Fireworks

We met you when we first came to this church. My father had just gone, and we were baffled by all the equipment, tools, and machinery we had. A chance question at a picnic led us to you, the man who fixed helicopters.

You were an odd couple. At first sight, one would never guess that you were a couple simply due to the different physiques. But there you were: a rotund man with a long, skinny wife. Like a ball and a pole.

You helped us with our lawn mower. You helped with our car. We watched you move into your new house. We watched you move the furniture in. We shared dinners, cultures. You were surprised that we ate pig feet and pig innards. You learned to listen to my mom’s broken English, her honest and straightforward answers.

Indeed, you were one of our first family friends that didn’t speak an ounce of Chinese.

You hosted parties at your place. We watched you barbecue Brits (though they came out burnt at first). We watched you cook your best baked potatoes. We saw the pictures you took of birds.

We watched your wife leave you for another man. Even I had wondered if it were true because you both seemed to be so…stable? But man’s heart is darker than it appears. I watched a large man crying into my mom’s shoulders, unable to hold his own weight. I watched you eat little, drink little. Of course, it was hard. I watched you ponder on your own past, how you left your first wife. I watched you wonder why. Cry. Get angry. But above all, it was the hurt that someone you loved dearly could walk away just like that.

It was the hurt of watching your wife leave all her current friends, her church, you, all for another man.

I watched you get sick. Lose weight. Go into the hospital. Come out of the hospital. Go into the hospital again. Come out again. I watched your house slowly being emptied. Slowly being filled. I watched a temporary roommate come in. I watched you come out of the hospital each time with a story of the Lord’s neverending mercy. I watched how you told me how he appeared to you that night in the form of a nurse and how your eyes lighted up and your heart lightened up. I watched you fight those feelings of anger and hurt. I watched how you overcame them. A roller coaster everyday.

And I watched you dying. I watched you go into the hospital one last time.

You had given up, haven’t you? Or maybe there was nothing in this world for you to hold anymore. Or maybe you wanted to surrender your wife to the Lord. Eliminate one sin from her life.

I watched you hold out. Did you want to see her? Did you want to tell her that you forgave her? Because beyond the veil of anger and hurt and vengeance, there was the heart of Christ who sought his adulterous wife. The heart that wanted to take her back. I hope that she knew that she was forgiven. I desperately pray for that.

Others saw you as foolish. But I saw you with loving kindness.

 

We come and go as quickly as fireworks. And in the wake of fire in the sky, you breathed your last. Every burst, an echo of your heartbeat. And when all the rumbling and colors were gone, so were you.

“I’m going home.” Those were your last words to me. Yes, Greg, you are going home to our beloved Jesus. You are finally free.

But I will miss you here. In the church, I will note the empty chair that you sat in. I will note the house you used to live in. The car you used to drive. The spaces that you should be in.

And if the Lord keeps me faithful, I will see you soon. I will see you soon.

Two Masters

Proverbs 30 records a telling verse.

Give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you and say “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

I remember my mother first telling it to me when I was young.

Money is the root of all evil. I have heard Christians misconstrue Jesus’ words and thus avoid money like the plague. And yet I have seen the opposite be true where money does become the master.

It’s a sneaky master, for sure. You think you don’t need it, yet the world runs on it. You think you don’t need it, but you secretly look at those who earn 6-figures and envy them. You think you don’t need it, but when you see the monthly bills come in and your account going into the red, you begin to think, If only I had money… You think you don’t need it, yet when you feel the candle burning at both ends, and your children are hungry every night, and your back and legs ache from the three jobs you have, and your child really wants that new bike but you can’t even spare a little, and you’re sick but you have to get to work and drive those 2.5 hours or take that 1 hour commute because a day in the ER would cost you a month’s wages —

If only I had money.

Like the Christians who say, “Have a little faith. God will take care of you.” Yes, of course, he will, when he has given you a retirement home, a 401K, children who are well off, a plethora of grandchildren. It’s easy to say when you go fishing every weekend, head off to the movies once a month, get to enjoy some golf, some tea time with friends, leisurely laugh your head at the days to come because you’ve achieved your American dream.

Some people work all their lives and come to nothing. Some people never have to work and they have everything.

I’m sure rich people have their own worries. I am sure they have struggles we do not know of. It is not good to compare sufferings. Each person’s experience is real to them. It would be a horrible way to comfort someone by saying they have it so much better than these other people…

But in those moments of barely scraping by, you begin to think, Maybe money is more important than God. Maybe God helps those who help themselves. Maybe God doesn’t really care.

And one day, those lies become more than thoughts. They become beliefs, actions, lifestyle, character. And maybe one day, you begin thinking, I would like to die and be rid of this tiring life.

Many people live like this.

This unjust system. We cannot serve two masters, yet how easy it is to serve the one master of mammon? Indeed, it is like thorns that choke up the small seed.

We call God the greatest treasure. We teach that. But what kind of a message are we sending to those struggling with three jobs, unable to provide for their children, unable to provide for themselves? Behind sipping dainty tea cups, behind white fences, behind safe doors where poverty is the next neighborhood and your neighbor’s problems belong within the confines of his house, behind the planks we put between each other, because each has his own problem and nobody is helping with yours either. We’re not each other’s charity projects because that’s merely a pretense for our selfish desires to feel helpful.

At our house, we finally pulled out the 2 thorn bushes that we had talked about removing for 10 years. Finally, the 2 thorn bushes were gone. But to get them out, we had to be pricked even though we were prepared with gloves, long sleeves and long pants. It’s what happens when you remove thorn bushes. So how do we remove thorn bushes from the soil to allow the seed to grow?

In my current situation, money can solve many things. Money can solve this house’s problem. Our two ailing cars. My ailing mother. It can give us the time to fix these cars. Money can pay another person to mow the lawn. Money can pay people to remodel the backyard. Money might be able to fix my mother’s working situation. Money can extend life (it’s a sad fact in public health that if one is in a better socioeconomic bracket, their lives are longer). Money can allow me to study and also allow my mom to not work so hard. Money can help us worry less.

But there are many things money cannot do. Money cannot fix my rebellious heart. Money cannot fix the way we see other people, the way we want to be so independent, the way we refuse help. Money cannot solve unwise decisions. It might make us more comfortable, but where does comfortable lead us? I was taught to give out of my abundance, but more often than not, my parents have given me an example of giving out of our nothingness.

Give when we barely have enough. Give when we are tired. Give warm blankets when we are cold. Give comfort when we are hurt.

Give with the strength that God gives.

Money will not fix a cold, callous heart. If I give only out of my abundance, I will not give ever.

Give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you and say “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

Yesterday, I was studying with my fellow classmates. And we were joking around about finding cures, and one guy says, “Oh, she [i.e. me] is aiming higher – she wants to find the cure for death!”

I smiled and secretly thought, I already have. The cure for death is in the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brought to us by the blood shed on the cross where he was pierced for our transgressions that we may have everlasting life and in union with God.

Money can solve many problems for me right now, but it will not give me life.

Nevertheless, God, give us our daily bread. Just enough for today. Just enough for this next year. Just enough mercy. Because a dead man does not praise you. So give us just enough for today. Just enough that we may give for the glory of your name. And if just enough means I must give up studying, then just enough may it be.

Serious

There is a website that posts Christian satire. Some of you may find it entertaining, others offensive. Either way, this whole post begins from this specific post.

Of course, there are many statistics out there that I can use to debate the premise of this satire post (like this site and this site), but given that the audience of The Babylon Bee is predominantly Christian, and given that the post is more or less commenting on a general trend in American Christianity, I will forgo that discussion.

After reading the satirical post, I thought to myself, Hm, I wonder why we Christians water down our message, soften the hard parts (or ignore them altogether) and then expect to have motivated, Spirit-driven followers? 

How many times have I attempted to water down the message of the Gospel? Perhaps I said something to make Jesus look nicer than he really was (“Jesus loves you so much! He wants to do everything for you. He’ll give you everything.”). Maybe there were times when I avoided the fact that not only was God my Father, he was also the Judge, and he was going to come and judge this world.

Then I recalled Genesis 3, and the first person to water down the message of the Gospel.

Did God actually say…?

That was none other than Satan. Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1)

Eve gave the correct reply, but what did the serpent do afterwards? You will not surely die. He flicked away the consequences, and made light of God’s judgment. He told Adam and Eve that the punishment the Lord promised will not actually come true. Stretching the story a little further, aren’t there times when Satan tells us, “Oh, God loves you too much to send you to hell” or the counterpart, “God doesn’t love you enough to save you”? Does not the former indicate that God is not serious about sin and does not the latter indicate that God is not serious about you?

And how many times have we listened to both sides?

Someone once told me that to know God was to love all sides of him. Have I glorified one part of him at the expense of another? Have I rendered the verse, “God is faithful” to only mean that he will be faithful to provide, faithful to bless — instead of realizing that God is faithful to his character and that includes not only his love and blessings but also his holiness and judgment? After all, Isaiah 63 very clearly details the coming of the Lord, but not necessarily in a way that we would find “merciful” and “loving”: “Who is he coming in garments dipped in crimson?”

Have I watered down the Gospel because somewhere along the line, I had decided that the cross was not needed? That sin and its consequence, death, are not really that serious? Have I forgotten that when I look upon the cross, I am seeing the embodiment of all God is – his wrath, his glory, his everlasting kindness – and I cannot be faithful to him if I am not faithful to all he is?

Did God really say that you will die?

Yes, He did.

Yet, now that I know that watering down the message of the Gospel is not an option, what is my next step?

Perhaps in our mind, we all have an ideal image of what a Christian should look like. It might be a man standing in the streets, proclaiming the Word. It might be a woman helping out at a soup kitchen. It might be a doctor sacrificing his time and family to be in a third-world country.

I used to think that an ideal Christian was charismatic, and often times, I associated “charismatic” with “outspoken” and “bold.” The ideal Christian could shut down all the questions and arguments thrown at him or her. They would be constantly praying (perhaps waking up at 6 am just to pray). They breathe and sleep Bible verses. Perhaps they’ve memorized 10 books already. They are always ahead of the pack, the first one to arrive, the last one to leave. I am sure we all have those images in those head, and because we do, we think, “Oh, we can never be like that. I’m not fit for that job.” Being bold and outspoken are good traits, but I do not think that they are the sole traits to define a Christian.

Perhaps an ideal Christian is one who takes the Lord seriously.

Recently, I have been following a manga/anime called Haikyuu!  It follows the lives of a high school volleyball team in Japan, and how they improve and fight to one day stand on the national stage. In this team, there are many different types of people.

You have the gung-hos: those crazy about volleyball, and all they think about is volleyball, and during games, they are the loudest on the court. You only have to watch this video to know what I mean.

We know Christians like that, and how often have I compared myself to them. If only I said something more, if only I were more outspoken, more outgoing, more social…if only I knew all the right words, the right arguments…These are the people who can rally others up easily. They seem to always have the right conversations at the right time. They seem to be so in tune with the Spirit that sometimes, I get envious.

You have those who had given up along the way only to come back. In the manga/anime, these are the second years like Ennoshita who left because of the hard training only to come back because they realized they loved volleyball. We know Christians like that, too. Christians who have left only to come back.

You have those like Tsukishima. They are cynical, sarcastic, realistic, lukewarm but definitely intelligent. Tsukishima is stumped by all the strong players around him, and no matter how great his efforts are, he cannot surpass them, so he gives just enough. But even as he is giving half-hearted efforts, only enough to be passing, he is still standing on the court. There is still a reason even if he cannot verbalize it that he is still playing volleyball. Perhaps it is pride like what Yamaguchi told him, pride in one’s work and efforts. Or perhaps it is something else. Either way, we have Christians like that, too. They seem fatalistic in nature. Perhaps they seemed to have given up trying. But there is a reason why they still come out to fellowship, to church. Even if the reason doesn’t make sense to us or to them, we must trust that one day, they, too, will develop the same seriousness and motivation as Tsukishima does later on. Because when you keep doing one thing, you will discover why it is important to you.

And then there are the players who have been there all along but are the quietest. For this part, I am going to focus on the captain, Daichi Sawamura. Out of all the players on the team, Daichi may seem to be the one least skilled. As a wing spiker, he is overshadowed by his other more powerful teammates. As a middle blocker, he is overshadowed by the first years. And even though his receives are top-notch, even that skill is overshadowed by the libero. However, despite his shortcomings, he has not once said that he is incapable. Rather, he is more determined than ever to improve.

Despite the different personalities on this volleyball team, once they stepped onto the court, they all had one thing in common: they were serious about volleyball. They were serious about improving and winning.

You can be the loudest and most charismatic person. You can be the person who left and came back. You can be the lukewarm one who still hasn’t found a reason, but surely there is a reason you find yourself coming again and again. You can be the one who hasn’t really developed its wings yet, but is still struggling to fly. You can be the quiet person supporting in the background. You can be all of these, but when we enter into the court, we are all serious about the Lord.

Six together is stronger. That’s the number of people on a volleyball team. Then how much more is the body of Christ made up of millions?

Let us come together and be serious about the Lord. Let us take Him seriously.

 

Love song to a sinner

The arrival, tearing the silence into pieces,
Was a predestined encounter for our sake.
And so, you, with regret showing in your grieving eyes,
You wore your sorrow and bloomed beautifully.

Here we are again in the place that we first met. I knew that this day would come. Two and a half years ago, I knew that I would have to face you once again, and I knew when that day came, I would be too weak to even stand in front of you.

Life has changed. People my age are getting engaged. Planning vacations. Going places. Embarking on a set journey. And I like a stone in a river watch them flow around me. Everyone is moving on while I have been trying to fulfill a role that wasn’t mine to fill, nor could I fill it ever.

A flower, dissolving into someone’s life – 
Hey, you can see it too, can’t you?
I’m sure.

Daddy, I was the flower dissolving into your life. You can see it, too. These past two years, I was chasing your shadow, but I only grabbed thin air. Two years ago, I said I wanted to surpass you, but what have I been doing here? Merely trying to fill a hole that I couldn’t fill.

But now, I am here, in front of you, and I am empty. My dreams have been violently aborted. I don’t know what I want to be, where I want to go. There are too many voices around me, but none of them penetrate the emptiness of my soul.

Except for yours.

To overwrite the accumulated sins,
You’ve got as many times as you need, from the repeating start line.
Painting a tomorrow different from the past,
Painting hope for just the two of us, there’s the start line.
I never say goodbye…
That’s how it always is.

You tell me: wipe the past of sins away. Embark on a new journey with me. I have always been there with you at the starting line. You can take as many times as you need to begin again. I never say goodbye.

Is this what it means to be emptied and then refilled? I have nothing in me, I know this, Lord. And here I am in front of you because there is nowhere else to go. You alone are my portion and cup. Indeed, my cup overflows, even if it is bitter at first. You are my shepherd. You lead me beside quiet waters, into green pastures. I shall never be in want.

Continuing crystals to serve as proof,
Sheltering a faintly flickering flame,
Your eyes, emblazoned with a future radiating brilliance, 
seem to hold a little bit of sadness.
Take a look into my eyes.
Wipe away that final droplet.
Every time you wanna see me, call me,
And I’ll be at the place where we first met.

I know your voice. It’s singing to me as a lover.

Rebel against the fate that descends.
Yes, bloom vibrantly, with glory.
Always…
To connect to your singing  voice,
My sound rings out and echoes deep within my heart.
The tomorrow that surfaces in my prayer
Transforms a reason to live into hope.
I wanna be with you
To make a sacrifice to gain possession of
This present reality, impossible to repeat – 
The act is unbreakably bound to loneliness.
I can’t measure that weight as I am now,
But even so, that’s fine.
Echo far and wide, my prayer.
Our reverberating singing voices
Painted a momentary light,
Illuminating a single flower.
I want to keep our hands connected
And always be with you.

For two years, I did not face you. Even now as I am facing you, I am afraid. But search me, oh Lord. Search me and reveal to me my emptiness, my wickedness, my guilt, my sorrows. It’s been sacrifice after sacrifice. Death after death – so many that I wonder how much more I can take. But even as others have passed me by, you have not. You planted your feet in front of me and said, “Get up.”

Get up and hold my hand.

To overwrite the accumulated sins,
You’ve got as many times as you need, from the repeating start line.
Painting a tomorrow different from the past,
Painting hope for just the two of us, there’s the start line.
I never say goodbye…
That’s how it always is.

Let’s wipe away the past of sins and embark on a new journey of hope. We will come here as many times as needed. I will never say good-bye. Dear child, hold my hand and know my ways. This is my love song to you.

 

Lyrics Translation by bambooXZX 

Words

It often comes to me. Certain phrases, words, events, memories can trigger the feeling instantly. Because in the space between death and life, there exists unresolved emotions. Between death and life, there are some things that can never be fully reconciled unless, unless there was a way.

Guilt. Regret.

I still remember that last phone call we had. I don’t remember what we talked about. Just that we had one. I was half-paying attention to something else, half-paying attention to you. Would I have acted any differently knowing that you would be gone in two days?

Why am I so self-important?

Why am I? Why did I not really listen to you? All those years of anger I held against you only come back to haunt me after you left. They still haunt me.

Took your advice and did the opposite.
Just being young and stupid.

I never gave you a chance even to your last day. You were changing. You were. But why did I only see that after you died? And now your words are the ones that keep echoing in my head, telling me to live. Everyday, I depend on them.

But if you held on a little longer, you’d have more reasons to be proud.

Tomorrow, Cornell will be having their 148th graduation ceremony. You should have been there, except that I carried your ashes with me all throughout. You should be at my wedding. You should be walking with me down the aisle. You should be holding your first (or second) grandchild.

You should have been there.

So much to tell you, and most of all good-bye
but I know that you can’t hear me anymore
Not anymore

It’s so loud, inside my head
with words that I should have said
As I drown in my regret
I can’t take back the words
I never said

You should have been there to hear the words that I never said. I am proud of you, Daddy. Did you know that? Did you hear that? I said that in front of your dead body. And even as I say that, I know you did not for your ears are filled with angel’s songs and God’s glory.

There is a story that whenever I think about it, it still makes me cry. The other day, I tried sharing it to a group of friends but my throat choked up. I was a young pre-teen and we had gotten into an argument. You were talking to me about the story of the prodigal son and you kept asking me what to do if I hit rock bottom?

I knew what you were trying to tell me. I really did but in a spite of anger, I said, “I’ll go die.”

I knew what you were trying to tell me. I really did. No matter how far away you have fallen, how wrong you’ve been, you will always have a home to return to. 

A guy at worked asked about eternity. He said he couldn’t imagine it, so he didn’t believe it. I looked at him and thought, So if there is no eternity, then I must always live with this guilt? If that was it for my father, then he has not heard any of the words I said.

But I do believe. I do believe that the space between death and life has been crossed, and it has been crossed by a man with outstretched arms. I do believe that forgiveness spans across time, across death, across life. For neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons…

Can separate us from the love of Christ.

I see the cross and I see my past. Some may say it is too late to repent, but I never believed that because deep inside my heart, the cross says otherwise.

I see the cross and I see the punishment reserved for me taken away.

I feel guilt. Everyday. But I also feel hope. Everyday.

My Father and my father, they are a home I can always return to because I am their daughter.

Maybe If

There is a manga I follow that I know you will not because you always say something about viruses. That picture of the night sky is inspired by the manga.

There is an episode when Kageyama and Hinata argue to the point of fighting. Afterwards, Hinata Shouyo says this: He wasn’t just my first friend in high school. He was a partner.

A partner. What happens when you can no longer be partners anymore? Then what happens? You stay apart just as they did. But for these two kids, at least they knew they had to come back to the volleyball court together one day. They knew that one day, they would have to face each other on the same team again. So they faced their own battles and then came together once more.

But for us, such a time does not exist.

Kageyama and Hinata. This was the duo that made each other invincible. The duo that could achieve together what others could not.

I thought you would be the one. I thought you could be the one. I didn’t just find a friend. A confidant. A lover.
I found a partner.

And then I let go.

Maybe if I tell myself enough, I’ll get over you.

You were in a dream some time ago. I don’t remember what you did or what happened. I just remember two other dreams but the guy wasn’t you. Perhaps my subconscious has already moved on and is telling my heart and mind to do the same.

You are no longer my partner.

Maybe if I tell myself enough. Maybe if I do.

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Again, Nevertheless

It was a quiet night where the snow enveloped all sound. One of those nights where you can hear everything and nothing. The sky was white and the colors monochrome. The trees outlined with an etched pen. The world held its breath and slept.

A phone call. A familiar name. The familiar pause just before breaking the news. He left. The stone in my throat, the words unwilling to come out. Oh. Thank you.

It is a quiet night.

I know that I have a presentation waiting for me this Friday. My mind tells me that I should be working on it, but I am unable to concentrate.

This will be my sixth funeral. It will be the third one I will play piano for. Ironically, at an age where I should be attending weddings and baby showers, I am watching the last stage of life like Charon ferrying his people across a murky sea, watching them pass by into their final place.

I wonder why the feelings are still so raw, so real, so devastating. Every single time no matter the circumstances. Perhaps I naively thought I was used to death. Surely I should be immune to its effects. Surely I should have overcome the sorrow.

Though we are struck down, we are not destroyed.

No. I will never overcome the sorrow, not in this life.

This song holds a special meaning for me. In the anime, Ao no Exorcist, it is played at a moment when the father dies. It is supposed to be a requiem but it sounds awfully hopefully. As if the father had passed on his dreams for the son, his dreams for him to live. This song embodies both that mourning and the hope.

Dear God, tonight will be a silent night for them. As it will be for me. You have led us through fire and storms. Your footprints were before us even if we could not see them. You are the God of all comfort. The God who holds his little lambs within his arms. You are the God who holds these tears because they were the same tears that dripped down Christ’s brow. Nevertheless, God. Nevertheless. I pray that death may not harden my heart, but that you may be merciful and full of grace to give me a heart of flesh. I pray that death may whet my desire for your kingdom come, that death may whet my desire for you because so often do I forget that what is justly mine has been placed upon your son. Let me hide under his holiness that when your holiness passes through, it may not destroy me. Remind me with the death of this world your goodness. Your unwavering character. For it is finished! Thank God, it is finished!