Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Who among us does not remember reading, reciting, or analyzing this famous poem by Robert Frost during those long lost days years ago when we were busy cramming our minds full of the information society thought would be invaluable for us to know? Who among us can ever really get past the profound insight of the words themselves as our day to day lives are marked continually by the need to choose this or that path? And we look back in wonder that our choices and the choices of others have led us to this point.
The other day I met a man who is “living the dream,” that is to say, he is very much living the life I envisioned for myself when I was a college student: young, good looking & unattached, pulling down a handsome salary in the finance industry, and thoroughly invested in the life of the local church. As we talked, and as I left the conversation, I felt the familiar twinge of doubt, or was it regret?
I sigh inwardly and contemplate “the road less traveled” upon which I’ve trod these twenty years. My life is far different than I imagined it would be. We talked across the dinner table, my wife and I, discussing the petty details of upcoming travels and reflecting on the more profound details of what really is entailed in the “good life.” And it has been a good life. I have a wonderful wife, a healthy and handsome son, all my needs are provided for. And yet even knowing this, the twinge of regret/doubt still comes.
How did I get here? How do any of us get anywhere? Simply we get wherever we are through the day by day choices we make that lead us inexorably along a path the end of which we cannot now imagine. Who imagines anything accurately about their future life? We don’t and we cannot. We simply choose, one step at a time. It is this basic reality that causes me to reject any notion that people are somehow prisoners of their feelings or trapped by their inclinations. Scientists confirm what the Bible teaches — as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. And so as we choose the right, the holy, the merciful, the good – over and again – the paths in our brain literally take shape and we become different kinds of people than we were. A decision, once taken, will lead, with its twists and turns and hidden corners, either towards a deeper and richer and more transformative relationship with God through Jesus, or further and further away. And like the traveler in Frost’s poem, there is never an option not to choose.
The easy and clever thing to say would be Seoul, since this blog is a commentary on the intersection of faith and life. It would be fitting too, since questions of immigration and assimilation for Christians involve an intersection of the issues of material prosperity and living faithfully as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
America is a country founded not on a national principle of ethnic solidarity, nor even of geographic commonality.
These last few days / couple of weeks, my life has been occupied with caring for my wife and newly born son. It has been a tremendous shift in many ways, but the full impact of the reality of my status of FATHER has yet to occur. The dynamics and feelings that are engendered by this change are subjects for another day.
Today however, I’ve been working on the ongoing project of consolidating my and my wife’s life. Our marriage and subsequent merging of households means that we have an abundance of … stuff, and not enough room for all of it. Of course since we’re both “full-time Christian workers,” we travel a bit lighter than some in the “stuff” department, but there is still quite a lot of accumulated goodies from the nearly four-score years of our combined lifespan. Now we have a baby, and baby has his own “stuff” which also takes up room; room that we don’t have.
The commonest solution for this curse of accumulation is to buy more storage bins, find more places to cram things, and inevitably to move to larger quarters. That’s the American way! However we both are convinced that our modestly sized home in the inner city has more than enough room for 3 people and their “stuff” to live comfortably, and neither of us wishes to get into the habit of “building bigger barns” so to speak, which leaves us with but one option:
That is we have to make choices about what will stay and what will go and just how many copies of Leading Across Cultures by Dr. James Plueddemann is enough for one household (if you think that’s odd, don’t ask about her book on Burmese culture, my Western Civ textbooks or the multiple copies of Too Busy Not to Pray that I’ve always been too busy to read).
The problem with purging though is not just in weighing the relative utility of whatever stuff we’ve happened to acquire over our years of life and ministry. It is that so many of the decisions are fraught with emotional content. Why have I waited so long to get rid of the set of Chinaware I found for $12 in the back corner of some musty Salvation Army store and have only used two or three times? What is it about the long disused winter coat or formal gown that travels from home to home growing ever more out of fashion and yet ever less dispensable as the years wear on?
It would be easy to attribute such acquisition to a materialistic approach to life, but in reality each of these items, marginally useful though they might be, touch keenly on what have been termed the mystic chords of memory. Dining from those dishes, gazing at that gown, touching the spine of that book which never quite makes it to the bedside reading pile all transport us back to moments in time, seasons in life, that were and are precious to us. They may not perhaps be profoundly significant, nor even memorable moments, but it is the succession of such moments that make up our lives. Washing that particular set of dishes reminds me not only of their purchase, but of the visit to staff colleague in Florida and the dishes they had which I liked, and the struggles of their young marriage with wanting children but being unable at the time to conceive. Seeing that book takes me back to seemingly endless conversations with my campus minister about the importance of prayer and the devotional life. To rid myself of these simple objects seems to be more than just making room for the NEW and IMPROVED.
Besides all this, that we have so much is itself a striking reminder of the impermanence with which our modern / post-modern lives have become infused. There was a time when choosing the china pattern for ones dishes was of great importance, for those dishes would travel with you throughout life — through Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters, weddings, and funerals. They would be the never fail companions to every moment of significance in ones life until in old age or at death they would be passed down, broken gravy dish and all, to whatever child or grandchild had need or sentiment enough to want them.
Now of course dishes are just dishes — made, bought and sold, used up and discarded, like so much of life and so many of its people. Grandma’s china ends up gracing the back aisle of a dusty second hand store while the local BIG BOX retailer sells antiquity in a box, made in China and shipped without sentiment straight to your door where it waits in boxes for the necessary purge of the old to make room for the new.
Today is Mother’s Day. It has been nearly twelve years since my mother (Momma) died.
The intervening years have softened a bit the immediacy of the feeling of loss, but I still miss her — every single day of my life. She was, after all, my momma – the woman from whom I drew life’s sustenance for nine months, at whose breast I nursed afterwards, whose hands bathed, feed, clothed, soothed, and yes, punished me. She was the one who gave my my gap-toothed smile, my squinty eyes, and my love for reading and for words. (She also gave me ugly feet and a big nose). So of course, I miss her.
As I said though, every year that goes by lessens the immediacy of the pain of loss, and time brings a kind of healing to the heart. This year though, I miss her in a different kind of way, because this year I miss her as a son who is about to become a father.
In a few short weeks my wife will give birth to my son, our first child – and the first grandchild of my mother born since her death in 1999. He will be the first one she will not smilingly receive, who won’t be rocked in her arms as she sings, “Summertime,” who won’t know what her voice sounds like, or hear the cadence of her laughter. He will be well loved, that’s for sure, and my father’s wife, Joyce, will make a delightful grandmother for him, as well as his adopted honorary white grandma, Jeannie, and the grandparents on his mother’s side. But my mother, well, she won’t know him and he won’t know her — at least not in the way her other grandchildren had the chance to.
But I know that in so many ways he will know her, and she will be present in his life. When he’s born, it will be her hands through mine that will hold him. When he falls, she too will dry his tears. When I teach him how to garden, to sew, to clean — she’ll be there. The biscuits I’ll teach him to make will be hers. When I sit with him to show him how to read and write, she’ll be there. Through all the thousands of things big and small that my mother passed on to me and that I will pass on to him, she will be there, every day of his life; the unseen influence that he won’t know till heaven.
It’s been a while since I put metaphorical pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) to write my reflections on life and faith, which is the intended purpose of this internet space. Life has been busy, and there have been other things, more worthy things, to attend to, though I must confess that the lack of the discipline of writing has certainly not helped me to maintain focus, awareness, and growth in my communication skills.
Nevertheless, here we are freshly entered into a new year, full of promise and peril. It no longer looms before us, but indeed is already passing and the seeds of 2012 are already sown. The newness of the year, combined with the events of the last several months give ample pause for me to pause and reflect on my life.
It has been a year of remarkable changes and I ended 2010 in an entirely different way than 2009. Here are some of the most significant transitions.
My long years of adult bachelorhood came to a dramatic and in many ways unexpected end with my marriage on September 11. Although I had long desired to marry, and even pursued various opportunities throughout the years, I could never have imagined that 2010 would be the year I would exchange vows and be married. Even less did I think that my wife would be of very Chinese ancestry and from a family that is fairly prominent in Chinese evangelical circles (her father and uncle were directors of Campus Crusade & IFES in Taiwan respectively, after which they each pastored prominent Chinese churches in the US and are both currently heading up worldwide missions efforts among the Chinese diaspora).
This might seem unremarkable to those who have only known me recently, or known me only in the context of my ministry life and work with college and university students which has, in the last several years, been primarily among second generation Asian Americans. I have attended for several years the English congregation of a Korean church. To these folks my marriage inter-culturally and cross-racially (whatever that means) merits an “of course” as it seems only natural for them that I would marry thus. However the larger and more expansive terrain of my life that is kept largely hidden in the backdrop of my ministry in a thoroughly White evangelical ministry tells a uniquely different story. As my wife and I have begun to journey together in life and ministry, the baptism by immersive fire into the totality of my life, family, and ministry confirms for us both how gracious God has been in bringing us together and how vastly different we each are.
The cultural differences however are not paramount in my reflections nor even in our relationship. The transition for me (and for my beloved) from singleness into marriage has meant a profound grief and yet even more profound joy. Many of my peers who married comparatively early or have been married for a long time may not entirely grasp this, though I suspect some will. Had I married some ten years or even five years earlier, I am certain I would not have experienced this in the same way. The years that most of my peers have passed in bonding with their spouses, bearing and nurturing children through the earliest stages of life are years that have been spent by my wife and I journeying in ministry alone — and at time lonely, but more often struggling through with contentment with our state and jealousy over the seeming ease with which peers took for granted that for which we longed, contending earnestly in our hearts for supremacy of less often than we hoped, seeing the ungodly fragmented and broken self win out. And now that I, that we, are on the other side of this sacred covenant, there is a weighty sense of the preciousness of time for we realize all too well that because of our age at marriage coupled with the desire for children, choices that would likely have been spread over a longer period must now be accomplished with relative speed. This brings me to the other major transition.
It is true for all who enter the sacred state of marriage that the primary locus of relational identity shifts from one’s family of birth to the new family that is being formed. This transition is normal, expected, and in our case proceeding with little other than expected difficulty. And yet alongside this transition is a major realignment for the remainder of our families. For mine the reality that the most recent marriage of my siblings was some twenty-one years ago and that I am already a great-uncle (and my brothers grandfathers) more than once over means that the entirety of how our family system has operated must shift in ways that have been unconsidered for at least 11 years when my mother died. For my wife, similar dynamics pertain, for in the space of all too short a time, 3 daughters with only one married and no grandchildren in view has turned into 2 married daughters with the 3rd engaged, and 1 grandchild with another on the way. What had been a generally Asian-American family with international roots and connections is now a hybrid family with a Black American son-in-law with another son-in-law soon to come of Belgian descent. There are for our respective families, no easy model to emulate to understand how all of this is to work. Every relationship must be renegotiated and every expectation redefined.
The word comes uneasily to my lips though I have no great aversion to it, and indeed have longed for children all my life. It is a joy and a dread to know the expectation of new life growing within the body of my wife; life that, by God’s grace, is a product of her and my own body and which life we will be charged with guiding and caring for. This thought, scary though it is in my more lucid and reflective moments, pales before the tremendous sense of impending change that my lifestyle must undergo, for even though I’ve wanted children, the bare fact is that I had in some sense abandoned any true hope of marriage and children. I had resigned myself to the possibility of perpetual singleness and was prepared to live as a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom if that is what God called me to. And yet I find myself now having to prepare myself for that which I was already expecting some ten to twelve years ago. Children? Now? When I’m about to crest the mountain of forty years of age and the gray hairs come just as fast as the black ones fall out? Children now? When I’m reminded daily in my Taekwando exercise that my body no longer retains the flexibility and dynamism that it did 18 years ago, though I keep believing that it should? Children now? Just as I’m beginning to appreciate the virtues of slightly larger print texts and music that isn’t quite so loud. Yes, I’m thrilled at the thought, but I would be lying if did not also admit to a bit of envy at those of my peers and family who by now are thinking about the few short years to come when their children will be off to high school, college and beyond and I will be glad simply have them out of diapers.
Well that’s what my girlfriend / fiance / soon to be Mrs. said about marriage when asked by her mother why she was marrying me. Actually she first said, “because he loves me.”
Truth be told, I’m not sure why she fancies me.
I’m petty and ill-tempered at times. I don’t have any money and no prospects of inheriting any. I’m not in prime athletic condition. I look mean when I’m not smiling, and sometimes I am mean. I can be arrogant and bossy and very inattentive to hers and others concerns.
Trust me; I’ve not held any of this back from her. So it’s surprising that she wants to marry me. She loves me, of that I’m sure, or as reasonably sure as anyone can be about such things, and I love her.
But what happens when all the things I love about her fade? Well, that’s where her words come in. It’s not just about love; it’s about a commitment made to God in the presence of witnesses. Now that’s something you don’t hear much anymore. It’s sort of an old fashioned sentiment, more suited in our minds to an old Victorian aunt giving advice to her young wayward niece than to a contemporary postmodern, urbane, world traveling, interracial couple. But it is true wisdom anyhow, and it makes sense to me, to us.
It’s funny though, when I think of how we’ve come to be a couple together ready to embark on this new phase of life. Nothing about it makes much sense, and yet everything does. I met her online and then discovered that we had lots of good friends in common and actually had been in the same room before and probably would have easily met each other but didn’t. We’ve spent hours and days and hours of time doing all the things that people typically do when they’re thinking of marriage (talking through the BIG issues of sex, money, children, faith, etc.) and little time doing the typical things (gazing into each others eyes, romantic dinners, walking through the park holding hands) people do when they date. We decided on a date for the wedding before we decided we would get married and then planned a strategy to see if it would be a good match. We are by no means a typical couple with a conventional path to marriage.
And yet, here we are. Older than average, both with a heart for missions and cross cultural ministry, both worship leaders, both smarty-pants… and we’re about to get married.
People ask me if I’m excited or nervous or what. Well, yes I am , but that’s not the complete picture of how I feel.
You know those songs, and lines in romantic comedies: “I can’t live without you!!” said or sung breathlessly under a full moon with the skyline of some major city in the background? Well, that’s not how I feel. I can live without Pauline.
I just don’t want to.
Hello from beautiful (and humid) Ghana! The wonders of technology make it possible for me to update my blog via telephone. Amazing.
Anyhow, I’m glad to say that we’re all here and in good health except for one woman on our team who has malaria. Students are now posted in various village communities where they will be preaching, praying, teaching, and sharing the good news in word and deed for the next 2 weeks. Today we make our first rounds to visit them and make sure they’re okay and that there are no major health issues or team dynamic issues to sort out.
As for me, I’m doing well though naturally I miss my beloved who is enjoying herself on a Hawaiian vacation. I am taking every opportunity to chat with the General Secretary (GS) of the Ghanaian student movement to think about trends in missions and student work worldwide. I am focused and ready for the task at hand while also being keenly aware and engaged with issues back at home.
Critical lesson observed thus far: American Evangelicals must take the scriptures much more seriously than we do currently. Dealing with poverty is a far less important issue than snatching from fire those who are hellbound and oppressed by the powers of darkness.