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.