Friday, December 28, 2012

Home Makeover Edition

It is true.  In the past two weeks I have painted the walls of two rooms in my home, replaced the kitchen backsplash, installed a bookshelf, assembled a homemade bulletin board and ordered some wall decals for a finishing touch.  Don't mind me, I'm going through a phase.  I'm addicted to pretty, it's a thing.

Some quick reflections to the creative process.  We've been in our home for three years and it wasn't until recently I noticed the wall and the color it lacked.  It's certainly an indispensable part of our shelter, this wall, holding up the room and shielding our family from the elements.  But I never was aware of its existence much less the hues it reflected to my eyes.  Something inspired me to notice.  A reminder that behind every creative endeavor is a story, whether suddenly or subtly, rousing the creator to notice.

Once I started paying attention to the wall, the bland space became stifling.  Offensive, almost.  The empty canvas pleaded to be filled:  with color, a frame, or a focal point, something which will allow it to be more than an idle utilitarian prop, but to come alive and enter the story of our family.

Then comes the part where I suppose the creative industries throw the big bucks at.  Whether it's PIXAR hiring the best writers to imagine a story to capture the attentions of kids and adults alike, or the Apple design team innovating the most elegant tech gadgets, this is the part of the process when one simply dreams of what could be.  The possibilities are endless.  Anyone who has painted a wall has been overwhelmed by the myriad of color samples from the paint store:  every color in the spectrum further specified into infinite choices of shading.  A realist can never push boundaries, it takes that visionary, uninhibited by practicalities, to truly imagine into our limited finite world - beauty.

I'm painting walls.  Others are preparing a meal, teaching, doing research, writing books, designing buildings, crafting a project.  Could it be we are most like the Creator when we notice, become offended, and dream?  What stories are drawing your attention?

One of my favorite lines from the Disney Princess movie 'Tangled"when Rapunzel finally realizes her dream of seeing the lanterns and worries what will she do if they are every bit as wonderful as she thinks they are.  Flynn's response:  "You get to go find a new dream."

Dreams don't ultimately become reality unless you actually do it.  Finally, I did put on my scrubby paint clothes, recruited some help, and just did it.  It turned out okay.  However, I might be done painting the walls, but I'm not done dreaming.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Faith in Santa, and God.

Some old six-year-old soul broke the news to Lizzy in Kindergarten:  Santa is not real, it's just Mom and Dad.  We are not dogmatic about Santa.  As she has discovered the truth, we didn't force the fantasy.  What we didn't expect was for her younger brother by three years, to come along and convert her back into a believer.  Typically, Hayden absorbs all the wisdom passed down by his sister, but when it came to Santa, his adamant insistence in Santa's realness led to Lizzy's skepticism of her previous stance.  Now, at the ages of 6 and 9, both kids are unsure but hopeful.

This is faith, is it not?  Sometimes we believe, sometimes we don't, and sometimes we change our minds.  

When I was introduced to faith in Christ as a child, I learned as a child, in simple black and white categories.  If you believe in Jesus, you will go to heaven, if you do not, you will go to hell.  If you pray and read the Bible, you will grow in your faith, if you do not, you will be led astray.  If you make good choices in life, you will reap good consequences:  a good tree will bear good fruit.  There's a lot of good, biblical wisdom in these teachings and I will forever be grateful to the loving community who discipled me and sheltered me from making destructive choices in my life.  

I carried this childlike faith with me into a nice Christian college, married a nice Christian man, and then life happened.  Woven throughout our life adventures were instances of pain, betrayal, and heartbreak.  We saw some very bad things happen to very good people.  We reached out in love and received judgment in return.  We were surprised, when tested by cultural stress and lack of support, at our own depravity.  Each incident chipped away at the naivete of my child like faith.  Those black and white categories slowly blurred into a massive grey area, where faith and doubt mingled, one or the other intermittently bobbing to the surface.  

When my friend's 8 year old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, out of anxiety and unrelenting cynicism, I swore to Jason:  "If she doesn't make it, that's it, I'm done with God."  My sweet husband, quite used to my dramatic proclamations, responds by pointing out children die every single day of disease, hunger, and poverty.  Not helpful.  Trying to reconcile a good and loving God with the crap that happens in our world requires emotional, intellectual, spiritual stamina I'm afraid I lack.  Pat answers in response to suffering physically hurt me.  These days,  if I vaguely pick up phrases like "God has a purpose" in a conversation about abused children, I die a little inside.  

These days I  have more questions than answers.  Ironically I seem to be more at peace with this internal arrangement.  Being okay with "I don't know" turns out to be more comforting to me than having all the right responses.  

Like my children, I am unsure but hopeful.  

This Christmas season is lovely because I'm on pinterest this year and wahhhhh, so fun.  Just kidding.

Christmas is hopeful for me because it is a time to reflect on the scandalous doctrine of Incarnation:  God stepping into the messiness of humanity.  God didn't come bearing pat answers.  God came as a Person, one who laughs, cries, gets angry, works, sleeps, and enters into relationship with people.  I have learned there's nothing in life messier and grey-er and has the most potential for beauty and devastation than relationships.  God chose this.  Immanuel, God with us.

Peter Rollins says, "To believe is human.  To doubt, divine."  Having faith doesn't mean an absence of doubt.  Sometimes it is in those darkest moments when we encounter the divine.

Behold, the light has come.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Give us this day our daily bread

Last week, the kids and I had dinner at our friend's house where she served homemade dinner rolls.  It was delicious and inspired me to make it myself.  The recipe was easy enough except it required kneading for, get this, SIX to EIGHT MINUTES.  People, this is ridiculous.  Is this actually how breads are made in this day and age?  In the 21st century?  I gave it my most valiant effort of two minutes and called it good.  Six to eight minutes is a freakin' eternity when all you're doing is kneading. I mean, that is a VERY uninteresting activity.

But it was wonderful to have the aroma of fresh bread baking wafting through the house pre-meal, and the whole family enjoyed the rolls.  Homemade dinner rolls, I'm in.

On my day off today I decided to tackle another recipe from my good friend the Pioneer Woman.  Jenny's recipe was convenient in that it can be done in an hour.  I thought if I tried a recipe which gave  the bread more time to rise it might turn out even tastier.  Here's the recipe:

(emphasis mine, you can see the appeal of this recipe for me)

I don't actually know PW, but she must be used to feeding her big hungry family because her portions are out of control.  I immediately made the executive decision to half the recipe, knowing my cute tiny family will probably only eat just half of that.

If you are familiar with PW, she posts beautiful pictures detailing each step of the process.  I swear to God, I followed the instructions to the T, but when the time came to roll the dough into three perfect little balls for the muffin tin,

my dough was such a sticky, gooey mess, there was no WAY that dough was going to shape itself into anything remotely similar to a sphere, it took on a personality of its own and just plastered itself relentlessly to every crevice of my hand.  Oh, it was very upsetting.  After many frustrating attempts, I gave up the presentation and figured if I can just somehow transfer the blob into my muffin pan and bake it, we can at least still enjoy ugly looking but hopefully tasty dinner rolls.

Oh wait, did I mention that as I meticulously made sure to measure just half of each ingredient (remember, we're halving the recipe?) I  made one tiny, teensy miscalculation?  Well, not so much a miscalculation as I forgot to half the salt.  So instead of ONE tablespoon, I dumped in the batter TWO.  This turned out to be the deal breaker.  The rolls ended up hideous in presentation but far, far worse tasting.

This is the part in my blog post where I typically derive some deeper meaning out of my mundane daily existence.  In this case, I don't have to exercise any mental gymnastics to dig for reflection.  Bread is used throughout Scripture as a sign of God's provision.  YHWH provided manna for the Israelites. Jesus taught us the Kingdom of God is like yeast working its way through the dough, and ultimately declared himself as the Bread of Life.

And I'm sure there's some spiritual lesson in here about humility (failure in the kitchen) or diligence (knead the dough, for goodness sakes) or neglect (salty rolls, anyone?) which I should absorb.

But more and more I'm learning our faith is not just about our individual piety.  Being spiritual doesn't just affect our attitudes and future destination post mortem.  When Jesus offers us bread, He's not just offering us a way to Heaven but an invitation to be a part of an exciting new world of redemption.  In this newly redeemed world, mistakes are forgiven, grace is offered, and we cry a little but then laugh over failed kitchen experiments.  We gather around the table and serve up three-day-old toast instead of warm fresh rolls.  We pray and chuckle over "give us this day our daily bread", but then we are sobered by remembering the people who still go hungry, without bread, in our world.  And then, we might cry for real.  Big, compassionate tears which moves us to advocate and act.

"And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

I might not have remembered to halve the salt, but I remember this.  I remember Jesus.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Scarecrow: Some People Do Go Both Ways

When you grow up, as I did, in a Taiwanese family but schooled in a Western context, you learn to cope with dissonance.  When your "village" consists of parents and teachers from dramatically different cultures, you are raised to straddle two boats  floating in different directions.  I have blogged in the past about my TCK (Third-Culture-Kid) issues, and by issues I mean I really should pay top dollars to anyone who can help untangle the mess that is my background.  But because I like to keep my cash and avoid the stigma of seeing a shrink, I'm just gonna "process" out loud here and who knows, maybe a nice counselor will happen to read it and sort me out for free.  *qualified professionals only, please.  And no, watching Dr. Phil does NOT count.*

Here's the dealio:  you know how I can speak two languages?  Most people think that's really cool and stuff, but it also makes me really weird.  See, I grew up learning both languages at the same time, so I think my brain formed differently from the get go.  In order to interact in one language, I developed the capacity to hear, respond, and act according to one culture's set of rules and standards.  But then I was presented with an arguably opposite set of expectations delivered in another language and customs, and in order to resonate with both, I think I had to grow another brain.  No, you say, science has not proven multilingual persons to present with multiple brains.  Well, guess what, I'm not a scientist.  I'm a blogger and bloggers can say whatever the heck they want.  

Anyway, back to my alien brain formation, I believe my two brains are constantly trying to coexist within my average sized head, sometimes in tandem with each other, other times elbowing and shoving to make room for themselves.  So when my behavior and choices appear to other people as being "self-contradictory", I argue on the contrary, I am "self-consistent", it's just that my two brains have opposing functions and opinions but they are fully contained within oneself.  

Boy I can make up crap to justify my schizophrenia, split-personality, TCK issues.

How else do you explain why I am never content to belong to one group?  In school, as most of my friends gravitated to the Chinese crowd, or the English-speaking crowd, I had best friends belonging to both groups.  In college when time came to declare a major, I chose two: Business/economics and Bible.  And no, I do not sell Bibles now as a career.  When we were newlyweds, we tried out a "young marrieds" small group at church and I almost suffocated.  Why, would anyone in their right minds, want to hang out with people just like them?  We made a quick exit and joined an eclectic group with a leader who is now openly gay, couples with adult children, divorcees, and young singles.  In politics, I am pro-life but also hardcore environmentalist.  In theology, I believe absolutely in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but am open to the theories of evolution.  As a woman, I had babies early, cook exclusively for my family, design craft projects around the home.  Yet I also work, dream big dreams about saving the world, and engage in conversations that are male-dominated.  

Heck, I even use Apples AND PCs.  

The truth is, I learned from a very young age how people can be different but have equal value.  I learned that ideas can be opposing but still worth engaging.  I learned how we can speak in foreign languages, eat different foods, believe different gods, and still interact in meaningful ways.  I learned by default to think outside the box because I was raised outside the box.  

I realize my circumstances as a TCK is quite unique.  However, it's not just me, is it?  Aren't we all inclined to resist being labeled as just one brand of human being?  We are inspired by great art and music and nature because we are given a window to something bigger than ourselves.  We feel our way around the walls of whichever box we are in, groping for an opening to step out.  We spend our lives trying on different labels to see which fits, then begin to resent the weight those labels add up.  

There is a certain comfort in belonging to a category.  Common threads bind us and give us strength.  The desire to put down roots grounds us.  But then let us grow a vibrant, diverse tree that branches out far and wide.  The fear of the unknown cannot keep us from living robust lives which shatters boundaries and break down walls.  It may feel like going down the road less traveled is going to be lonely, but that's simply untrue.  There are plenty of people there - people with big hearts, brave souls, generous charity, living dynamic lives.  Somehow, meeting them grows your heart bigger, injects courage into your souls, and prompts more generosity.  

Yes, I've got issues.  And just like the Scarecrow says in the Wizard of Oz, I go both ways, and that life can get conflicting and heavy-laden, but this less traveled road has led me to some beautiful places and people.  

What do you think?  Have I got the crazies, or am I not all that different from you?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Flying Potatoes and Stained Shirts

I find potatoes extremely difficult to prepare.  I hate to claim superiority here but I have to state the facts: Rice easy.  Potatoes hard.  Potatoes take FOREVER to cook through, and they're only good crispy yet mine always turn out soggy.

This evening I tried a new recipe in which one boils the potatoes first until fork tender, then lightly mash them on a greased cookie sheet before roasting in the oven.  After 20 minutes of boiling and being able to fork the potatoes with ease, I figure it's ready.  I was wrong.  A ready potato would have yielded to the pressure of my potato masher and result in a perfectly appetizing mound.  You know, the way it looks on Pioneer Woman's pictures.

My undercooked potato slipped out from underneath my kitchen tool and aided by the slick olive oil on the cookie sheet flew through the air, achieving that appetizing mound I intended - right on the kitchen floor.  To make matters worse, as the cookie sheet was balanced only partly on the kitchen counter, the unexpected jar to the tray catapulted most of the other potatoes hurtling towards the ground.

Could I have declared major catastrophe on dinner, given up on the sizzling pork chops in my pan, threw out the steamed veggies, and ordered out right then and there?  The thought indeed crossed my mind, but Husband came to the rescue.  Together we picked up the hot potatoes (fingers still raging red here), rinsed them out and salvaged the potatoes.  Sure, they're not pinterest pretty individual mounds of mashed potatoes like I originally expected, but one massive heap of scraped up potatoes didn't taste half bad, if I may say so myself.

The point is, with all that kitchen drama going on, I neglected to notice my shirt and shorts were stained from the greased flying potatoes.  You know how grease stains at first just look like water stains, but then an hour later you wonder why your shirt hasn't dried and BAM, you remember the greasy potatoes.  I immediately googled how to remove stains and proceeded swiftly with necessary action.  As I sat waiting for the detergent to soak through the stain, I muttered:  "Oh well, I didn't like that shirt very much anyway."  Except I did.  It's one of my favorite T-shirts, but now with this stain I either have to throw it out or live with the defect.  Unless laundrymom's tips work, my shirt will no longer be pristine.

Interesting how we are so quick to devalue something when it is broken.  Our justification serves to manage our pain.

When I feel excluded and hurt by friends, I tell myself I didn't care for them anyway.

When a project you're passionate about goes awry, you tell yourself it didn't mean that much to you to begin with.

When we have to uproot from a beloved home to another community, we tell ourselves to move on.

But life is so often the opposite of pristine.  It is filled with disappointments, unfulfilled promises, broken relationships.  Stains even the most powerful cleaning agents cannot remove.  I guess the decision we have to make is whether to throw out the shirt with an indifferent shrug, or live with its defects.

My old T-shirt is in the washer right now, cold water cycle, just as laundrymom suggested.  If the stain's still there, I'll probably throw it out or give it to good will.  Let's face it, it's just a T-shirt.  But when it comes to my friendships, my most passionate projects, my beloved community, I hope the choice is always to embrace the stains.  Yes, the miscommunication stings, the lack of interest hurts, the conflicts bring pain.  But if I throw them out, I'll never know how it ends.  I won't get to see how redemption delivers.  I'll miss the beauty healing may bring.

The stains may remain, but the rest of the outfit might create an ensemble more dazzling than we ever imagined.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Lost in Translation

I am not a professional translator, but because I am bilingual I often have opportunities to translate.  In fact, for my job I translate our school newsletter every week to ensure both our Chinese and English readers can comprehend the information.  A rule I abide by in my translating work is to make sure I translate the meaning, and not simply word for word.  The reason google translate fails so often is because the mechanics are not yet sophisticated enough to decipher the meaning behind the words - it can only rigidly substitute words with a close equivalent.

Language is more than strings of an alphabet (or strokes in a character, as the case may be in Chinese).  Language is merely a vessel for meaning.  In order to translate with integrity, one must transfer the concepts, worldview, values and history from one cultural framework to the other.  As you can imagine, this is a momentous task, and thus much of the meaning merely transfers superficially or are simply "lost in translation."  This is why in order to fully appreciate a work of literature, you must read it in its original language.    

I often encounter words in English I can't translate to Chinese and vice versa.  For example, the word "fun" is inexplicably difficult to translate.  It feels quite defeating to be stumped by such a short word!  In Chinese, one sometimes translates "有趣的“, or "好玩的“, both of which connotes childish playfulness.  And yet, in American culture you use the word fun to describe a myriad of activities for grown-ups.  "The music was really fun at the wedding!" or "What do you do for fun on the weekends?" The value American culture places on entertainment and "having fun" just does not translate into Chinese culture, where fun is reserved for children only.  I hate to break it to my foreigner friends, but sometimes what you think are fun, whimsical behaviour are viewed as ridiculous childishness precisely because of this cultural disconnect.

In recent years, the value of bilingualism (or multi-lingualism) is being praised for its many benefits.  The most important of which is the way our worldview expands as we confront the limitations of a monolingual worldview.  I can't help but marvel at the incredible diversity of ways life can be done because I am offered two windows through which to view our world.  As a Christian, it reminds me of how big our God is, and how other cultures reveal more ways to be faithful as a follower of Jesus.  

An example of a Chinese word which does not find an easy equivalent in English is the word "陪“ (pei, pronounced "pay").  Chinese people often say, "wo pei ni *insert activity*".  It means, I'll accompany you "on your walk home", or "to the movies".  It can also be used in a more longer term perspective, so a husband might vow to "pei" his wife forever.  However, the word "accompany" or "do something with" does not fully convey the Chinese value of companionship and togetherness.  Americans find accompanying as something you do along-side someone, and it is viewed as either a formal escort, like children who need chaperoning, or two individuals enjoying an activity together.  The former interpretation implies a weakness in one party that needs to be addressed by the one accompanying.  The latter implies two parties in an unspoken contractual agreement to do something together so long as the activity is beneficial to themselves.  Neither one of these definitions accurately capture the essence of "陪“, which assumes an interdependent relationship.  When a Chinese person says, "wo pei ni" or "ni pei wo" (I accompany you, or you accompany me), the implied understanding is a mutual need for each other.  This is a spirit which is easily dismissed in American culture where value is found in independence, and needing company is a sign of weakness.  

I quickly discovered this cultural difference in my encounters with American friends and husband.  I realised if I asked someone to "pei" me, it was a sign of weakness.  Why on earth would I need someone to accompany to the grocery store, something I can easily do by myself?  If I feared the dark and needed someone to "pei" me to assuage my fears, I should just get over it.  To better function in the American cultural context, I learned to become independent.  I learned to be self sufficient, and to tuck the vocabulary of "pei" away for a while.  

Yet in my life journey of interweaving cultural paths, I am rediscovering the beauty of this Chinese value.  I am a firm believer in the missiological concept that God is already at work in every culture, and I believe he placed this gem of truth inside the Chinese language to reveal a foundational element of the Gospel.  

Because the astounding mystery of the Gospel is this:  God, the Creator of all things, came to us in the Person of Jesus, the Great I Am clothed in flesh and blood.  Emmanuel, God with us.  

The Promise is not that everything will be okay in life, but that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  

Though I walk through the darkest valley, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me.  

The truth of the Gospel is God "pei" us through this battle of life.  And He asks us to "pei" each other.  No more walls of hostility, no more judgment.  No more lies of individual strength, no more isolation.  Our fears are meant to be overcome in community, not on our own.  Our needing others is a sign of strength, not weakness.  We become heroes in our life stories not because of our own resilience and might, but because of our utter reliance on each other.  

So dear American readers, the next time your Chinese friend asks you to "pei" them, say yes.  Not as a chaperone or even as a partner.  Pei them and you might discover you need them as much as they needed you.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Beauty Regimen

I have never been a girly girl.  I never cared about the way I looked.  Here's a picture of me in Middle School to prove I put little to no thought to appearances.

Lovely, isn't it?  While my girlfriends begged their moms to let them start wearing make-up, I shunned the idea of putting glob on my face and became the poster child for the "au naturel" look.  I'm so low maintenance it wasn't until recently I started using conditioner in my hair.  I prefer simple classic styles over trendy fashion.  I only sometimes shave my legs.  *gasp*

As I am coming of some age, pesky little lines are starting to show, those "smile creases".  Being a busy mother I can't avoid these ever widening dark circles around my eyes.  It's getting harder and harder to avoid looking wasted without some sort of help from the cosmetic industry, so I have developed a very simple routine which I thought I'd share with my low maintenance sisters out there.

I only wash my face once a day (oh gosh, I'm blurring the fine line between low maintenance and basic hygiene), which happens at the end of the day when I shower.  So in the morning, I have to rehydrate my skin with a moisturiser.  After that basic lotion, I put on this super hip product that is all the rage here in Asia, called a BB-Cream.  BB creams are basically a tinted sunscreen.  Us Asians, in case you don't know, do not want any sun on our face.  Or arms. Or legs. Anywhere on our dermis.  So an SPF protection on the face is an absolute MUST-HAVE.  Find me one Asian woman who doesn't wear sunscreen on their face and I will give you a million dollars.  Just kidding, but seriously, everyone wears them.  Every single cosmetic brand in Taiwan has come out with their version of a BB cream, here's the one I use:

I try to find a color that matches my skin tone as closely as possible, but the sales ladies will always try to convince me to go a shade lighter to achieve the coveted "white skin".  I like the BB cream over liquid foundation because it provides less coverage.  Not that I don't need coverage, trust me I do, freckles anyone?  But I really can't stand wearing make-up and I feel the BB creams are less burdensome on my skin.  

Then I quickly brush on some powder to give that matted look.

If I am going out to dinner, or if I feel like some color on my face (which is rare), I'll put on some eye shadow.

But I suck at putting color make up on (um, lack of practice), so sometimes I look weird.  Therefore I avoid it.  Which makes me less confident and leads me to despise make up even more.  The vicious cycle of the low-maintenance-girl.

I can't wear lipstick because I am allergic to a lot of the brands.  My lips start itching and swell, which defeats the beautifying purpose.  No worries, I have a secret weapon at my disposal.

*giggle* I'll never forget the look on my friend's face when I pulled this out of my purse one time reaching for my lip balm.  I swear by this product, my mother in law introduced it to me.  She lives in the dry Colorado mountain air and NEEDS a serious hydrating product for her lips, and this baby does the trick.  I love how it keeps my lips moisturised forever, plus it gives it a nice sheen so it almost looks like I have lip gloss on.  Especially on good days when my circulation is good and my lips are naturally flushed red.  On bad days when I'm slightly anaemic, I do sort of wish I could wear colored lip gloss.  Oh well.

So that's it!  I told you it was a simple routine.  Three steps and out the door.

The money I save on buying make up I do splurge on my cleaning products.  Here's what I use at the end of the day.

Shu Uemura is the best brand for Asian skin because it specifically targets our needs.  It is not cheap though.  Their face cleansing foam is amazing because it has a slight and not overwhelming scent and is divine.  After face wash, I put on Lancome's Genefique serum, which supposedly makes you skin younger.  I don't actually believe it, it's one of those bold faced lies the cosmetic industry feeds insecure aging women to beef up their profits.  No amount of serum is taking away those "smile creases" people.  Why do I use it then, you ask?  I do not have a good answer for you.  Sometimes we don't always live what we preach - hypocrisy at its best.

Anyway, then I use that red lotion to complete my regimen.  Isn't the red so pretty?

That's it, folks.  Don't forget to recycle the used containers, let's take care of our earth!  Beautiful, environmentally conscious women unite!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

For The Love of Typhoons

There are all kinds of storms brewing around us.  Typhoon Tembin has been threatening to invade our small tropical island for daaaays.  Seriously, this is the most wishy washy typhoon I've ever met, she looks like she's heading this way, but then she's taking her sweet time, giving the weather forecasters and the general public plenty of time to create drama.  The intensity, the direction, the speed, the amount of rain it will bring, the level of winds that will come, all this changes as fast as my daughter changes her mind about what to have for breakfast.  Though our young maiden typhoon Tembin is indecisive, she has a suitor!  Yes, another typhoon is trailing behind her, and get this:  his name is Beloven.  No kidding?!  "Beloven Be Lovin' Tembin." The setting is perfect as Tembin makes landfall on the Chinese Valnetine's Day. Okay, enough with the cheesy puns, people, two typhoons heading straight for us, this means business.  Stock up on stuff, cuddle cozy with your family, it's time for a storm.

This afternoon I went grocery shopping in preparation for some indoor days.  Supermarkets in Taiwan are often scattered with various sales people offering samples of food items being sold.  It is very popular amongst Taiwanese people but I typically find them irritating in the way one feels when one is being forced to buy something one doesn't want.  I am browsing the aisles with my extra large umbrella (it had started raining on my way in the store) sticking awkwardly out of my tiny shopping cart.  A saleslady shoves a morsel of food on a toothpick in my face offering a sample and as usual I pull a crafty evasive maneuver with a quip of "no thank you" before moving on.  A few moments later, I hear her call out after me in a tone of voice stripped of the sales pitch,

"Has it started raining outside?" She didn't miss my ginormous rain gear.

"Yeah, yeah it's raining."  I'm a little disoriented having been interrupted from my focused path to the next destination: frozen peas.

"Is it raining hard?" The supermarket is three levels below ground floor, she really has no idea what the weather is like.

"Yeah, it was starting to rain big drops out there."

"Is it windy?"

"Yeah, wind is starting to pick up."

"So it's coming, the typhoon is really coming."

We exchange shy smiles filled with an air of nervous excitement knowing the storm's upon us as I continue my errand.  Yet that small conversation lingered in my mind as I reflected on how the weather somehow connected us, two strangers who have nothing in common except a briefly shared space in a department store.  It reminded me of how I must be missing the big picture if I passed by this woman thinking she was just another commercial tool used to coerce an economic transaction instead of a fellow citizen on our little island.  We may have different families, ideas, jobs, background, but we were there in the same geographic location, sharing in the anticipation of a big storm together.  And for that one moment we bonded.

I went through the checkout register and decided to pick up some bread.  As one of the workers at the bakery were helping me, I smiled at her and said, "hey, it's raining outside."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Names, Numbers, Formulas

I just finished up the third week of my new job as an administrative assistant at the school.  My responsibilities include sorting through student applications, compiling lists on excel worksheets, processing information on school demographics records, pulling up attendance reports, and doing this with efficiency and accuracy.  Names, numbers, formulas.

Don't get me wrong, I love office work.  I enjoy staying organized and I play with excel worksheets for fun (blush).  These tasks need to be accomplished as a means to deliver a quality education for our students.  And yet the paperwork induces restlessness deep down inside of me.  I think because somehow numbers reduce our humanity.  The applications can't tell me about the nerves these new students feel approaching a strange environment.  The paperwork can't deliver the nuances of each family's struggles and successes.  Lists are not life producing.  They manage, categorize, and control.  They do not tell stories.  They cannot love, forgive, have fun, and cry.

Sometimes I fear our society has become so fast paced and cluttered with to-do-lists a mile long that we have become merely names on applications and numbers on lists.  I hope I am not alone in wanting to wiggle myself out of checkboxes and demanding to live a more abandoned, dynamic life beyond routine reports.  We are more than another name and status update on someone's news feed.  We are more than numbers on someone's list.  We are more than another slot in someone's schedule.

We are human beings created in the image of an intense, dynamic, unpredictable God.

A God who has thrown together a cosmos with a dizzying array of planets, stars, suns, and moons.

A God who has a seemingly limitless palette of colors with which He paints the sky, the earth, and the waters.

A God who loves, forgives, parties, and weeps.

This God gave us life, and damned if we let ourselves be confined to names, numbers, and formulas.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Daughter and the Gilmore Girls

I know it's totally last decade but I've been watching the Gilmore Girls while I exercise on my treadmill.  Some nights when Jason is working I'll watch some episodes in bed by myself.  He won't watch it with me, go figure.  Last night he walked in on me tearing up to Luke and Lorelai breaking up.  It's just SO sad!!!  Yes I get a tad involved in my dramas, it's a good thing.  It means I am empathetic.

Anyway, my dear daughter who is nine years of age, begs me to let her watch with me.  She, being the mini-me that she is, also leans towards the dramatic side.  Like any human, sensible mother, I say no (it's not a show for children, come on) and then cave (I'm tired, there's no will left to fight).  I wince a bit whenever a "what the he$$" pops up, or a "da$m" slips in.  I recoil as "adult themes" are referenced. It's quite stressful watching a show keenly aware of a nine year old's perspective, I don't recommend it.

Last night she inevitably asks again.

"Please, please, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease?"

"No, honey, I just want to relax, I'm sorry."

"Why?"  Flashback to the three year old life stage.

"Because I get nervous watching it with you knowing there are parts that aren't appropriate."

"Why is it inappropriate? Give me one example." Oh geez, brain cells dying slow and painful deaths.

"Well, it's a show about a mother who has a daughter without a husband.  I don't want you thinking that's what you want to grow up doing."

"Moooom (yes, just in that pre-teen sassy tone you're imagining in your head)!!  I don't WANT babies, you know that!  Give me another example."

"..."  Seriously, Cindy, two examples.  One plus one example, and you couldn't even come up with it.

"Honey, it's a show for adults. If you watch it, you're like an adult, and your childhood is way too short as it is, I want you to enjoy just being a child." I don't even know why I say things like that, it makes me sound like an old geezer.

"Moooom (yep, for the next decade, I better get used to it)!! I'll still play with my friends and stuff, I won't turn into an adult."

I think we went back and forth a few more times, or maybe not.  I just caved again and had another anxious evening of the Gilmore Girls.

Don't judge me, friends, unless you've got a better idea of communicating to your nine year old daughter why they shouldn't watch Gilmore Girls with you.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Boba Tea aka a High Ranking Love of My Life

Us Taiwanese have our challenges.  We cannot fly our own flag at the Olympics. We cannot grow very tall.  We cannot let go of our obsession over Hello Kitty. But we lay claim to introducing the world to the ingenious beverage that is Boba Tea.

Let's first talk origins.  Now I have personally read heartrending origin stories of boba tea in several tea stands all over Taiwan.  I have a healthy amount of skepticism, not unlike the doubt I cast over the old farmer who sits giving autographs by the Terracotta soldiers claiming to be the first to strike this amazing discovery (come ON, the dude never ages!), towards anyone who claims to have invented BT. There are two probable tea shops, one located in Tainan, the other in Taichung with a higher degree of legitimacy, but the verdict is inconclusive.  Suffice it to say, someone at some point, in Taiwan, decided to put tapioca balls in milk tea, increase the diameter of a regular sized straw, and start a world-trending sensation in the cold tea industry.  

Next let's try to nail down proper terminology.  In the beginning, the drink was given the lovely name of Zhen Zhu Nai Cha, the "Pearl Milk Tea", invoking the beautiful Chinese tradition of embellishing the names of our dishes, transforming plain old tapioca balls into a treasured jewel.  Later on, as the pearls evolved (got bigger), someone crassly named it Boba tea.  Boba is a Taiwanese colloquial term for large breasts.  It's kind of a bummer, really.  Luckily, some English speakers have taken to calling it "Bubble Tea", which is both a sound play of Boba Tea as well as descriptive of the round objects suspended in the drinks.  For the purpose of this blog, I'm going to shorten it to BT.


For those who may have never tried BT, let me just break it down to you exactly what it is.  Bobas are tapioca balls.  Its primary ingredients are starch, water, and sugar, mixed together and shaped into small balls of varying diameters.  Originally, people ate them just by itself in sugared water as a dessert.  At that time, they were usually made to be clear in color.  Eventually people started liking the taste of brown sugar in them so the dark colored tapiocas came to be popular.  Taiwanese people are very particular about the texture of our food. A common description for bobas are "tan-ya", which literally means bounces-off-teeth.  For some odd reason we like to work to consume our food.  Chicken off bones, crab meat from the crevices of the claws, nuts encased in hard shells, the process is half the fun.  Consistent with this ethic, we feel simply gulping down liquid is hardly belaboring, let's work the jaw muscles as we drink. Boba tea is made by filling about 1/4 of a cup with tapioca balls, then filled to the brim with milk tea. It is consumed by straws large enough so you can enjoy a perfect proportion of both liquid and solids with each and every sip.

Adding boba to tea is like accessorizing.  It may not have cost you very much to add that colorful scarf or shiny belt to your cute little black dress, but it sure transforms the entire outfit.  Who would've thought something as plain and ordinary as starch and sugar could make a pauper of a drink into a prince? 

BT is more than my comfort drink, it is my Savior drink. I have had the darkest days of my life brightened by the presence of BT. My husband knows instinctively how to smooth over a fight. No flowers or chocolate for me, a cheap drink off the tea stand taps into the most romantic part of my soul. Stress melts when I anticipate that first cold rush of bubbles shooting up into the roof of my mouth, and the ensuing slow rhythmic chewing as the caffeine adds a kick to my system.  It's a perfect balance of white and dark, fluid and substance, yin and yang.  

You should try it.  I like it a lot, can you tell?

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Continuing the conversation on false assumptions of Chinese displays of affection, Kimberly asked this question:  "Is criticism from Chinese mothers a display of genuine love?"

This is a loaded question mainly because we move into the territory of defining what "love" is, which differs widely even within America's own culture.  Needless to say, trying to digest all the various ways Chinese define love will be outside the scope of this blog.  However, I think I understand where the question comes from. I'm sure the perception of the harsh and more poignantly, constant, criticism of parents toward children is hard to watch for Americans who care for these families. Let me just offer some food for thought which hopefully helps shed some light on the spirit behind which the criticism is extended.

My first baby was born in the States.  As I stepped into that life stage in American culture, I was naturally exposed to the ways American parents interacted in their society.  The first time I heard an American Mom brag about how cute their baby is to their friends, I was shocked. A traditional Chinese value (I am aware times are changing quickly and generalizations are what they are, so I do stress this is as a historically traditional Chinese value) is humility. Bragging on yourselves is not virtuous.  Even when others compliment you, you are to disagree vehemently and reject any compliments to exhibit your humble stature.  Imagine a society where your identity is wrapped up with your family's identity (unlike American individualism, where each individual's identity stands on their own), bragging on your children is equivalent to uplifting your own self. This causes great confusion to Westerners who may want to show kindness by complimenting a friend's child, only to have them respond, "What? My daughter is not beautiful, she's fat and her eyes are too small." Before you judge them to be super critical of their own child, trust me when I say inside the parent is swelling with pride at your compliment.

As the child grows and the criticisms continue, the American struggles to see beyond the pure horror of a grown adult being chastised severely by their elderly parent.  Again, I'd like to remind the American how much the family's identity is wrapped up in each other, so what appears to be relentless criticism toward the child is often self criticism or constant reminder to the child their behavior represents their whole family.  The stake is high: get those high scores, find a better job, get in relationships with the right people, our family's honor depends on it.

Americans will also be surprised the adult child allow themselves to receive the criticism without putting up a fight.  This is because the concept of hierarchy is so much more pronounced in Chinese culture compared to the West. Age is a powerful status in Chinese culture. The one person who has more power than the all-revered Chinese emperor is the emperor's mother, the elder of the emperor (Think the infamous Qing Dynasty Empress Dowager, Ci Xi). As soon as your baby brother is born, the older sister has clout at 2 years old.  Jie Jie gets to tell Di Di what to do and get away with it.  Speaking back to an elder is a sign of grave disrespect, so no matter how ugly the criticisms can get from an elder, you'll seldom see push back.  It may seem unjust but keep in mind the child grows and one day becomes an elder with the rights to criticize.  What goes around comes around.

One more thing I'd like to mention is the difference between obligations to each other.  In American society, parents relinquish most of the obligations as their child goes off to college.  Chinese families are committed to being intimately involved for life.  So American kids would typically not put up with their parents' criticisms, especially after they've become adults, but they also don't expect their parents to be obligated to them for financial support or to help raise their kids. The criticism Americans hear is only one part of an implicit mutual agreement: I will do and sacrifice everything I have for you for the rest of your life and this gives me a right to continue to input into your life.

Thus far, I've tried to refrain from making value judgments.  Not right, not wrong, just different.  This is a personal topic for me to tackle because I have my own Christian convictions as well as Western influences (not to mention a bit of a badass personality) which makes it VERY difficult for me to handle criticism from my elders. I especially believe as a follower of Jesus, I am responsible to fight against the injustice of a patriarchal society and stand up for my own value as a Chinese woman, rejecting harmful words for myself, for my daughter, and for all the beautiful girls of this culture. However, outsiders to this culture must be hesitant to judge before listening and understanding the vast commitments Chinese families have towards each other.

I love you = Wo Ai Ni?

Language is so much more than the words we utter.  Along with verbiage, our communication is expressed through tone, body language, and cultural implications.  Living in the cross section of American and Chinese culture, the missed layers of communication I observe between members of the respective cultures is at best humorous, and at worst, cause for broken relationships.

Take, for example, the usage of the phrase "I love you." I have heard Americans say those three words to people they've barely met.  I slowly learned not to squirm uncomfortably when I hear these words of affection thrown around like a greeting or more often a closing quip as companies depart.  My American friend recently admitted to me sometimes she feels those words are cheapened by how freely and frequently they are tossed around in her family. Being Chinese I've had to learn this cultural phenomenon and I've observed the following three situations in the way Americans say "I love you":

1.  A semi-to total functional family who genuinely respect and support one another may express I love you frequently as a sign of authentic love for each other.  They see the importance of leaving no room to doubt for their children or spouse to truly receive the heart behind the verbally spoken words.

2.  I love you becomes an acquiescence to societal norms in an effort to cover up what's really not-so-functional underneath.  Imagine a parent who is never around and drops the L-bomb at the end of a phone conversation in order to soothe their guilt.  Or a marriage whose passion has grown cold but continue the ritualistic "I love you-s" each morning as they go off to work in order to keep up the appearance of a healthy bond.

3. Sadly there are truly broken, perhaps even abusive, homes where family members have never been loved nor been told they are loved.

The problem arises when Americans encounter Chinese families who have never uttered those precious three words, "wo ai ni".  I'm afraid the American easily jumps to the conclusion the Chinese must therefore be a number 3 family.  I'm even more afraid when Christian Americans make it their mission to demonstrate true love to Chinese families with the assumption they must not know how to love if they don't say it.  This is simply a false assumption! Chinese families know how to love fiercely.  They do it through immense generosity, unwavering loyalty, and a lot of food. We love differently, not better, not worse, but definitely different.

This is not to say I don't think there's value in verbal expressions of love.  Some non-traditional Chinese families are starting to freely say I love you to each other and I believe that can be a healthy development. But I do believe the community should decide for themselves when or how they want to exhibit the love without being judged for being unloving unless they express themselves a certain way.

I'd be interested to hear what my American or Chinese readers think about this subject.  Do you say "I love you" to your families and friends?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Just Enough

When I logged in to write this new blog entry, blogger pulled up the stats of my blog. The numbers of page views, comments, impressions. When we see young children exhibit creativity or ingenuity, we quip, "that kid's going to grow up and change the world." We are inspired by heroes in our culture and aspire to impact others as we have been impacted.  We derive meaning and purpose from what sort of mark we hope to leave in this lifetime.  We strive to make impressions.  As many and as deeply as we can with the resources we've been given.

As Christians we have co-opted this drive to be influential.  We couch the intentions with religious language and say, "we are working unto the Lord" and with evangelistic fervor we urgently "reach" as many as we can.  We may argue our motivations are more pure than the worldly drive for success because we do it in God's Name and for His Glory, but the underlying ethos is no different.  Let's build the grandest sanctuaries, lead worship with professional musicians, host quality Sunday School programs, so we can further God's Kingdom as effectively and efficiently given our resources.

We value visionary leaders and the go-getters.  We encourage each other to dream big, to live radically for God.  We see the broken world around us and our passions drive us to do more, to help more, to make a difference, to impress God's love upon our world.

We celebrate biblical teachings like how God can turn a mustard seed of faith into a big tree.  We trust that if we just give our five loaves and two fish God can feed thousands.

My name is Cindy and I suffer from a messianic complex.  I see a problem and think I am the only solution.  Truly this is why I break the stereotype of ageless Asian women by spouting grey hairs prematurely.  My personality feeds right into our industrial hype for efficiency.  I work with the language of excel worksheets and bullet points.  I believe armed with the right tools I can impact the world dynamically for Christ and His Kingdom.

It wasn't pretty the day I found out I couldn't, indeed, change the world.  Those rosy colored lenses hovering my vision dissipated as I reflected on the fact that even the most powerful man in the world, the president of the States, remains quite limited in his capability to solve just one of our many global problems.  I discovered the movers and shakers of society are really mostly jiggling within their rather confined spaces, effecting only a minute segment of the world population.

If even the most charismatic successful people of the world are not really as influential as I thought they were, what the heck do I think I'm going to accomplish? Perhaps this is the time to start considering a theology of enough.  I am starting to embrace mediocrity because I am remembering how upside down the Gospel really is in relation to our prevailing cultural values.

Instead of praising the high achievers, we bless those who mourn.  The ones who are racked by grief, whose hearts are torn and their faith hanging on by a thread.

Instead of applauding the dynamic communicators, we seek out those who don't speak.  The ones who have completely stopped trying to speak because their voices have been drowned out for too long.

Instead of being inspired by the spiritual giants, we stumble along with those who are falling.  The ones who are so messed up inside they can't find their way out of the tangle.

Because isn't it true sometimes we offer up our bread and our fish and all it feeds is a few people?  Sometimes our faith is just enough to make it through the day, or even half a day, or just the next moment.  I think I'm ready to celebrate impacting the world "just enough".

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

in which I got called poo

It's been a while since I've written a blog post. I'm reading plenty of them and they're all so much better than mine that I'm feeling somewhat defeatist. However, just the other day I got called poo and one simply cannot let perfectly good substance as getting called poo go to waste without blogging over it. It would be a travesty.

 So here's the story. I was called last minute to sub for the fifth graders. The sub plans called for me to get them working on an assignment on the computers in the library. Now if you were fifth grade boys and you had access to gmail during class with a substitute teacher, wouldn't YOU write emails to your buddies and call the sub teacher poo? Of course. However, being raised in a school environment which encourages Christian character, one of the boys came clean to me, a moment in which I was made aware of the opinion of myself as fecal matter. I promptly accused,

 "Who sent the email? Show me the email? What did it say exactly?"

 Then I remembered I was an adult and ceased the investigation. I gently but firmly gripped the shoulders of the suspect boys, who were weakly offering feeble excuses like "we were just kidding...", and prompted them to respond with repentance.

 "What do you have to say to me?"

 All at once their faces filled with part mischief, part remorse, and part fear of punishment. They muttered their sorrys and moved on with their fifth grade lives. And I moved on to monitoring the rest of the class. There was no need to say anything else at that point but this is what I was saying in my heart:

 "Boys, you are so loved. You will make a bad choice again. One day you will make choices far more terrible than calling your sub poo. And then you will still be loved. You will be corrected, chided, and made to apologize over and over again and yet, you are still loved. You might grow up to regret the mean things you did and said to hurt others, or you might not. Either way, guess what? You are loved. But you know, all the other children around you are also loved, and when you call them poo, they might not feel so good. Some of them probably don't feel strong enough to ask you to apologize. When you grow up, you be the one who stands up for those who don't speak for themselves. Let's agree on this, okay?"

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What on earth is One Day's Wages and why am I always talking about it?

I'm a pretty sensible person most of the time. I'm not a genius but I have fairly sound judgment and got a good head on my shoulders. But there have been a few moments in my life when I've done things that if I were to leave my body momentarily and look at myself, I would've called that person crazy. I blame Jesus. Ever since He entered my life at the tender age of 12-13ish, I've been compelled to do some crazy things. Like giving up my acceptance to prestigious American universities I had actually heard of from my life in Taiwan, to attend a small Christian college in the midwest where the 95% white population asked me what it was like growing up in Thailand (*roll eyes*) and mistook me for Wendy, the other Asian girl on campus, ALL THE TIME. Crazy. Like meeting with maximum security juvenile inmates to play ping pong every week for three years. Crazy. Like marrying a dude whose cultural background is NOTHING like mine but thinking it was still a good idea because we both believe in Jesus. Crazy. Like pushing out a baby girl and taking off to live in China before she learned to walk. Crazy.

Our story with One Days Wages began sort of like these crazy moments. You know how people tell stories of when they travel to a third world country and the poverty they witness changes them? If you haven't heard of any, read this one, it's beautiful. I got to do this when I was in high school. I went to one of the poorest countries in the world and witnessed poverty first hand. I went through all the common human emotions - compassion, heartbreak, sympathy. However my most vivid memory of what went through my mind was this phrase: "Why them? Why not me?" Why did I get to sleep in a comfortable bed and have hot showers and get an amazing education, and not them? Why do I get to see a doctor when I get sick, and not them? I never received a satisfactory answer but I figured out I needed to spend my life asking the question.

I learned the pain stabbing at my heart in the presence of dignity-stripping poverty was actually the heart of God. I realized in the blueprint of His glorious Plan to restore the world through Jesus Christ was a design for rescuing the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Each day, children starve, mothers and fathers' hearts break, women are raped and tortured, because of the root cause of grinding extreme poverty. I believe in a Jesus who says I have come to bring light into the darkness. I have to believe Jesus matters.

But what can we do? The problem of poverty is so deep and complex, how can we show the world Jesus matters? Is it possible? Is it worth trying? We didn't know the answers, again, but we started asking questions (I'm starting to see a pattern). We started dreaming, what if there was an organization who found people, the quiet ones no one hears about, who faithfully serves the poor and we help them do their job? We tell their stories and we invite others to join their work. I emailed my friend Sara, who is one of those quiet heroes working in the trenches where no one else wants to be and simply shared my dream. She wrote back and said, I know someone who is doing the very thing you're talking about, his name is Eugene Cho, let me connect you. Eugene is a pastor in Seattle whom I had honestly never heard of before (sorry Eugene, I know you now and you're great!). We connected and indeed found his vision for his organization exactly what I hope to do. We decided to set aside a portion of our finances and contribute to the seed fund to launch One Days Wages. Yes, we gave money to someone we had never met before to try to accomplish the impossible. Crazy.

But it's one of the most beautiful things we've ever done. Through the work of One Days Wages we've witnessed generosity that has left me wrecked by tears of gratitude. We've seen pictures that spoke hope and life straight into our souls like this one:

This is a picture of a girl in Cambodia who has been given the gift of clean water

We can confidently proclaim that Jesus matters in the life of this one girl in Cambodia, or that one boy in Nepal, and that one woman in Congo. Amazing what one person's one days wages can do.

Will you join us? There are so many ways to be involved in One Days Wages for each person who has made it this far in my humble ramblings. You can start by "liking" One Days Wages on Facebook and sharing the beautiful redemptive stories. You can consider giving your "one days' wage". You can start a birthday campaign. Or do some crazy amazing things others have done like shave their heads, or bike 6000 miles, or crochet hats, or sing songs, or dance! I've done a few of these crazy things, like help host a coffeehouse fundraiser, and it was SO MUCH FUN!! Really!

So come along for the wild ride that is One Days Wages. Join the crazy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Texting is Not Like the Real Thing

Friends, I'm thankful for such a full life, but I am feeling a little frantic lately because of a minor though chronic condition of overcommitment. February is busy because it contains the birthday of my firstborn, who is turning nine, and we must sound the trumpets and celebrate with style because she is worth it. Along with this, and traveling, and commitments at church, charity, and family, my cup overfloweth. I should and could come up with a list of things to do, proceed to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, and feel exhausted and drained without accomplishing much. Or, I could sit down, take a deep breath, and write. Hopefully the effect will be a calmer mind, more clarity, and a deeper appreciation of the purpose of these commitments. Yes, that sounds good. This I will do.

This past weekend I was out of town. I don't normally post how hot my husband is (I do think this) or loudly proclaim my love for him on social media because I don't want to annoy single people who resent hearing about my amazing married life. Not that all single people resent hearing about this. Nor should they. But I know sometimes it is hard so I prefer not doing that. But no judgment towards those who do flaunt their love life because it is something good and should be celebrated. Also, note to single people, our married lives are more than twitter and Facebook statuses, we also fight and that never gets posted. You should know that. End lengthy disclaimer.

The truth is, I do enjoy a very close relationship with my husband. We've been married for almost 11 years so let's face it we're past the honeymoon stage but definitely entered the deep intimate life sharing phase. When I was away, I texted him each night (truthfully to make sure my kids are clean and fed) and shared some short snippets from our day. We are thankful for the new iMessage which allows us to text each other for free as long as we both have internet access to our iPhones. After texting, I'd settle down on my hotel bed and drift off to sleep. I am able to sleep peacefully because I am content knowing my loved ones are safe, and having connected via a few texted words, sense my emotional and relational needs being met. There's a peace knowing my world is fine and I can wake up the next morning carrying on with the tasks of the next day. My marriage has taught me so much about the nature of our human-ness which requires a depth of connection which we find in marriage, friendship, family, communities, and beyond.

You know that bit in the Bible about how we, the followers of Jesus Christ, are metaphorically analogous to the Bride? This need for connection with my husband, this urge to text before bedtime, that's comparable to our longing to connect with our God. And Jesus, He is our iMessenger (wow, cheesy), giving us an avenue to directly relate to our Father. And He brings us peace to go to sleep at night. Peace knowing we are safe in His arms, safe to love others, safe to get up in the morning and carry on with the tasks of the next day.

But after three days of being gone, I came home. And I (after I told him to haul my luggage upstairs) gave him a hug. We settled into bed together and talked face to face. He told me stories of the kids antics and I shared about my trip.

And it was different. It was better. We were together again.

We are not there yet, the Church. We have a lot. We have Jesus, we have each other, we have glimpses of what is to come. It is enough for now. iMessage is sufficient. For now. But one day, we will be together, the Bride and the Groom, and it will be different. It will be better.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mole Excision Surgery

It was time to get rid of the mole to the right of my nose. I've always had this mole but it has grown substantially in the last few years and it's time for it to go.

Despite having labored to deliver two babies, my pain tolerance is still incredulously low. The thought of a needle in my face petrified me to no end. But I'm determined. The mole's gotta go. For a few days I asked around for mole removal dr recommendations, researched the internet, and talked to people about it. From everything that I read, it's a simple outpatient procedure.

Still, I'm nervous. The more I thought the more I panicked. The intensifying fear required relief. It's time to just get it over with. Thursday morning, I skip Bible Study and go to a pretty well known dermatology clinic near my house. I go in and they said it's full, I gotta wait until after CNY. "After CNY? I can't make it." That's the fear speaking. I left the clinic and decided to go to the nearby hospital. The dermatologist looked at my mole and said for sure I need surgery because it is raised and large and transferred me to the plastic surgery department. So I'm at the plastic surgery department, not knowing any of these doctors, and my nerves continue to grow. The whole time I'm texting Jason and my brother Aidan, keeping them posted, growing increasingly scared. Doctor finally calls me in and says you need surgery but you'll have to wait until after CNY. I panic again and plead, please could I have it done this morning, I have free time right now, I need to just get it over with. A scrubbed surgeon walks by and the nurses ask if he could do it. He looks at me, squeezes my face around, and says ok, he'll do it.

Again, I expected a simple outpatient procedure. Yet next thing I know, I"m being prepped for a full on surgery. They had me sign a consent form and I gulped after glossing over words like BLOOD and DEATH. They had me change into gowns, take off all my jewelry, put one of those green scrubby shower caps on and lead me into an operating room. The room is freezing (apparently that's how they have to keep ORs) with surgical equipment strewn all around. I lay down on the surgical bed and stare up into those big surgical lamps with like 6 rounded bulbs. I am freaking out. They cover me with blankets and I ask for more (it's cold in there!). Then they cover my face up exposing just my mole area. The dr. marks my face up of where he's going to cut. I almost jumped at the sensation of the pen on my face because I expected a shot. The doctor and nurses are not telling me ANYTHING about what's going on, which serves to further heighten my nerves. So I take charge and ask, "please can you tell me when you're going to give me the shot?" knowing that was the main thing that was going to hurt. They say yes they will. More prepping, rubbing my face with disinfectant, more marking and squeezing of my face. The moment came, "here comes the shot, it's going to hurt, it's really going to hurt!" The nurses yell. NOT HELPFUL. Expecting one shot, I received 4-5 various shots all around my mole. As always, the anticipation was MUCH worse than the actual needle, the pain was fairly minimal. The right side of my face goes numb. I am paranoid the anesthesia won't work during the procedure so I remain tense. I can feel a LOT of tugging and pulling of my face. Halfway into the procedure, I hear the doctor call the nurses for "電燒“, which literally means, "electric burn". A surge of new panic comes on, why are they going to use electric burn on me? I use the little medical knowledge I possess to surmise they need to cauterize the wound. He "electric burns" my wound, I hear a loud hissing sound, feel immense pressure on my cheek, then SMELL burning flesh. Breathing, breathing, telling myself to stay calm, I persevere. The burning lasts what feels like forever, he repeatedly cauterizes this area, I'm about to pass out wanting it to be over. Finally he puts the electric burn away, and presumably starts stitching. More tugging, more pressure. At long last it's over. They take off my covers and I am shivering uncontrollably, probably from the build up of my nerves. The nurses ask if I wanted to see my mole. I saw the huge ball of flesh on a surgical tray and nearly pass out again. Shaking, I get dressed, pay a whopping 350NT for the whole procedure and walk out the door.

At home, I change my dressing to discover I have a huge gash stitched up with 7 stitches and still shudder when I look at it.

Mole is gone, but in its place I may have a scar. Time will tell whether it was worth it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2012 Resolutions

New Year resolutions. Or goals. (Somebody explain the difference again?) We’ve all seen them run through our social media newsfeed. Eat better. Be present. Love more. Blah, blah, blah, it’s as standard as beauty pageant contestants promoting “world peace.” I have yet to come across more creative inspirational resolutions. Some people give up making them for fear of failure (gulp, guilty), others tentatively put it out there in public realm in hopes of accountability. The most obnoxious ones flaunt their accomplishments disguised in the form of resolutions inducing shame on those of us who are, what one might deem, lower profile. No, I do not plan on publishing a book in 2012, but hope to crank out a few blog entries for my audience of two to three, thank you very much.

And now, my turn to add my teensy voice into the cacophony of online NY announcements: in 2012, I propose to eat better, be present, and love more. Hey, I think there needs to be more creativity in resolutions but I got nothing.

Eat Better. We are not bad eaters. So the boys like snacking and Lizzy and I don’t drink enough water. Besides those minor faults, we generally maintain a healthy family diet, and none of us need to lose any weight. (Except me. But only on my tummy. And a little under my arms. That’s all. Don’t hurt me.) This past year Jason has decided, for environmental reasons, to stop eating beef. I didn’t plan on following suit but naturally stopped serving beef at family dinners. As it turns out, we feel better, spend less on meat, and do our small part withdrawing from an industry that devastates our earth. This year, I hope to eat even less meat and try cooking more vegetarian dishes. Fortunately I’ve found some fantastic vegetarian restaurants in our city and look forward to frequenting those this year.

Be present. This one is a bit vague. I interpret it to mean less time online and more time face to face. I don’t have super high hopes of maintaining this resolution, and will hereby briefly gloss over it and move on to the next.

Love more. Yes! In 2012, may I grow even more in love with my husband and children, taking every opportunity to express love in ways that resonates deeply within their souls. I hope to delve deeper into the precious friendships in my community. I ask God to do His five loaves two fish thing and multiply the space in my heart to include strangers and those in pain. I want to speak words of blessing and hope into a world of darkness. I want to quietly listen to beautiful stories of redemption. I want to shout loudly in advocacy for those silenced by marginalization. I will demand grace when I fall and extend that same grace without reservation. It will hurt me to love more, but when 2013 rolls around, I’ll look back and remember the pain was good pain, the sort that leads to a life worth living, and a story worth telling.

So there you have it, my New Years resolutions. Yours?