Tuesday, December 13, 2011


In the middle of this semester one of my students was having huge issues with one of his classmates. They were constantly bickering and fighting, and during elementary strings they would even get up out of their chairs to yell at each other or call each other a name. I was appalled with this behavior and spoke to them both several times, but it got to a point where I had to contact the parents. After a note home, my student's father wrote back and said they had a talk and to let him know if there were any further problems.

Since then, this student has had a complete 180 in his behavior. He is no longer bitter, mean, or caustic with his classmates (or with me). He is helpful and participative, and most of all respectful. Being a 5th grader, of course he will still have his faults, but whenever I remind him that he is doing something he's not supposed to, he will always snap back (sometimes with a funny over-done apology in Japanese and profuse bowing, but I let that go). He is my best string player, because he is the one that is the most with-it. I have been so proud of him for the turn-around.

Today I slipped a note into his violin case after school and he said "oh thank you," when he saw it. I walked away to do other things, not wanting to draw attention, but later he caught my eye from across the room and beamed a grateful smile at me. I remembered the angry, unhappy, mean little boy that he was, saw the difference in the smile, and my heart melted a little bit.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

we never catch it

Dear Matthew,

Today I visited the nursery to help watch you and your fellow friends as the nannies had their training. You and I played our little jumping game as usual, but today when you used your strong, long legs to support your own weight as I held your upper body, you laughed, in your own baby way, as one discovers their newborn emotions and their newborn delights. When did you learn to laugh? You looked me in the eyes and smirked at me, showing off your dimples. For a moment, time stood still for us.

Today I went out with some dear friends for lunch as an early get-together before the rush of the holiday activities overwhelm our birthdays. Conversation turned inevitably to past memories (even uncreated ones), and I couldn't help but think that a year from now, we will probably all be in different places. But for now, these moments--moments such as these--were created for us.

Today I went to our wedding photography studio to pick out the dresses for our photoshoot. "Lao gong hai mei lai?" one of the attendants asked me. Something stirred inside of me as I realized she was using the laymen's term for "husband" to refer to B, asking if he was here yet. Another point of realizing that yes, I am getting married. And yet also, yes, he is not here. It was a strange mixture of emotions at that moment. But it was a fleeting moment.

Funny how time works, sometimes. For you, time only exists in the meaning of feedings and naps. But in a couple months you may be shipping off to California with your new parents. I have had my fair share of comings and goings- they no longer take me by surprise. But I know that at that moment, I will keenly feel the loss of seeing your sweet little face.
But for now, I am going to love learning to laugh with you.
Because life - your life especially - is meant to be enjoyed.

your auntie

Saturday, December 3, 2011

here in this moment

*Photo credit:
This blog is one of the loveliest I have ever seen or read, and it reminds me of what I am about to share with you.

As December rounded the corner this week I found myself rushing around from one thing to the next, feeling burdened with the impending Christmas concert and the added stress it created. My mind was filled with to-do lists and when I wasn't thinking about what to do, my mind wandered and often went blank. As my journal-writings became more bare and my quiet times rushed-through, I felt that something was wrong. A feeling that didn't sit right unsettled me.

I was getting ready for bed one night and it hit me like I ran into a brick wall. I was losing my focus. Three weeks until Christmas break and B's arrival--so little time left from the months spent in anticipation--so little time that I knew would soon pass with the whirlwind of preparations to be made. But what had slipped away from me was that this little time was still time to be had. Time is still time, and I cannot let it get away from me. "You're only ever going to get your first Christmas concert once," I told myself. "Might as well enjoy every minute of it."

So once more I settled into the joy of being--the joy being here in this country, alive in this moment, in the midst of  these people. I thought about my students and how little time I have with them. How I need to stop seeing them as "projects" or something to check off the list but to see them as real people, and to show them that I care. I have to--I can't not do that.

So...time? Bring it on. I am prepared to try to make every minute count.

I am alive in this moment
In this moment I am found
I am alive in this moment
In this moment I belong
Alive in This Moment||Starfield

Just Keep Holding On, Dear

When I was younger I used to dream of one day becoming a famous songwriter (and maybe singer) and produce songs that would speak to people and resonate with them, no matter what walk of life they were from. 

Tonight my dream came true, a little bit.

MAK held a coffeehouse to raise funds for our annual Christmas project. This year we are supporting the Eden Reforestation Project in Madagascar to help plant more trees and give hope and life to people who would otherwise in a devastated land. I love coffeehouses. They are one of the places I find myself getting into my element. And the kids who performed were so cute tonight. There was even a surprise flash mob dancing act from the staff! 

I was so grateful to be able to play one of my songs as well. I picked the Totoro Song because it fit the audience, and it was inspired by a story that came from a forest. I wrote the Totoro Song last year as an inspiration from a mission trip to the Philippines and one of my favorite childhood movies, My Neighbor Totoro. In the story two little girls find a tree spirit that only children can see, and the song I wrote consequently is about having childlike faith and believing in the magic around us that happens every day.

Follow me, we'll take the trail out by the trees,
And fall among the hollows, and find unexpected things
It's open here, we'll stay wonderfully silent
And find the drama is only in the dust

Don't worry, I'll come find you

Just keep holding on, dear
Do you believe me? The story doesn't end
As we grow, some things never change
Look for me in the wind, in the wind

Don't you hide, for out of goodness there will grow

The magic all around us, only the wisest know
So hold on tight, we'll feel light as a feather
And find the music is in us

Don't worry, I'll come find you
Just keep holding on, dear
Do you believe me? The story doesn't end
As we grow, some things never change
Look for me in the wind, in the wind

When I finished and went back to my seat, one of my coworkers tapped me on the shoulder and told me that that was really special because one of the things her father said before he passed away this past year was "Look for me in the wind." Immediate tears came to my eyes. This is the first Christmas she will spend with him gone, and for sure my song was something that spoke to her at a time when she may not even have fully known she needed most. Who knew?

Thank You God, for knowing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

oh for a day to bake

Last Wednesday I said another goodbye to one of the young mothers I met at His Hands. One of the staff asked me if I felt particularly more sad because I had spent more time with her and connected with her more than the others. I did feel sad, but more so out of a sense of lost time. I felt like there was so much more I could have done...that I was just beginning to get to know her. But I suppose that is how it often will be.

One of the things I regret not doing earlier is baking with her. I had the idea of doing so with the HH mothers soon after she arrived, but never got around to it for various reasons, the main one being that it was difficult for me to get the supplies. But one afternoon as I was in the nursery playing with the infants, another volunteer called and asked me to go next door to help translate for HZ, the young mother, who was baking cookies with a missionary lady.

I was greeted by the smell of baked goods in the oven and the sight of little drops of oatmeal cookie dough waiting on pans. We spent the afternoon talking and sharing about our lives, mostly the life of the missionary. But I discovered that one of the favorite things HZ liked to do was to bake things. Thinking of how I love baking as well, I was a bit shocked with the realization that I had let the opportunity of sharing it with her slip by without knowing it. I told her that next time I would come and teach her how to make a cake with carrots.
But "next time" became the day after she gave birth to a baby girl. So no carrot cake.

I knew we were both disappointed. I was told later that even as she was on the way to the hospital she lamented that we didn't get to make the cake-made-from-carrots. Later in the week I went back to the nursery and met her baby girl. She was so sweet, just like her little mother.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

sing along

I was tutoring the older sister of the siblings when I heard a noise coming from the other side of the room where the little brother was playing on the computer. I turned around and saw him wearing big headphones and singing along to an obscure song. I couldn't make out the words or the melody, but he was clearly enjoying himself and having a good time with the music.

Heart melted.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


This is the first Thanksgiving I'm spending away from family. But I've often felt that Thanksgiving at our house has never been the hallmark of home and comfort, because it is largely an American holiday, just adapted for our own family situation of being far away from extended relatives anyway. Now as our family is growing, our traditions are changing as well. This year I will be missing two dinners, one with B's family and one with mine. But B will be there to fill in for me. And I am excited for Thanksgiving here--plans are in order for a nice girl's night with some other single ladies--cooking and baking--then heading up to Taipei for the weekend. To borrow the colloquialism, "Taipei is the shiz." haha.

I have so much to be thankful for. Usually we make lists of these things, but I just want to highlight a few that really mean a lot to me especially this year.

1. Parents
wow, this picture is from 2009!
As I get older, I am realizing more and more that I have great parents. I am not just saying that. My neighbor lady always has much praise to speak of for my parents because even though she's never met them, she says they've done a great job in raising me. I won't say much for myself, but I can really say that the godly influence of my parents, their unconditional support and encouragement, and their desire for my greatest good and overall happiness has brought me to further lengths than I have realized. From a culture where it is common for parents to criticize, berate, and be overbearing to their children, my parents have encouraged, supported, and let me be free to go and do what God has called me to do. They are open to new possibilities, forgiving, and very very helpful. Their belief in me and their faithfulness in praying for me is always a source of amazement.

2. Being in Taiwan this year
Happy Birthday, Taiwan!
I think back to last year and how I had no idea what was going to happen after I graduated. For sure I knew I wanted to go overseas, but the question of where and how was still rolling around in my mind. The whole process of getting to Taiwan is a story in itself (I should write it and post it up someday)--but truly, truly God's fingerprints were all over it, and I am so grateful to be here. One thing is that this year is Taiwan's 100th birthday. What a special time! Taiwan continues have its mysterious, strong but subtle pull over me. It's an awesome privilege to spend 11 months here, to see what God is doing, both in me and in this country. It's already been 3 months and I know that the next 8 will be a time full of personal growth and learning. There will be hard, stretching times and joyful, good times, but for all of them I am thankful.

3. Working at MAK
my beginning strings class is so cute!

I couldn't ask for a better environment to start my first year of teaching. Granted, there are some frustrations that come with being only part-time and therefore being out of the loop, but I couldn't ask for nicer coworkers or a more supportive principal. I have been so encouraged by the work environment here and the way that other teachers have reached out to help me or even just to give a friendly greeting. Our ladies Bible study has given me so many opportunities to thank God for fellowship and mutual encouragement. It has been such a blessing.

4. His Hands Taiwan
When I first heard about His Hands, the idea of it sounded so amazing that I didn't even dare to hope that I could get involved. But God knew that there was a place for me there, and my heart has been so incredibly blessed by getting to spend time with these precious little ones, as well as the young mothers that live in the House of Hope. Every little life is a miracle, and every brave mother who comes to reside there is a reflection of the grace of God. Witnessing their transformation from scared little girls to helpful, happy, trusting young women gives me so much hope for one ray of light to penetrate this dark world. God is powerful, and His heart is for the weak and helpless. That's why whenever I am there, I feel close to His heart.

5. Fiance
As I am getting older I look around and realize that the predicament of good men becoming more and more scarce these days is quite alarming. The issue is something I feel very strongly about (with the world so blatantly off balance--at least from where I can see it), but would never be able to articulate my thoughts on it. However, B has shown me more in his walk than his talk what it really takes to be a man. I often marvel at how God has brought us both from very different paths of life and still taken us to the same page - it shows how powerful He is and how much He really cares about each one of us. One thing that I appreciate most about B is his heart for obeying the call of God--even if it means defying norms and countering what most people think of as a successful life. He doesn't look for comfort and security here but strives to take action to reflect God and further His kingdom, no matter where it takes him, or what it costs. This is what I have prayed for, and what I desire for my life as well. I don't think God could have picked a better match. :) <3

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! <3
"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." --G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Crossing the Divide

DaZhi Bridge in Taipei. *Photo Credit

One of my mom's close friends came to visit me today. She took a special trip from Taichung on the HSR just to see how things were going. It was really sweet of her and I hope in my heart that one day I will have a friendship long-lasting and close enough to merit visits with the their children when they get older. I just thought of how my mom and her friend have known each other for so long and  even though they don't talk often, they have kept in touch through all these years and have helped take care of each others' kids when their journeys happened to take them overseas.

I really appreciated Ah-yi's* visit because she made me feel like an equal--never once did she make me feel like she was mothering or patronizing me. She even exclaimed that my Chinese has improved--which says a lot for what it used to be. Although, I wouldn't really say my Chinese has improved so much that I am more willing now to speak it, being set in the environment. And being in the environment, I was glad that I knew what to do when they came into my house: apologize for not having slippers, give them water to drink even though they told me not to, and offer them some snacks. I always knew that the culturally-appropriate manners my mother tried to teach me would come in useful one day. I still lack a lot of them, but I felt that I am beginning to make the first steps to crossing the cultural gap. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I wanted to come back to Taiwan.

I feel a special connection with this Ah-yi because she was a schoolteacher and her husband is a doctor--models of what B and I aspire to be someday, when we grow up. Mom has alluded to me on several occasions that even though it wasn't easy for them in the beginning, through the strength and selflessness of Ah-yi, she kept her family together and running strong. I have a lot of respect for a woman like that. A lady who would stay up waiting to greet her husband with love and homey comforts after a long night shift, a lady who would not complain about the difficulties of being a doctor's wife, but look for the best in every situation.

It struck me today that I have caught a glimpse of the very kind of attitude it takes to really OWN one's life. Yesterday I went to a Chinese wedding banquet with my aunt (yes, I was a wedding crasher) and she told me how in the early days of her own marriage she and her husband were so busy working, her firstborn daughter didn't even recognizer her daddy because he was gone so much. As she was telling me the sad story of the difficulty that the majority of Taiwanese families face (long separations for the sake of earning money), the ache was triggered at the back of my heart and I wondered how they could have lived like that. But then later she told me stories of when their second-born came along and grew a little and they were able to take weekend trips to the south and have picnic lunches and let the kids play in the meadows.
It sounded so beautiful and happy.
I realized later that my aunt and Ah-yi both have one thing in common--an unquenchable zest for life, love for people, and a knack for seeing the bright side of things. They choose to make the most of what they have, where they've been...and it shows to me that happiness is really your own choice. Will I take ownership of my own happiness? Because I can, and if I don't, then no one else will.

Ah-yi and her husband took me to GuanYinShan, a scenic area at the nearest mountain where, on weekends, a little market is set up by the side of the road filled with food, trinkets, produce, and other odd items. I am always curious as to what the people are selling there, but being with people who know how to read Chinese and speak Taiwanese adds a whole nother dimension. I saw things that I've never seen before...seeds to make 愛玉 jello, seeds that work as soap when you crack them open, mountain-grown tree fungus, and a root known for its healing and cleansing powers. Walking along that mountain road next to all those vendors spoke to me somewhere--as if I felt the call of the mountain whose shadow I live under, and the people around it. There is so much more to learn and take in and experience here, and I am only standing on the tip of the iceburg.

After Ah-yi left I took my customary walk around the neighborhood. As I passed an old grandma shuffling along, she sensed my presence and turned to me to nod. I nodded back, knowing the shortcut to the customary bow. But I didn't expect her to speak to me. "Jia ba be?" She asked me, and without missing a beat I replied "Jia ba le," with a smile. Then it hit me that I just had my first exchange in Taiwanese with stranger. The traditional grandma had asked me the traditional greeting, "have you eaten?" And of course I told her I had. Somehow my heart glowed as I walked on.

With every step, I am getting closer.

*Chinese for auntie, the common title we use to address ladies in the same generation as our parents.

Friday, November 18, 2011

When you're looking at the right angle

On my way home from tutoring tonight I rode past the giant ferris wheel landmarking E-Da World in this vast expanse of back-country hills. I thought about how strange I thought this place was, with its huge, blatantly extravagant shopping mall, luxurious hotels, amusement rides, and overpriced food. Not strange that it existed, but strange that it would be here. This is the middle of nowhere. In a forest. On some hills. And yet rich people come all the way from Taipei (also from Japan and China) to blow their money and revel in the lavish lifestyle. Apparently, I hear that it's the #1 "it" spot to be in Taiwan. I have my doubts.

While I do think it is strange to erect this fortress of consumerism in the middle of this forest, I remembered the first time I came to visit--a night out with some new-found friends, wondering what we should do after dinner. We decided to come to E-Da World to take a look around. I will admit it was worth looking.

My friends inside the mall at E-Da
What I didn't know was that a few months later I would be asked to tutor right at E-Da World. The developers of this utopia thought it would be good to put in a few schools, and include neighborhoods to house the students. As I spoke on the phone with my contact for this tutoring job, when she said "E-Da World" and its school, I knew exactly where it was. It's easy to get to from where I live. It was good for me to know that as I agreed to meet with them. God knew that it would give me the peace of mind I needed to take on this job.

"Everything happens for a reason," was my thought as I rode my scooter home. God puts people and situations and personalities and needs together into one huge storybook of life...but the amazing thing is, even the little things are mini sub-stories in themselves. God knew I needed a talkative coworker who would speak up for me about my classroom management troubles, because He knew I would be slow in speaking up for myself in asking for help. I am sure there is more to her being here than that, of course there is. But her talkativeness was something I had been struggling with (personality clash), and seeing God work through that to help me absolutely floored me. Everything is for a reason.

There was a reason why, at the beginning of this year, the principal spoke with this one teacher about the music position at MAK, and that that teacher was the one a sister from church knew and put me in contact with. That one teacher was one of the only ones at MAK who knew about the opening, and she was the one I emailed. And now she is one of my closest friends here. That is such a God thing.

Everything has a reason ... including "bad" things. There may be situations that I don't want to be in, but if God put me in them, it's going to be good. This week has seen one of the lowest points of my time here as B and I realized the long-distance and the new time change was putting an eroding strain on our communication and ultimately, our relationship. I found myself shutting down, emotionally, mentally, and verbally as I felt the gulf widen--not just with B, but with others as well. I just didn't want to deal anymore.
The reason? I find it ironic that just a couple weeks ago we were studying the armor of God. Doesn't Satan really know how to get to us? He gets us vulnerable as we build walls around our hearts, trying to stop ourselves from getting hurt even more, and we don't realize WE are the ones hurting ourselves. Discouragement and frustration can be crippling, especially when Satan catches you at your weak spot. Seems like mine was right out there in the open. Of course he wants to discourage and frustrate me.
What am I here for in Taiwan?

A lot could be said in response to that question. But it helps me to see what I am being distracted away from...that I cannot stay walled in and must release myself to the greater Good that He has planned for me. Because I trust that there will be good--rather, that He is Good.

Because He cannot be anything other than Good.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rain Week

(This picture was taken 3 years ago in NYC. Even though I am indoors and dry, sometimes I still feel like this)

It has been raining all week. Starting on Monday, the rain came in and washed our part of the world in a subtle, drizzling, grey tint. On Wednesday it turned darker. I was up at seven in the morning but it felt like 7pm it was so dark. Looking on the forecast, it predicted that it wouldn't let up until Saturday. But this morning it didn't seem to be coming down too hard when I left for school, so I left my blue plastic-bag-like poncho in the scooter.
Big mistake. I was soon pelted all over with big raindrops and the whole way down I contemplated how fast I could drive to try to get the least wet...although in my opinion, it's the same amount of wetness whether you drive fast or not. I did have a light, waterproof jacket, but it was only good for the top half of my body. The lower hem of my shirt and my pants were completely soaked through.

I got a lot of sympathy comments walking around at school all wet, and I decided after lunch that I had time to go home and change. This time I used my blue poncho. My roommate gave it to me from her trip to Niagra Falls this summer. It still says "Maid of the Mist" in the front. Probably a little tacky to be scootering in, but hey, it keeps me dry and I am not complaining. Maybe one of these days I'll get a real poncho.

I think one of the most comforting things in the world is being warm and dry after spending some time being cold and wet. Funny how you have to experience the one to know the other. Life is like that.

Coming out of the school I noticed the world was tinged with a color I had never seen before. It was kind of like I was standing inside a photo that had been splashed with melted butter. The clouds were still heavy and dripping, but the sun was still out there somewhere behind them, trying to sneak a few last rays in before the evening tide overcame him with its enveloping pull. The result was a diffused, dull glow, the color you'd imagine yourself to see in an old vintage movie or something. It was actually quite beautiful, the kind of atmosphere in which you'd like to take a leisurely stroll, arm-in-arm with your lover under an umbrella big enough for two.

I usually don't like when it rains. But lately the lack of rain has caused the city to choke on its own fumes--the smog growing thicker by the day. We are hoping all the rain will wash and cleanse, although we hide under our hoods and umbrellas from it so our hair doesn't fall out if we get rained on. (Because of the pollution, the rain is acidic.)

Rain washes...

reminds me of when I wash my hands in the bright, clean one-person bathroom sink at school upstairs in the ELL wing. I love the smell of the soap--it smells so lemony and juicy and yellow. If yellow were a smell, it would smell like that soap.
It makes me happy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kending Retreat, part 2: Light and Life

After soaking into the story of Creation, we were given the chance to create something within 5 minutes from the images we saw in our minds. Because I knew I could not do my images justice with the lack of drawing talent I have and would feel very disappointed with them, I decided to use words. This is the outflow.

Before, there was nothing -- just space. Emptiness. 
Nothing -- formless. 
There was not even death, because there had been no life.

God spoke and light came forth.
Out of His mouth, His voice, floods forth glorious, illuminating, warm, rich, scintillating light. And Darkness flees.

Light                to fill the emptiness, to chase away the darkness

God is a God of light and life.

Life           where before, there was nothing.

        Life in so many different forms. GOD shows His creativity, His vast power and ability with everything He makes...
             Trees, flowers, land, sea, creatures...
             Everything is filled with life, vitality, exuberance, glorious LIFE.

And the angels sang for joy because they could not contain themselves from seeing the glory of God displayed!

Around the beautiful earth He created, which was filled with life and light, that they would not lack for warmth or beauty or wonder as the earth and her inhabitants looked out beyond, He set galaxies in motion and hung the sun and moon and planets in place.
So that the earth and her inhabitants would know that He is GOD.

And God said it was good.

All creation sang for praise of His glory.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kending Retreat, part 1: little fires

I just noticed that this year is one of those years. Not really sure how to explain it, but the way the days of the month fall into the weeks and all the times I catch 11:11 on the clock. This year, Thanksgiving is on the 24th and my birthday is on a Thursday. Christmas Eve is on a Saturday...and so is New Year's Eve. Everything is as it should be.

But sometimes I feel like it's a different kind of "one of those years." It snowed back at home for the end of October. I'm missing the celebration of Fall with my fiance once again. And every time I come back from a trip, there is an uncanny feeling that this is not home.

But of course, a year is a year, and with years come seasons. For everything there is a season.

These last couple days I spent in Kending on a church retreat. The area we stayed at reminded me a bit of Mambuaya, Philippines...a place where I learned to love a different landscape and embrace a different lifestyle with open arms. I learned through this trip that 1) Taiwan highway signs are extremely confusing, and 2) the beach is one of my happy places.

Through our small group time and discussions I saw visions of the greatness of God shown through the story of creation. A well-known story, yes, but one that scintillates with wonder and glory, depth and meaning.

Something else that stands out to me during our reflection/discussion time was on community. I listed people in my circle whom I trust and whom I let know the deeper parts of me, and realized that I am blessed with good friends that I often take for granted. But knowing they are often far away from me, I also realized that God is inviting me to open myself up to community right where I am as well.

Last night a group of us went to a natural attraction--the first I've heard or seen of anything like it.  We trekked down a dark path in the middle of what seemed like a forest until we came to a clearing. There was a wide circle, fenced around with a low chain, enclosing a space where natural bonfires were burning. Scattered around the fires were little licks of flame spurting out of the ground. Apparently, under the ground there exists a natural gas that causes the fire to appear. I kept wondering if fire would come out if I dug a hole. What made the little flames join together to become a big flame?

In retrospect I keep thinking about how each one of us (of God's children) is like a little flame--we all have the hidden Power Source of the Holy Spirit inside of us. We all have been given a mandate to shine amidst the darkness, but in order to be effective we must join forces to maximize our offense against the powers of evil. One little flame can do much in pitch black, but a blaze will give warmth, fend off wild creatures, and throw off the shroud of darkness. In our study of Ephesians, B and I are meditating on the last part about God's armor. The last piece that Paul mentions that cannot be had while standing alone is prayer. We must pray for each other. And in our praying for each other become bound together in stronger, fiercer ways that we otherwise never would be.

During the retreat one of our sisters was experiencing numbness and increasing pain in her right limbs which has become a gradual impairment to her daily work and life. I felt a burden to pray for my sister as she went through the uncertainty of not knowing the cause and fearing the worst. This morning we prayed for her as a church as well, calling on the name of Jesus as Healer and Creator to intervene, trusting in His Divine Sovereignty to work all things for good. And thus we are brought together in the sharing of our struggles and the claiming of victory in the work of Christ. And thus the darkness-- the fear, anxiety, depression, the discouragement-- will flee away. Satan and his henchmen cannot stand in the midst of our blaze.

Lord, set us ablaze together into Your raging inferno.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

small victories, today

These next few days I am subbing for the other music teacher as she is on the 7th grade cultural trip to Taipei as a sponsor. I wish I could go on a cultural trip. But anyhow, she left me with some private lessons to supervise, the younger elementary music classes, and middle school strings. I had a great time today. The best thing about it was that I loved middle school strings. Maybe because I had experience with it from last year.
 I loved it because the other music teacher had told me they are terrible with rhythm and you have to keep yelling counts at them and work slowly. No, that's not the real reason. I loved it because after hearing that, I was super encouraged by their ability to play the right notes and the right rhythms with me simply tapping out the beat. And of course, the occasional miracle-working demonstration.

Teaching is all about modeling. I am a model. Yes, you didn't know? I am a model because I am a teacher. I don't model clothes (although I have done that before...), I model technique. The cool thing is, the kids can do it back.

I also liked the fact that I have the air of novelty as the new teacher and the kids will be more interested in what I will do in class because of it. I know it's not something I can count on, but it's nice while it lasts.

 I wish I taught middle school.
 Not really.
 Just strings.

Friday, October 28, 2011

small victories

I have two to share today.
  • I received a message from a kid whose family I used to work at summer camp with. He told me that he goes to my alma mater now and as a recent assignment, read my story about being in Taiwan. How did he get this story, you ask? My professor emailed me during Missions Emphasis Week and asked me to share about how God brought me to the mission field, in an effort to encourage other Music Ed students considering going. I was more than happy to share it. And it came at an appropriate time--I was struggling being distracted with homesickness. Sharing my story was a good reminder as to why I am here and what God is doing, even though it may seem like in the day-to-day, things are not moving along as much as I'd like.
  • Today was parent-teacher conferences. I had no idea what I was doing, but dutifully went to school when I normally do and waited for parents to come find me. The two parents that did seemed to come to an understanding of where I was coming from and what happens in music class, and seemed satisfied with my answers. I am glad. No irate or ruffled-up parents yet.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

One small Victory at a Time

Given that my last couple of posts have been on the sober (as in grave, not un-imbibed) side, I want to start a new series about the little victories I am given throughout my time here. Success is not always achieved in giant, spectacular leaps, but often one small victory at a time.

Here are a few just from the last couple of days:
  • Soothing a baby to sleep (he had the hiccups so I just held him and patted his back. I didn't know he would fall asleep!)
  • Getting home quickly after 11pm and not getting too scared on the shortcut road
  • Seeing a remarkable change of attitude in one of my students (before he would gripe and have a sour face whenever I gave him a warning for talking in class. Now he asks really good questions!)
  • Leading worship without feeling embarrassed
  • Making this with Christina: 
 Apple cinnamon bread! =) From one of my favorite food bloggers, Joy the Baker. She calls it coffee cake, but I think it's more like bread. Still yummy! =)

What have your small victories been from this week?

Just some of your time

This morning I got to school to discover that my watch was missing. I knew I had it on when I left the house so it must have fallen off as I was scootering. The latch would sometimes loosen itself, yet you would think you'd feel a weight fall off your wrist if it ever did come completely undone. Not so! Especially if you are going down a particularly bumpy section of road and all you are thinking about is how to save your bum and your spine from suffering too much trauma.

On the way home I drove slowly, eyeing the other side of the road for anything small and shiny. Something in the back of my mind, though, already knew where to look: the narrow, wild, underpaved shortcut that leads to the main road going up the hill on which I live. The head of it is very steep and extremely bumpy. Small silver pieces resembling parts of my watch caught my eye so I pulled over beside the vegetation and took a look. There it was, in a sad state--run over, squashed, bent, shattered... I knew for sure my watch was very much dead.

I slowly gathered the pieces, feeling a certain sadness. I knew what the watch used to be. I just got the battery changed.  I thought of the story of the watchmaker and his son and the words came to me, "All I wanted was just some of your time."

I thought of things that we lose, expectedly or unexpectedly. When they are gone, you miss them. We live a transient life, and soon even the things we think will last forever will change, decay, or disappear. Timepieces. Relationships. People. For example, my ailing grandmother. Or my 15 year "guitar student" who will be moving out of the House of Hope soon. Because she is leaving soon, let me share her story with you:

My guitar student was the first mother I met at the House of Hope. She was sitting in a chair at the kitchen table and offered me a seat while telling me to be careful--being three-legged, the seat was sometimes unstable. I asked her what her name was and tried to remember, but what I remembered most was her withdrawn, unhappy countenance. I wished she would smile about something, anything. I found out later that one of her greatest desires was to learn the guitar. I offered to teach her what I know, and when she heard of it her face immediately brightened. She smiled. I visited her every week to show her some chords, but we were not able to get through much. When her due date approached she lost interest and become focused on getting the baby out and moving back home. As I saw her each week, her spirits rose and I saw her come out of her shell. She talked and laughed with the other girls. She smiled more often.

I know the guitar lessons were not what did it. She accepted Jesus as her Savior during her stay there, and I knew God was working in her heart. I took a peek at her journal reflection once and saw that she had written "Praise the Lord" after writing about how God changed a difficult situation while she was living there. The Words of Life did not fall on deaf ears here.

Last week she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and will be ready to go home once her parents have finished relocating to a safer area. I never quite anticipated the fact that the mothers residing at the House of Hope would have to leave. I knew they did, I just never thought about it. What would happen to them afterward? What about the friendships built or the memories made? Today I made my guitar student a little verse card and wrote a few simple sentiments on the back in my messy Chinese. What pages of words I would write if I could have penned her language, if I could have gotten to know her more, if we could have had more time...

But time is just slipping away, and we must hold on to every moment that we have.

Our lives are but a moment, but God is Forever.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

When He speaks

"God is Love and God is Good. He can be nothing other than Love and Good."
-Priscilla Shirer

Coming back from fall break was a struggle for me. I had spent the last few days with my ailing grandmother, my last remaining grandparent. I mostly sat by her bedside, played music for her, and tried to tell her about my recent life by showing her pictures on my computer that she might like to look at. There were many times I had to fight to keep back the tears--seeing her like that in her state, and realizing that I was only beginning to be able to communicate with her...here, like this... it was not easy. 

But something else that caught me off guard as I came back to my temporary home was how un-homelike it felt. It's been not quite three months, so I suppose it's to be expected. But it hit me hard and it made me homesick...homesick not quite for a particular place, but a feeling of rest, warmth, and belonging. A dear friend told me not to be discouraged, but to battle the attacks of the enemy who was trying to get me to forget why I am here and the great things He is doing. So I prayed that in the midst of my heartache, I would hear His voice.

The next morning I worked through our ladies' Bible study material-- Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer. It has been a wonderful study that has been so encouraging and filled with wisdom. I looked up two verses that jumped right out at me:

"The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save, He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you by His love, He will exult over you with loud singing." Zeph. 3:17

"I believe I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage: Wait for the LORD!" Ps 27:13-14

The next day was this verse:

"The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of Your hands." Ps 138:8

And the next:

"You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me" Ps 139:5 

Yesterday I took a walk in my neighborhood. It is built on a hill so I am basically climbing up one hairpin turn after another. Usually I keep my eyes on the road so I don't step on anything unpleasant, but this time I began noticing flowers all along the way. Flowers under trees, flowers in the shrubs, flowers in the trees...and pink petals strewn along the roadside as if some lover had come to prepare the way. I remembered how a few days ago I had wished for flowers when I saw these gifts of sentiment some of my friends received from their significant others. Not that I wished so much for flowers themselves, but for the proximity that would make such sentiment possible. Seeing the flowers on my evening walk brought joy and peace to my heart as I realized the One Who actually did send them my way...and Who is actually with me.

God is ever so near. At Bible Study when I heard the words quoted at the top of this post, I felt my heart was overflowing. 
He is the same, yesterday, today, forever.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Here in Kaohsiung, the seasons are a bit different from the States. No beautiful changing leaves herald the entrance of fall, but here are some ways that I know it's around that time of the year:

  • The days are noticeably shorter (less than twelve hours of sunlight...and it's already dark by 5:30pm)
  • I am no longer sweating profusely after being in the sun for 5 minutes
  • AC is no longer a necessity 
  • Scootering at night feels chilly
  • Jeans!
 I do miss Autumn in the West, though. I miss the crisp chilly weather, the glorious colors, the pumpkin spices and the apple cinnamons. *sigh*.... enjoy it for me! =)

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    Life over death

    When I hold a HisHands baby, I am always amazed at how precious life is, how helpless tiny infants are.
    I am sobered to think of the delicate balance of life or death in which that same baby may have hung as its mother may have wavered in her decision to have it, or let it be quietly "taken care of." 
    I am awed to think of the courage it must have taken for its mother to have chosen life...to have decided that having this darling child would be better than saving face and keeping the family honor. 
    I am thankful that because of this kind of courage, one more baby can live, to experience the joy of learning to crawl, walk, talk, sing, dance, and play. That one more baby can have life...a life with humble beginnings, perhaps... but even the greatest of heroes started as an infant. 

    A friend and colleague wrote a blog post about the staggering abortion rate in Taiwan and the hope that is rising from this desperation. I would encourage you to read, ponder, and pray. Pray for Taiwan. Pray for God's work here, and pray for its workers.

    Lord, how we need You here.

    Sunday, October 9, 2011

    heart of worship

    This morning I walked to church from my uncle's house, no more than two blocks away. I had been to this church at least twice before, and when I arrived I was relieved to see a familiar face of someone I'd met from the last time I was there. I was greeted warmly and taken to a seat in the sanctuary, and a sudden, unexpected thrust of emotion came over me as I remembered the last time I stood in that church was for my grandfather's memorial service. Church members were already singing and clapping loudly so I pushed the feelings aside and joined them, straining to read the words and catch the melody of the song. The joy in worship was exuberant and contagious.

    Being in Taiwan has opened a different aspect of worship to me that I really only caught a glimpse of before. Maybe I have grown and settled more in who I am and what life has taught me; maybe I have had a few more experiences leading worship myself...or maybe I just have fewer qualms now about attending a service that uses drums, I don't know. But I can say for sure that true, heartfelt worship is not something you can prescribe with words. One cannot say "no backbeats" and expect to be automatically more spiritual than those who play with backbeats. Or even up-strums on the guitar.

    There was a time in my short, inexperienced life when I was uncomfortable with a praise team in front of a congregation, and uncomfortable with music playing during prayer or any other kind of spoken word. My main reason for this was that I thought it was very distracting and pulled the attention of the worshiper to the wrong places. I would say that now, I don't believe that is what is the real distraction. I have been to worship services that were perfectly "checkable" (i.e abiding by raw BJU standards), but felt completely dry and prone to wander in my mind. Yet, I have been to other worship services that did have praise teams and animated powerpoint and other multi-sensory experiences, but felt completely overwhelmed and unfocused on Who I was worshiping.

    Maybe it's because worshiping in a different language has forced me to focus--as I struggle to recognize characters that I know on the screen and listen for phrases that I understand as others around me sing them, I am fully engaged--I want to know what the words mean; I want to make the connections. But somehow, in a way that I can't explain, I am more easily drawn to make the connections from head to heart as I participate in worship songs in the mothertongue--the language has a deeper, mysterious pull; the melodies more evoking. Perhaps that is why I feel I am more emotional in church when I am here. But "emotional" is not necessarily a bad thing. When we offer ourselves to God, we want to offer everything--head, heart, hands--and that includes our feelings, whether or not we can explain them.

    Here in Taiwan I have experienced both sides of the spectrum (although neither of them extreme) in positive ways. I have been moved to tears during a service led by a pianist and two lead singers. I have lifted my hand in praise to the All-Conquering One during a worship session led by a guitarist and his background soundtrack (read: drums recorded). Coming from where I've been, that is one huge step for me.

    So I will say this. It's not about what you do, what you say, what instruments you play or how. It's about the heart. Am I fully engaged? Am I wholly desiring to please God and praise Him for the Awesomeness that He is? In leading worship, is my heart pure and transparent enough that this desire can be transmitted to the whole congregation? This is why I believe that leading worship is such a serious, awe-invoking responsibility.
    And I deeply appreciate the kinds of leaders (no matter what language they speak) who recognize this and are prepared for it.

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    precious ones

    I met Tina* when I visited the House of Hope for the first time. I had followed one of the coworkers upstairs and Tina, just a few years my junior, smiled at me and allowed me to hold her tiny and sweet one-week-old baby girl. No questions asked as to who I was or what I was doing there. It was hard to believe Tina had just given birth. She was a skinny girl with an active temperament and liked to keep the place clean to stay busy. She was always cheerful when I saw her, quick to return my smiles and answer my questions about how she and the baby were doing. I didn't get to spend much time with her (it seems like every time I go to HisHands I do something different), but I was always impressed by her testimony. Even if I didn't know her before she became saved, I knew that God was working in her heart and changing her gradually.

    Yesterday was her last day to stay at the House of Hope. Her departure came unexpectedly for all of us, but perhaps owing to her more impetuous and quick-to-act nature, she decided it was time for her to leave and go back home. As she was preparing to leave, she was talking to another young mother about what God was teaching her--how forgiveness is one of the hardest things taught in the Bible, and how God would speak to her in her Bible-reading. She even caught herself in mid-sentence about one of the other girls, saying, "I'm going to stop saying negative things about other people--the Bible says we shouldn't do that. Why is it that the Bible always says not to do the very things we want to do?" She went on to remark to the other mother about how the babies in the nursery at HisHands are different--"God's blessing is on them. Remember how Lila used to like to fuss and get upset all the time? Now she doesn't. And how Sam was always lazy and didn't exercise, but now slowly he's learning to? Babies that live with Jesus are just different."

    And not just the babies are different. There was a certain distinction with Tina that I didn't see in the other mothers. Last week I had asked her when she became a Christian. She told me that it was about a month ago--and I could already see that she was growing so much. When she looked up the exact date on her phone, it was not even yet one month--about the same time that her baby was born. What a precious reminder of the gift of God's grace to her! Perhaps that is why she wanted to include the word "Grace" in her new baby's name.

    She is a brave girl, that one. We are sad to see her go, but we do know that God will keep her and her baby safe, as He has promised to keep His children always in His own Hands. <3

    *not her real name

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011


    I could not figure out whether one of my University students was a boy or a girl today. I am going to call her a "she" because she was cute and had a higher voice, although in an androgynous way. Not that I minded--it only started to bother me when we did an activity where the students paired up, interviewed, then introduced each other, and I wondered what pronoun her speaking partner would use. Several of my students had already stumbled on the "he/she" difference, but her speaking partner was one of the students with a better grasp of the language. Although he hesitated only slightly (where only the more careful listener would detect), he began with "he" and ran with it. In hindsight, I think he did very well. Perhaps in choosing "he" there may be less risk of offense. A girl who chooses to be androgynous would probably not mind, and a guy who chooses to...well, would be a guy anyway. I don't know if it would work as well the other way around.

    It got me thinking, though...I suppose androgyny has become more of the norm through the decade, but what implications does it have on the culture, on society? Or is androgyny an implication of something else? Is there confusion about gender roles? When did men stop becoming men and women stop becoming women?

    Anyway, just some thoughts. Not that I don't have my own "opinion" on the issue, but thought I'd put it out there.
    I still love my students, boy or girl or not. :)

    Sunday, October 2, 2011


    Last week we had our annual school BBQ. I was expecting it to be like our church picnics, with the most of the activities (including eating) being outside. But probably due to the excessive tropical heat during the hottest part of the day, most of the activities were done indoors.

    Our school cafeteria is not called the cafeteria. It is called the MPR. I tried for the longest time to figure out what the letters stood for (Main Pulverization Room?), and finally I had to ask someone. It makes sense once you get away from the idea that the room is not just used for eating. Oh, of course-- Multi-Purpose Room.

    In a way, the BBQ was like our church picnics.

    There were a lot of Asian parents with Asian kids.
    There were water balloons and little children.

    There were designated grill-masters and a grilling area. (Can you see them?)

    And there were people working in the kitchen.

    There was one flaw in my thinking "CBCHC picnic." I dressed the part. UA running shorts, my society t-shirt, and flip-flops--what's wrong with that? Nothing, inherently. But for me, once my scooter hit campus, I had a sinking feeling. I was going to blend in SO well with the students. And I did.

    So I mostly hid in the kitchen.

    The BBQ was very different from church picnic in other ways. There were TONS more people. Most of them I didn't know. And there were special "craft" activities available in some of the classrooms!

    The two places I visited were balloon animals,

    and painting. I saw what some of the kids had made and I wanted to make one, too!

    I paid 50NT to make my very own picture of oranges. I found out that it wasn't really painting at all. It was more like taking bits of specially-made papers and tearing them into shapes and affixing them in the right places with a glue-and-water paste.

    I thought it was pretty cool.

    Originally, the plan was to mail my picture of oranges to B. But when I took it home, I discovered that it added a little pop of color to my otherwise bare room. So I decided to keep it. At least for now. :) (sorry, love)

    Besides making orange pictures and working in the kitchen, I also met some of the parents of my students. The ones who took initiative to talk to me were mostly not Chinese. They were super friendly and supportive and encouraging. :) I am still scared of the Chinese parents.

    Also, displayed on our multi-purpose stage in our Multi-Purpose Room were the 5 mural-boards that the Art department created as a school-wide project. Everyone could contribute, and I painted a flower in one of the squares in the letter C.
    Maybe when it gets hung up I'll get a better picture of it. :)

    I'm so glad I work at a place that can have a theme like "Grace!" :) God is so good.

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    this is where I am

    Pictures of where I live:

    The view from the road leaving town

    Entrance to the temple near my house

    Yesterday I took one of my University students up this mountain. The path was very steep but well-maintained. I am curious as to the other hiking trails in the area, it seems like it would be an adventure to go explore!

    A neighbor-mountain

    The view from the top. If it weren't so hazy, I wonder if we could have seen the ocean... (I know it can be seen on clear days from the top of our apartment complexes)

    Typical: temples and vegetation

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    Baby, baby, baby

    Okay, after all the talk about disgusting things (with the lovely interlude about the wok), I really wanted to share this burst of cuteness with you:

    This is one of the babies from HisHands, a ministry that I have been volunteering at and is located right down the street from me. (Btw, we are not at HisHands in this picture.) This adorable little girl is about go home to her family in America VERY soon, and I know her active, bright, curious, exuberant self will be sorely missed here. But we are so very happy she gets to go home soon!

    This is "Samwise." Usually his hair is a riot and sticking straight up from his head, and I think he looks very much like a cabbage patch kid. He is a very easy-going baby and is easily contented, as long as he doesn't have to exercise. We are working on getting his muscles more fully developed :)

    Here is another picture (which I didn't take) of another baby in the nursery--nicknamed "Jellybean." Her story (or as much as I know of it) was a troubled one from the beginning--born to a druggie mother and just in a bad situation--but it has been so neat to see this little tyke grow from 2 weeks old (pictured below) to just a little over one month. Whenever I see her I marvel on how big she's getting. She's oh so cute! :)

    photo credit--from my friend Ashleigh's blog

    I get so much joy from these precious babies, and so thankful to be a tiny, tiny part of this ministry!

    snail crunching

    I will admit I never thought much about snails before. But I was riding in a coworker's car one night when she mentioned their increased appearances, especially on "the shortcut road" (a dark, narrow, creepy pathway that those of us on "the hill" take every day to get to school). And then I saw them everywhere. Dotting the road, snaking silvery pathways on the pavement and sidewalks whenever I went for my evening walks. Then my coworker's car ran over one. The sound was akin to a mini explosion. I was horrified at the mental picture of the slimy, elastic thing being squished under its shell until it popped with a BANG. I started to mind the snails a little more after that.
    And THEN my housemate stepped on one. That time, it sounded like glass shattering. I did not look.

    I was flipping through a book of children's singing games the other day and I came across a song called "crunching snails." The book gave directions to have the children step as if they felt the crunching beneath their feet. I quickly turned the page. Either the composer had a sick mind, or I'm willing to bet that whoever wrote that song must not have ever had the experience of actually crunching snails, because I don't believe they would want to write a children's song about it!

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011


    As I said, I wanted to share about how much I love our new wok.
    It is big.
    It has two handles.
    It came with a steamer attachment.
    It is shinyyy.

    I also love vegetables.
    They are crunchy.
    They are juicy.
    They are flavorful.
    They are colorful.
    They are nutrition-ful :)

    The best ways I know how to cook vegetables are either to stir-fry or to blanch them. And always with garlic. :) Before, I had been using our little frying pan to stir-fry my vegetables, but yesterday I overestimated its capacity and had to separate the cooking into two parts. Today, I used the new wok. I was hesitant to use it at first because it was my housemate who bought it, and I didn't want to take the happiness of using it for the first time away from her. But she suggested I use it after seeing me try to stir my overflowing pan of veggies last night. So today I brought it out and used it.

    The whole time, I was marveling. So much room to stir! So shiny and smooth! So even in cooking temperature!

    It was beautiful. :) <3

    Unwelcome Guests

    Living in Taiwan brings the term "company" to a whole new level. This morning I woke up to a pesky little mosquito having a happy feast, leaving a trail down my arm. It also bit my eyelid, which thankfully did not swell too much. Upon going to the bathroom to check on the bite, I had a good scare to find that I was not alone, yet again. A huge, hairy spider was seen on the wall above the toilet--I jumped and backed up slowly. It started crawling around so I got my camera to take a few shots of it--the thing was about 3/4 the size of my own hand (and no I did not put up my hand next to it to give the picture a scale).

    Usually, when I come across unwelcome creatures that I would rather not smush, I find a way to flush them down the toilet (a couple of millipedes and cockroaches have been disposed of this way). This big guy, though, I knew I could not. Fortunately, my housemate came down and she got a broom. After some chasing and several nervous shrieks (especially when he almost squeezed into the crack in my doorjamb), he was effectively caught. I will spare you the gory details of his demise. I felt bad, but what can you do when these fellows intrude into your living space?

    I do have one guest that is more welcome than other creepy crawlies. I found him when I closed my door and heard a little "fflub" sound as a gecko landed on the wall from the door hinge. I don't know where he came from, but I hear that geckos eat mosquitoes and other things. So he gets to stay. I can only hope and wish that he would eat cockroaches and spiders, too. :)

    the end of the beginning

    Before I got to Taiwan, someone asked if I would keep a blog while here. I said that was a good idea, but somehow when I landed on the island and was swept up into this new life, the thought of blogging was worrisome, and even if I had good content to share, I seem to have lost the ability to put words together well, so it wouldn't turn out good anyway.

    Tonight, though, as I was stir-frying beansprouts and carrots in our house's new wok, I was filled with such warmth and joy over how beautifully the carrots colored the oil and how lovely the new wok was. I wanted to share the joy so much that I wanted to blog about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is so much else to share. And I started to get excited because I have a camera now (although borrowed) so I can put up pictures and it can be like a legit blog, not the doubt-riddled blog-wannabes that I have previously kept.

    So I started this blog.

    Welcome :)


    photo credit--sunrise over Taiwanese mountains

    People often ask me why I came here from America. The question is put simply, but there are many hidden questions behind it--Why did you leave your perfectly good and comfortable life there? Why did you want to come back? Why did you willingly separate from your fiance and go into ultra-long distance?
    The simple question deserves a simple answer. I always say, "I came here for the experience."

    Now, one month+ into it, many things are definitely not what I imagined it to be. It is so much MORE than what I could have imagined! Each day brings small victories, and each day I thank God for bringing me here, for allowing me to experience Him in the realities of life in ways that I never would have experienced elsewhere.

    So, simple or not, my answer is 100% true. :)