Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pressing On

"...[O]ne thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind 
and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 
I press toward the goal for the prize 
of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."  
--Phil. 3:13b-14

If I have learned nothing else this past year, it is that I have the ability to change.  And with it the God-given responsibility to do so.

"How many of you make New Year's Resolutions?" I heard the young preacher ask the last Saturday of 2012 as I sat squirming in the middle of the meager congregation.  He had just read from Phillipians 3 about the Apostle Paul pressing onward to lay hold of his prize.  From this passage, the preacher had built a solid argument for why we should both use our time wisely and not cling to what was left in the past.  This meant that procrastination and self-pity, two of my worst nemeses, were no longer an option.

"I know some people out there don't set New Years Resolutions," he continued--I being chief among them.   My reasoning was thus:  Wasn't having a resolution just a meaningless ritual that was never followed through?  These things were for the unbeliever anyway; it was for them to turn over the new leaf, not us, because we already have new life in Christ.  And if this new life were all about grace, why try to pull yourself up by your bootstraps through your own good efforts?

What I failed to see was that these sorts of "meaningless rituals" could actually be a vehicle for the life God calls us to.  "I would encourage yo to [make these resolutions] and to make your goals measurable," the preacher went on.  "Do you feel like God is calling you to start a business?  Take steps to make that happen.  There is very little that happens in your life that you cannot control.  It matters what you do with what you're given."

I've seen much in my life in 2012 that needs changing--be it attitude adjustments, worn-out habits, or my limited field of view.  This may not be an exhaustive list--and at the end of 2013 not all of it may have been accomplished--but the following provides at least a snapshot for where I want to go in the coming year and what in my life I can truly change.

Goals for 2013
*Publish my first book
*Pen the first completed draft of my grandfather's biography
*Provide for myself by means of regular work and my own house
*Publish 1-2 blog entries/articles a week
*Pray systematically and consistently
*Set up regular dates with close family and friends
*Exercise 3 times a week
*Add three songs to my clarinet repertoire and make them concert-ready
*Finish one crochet project a month
*Finish a queen-sized quilt by hand
*Start a master's degree program
*Earn my teaching certificate

The last thing the preacher said that night still rings in my ears: "Don't allow your past to cripple you and make you worthless for God."  The past doesn't necessarily mean the absolute-worst-thing-I've-ever-done; it could just be the way I've always done things.  If I were honest, I might say that the way I've always done it has never quite worked, and continuing to do things that way just perpetuates the cycle and puts me that much farther behind.  I don't want to give myself a handicap before I even step inside the starting block.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Christmas Letter

My Christmas tradition has been to write an end-of-the-year letter that encapsulates where I feel the LORD is leading me in the coming year and what I hope to look forward to.  Here is this year's installment.

Beloved Friends and Family
Merry Christmas once again, my sweet loved ones. There is much to celebrate in this blessed season. Yet even as I write these words I know that for some of you, 2012 has been not a year of joyous celebration but one of loss and sorrow. However, no matter the season in our lives we can be confident that, as Philipians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Whatever loss we have faced this year, loved ones, it does not have to define us. Our lack may simply be a tool for the LORD to bring us closer to Him. This is a lesson that I have had to face head-on recently, but even in this I can be thankful: The LORD has seen me through these times and has given me good things to celebrate in the midst of them.
Two thousand twelve opened with me privately tutoring a young boy with special needs named Sam. Having unsuccessfully searched for employment in the months after returning from Korea, I found the job through a friend and former co-worker that had recommended me by name. Sam has been a bright spot for me this year in his goofy, fun-loving way, and serving his family has been such a blessing. I hope to continue to be a blessing to them for however long the LORD wants me to be with them.
At the same time I was helping with Sam, I was able to help others catch the vision of what God wants to do in the nations through a class called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. In the class, adult students learned the foundations of missions and the purpose for continuing to reach out to other people groups. They also gathered ideas for how to use their new knowledge in their daily lives, whether still in the States or abroad.
Towards the end of the summer, God opened an opportunity for me to use my talents at a law office downtown. I was super-busy learning about criminal defense law and the ins and outs of the judicial system. Through the position, the LORD was able to bring members of the nations to me and I was able to pray for them.
The other thing the LORD brought into my life this past year was to be a part of Toastmasters, an internationally recognized volunteer organization which seeks to provide a positive atmosphere for its members to grow in leadership and communication skills. I will have an opportunity in the coming year to increase my leadership skills through the Vice President Public Relations officer. Though the position frightens me just a little, I know it will give me a great opportunity to reach out with my talents and bless those around me—as well to practice the skills I will need for stepping into whatever community God eventually may place me in.
I am thankful to be back in Texas, but adventure still stirs my heart. I yearn to see more not just of the world, but of where the LORD will take me in the coming year and how He can use me to reach the nations. As we end 2012 and look forward to a hopeful future, I leave you with the words from Isaiah: “Enlarge the place of your tent... stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare.” Let us expand our vision for what the LORD has for us in the coming days and seek to be a blessing to those around us.
                                                                                               All My Love,

Monday, November 26, 2012

His Cheeseburger

"You are his cheeseburger,
his precious cheeseburger.
He'll wait for you, yeah
he'll wait for you..."
--Veggie Tales, "His Cheeseburger"

Dubbed a "love song from Mr. Lunt," the main character in this silly refrain, which happens to be a plump butternut squash, arrives at a make-believe fast-food joint just in time for closing.  The squash politely asks the waitress for his favorite meal, a cheeseburger and milkshake.  Unable to fulfill the request due to the lateness of the hour, she asks for him to come back the next morning.  

Not to be undone, the squash is undaunted.  The song builds in momentum as it races to his proclaimation:  "He said, 'I am extremely hungry,' " it crescendoes, "but I guess I can wait until then!"  Funny imagery, it seems--having vegetables parading about as people, proclaiming their madness for cheeseburgers.  But it comes with a point:  Clearly this song from Veggie Tales is all about waiting.

You see, Butternut Squash had a need even before he pulled through the Drive-Thru at Burger Bell that night--a need that mirrors our own and that, one could argue, is humanity's most profound: desire.  We are insatiable, we humans.  We are the creators and inhalers of everything consumable; and yet the consumption of whatever it be--be it food, wine, entertainment, companionship--is never enough.  

This wild thirst is not without purpose, however.  It was God's design in the first place.  "Delight yourself in the LORD..." Psalm 37 boldly proclaims, "and He shall give you the desires of your heart."  In another place the Scripture reads, "You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing" (Ps. 145:16 NKJV).  This deep yearning was meant to be filled, though only by means of one thing:  God's timing.

Butternut Squash knew about the timing of God, which is why he was willing to wait--at least at first.  He decided to patiently count down the moments until 10 a.m. the next morning when he could indulge in his cheeseburger without fear of sanction.  And he al-most made it.  Sitting there in the drive-thru continuing to yearn for what he couldn't yet have, he spies a billboard for another restaurant.  Ah, breakfast!  A chance to fill his desire and still leave room for lunch.

Ultimately, he didn't wait.

And that's the question that I have to ask myself.  Am I willing to wait, even in the middle of my hunger?  Am I willing to watch my desires slowly drift away, knowing that somehow if I trust God they won't drift too far from His reach?  

I've made up my mind on this issue:  I won't go around His timing.  So I sit here tonight counting down the minutes until it's 10 a.m. and I can indulge in my cheeseburger without fear of sanction.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Corner Store

Just after 6 this evening, I walked myself down to what was once a Circle K near my parents' house for an out-of-stock recipe item.

As it sits just three houses and a vacant lot from us, the corner store was the source of many a thirst quencher and good wholesome fun growing up.  My brothers would stop in for some breakfast tacos on Saturday mornings, or ice cold sodas after a long bike ride around the neighborhood.  Dad would walk to it when he needed a break from his work outside.  Sometimes I would hike myself down there if I needed something last-minute.  We got to know the store really well--but more importantly, it got to know us.

This trip, I scanned the aging chest-high shelves for diced tomatoes, but found only a six-ounce can of tomato paste.  No other aisle in the tiny store carried food cans, I knew.  But paste wouldn't be good for Italian Sausage Soup.  Drat.

Across the open foyer, an older black man called out, "Hey, how's your mom?"  His skin was shiny and deeply lined, like an ebony walking stick that had been rubbed smooth from so much touch.  He wore a black cap and walked with a shuffling limp, a malady so mild it was hardly noticeable.  When he smiled, a gold cap hugged one of his top incisors.  

At first I brushed his question off with an oh-she's-fine, but as I milled about the store he kept talking.  "I'd see her in here nearly every day, but it's been a month since I seen her," he said.  "I come in on the weekends and I'd see her Friday, Saturday come in by herself and walk around the store a little bit."  He then went on to tell me about the first day he noticed her--shuffling from aisle to aisle, unsure of what to buy.  He thought she was just there looking for something special.

I stopped him, my arms full of fresh produce and bottled drinks.  "You do know what happened to her, right?"

"Oh, she come in one day, tol' me all about the accident, how she can't do some things.  I seen her comin' in one day with a man, could be your dad--"

I smiled.  No other man would have been with her, I was sure.  No other man had gotten close enough.  "Yep, that's my dad."

"I seen her with the man walkin' around a little bit, then she was gone.  I never knew where she went."

"She's all right," I assured him.  It was the standard spiel: some days good, some not, overall in good health.  "But she's not any better," I added.  I thought about asking him to pray for her, but I wasn't sure how he'd take the request.

"Oh, she come in--she talks to me good.  We talk about a lot of things," he said.  His face kept its animation as he talked, reflecting his genuine care.  Finally, after all these years, my mother mattered to someone outside our close circle of family and church friends.  "Tell her I been thinkin' about her."

"Just pray for her," I told him as I set my things on the counter to pay.  By now, we had talked enough that I knew I could take the risk.

"Yes ma'am."

"That's what the church of God is called to do--to pray."

"You tell her to come back," he said as I gathered my items to leave.  "If she comes down here, just know that I'll be lookin' out for her--and that comes from the heart."

Pushing my way out the heavy burglar-proof door and into the Texas heat, my thanksgiving spilled over into tears of joy.

Monday, February 20, 2012


"Oh, how great is Your goodness,
which You have laid up for those who fear You,
which You have prepared for those who trust in You,
in the presence of the sons of men!"
--Psalm 31:19

The plastic rain gauge on our soggy wooden porch reads just above 3.5 inches, its bottom covered in fuzzy brown algae. It hasn't been dumped out in two weeks or more, but there really hasn't been time for that. Before this week's rain, the San Antonio area got an unexpected 7.5 inches of rainfall for the first six weeks of 2012. Now, just after week seven, thirty-day totals for the Alamo City read 9.25 inches. Our little rain gauge has had its beaker full.

This is an unexpected boon, to say the least.

As I returned to San Antonio late last June, the city was in the middle of a severe drought which began the previous summer. Blazing wildfires and stage four water restrictions kept conditions life-threatening and left residents begging for relief. "The percentage of exceptional drought [in Texas] was the highest in the State" in ten years, records Wikipedia. Though averaging 33 inches of rainfall a year, this portion of the state would only see two inches for all of 2011 combined.

The 2012 Farmer's Almanac shows long-range forecasts that expect similar amounts to persist well into summer 2012. "Winter temperatures will be milder than normal, on average, with much-below-normal rainfall," it predicts. The publication goes on to suggest that the southern portions of Texas will continue to receive inadequate precipitation, "with drought a threat." And yet every day as I pull out of the driveway with my father's truck, the tires eat away at more and more soft sod because there's more moisture on the ground than the soil can absorb.

It's highly unusual, local weather forecasters claim. This year is a La Nina climate pattern, one in which oceanic temperatures are lower by as much as 10 degrees, causing conditions in Texas to be dry and warm this time of year. Even the almanac predictions take the La Nina phenomenon into account, assuming only 2.5 inches of rainfall for the months of February and March. That's 2.13 inches LESS than what February has already received.

For all this upset in climatology, I have only one person to blame: me.

Five weeks ago, in the middle of the first month of the year, my pastor issued a challenge to his congregation. He dared us to give this new year--with all of its problems and potentialities--over to the LORD. There would be four days of dedication, he said, to "commit our way" to Him, just as it commands in Psalm 37. The church would be open to come and pray on those nights. Having twelve months of uncertainty ahead of me, I went.

The morning of the first day, Sunday, January 15, our pastor directed us to Psalm 31:19. In the verse, King David describes what good things the righteous have coming to them: a measure of the LORD's favor that has been set aside for some future time. "There is a moment when the stored up blessings will be poured out," the pastor explained. "[So m]aybe it's gonna rain on you... And maybe it's gonna be soon. Maybe this [year] will be the end of barrenness or drought."

His statement rings oddly prophetic in my life, the full effects of which I know have yet to be realized. Just since September, I've felt sprinkles of God's blessings. Though nothing enough to satiate the need, I consider them a sort of first fruits of what is surely to come. More recently I've felt the showers getting stronger. As I watch the rain clouds of favor gathering on the horizon, my heart swells with overwhelming thankfulness.

"On the eve of 2012," I wrote in my prayer journal on December 30, "there are so many questions--so many hopes, so many fulfillments of dreams--and I don't have answers for any of them. Help me to trust You, Lord, and step out in faith in this new year."

Sunday, October 9, 2011


An array of books--read, reread, unread--stand erect between the metal bookends that were never sold in the garage sale. Larger books rest wearily against a wooden slat two perches below their peers. The tall shelf that some in the tiny library occupy again speaks of its age through chips in its whitewash, yet another relic from the fundraiser. The air around the structure smells faintly of must and cat urine.

Diagonal to the scene, a pair of bunk beds guard the entrance, compelling evidence of the room's previous tenants. Their sleepers have long since grown into men and left discarded childhood debris behind. Crinkly plastic covers one bed's tucked-in sheets in order to ward off the room's malady, its clammy four-legged visitors. A purple blanket drapes the lower bunk, two-year-old wrinkles disfiguring the color's elegance. This is proof of a different kind: A new inhabitant.

In the middle of the room yawn two crushed boxes, the words oocheguk taekbae printed in bold letters at the bottom--"post office delivery." They, too, smell of time's unceasing march. The corner of one box is split wide open, revealing the shiny silvery edge of a Bible's crisp pages. The other's contents are nearly spoiled by a cat's indiscriminate choice of litter box. For almost five months, the two receptacles have been waiting for this very day: to finally be unpacked.

After half a year of crying out to God, I have a place. It's just like waiting to grow up when you're kids, sharing rooms until one of you is old enough to venture out. I shared one with my twin until we were about three, and then he did the same with his brother for ten more years. The only difference now is this room isn't really mine.

It all started 20 years ago, Mom and Dad with their small children in tow scouting out a space to call home that was larger than their eight-foot-wide trailer. After rejecting an overgrown plot of land and deciding that a five-acre ranch would be "too rich for our blood," we were introduced to a modest three-bedroom house near the corner of Ackerman and Binz-Engleman Road. With its columned porch, hardwood floors, and pier-and-beam foundation, we knew it was our little country cottage in the city.

A Mrs. Cathy Pricer greeted us at the second front door when we came to view the home; the first front door had long since been reserved as another entrance to the master bedroom. After having been added onto twice, the house now resembled an "L" shape, tipped to its right side. Proudly, Mrs. Pricer guided us through the elongated living room towards the large kitchen to our right. She clipped the corner expertly and headed to the dwarfed hallway further onward, with its two doors on either side.

The last two doors from the hall, our guide informed us, would be the children's rooms. Just glancing at the portal to the right, I quickly headed towards the one on the left. A boy occupied it, his dark posters glaring at me from the wood-paneled walls. I didn't care; I was enthralled. It was just my size, I knew--about half of the other room. Small, yes, but quaint. This room would be mine.

Over the course of these last two decades, the room to the right has changed hands several times: It was first the boys' room, then just Chris', then just Jason's when he forcefully kicked his brother out. It was no one's room the year Jason was off in China; then, hard on his luck, it was Chris' when he moved back from the Midwest. My room, on the contrary, has always been mine--that is, until moving out of it three years ago.

Growing up, Dad was always eyeing the room on the left for its peaceful solitude and quietness. One of the two back rooms would be his office, he had informed us. It just remained to be seen which one of the siblings would leave first. As the boys' door would prove to be constantly turning, mine seemed the perfect candidate the week that I packed my things. Within months, the purple paint job I had earnestly awaited almost ten years was all but nonexistent as Dad's warm yellow hue gently glided over it. No matter if I wished it so, from then on I knew my room would never again be mine.

The September before I moved to Korea, the boys' room was no one's again, as Chris headed off to the road to become a truck driver. Then it became Dad and Mom's spare room, with a place for gift-wrapping and extra storage--until, hard on his luck, Jason came back six months ago. Informed of this change in situation, it was my desire to move back to Texas with a job and apartment lined up and ready to go. Nothing within me wanted to ask Dad to give up his office, or fight for my right to be in the middle of my brothers' revolving door.

Such was not the plan, however. After nearly five months of searching and countless hours of borrowing cars and fetching rides on the bus, I have yet to find a stable, well-paying place of employment--what I like to call, a "grown-up job." Though I can praise God for the part time work I have been able to find, it's not enough to make end's meet. And certainly not enough to earn that apartment I was looking forward to.

Jason's situation has recently become such that he no longer needs use of the room at Dad's house, and the two of us have come to an agreement of sorts: if I pack up his stuff, I can have his room. Good friends of mine tell me this should only last about six months, long enough for me to save the money needed to get back on my feet. Despite their good intentions, I can't help but feel as though I'm back in high school, just waiting for the chance to venture out.

So here I am again, sharing.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Professional Couch-Surfing

"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone born of the Spirit." --John 3:8

I wouldn't call myself homeless, per se. Every night I sleep happily underneath strong, protective roofing built by someone else many years ago. I stay on my father's couch, or my grandmother's bed. On a fold-out futon in a friend's living room, or in another friend's guest room. Sometimes I stay in someone's teenage daughter's upstairs loft. I guess you could say what I really am is room-less.

"I'm sort of a professional couch-surfer," I told my friend Mario via online chat a couple of weeks ago.

"Hey, do you mean on, or the non-internet, real-life version?"

"The non-internet, real-life version."

"It kind of works like this," I went on. "I live with my grandmother... only until I don't. If I have to go into town, I catch the bus early that morning and stay all day, sometimes not coming back until the following day."

Mario was incredulous. "Do you just not want to be at your grandmother's house? Do you dislike it there?"

"No, no," I reassured my friend. "I am involved in Toastmasters [International] in town and cannot get there if I don't take the bus early in the morning. It's supposed to work where I'm only in town Tuesday and Wednesday and am with my grandmother the rest of the time. But if there's a special occasion like Labor Day, I don't mind going out to celebrate it."

Before leaving Korea, I had the chance to experience couch-surfing for the first time--and I felt God move through it in a whole new way. Just after finding out that I had two weeks left at my job, and subsequently in my apartment, I debated about whether I should pay to stay in the apartment for one extra week. I knew the hagwon was closing at the end of May and as I prayed through my dilemma, I felt the Spirit say, "Move out May 31."

Plans were already formulating for me to join Holly Schoephoerster in Southeast Asia sometime in June, but if I left at the end of May, that meant there would be a critical time gap between vacating my apartment and traveling. Where was I to go until then? From out of the woodwork, God started bringing girlfriend after girlfriend who offered me not just support for what I was going through, but places for me to stay.

December, who worked close to my school in Dongtan, was the first to step up. Though it was only twice the size of my Korean apartment (i.e., less than 500 total square feet), she said I could crash at her place anytime I needed. She even offered to hold part of my luggage while I was away in Thailand.

My Korean friend Young Sook, who lived less than a mile from December, wanted me to bring my stuff over to her place simply because she had one whole extra room (including a bed) more than my American friend. "Your luggage-y, big and December apartment small," she said matter-of-factly. At one point, she too offered her apartment as somewhere for me to be.

"Jenny-pah," she said as she gazed intently at me, "stay. In Korea, you stay."

"I can't stay," I told her. At that moment, visions of my family and their need for comfort raced through my head. I knew couldn't.

At the same time, my Korean co-worker Grace Teacher also offered her place. "I would love you to come stay with me," she told me over the phone. "With my mom."

I was astounded by all of the people who wanted to come to my rescue and I knew that they offered themselves through the prompting of God. I never felt so loved or cared for than during those moments. In the end, more because of convenience than anything else, I chose to room with December.

But I wasn't the only one who started a couch-surfing career at that time: So did Frankie. Though my friends wanted me to stay with them, they weren't too eager to also entertain my cat. December was highly allergic, Young Sook deathly afraid, and Grace didn't think her mother would very much approve. So what was Frankie to do without me?

"I'm taking your cat," a new friend of mine, Kealy, asserted the first day I met her. We were out at Hangang Park celebrating Holly's last Sunday in Seoul with swan paddle boat races on the Han; I had just told her about my need to vacate my apartment building in less than two weeks. Though I had had one other offer to take Frankie already, it was still unconfirmed because the girl needed to check with her school first. "I'm taking her cat," Kealy repeated, telling everyone within earshot.

And so it was settled. Just as my mobile life had begun.

"It's fun, but it's not a good way to settle down," I confessed to Mario that day online.

"Getting tired of the couches?" he asked.

"I've been doing it so long it's kind of the new norm I guess. I just want to take control of my own something."

"That's a real shift from having your own everything in Korea, eh?"

A sobering thought, Mario. In my need for control, I have to stop and ask one question: If the LORD provided for me then, in the midst of a foreign people speaking a foreign tongue in a foreign land, why must I doubt that He can provide for me now?

I've certainly seen a lot of Texas towns while under someone else's roof: Somerset, Kirby, Converse, Schertz, Temple, Killeen. I've visited or reconnected with no less than five local congregations. I've also had a chance to spend copious amounts of time with dear friends and family in this new season. Being room-less isn't all bad.