haikus for my dad

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ALMOST EVERYTHING
I love to do I learned from
You, my best teacher.

“Left foot here … now kick.”
Dribbling, passing, shooting with
You, my first coach.

Training wheels off, I
Wobbled as you ran behind
Me, your little girl.

Words you do not waste.
Praise you pass on with purpose.
Hours you do not hoard.

Before bedtime we
Danced with toothbrush in hand and
You, the goofy one.

Peanut butter and
Ham, experimenting with
You, the breakfast champ.

Four-hundred meters
To thirteen miles: Breathe, you told
Me, your little girl.

Words you do not waste.
Praise you pass on with purpose.
Hours you do not hoard.

Snowflakes move with your
Baritone, my fingers on
Keys. The performers.

Tupperware filled with
Berries your eyes found by the
Road. The explorers.

Feet propped up, Pringles
In lap, Shrek and Nemo on
Screen. The young spirits.

Because of you I
love to learn and learn to love.
You, Daddy, yes, you.

 

 

i went to a funeral today

IT IS A GREAT mystery that each of us is both unique and not at the same time.

Not a day goes by that I don’t come across an aspect of life in Colombia that stands in stark contrast to my experiences in the US. Communication styles. Jokes. Notions of personal space and autonomy.

Then there are moments that shake up my comparison game and remind me that, at our core, we share similar desires and sentiments. I had such a moment today.

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This afternoon I attended the funeral of a beloved member of our presbytery. Dr. Ángel Quintana recently passed away at the strong age of 89. I never had the chance to talk with him, but I saw him at church a few times. From getting to know his son’s family (they are super nice), I could guess that Dr. Quintana was a noble man.

That he was, and more. Upon arrival, my host aunt and I had to weave our way through the crowd to find a seat. (There were just a few couches lined against the walls. Everyone else stood.) There must have been at least 100 people.

I couldn’t grasp every word that was shared during the service, but grief doesn’t need words.

The mild, subdued atmosphere. The faces of those who loved Dr. Quintana. The way his daughter-in-law asked me, “¿Cómo te ha ido?” as if it was just another day. The emotion that shook the speakers’ voices and the shoulders of his children and grandchildren.

It is true that followers of Christ who lose a loved one can find comfort and hope in the promise of eternal life with God. Jesus’ solidarity with humans in their suffering is really good news. But until the promise of heaven is fully fulfilled, the hole left by that loved one remains. The desire to see them again remains. The pain of living without them remains.

This afternoon I was glad I couldn’t express myself well in Spanish. I gave hugs and squeezed hands, offered silent tears and prayers. Because although I didn’t know Dr. Quintana, I have grieved the deaths of my aunt, my last piano teacher, and my friend in DC.

Losing someone makes you cry regardless of the language you speak or the country you live in. 

Of course, it’s entirely possible that one can witness a sad event and walk away unaffected. It is only when we choose to enter into our shared experience of sorrow that empathy abounds.

my superwoman-tiger mom

DO YOU REMEMBER when you first realized your mom was human?

Maybe you always knew that. Or maybe this is your rude awakening (surprise!).

My Eureka! moment came when I was home for the winter holidays during college. I must have just gotten into an argument with my mom (very likely). Or maybe our family had just had some tense moments – it was an emotionally fragile season for us.

All I remember is seeing something in my mom I’d never seen before: weakness.

Growing up, I thought of my mom as being in her own, one-person category. There were teachers, doctors, men, women… and 10441920_10153128574919590_9067303975421122271_nthen there was Mommy.

Mommy, the one who didn’t get sick. The one who always picked up when I called. The one who got me to piano lessons, violin lessons, swimming lessons, soccer games, and orchestra concerts on time – and packed me dinner-to-go.

Mommy, the one who forced me to drink a cup (8 fluid ounces  – count ’em!) of warm water every morning. The one who always made me bring a sweater to the movies (how did she know!?). The one who won almost every argument, and if she didn’t, it was probably because she knew I’d admit defeat later.

Of course, I knew that my mother was a human being; she wasn’t an alien or a robot. At the same time, she wasn’t just a human being. She was Superwoman-Tiger Mom*. She was so efficient, so reliable, so strict, so intuitive. Even my childhood friends and their moms were a little scared of her.

So that day during the holidays, when my mom backed off of an argument and showed visible signs of grief, I was shaken.

And thus began a journey of discovering and embracing my mother’s human-ness. It was scary at first. I feared that recognizing my mom’s limitations would diminish my admiration for her.

Quite the contrary. My respect for her has multiplied. I have come to see her courage, her persistence, her generosity in spite of her limitations.

My mother is an ordinary woman who does ordinary things in an extraordinary way.

The way she lectures me? That’s the same honesty that keeps her writing and learning new things.

The way she nags me to blow-dry my hair? That’s the same tenacity that helped her survive those first years as an immigrant woman in the suburbs of Chicago.

The way she raised me and my sister? That’s the same pride that gave her victory over salespeople who tried, and continue to try, to take advantage of her.

The way she cared for her younger sisters during their childhood? That’s the same compassion she shows towards the women in her congregation.

When my mom reads this, she’ll probably say she’s made a lot of mistakes and she tried her best. True. That’s the point, isn’t it?

I realized that I was not going just because it seemed like a good idea, but because those who love me most sent me on my way with affection, support, and prayers.
– Henri Nouwen, ¡Gracias!

 

* Note: The term “tiger mother” was coined by Amy Chua in her 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she parodies her own attempts to follow the supposed strict manner of childrearing typically attributed to mothers in East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Chua says her memoir is meant to be “ironic and self-mocking”. Here, I use the term “tiger mom” not to generate controversy or to put my mom in a box but to describe my previously limited view of her and her way of raising me. Thankfully, I’ve come to see she is so much more.

one sharpie at a time

THE THING ABOUT being a shy, picky pianist is that it’s hard to practice your art. Either you can’t find a good sound (plastic keys just don’t feel right), or you get roped into entertaining people (not my forte). You just want to be alone with a Steinway, dang it!

#artgoals

#artgoals

Faced with such a predicament, the shy, picky pianist must find other media of expression.

Trying new forms of art is awkward at first. As you try to plié and sauté, your muscles long for the ease with which your fingers ran along the keys. As you think about starting a poem, your mind wanders to memories of getting lost with the piano for hours with no one to please.

So when you’re asked to create a character named Sofi who is going to tell stories to the children at one of your programs, you panic. You frantically Google-search “How to make a puppet” and immediately wish you hadn’t as you recall childhood arts-and-crafts trauma.

Why do people keep asking me to do things I suck at? you think.

That’s when you realize something: The reason you “suck” at something is that you haven’t had enough practice. The reason you can play piano is not because you’re Asian, as your friends in Colombia like to joke, but because you practiced every day for 12 years of your life (well, minus Sundays and holidays, since your family took rest pretty seriously).

So you grab the nearest pen and paper and go to work. You can’t give them a Mona Lisa, but you can offer your 4th-grade-best. As your friend Jack told you in college, anyone can draw – you just need to notice things and practice.

Soon what had been a source of stress becomes a stress-reliever. Not only are you supporting community development, but you are also learning a new skill. You’re relieved to learn that what matters in the end is not the end result but the purpose behind it: to help kids understand their Creator’s love.

Plus, you get to color for work.

a tribute to her

I LOVE WOMEN.

Even two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to say that with a straight face. Being a woman didn’t feel special and sometimes even felt like a burden. I didn’t understand the hype around feminism or the desire to showcase one’s femininity. If womanhood was such a gift, I thought, why were women being mistreated everyday? Subconsciously I often compared myself with other women or tried to distance myself from them.

After many encounters, TED Talks like this one, and much processing, I can now truly say that I love my woman-ness and the woman-ness of my sisters. Being a woman is a gift, a cause for celebration – whether or not others recognize it as such.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I raise my glass to each and every single woman in the world. I hold in my heart today those women who face insurmountable challenges, daily oppression, and life-threatening situations. Those who work hard to provide for their families, to finish school, to make the world more livable for themselves and their loved ones.

I raise my glass to the women I’ve been fortunate to meet. Some of you showed up for a few moments, others stayed with me for a season, still others continue to journey with me. Your presence, your words, your laughter, your hugs, your interests, and your challenges have helped me become the woman I am today.

¡Feliz Día de la Mujer!

And in honor of Women’s History Month, I give a shout out to some of the women in my life who have made and are making history every day.

My mother, who models sacrifice & self-care.
First in her family to be born. First in her family to live permanently in another land. First in her family to come to faith in Jesus – and over the last 40 years or so, almost everyone in her family has come to know Christ through her example. First woman I knew. First to get things done. Yet always puts others first.

My sister, who is my true love.
First in my family to be born. First friend, mentor, and shero. Built a new life in a new place not knowing what it would bring.

Emily D., who teaches me to love women.7B
First DC-to-Chicago-and-back road trip, accompanied by John Legend, Beyoncé, and JT. Actively discerning the call to pastoral ministry.

Danbee, who inspires me to create.
First Asian roommate. 🙂 Making art to promote restorative justice.

Jenn, who shows that it’s okay to vocalize what you’re thinking and feeling even and especially when you feel like you should be thinking or feeling something else.
First college friend to meet my boo. Making the best of each circumstance.

Jennifer, Stephanie, Jenny, and all my female friends in Colombia, who pursue their goals and interests despite having limited resources in a machista culture.
First to prove that 100º weather and humidity is no excuse for looking like a scrub.

Stacey, who let me know it’s good to have emotions.
First boss out of college. First person I met in DC.

Sara, who taught me both the possibility and the joy of simple and shared living.
First “official” mentor. First sunrise.

Becca, who brings people together withSojo30Women her smile, her presence, and her cooking.
First photo card. Courageously pursuing work that feeds her soul.

Emily P., who loves the little things and thinks deeply about everything.
First time almost getting stranded in DC. First time jamming on the roof. First to teach me an energizer (it’s a PCUSA thing).

Jess, who fights for what she believes in.
First friend to be weirder, sillier, and more blunt than me. First to help me see the links between mental health and the prison industrial complex.

EDR, who embodies freedom and confidence.
First to tell me about doulas. Fearlessly loving each cycle of interns at Sojourners.

Sophia, who models hospitality and generosity.31065_1176503098385_4850604_n
First visit to DC. First time I said I could see myself living in DC. Making a difference in the lives of students in Chicago Public Schools.

Gracie, who marches to her own beat, always has a song on the tip of her tongue, and is the most talented woman I know.
First homemade cheesecake. Taking bold first steps in being a singer/songwriter.

Sue Lee, who always says what needs to be said.
First introduction to the love language of food. Studying law to help marginalized communities.

Rachel, who pushed me out of my comfort zone but always had my back.
First real talk on race. First exposure to India Arie.

Sarah, who lives in the present and holds plans loosely.IMG_1395
First time living overseas. Accompanying churches in Colombia and Bolivia.

Emily M., who turns any experience into a funny story.
First person I connected with at YAV Discernment Event.

Erica, Joy, Kayla, Shelby, who showed me what leadership and teamwork looks like – and that girls do in fact run the world.
First JBiebs/Beyoncé music video.

Patty, Solanda, Melissa, who saw me in all the stages of my awkward years and are still my friends.
Too many firsts.

Mabel, Santine, Karissa, who made Sundays and Jr. Camps so much more fun and who are each doing their thang in their respective corners of the world.
First campfire experience.

If you are a woman reading this, I celebrate you!

maya angelou, happy birthday to you

Touched By An Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

Maya Angelou

caught off guard by simplicity

All you need is love.
– John Lennon

As my dad and I slowed to a walk at the end of our run, our conversation morphed into a discussion of theology, as is often the case with our interactions. This time, the complexity of the doctrine of the Trinity vexed me. I said, “How in the world is a new believer or seeker supposed to understand this teaching?”

“They probably won’t,” my dad replied. “Which is why one enters into relationship with God through His love. Love is something people can relate to.”

His response caught me off guard. It was an obvious answer, yet my intellectual bent, strengthened by four years at a Christian liberal arts college, had become dissatisfied with the “simplicity” of God’s love.

To me, messages about God’s love seemed to always take the form of romantic clichés. I’ve started to tune out and even chuckle at phrases like “God is madly in love with you” and “It was love that held Jesus up on the Cross.” Pretty sure Jesus was held up (barely) by nails and his own fading strength.

Before I get written off as another heartless cynic … I hold nothing against feelings and warm fuzzies. Emotions are good and necessary for any healthy relationship. I have felt strong emotional connections to God before, experiences that have strengthened my understanding of His character and prompted greater commitment to Him.

But we often talk and sing about God’s love as merely something that makes us feel good, something that we all want.

Most days I don’t live like I want God’s love. I want His favor, His benefits, His nod of approval … in addition to the dozen other things I want that aren’t Him. Other days I feel so ashamed and trapped by my mistakes and shortcomings that I don’t want His love because it seems too generous to be real. Both my sense of self-sufficiency and my sense of unworthiness make me not really want God’s love.

But what if His love is something I need?

I think one reason I’ve become wary of “love that makes you feel good” is that God’s expressions of love don’t always make me feel good. If anything, they leave me confused, sad, ashamed. The greatest expression of love was Jesus Christ, who not only took on the body of an ordinary male but also took on the sins of humanity in a humiliating death fit for the worst criminals of his day. This knowledge does not make me feel good. It breaks my heart and angers me.

But it is precisely humankind’s inability to get right with God that reveals our need for divine intervention.

God draws people by His love because He created us for Him. It was love that propelled Him to make us in the first place, and it is love that transcends language and reasoning to settle into the depths of the heart and soul, into places are too real to ignore.

Like many other followers of Christ, I’ve gone through cycles of accepting, doubting and rejecting God’s love. I simply struggle to comprehend it. But I’m beginning to realize that regardless of what I’m feeling each day, I need God’s love. The world needs God’s love.  Not because it makes us feel good, but because it leads us to God Himself.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
– Jesus Christ (John 10:10 ESV)

By His love I am made clean.
By His love I am free from guilt and shame.
By His love I am confident to approach His throne of grace.
By His love I love my neighbors and my enemies.
By His love I make Him known.
By His love I take risks and accept mistakes, because He is my hope.
By His love I come to know the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty, the King of kings.
By His love I come to love the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.