Monday, August 27, 2007

Suffering

… it’s only when you hit bottom and are desperate enough that things start to get better. (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 105)

… we are learning how to suffer well. Not to avoid it but to feel the full force of it. It is important that churches acknowledge suffering and engage it—never, ever presenting the picture that if you follow Jesus, your problems will go away. Following Jesus may bring on problems you never imagined.


Suffering is a place where clich├ęs don’t work and words often fail. … And it is in our suffering together that we find out we are not alone. We find out who really loves us. We find out that with these people around us, we can make it through anything. And that gives us something to celebrate.


Ultimately our gift to the world around us is hope. Not blind hope that pretends everything is fine and refuses to acknowledge how things are. But the kind of hope that comes from staring pain and suffering right in the eyes and refusing to believe that this is all there is. It is what we all need—hope that comes not from going around suffering but from going through it. (Bell, Elvis, 170)


La vie est dure. Life is hard. It is hard to be a Christian, but it is too dull to be anything else. (Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, 43)

Past, Present, Future

On Saturday, I was on two planes and in three airports. I always journal when I’m on planes and in airports; maybe it’s all of the time I have while waiting, or the association that I have with airports as symbols of transition and change that stirs something in me. Maybe I just think a lot and these are some of the few times I have to write my thoughts down.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about time. I’ve now been in the States for over a year. It’s been a tough year—probably the toughest yet; but it’s been a good year—one of the best. I don’t feel like I’m living what Brennan Manning describes as “a life of surrender without reservation” (The Signature of Jesus, 91). It’s where I’d love to be.


Things are busy, life is busy, there’s always a lot to do, Brennan acknowledges. But his subsequent comment jarred me from my stupor of busyness: “What of prayer, silence, solitude, and simple presence of the indwelling God?” (104). Take time, get out of the busyness for a while, center down, practice the presence. It is the difference between a tired, strenuous, stretched-thin, mediocre existence, and the fullness of life.


***

You’ve probably heard that saying, “The past is gone, the future is not yet here; all we have is the present” or some variant of it. It’s so important to dwell in the present, to make the most of the opportunities we have in the here and now, not missing out on them because we’re looking back at what once was, or looking forward to what might be.


Of course, we learn from the past, we remember the past; and we look forward to what is to come, we work towards hopes and dreams. But the only thing we can do anything about is the present.


And rest assured, time and experience work themselves out in more than just a straight line. For instance, I’m continually astounded when songs that I’ve written years ago for someone else come to speak exactly into my situation or into someone else’s situation; songs like “I Miss You”, “Undone”, “Somewhere I Don’t Need to Care”, “What Happens Now?” and “Her”.


Human experience differs as cultures, times and situations change. But on another level, it’s basically the same. Hence the appeal of the Bible: here, we find stories of tragedy, of dysfunctional families, of hard lives; songs of love; words of advice that hold true today; examples of people who lived ordinary lives, hard lives, faithful lives. And it speaks to us. Because we’re human too.


***

“Only the one who has experienced it can know what the love of Jesus Christ is. Once you have experienced it, nothing else in the world will seem more beautiful or desirable.” (Manning, Signature, 42)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Music = Mnemonic

I love music. I always have. If I’m awake, you’ll rarely find me without music, unless I’m spending some quiet time with God. I suppose this aspect of my life comes down to being a creature of culture rather than being my parents’ child, coz I don’t remember music being a feature of our household. So it’s interesting to see what a huge part it plays in my life.

Anyway, I was thinking about some of the songs and their associated memories in my own life. Here’s the few I can remember:


  • Boyz II Men, ‘4 Seasons of Loneliness’; Celine Dion, Falling into You and ‘My Heart Will Go On’: Rachel, Christine and my GCSEs; playing downball after school with Gabe; making music with Dawen.
  • Rich Mullins, Songs: summer 1997 in Melbourne.
  • Aerosmith, ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’: summer 1998; watching Lethal Weapon 4 with Phil.
  • Edwin McCain, ‘I’ll Be’; Shawn Mullins, ‘Shimmer’; Paula Cole, ‘I Don’t Want To Wait’: Dawson’s Creek, Katie Holmes, my A-levels at boarding school.
  • U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind; David Gray, White Ladder; Coldplay: Parachutes: Emma, Katie Holmes-a-like, and my first year at UCL; drinking lots and lots of tea with Sukhi.
  • Lifehouse, No Name Face: Smallville, my second year at UCL, Katie, going to Paris.
  • Jars of Clay, The Eleventh Hour; the Bridget Jones Soundtrack: Ally, Uganda, and falling in love; lying under the stars, waking up early; making a best friend.
  • Fono, Goesaroundcomesaround: leading cell group with Tim, my final year at UCL, Rachel.
  • Switchfoot, The Beautiful Letdown: my first year at LST.
  • Duke Special, My Villain Heart: Daren and Helen.
  • Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams and A Weekend at the Greek: fall/winter 2005, lots of movies and late night chats with Danie.
  • The Fray, The Reason EP; anything by Ben Folds or Guster: Laura, summer 2006, graduation.
  • John Mayer, Continuum: fall 2006, moving to Pasadena, starting at Fuller.
  • Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas: Christmas 2006, Urbana, hanging out with Jeff and the CPC gang in St Louis.
  • Lifehouse, Who We Are: Tim and Tiff’s wedding, Colorado, summer 2007.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Wisdom & Concentration

My verses for the last couple weeks:

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. (Eccl. 12:12b)

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way? (Prov. 20:24)


Thankfully, paper #3 is done. I just have one more paper (7-page) to do by Saturday. I’m fairly impressed with myself, thankful to God and to my study-buddies for helping me concentrate. Somehow, I managed to reel out a 4-page book report in a weekend, a 15-page research paper on inerrancy in four days, and a 10-page research paper on New Testament ethics in three days.


Maybe my multitasking (i.e. writing papers while watching baseball, movies, and taking multiple breaks) really does divide my concentration …


Nah, any correlation is surely only chance. ☺

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Single?

It’s been a week full of crazy conversations about relationships and being single and DTRs*.

Sure, there are advantages to being single.


But sometimes, as one friend put it, “All I want is to know; I just want to know that in the end, something will work out …”


And when it’s a subject this close to home, just saying “Trust God and he’ll pull through” just doesn’t quite cut it.

***

* Abbr. for “define the relationship”, which may be described as: “‘the talk’ when a male and female who've been seeing each other a bit decide if they're officially a couple.” Go here for the “Unofficial [Christian] Singleness Vocab Guide”. You’ll be enlightened. Seriously.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Muse


In some exciting news (well, it's exciting for me), I wrote my first song for the first time in a long time; it’s called “Muse/Claire”:

You're my muse;
this song's for you
and all you help me do.
You lift me when I'm blue ...
When I see you,
the words come crashing out,
emotions singing loud;
you've got me spinning round.

You're my muse;
I may be in love too
when I stand next to you
and your eyes see right through
my hiding place.
You hold my heart in your hands,
cradled gently
coz you understand ...

This song's for you
and only you.
This song's for you;
there's only you.

You may never see
the effect you have on me
and how you make me be.
So what I'll do
is keep on writing,
keep on singing,
and hope that one day you'll hear me
and you'll know somehow ...

It’s good to be able to write again.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Today, I spoke to:
  1. Laura, my wonderful Wheatonite friend, who I met randomly in London over a year ago. I hadn’t spoken to her in a few months, and it was so good to talk. She’s in North Carolina, will be heading back to New York, and then on to Illinois for the start of the semester. I haven’t seen her since last summer.
  2. Tim, my best buddy, who I met at church in London almost six years ago. I hadn’t spoken to him in a few weeks, so it was good to see how he was doing in his new job, and to share how things had been going for me the last few weeks. He’s a couple weeks into being a doctor in Kent, and I saw him a month and a half ago for his wedding in Colorado.

After talking to these two, I’m missing friends. The life of a global traveler, a third culture kid, isn’t unexciting: moving around, experiencing different cultures, cities and countries, making lots of new friends, trying out new lifestyles, visiting new churches, eating different food. And, it’s true, I have friends (and/or family) all over the world: Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Nigeria, France, Germany, the UK, and the US.

But … having friends everywhere means just that: they’re everywhere. I can’t just hang out with Tim and Tiff whenever I want, or Laura, or attend Pete and Jo’s wedding (tomorrow), or see my niece and nephews in Australia, or have my mom’s home cooking. Every time I transplant, I leave behind great friends and great memories, and though, thanks to the wonders of global communication technology, I can still keep in touch with friends and family, I miss being present with them.


Perhaps this is especially brought home at this time, when so many friends are going away for the end of the summer: Liz back to MI, Chuck back to OK, Matt & Sara to Fresno and Canada, Stephen to Argentina. To be sure, I’m missing their company.


But I’m also going to have a chance to get reacquainted with old friends: I’m heading up to Seattle at the end of August, when I’ll get to see Jason (baseball in London), Hannah (church in HK), and Phil (also church in HK), people I haven’t seen in years.


As the old song goes, “This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through …”


One day—and I can’t wait for it—I’ll see all of these people in one place, and we can hang out for a very long time.


[Could be heaven. Could be the day I get married. Take your pick.]

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Broken Romantic

After my ‘poetic’ post a few days ago, I got a few responses from friends (and family) asking if I was in love and who was she, or extolling my romanticism. Actually, the post was inspired by a woman—one of my best female friends; it was in the context of a conversation with her that we reminisced about the time I sent her a poem that I’d been studying in an A-level English Lit class, coz I loved it so much (‘Words, Wide Night’).

As for the second question … I remember the days when I was young and impetuous; whenever I thought I was ‘falling in love’, I’d let myself go all-out. In those days, I suppose I was a romantic, buying gifts and flowers, hanging out so I could open doors for whoever I happened to be ‘in love’ with at the time. It feels like an age ago …

Now … I’m a little more jaded, more cynical, more aware of my limitations and how much it really, really hurts when things don’t work out the way we hope. Now, I’m (a little) more guarded, more broken and put-back-together:
The broken clock is a comfort; it helps me sleep tonight
Maybe it can stop tomorrow from stealing all my time
I am here still waiting though I still have my doubts
I am damaged at best, like you’ve already figured out

I’m falling apart, barely breathing
With a broken heart that’s still beating
In the pain, I find healing
In your name, I find meaning
So I’m holding on, I’m holding on, I’m holding on
Barely holding on to you

The broken locks were a warning: you got inside my head
I tried my best to be guarded; I’m an open book instead
I still see your reflection inside of my eyes
That are looking for purpose; they’re still looking for life

I’m hanging on another day
Just to say what you will throw my way
And I’m hanging on to the words you say
You said that I will be okay

The broken lights on the freeway left me here alone
I may have lost my way home; haven’t forgotten my way home

I’m falling apart, barely breathing
With a broken heart that’s still beating
In the pain, I find healing
In your name, I find meaning
So I’m holding on, I’m holding on, I’m holding on
Barely holding on to you
Lifehouse, 'Broken'

Scars

“Scar tissue that I wish you saw …” (Red Hot Chili Peppers, 'Scar Tissue')

***

Just below my left knee is a scar from slicing my leg open roller-skating when I was about 12. When I was 14, I managed to explode a small (fortunately almost-empty) canister of gas while throwing a tantrum; as a result, I have a faint scar on my nose that shows how close I came to being blinded. A couple of years ago, a kid fractured my fibula with a bad tackle while playing soccer; it still aches now and again, and mildly affects my ankle when I run. Last year, I jammed my right ring finger playing sports; now, whenever I uncurl my fingers, it clicks.

I’ve picked up a few scars over the years; we all do. Some of them are physical; some are emotional; some psychological; some spiritual. Living in a fallen world, there’s no way to not get hurt in some way or another. And some of the wounds that we suffer hurt like hell.

I wonder if we’ll bear these scars—these healed-over wounds—on our new bodies, our bodies fitted for eternity. Each scar carries a memory, an association, good and bad: for instance, when my leg got broken playing soccer, Ally looked after me the entire weekend, driving me around and basically nursing me through my grumpy times.

Upon noting that Jesus still bore the scars of the nails in his hands and feet after the resurrection, one of my friends posited this hypothesis: maybe we’ll bear the scars that we bore for the sake of the kingdom; and they will be scars that we can be proud of.

Now I'm not glorifying pain, or making light of (by philosophizing about) deep wounds (especially emotional) that we suffer. But I found this definition helpful:


Scar:
  1. a mark left by a healed wound—an area of fibrous tissue that replaces normal skin (or other tissue) after injury. A scar results from the biologic process of wound repair in the skin and other tissues of the body. Thus, scarring is a natural part of the healing process.
  2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, trauma or suffering.

***

“I’m feeling alive all over again, as deep as a scar under my skin; like being in love, she said, for the first time …” (Lifehouse, 'First Time')

“There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Rom. 5:3-5, MSG)

***

A scar is what's left when a wound heals over.

I was so sure ...

“Maybe you’ll get married before you graduate,” my friend joked. I laughed, my mind going back to two years ago …

***

On August 7, 2005, Ally and I got back together for the last time. Of course, we thought it was the last time because we’d be getting married—that was the basis on which we got back together. We’d dated on and off for three years, we’d known each other for four; and we’d exhausted the other options, it seemed—there was no more time for ‘let’s just see what happens’.


Of course, in retrospect, this is not the best reason to get back together with a view to getting married. But retrospectively, I know that it didn’t work out. Looking back on my thoughts that week, though, I found myself alarmed at how sure I was about our decision. The conviction and confidence I had that nothing could sway my decision is shown up by the fact that we didn’t last two more months. I had a sense of peace about committing the rest of my life to this person that, two months later, became: “[we] broke up (again) tonight. It felt clear. It was right. We both knew it.”


I wasn’t in the right place at the time; I learned the hard way about the fickleness of emotions.


I’m still learning. And probably will be for many, many years …


***

P.S. I was reading 1 Chronicles this morning. In 26:32, it reads, “Jeriah had two thousand seven hundred relatives …” (and that’s just the men!). For those of you know how small the Christian world is, I’m employing this verse as proof that we might just be the new Israel. ☺

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Poetry

From A-level English Lit. classes, I came to love poetry; these poems in particular:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday's

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with a passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806-1861

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And oft' is his gold complexion dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd:

But thy eternal Summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest:


So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.

The room is turning slowly away from the moon.


This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say it is sad?

In one of the tenses I am singing

an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.


La la la la.

See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills

I would have to cross to reach you,


For I am in love with you and this

is what it is like or what it is like in words.
Carol Ann Duffy, 1955—