm. Many were prayed for, many found healing, but not in ways that counteracted the laws governing anatomy. No case I have treated personally would meet the rigorous criteria for a supernatural miracle." Jaw drop. An Evangelical Christian writer writing about prayer and healing, openly quoting and admitting they have never seen or experienced a supernatural healing. Yay for me, I'm not the only one!

He goes on to say, instances of supernatural healing occurs much more frequently in the developing world (though note Dr. Brand worked in developing worlds.) Basically, the trouble with God is He doesn't play by our rules. He says He wants us to pray for healing but He heals so haphazardly (from our perspective) and frankly very very rarely. Instead of being discouraged by this, I am so pleased that Yancey dealt with this so honestly and stuck to his journalistic integrity by reporting the facts despite it being not so glamorous for God. I am also thankful that Yancey encourages his readers to not perpetuate a sick person's pain by falsely giving them hope of supernatural healing. We've all heard horror stories (starting with Job's friends) of Christians who counsel their sick friends to simply have more faith...and they will be healed.

So again, why, then, do we pray (for healing)? First, because I still believe in a God of miracles. I believe my God made a miracle when He created my inner ear to maintain a sense of balance, I truly marvel at that act of design and creation. I believe He made a miracle when he gave my body the ability to self-heal. I believe He made a miracle to give humans the ability to think and research and create healing methods and drugs. So I appeal to this God of miracles to utilize all of the above resources to heal my dizziness. Second, Yancey writes of another doctor, Dr. Vernon Grounds, who in his ninety years of life has never observed an undeniable miracle of physical healing, prays daily with fervent hope for a friend with an untreatable kidney condition. Faith, Hope, and Love is why I will choose to continue to pray for myself and friends who are sick. Faith in that God of miracles, Hope that His promises of health and wholeness in the future will be ushered in because of the work of Jesus, and Love for all the people God has placed on my heart will continue to drive me to my knees.

I've got 36% more to go in the book.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saying Goodbye

My brother Aidan recently said goodbye to some dear friends inspiring this blog post. I am no stranger to saying goodbyes. I had to say goodbye to my family when I went thousands of miles away for college. Then we said goodbye to family/friends to move to China. Then we said goodbye to friends of 6 years in China and moved to Taiwan. And we live in expat communities where people come and go frequently and they leave a hole in your heart each time they go.

At first, I thought because of the choices we've made to travel and move internationally, we are "experts" on saying goodbye. But I am beginning to realize even people who settle in one place have to say goodbye more frequently now because it is the mark of our generation in this increasingly global world. No longer does one stay near the city they grew up in, find a job, and retire there. Most people move for various opportunities and it is no longer a novelty to move internationally.

When we lived in China, people/families will literally come stay for one or two years and then leave. And in an expat community, your friends are more than your friends, they are like family. They are the people you celebrate holidays with, they are the ones who love your kids when grandparents are far away, they are like family. And when they move away it hurts like hell. As mentioned before, this happens a lot in an expat community and a human heart can only take so much pummeling. Some of us cope by toughening up, tears no longer flow at farewell parties because farewell parties are annual events. Some cope by not getting involved in deep relationships because you know they will leave and you want to keep your heart intact. Some plow through and dive right into every relationship, giving oneself fully, and allow the pain to seep through you completely when the goodbye rolls around.

I think to a certain degree we use a bit of all three coping mechanism in our lives, depending also on the relationship with various people. No one likes goodbyes but it is a reality for most of us in this age. We wade through the stages of grief with each goodbye, and then we sit and watch God surprise us with the fruit of each friendship we parted with. We receive letters (alright emails/facebook messages/skype) from far away friends and share in the joy of what God is doing in their lives in their corner of the world. We remember each memory of shared times and how it changed the very fabric of who we are so we can better bless those who are around us. And sometimes, when we are very lucky, they reenter our lives because our world is so small.

One time, an expat friend was only in our community for a short time before they were leaving. He told us their plans and said, "don't stop hanging out with us because we're leaving..." I will tag you in this blog post and you probably don't even remember saying that to us, but we didn't stop hanging out with you and we had a very short time with your family, but we don't regret it for one bit! (it was Tim Maxson. :) )

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lessons Learned

You know how Christians like to find something good in really bad situations? It's the whole beauty for ashes, redemption dealio that our Bible happens to talk about. Example: if a loved one dies, well PTL because his/her life beautifully displayed at the memorial service will lead many to Christ. Yes, there are moments when I'd like to throttle people when life becomes sucky for them and they keep PTLing and say: "It's okay to say life SUCKS right now!!!!" Thankfully, those are just brief fleeting moments, and for the most part I believe Jesus is about redemption and with Him, even the worst situations somehow find hope and goodness because of who He is and what His community of believers stand for.

Well, my life is a bit sucky right now. For the past 2-3 weeks I've contracted a to-be-determined condition that leaves me dealing with crazy dizzy spells. I've been walking around without a sense of balance, sort of like floating in zero-gravity space. Or other times when the spells hit, I feel like I've been slammed to the ground even though reality says I am perfectly upright. It has debilitated me and it takes me extra effort to do everything I normally do, leaving me exhausted at the end of every day.

Having been a Christian and been around other Christians most of my life, I've been programmed so the Life-Sucks-Learn-Lesson mechanism kicks in at the first sign of trouble. So here are my lessons learned (or in the process of being learned):

1. Thankful. For an amazing God who has created our inner ear so delicately and beautifully so that we can walk around with a sense of balance. Hoping for restoration to said beautiful creation soon so I can feel like I'm walking upright again.

2. Thankful. For where we are at in Taiwan where we can get fairly decent healthcare and tests done at very low cost.

3. Compassion. Because of my condition I've searched all over the web for others who may suffer the same fate as I, and have discovered a whole host of people who live with this chronically. Hoping I do not join that crowd, but at the same time, I have such deep compassion for them as I actually know a taste of how it feels.

4. Grace. For myself as I seem to believe it is somehow my fault that this happened. Sounds so silly when I say it out loud but when one can no longer do some of the everyday tasks that hold up one's family (cook, chores, shuttling children places, etc.), it is tempting to place blame on myself.

5. Trust. Modern medicine is still limited, and I don't know if the doctors can actually help me. I know God has the power to heal me but He might not. Or He might not heal me as quickly as I'd like Him to. But I gotta learn to trust that whatever happens, I still need to live my life faithfully (i.e. stop moaning about how miserable I feel and develop a more joyful attitude).

6. Justice. I am sick. But not as sick as many many others, whether with dizziness or other life debilitating disorders. I feel helpless. But not as helpless as billions of people mired in poverty who has no access to healthcare. I pray for wholeness so I can continue to do whatever small part to fighting for these injustices in our world.

If you happen to read this note, I'd appreciate some prayers. Thanks.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mommy Brain

A while back someone read my blog and made the comment "you have some very thoughtful posts considering you are a Mommy of two!" A very nice compliment I smiled weakly and received but tried hard to find offense.

As if the act of birthing automatically destines us to brain shrinkage down to minimal capacity in which to retain essential survival mind numbing routine childcare tasks.

As if my ability to think critically, reason logically, reflect passionately, went out the window the moment the the umbilical cord was severed.

As if it is simply untenable that a woman could take on the responsibility of raising children as well as explore and engage in issues confronting our world.

As if.

Well friends, summer vacation is in full session, both the kids are home all day, and it may have come down to this: I've again contracted Mommy-brain-itis, the condition that surfaces from conception, comes and goes (more often the former) and tends to be especially crippling when the time exposure of your children are high. Example: NOW.

In my defense, and I always have one, I have very good intentions. I've got a wish list a mile long on my Amazon Kindle cart. I've been struggling to finish my current books. It's just that by the end of the work-cook-swimming class-errands-husband time-dinner-bath-story-prayer-catch up on emails day, a stimulating read sounds as desirable as a steaming cup of hot tea offered on a high temperature high humidity day. At noon. (Incidentally, this happens quite often as Chinese people believe sweating helps you stay cool.) The point is, I just wanna vegge (how do you spell this word?) and refuse to read anything longer than facebook status updates (What? Some people post Scriptures!)

I know this is normal. I have parenting heroes in my life, like those missionaries whose prayer letters I read who travel to remote parts of our world with newborn twins and literally rescue villagers and unreached peoples from life and death situations. Or the high power CEO's with three kids who are like, three years younger than me. Or my old professor at Fuller who have a beautiful family at the same time so damn smart and whose teachings still impact me to this day. But you know, those people belong in a different category - the ultra parenting set. I'm just a regular economy class Mom and I know most of my Mom friends are there with me (yeah, you know who you are, the ones who have nodded along this post so far).

I miss my brain. It wasn't that big to begin with, but now it is abysmally shrunken. And I envy my friends who have time to read and think and engage critically on facebook, in their blogs, and oh yeah, real life. I desperately want my children to have a Mom who teaches them how to live faithfully in this world, and not one who, in all honesty, "sometimes" shortens bedtime prayers so I can go shower.

But alas it looks as if Mommy Brain-itis may leave permanent damage, and kids can be raised by carefully screened, family friendly, wholesome facebook status updates nuggets of wisdom, right?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kingdom Language

Do you ever wonder what language we'll be speaking on that Day when we are resurrected with the rest of God's people?

In my last blog post I wrote about the tensions and joys of being a Bilingual. Some multilinguals describe their most dominant language as their "heart language". It's an apt description as it expresses the form taken by what most naturally gushes out of one's heart. It's the language you gravitate to when you are angry, or frustrated, or tired, or the language you use to share the most vulnerable part of who you are.

My heart language was Chinese, as it was the only language I knew until the age of 10. At the age of 12, God, in His grace and mercy, took a hold of my heart and has held it ever since. I was a missionary convert. Missionaries came to Taiwan and shared the gospel with me in Taiwan. My first Bible Study and my first Christian community were all based in English, my second language. I was also schooled in English and my worldview began to form in this Christian, English environment. The soil upon which my faith took root was English soil and the water that nourished that young believer was the western context. I could no longer integrate my "heart language" and my Chinese-ness into my new faith and the only way to cope with that was to split my life into two: the old Chinese, unsaved me, and the new, born-again, English-speaking me.

But I understand things now that I could not have understood as a teenager and a new believer. And what I know, is how God had called me to be His child in His Family that stretches across ethnicities, gender, cultures, and language. And that He shaped me in my Chinese mother's womb and gave me a Chinese family to be steward over my formative years. When I became a part of this big Family, I was not to lose my Chinese-ness, but that He had come to make my Chinese-ness even more fully Chinese. Surely this is why when I sing Chinese praise songs my heart feels so full. Because God, in His grace and mercy, took a hold of my heart-language and culture, and affirms it by saying listen. Listen to your Chinese brother, or sister, create these beautiful lyrics so you can worship Me with all of who I've created you to be.

It rocks to be part of God's Big Family.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On Being Bilingual

I am bilingual.

Technically I am bi-and-a-half-lingual, because I also comprehend Taiwanese and speak minimally. I'm not really that smart and I'm not especially gifted with languages (trust me, two years of high school French and I can barely count to 10 proves the point). However, various factors and circumstances during my growing up years combined to produce the perfect breeding ground for the bilingual me. Born and raised into a Taiwanese family where Mandarin/Taiwanese were both spoken, I had a solid base of those two languages and learned to read Chinese characters before I started school. Learned English at 10 in total immersion environment in Australia, I made the cutoff age for children's amazing capacity to learn a second language with a native accent. Then I finished the rest of my school years in an English based International school in a Chinese community.

I am blessed, I know this. Being bilingual has given me opportunities and insight into culture and worldview that I would otherwise not have access to. But existing in this privileged exclusive state can sometimes be lonely. Well meaning Chinese acquaintances and friends compliment my Chinese language ability when what I hear them saying is: "your Chinese is really good...for a foreigner." Americans assume, due to my near Native accent, that I am Asian American, which of course neglects my entire growing up years in Taiwan. While most people applaud my chameleon like ability to blend into the culture/language of the group I am with, what they don't see is a pathetic, desperate longing to be "one of them".

Along with the privilege of being bilingual comes choices in all areas of life. What do I do for entertainment? I could turn on the TV and watch Taiwanese variety shows or news, or I could put in an episode of Lost. What do I do as a Mom? I could demand strict authority and Chinese expectations of manners, or I could emphasize having fun as Western Moms would choose. So many of these choices are conscious but I realize much much more are subconscious. At the beginning of my marriage I would sleep-talk in Chinese because that part of who I was stowed away in my subconscious while I dated and married my American husband.

The further along I go in my life journey as a third culture person, the more I am able to integrate these different parts of myself into a whole person. It's sort of like two melodies working to sync into a harmony. When I am in harmony, I thrive in my bilingual/bicultural-ness. I serve in translation, I help others shed light into a culture which is foreign to them, I help bring diversity into my community. And then there are moments of discord, when the harmony sounds more like my actual ability to harmonize: terribly off-key. Those are the moments when I feel the pangs of loneliness, the spiral of confusion that I feel sucked into, and the irrational and immature desire to just be a normal monocultural person.

Okay, now I'm going to switch into my Chinese pragmatic mode and say: "stop thinking so much and go do the dishes."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Reflections on Easter '10

This morning, I read my post from Easter last year , and feel Easter is SUCH an important event for the world, for myself, and for my family, that I should make it an annual event to record my thoughts each year. So here are reflections for Easter '10.

This year I have been thinking even more deeply about the Resurrection, and how our view of our life after death shapes our lives and our mission today. Most of all my thoughts have stemmed from NT Wright's teachings in Surprised by Hope. So throughout the year I have been thinking of how as a family we can make Easter a central part of our Christian celebrations. Christmas easily steals the highlight with the kids for obvious reasons (presents!) and we've decided to not radically change that tradition because we want the kids to enjoy memories of anticipation and "magic" of Christmas. However, we cannot let Easter pass without stressing enough to the kids the importance of the Resurrection of Christ.

Unfortunately, this year because our lives have changed so dramatically with moving from China and being in a new environment (again) we haven't been able to do justice to the Lenten period. But what has been a dominant theme in my head as I've thought about Easter is that Jesus' resurrection gives us hope for change. If God could raise Jesus from the dead, it means He has given POWER to all the teachings of Jesus. Which means we can HOPE to love, to do justice, to love mercy, to forgive our enemies, to care for neighbors AND strangers. So this morning, this is what we told the children over breakfast. We are obviously not a perfect family, but today on Easter day, we are reminded of the hope that we can be different tomorrow, we can change for the better, we can make this world a better place. So we decided that we would go online and sponsor a child from World Vision, in the hope of helping another child have a chance at health, education, and opportunities just as our children get to have. Our hope is every year at Easter we can "celebrate" by making a decision to bring about change so that the Resurrection is lived out through our practical lives.

This year for my birthday I helped raise funds for women who have suffered gender violence in Congo. And today, I thought about how Easter gives some parts of the world a reason to celebrate, to have Egg hunts, to eat a big meal, none of which is bad, but it is mind-blowing to imagine what Easter must mean to the women who have no reason to hope, who have trouble even urinating because they've been raped violently, whose lives are shattered in every way, that Christ came for them and when He was raised God promised JUSTICE and COMPASSION and DELIVERANCE for them. It is good news indeed for the most poor and destitute. I am thankful I serve such a Risen Lord.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Um...I want the Presents

If you don't know already, I'm partnering with One Days Wages to raise funds for women who have been raped because of the longstanding civil war in Congo. The idea behind the campaign is to celebrate my birthday by asking friends and family to donate to the cause.

One night before bed, I talked to Lizzy (7) about it and explained that Mommy was asking people to give to these needy women instead of presents for my birthday, and I suggested maybe someday she could do that as well. At this point, she clarified that if she did that she would NOT be receiving any presents, is that right? I said yes, that's right. It didn't take her long to quickly exclaim "I want the presents!" which made me LOL.

Yes, I do hope for both my children they would grow up to be compassionate, generous givers, and let's face it: obviously Lizzy is not quite there yet. And this whole birthday-for-a-cause thing is not to guilt trip anybody. Although if giving up the new tenth pair of jeans to give to a women who have been gang raped and abandoned by community makes anyone feel guilty then I'm not gonna fuss about it. The point is that giving makes a DIFFERENCE in this world in the lives of these women. Giving is cool, hip, fun, feels-good, obedient to God, cares tangibly for the poor/marginalized, it's a FANTASTIC way to celebrate a birthday. And if anyone doubts it, you should've seen my face when I saw that someone donated $200 to my birthday cause today. THAT gave me a HAPPY birthday. :) :) :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Crap Happens

What kind of crap? Well, when a 9 year old girl named Chance risks everything to tell the story of how her parents were killed in front of her, her aunt gang raped by soldiers, and how one raped her. You can see her in the video here:

I've already ranted on the problem of pain in my last post so that's not what this post is about. This one is about finding hope. When I see the face of that little nine year old, I see the horrific violence done to her but I also see how beautiful and strong she and her aunt are to share their story with all of us. In the most recent tragedy in Haiti, accounts of Haitians risking their lives to help each other and international aid pouring in are the beauty found among the ashes. In a world where one sixth of our population live in extreme poverty, we see grass organizations like One Day's Wages working hard to bring change.

So it seems no matter how much theologizing, evangelizing, and politicizing we do, crap happens. But there is also much hope and light to be found in the midst of darkness. And though we cannot control terrible things happening in our world, we can make choices in our response. For my birthday this year, I'd like to respond by trying to make a small difference in the lives of women and children like Chance who experience war and gender violence. Please consider joining me in praying, donating, and sharing this cause so their voices can be heard.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ah...the Problem of Pain

Tragedy has struck again. The earthquake that has instantly destroyed thousands of lives in Haiti not only shook up the world geologically, but shakes the foundations of those with solid faith. Because we have such a hard time answering the question that stares us down in the face of massive suffering: Why would God allow it to happen?

Last night, I explained to my six year old daughter why we needed to pray for the people of Haiti. Haiti is a country far away from us, but there are people there who have lost their homes, families, and their lives because a big earthquake happened. (Lizzy experienced her first big earthquake just a couple weeks ago here in our building) She then proceeded to ask me, "then why didn't God stop the earthquake?"

The best answer to that question that could come from me is "I don't know." All the answers I've ever read from theologians and Christian thinkers only satisfy to a certain level and breaks down after that. But I will hold on to what I DO know, that despite what it appears, God is still a good and loving God. He cares for the most neglected peoples (and certainly the impoverished country of Haiti qualifies), He cares for the suffering and the grieving, and His mission for us as His community of believers is to reach out and rescue. My prayers for Haiti are that their deep and unfathomable pain will bring attention to the world to stop neglecting their poverty; that the aid will continue after the initial emergency rescue; that there will be a commitment from the richer nations to help lift the nation out of poverty, and through these efforts there may be redemption not only for Haiti but for all of us who have chosen to not ignore the cry of those who suffer.

The One campaign, offers lots of good resources so we can pray informed prayers, give to trustworthy orgs working on the ground in Haiti (my personal pitch for One Days Wages' Haiti Emergency Relief Fund,, and how to act through appealing to the government to commit to helping Haiti.