what we have

For thirty years, I didn’t have a Valentine. Guys had to ask my father for permission to date me. Dad was strict, few guys tried, so I gave up hope that I would ever have a Valentine.

Valentine's Day mugThen when I was 31, I received a Starbucks mug with hearts all over it. The box read “To Karen” and that was it. Little did I know that was Luke’s first Valentine’s gift to me.

But this post isn’t about what you may not have. This Valentine’s Day, I want to remind us all of what we do have.

Ephesians 5:31 is a verse we commonly hear at weddings: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Now why would the passage talk about the man leaving his father and mother, when in most cultures, the woman leaves her family? To answer this question, I’d like to share a story.

When Arianna was two, she started having nightmares. One night, she woke up crying that a fox was out to get her. After several nights of her crying for us in the middle of the night, we decided to set up a little bed for her in our room. It was easier.

One night, I woke up hearing her whimpering. I went to comfort her, only to discover that she was still asleep. She was having another nightmare. Even though I was exhausted, my mother’s heart hurt for her. I wanted her to keep sleeping, but I also wanted to wake her up and assure her that everything was going to be ok—that her dream wasn’t real.

That is what Christ did for us. Ephesians 5:32 says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Marriage is a picture of God’s love for us. Jesus left His home in Heaven, His Father who loved Him, and all His glory to enter into our world—to assure us that our nightmare will one day pass away.

That’s not all. When it says that a man will hold fast to his wife, it’s telling us that Jesus came to pursue people who not only didn’t love Him in return but instead sought after other gods. We love romantic love, because it’s the feeling of being completely known and accepted by another person—but Jesus came to love people who ultimately rejected and crucified Him. I can’t fathom a love like that.

The last part talks about the two becoming one flesh—because Jesus loves us, He lived for us, suffered for us, died and rose again for us—He joined Himself to us, so that when God looks at us, He sees His beloved Son, so that we who were doomed to death might be saved and loved and accepted and completely known. This is the love of God—He became poor so that we might be rich. He took on our sickness that we might be healed. He bore all of our sorrows so that we might have joy. And the Bible tells us that not even death can separate us from the love of Christ.

So this Valentine’s Day, remember what you have—the extravagant love of God.

 

pressed down and shaken together

I recently lent out a rather expensive item to a friend. While it was in my friend’s care, it was stolen and I am quite devestated. Not only was this item a gift from my mother, it is also something I cannot afford to replace at this time.

When my friend told me about the problem and offered to replace the item, I realized I don’t her to. It’s not her fault it was stolen and most of my attachment was in the sentimental value. But still, all my warm feelings of helping her by lending the item are now replaced with frustration and dissapointment. It’s like my generosity shot me in the foot.

Realizing how frustrated I was, I brought my hurt before God and asked Him how I should fix it. He showed me that the only way to gain back my peace is to completely let go of what was mine. I have to take my “generousity” to the next level and become a giver.

There is a difference between being a giver and a lender. A lender will give something of theirs with the hope of eventually being repaid. It’s a kind act when done in love, but a giver has no such hope of repayment. I must count the item as a gift to my friend -gone forever. Does it seem a bit unfair? Well, of course it is! But God isn’t fair. He gives freely.

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8

While all the pain of losing something I valued is not completely erased yet, I chose to give. And while it might make me sound generous, I’m actually doing it with the hope that I will see God give back to me. And when He does, I know it won’t be a meager, “as little as possible” portion, but an overflowing, “as much as can be packed in” gift. And I know this because He’s already done it before.

My sweet gift from God. :)

My sweet gift from God. :)

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” -Luke 6:38

 

 

So, lender or giver? Which will it be?

Where is God in this?

Rural Fire

Yesterday, on Christmas, my brother was called to help fight a fire. Tomorrow, I will be a pallbearer in a funeral. These events remind me that Christmas is not always a happy time. Sometimes Christmas can seem more like a tragedy than good news and great joy.

This holiday season there are many people hurting across the globe. People are suffering in much of the Middle East, France, and parts of Africa, as well as some areas of the US.  They are suffering from or grieving loss of life and the horror of terrorist attacks, deranged shootings, racial unrest, or other difficult situations. These anguishing experiences bring out this question – Where is God in all of this?

The beginning of the answer is in the Christmas story. Come take a look. Mary had it tough. Her country was occupied by a cruel government, her pregnancy caused her to risk being killed by her own people, she had to give birth in a barn while travelling, and she had to flee to a foreign country with her young child to keep him from being murdered. Joseph, with the same residence issues, had to believe Mary and his dreams instead of his own eyes which told him that he was not being played as a fool by a cheating fiancée.

When we talk about pain in the story of Christmas, we must not forget that all of the other boys in the region two years of age and under were murdered. For the boys of Bethlehem, Christmas was a death sentence. For their mothers and fathers it was a time of unspeakable pain and sorrow.  Here is how Jeremiah described it as quoted by Matthew:

“A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH,
WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING,
RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN;
AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED,
BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”                                                                                   Matt.2.18 – NASB

Where was God in all that suffering? Here He is: Immanuel. Immanuel is one of the names given to Jesus, which means “God with us.” Immanuel means that in the middle of the cruel occupation, devastating fear, and widespread death, God was right there. Immanuel was experiencing it with them. Immanuel means that now, even in the middle of horrible circumstances, God is with us and knows how we suffer. Immanuel cares enough to not only experience the pain with us, but in our place endure greater pain. Immanuel means we have hope.

Immanuel is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us.

 

(in)security

Wow. It’s been a while since I have been honored to share my thoughts on the VOICE blog. Last time I wrote about love. Since my last post I have felt God’s work in my life in some very profound ways. I’ll share a little about it now. Don’t worry though, I’ll keep it short because, you know…modern attention spans.

First, history. I have always been pretty insecure. In the past I have tried to conceal my own insecurities with a façade of mystery, activity, humor, or bravado designed to direction people’s attention away from what I felt were my glaring deficiencies. I think pride and fear are the base elements of insecurity. Pride hindered me from admitting my faults and needs and fear of rejection paralyzed me from reaching out for help. This, of course, meant I couldn’t let others in too close. Not allowing other people to get close sucks, but at least you don’t get rejected and hurt. That was my thinking.

Anyway, eventually and inevitably something happened that poked my insecurity in the face, making it flare up and out of control. My pride and fear drove me away from Christian community. I stopped going to church, fellowship groups and Bible studies. I lived as numbly as I could, knowing change was needed, but not knowing what or how.

Alone

Then, this summer. After my last VOICE blog post about love, God began to remove the calluses on my heart and shower my life with love. First at home, then at VOICE 2015. (If you weren’t there, you should have been. It was awesome.) At pivotal moments throughout the summer, God used His people in my life to show how powerful applied Christianity can be and how healing the love of God is to a tired soul. God used the love, acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding of my family and friends to show me my need to open up to the love, acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding that He was continuously, graciously offering me.

After VOICE I moved back to Taiwan and began a new job. I have been shocked at how God has been faithful to calm, comfort and inspire me, even when dealing with new situations and regularly feeling like I’m in over my head. He is teaching me that I don’t need to live in insecurity but instead I can live in the security of Christ’s redemption and love.

That’s what God has been teaching me.

Out of the Mire

Sorry it’s so long, but it’s honest.

January of 2014, I was so excited to be back serving at a ministry. No more long days of staring at my computer screen working on projects I cared little or nothing about, and had seemingly no eternal value!

I poured myself into the students around me. My official work hours were Monday-Friday, 8-5pm, but actually, I was there from 8am-8pm, or 9pm… or 10pm.

“Are you sure you’re taking enough time off and getting enough rest? You could go to the dorm and get some time to yourself.” – I remember Mr. Matt asking me that so many times, and each time I replied “Why would I want to go home? I’m happy to be here, and being alone would be boring.”

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and by September my brain finally caught up with my body long enough to shout into it’s stubborn ear “STOP IT! I’m TIRED.” – I had hit a wall. I didn’t want to be “on” all the time.

I wanted quiet. I wanted an off switch. I found a needed haven in three good friends who were also physically and emotionally spent. We relaxed together, shared together, prayed & fellowshipped together… we bonded, and they became some of my dearest friends. (In fact, this past June I married one of them! ^_^) The time we spent was a blessing. I had found an oasis in the dessert, and God used it to bless the rest of my life!

BUT… as 2015 began, my job changed drastically. I was no longer teaching in the classroom, I was working in the office. I was excited to finally work on my many projects uninterrupted! – My hours also changed in a good way that helped me to stop on time.

Unfortunately, it also meant that I wouldn’t be joining a family group in the morning, but I thought it would be okay. [I didn't need the accountability of a family group to make sure I did my morning devotions, right?] Well, maybe if I had been spiritually healthy at the beginning, that would have been true — but I wasn’t, so it wasn’t.
My quiet times got shorter, and fewer, and more haphazard.

Moreover, I began to avoid human interaction. I didn’t want to be constantly surrounded by people, or be responsible for what was taking place, or be involved in the game over at that table, or go to the movies with that group, or go out of my way to build relationships …I was purposely backing myself into a job that entailed [long days of staring at my computer screen working on projects] again!
What was wrong with me? I had always cared about people!

I’d like to say that when I realized what was happening, I prayed and got right back on track! But… that would be a lie. I have prayed, but I’m still in the mire. Mostly by choice. Simple choices like hitting the snooze button “just one more time”, and working on my projects “just 5 minutes longer”.

tunnel-899053_1920

The most amazing part of all of this, is that I have never once felt that God has left me - that He has behaved toward me as I have toward Him. While I have ignored Him; choose sleep, work, and just about everything else over a conversation with Him, He has never failed me yet.

I find it so unimaginable — because, if I were Jesus, I would have cut me off months ago — then again, I keenly sense that this is the very grace I have long known and am merely tasting again, afresh. He is continuing to give me what I do not deserve. Himself.

By His hand, I see a light at the end of this tunnel… not because He’s going to make me climb out of this mess I’ve made for myself by myself (which is what I would probably do if I had such an ungrateful servant!), but by simply reaching up to grasp the hand He has continually had extended toward me all along. – By spending time WITH HIM.

He is so faithful. So kind. We serve a Good Master.

“1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

11 As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! 12 For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.

17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!”

- Psalm 40

No Longer an Orphan

“I’m adopted.” Have you ever said that? I can’t say that I ever have, but I now have a boy who can make that claim. A boy that wasn’t born to my wife; a boy that doesn’t have my DNA; a boy that was once lost and alone; but now he’s mine – officially my son.

Don’t you realize that you were born the same way? Maybe you have a physical dad that cares for you, but I promise you that deep down, in the spiritual sense, you were born an orphan. You were lost, alone, and destined for death. The Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians (and us) to “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

Things were pretty bleak for the human race. But then our Creator decided it was time to adopt. He went out and made a way to be rescued from being a permanent castaway. But He didn’t stop there; He even actually changed the spiritual DNA of those who wanted to be adopted. “You have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Daddy.” For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.”

My son.

My son.

The concept of adoption perfectly encapsulates the Gospel! If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ then you are adopted. You are officially His son or daughter. You once were an orphan devoid of a destiny but now, right now, you belong to Jesus. Can you think of anything more reassuring than having a Rescuer who made a way for us to join a family like His? So if we’re His children, let’s live like it.

Conquering The Fourth Grade Mafia Boss

When I first started teaching my current fourth graders two years ago, my mantra for their class was “love conquers all.” Recently, I have realized much of the reason for their moody behavior in class and stage whispers about which teachers they like. I’ve always known it was about who was in control of the class, but I always blamed the wrong students. With a flash of a stamped paper, trading little items back and forth during class, and a glimpse of paper money, I finally discovered the culprit.

Jenny gives her classmates stamps based on their behavior–toward her. The stamps are converted to paper money, used to buy things at her “store.” When I first saw glimpses of this store in action, I was incredulous at the types of things that were being sold. Plain, clear folders. Ordinary pens. If they don’t buy, they are punished by Jenny’s moods. Also, the worst thing is that Jenny has the power to take anything they buy back from them, giving them no security. Following Jenny’s rules enslaves them and makes it impossible for them to enjoy anything that’s not giving them a tangible reward. They prefer Jenny’s material rewards to the immaterial rewards teachers give them such as praise, accomplishment, and education.

Love = truth + grace. I grew up in a church that emphasized truth over grace and so naturally the pendulum has swung over to the grace side. However, both grace and truth are vital in my relationship with these students. Without grace, I’d scold them after every infraction. Without truth, I’d ignore their self-destructive behavior. Love does conquer all, but it needs to be a rich, nuanced love; grace and truth working side-by-side. Grace and truth have to be so blended in our words that no one can see where truth ends and grace begins.

How can I so blend truth and grace? My actions towards my students are a representation of how God responds to my sin and self-destructive behavior. Truth often requires that I suffer earthly consequences for my foolish actions, but Jesus took the eternal consequences onto himself in a stunning display of grace.

In that, Jesus Christ, who was full of grace and truth, conquers all.

Conquers my apathetic heart.

Conquers little fourth grade mafia bosses and those whom they oppress.

Conquers all.

the j class

A Good Father

There are 2,038 middle schools in Texas, and I teach at the 19th hardest.

My students are terrified.

Like Taiwan, competition rankles among friendships, and pressure damages families.  Students come crying to me about a 90 and stress in class over a 97. And one of their greatest fears is that their teachers will not be good to them.

As a teacher, it’s hard to see my students so crippled in fear that they cannot enjoy what we do in class.  It’s hard to watch worry flood their eyes every time I call them over to my table, or the frantic fumbling of their hands when I call on students for answers.  Sure, they think I know my stuff, but they also expect me to hide behind tables, waiting for an opportunity to throw a failing grade at them.  They’ve said their past teachers were distant, leaving them to “watch their own backs.” They’ve learned to like teachers, but rarely to trust them. Maybe it’s because we hold their grade in our hands, or the very fact that we give assignments.  Whatever the reason, they do not think we can be good to them.

I, too, have been living in fear.  In years past, I was subconsciously convinced that God lurked around corners with “bad situations,” waiting to dump a load of difficulties on my head.  I believed He looked for opportunities to punish me, to call me out on sin and failure and use that as a reason to give me undesirable things. I thought that if I told God what I really wanted, He would make sure to never give it to me.

Like a sovereignly sadistic Santa Clause.

I knew God loved me in some transcendent, ethereal manner and that Heaven would be much more than “nice”. But did God like me enough to give me good things here on earth? And if He liked me today, would He still like me tomorrow?

How I viewed God also affected how I approached people – could I trust them to both love and like me? Could I believe there was selfless like in addition to selfless love? Could I trust, could I give, could I be at peace?

The Bible, the Word of God, the Revelation of life, tells us that God not only loves us, but He wants to give us good things:

“. . . Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7: 9-11

“You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” – Psalm 119:68

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1:17

I cannot convince my students that I want to be good to them. Telling them to relax and trust will do nothing if they themselves do not choose to do so.

In the same way, I must choose to believe that God wants good – present good and ultimate good – for me.  My difficulties, while molding for me, have grieved Him. My pain, though instrumental in growing character, was not of His making.

He delights in me.

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think You’re like,

but I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night.

You tell me that You’re pleased and that I’m never alone.

You’re a Good, Good Father,

It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are,

and I’m loved by You

It’s who I am, It’s who I am, It’s who I am

- Good, Good Father – HOUSEFIRES II 

He’s a good, good Father.

 

of baby moons and the Gospel

one monthElliot recently turned one month old. That means my Chinese baby moon is over.

In American culture, baby moon usually refers to taking a vacation before the baby arrives. In Chinese culture, however, it means dedicating a month after the baby’s arrival to rest, recover, and focus on caring for the newborn.

Mom & kidsI’ve had the privilege of having Mom help me with three baby moons. The first time was a bit of an adjustment as I learned the do’s and don’ts of Chinese baby moons—do stay in bed, do stay at home, don’t expose yourself or your baby to cold drafts, don’t eat cold food, don’t let your hair air dry (or even wash your hair if you can stand it)… The list is endless, and I confess I do some of it but not others. The part I love is that Mom does all the grocery shopping, all the cooking, all the dishes, and all the laundry. She also cleans up after my kids, burps my baby so I can eat in peace, and gets up early to keep my toddlers out of trouble so that I can sleep in—a luxury I desperately need when I’m getting up several times a night. There’s nothing like being mothered again once you’ve become a mother yourself, and I’m very grateful to both of my parents for loving us in this way.

But I must confess there’s an aspect that’s hard for me too. I have a little voice inside that says I should be taking care of my own family. I should be paying for the groceries. I should be helping my mother and not leaving all the work to her. But the reality is, I can’t. I’ve been too exhausted to keep up with my kids much less maintain the house. And our graduate school budget covers only a fraction of what my parents have spent on us this month. Deep down, I feel like I don’t deserve this at all, because I know I can never repay my parents for all the ways they have showered us with love—this month and my entire life.

In the same way, as I’ve been growing in my understanding of the Gospel, I’m beginning to see that Christianity is not about how I live my life but about how Christ lived His for me. He did the work I could not do. He died the death that I deserve. He did all of this not just because I am His daughter, but to make me His daughter. That’s a love I can never repay but is worthy of gratitude for the rest of my life.

_________________________________________________

“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 ESV)

A Chicken Broth Lifestyle

Chicken SoupI sipped the steaming chicken broth, and nodded with satisfaction. It was both warming and relaxing, with the perfect balance of flavors. It was rich, but not too heavy. It was a salty savory, but with an undertaste of sweetness. Most importantly, the broth I made tasted just like the broth my mother makes.

For the past few weeks, my mother has been in the US helping Karen with her kids, having just given birth to her third child, Elliot. Drinking chicken broth while my mother is away helped me to appreciate what she does even more, because even though the chicken broth tasted wonderful, there was one critical way where my broth couldn’t compare to my mother’s chicken broth.

You see, chicken broth is a trademark of my mother’s cooking. Comprised of chicken bones, herbs, random bits of meat to add extra flavor, and hours of cooking time, my Mom always has a batch either on the stove or in the fridge. That way, whenever my Mom is cooking, chicken broth is ready to replace water in many a recipe for added flavor and nutrition.

My mother passing on her attitude towards serving others to a new generation.

My mother passing on her attitude towards serving others to a new generation.

For this to be possible, stewing chicken broth isn’t just something my mom does occasionally: it is a lifestyle of love, requiring a regular investment of time and energy. That’s not an easy thing to do. For me, I only want to show love when it’s convenient. Going out of my way to be ready to show love to others? Why bother? Stewing chicken broth regularly? How inconvenient.

Obviously, that is not a loving attitude, but what can you do when you’re exhausted, when you’re under appreciated, when you’re lazy, and just don’t want to take the time and energy to show love to others?

The funny thing is, my Mom has often said she doesn’t enjoy cooking. Why would she spend so much time doing something she doesn’t enjoy? Because she has learned to use her cooking as a way to serve and love whomever God brings into her path, and in turn, show her love for God. God has done so much for her, so she in turn is willing to do whatever necessary to show love to God. Even through something as little as cooking chicken broth.

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.”      –Matthew 25:40