happy birthday, dennis

it was a really special, first mother’s day weekend for our young family. my mom’s mom got to play with baby for the first time, and i was able to give my own mom a baby picture book we made. i knew she’d appreciate it, but i didn’t expect her to be as thrilled as she was. can’t imagine her being more excited about another gift.

as i watched my mom’s  smile grow bigger and bigger with each page turned, i had in the back of my mind the reality that this mother’s day happened to also be dennis’s birthday. dennis would’ve turned 35 (i wonder what he would be doing right now if he were still alive). we celebrated his birthday by visiting the cemetery with a bunch of his close friends. he’s been gone for over six years now, but we’d never gathered together like that before. of course, kyrie was there, too, visiting his uncle dennis for the fist time.

i know that the enormity of my mom’s delight was not far at all from some feelings of despair. i’m reminded this weekend that true joy and unimaginable sorrow are often heartbreakingly pressed into one another.

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freedom

in my very first seminary class, i learned that true freedom is not what i think. it is not about personal agency. not about a capacity to choose. it’s not about having a lot of options. nothing about my ability to do whatever i want, whenever i please. freedom actually doesn’t have much to do with me at all.

true freedom is not freedom from, but freedom for. this is a far cry from the way most think about freedom, as an individual’s right to act in his or her own self-interest. this is not freedom though, because i am only ever free when i am free for another. freedom is about being bound to God and God’s creation.

this is interesting to me, because i entered seminary with a deeply wounded faith, operating under the assumption that it’s up to me to determine the meaning of my religious identity. still reeling from the trauma of watching my brother die, i needed to unlearn and then relearn what it is to be christian.

i imagined myself to be at a sort of crossroads. one path led to a life with God, the other a life apart. i acted as though my Christian identity required me to exercise my freedom and agency to choose the path toward God, which also meant going to church, praying, and engaging other sacramental practices.

but i quickly learned that there was nothing “free” about choosing a life apart from God. freedom could only ever mean my decision to live life with God.

and then i quickly learned that i was wrong here again.

as i reflect upon the last five 6 years, i can only conclude that my Christian identity  has nothing to do with my choice of anything, but God’s choice for me, God’s decision to be present with me. i could have elected to deny God, but to do so would have meant turning a blind eye toward all that God was doing in my life, all the ways God had been near. it would’ve been to ignore reality, which in the end, was not really a choice at all.

i know i am free for God, free for my family and friends, free for the students that i  continue to mentor. and i know that i am free precisely because of the restraint and those relationships impose upon me. i am free to be with God because God chose to be free for me, because God did not choose to be God without me. i’m coming to understand that true freedom is indeed a freedom for.

i live a charmed life

needless to say, i’ve done a poor job maintaining this blog. so much life has happened since i shared here that i would be leaving my job to attend seminary full time. 

all the changes i’ve experienced have led me to do a lot of reflecting. 

i have a wonderful marriage with a wonderful person. and now we have a beautiful, healthy baby that we get to take care of. can hardly believe that we started a family together.

i live near a lot of good friends. i get to see these people all the time.

i get to go to seminary and pursue stuff i’ve always been really passionate about.

as an asian male with endorsements in special ed and english, i know that i have a decent shot at getting a job anytime i need one.

my loved ones are (generally speaking) pretty healthy. nothing scary going on these days.

all-in-all, i’m taken aback by how happy i feel. i don’t want to present a too-rosey portrait of my life, but if i’m honest with myself, things are really good, and i feel blessed and fortunate. 

On Hospitality

Below is a transcript of my talk during week 2 of Faith & Race. I describe the logic and work of race in my own life, and look to hospitality as a way forward.

When I arrived at the UW campus for college, there were two things that I was certain of. First, I would be an active member of an on-campus ministry.  I grew up at Chinese Baptist Church on Beacon Hill, where I was formed and nurtured in our youth group to love serving in ministry. It was within the context of this ethnic-specific community that I first came to understand God’s love for all humanity.  Second, despite my appreciation for my Chinese church, the on-campus ministry that I would join would have to be multi-ethnic. I reasoned that the next step in my spiritual maturation would be to worship with people not like me.

At this point, it’s important to point out that I was already worshipping with people not like me. Even in “homogenous” Asian communities like CBC, there is messiness and diversity, with a wide range of experiences, beliefs and opinions. We’re not all alike. I was only marginally connected to the Chinese immigrant congregants at my church, and by leaving my home church in favor of a multi-ethnic community, I lost my family’s immigrant story. I moved away from the story of their courageous journey to America, a story to which I am inextricably bound, regardless of how embarrassing it might feel to be connected to broken English and funny accents. That’s my story; they are my parents. It is ironic that by moving away from a multi-ethnic fellowship, I actually moved from a bilingual faith community to an English-only faith community, away from a community of people that were really different from me, to a place already quite familiar. Continue reading

now i’ve really done did it

somehow, between my last post, and now, carrie and i made a couple really big decisions.

first, i’m quitting my job. i’ll write more about this very bittersweet decision later.

second, i’m going full-time to seminary in the fall. bhang was right about me after all. of course, i’ll reflect on this a bit more, too.

amazing how fast things can change.

cancer narratives

i used to hate cancer narratives. during dennis’s illness, i avoided them because they usually ended in someone’s death, and i needed all the positive thinking i could get. then in the months that followed his death, i just was not in a place where i was willing to revisit the whole ordeal. i needed distance. plus, the thought that countless others had been marked by an experience with cancer seemed to cheapen my own experience. it was traumatic; and i needed that trauma to stand alone. i feared it’d be trivialized by being dumped in an endless sea of other stories.

but now, they’re an indispensable part of my life.

every time i come across someone’s story, i find myself terribly comforted by how familiar everything is to me: the phone calls and voice messages; the late night emergency room runs; the sounds and smells; the absolutely devastating conversations with doctors (it was never just one doctor); the absolutely devastating conversations with friends and family about the conversations with doctors; the low lighting of the hospital room; the images seared into the folds of my memory; the post-chemotherapy hospital visits; the frozen yogurt and takeout dinners; and the quiet desperation that pervades every corner of life. as i listen, i go through my mental check box, and say yes.

earlier this week at my school’s senior retreat, each student delivered a short proposal for their senior project. one complete pain-in-the-butt student that i absolutely love shared for the first time that a lump was found on his mom’s chest a few years ago. he was scared. he has no other family — no father, no siblings, no one. this loud-mouthed, off-task-all-the-time kid fought back tears as he talked eloquently about how he wants to use his senior project to start a small support group for kids of parents currently fighting cancer.

i am struck by the terrible bond i now share with my student. i’m also moved by how much gospel i see in his senior project. his woundedness will by god’s grace become a source, i hope, of comfort for kids who could use it. i know he will become a better man for it.