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.
As I sat today in our joint worship service at the Korean Presbyterian Church I attend, watching the youth execute a praise dance, listening to the adult choir cantata, hearing and seeing the confirmation of kids from the youth group, singing in broken Korean the words to the familiar song, “Because He Lives,” and partaking in communion, I found myself at points holding back tears. These were tears, not of sorrow, nor loss, nor sighing, but were rather tears of joy and gratitude.
I was not especially struck by the beauty of the singing (though it was beautiful), nor was I impressed by the testimony of the young girl who talked about her conversion (though it was compelling), and certainly not by the baby who screamed and cried throughout her baptism. No, I was rather struck with a profound sense of gratitude for the overwhelming grace of God. Here I sat literally with believers from the other side of the world, and figuratively with believers from around the world and down through history proclaiming again that Christ has Risen!
On Thursday night, my elder brother preached at my father’s church for Maundy Thursday service. I almost always enjoy his preaching, but as my sister said today, the way he preaches about Christ’s death just simply shocks and moves you at the same time. As he talked about the bloody Christ, the suffering servant, I thought about how undeserving is the life I have. And this morning as I took the bread and the cup, I felt again deeply grateful.
“Resurrection Sunday is my favorite holiday,” I told my sister. And it is. It of all days, is THE day of grace.
“My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear them no more. Praise the Lord Praise the Lord, Oh my soul!!”
“Oh Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.”
“God sent His son. They called him Jesus. He came to love, heal, and forgive. He lived and died to buy my pardon. An empty grave is there to prove my Saviour lives. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”
Christ has Died!
Christ has Risen!
Christ will Come Again!
As you might have heard, or suspected, or divined by means of casting lots or looking at the entrails of a sacrificed bull, ElderJ is planning to be married, or is he?. I know of course that in today’s highly networked world, a traditional engagement announcement (or lack thereof) means nothing. All that must occur is for some pictures with proper captioning to appear on one’s facebook page, and the words of felicitation begin to flood in, as well as not a few incredulous phone calls seeking to verify what might, after all, be erroneous information.
In cases like these where there is so much potential for accuracy, inaccuracy, and downright guesswork, it if probably important to seek understanding “straight from the horse’s mouth,” as it were, and in this case, I am the horse in question. Therefore I will seek to cursorily address what might or might not be on the minds of those who know me.
Are you engaged? The short answer to this question is not short at all. I and my sweetheart are not technically engaged in the traditional North American romantic love way of things. There has been no exchange of rings, no getting down on one knee, no blushing and crying woman saying, “Yes, yes, of course I’ll marry you!!” However, we are most certainly planning a wedding and, more importantly, planning to spend our lives together.
So you’re not engaged but you’re getting married? I’m confused… Don’t be confused. We are engaged in a Chinese traditional sort of way. I met the parents and requisite family members. Hands were shaken. Heads nodded with appropriate solemnity. Difficult questions were asked and answered, and at the end of it all, my beloved’s father produced a cake and made an announcement. What had been a mission’s prayer meeting became an impromptu engagement party. We ate cake. We received congratulations. We were photographed. We smiled until our cheeks hurt.
So you set a wedding date even though you’re not engaged? Yes. Actually we set the date for our wedding back in December, even before we had made a firm decision that were going to be married.
Are you going to give her a ring? Yes
Why didn’t you give her a ring when you went to see her? Although we have been steadily moving in the direction of marriage, there were a lot of things we needed to talk about before moving ahead.
Aren’t you rushing things? Maybe we are. Ask us in 30 years and we’ll let you know. Seriously though, things are moving ahead at a somewhat quick pace, but there are reasons for this. We decided very early on that this relationship would end in marriage or that we would not pursue it. Neither of us is young, so we know ourselves much better than we did 10 years ago, are much more aware of our own limitations, and have much more realistic expectations of marriage than we used to. We have been very intentional in tackling straight on the things we know are important. You could say that our relationship is not entirely unlike arranged marriages of the past: we determined that we would be a good fit for each other, and have spent the time working through some of the pitfall we know we will encounter (since there are many we DON’T know about). And we have fallen deeply in love.
Change of subject – Why are you with this Chinese girl? Are you an Oreo? I am most definitely NOT an Oreo (for the uninitiated – Black on the outside but culturally White on the inside), though I was asked this question in person during the process of my courtship. I love Black women, Black people, Black culture, and never really considered that I would marry someone that was not Black; indeed every woman I’ve dated was Black. And yes, I know I’ve been going to an Korean church, but I do not have “yellow fever.” I am also not naive about the challenges inherent in a cross-racial relationship, and I know there are some Black women out there who will not look favorably on my relationship. I can’t do anything about that.
What about the kids? Our kids will be ridiculously attractive, but not because they’re biracial. Seriously, have you seen how fine I am?? How could they be anything but fine as well?
Does this mean you’re going off to China or something? I am no more likely to go off to China now than I was before. My life belongs to God. Where he sends me, I will go.
Do you love this girl? Yes
Where will you all live? We will live together
Do you know each other well enough? I don’t know if there is a real answer to this question. Does anyone know the person they marry “well enough.” The answer is probably both yes and no. We know each other well enough to want to spend our lives together. We don’t know everything there is to know about each other, and there is no way we could. One thing though that is true of us is that we know OURSELVES far better than we did years ago. Self knowledge is critical in any relationship, and the ability and willingness to be honest about who you really are with another person is important as well.
So when is the wedding? We are planning to marry September 11 in Atlanta Ga, followed by a honeymoon in SE Asia. We gladly accept gifts of cash and in-kind donations. We’re both missionaries, so yeah, I’m not joking when I say that. We live from the faithful obedience of God’s people to be generous in their giving.