He called this place home

It was without doubt a defining moment in our relationship. We were dating seriously by that point, but I was still unpacking all the fears that were surfacing about letting someone get so close to me. I didn’t expect to feel so vulnerable, or so terrified by my vulnerability. He really had no idea what he could do to my heart if he wanted to change his mind about everything.

So there we were at his house after spending the day together. He was on one sofa watching television, and I was on the other sofa, fast asleep.  And then I woke with a start after hearing a moderate-volume rumbling that seemed to originate from very, very close by. Dazed, I looked over at him and his lips were pressed together in a suppressed half-smile of amusement.

And then it dawned on me.

So I asked in some disbelief, “Did I…just… fart?”

He nodded, and broke into a grin.

And then we hi-fived.

And that was when I knew that I had a safe place in this relationship that my heart could call home.

*cue wedding music*

Ok, so love isn’t really that easy. But the story does illustrate how we open ourselves up to be discovered, for better or for worse, when we enter into close(r) relationships with one another. What adds to the complexity is the fact that it is not only another person discovering who we are, but we are discovering ourselves as well. I was already acutely aware of some of the less lovely parts in me that I preferred to keep hidden for as long as possible. But I didn’t realize there were so many more that would emerge once I began sharing life more intimately with another person. Where did these come from? And so there was my selfishness. My impatience. My dysfunction. My way of doing things (and my very strong preference for it). Laid out for us to see.  There wasn’t enough time for me to sweep out the cobwebs, tidy the clutter, put the dirty laundry away, or pull out the air freshener. And yet he still somehow called this place home, and said it could be my home too.

I am constantly humbled by this love. I am comforted by how it points me again and again to the home that my heart ultimately has in the unfailing, unchanging, eternal love of God.

When we first adopted our sweet dog JJ from our dear friends, the poor little guy was clearly traumatized. He hung his head low on that first unfamiliar car ride to our house despite our quiet attempts at reassuring him, his eyes forlorn, confused, and resigned. At first he refused to walk with us, ambivalent about our trustworthiness and unaccustomed to our role in his life. Some weeks passed, and we worked on the relationship. We got to know his quirks, and he got to know ours. His anxiety visibly lessened, and his affection slowly grew. He began to follow us from room to room, wanting more and more to simply be where we were. One afternoon we were out for a couple of hours, only to find that he had discovered a hole in the fence that was big enough for him to squeeze through. We had no idea how long it had been since he got out of the back yard. But there he was, sitting patiently at the front door, waiting for us to return.

He wasn’t going anywhere. We had taken him in, and he in turn had let us in.

He was home.

Life on the throne gets complicated

Every time I enter a public restroom, my eyes shoot to the same spot every time, without fail. I look for the number, size, and…well, freshness…of stains on the toilet seat. And then I answer the burning question, “Should I stay or should I go?” Go, as in, evacuate. I mean, go, as in, leave the room. Hmm. That was an awkward intro.

Anyhow, I’ve been in all kinds of, shall we say, unique toileting situations beyond just your classic port-a-potty at your local fair. I’ve been in remote villages in China where you enter a small bathroom stall and see little more than a deep pit available for the relieving of your needs. The pit is deep but not deep enough to not see movement. Oh yes. Movement.  (Externally. I mean… *sigh*  …never mind.) The shiny, subtle movement of hundreds of maggots, deep down in that not-deep-enough pit. And that’s when you just look up, whistle, and try to push your too-close-to-reality-imagination out of your head, and then bolt out of there before the tickling you feel on your legs becomes real.

Then there is the infamous squatty potty. What’s that, you ask? Oh you’re missing out! There is a humorous but rather educational blog post about the squatty potty, complete with bonus side tips about toileting in Asia. Suffice to say, I don’t think I ever really got the hang of this, but some international friends tell me that they find the squatty potty much easier to use and much more sanitary than Western toilets. Some, apparently, have found it so difficult to transition to the Western toilet that they would prefer to climb on top of a Western toilet, somehow manage to balance themselves precariously over the bowl, and take care of business, squatty-potty style. I only know this because I’ve seen footprints on the McDonald’s toilets in Taiwan. I can’t even imagine how that doesn’t eventually involve a very embarrassing call to 9-1-1.  I hope that McDonald’s is well-stocked with toilet seat covers, at the very least, for those with less-than-perfect aim…and all who follow afterwards. (I think squidoo’s advice about keeping your pants at your ankles probably gets thrown out the window here, but who knows… I’m no acrobat.)

And of course, the Japanese bidet. My first (surprise) encounter with this clever contraption was in a charming, traditional Japanese restaurant in Gardena, CA. You know, the type of restaurant that only has the menu handwritten in Japanese on the wall. I don’t know why I thought the instructions for flushing the bidet would be any different. For a relatively simple machine serving relatively simple purposes, there were a whole lot of buttons to choose from. I started to wonder if I was on one of those secret Japanese prank shows. I stood up, and after one tentative round of eeny-meeny-miny-mo, I pushed a button encircled in green and this happened. Oops. I bet that bathroom door needed cleaning anyhow. I left a generous tip that day.

All this to say, well, nothing, really. I intended this post to eventually be about how toilet etiquette is a funny reminder that we live in community, and the awkward quirks we encounter when we enter into shared spaces with one another.

But all those deep thoughts have apparently gone…  yes, I’ll say it.

Down the toilet.

How to accomodate dinner reservations for 940 people with only five chairs at the table

After I sat and briefly greeted the birthday girl, I checked in with my 661 friends and told them all what a lovely evening it was to celebrate a birthday at this fantastic Hollywood restaurant. Six friends told me how they too had eaten there and suggested some dishes. Two friends lamented about how they had to work that evening. One friend mentioned she liked my haircut, and another friend asked a side question about whether or not I got that email she sent me yesterday. Meanwhile, the birthday girl was eyeing the menu and said something about how she had been craving gnocchi lately. I looked away from my entourage for a few moments to discuss the menu options with the birthday girl, secretly slightly dismayed that so few of my 661 friends liked where I was for dinner that evening.

We ordered our food, and of course I had to take the obligatory photos of each dish to then show to my 661 friends. It wasn’t that they had asked for the pictures, but I figured some among them might want to know what I was eating that night. And see, some in fact did. There was one especially fancy dish that caught so much attention and food envy that quite a handful of people from my entourage kept interrupting my conversation with the birthday girl with their oohs and MMMMs. I knew someone would like the photos. I was loving their reactions. Oh. Oops. My food was starting to get cold.

After dinner, the miniature cake with the candle arrived for the birthday girl, and another gal who sat at one of the five chairs at the table snapped a picture of the birthday girl blowing out the candle. My 661 friends waited so patiently as the five of us sat and chatted. Meanwhile, the birthday girl turned to her other 274 friends, and showed them her birthday-candle-blowing picture. We had her open gifts and cards, clinking our glasses of wine to wish her a most wonderful upcoming year, but she suddenly seemed just a touch distracted, as if waiting for something to happen. But she smiled and we smiled and the night went on, and eventually we all pushed out our five chairs, hugged, and headed towards the door.

Suddenly the birthday girl blurted, “I can’t believe none of you four liked my birthday-cake-photo!” Bewildered, we reminded her that we were sitting next to her, celebrating with her at the time of the photo. She was grateful for that and all, but she really did wish that we had liked her photo.

As I walked to my car, it appeared that my 661 friends had gone on their way and had all quickly become quite busy with their own things. I suddenly felt a little bit lonely. I don’t know why I was so surprised that they all had so easily forgotten about my fun evening out over a lovely dinner. After all, they had been there too, hadn’t they?

When I got home, I looked again at my friend’s birthday-cake-blowing photo, and I did like it. It looked like it had really been a nice evening spent together with friends.

I’m turning into my mother

“I’m turning into my mother!” It’s funny how you can say that to most people and they immediately understand and relate to the undertones. Shock. Dismay. Resistance. The implications being that one’s parent, in this case, one’s mother, is essentially the antithesis of all I should and do seek to become as a person.  And the implication that I have, to some degree, resisted becoming like my parent on some subconscious level. I remember a friend in college commenting with some amusement, “When you’re young, your parents are just so uncool.” Everything your friends find endearingly quirky or fun about your parents, you roll your eyes at. O.M.G. They’re so embarrassing.

Parents can get such a bad rap, and sometimes it’s more legit than others. There’s a lot of talk in the world of psychology, and Christian psychology in particular, it seems, about the need for healing from “father wounds.” And I will be the first to say that this need for healing from ways in which we have been uniquely hurt by our relationship with our parents is very real and very valid in so many lives.

But as I spent a little time talking today with both my parents about some tough situations they have recently faced in their own lives, it dawned on me for probably the first real time that maybe, just maybe, I might have done some things that hurt them and discouraged them in their endeavors to raise a child as best as they knew how. Maybe I have been too fixated on my own finger-pointing to realize it.


If I could go back in time and tell 5 year-old me to do some things differently as I looked ahead, this is what I would say.

1.)  You really should’ve taken to that pacifier as a baby. Your mom sure could have used some extra sleep. Contrary to what you might think, she wasn’t exactly napping while you breastfed all day and all night.

2.)  Your baby-sitter might be super cool because she takes you out to miniature golf and lets you eat lots of ice cream, but she would never leave her home country, go through grad school in the heart of the Midwest with very limited English, and put you through college so that you could have a better life than she did.

3.)  Don’t mutter under your breath in the shower that you want to run away from home just because you threw a temper tantrum and didn’t get your way. You kind of broke your dad’s heart that evening.

4.)  Don’t cheat your way through Chinese school. That language is a bigger part of your life, identity, and family than you realize. At least you still like eating chicken feet and thousand year-old eggs.

5.)  Don’t quit playing violin. Your parents weren’t trying to torture you with your lessons. They honestly thought you were really good. (Well, after those first few cacophonous years.)

6.)  Don’t steal that $100 from your mom’s purse when you get to junior high so that you can go shopping and be cool. Your mom is going to live in distrust of her coworkers for years after that, and that’s not a fun work environment to go into every day.

7.)  If you’re not going to tell your mom where you are at fifteen years old, 11:48pm at night, at least do something to let her know you’re not in tomorrow morning’s news.

8.)  Your parents might not be perfect, and you’ll have to work out some of your issues and differences with them. But they won’t ever hit you, abandon you, or tell you that they regretted having you. I hope you know there are other kids who can’t say the same. I hope you grow in your thankfulness.

death by default

“And they have this word they like to use…. ‘transformative.’ That’s it… They say it’s been transformative. And then they leave.

…Oh, he said. ‘So people leave because they’re frightened of who they’re becoming if they stay.’”

– Reblogged from a post by Chris Heuertz

I’ve walked through some of the slums in Tijuana, Mexico as a young high school student. Clearing some brush near a church where we were helping to build a wall, I saw one of the locals pull a dirty pillow out from under a pile of leaves and lay himself down with a tired but content sigh. Appalled, I saw germs. Relieved, he saw rest. I had the opportunity to work with the Red Cross in the Dominican Republic among hurricane-affected communities during my public health years. We visited the border between the DR and Haiti one morning, and the shantytowns that still stood were a good sign compared to some of the vacant hillsides where former communities had been emptied into the river by the hurricanes. I spent a few weeks in Thailand with ZOE Children’s Homes and was overwhelmed by the joy, life and generosity of these precious children who had once been at high-risk of being sold into human trafficking, but were now thriving in a safe, loving environment.

Transformative seems like a good word to describe these experiences. And then I read this post by Chris Heuertz, International Executive Director of Word Made Flesh, and my heart is unsettled because I have to wonder just how transformed I really was or am.  I am unsettled – for the good – by the testimony of friends who have had the courage to uproot their lives in order to live out their convictions about genuinely loving those who are less well-off. Unsettled by conversations with Chia about how we still live out of a certain place of prescribed American comfort despite all that we verbally espouse about wanting to live closer to the oppressed than the oppressor. Unsettled by Bonnie’s eyes when she describes her work among the disabled population in Mali, looks at me and asks the burning question, “What are we doing here as Christians in America?”

I find that I still fundamentally operate out of a certain mode of default that defines my assumptions about how life is and how it ought to be for me (with emphasis on the “for me”…that is probably a hint to the root problem); a certain mode of default that subtly shapes my everyday choices.

Because let’s see. On most days, my first thoughts in the morning still veer towards something like this: I want to look cute and wear a pretty necklace to go with a cute outfit to go with cute shoes. If we expect guests this week, I want people to come over and admire my lovely home with everything just-so. White tea and ginger soap from Bath and Body Works in the bathroom, classy décor, a television that displays sports and movies in the highest definition possible. Wow, this is nice, thank you for having us over. If I have dinner plans this week, what fancy restaurant should I find on Yelp? How is their food, and will it be worth the $50 I pay for it? Yes, as long as they serve me well, refill my water glass and make the plate really, really pretty. Never mind that it’s just a few small bites… it’s so pretty. What slum in Tijuana? What vacant hillside in the Dominican Republic? What orphan in Thailand? I’ve got too much on the surface to think about already. No room to go deeper. This is my everyday default.

I suspect that the problem is not so much my wanting of these things, as it is my deeper sense of these things as the norm of life and my entitlement to them.  I have to wonder, whose voices tell me these things are the norm, and what makes those voices right?  After all, the voices typically come from other people in a similar socioeconomic stratum as me. I used to love watching the TLC show “What Not to Wear.” Makeovers are fun and I do think there is something powerful about people discovering how beautiful they really are. But something just doesn’t feel right about a society that casually flips channels between the Nightly News featuring stories about the drought in Somalia, and reality TV shows that hand out $5,000 left and right to improve a person’s fashion sense, without batting an eyelash. Please understand…I don’t write this to shame my middle-class friends who are making a godly impact in their sphere of influence and raising godly children here in America. But I just have to ask the questions…because I certainly don’t hear the orphan in Thailand telling me that this is the default by which everyone should or is even able to live by. ZOE’s tagline in reference to those at risk for being sold into human trafficking is “Fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.” If we don’t fight for them, who will? Has God not called us to more than just living by default…which I propose, is death by default.

The dictionary tells me that one context for the word “default” is when things occur (or rather, don’t occur) through the

 lack of positive action rather than conscious choice.

This post is hard to write because it puts the issues on the table and begs the question, “So…what are you going to do about it?” The issues are complex and controversial, moral, political, emotional, spiritual. I have no easy answers. There are none. This post can be endless. But before we even start looking for answers, I think we need to break out of our default. Revisit and have the courage to sit with the hard questions.

What is our default that we have gotten so comfortable with that we give it no conscious choice?

We need a paradigm shift, and we need it to be transformative.


For those who are interested, here are a couple of books that have shaped some of these thoughts. Time to re-read these again.

The Good News About Injustice” by Gary Haughen

Gary Haughen, who once worked as the Officer in Charge of the UN investigation into the Rwandan genocides, reminds us that we, as God’s hands and feet here on earth, are the good news about injustice. Just as God sent His Son to actively come against all that is wrong in the world, so Christ sends us to continue living out His missional love. Haughen also reminds us that “evil prevails when good men do nothing.”

An Arrow Pointing to Heaven“: biography of Rich Mullins by James Bryan Smith

Rich Mullins was a successful, well-known Christian musician who gave himself a salary, living on just what he needed. He asked his manager to allocate the rest to various organizations that served the less fortunate in the world. He never knew how much he really made. His was an intentional life.

when romance becomes reality

He married a very pretty girl. No one was surprised that he fell so hard for her. I mean, she was without fail the one that guys would see in a group photo of many good-looking folks, point out and ask in an overcurious tone, “Who’s that?” He beamed on his wedding day; he didn’t think she could look any more beautiful, but his bride was beyond stunning. Many men envied him: he gets to wake up every day with her. Many women envied her: she probably wakes up every day looking effortlessly perfect.

A few months after the wedding, I overheard him say, “Oh… after you get married, all the makeup comes off.

The thrill of romance is, I believe, still a God-given gift despite its ability to blind us a bit (or a lot). From it springs forth great dreams, exhilarating hopes, longings for an ideal way of being. It is good and important and thrilling to dream and hope and long for a redeemed world. It keeps us from settling for just-ok, just-the-way-things-are. Hence the wise advice I received during my engagement period to not just love my husband for the long run, but to remain enduringly in love.

But sustaining romance is not easy in marriage, nor is it easy in other aspects of life. A couple months after I started my new career as a nurse in my dream job, someone asked me if the honeymoon period was over yet. I had to admit, the cleaning of some unbelievable bedpans, and the futile attempts over many hours to soothe an unsootheable child, was quenching a bit of the zeal I initially felt about working in a challenging pediatric intensive care unit. After you get married, all the makeup comes off.

My friend whom we affectionately call Chia once shared this quote: “I want to live a life that is closer to the oppressed than to the oppressor.” Entire books can and surely have been written based on the principle behind this quote. Suffice for now to say that I have dreamt a lot about what the living-out of this quote could look like in my life. I long for this kind of life. But if I’m honest, I long for it in a romantic kind of way and I still fear, and resist, what it might mean for me in reality.

These dear friends have decided to enter into the tension between romance and reality, with a deep burden to know and care for those living in the inner city. To move from what feels like a safe(r) distance of love, into the inner city itself, to risk being close. Closer. Uncomfortably closer still. They have big dreams, and they are not so naïve to think that they are not still in that romantic phase.

But I am hopeful and full of faith for them, and I am inspired to keep dreaming for their life and my own. Because I am convinced that the transition from romance into reality is not just a one-way street, with no looking back. I am hopeful that there exists, rather, an ebb and flow where romance helps to fuel a vision for reality, and reality helps to remove some of those more naïve blinders of romance, thus refining our core and bringing forth an even deeper vision. True, after you get married, all the makeup comes off. But from that, something even more beautiful than we can ask or imagine emerges, and we learn what it is to truly love and stay in love.

what was once my ordinary, everyday life

I stood in my living room and stared for a long time at what was once my everyday, ordinary life. It was as if it was the first time in my fourteen years of living that I had ever really noticed my television, sofa, the very roof over my head.  Traveling away from my middle-class, suburban American life had turned my world upside down with the revelation that not everyone in the world lived the same way I did. I could still hear the cry of the infant I saw sitting alone on the dusty road in that poor village. I picked him up and he pointed to a shack up the hill, a shack no more than 7 feet long, and 7 feet wide. I did a poor job, I am sure, hiding my shock when I pulled the curtain to the shack’s entrance to be greeted by six dusty faces. Where was the television, the sofa, the roof? I slept on the ground beside my bed for weeks after that trip out of some inner compulsion to try and remember that not everyone in the world shares my same ordinary, everyday life.

Why I should be so surprised by the little and big lessons learned from traveling, I’m not completely sure, but I am. Maybe because of the way it shakes me out of the illusion that the rest of the world is at once all that similar, or all that different, from mine.

For example, I learned that not everyone in the world dances to Beyonce.

I learned that what may appear charming and endearing to one person could just be a long, hard day for another.

I learned that there is no time and no place where people are not searching for solace and hope.

I learned that it doesn’t always take magnificent architecture to find moments that take your breath away.

I learned that somewhere, on many unmarked street corners throughout the world, there are nameless people with haunting voices who have something to say.

I learned that I can be in the most fascinating part of the world, and yet those simple, familiar things still have the power to draw me in like nothing else.

And finally I learned that what is someone else’s ordinary, everyday life can be like a dream to the one who is beholding it for the very first time.

tonight, God hears | laugh, run free

My heart hurts for you tonight.

Your face is what I would expect of a child your age, angelic and flawless, but your story is not, and I struggle to reconcile what I see, and what I know of you.


You asked the name of the patient across from you, and shame on me for asking why so suspiciously. You only wanted to pray for this other child by name. You humbled me. I said God hears you, God knows.


Your tears caught me by surprise. Your walls with me came down so fast that I hardly knew what to do with what you let me see on the inside of you.  I feel the temptation to build my walls, if you won’t. But my heart hurts for you.

You are so broken, but you are so beautiful.

I want you to get through tomorrow, and heal. And I want you to get through the rest of your life, and heal. And laugh. And run free.

I had to go home, my shift was done. The alarm in your eyes when I said good-bye caught me off-guard. I’ll be back tomorrow, please get some rest tonight. But after tomorrow, I will probably never know what became of your life. But I will pray for you by name, and God hears us, and God knows.