Taking Heart

Grief and Gratitude

And just like that the girls have come to the end of their school year. I know “just like that” is an understatement. But it’s honestly what it feels like. These long months have passed in a blink.

I am grateful. Proud of the ways my daughters have been more resilient than I understood they were being at the time. I think of that morning I saw my brave girl reading at her desk, sitting in the Zoom waiting room for so long I asked her what was going on. Her class hadn’t signed on when she thought they would. She’d been doing so well virtually, I didn’t think to ask until then if it was hard being apart from the rest of her class. She nodded. Then the tears came. Oh, my sweet, tough and tender-hearted girl.

It’s been a tough year, but my kids have flourished and grown, and are healthy and well. There is so much to thank God for.

I also feel a sense of loss for them, more than I’d expected. It started when it finally hit me they’d really come the end of the school year without learning in-person with the amazing teachers they’ve come to love. Jeff felt it too. When he brought them to the school on the last day for ice-cream, he watched our oldest running in the field with her friends. “She got to just be a kid,” he said.

Grief and gratitude. There have been good reasons for both this year. The world is so broken and God is so faithful. Neither truth negates the other, and today my heart is experiencing the interwovenness of both.

It was the same this Sunday, our first day back at church in person after half a year apart. Months ago, Jeff had come home to find me crying. I missed singing with our people so much, longed for the day the worship team wouldn’t be standing in front of an empty sanctuary. Still the joy of gathering again yesterday was mingled with sorrow as I realized how many hard things remain unchanged. Some dated to before the world shut down and some since. There were faces missing— one beloved now worships with the Lord; many other beloved are drifting from the faith.

There is space for both lament and thanksgiving in the Scriptures, and not in a compartmentalized way either, as if they are to be kept for separate places and times. We see it as we read the Old Testament, how at the rebuilding of the temple, some “wept with a loud voice” and others “shouted aloud for joy” so that “the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping” (Ezra 3:13). The legitimate grief of those who’d known the glory of the former temple was expressed alongside of the equally legitimate joy over the new one.

It’s interesting to me that it says both the weeping and joyful shouting were loud. Holding both grief and gratitude is not like mixing cold and hot to get a tepid middle temperature. They don’t balance or cancel each other out. The voices of both were distinct, yet not easily separated. It can often feel that way in life. In the midst of a global pandemic, even more so, I think.

Our lists are long with staggering losses and life-giving graces. There are thousands of reasons to weep. And just as many to give thanks.

So we lament loud. God, we’ve lost so much! There is so much yet to be mended and made whole! How long? Have mercy, come quickly, and make it right!

We praise loud. Lord, for all that has been and is being restored, for all the foretastes of kingdom come, for the grace seen and unseen, we cannot thank you enough!

We will cry and we will shout. We will rejoice and we will mourn. And it’ll be ok if we can’t tell apart the sound of one from the other.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

Your One Wild and Precious Life

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver

I saw a dear friend this weekend. Since college, each of us has been witness to God’s firm commitment to keep and lead the other. There’s this different peace about you, she’d said when I first told her about me and Jeff. Later, she stood up front with me at my wedding, and I at hers. Now, the men we married took the kids we’ve had since then out for a hike so we could catch up.

We sat on my deck and talked about how we’ve been wrestling to own the things God has put on our hearts. What it’s looked like for us figuring out life as moms while carrying a specific sense of his calling for work outside the home. Like William Wilberforce, God has put before her a “great object”— a need in the world she has been called to meet as a trailblazer. She has a sharp mind, a passion for justice, a bold faith, and a history of receiving unique opportunities from the Lord. The direction she’s moving in feels obvious to me as her friend, though in this season of life it has taken time for her to walk in it with confidence.

I talked about my own desire, more nebulous than hers, but real nonetheless. She’d known to ask me specifically about it, then told me, “That’s always who you’ve been. It’s almost like, part of the essence of Faith Chang.” I’ve been walking the uneven terrain of self-doubt for a while, and her words were a steadying hand.

It strikes me now how parallel our journeys have been, though hers has her globe-trotting with her family and me rooted in Staten Island for over for a decade. More specifically, in recent years, both of us have had to stop looking to other women for exact models of how our lives ought to look, stop trying to duplicate the obedience of others, however godly those examples may be. In other words, we have needed to learn to discern what it looks like for us to walk in God’s ways.

For years, I’ve had in mind to write a blogpost titled, “That Blogger Doesn’t Know You.” The idea came to me when, as a younger mom, I had to stop reading the flood of Christian articles I’d immersed myself in, mom-blogs especially. Women wrote about how they were led by God to certain convictions about raising kids, serving in their churches, supporting their husbands, and working in the world. The logic of their choices flowed from the Scriptures and made sense to me, so I (often unconsciously) took their standards as my own. The problem was that their choices came out of the way they were called to obey God and though they described one application of God’s truth, their examples were rarely meant to be prescriptive for me. I had to recognize that because I have a different family, am called to a different church, and just am a different person, many of the specific ways I love God and neighbor are necessarily different.

What I’m not saying is that God’s Word is relative, or that it’s okay to excuse disobedience because of our circumstances. Christians don’t just “do you,” following our hearts no matter where they lead. Jesus says we’ll know a tree by its fruit, and Scripture is clear about the kind of fruit a believer ought to show. Following God’s way for our lives can never look like not following his commands. Still, the way we obey his command to love him and neighbor can vary. There are many types of trees that bear good fruit. You do sanctified you.

A few weeks ago, praying with another dear one as she steps through some incredible doors God is swinging wide open for her, I thought of how there is no one else in all of history who has lived or will live her life. Later, I thought about how this is true for every one of us who have ever walked God’s good earth, and well, that took my breath away.

Parents (or aunties and uncles) of a set of siblings know what it’s like, seeing up-close the uniqueness of a child as distinct from his siblings. “She looks like herself,” is what Jeff would say when people asked who our firstborn looked like, but I tried to place her, describe how she was like me or her dad. As she and her siblings grow older though, as I observe differences between them in the questions they bring about God, the way they experience the world, the fears and dreams (literal and figurative) they have, I know their dad is right.

The point of the God-given uniqueness of each individual, that each person in the history of the world is “like himself” or “like herself”, teeters on the incomprehensible to me.

As a kid, I played a computer game that began with the user creating a set of blue, egg-shaped characters. You’d make each one by choosing their hairstyle, eyes, nose, and legs, which was fun until you had to make a lot of them at once. At that point, your best bet was to click on a picture of two dice, the random Zoombini generator. The game only allowed for each character to have one duplicate. Who has enough patience to create 20 computer game characters with four traits each? Not me.

God, though. From the beginning of humanity, through every era, he has fearfully and wonderfully made each of his image bearers, forming every one in his or her mother’s womb. Not only so, but he has determined the times and places for each one of us that we may turn to him. He has not auto-populated human history with the roll of dice. A person’s learning style, height, temperament, tastebuds, and reading pace? Whether or not he’s comfortable in a crowd or she’s always the first to spot the lonely? The things that move you, make you wonder, and catch your breath? These are determined and have been (and are being) shaped by the the Holy Maker of all things and all people.

Moreover, Scripture says that we who are saved by grace are his workmanship. Created in Christ Jesus, God has prepared good works for us to walk into (Eph. 2:8-10). There is such specificity here, how as we go through life, God has wisely set out tasks before for each of us to discover along the way.

Though we imitate the faith of others walking in Jesus’ narrow way, in a very real sense, he is leading us on a road never taken before by any other. And as much as it would be simpler to follow another’s map, more necessary and precious is the promise of his Spirit and guidance, the nearness of our Teacher who speaks to his people, “This is the way, walk in it” (Is. 30:21). What about John?, we may ask. “What is that to you? You must follow me,” replies our Savior (Jn. 21:21-22). So we take one step, then another, though we know not where to.

There is a measure of freedom we experience here, and a sense of fearful trembling too, acknowledging the uniqueness of the one life we alone are called to live before God. He releases us from the crushing yoke of using another’s life as a measuring stick for our own, from trying to live in ways we were never equipped for or expected to live. In some ways though, it can feel harder. It means searching the Scriptures when I’d rather scroll the internet for soundbites of truth. It means I need hard-earned wisdom that can only come through walking daily in the fear of the Lord. It means waiting with patience, seeking his face even more than his guidance, trusting that Jesus meant it when he said his sheep will know his voice (Jn. 10:1-18), believing that even if I get turned around, he won’t leave me behind to fend for myself.

I’ll spend a lifetime learning to walk this way. Seeking to love God with my particular set of desires, talents, limits, sufferings, regrets, preferences, weaknesses, and strengths. Learning to love others as myself—both as much as I love me, and in a way only I can. Being made more like him, and more like me, in my time and place. I expect to be praising God for his wisdom in future years, glad that his course for me turned out to be different than my own vague predictions regarding it. Or maybe, as sometimes happens, I’ll be even more surprised to find that I was right on some counts.

As soon as the husbands and kids returned, my friend’s family had to leave to make it to their dinner plans. The two of us dragged our feet saying bye, even more than the kids did. I hadn’t thought to say it then, but there is a different kind of peace about her, the kind that comes from the Spirit. She is growing into herself, courageously walking the path of obedience that is hers alone to take. We both are, I know. But I see it so clearly in her and it’s beautiful, which gives me hope it might also look that way in me.

Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Today We Wait

I never thought much about that Saturday, not until I read this page to my daughter. Years later, the phrase, imagined by the author of how the disciples felt that day, would rise to the forefront of my mind as I walked through my own loss:

We will be sad forever.

Today, the Church calendar leads us into remembrance. In between yesterday’s and tomorrow’s services, we embody in real time the hours between the first Good Friday and Easter. He was crucified, died, and was buried, our church recites weekly. That Jesus, God incarnate, died and stayed dead in a borrowed tomb is central to the Christian confession.

On this side of the resurrection, our minds often jump from cross to victory, but the gospel accounts don’t do that. All four writers walk us through Jesus’ burial, and as I read the accounts, I am surprised by how physical, how tangible the descriptions are. Those of us who have seen death up close recognize the details as common— decisions about what to do with Jesus’ body, how and when it would be prepared, where he would be laid to rest. These are the logistics of death. They are mundane. They are utterly and unspeakably awful.

I think of that first Holy Saturday, of the ones who loved Jesus now bereaved and bewildered, reckoning with the fact that they were waking up and Jesus was still dead. How crushing it must have been to lose not only Master and Friend, but their hope. Did they question what all their years with the rabbi had meant, what their proclamations of him being the Son of God amounted to, now that he was gone? “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” one follower would say the next day, not knowing he was speaking to the risen Savior himself (Lk. 24:21).

They did not know that as they wept, he lay lifeless for their redemption. They could not understanding what was to come.

I see Holy Saturday as the stark contrast between warranted despair and grounded hope. If the disciples had not walked through those horrible days— if Jesus had not really died, and I mean “really” in its being in congruence with the tangible, material, gruesome reality of death in this world — we would remain under the full and just wrath of God (Rom. 5:9-10). And if, lying in the tomb, his heart did not begin to pump and his lungs never drew breath again, if his body did not grow warm and he did not stand to leave his grave clothes behind, truly it would be right to be sad forever. Our faith would be futile, we would be dead in our sins, found to be liars, and of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

As I get older, I find this Saturday increasingly meaningful. Above all, I am reminded that the events we remember this weekend are the basis of any hope we have as believers. As the years go by and life feels more complicated, I am more certain that the simple truth of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are worth staking my whole life on. I am increasingly convinced that I have nothing to boast in except the cross of Jesus Christ, and that he who loved me and gave himself for me is worth following. We walk this way between his resurrection and his return, not by sight, but by faith in what God has done and what he has promised he will do.

And as I await my own resurrection, my losses accumulating until then, Holy Saturday is a tangible reminder in the waiting that there is unspeakable joy to come. That God is good and wise even in the most painful trials, and that at the dawning of the new Day, there will be glory beyond imagination for those who put their trust in him.

Easter is coming, but for now we wait.

And beloved, though today we may wait, Easter is coming.

Taking Heart

On Processing my Lack of Grief

I don’t do much cross-posting here, but I have a piece over at Reformed Margins today that may be of help to some readers here. In it I process my absence of tears in response to recent events, and how I believe God is inviting some of us to learn to grieve.

Here’s the introduction:

Why aren’t I angrier? Sadder? Why aren’t I speaking out? Compelled to action for my own people?

Even as fellow Asian Americans have been speaking out in recent days about their grief and anger about the way people in our communities are being and have been treated, I believe there are many of us who are still processing our own disparate responses. Like fellow RM contributor Larry, I have been wondering why my own reaction has as tempered as it’s been to the increasing anti-Asian racism and violence this year. 

This week, Larry wrote about the way the model minority myth can numb us to trauma. In his guest post, Peter Ong touched upon the way many Asian Americans deal with the pain and shame of being perpetually othered, “swallowing the bitterness.” Today, I want to explore another reason why some of us, myself included, may be having trouble grieving over anti-Asian American racism. It hit me while reading something Youn Yuh-jung, the 73-year old South Korean actor who starred in the film Minari, said in an interview.

Youn, speaking of the immigrant experience of those in her generation said this: “We expected to be treated poorly, so there was no sorrow.” 

You can read the rest of it here: Learning to Grieve Anti-Asian Racism as an Asian American

Church & Ministry, Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Don’t Be Alarmed If It Feels Like Death

“Go where you wanna go. Do what you wanna do. Believe in yourself.” Sesame Street is playing in the kitchen where my boy has been camping out in front of the HomePod, making requests to Siri. He’s enjoying the music when I hear him think out loud to himself, “Do what you wanna do”? No…you can’t do what you wanna do.

My little guy’s statement, unprompted and so obvious to him, is a bit like the child calling the emperor naked. In our world, self is king and doing “what you wanna do” is the only true way to live. Authenticity is heralded as the supreme measure of what is right. Trust in self a given good. He doesn’t know yet what a counter-cultural sentiment he’s expressing.

My four-year old’s critique isn’t one I am meant to merely rail against “culture” though, it is firstly a reminder for me.

These days, I’ve been sorting through the pull of desires and responsibilities. There are some things I want to be doing, which make the things I ought to be doing feel more onerous than usual. I have been at this— walking with God in my particular spheres of life— long enough to know that I can’t just shirk what I ought to be doing, but the slog of it had been creating a bit of dissonance in me and probably a bit of self-pitiful bitterness too.

I told Jeff yesterday that I wish I didn’t have this other thing I wanted. It was easier to say “yes” to the ought to when I didn’t have desires to do otherwise. I’d rather just not want than say no to what I wanted. To be sure, there are times when God calls us to reevaluate our priorities, to rest, to say no to duties we can no longer shoulder. I am in the middle of such a season. But my more recent struggles aren’t so much a matter of being over capacity as much as the reality that sometimes, I just want to do what I want to do, even as I do what I ought. Which is why some of Jesus’ hard words in the gospels have been actually coming to me as comfort this week.

Working my way through the gospels, I’ve been reminded of how committed Jesus was to giving a realistic view of what it would look like to follow him. He warned his disciples of persecution (Matt. 5:10-12, 10:23; Luke 12:21) and spoke of daily life with him as taking up his cross (Luke 9:23). Loving God will look like hating our own life at times (Luke 14:26). It is so complete a surrender of our own desires and a right to self that Jesus calls it death (Luke 9:24-25).

The force of these verses are not merely their predictive value, but in the promises Jesus holds out. Our death to self precedes our finding true life in him. We die as seeds, forfeiting all we know for the greater glory of a life that bears much fruit (John 12:24-25). These promises are gold. But what I am helped by today is something a bit more peripheral. It is the way that in them, Jesus resets our expectations of life with him.

I’ve always been a bit taken aback by Jesus’ words to the scribe who said to him “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Instead of affirming his desires, Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:19-22). It always felt a bit harsh to me. Now I’m seeing it as a mercy.

In our first years of marriage, Jeff and I would reflect on how surprised we were at how much we were enjoying it. We had braced for the worst, having been taught since we were teens about marriage— how sanctifying it is to be bound as sinner-saints to another, how it is not easy being exposed and continuing to love in the daily grind of real life. We went in with joy but also a bit of trepidation at the hard work we knew would be entailed in keeping covenant with one another. In hindsight, I probably could have used a more balanced view of marriage, including more of the joys. Still, I’m grateful because I can’t imagine having gone in wearing blinders, how confused I would’ve been had my expectations for it been different.

Jesus knew the scribe had prematurely declared his devotion. Whatever he imagined it’d be like to be a disciple of the Teacher, suffering, homelessness, and scorn needed to be added to the picture. Count the cost of following me, Jesus said in another instance, like a builder of a tower or a king before war. If you aren’t willing to bear your own cross, if you are not ready to be so committed to me that it looks to others like you hate your own life, you cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-34).

For those who by grace now follow him, there is a way in which God mercifully sets our expectations so that when things are truly hard, they aren’t compounded by our bewilderment that they are so. “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you,” wrote the apostle (1 Pet. 4:12). Jeff has reminded our church often that the uniform of the Christian is the armor of God, not Hawaiian shorts and a t-shirt. I’ve found that though this isn’t always the case, sometimes what I need most is just that recalibration of my expectations. That image of being dressed for warfare silences my alarm that “something strange is happening” when I don’t feel like life is a vacation.

I’m not exactly sure why it helps me as much as it does, these reminders that the Christian life is costly. Maybe it’s because I’ve come to instinctively take cross-bearing as a given and forget I didn’t walk into this life blind. Perhaps it takes away some of the doubt and guilt I feel when there’s a discrepancy between what I want and ought to do. Or perhaps I’ve just needed the assurance I’m going the right direction, like getting a call from a friend a few miles ahead on a road trip. “It’s a bit winding and you’ll pass by a Chick-fil-a billboard,” they might say, and the sign-holding cows come in view just as you wonder if you’ve lost the way.

Either way, I’m receiving this mercy today, the reminder that if it feels hard to follow Jesus, to obey him and love him, to sacrifice my own desires to know him better, it’s normal. Don’t be alarmed, he’s telling me, if it feels like death. He’s walked this way before, and it’s just as he said it would be.