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, 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 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