Conversation with my dad

My father is a man of few words. Because we live in different cities now, our interactions have been reduced to short, simple sentences flung back and forth through cyberspace.

“ How are you?”

“ Still kicking”

“ Anything new?”

“ Same old, same old.”

I remember getting early morning car rides with my father to the inner city train station. He was heading to work, and I to the university. The rides were blanketed in that familiar silence. Some days I would try to spice things up with a question.

“ When did Grandpa first come to Canada?”

“ I don’t remember.”

“ What was it like when you came to Canada?

“ It wasn’t easy.”

Over the years, I’ve managed to draw out more of my family’s story from my father. But his silence has worked its strength as a barrier against unpleasant memories and painful losses. Downstream, life continued with adult children leaving home, grandchildren, and retirement. Why open the dam when there’s still plenty of fishing on a calm, tranquil lake?

When I was younger I had interpreted my father’s lack of words as rejection. He rarely said anything harsh, but neither did he say anything encouraging. Surprisingly, I never acted out to gain his attention. I had two older brothers to watch over me. However, brothers are a poor substitute for a father. So too, as I later discovered, are boyfriends.

But my father, with all his limitations as a fallible human being, also carries kindness. When my pet budgie suddenly died, my young heart broke. Unable to bear the sobbing of his eight-year-old daughter, he immediately purchased another budgie without saying a single word. His kindness also looked like working long shifts to feed the family, fixing up an old tricycle for my first bike, and teaching me how to use power tools.

I may have longed for a different father. A father that looked more like an 80s sitcom dad: white, funny, and physically affectionate. Instead I was given a sullen, Chinese man who never knew how to fully express himself and who never seemed fully content except when holding a fishing rod in one hand and a freshly-caught trout in the other.  I may have used the Heavenly Father as an alternative for my earthly father…. but I am too much like my Baba to deny the resemblance.

When I had decided to go into ministry I told myself I didn’t need my father’s blessing. I braced for his anger. While I didn’t get the verbal acceptance I secretly wanted, he helped load my possessions into his van and a rented trailer. He and my mother drove it for several days to set up their daughter in a new city, a city where she would eventually stay to work for the Church that he has distrusted all his life.

I can now say I never needed another father. He was there and he never left. Though I may still desire his approval for the work that I do, I no longer fear losing his love. I fear losing against time. In the years that I’ve been away from home, my father goes fishing a little less and moves a little slower. I think of that time in the near future when there will be no more fish to catch and no water to float on. Will that dam finally crumble? Or will we sit in silence with all the things we wish we could say?

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

Advertisements

Getting Wisdom

Wisdom cries out in the street;
                        in the squares she raises her voice.
            At the busiest corner she cries out;
                        at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
            “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
            How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
                        and fools hate knowledge? 
                                                                 –Proverbs 1:20-22 (NRSV)

Ignorance is bliss, so they say. Watching the news while eating dinner can leave one feeling disgusted and nauseous. War, destruction, violence, hunger, fear… the list goes on. There are some things that I’d rather not know, some things that I’d rather not deal with.

Then there are things that we know that are pointless. Like why do some see blue and black and not white and gold? And which celebrity is dating who? Or what’s the latest video to go viral on YouTube? You know, thought-provoking stuff.

While discussing a sermon (ok, it was my sermon) on Proverbs 8, someone asked what our reaction would be to seeing a woman on the street, yelling to random people as they pass by, “How long, stupid, how long will you ignore wisdom?!” How many of us would hurriedly walk by or call the police? How many of us would actually pay attention?

It got me thinking, how would Woman Wisdom look to us today? A TED talk? A well-written article or a yoga retreat? Or would she look more like our mother or grandmother? Our sister or aunt? Our pastor or teacher? Our friend?

Because, if Wisdom was a person, I would have to take time to get to know her. I would have to speak to her and have a conversation. Maybe I would have her over for a meal or share a cup of tea. I would have to listen to her story and tell my own. Maybe we will struggle at times to understand each other, but if love prevails, there will eventually be peace.

In Proverbs, the young Israelite men are supposed to call Wisdom their sister-bride and sit at her door. They are to choose her over all other enticing, seductive women. That’s no easy choice, especially when immediate pleasure is available. Can I blame those men for ignoring her? Especially when I would cross over to the other side of the street just to avoid a confrontation with Wisdom. She’s just so… intense.

Wisdom is like that good friend who asks difficult questions that you would rather not answer. Or that preacher who points out something you’ve forgotten about God. Or that mother who reminds you what you have neglected to do. Wisdom speaks. But who will listen? Who will pay the cost to answer her call?

Ignorance is bliss, but it is our eventual downfall if we don’t heed Wisdom’s voice. I’m on a journey to get wisdom — God’s wisdom. Lord knows I need her, because I often think I don’t. Thankfully, she delights in us like a mother with her baby. May we also delight in her.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

In Praise of Women

For the life of me, I cannot stomach watching shows like The Real Housewives of Some North-American City.

I find them odious and glorifying the worst in human relationships. Jealousy, envy, pride, and gluttony all mashed together in artificially constructed female fraternity. Please pass the trashcan. Other shows do marginally better in depicting “real” women’s lives. But if I pay attention, I do not often find stories of strong female characters relating well to other strong female characters.

I am also hard-pressed to find examples of female friendships in the bible that is not somehow connected by a father, husband, or son. There is no story equivalent to David and Jonathon, Elijah and Elisha, or Job and friends (I didn’t say they had to be good friendships). The closest would be Naomi and Ruth, the mother and daughter-in-law caught in a tragic loss. Their story tells of a friendship forged out of hardship. Yet their healing and restoration came through the actions of a godly man, Boaz, whom Ruth marries. I can’t think of a biblical story of two women, independent of husband(s) or son(s), who are friends. Can you?

From an early age I had developed close female friends, a fortunate thing especially when I had no sisters. I think my mother intentionally had me spend time with other girls so I would not feel isolated. I have always sought female friends because I knew I needed them. There is a particular group of girlfriends who are like sisters to me because they have known me for so long. But I have lost several female friends along the way as well. Some moved away, some grew distant, and some simply rejected my friendship.

It is a curious dynamic when women do not get along with each other. Sometimes it is out of personality clashes and difference in values. Other times, in my observation, it is out of insecurity and an unconscious tendency to compete with one another, whether it is for male attention, for success in careers, or for success in motherhood. We judge each other’s clothing or method of housekeeping. We compare and find that we are either satisfied with our own level of competency, or become dissatisfied…. and the race continues.

Why this sense of competition? Why can we not mutually admire and praise each other? Why can we not celebrate the goodness and uniqueness of the other? And if we are rooted in the love of Christ, should we not help each other to succeed instead of striving for ourselves?

Women are capable of incredible friendships and I lament that the stories we share from the bible often depict women at odds with other women. However, this is not surprising given the patriarchal setting of the ancient world. What is remarkable is the eventual rise of monastic communities of women bound by a shared devotion to Christ. In these communities, women worked together, taught each other, and were educated. They were also freed from unwanted marriages and family constraints. I have no doubt that every community, religious or non, had its share of conflicts and problems, but it is not often that we pay attention to healthy kinship between women.

Perhaps then I should express my admiration of women more openly. Like the friend who has fought cancer and survived. Or the friend who manages a household under financial constraints and the stress of raising young children. Or the friend who overcame trauma and illness. Or the friend who was vulnerable and asked for prayer. Or the many friends who have shown sisterly love to me. Simply put, in every situation of life, I have been blessed by remarkable women because of who they are and their friendship to me.

Upon further reflection, there is the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Young, pregnant Mary goes to visit her much older, pregnant cousin Elizabeth. It is an occasion of joy, of shared delight of what God was doing in their lives (by bearing a son). There is no bickering or comparison, but affirmation between these two women. They were drawn together by common life-circumstances, and maybe that is enough.

But silent are the stories of women who share life together beyond the realm of marriage and motherhood; these need to be told and remembered because they are still a part of the larger Story. They are our stories. If God is in the business of forming a people for Himself, then our character and ethics matter. How we treat each other matters because it is only in relation to the other that we can be kind, loving, gracious, and forgiving. The real reality, the Kingdom of God, resides in relationships, not least of these between women.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

A Prayer For The Journey

This prayer continues to haunt me, after first encountering it many years ago. May it be so.

Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along The Way

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw

*This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.” The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.

from http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/archbishop_romero_prayer.cfm

Trayvon Martin’s Mom: ‘If They Refuse to Hear Us, We Will Make Them Feel Us’

TIME

Sybrina Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin and the founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation. In a letter to the family of Ferguson teen Michael Brown written exclusively for TIME, Fulton reflects on what the families now share.

To The Brown Family,

I wish I had a word of automatic comfort but I don’t. I wish I could say that it will be alright on a certain or specific day but I can’t. I wish that all of the pain that I have endured could possibly ease some of yours but it won’t. What I can do for you is what has been done for me: pray for you then share my continuing journey as you begin yours.

I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Of particular concern is…

View original post 655 more words

Another moon

Supermoon over VancityIt happened again.

A couple of good dates. Friendly laughter, trading stories, deep conversations, common values, rising hope.

Then…silence.

Failed attempts at connection, just to end with: oh, there wasn’t enough chemistry.

Say what?

Many moons ago, I started blogging because I was struggling to find a voice as a single Christian woman in her 20’s. Now I’m blogging because I’m a frustrated single Christian woman ever getting closer to her 40’s. And I know I’m not alone. There seems to be a dearth of single men (in their 30’s and 40’s) who are capable of being vulnerable and faithful. Those who are, were smart enough to find a good woman some time ago.

I’m frustrated because I can’t seem to figure out a good theology of dating. How is God working here? How do I pray? Is God wanting to reduce me to begging for crumbs from the table while watching others enjoy a plentiful feast? Are we just leftovers here?? At least pass some salt, or a drop of wine.

There’s a supermoon tonight, rising over the city and reflecting bright light on the ocean shore. A perfect warm summer evening at the beach for happy couples and fuzzy bunnies. On the other side of the world, war is being waged on women’s bodies and helpless children. Cities and villages bombed. Minorities being exterminated. My heart cannot handle the grief and my mind cannot comprehend the divergence of human experiences. It can all seem unbelievably absurd.

But life is gift. What we are given is not ours to own or dominate. Enjoy, yes. Celebrate, yes. Cherish, yes.

I can practice forgiveness and exercise faith. And I have the privilege of doing such things without the comfort of a companion. I hope these virtuous muscles are stronger than I realize because they’re going to have to sustain me for the journey ahead. I fear fatigue and apathy. Acedia awaits to catch me in his alluring arms, offering security in exchange for perilous love.

And so I wrestle into the night, and into the next, and the next. I say with the Church:

Jesus, how long? This doesn’t make sense. Have mercy on us, and bless those bunnies.