Wednesday, May 30, 2012

from mountains to molehills

Tonight I went to a friend's house for prayer.

I have hesitated for a long time sharing about this because I don't know how much I should disclose, or how much is on such a personal level that blogging about it would break a sort of trust. But coming home tonight, I realize two things: 1) God is a God of brokenness and 2) God is a God of powerful healing. And I think you, my friends, already know this.

From what I can share, my friend has had her life's worth of troubles burdening her for a long while. Her hometown is not in Taiwan but from some province in China, and she moved here when she married her husband years ago. By her connection with several ladies at my school, eventually God drew her heart near His and she came to place her faith in Jesus. By then it was known that her husband was an abusive alcoholic. I remember last December during our Christmas party I asked how she was doing and she confessed to me a little about what she was going through with her husband being put in prison for a time. Slowly from that point, her story has unfolded bit by bit to me.

Since then, her husband has been released from prison, given a job, and started going to church with her and her children. All of these alone have been huge answers to prayer. He has been a bitter, hardened soul, but God has been working on him through our prayers. Each week there have been new small victories -- God's still small voice. God's perfect peace. God's breakdown of the enemy's lies. God's encouragement to a hurting heart.

Her husband actually attends our prayer meetings now. He is engaged in the conversations. Just last week, he was complaining about the low pay in his job for the work that he does, and the very next day after we prayed for his job, his boss commended him for his work and said he is eligible for a raise after a short period of time. Today our conversation stemmed from a discussion that hope is not lost in this world. We turned to the verse from Corinthians, "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." We all were encouraged in the end by the genuine probing of his mind as we all thought on God's Word together. No longer is he accusatory or argumentative, but more open and frank with us. The Holy Spirit is surely renewing this man's mind!

As for my friend, I see in her that the more difficulties we face, the more we are pressed into the heart of Jesus. Life surely is not all a bed of roses, and the road towards healing seems long and winding. But in our weakness, we can find that through the blood of Jesus, we are able to say "I am strong." Tonight when we first arrived I saw a very real discouragement in her face, but by the time we left, it was replaced by God's peace. She realized once again that her husband is not her problem to fix -- I think that realization in itself is admirable.

Because of the end of the school year and many of us going back Stateside for the summer, tonight was the last prayer meeting until the fall. We prayed for protection for this family, a real hunger for God in their hearts, and further encouragement to walk with Jesus. And we know that what we pray, He will be faithful to answer.

To You, O Lord, we give glory.

God is real. Prayer is powerful. And when the faithful pray together, El Shaddai moves.

Monday, May 28, 2012

so the story goes

Almost 2 years ago, when B and I were still in the beginnings of our relationship, we began praying. Not just praying, but fasting and praying, specifically for Taiwan. Knowing the desires in our hearts to return one day to the island, for whatever reason, we prayed that whatever God willed, He would make  happen.

When we received the news last year that I got the job here, we were ecstatic. B was happy that I could experience life in Taiwan in the same amount of time that he did, and I was so exhilarated that my dreams of teaching overseas were coming true in a land that I loved.

But it doesn't stop there.

A long time ago, B and I were hypothesizing the future. I remember getting a text from him once while we were in LDR as I finished school -- "What if I went to med school in Taiwan?" it said.

"Then I would go with you and teach there." was my quick reply.

This year, B applied to KMU. They were one of the only (if not the only) med schools in Taiwan that has a post-bac program and accepts international students. For "some reason," it is in the same city as the school I teach. But we weren't even sure if he would get in; it was kind of a shot in the dark. We found out later that KMU has an acceptance rate of 4.3% -- we just didn't know how likely it would be for him to get accepted. We just kept waiting and praying. One by one other prospects dropped like flies. All except this.

20 months later from when we first began to pray, He has answered. Yes.

We are coming back. !!

It hasn't been an easy road. It was months piled upon months of living in limbo and the nebulousness of not knowing what the next step was going to be. Facing hard questions and heavy options, less-than-ideal backup plans, discouragement, and the constant lack of answers gave us a few grey hairs and sleepless nights. But in the end we learned that God's "Trust Me" always rings true, and no matter what, He will take care of us.

So it turns out that I don't have to be sad about leaving Taiwan. The adventure continues. Yes, there will be risks, but to us, they are like having front-row seats to watching God working mightily for His children. Jehovah Jireh. There is anticipation, excitement, and even suspense. What more could we ask for? He hears our prayers, and shows Himself faithful.
Bring it on.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wise Words

They have gone before us on the path that we shall all have to take at some point. ...To be sure, God shall call you, and us, only at the hour that God has chosen. Until that hour, which lies in God's had alone, we shall all be protected even in greatest danger; and from our gratitude for such protection ever new readiness surely arises for the final call.

Who can comprehend how those whom God takes so early are chosen? Does not the early death of young Christians always appear to us as if God were plundering his own best instruments in a time in which they are most needed? Yet the Lord makes no mistakes. Might God need our brothers for some hidden service on our behalf in the heavenly world? We should put an end to our human thoughts, which always wish to know more than they can, and cling to that which is certain. Whomever God calls home is someone God has loved. "For their souls were pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took them quickly from the midst of wickedness" (Wisdom of Solomon 4).

We know, of course, that God and the devil are engaged in battle in the world and that the devil also has a say in death. In the face of death we cannot simply speak in some fatalistic way, "God wills it"; but we must juxtapose it with the other reality, "God does not will it." Death reveals that the world is not as it should be but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death. Here the sharp antithesis between "God wills it" and  "God does not will it" comes to a head and also finds its resolution. God accedes to that which God does not will, and from now on death itself must therefore serve God. From now on, the "God wills it" encompasses even the "God does not will it." God wills the conquering of death through the death of Jesus Christ. Only in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ has death been drawn into God's power, and it must now serve God's own aims. It is not some fatalistic surrender but rather a living faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us, that is able to cope profoundly with death. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Like a sudden gust of wind

This morning the floodgates of heaven seemed to open upon our usual sunny town, with the sky dark and brooding as it unleashed angry tears upon the land.
My bag was drenched by the time I got to church, so I left it open on the floor to get a little more airing out. During the sermon I noticed my phone went off. I thought it strange, because no one usually calls me on Sunday morning. I sensed trouble. Later I checked the number and confirmed the sense when I recognized it to be from home.

At home I checked my email and found one from my sister, telling me to call right away. The news was not good. Praying it was nothing to do with my parents or Brian, I breathlessly listened. Quietly and calmly, just the same as years ago when she told me they pulled the plug on Michael, she told me that Jian Hong ge, my cousin, was in a motorcycle accident and died yesterday.

I was thunderstruck. Not Jian Hong ge. 

And it kept raining.

No, it was not one of my parents, not my sister, her husband, or B. But he was a husband. Son. Brother. Big brother to me, and to not a few others.
Life has a different meaning when death comes to the door.
Flashbacks of memories come trickling in -- He was always kind and protective. Always endearing in his bumbling but mature ways. I ached for his new wife of a few years, for his little sister. For his parents. For all of us.

One of the last memories I have was of him inviting me to come to his church to attend their Christmas service.

建宏哥哥, 雖然在世界不能看都你了, 我一天一定會跟你一起參加天堂的敬拜!

你的憂愁, 煩惱不見了!
希望你知道我們多麼 愛你.

 You will be missed.

Oh death! where is your sting? Oh grave! where is your victory?
Oh church, come into the light! Our God is not dead, He's alive, He's alive! 
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake! Come and rise up from the grave.
Christ is Risen || Matt Maher

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lessons from the beautiful island, 2


I would have to say this is something that grows with you as time goes on, and we are never "arrived" at learning all there is on gratefulness. But there is an element of contentment in the gratefulness that I've learned here. I remember the perplexing quandary I faced with the issue of where to live, and I realized that the place I chose was indeed what God wanted, with a purpose, despite the setbacks I faced. So I am grateful.

In spite of the poor lighting.

In spite of the millipedes, spiders, and geckos.

In spite of the ants crawling in my bed.

In spite of the mold-causing humidity.

In spite of the remoteness of location.

I learned to live with all these things (except the mold--folks, I highly recommend a dehumidifier if you have this problem), and it was okay because I knew I was where God wanted me to be. I learned to be grateful for a roof over my head, a fan to cool the stifling air, and a desk lamp to light my writing space.

I am also grateful for mosquito zappers

On a larger scale, I learned that thankfulness is also an antidote to a number of things. I had a powerful encounter with thankfulness in prayer breaking down the walls of a judgmental heart. I experienced the freeing effect thankfulness had on separation anxiety and cow-country blues. Now I know why He says so often to be thankful.

Maybe I should have written about this one first, because the thankfulness Taiwan gave to me definitely played a part in growing my appreciation for people. Ah, well.

 "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." I Thess 5:18

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lessons from the beautiful island

Talking with my sister the other day about our greatly anticipated "frolic around Taiwan" when she gets here next month (!!), I realized it has been quite a span of time since I've seen her, and since I've seen home. It made me realize that there are probably things that have subtly changed in me, and maybe some perspectives I've been handed that I would have never seen through before. 

So as the projected "year in Taiwan" is drawing to a close for me with just a couple short months left, I want to take some time to reflect on the ways this beautiful island has changed me, and the indelible imprint that the time has left.

People. people. people.
I am often asked what I'll miss about the island when I leave (but who says I'm leaving for good? :) ), and my answer always includes the succinct and vague answer, "the people." But what exactly am I talking about? Let me give you an example to illustrate.

I was donning my helmet, about to hop onto my scooter when a white sedan drove up, rolled down the windows, and a friendly youngish-looking man asked me if I knew the way to E-Da world. It took me a bit to try and explain, meanwhile the passenger windows rolled down and I saw his wife and daughter in the backseat. I decided that it would be easier to show them the way instead of explaining, so I went a bit out of my way to lead them to the next bend in the road. Once I directed them to the appropriate turn, they pulled to the side of the road once more and the man got out, telling me he wanted to give me something.
"What in the world?" I thought to myself, but I went along with it. He ended up giving me an elaborately decorated calendar, his name card, and a glass tumbler with some sort of logo on it. He runs show business, he told me. I assumed he was going to E-Da for a show proposition.

Anyhow, I was quite taken aback by his liberal payback for such a small gesture, and grinned as they waved and his daughter called out "Lao shi [(teacher)], bye bye!" as they drove off. I quite forgave them for thinking I was a mail-order bride at first. (ha ha!)

Okay, so maybe that isn't a very good example, because not everyone is as quirkily generous as that man was. Maybe I just wanted to tell you that story, because it caught me by surprise.

But that's the thing. As much as one will usually come across the genuine polite and welcoming aura of the people here, there are always things that will take you by surprise.

(Aside: I was talking to my neighbor lady tonight and she (as a native northerner) told me about something she has against the people down here in the south. Something about their standard of conduct--from what I gathered, a lowered standard of social norm that makes some forms of rudeness acceptable. In the back of my mind, I thought wryly, "Whatever it may be, it's gotta be much better than the mainland!" But I didn't say anything. :D )

Anyhow, every time I think of the handful of new friends I've made here, from known for all 11 months to just met on the streets, I am grateful. I can appreciate what it means to be on one's own -- and at that point, all genuinely welcoming, friendly gestures are appreciated.

Perhaps many of the people I've come across also feel the same way. Many Taiwanese are mobile and don't live in their hometowns anymore--and even if they do, I suppose the ancient ancestral homes remain in a distant land, so maybe they feel it too, unconsciously. But whatever the case, often when it is found out that I'm not from around here, the offer of helping hands reaches out to me. Perhaps before I didn't appreciate people as much. But in a small way, I've learned better now.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I hesitated on the front steps, pausing to peer inside through the reflections on the glass doors to see how busy they were. I was taking my parents to see the Seventh Heaven picture studio, being in the area. It was busy in there. Seven was crouched on the ground talking to a couple seated on a low bench, showing them several samples of his work. He immediately recognized me and stood up to greet me. Tu zi also waved enthusiastically and exclaimed a greeting in my name. I felt the warmth seep in like a welcoming hug.

I walked my parents around the small space as they placed all the things they had seen in the pictures. As we meandered, an assistant came by and saw me. He looked at my face and then said, "Oh, it's the one from the States. I recognize you by your smile."

Although he probably knew it from editing all our photos, I like to think that there is something sweet about that statement, too.

"You're never fully dressed without a smile" -from Annie, the musical