Friday, March 30, 2012

Freedom from nouns

I mentioned last post about the book "The Shack." The first time I heard about this book was from a sermon from a guest preacher at my church. The sermon was in Chinese, with a little bit of Taiwanese sprinkled in, and I was only able to follow the first part of his introduction to the book. I got two things out of it: 1) The book detailed some great, scary tragedy that resulted in some kind of great mystery and 2) The book is originally in English and I should read it.

So I read it last week. Some of the things I found in its pages shook my preconceived notions, and filled me with a speechless wonder. In a good way. For that reason (speechlessness), seems that there is not much for me to say this week in terms of blogging. So I thought I'd share an excerpt of a chapter that particularly hit home for me, especially given my background.


"Is that why we like the Law so much--to give us some control?" asked Mack.
"It is much worse than that," resumed Sarayu. "It grants you the power to judge others and feel superior to them You believe you are living to a higher standard than those you judge. Enforcing rules, especially in more subtle expressions like responsibility and expectation, is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might thing, I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they have only the power to accuse."
Sarayu smiled at Papa and then back at Mack. She began to speak slowly and deliberately. "Mackenzie, I will take a verb over a noun anytime. ... I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb."
Mack still felt as if he had a blank stare on his face. He understood the words she was saying, but they just weren't connecting yet.
"And as my very essence is a verb," she continued, "I am more attuned to verbs than nouns. Verbs such as confessing, repenting, living, loving, responding, growing, reaping, changing, sowing, running, dancing, singing, and on and on. Humans, on the other hand, have a knack for taking a verb that is alive and full of grace and turning it into a dead noun or principle that reeks of rules--then something growing and alive dies. Nouns exist because there is a created universe and physical reality, but if the universe is only a mass of nouns, it is dead. Unless 'I am,' there are no verbs, and verbs are what make the universe alive."

-Wm. Paul Young, "The Shack," p. 205-206

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Break down

My feet hurt from all their mixing in with the grime and cold sweat of Taipei city. I do appreciate that being in the city gives the opportunity to walk a lot, although it leaves me in a quandery as to my choice of footwear. Comfort over cute, or cute over comfort? I usually try to compromise for both, but this time my shoes didn't deliver on the comfort side. Oh well.

The thing about mixing with big cities is that one comes in contact with so many people in a day, all strangers, all passing within a split second. Real people, real souls, real stories. I often wonder about those stories, or make them up in my head as I stand on the MRT rides and watch them come and go. That girl is on her way to work a long shift at a department store. Those two schoolchildren are in the throes of young love (and how young they are!). That guy doesn't realize what he's missing by playing with his cell phone while his girlfriend gently talks in his ear. ...

There was one young lady from whom I was able to learn her story tonight. She is not a stranger, being related to me by blood, but I often feel estranged in the way that time, language, and distance creates. We met up for dinner tonight and she shared with me her teaching experiences, being an English teacher at a cram school. I never realized how much energy she poured into her work, or how passionate she was about making a difference in the hearts of her students. My admiration for her as an individual (and a fellow teacher) rose like the mercury of a thermometer. In spite of the misrepresentations and misunderstandings from the past, I know that I cannot truly appreciate a person or really love them until I know more of their story -- more of who they are, what makes them tick.

I have been reading a book called "The Shack," something that has been very subtly changing my perspective of God: His relationship with Himself and with people. I realize how little I know about the whole thing. I acknowledge His Wholeness, and I catch glimpses of that completeness as it pours over individuals and fills them up and over with Love. But how little do I grasp it. Perhaps it is the beginning of a journey of understanding it for myself.

Fill me up.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Good Things

In the beginning of this semester, we received a new student in 4th grade who became a third addition to my violin group. I was a bit crestfallen when I discovered that her skills did not match up to her classmates and my hopes of having a quartet (with me playing the cello) wavered. But I pushed on. I had her come in for intermediary sessions between classes twice a week, for 15 minutes.
We learned the strings of the violin.
I taught her notes on the treble clef.
I taught her rhythms.

But I learned that she has a different learning system--things don't fire quite normally in her brain. My roommate (the learning specialist) told me about the concerns they had for her in her regular classes -- a learning disability of some sorts. So I tried different ways of teaching her.

We wrote the finger numbers.
We wrote the beats.
We clapped the rhythms.

And today, she got it.

Well, not perfectly, but leaps and bounds from what I had to work with at the beginning.
She claps the rhythms perfectly.
She counts perfectly.
And her notes are almost there.

It wasn't easy. There were times when, after repeating an instruction 3 different times and her still not getting it, I thought to myself, "What am I getting into?" But then her mom would talk to me and ask how she was doing, and I, reluctant to let her go, told her her daughter could do it.

I believed it.
I believed in her.

Later, I talked to another violin student about learning an instrument. In the beginning, it's always hard work and it sounds bad. But just like waiting for a good meal at a fancy restaurant takes time and effort, playing a new instrument well takes time and effort. And beginning violin is definitely not McDonald's. "Good things are always hard work," I told her.

"I feel like that's a lot like life," she said.

She got that right.

Monday, March 5, 2012

a new warmth

This evening I received a text from a friend asking for prayer because they had gotten into an accident. My friends were fine but they said "one kid is hurt." In my mind's eye I saw a couple of students and a scooter/bike next to my friends' car, one of them lying by the side of the road with his head bleeding. I don't know the extent of the damage, but my heart sank. This is accident #4 that I know of with people from our school, all in the last 2, not quite 3, months. Even just one of those is enough to shake me, seeing my roommate sitting on a sign ledge at a T-section with blood on her head and a crowd of MAK family around her. I am definitely more careful now -- when all those other scooters shoot past me on the road I think, they may be "bigger and badder" than me, but if ever in an accident, we all have the same amount of protection -- none. Caution is my best defense.

I was thinking about all of this on my drive to Chinese class tonight. I have not been to Chinese class since two weeks before the Christmas concert. Yes, it's been a long time. One of the reasons that pulled me out of the lethargic, distracted, uncommitted, busy/un-prioritized state was the entrance of March and the way it abruptly changed the season's gears.

I remember reading once from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, something about March going out or coming in like a lion. "In like a lamb, out like a lion," or something like that. Well, in the vein of metaphors, March definitely came in like a lion. Or maybe like an elephant. You just absolutely knew it was there because it was sitting on you with all its heat and humidity. This morning was so bright and beautiful that I was truly reminded that I do live on a sub-tropical island.

Glory! (picture not mine)
Digression aside, knowing that I could drive the 20 minutes out on the dark roads without getting chilled to the bone with the wind whipping through my jacket (plus having nothing but an empty house to come back to) was enough motivation for me to pack my book bag and book it to the elementary school.

Ah yes, elementary school. Chinese class is 3 hours of exactly the same things that Taiwanese children go to school every day for, just in a different format (and more intense). I am in 2nd grade, and I sit at the real desks of real students and use the same real versions of their books. My teacher is a real 2nd grade teacher, and my classmates are real women from other foreign countries who are applying for Taiwan citizenship through either marriage or work. And maybe some other older folks who never learned how to read or write formally, and are starting over now.

The teacher welcomed me when I walked in late, and did not berate me for not coming for so long. She is always so warm and enthusiastic. I really admire the dedication she has to her job, from teaching squirmy little kids all day and staying late to teach mail-order brides who congregate together and chatter in Vietnamese when they can. At one point I listened to everything going on around me while I methodically moved my pencil in delineated strokes on the paper -- I think I caught about 4 different languages (Vietnamese, Mandarin, Taiwanese, and maybe Cantonese) plus the trash truck in the distant background. My ears rang a bit. But the atmosphere was warm, hard-working, and somehow therapeutic as my pencil fell into the harmonic rhythm of a rich and beautiful language, laden with an aesthetic depth of which I felt I was only beginning to scratch the surface.

When class let out I said goodbye to the teacher, smiled at my classmates and their babies, and revved up Little Red to go home. I passed the small village center where the handmade noodles and the drink stands were waiting, the bright lights flashing from the shops and the street signs, the little green guy running on the pedestrian light to let walkers know how much longer they had. I drove the dark and shady spots in between street lamps, thankful once more for my new scooter light installed a few weeks ago to brighten up the way. Not until living here have I realized how dark the darkness can be. In more ways than one.

Soon I'll have reached the 7 month mark, and in a few more it will be time to think about heading home. As much as there is to look forward to that time, there will be things I will miss about Taiwan. I will miss those lights, those shops, those stands. So, notwithstanding the first reason of safety, I drive slowly, and try to take it all in before I have to leave again.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

enlarge my heart

semi-candid freebie shot from our photoshoot day
Today after class I had planned to get my lesson plans done, head home, work out, and go to dinner in the city with a friend. Things changed when the middle schoolers tumbled into my room (the biggest and most versatile room in the school) for their weekly chapel meeting and the chapel leader mentioned something about the planned video they were showing and it caught my attention. I was curious. So I stayed to listen.

The true story was told about the relationship of two roommates. One was a shy, quiet Christian girl, sure of her own convictions, and the other, a typical college party girl. By the end of the story my heart burned within me. Only 14 days in the midst of personal crisis for that latter girl, and the soft, un-judging heart of the former girl was a gateway to the grace of God poured out. Grace. Is this something that I live by? Do I know it? KNOW know it? Does it catch me in its uttermost throes, rob me of my breath, and thrill me to the core of my being? Does it make me weep, or make me want to shout aloud for joy? I drove home mulling something over in my head. Something I am not sure how to pinpoint.

I want more.

More of Grace.

More Love.

More Life.

I am learning to appreciate people more. (Maybe in that same vein, I am also learning how much I did not appreciate them before.) There is just something about being thrown into a foreign environment that makes one reach out to any simple form of friendship. And camaraderie. This week just wrapped up #3 of working out with my new "exercise group" and I've come to appreciate the motivation that comes from sweating it out together with comrades. Encouraging words in fellowship are powerful. And we hold that kind of power in ourselves.

God has been planning divine appointments of His own for me. This evening on my way to dinner in the city I ran into one of my former students from the university on the MRT. I went over and sat next to her and we made light conversation. She mentioned something had happened in her family (in the expected roundabout way of the culture), and I asked if everything was all right. She said she supposed so but it didn't sound very convincing. But something from that girl mentioned in the video this afternoon made me remember that even though we don't always know what to do or say, the love in our hearts will always shine through. So I smiled at her to let her know to let her know that here was a friend.

A girl came to church last Sunday just returned from work holiday in Australia. She asked me about our Sunday school and learning more about Christianity, so I asked her if she had any questions. "I just don't really understand what it's all about," was her reply. She was so willing and ready to hear the Gospel, and I gladly told it--haltingly and interspersing two languages, but she nodded and thanked me in the end. God is definitely doing a work there in that heart.

Tonight I had dinner with a new friend who is back home from the States because of health issues. We shared our stories and I was again amazed at how God moves differently in different lives. I am encouraged that we "found" each other at this time -- although we do not fully know it yet, I have a feeling that the encouragement we can give to each other will be mutually needed and appreciated.

And lastly, something about grace. This week I prayed specifically for healing in a certain area of my life, and God was so gracious to grant it within a couple days. He is moving, and His movements graceful; deeply wrapped in the beauty and truth of His essence. Indeed, He is Love. And He is Life.

I will run in the way of Your commandments
    when You enlarge my heart!
Ps 119:32