Blessed are the night and the darkness that blind us.
Blessed is the cold that teaches us to feel.
(From Prayer at Winter Solstice by Dana Gioia)
True came to me the other day with a picture she drew of Jesus walking on the water. The expression she conveys with just a few lines blows me away.
The uncertainty and fear on Peter’s face tells the whole story.
It tells my whole story. I think I’m so brave until I step into the waves.
March is the haunting month before my sister died.
It’s the unsuspecting month before Jase lived.
When I look back on those heart-wrenching moments, I remember how the presence of God truly sustained me.
The cold and the night strip us down to who we really are: naked and afraid.
This place of vulnerability and humanity is where we truly meet Jesus. It’s where we recognize His holy presence because we lay ourselves down.
This is who I am, Lord: broken. Show me who You are.
This afternoon we inspected the forsythia buds near our apartment. We put on our fake glasses made out of thumbs and index fingers, and we got up close. A flower! True announced soon after we set out.
Sure enough, a tiny bloom sat boldly among the bare sticks, hinting at what’s to come.
There is a beauty that manifests despite the cold winter. This is how we’re able to endure.
Pretty soon the main road outside our apartment window will be lined in tiny yellow flowers, as if one night soon God will hop on his giant bicycle and highlight the whole strip of unruly bushes as He rides by. You guys look so bare, He’ll say as he passes.
He’ll fill in all the gaps. And in His patient, compassionate way, He’ll ask, Why did you doubt?
I can’t explain how weird it is to suddenly be a reader. I’ve always had books on my nightstand, but this crazy obsessive reading is all new. It’s so fun! All I need now is a book club. And some fiction recommendations because I wasted 200 pages of my life on a beautifully written novel that turned into TRASH by the middle. I would have burned it if it wasn’t a library book. I was so mad, guys. Help me out!
While you’re thinking of your favorite novel, here’s what I read in February:
If you’re looking for light reading, this is not the month to consult my reading list. This book especially is extremely heavy and hard-hitting. Drew doesn’t mess around. He writes passionately about racism in the American church, which can be a touchy subject for some people. I found myself cringing a few times at his tone and the occasional overzealous exclamation point, but overall I think it’s a helpful book in acknowledging the issue of racism in America/the church, addressing it, and ultimately seeking Jesus in the middle of the mess.
Some quotes that resonated:
“Churches have often been the least helpful place to discuss racism and our white-dominated society.”
“Resist normalizing your own experience, but instead seek to explore and expose your own inconsistencies. Most of all, as people surrendered to the Holy Spirit, we must all ask God to reveal those areas in our lives that need God’s transformative work. All of us need this kind of self– examination and Spirit– filled transformation in our lives.”
Richard Twiss is passionate about leading his fellow First Nations people to Jesus. He writes a little about the painful history of missionaries who forced Native Americans to adapt to european culture instead of just sharing Christ. He writes about the destruction of the Native American family that occurred when children were sent to “Christian” boarding schools in the early 20th century. But the thing I love about this book is that it focuses on the future of sharing the gospel in culturally relevant ways with indigenous people around the world. It’s a very conversational book. Heartbreaking and thought provoking.
“I would love to see some of our Anglo church leaders, when asked to help a Native church, say, “Yes, but on one condition: only if you will in turn send your pastors and leaders to come and equip us with the grace and gifting God has given you as Native people.” When that day comes, it will verify that we are seen by our Anglo brethren as equal colaborers in the mission of the Church.”
This is another book by Twiss. There is quite a bit of overlap between the previous book and this one, but this one is more academic. There are lots of citations and thorough explanations of what it means to present the gospel in a Native context. I love his hands-on approach and his determination to share the gospel in relevant ways despite many critics who do not agree with his passion for contextualization. It made me consider my own cultural context as it relates (or doesn’t) to the gospel.
My mom sent me this book (thanks mom!). Since the books I’ve been reading have been heavy on cultural awareness, I have to mention that this book cover makes me (and most easterners) cringe. Feet? GOD’S FEET? Odd at best, extremely offensive at worst. But that’s a side note because the message of this book is powerful and needed. In the western church we often say things like “I’m running after God” or “I’m chasing after God” to describe our relationship with Him, but the truth is that He is actually chasing us.
This is such a thorough book about Korea. I’m amazed by the amount of information the author was able to cover and how many insightful conversations it sparked between me and my (Korean) husband. Especially about the church and education. If you’re interested in Korea at all, I highly recommend it.
I don’t know about you, but at the end of the day, when my kids are sleeping, the last thing I want to read is a parenting book. But this one! I read it years and years ago, but when I reread it this month I realized that it might be the only parenting book I will ever need to read. Every page is extremely practical (with cartoon summaries and a reminder sheet for your refrigerator!). Five stars for sure.
Dana Gioia is one of my favorite poets. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, you can hear him read some of his poems here. Listen to the first poem he explains and reads (The Apple Orchard) and I guarentee you’ll be hooked.
Can we nerd out about poetry sometime? I need a friend who scribbles poems on napkins and memorizes lines in the middle of the night in order to write them down in the morning. Anyone?
Finally. You guys. If we were middle school/highschool kids in 90s Korea, we would have been this guy’s biggest fans. I learned about Seo Taiji in the Korea book and was horribly offended that my husband hadn’t ever sang his songs/done his dance moves for me. Are we even married?! Thankfully my husband lit up when I mentioned his name, and the rest is history. The author of the book talks about how Seo Taiji transformed Korean music and introduced western style music to Korea by adding a uniquely Korean flare.
Basically when I saw his red jacket I was hooked. You’re gonna love this:
February is like pushing a double stroller full of big kids to the subway station.
It’s like the halmoni* who steps onto the train with an elegant walking stick made of real wood. Her white hair swoops away from her face. She wears a bright purple coat and purple floral pants. Her smile is kind and generous. She guesses the kids’ ages and holds True’s hand. But when she stops to think, when she looks out the dark windows, she sits quietly with sad eyes.
February is like the woman sitting next to the halmoni on the train. She clutches her pink prayer beads knotted on a green string and whispers something over and over, prayers filling the train car just past noon.
It’s like the tough guy in a teddy bear sweatshirt or the policeman drinking banana milk in the underground.
(Even the oversized “America” t-shirt for sale, hideous and white, feels like a metaphor.)
February is like the blaring music pouring out of trinket shops with dozens of socks and key chains. It’s boxy like McDonald’s and Uniqlo.
It’s like the puppies and kittens in tiny cages, jammed in the front windows of tiny pet shops.
February is like 2pm, when tiny family-owned restaurants house lingering customers and the smells of deonjang and ddeokbokki leak into the back alleys, tempting our full bellies as we walk by.
It’s like the moment I repeat the library rules so the kids remember to keep their shoes on their feet and off the furniture.
February is like the sad new books tucked away and shoved underneath the double stroller, waiting to be opened as soon as we get home.
*Halmoni (할머니) means ‘grandmother’ in Korean, but it is also used to politely address elderly women in general.
———— Writing has been drudgery this month. I keep trying to wrestle paragraphs, but I can’t seem to fit them together. It got me thinking about February in general and how it’s rare to find someone who claims it as a favorite. These notes from last Thursday describe what it feels like to slog through the blahs of my February words. I’m not sure if it will make sense to anyone else, but at least it’s a glimpse into our current every-day.
“It’s almost 8 o’clock!” my husband says with urgency.
On Friday mornings these words are like a love letter I want to keep forever.
He kicks me out of the house gently, encouraging me sit in the morning with my words and my dreams and a notebook full of ideas.
In this moment of freedom and clarity I am at Starbucks, one subway stop away from home.
I want to write in a memorable, quirky style like Sandra Cisneros, in the thoughtful, direct poetry of Mary Oliver, in the vulnerable, Christ-centered vein of Henri Nouwen.
I want to be faithful to the stories, the words, the message.
My heart fills with a lot of ideas and suggestions, loose paragraphs slipping past like window shops along a busy Korean street. Some of them are deteriorating, some are brand new. Some are trendy, some are something-something holic. Some call attention to themselves with blaring music or synchronized dancing.
Write! My brain instructs my fingers, but they have nothing coherent to say.
I am sitting in Starbucks, by the window, feeling generic like the furniture, sipping a latte and watching the cars go by.
Three cheers for the memoir! I love this genre so much. This book was insightful and heartbreaking. There was a time when I really wanted to live and teach in Appalachia, so I was already interested in the topic. He tells a story of broken families, the importance of connections, and demonstrates how generational junk (sin) really is a thing.
I’ve seen this book floating around the internet for a while now, so I was excited to snag it when it was on sale for $1.99. Haines shares from his journal as he chooses sobriety and begins walking down that hard road. It is vulnerable and honest and points not toward a quick fix for our struggles, but toward a long, enduring journey that can lead us closer to Jesus.
This book! My mom recommended this one (researching trauma is her thing), and it was really fascinating. Reading it after Hillbilly Elegy made me hyper aware and curious about aspects of my own history and ancestory that I may not have fully processed or known before. It is not a Christian book, but the author quotes scripture because it turns out science confirms that sin is generational. (According to the Bible, blessing is too!)
This book explains anxiety and provides extremely practical examples of exactly what to do and say to your kids (and yourself) to help them (and you) work through it. I am just now realizing how anxious I was as a kid. I think this would be helpful for every parent, whether your child is dealing with debilitating anxiety or just everyday stress.
This writer’s guide was a fun, easy read. Lots of practical tips and reminders. I’m a big fan of Ted Kooser’s writing, and like most of his work, this was easily accessible and made me want to WRITE instead of making me feel overwhelmed or discouraged.
I’m always searching for Korean books that have been translated into English. This novel is about a family that’s searching for their elderly mother after she gets lost at the train station in Seoul. So much of Korean literature is extremely dark. This one was heavy, but it wasn’t dark. I really liked it.
I couldn’t sleep last night because I could picture the rooms where refugees and immigrants across the country were suddenly being detained.
I have spent time in holding rooms at various airports. I can picture the immigration officers pointing just beyond the immigration lines, “please go over to that room for further questioning,” they say, and we walk semi-defeated through the door.
The rooms are grungy and disorienting. It’s uncomfortable to sit in the pleather airport chairs after 20+ hours of international travel.
It is the opposite of welcoming.
We sit for hours sometimes, scanning the soda machine for bottled water and wondering how long it will be before we can feed our kids something more than leftover airplane food.
We sit among strangers, traveling from all different parts of the world.
In September we sat next to a terrified Nepali family visiting the US for the first time. I can still feel the panic behind the father’s eyes.
We also sat across from a young Iraqi couple and their hungry, inconsolable baby.
We watched as a fashionable Muslim mother shushed her jet lagged children and a group of Mexican men filed in immediately after their flight’s arrival.
My husband carries a current passport and a valid US visa. He travels with a history of entering and exiting the US lawfully.
Still he is called out and questioned every time he travels to the US.
The reason I share this is to express the seriousness of US immigration. The process to enter–even as a tourist–is not something that the government takes lightly. These officers are doing their best to ensure the safety of US citizens, and they don’t mess around.
Even as a US citizen I feel panicked and shamed in their presence.
Some people seem to think it is easy to enter the US, and this is simply not the case.
This is why I am so confused by the recent executive order. There are many disturbing elements, but banning Syrian refugees indefinitely is beyond my comprehension.
I cannot imagine being a refugee who survived unspeakable tragedy and the unimaginably thorough vetting process only to be coldly and dismissively sent back into danger.
It is not ok.
And as a Christian, it’s a slap in the face of God who calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We are called to love. Commanded not to fear.
Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me in.”
Watching current events in America unfold from the other side of the world is extremely surreal and deeply distressing right now. I want to be there. I want to do something more than pray. (But I know prayer is so important).
Lord, have mercy on us.
Glenn Packiam explains what I can’t find the words for right now:
Evan often cries if I leave the house without him. Sometimes he cries if I leave the room. The other day he cried in his dad’s arms for 45 minutes while I was at the library.
I asked him why he cried so much and he explained, “It felt like I was lost in the forest.”
Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, which pushed me along in my study of the history and current state of justice and racial equality in America. This year it hit me that he didn’t live so long ago. He would have been 88 this year.
My first memorable encounter with the life and works of MLK was in high school when I read Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor.
In his book, Yancey briefly introduces readers to the lives of 13 people who greatly influenced his own life and faith.
The entire book had a profound impact on me and launched me further into a deep passion for the poor and disenfranchised. It helped me process deep longings and expanded my limited view of an infinite God.
But this week when I reread the chapter on MLK, I was struck by an excerpt from a sermon he preached about an encounter with God that changed everything.
MLK recounts a night when he was particularly overwhelmed and discouraged by all the death threats he was receiving at the time. He was concerned for the safety of his young family, wondering if the risk of fighting injustice was worth it. He sat down at his kitchen table to talk to God about how he was feeling.
He was ready to give up, when deep in his soul he heard God encourage him to “stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.”
This experience in the quietness of his kitchen, over a cup of coffee, had a profound effect on him and those words continued to provide the courage he needed to press on for the rest of his life.
The message is not particularly profound or unique. There are many examples of God encouraging people with similar words. Yet it is something we forget all the time: There is work to do; I’m with you.
This theology stands directly opposed to a culture of self-preservation. It’s the word that speaks to our desire to stay home, stay hidden, stay silent. It’s the truth that comforts us when we are in new territory, doing dangerous things for the kingdom. It lights up the darkness in a forest of small things.
When it comes to standing up for what’s right, to serving the poor and speaking up for the voiceless and marginalized, we do not have a choice. We are with them because God is with us. This message transcends obsessive Bible memorization and pastoral charades. It busts right out of the church’s artificial walls.
When we know God’s voice and choose to trust him, we are able to do incredibly hard things. Dangerous things. Impossible things. Because we are not the center or the origin or the savior. We are the broken voices, the weak hands, we are the feeble knees that keep walking toward justice and righteousness because we trust God walks with us, and we hear Him continually reminding us: have courage. You’re not alone.
True and Evan spent a while playing “Samuel” yesterday, so over a fusion dinner of hot dogs and rice I asked them if they had ever heard God’s voice for real. True said she heard His voice during Sunday school one time, “‘you’re precious to Me,’ He said.”
And then Ev shared his encounter, so matter-of-fact, so sincere:
Even the tower cranes outside
dance during ballet.
We watch the construction site from the fourth floor of the cultural center
as giant yellow machines, towers of metal lace, pivot in deliberation.
They rise and swing their limbs high above the expanding edge of the city, where golden rice once grew.
Perhaps the way we see imposing structures says something about us.
Are they a nuisance impeding the skyline?
A bothersome strain to the eye,
pulling us nearsighted instead of up ahead to the mountains?
Or do they force us to see things not yet visible?
My two year old son sits captivated in the stroller, eyes moving left and right, up and down, as if he is connected to the heavy machinery.
Behind us, in the dance room, his sister balances on tippy toes,
holding tightly to the barre.
She giggles on one foot as she stands like a distracted flamingo,
floppy like the ripe rice bent over on its stalk, wobbling as it dangles heavy and helpless right before the harvest.
Can we dance to the rhythms of a pounding construction site,
the vibrating ping of metal on metal?
Or do we mourn the way the wind once swept through the rice field, swaying the stalks in unison like the eager legs of tiny ballerinas.
Tiny bubbles collect at the edge of my coffee mug. This morning I’m drinking from the white one with black polka dots, the one I brought back from America. A little piece of Target in my Korean kitchen.
True and Ev are sitting up against the sunny morning windows, their silhouettes rise and fall as they stand up and sit back down at their little table. Ev is reading a book, narrating the vehicles with great dramatic voices, “Then the hell-copter broke the law!”
Shortly after I sit down with my coffee, the baby squawks from his crib. I open the bedroom door to see his head bobbing outside his green winter blanket. He’s sitting on my lap now, reaching for my phone, smiling at his dad across the table.
True has convinced Evan to play “chores” now, which means she’s bossing him into cleaning her room. “Put the rings over there!” She commands.
Ev is singing “Korean” words which transitions into a song about zippers.
All night the boys alternated waking up. Fuss. Stop. Fuss. Stop. Fuss. Stop.
As predictable as hunger or the sun, my body lies down and gets up.
They always call for their mother.
There was a play kitchen fight just moments ago. An argument about refrigerator rights or yarn ramen noodles turned ugly fast. The heart-apron fastened around True’s neck hangs in irony. There is not a lot of love in their kitchen. Too many cooks, I guess.
They walk away from a mess of plastic food. Bananas, chicken, a clump of blueberries, wooden broccoli, felt black beans, plastic onions and cheese. One lonely, felt leak bursts out of a plastic stock pot. Plates are overturned with bowls and spoons strewn about.
Jase swims through the mess, the piles, the heaps of toys left to rot near the kitchen.
He is content to stir the pot with his feet, laying comfortably on a green plate.
Meanwhile True and Evan have moved to the real kitchen table. They are eating ground beef and rice at 10am. This is our solution to bad attitudes: it must be your blood sugar. Eat.
So much of our daily life resets in the kitchen. We sit and chat, we scoot across the floor.
Maybe it’s a metaphor for family life. The kitchen is our collective brain? Our stomach? Our soul?
If we’re not careful we launch into philosophical ponderings and worries about mere behavior. We step on something sharp and plastic, not nourishing at all.
Sometimes it’s more beneficial to gather around a cup of cold coffee or a bowl of tangerines. I’ll peel one for you, one for me.
We’ll sit here till we eat them all.