Faith, Obedience, and Wonder

Something I’ve always struggled with is always being shocked when God actually comes through with an answer to prayer. Like, doesn’t praying in faith and obedience mean that I expect God will answer, even if it’s answer I don’t want or don’t expect? Why would I be shocked when God does what He says He’ll do?

Last night, though, it occurred to me that I’m probably being a little bit harsh on something that’s actually really amazing. God tells us to approach Him like little children do their fathers, child-like in our faith. I think we have a tendency to focus only on one side of that. Being like a child in our prayers means more than just approaching our Father boldly with our needs and desires, knowing that He has given us the standing to approach Him with everything, no matter how great or how small.

Think about really innocent little kids, the ones who you think most closely mirror the kind of faith and relationship Jesus is talking about. There’s two parts to this story. If a little kid goes and asks her father to go to Disney World, and her father actually takes her, do you think the awe and amazement she feels when they go actually insults her father? Do you think the father goes, “Well, since you’re not totally taking it in stride that we’re at Disney World, you must have thought I wouldn’t make good on my word”?

I don’t think so! God has given us this incredible set of attributes to be both His image-bearers and beings who can receive His love: He gives us this capacity, through His power, for the faith to move mountains and the standing to ask for it, and yet still allows us to be totally awed and blown away when the mountains actually throw themselves into the sea.

I don’t think it’s because we’re short-sighted or lacking in faith (though we certainly can be both). I think God in His wisdom allows us the capacity for faith and awe at the same time. What better way to worship the God who is both perfectly faithful and able to do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine? I don’t think God is annoyed when He amazes us–I think He’s overjoyed.

We used to sing this song at VBS when I was little called “Our God is an Awesome God.” I don’t think at that age I had any idea what “awesome” actually meant. But now, I am incredibly grateful that our God is, in fact, awesome in every sense of the word. So let’s approach our God boldly to ask for the desires of our hearts, but let’s also be grateful that He comes through every time, and that, every time, He still inspires awe.

A Lenten Song, pt. 1: Dusk

Washington Monument at sunsetIf you want to see something beautiful
On the first warm day of spring
Put on a good pair of walking shoes
(Even if you can’t find the right socks)
And turn on some joyful music
As you walk out the door and toward the Capitol

The sun is warm on your skin
(Because your skin can finally see the sun)
And for the first time in what seems like forever
The sky is blue and the city comes alive

Between the music
“Shine Your light” and
the people whose eyes are shining
“let the whole world see”
Joy is infectious in this place
And you don’t care that you’re the crazy girl laughing at everything staring into the sun
And seeing all the kids dressed in the colors of a world finally escaping from winter
Unable to stop themselves from running
Across the green earth and around the budding trees
Waiting for something
But they don’t know what
As the dusky sunlight songs float down the mall
And the people from everywhere breathe life bubbling up from the ground
And sense the something about to burst up into the world
Then the sun makes its dive and the cool wind sweeps your breath away
As night slides through the crowd and silences the people
But they dream of flowers breaking through the stones and the color that seeps back into the sky

And the ground vibrates
With the coming dawn

Lent, Week Two

Another week has come and gone, and things have gotten a little easier. Though this week I did have a day where I went over my screen time (which I rationalized like crazy to myself). That has turned out to be harder than the food part, though that has also been really good for me. But I do find myself glued to the computer during most of my downtime, especially because I’m not in Pittsburgh where I built up a big community. So toning down my computer time is forcing me to do things like read! And write letters! It also makes me less susceptible to doing things like getting sucked into internet games for hours, which really isn’t good for anybody.

The weather is finally starting to get nicer (though it is supposed to snow later this week), which will hopefully make it easier to get out of the house and back into the world, which is part of why I wanted to try to limit my computer time in the first place. I also just want to be more active and take better care of the body (and resources) that God has given me, which is also related to the fact that I just agreed to run a half-marathon in June with my mom! So I’ve got to get running.

It’s important to not get caught up in the details of everything, though, and to remember that ultimately, Lent is there to get us closer to God and help us prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Some of that has to do with confronting our own weakness, which I definitely did this week when I got sick for the fourth time this semester. It’s frustrating because it meant I couldn’t fast yesterday, and I’m having to put off starting to run, which is upsetting. I’m riding the line between knowing that His strength is made perfect in our weakness and also knowing that sickness tends to sabotage me from consistently exercising. Like, every time I start trying to take better care of myself that way, I immediately get sick. So I’d appreciate some prayers for health and resilience in not giving up when things get hard. It’s looking like starting to run is going to end up being part of Lent too, because Lent is also about discipline, and there are two areas in my life that I have the hardest time with that: my prayer life, and keeping myself physically healthy. Hopefully I can use this time remind me to run the race is such a way as to win the prize–in more ways than one.

So that’s my status update! Any tales of victory out there, or else moments of Christ’s strength in your weakness? I’d love to hear any of them. And if anybody needs prayer or encouragement on their own Lent (or other) journey, I’m all ears!

13.1?

I think I just let my mom talk me into running a half-marathon with her…

It’s called the Slacker Half-Marathon because it’s all down hill. It starts in Loveland around 10,000 feet and comes down to about 8,500 feet in Georgetown. My mom has run it in the past and had a ton of fun, and I suppose I was waiting for another dragon to slay anyway…

Anyway, I’m trying to psych myself up. You know, looking at endless pinterest boards with motivational quotes and clever graphics using “13.1.” I found a training plan and I made an excel calendar with every day meticulously marked. I changed my desktop background to a motivational Disney quote. I joined a website that gamifies overcoming large obstacles.

So this is my battle cry. That is, this is my proclamation in public to attempt to keep myself from chickening out. Supposedly if you tell other people your goals, you’re less likely to wimp out on them. I guess I’m running a half-marathon? *ahem* I mean, I guess I’m running a half-marathon!

This is seriously unlike anything I’ve attempted before. I’m really good at launching myself toward big scary goals–except when they involved working out. So this is something new for me.

And hey, if I can run a half-marathon at 10,000 feet, then the Pittsburgh Half at 1,300 next spring should be no problem! Anyone care to join me?

Ban “busy”

I was reading an article in Relevant Magazine the other day about how our default response to the question, “How are you?” has changed. For a long time, the accepted default answer, the one we gave without any thought, was “good” or “fine.” But now, in a culture of constant motion, change, and achievement, that answer has become “busy.”

This wasn’t the first article I’d read that pointed this out, and it probably won’t be the last. But the theme of this semester has been rebalancing my life, so it got me thinking. I’m super guilty of this. Not only am I in the generation that has embraced this whole-heartedly, but I also go to a university that is steeped in this.

We’re not just busy; we’re proud of how busy we are. We brag about it. We compete. We want to know who got the least sleep or is doing the most things.

In addition to the obvious work-life balance issues at play here, it’s also a non-answer to a question.

A personal pet peeve of mine (which I’m aware is very silly) is when people say “How are you?” when they mean “Hey!” Like when you see someone in passing and they throw out a “How are you?” and keep walking. I always start to answer before I realize they can no longer hear me.

But it’s like we do this all the time, because we’re not really answering the question. If you ask me how I am and I just say that I’m busy, that’s a cop-out. If we see each other and that’s my response, smack me.

We’re all busy. It’s a given. There’s school and work and friends and family and relationships and homework and money and everything else. But maybe we should take a step back and try to appreciate the space we can make in our lives and  not to measure our worth by the time we spend running around in circles.

I want to challenge you: for the next week, whenever someone asks you how you are, try to say something other than “busy.” And take a serious look at the things you’ve chosen to include in your life. If you’re busy, maybe it’s time to cut something less important out. Or maybe, when you take it all into consideration, you’re not as busy as you thought you were.

Habit RPG: Your New Best Friend

Okay, it’s official. I’ve found the most fun productivity program ever. It’s called “HabitRPG,” and if you’re obsessed with gamifying things  like me, it’s pretty awesome. It’s like a to-do app, but the functionality is a lot wider. You can add habits, which are things you want to encourage or discourage yourself doing; dailies, which are thing you want to complete on a regular basis (daily, weekly, etc); and to-dos, exactly as they sound.

The program is, as its name suggests, RPG, and completing these things gives you health and XP. As you go, you can level up, find pets, raise them into steeds, buy armor and weapons, pick a class, etc. It’s super addicting, and for me it’s been a really good way to stay on track with habits, particularly ones that don’t take that much time but that I don’t think to do.

Anyway, it’s super fun, especially if you’re nerdy. Check it out!

Lent 2014: Week One

Guys–Lent is hard. Lots of #fail this week.

You may remember that I gave up junk food. This is something that has, so far, been a lot harder for me than it should be (which makes me feel like I gave up the right thing). I’m taking Sundays off, as is traditional, but I’ve also found a remarkable spread of excuses available on non-Sundays as well. I’ve always had a pretty low amount of discipline when it comes to food, but it’s hard to actually confront that for a month and a half. So that’s not going particularly well, but pressing on.

I also decided to limit myself to three hours of computer/tablet time per day (though I don’t count when I’m in the office). This has been tough, but it’s been fabulous. It’s the hardest on days where I actually have free time, because I am the master at getting on the internet and then realizing that the day has somehow disappeared. But it’s been really beneficial. I still procrastinate, but I have to procrastinate in a more productive way. It also has meant that I’ve read more and taken back up the habit of writing in a moleskine (predictable, but still probably my favorite notebook brand–mostly to-do lists, but still. I’ve managed to stick to this limit pretty well. Gotten down to the wire a few times when working on schoolwork and such, but it’s been a good boundary.

I also decided that I wanted to write letters this Lent, which I didn’t mention in my first post. I made a list of (almost) 40 people to write to, and I’ve written exactly zero letters. Part of this, ridiculously enough, was that I didn’t have any full-page notebook paper. Now I do, and no excuses this week to not write at least a few.

Screwing up a fast can be a huge stumbling block by itself–it’s really easy to fall in the thought process of, well, now it’s ruined. No point in continuing forward. It’s a false dichotomy, though: perfection or failure. Part of the whole point of Lent is that we’re not perfect, and we’re preparing our hearts for the death and resurrection of Perfection. Maybe staring our own imperfection in the face is’t such a bad thing.

Flashback: A Messy Christmas Eve

I wrote a blog about Christmas Eve that I managed to never post, so here it is!

Over the last few weeks, my church has been doing an advent series called “God in the mess.” Tonight, we had our Christmas Eve service in a stable, packed with rows of hay bales, Christmas lights, a sound system, and more people than would probably be sanctioned by the fire department. Probably about three quarters of the people there don’t regularly attend our church. 

I sat on the end of the bale of hay that sat a few members of my extended family, mostly my younger cousins. My aunt looked at me like I was crazy. “Who put you on baby duty?”

I laughed. “I just kind of sat here.” The kids all got costumes for the nativity story. My older cousin (10) had a puppy hat, the younger girl had bunny ears, and the boy had a full lion costume, a vest and attached furry hood. These younger cousins, the twins, have one volume setting: loud. Lishy wanted dinner, Bubba was growling and wanted everybody to know he was a lion.

A lot of the families were trying to get their little kids to sit still and stay quiet, but we didn’t come to a stable for a quiet service, or a polished service, or a pretty service. Like our sermon series, we came for a service that was messy–real. 

A real, messy service was exactly what we got. Barking dogs, screaming kids, beautiful carols, a couple of power outages, some nippy air, and a reminder that Christmas, really, is all about mess. God became an infant and allowed himself to be born in a stable, laid as a newborn in a feed trough. Nothing about that night, other than God Himself, was perfect. But it was real.

And singing O Holy Night smelling of horse manure with a little boy in a lion costume crawling all over me (who had a bit of his own manure) is just about as Christmassy as it gets. It was beautiful and gritty and real. 

Lent 2014: Finding space

Recently, I’ve been kind of obsessed with reading minimalism blogs. It’s a very cool online community, and the posts have some wonderful ideas about things to do to create more space in your life for the things that matter to you. Prioritization is something that I really struggle with, so I like the idea of creating more space in life for things that are really important.

For both me and my family, Lent is usually an important season. No, we’re not Catholic, but it’s a good way for us to reconnect with God and pay closer attention to the things that we allow into our lives. I’m in what feels like a very transitional place right now–I’ve been spending the semester in DC, and I’ll be returning to Pittsburgh around Easter and then returning home–so I think this Lent is a good time for me to pay very close attention to how I’m spending my time and resources. Here are the things that will help me do that.

What I eat
I will give up junk food for Lent, because I’m spending way too much money on crap and I’m not taking care of my body.
For the same reasons, I’ll drink only water, tea, coffee, or milk (in addition to what is at my house that I’ve already bought, just to minimize waste).
I will fast at least two meals on Fridays and use that time to pray.

What I buy
I will not buy something unless I’m replacing something that I’ve used up or worn out, or have another legitimate need for.

What I do
I will limit myself to three hours of screen time a day (not including being in the office) so that I can get off the internet and back into the real world. This is also an effort to limit procrastination.

It’s a lot to bite off, but I really want to make some space in my life. A while back, I did some reflecting and recognized that these are the five things that matter to me: God, people, my health, education, and professional development. The last two tend to get a lot of attention, but I don’t spend nearly as much time and resources on the first three as I want to and need to.

I want to find the space this Lent to obey God, serve others, and take care of myself. I don’t usually broadcast the things I do for Lent, but I’m taking enough on that I really want some accountability. I’m going to make a concentrated effort to blog more than once a week–if I have to bend my screen time rule for that, I will–but I sometimes have trouble with that consistency.

So, if you read this far and you feel comfortable doing it, call me out if you haven’t heard from me on this blog in a while. Ask how I’m doing. And hey, if you’re doing a tough fast and want some accountability, let me in on it. We’re all in it together, and a supportive community can do a lot to help you stay on track–and remember why you’re doing it.

A Review of “Yellow Face” at Theater J

I had no idea what to expect with Yellow Face–all I knew was that it was about the experience of being Asian-American, and what that really entails. I was not expecting it to be so funny, and, frankly, I wasn’t expecting it to be so honest.

Yellow Face is still in previews, and it was a little rough around the edges, but I was amazed with the way the actors left everything they had on the stage. Despite the initially rocky start, it was obvious that the entire cast committed themselves fully to the difficult racial and cultural issues the shows deal with, and managed to do so with humor and obvious honesty, even where that honesty was uncomfortable and less than flattering.

Though I was very impressed with all of the performers, the standout for me was Al Twanmo as Henry Hwang, David Hwang’s father. I heard this echoed by other audience members after the performance, as well. His heartfelt and sincere performance took the play to the next level, from merely political to intensely personal. He was utterly believable and possibly the most sympathetic character in the show; he was imperfect in how he approached things, which made him human, but he still radiated goodness and honesty in a way no other character on the stage did. Twanmo’s performance was, I believe, much of the reason that the audience left the show thinking not only of racial politics, but of the identity of their own family, and what those bonds truly mean.

The usage of the ensemble in this play was also outstanding—the use of quotes from papers and celebrities, as well as the constant switching of identity, had the effect of causing even more confusion about the labels and categorizations being used onstage to distinguish the characters from one another, or even to bring them together. Race, gender, persona, and background and changed at a rapid-fire pace, bringing even more labels into question than just that of “Asian,” or “Asian-American,” as the main plot does.

One thing that surprised me about the play was the breaking of the fourth wall at the end, which is honestly a tactic I usually despise in stage plays. I don’t like being pulled out of the action in order for the playwright to tell me what I ought to think or how I ought to feel about something. But in this particular context, I actually thought it added value. Instead of coming off as preachy or disingenuous, it added to the raw honesty that carries the entire play. Without such a delicate hand writing the dialogue, it easily could have ruined the sincerity of the show, but instead, it allows for yet another level of soul-baring by David Henry Hwang (both the character and the playwright).

I came away from the show impressed by the playwright’s courage in writing a show that showed him at his best, and at his worst. Most of the way through the show, I didn’t actually realize that the main character was the playwright. I think one reason that didn’t occur to me was because throughout a good part of the show, the protagonist isn’t very sympathetic. In refusing to answer Marcus’s calls and generally misusing the people around him, David is coarse and frustrating, or at least was for me as an audience member. As the character himself says, all writing is to some extent autobiographical, but to use your real name and be willing to show the worst side of yourself to an audience is a level of courage that, especially as an aspiring novelist, both floors and inspires me.

Yellow Face isn’t a perfect show. The lines weren’t all delivered flawlessly and the kinks haven’t all been worked out. But, as Marcus says near the end of the show, “Nothing with real value, nothing human, is ever pure.” Yellow Face isn’t pure, but it is brutally, truthfully, warmly, hilariously human.