Today, I stayed home….

Today, I stayed home….

img_0894This blog has been about coffee and wine.  It is about the things I love.  It is about the things that break my heart.  It is about figuring out when I’m meant to grab that extra cup of coffee and get out into the world, trying to live out my mission to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  Other times, living out that mantra means being still, resting in Him.  Today, I stayed home.

I was supposed to go help at the Life Moves Opportunity Services Center in Palo Alto today.  These last couple months, few experiences have shaped my mindset around compassion and serving as much as the handful of meals I’ve served there.  But, today I needed to stay home.

My mom has cancer.  She’s been waging her courageous battle for over a year now.  Her strength in the face of this horrible disease, and yet simultaneous trust in God, has been an up close and personal masterclass in true faith.  Lucky for me, I’ve had a front row seat my entire life.  We got to spend some time with her over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The day after she returned, she was being rushed to the hospital (I swear, we didn’t undercook the turkey!).  The last 72 hours have been tough.  It’s not easy to watch from afar, completely powerless.

img_0895I was reflecting today, on a story that Kevin Kim told earlier this week.  Kevin and Bea Takasugi from NU2U came to speak to our Mothers Together group for Missions Tuesday.  In fact, I had just gotten the news that my mom was being rushed to the Emergency Room, as we were kicking off our morning at Menlo Church.  Being there was exactly where God wanted me; their testimonies were both a salve for my battered soul.  Kevin shared a bit of his personal story, how he saw the hardships his mother endured as a single mom, running a small hotel.  At just 5 years old, he vowed to one day be rich, so he could take care of his mom.  He succeeded in getting himself into med school, but then started to feel God calling him into ministry.  But, if he wasn’t a doctor, how could he fulfill that childhood promise to take care of his mom?  You could have cut the air with a knife when Kevin shared with us the message God had given Him: I’ve taken care of your mom her whole life.  Don’t you think you can trust me to keep taking care of her?

I am convinced that this is a moment when we need to actually go BE the church OUT there.  We need to get out of the pews and make our faith tangible to a hurting world.  We need to drink more cups of coffee and leave nothing on the table.  But, even in the midst of the doing, there must be surrender….there must be trust.  Do we actually look for God in the midst of it all?

Sometimes, He doesn’t move the mountains or part the waters.  Sometimes, He doesn’t say, peace, be still.  Sometimes, instead of calming the seas, He comforts His child.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the 1st week of Advent, as we prepare our hearts for the Christmas season.  I am reminded of the name the angels gave Jesus, calling him, Emmanuel.  Maybe, this Advent, God’s calling me to rediscover not just the sufficiency but the beauty of God With Us.  Because, let’s be honest….most of us, no matter how many times we paste the calligraphy version of Emmanuel on our walls and Christmas cards, will actually be content with that promise.  We want the omnipotent god to change things.  We want the omniscient god to reveal things.

img_0892Right now, the control freak in me yearns for the God that can heal my mother or end poverty or stop racism.  This afternoon, I had planned to go serve the homeless.  As I admitted to my husband, going there would be a useful distraction from my worry.  And, sometimes, useful distractions are good and productive.  But, as the time neared for me to leave home this afternoon, I knew that my place was by my computer and next to my phone, where I could stay on top of things in Chicago.  I initially stayed home because I felt like I couldn’t entertain any distractions that would delay my replies to the folks on the front lines of my mother’s care.  But, I think the real reason God wanted me home was to sit me down at the foot of the cross… remind me through the stillness of this moment, through the beauty of sunlight filtering thru the autumn leaves in the backyard, that no matter what happens, He is Emmanuel.  And, today, that’s more than enough.

40084029-4fa6-41ad-a16d-b264a5542025-18407-00001a67a15dcfa1_tmpOn Tuesday, Bea introduced us to a story first told on the How I Built This podcast.  This episode features Jim Koch, the first Samuel Adams employee.  He talks about the difference between scary and dangerous, saying, “There are plenty of things that are scary but aren’t dangerous and there are plenty of things that are dangerous but not scary, and those are the things that can get you.”  He then goes on to give the examples of rappelling (scary but not so dangerous) vs walking on a snowy mountainside on a sunny spring day (dangerous…avalanche!).  One feels scary, but poses little real risk – the other feels delightful, but could be life-threatening.  Bea connected the dots for us, relating Jim’s story to her own testimony.  Only after she left her old life, did she realize how much she’d actually put on the line by playing it safe.  Confession: I think most of us, myself included, waltz into the dangerous as we side-step the scary.

It can be scary to trust in Emmanuel…to say, it is enough to know that He is God.  Period.  But, surrender is truly the least dangerous, most prudent path.  The question is whether I can embrace it at such.  Sometimes, walking humbly has as much to do with my posture towards God, as it does my posture towards people.  Sometimes, God’s mercy is greater in the valleys than the mountaintops.  Sometimes, justice by heaven’s scales looks completely different than what a democratic system or American culture could ever deliver.

These last few weeks, it has felt that the pillars holding up my life are shaking; my faith in my country, my religion and even the assurance of health and well-being, have all been tested.  After the election, I was completely despondent.  Perhaps, it is typical for anyone going through the stages of grief.  My tears are fewer these days, as my resolve grows stronger.  Now, more than ever before, we must stand up.  We must make our faith real.  We have to get out of the pews.  But, today, I am reminded that serving the world OUT there can never replace or usurp the moments I spend alone with God.  Today, I am practicing being still…at home, knowing that I can trust God to take care of my mom….to take care of me.   There’s that old hymn that says, my faith built on NOTHING LESS, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness….On Christ, the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.  Maybe, tomorrow, He’ll call me back out to the world….to do something more tangible.  But, not today.  Today, I stayed home.

The Day After

Menlo Park Fire Station

Last night, I was driving my daughter to a birthday party when we passed a fire station.  In honor of September 11th, there were literally hundreds of flags on display.  ‘It must have taken them a long time to put out all those flags,’ she commented.  ‘Tomorrow, they’ll have to pull them up and put them away’.  There are anniversaries, and then there is the day after.

It’s been a season of anniversaries.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I celebrated my 14th wedding anniversary on September 6th.  This weekend, I reflected on multiple anniversaries; it 15 years ago that the towers came down in NYC and it was one year ago that a pillar in my life became a little shaky, shall we say.  It was on September 10th that my mom went to the ER with abdominal pain, only to find out that in the ensuing hours that she had Stage 4 cancer.  I caringbridgecan hardly bring myself to go back and read those CaringBridge posts from the early days; it was and still is, so scary – I could not wrap my mind around losing one of the greatest towers in my life.  But, I am relieved and incredibly happy to report that my mom has responded well to the immunotherapy treatment.  She is not cured, but she is alive, and she is inspiring me with the way she has approached life in the days after her diagnosis.  She fights but she has peace.  It is a motivating combo…to be resolved and yet surrendered.

Menlo Park Fire Station

Not all anniversaries are sad.  This weekend, I got to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday.  As we sat on the patio at the Rosewood Hotel, looking out over the mountains, we went around and shared a special memory related to the birthday girl.  Let’s all be honest for a moment: often, we are going through the motions as we commemorate a day or a person.  But, what made this exercise meaningful was the multiple stories of how this gal had quietly shown up in someone’s life, to be a pillar in a time of need.  There were accounts of her single-handedly unpacking an entire house when a friend was 9 months pregnant…or caring for kids when another was with a husband in the hospital.  Actually, come to think of it, I think she helped two friends unpack after a move!  We can talk about hands and feet – she’s them.

Being married to a Singaporean for over 14 years, I’ve gotten an up close and personal view of Chinese culture.  One of the things I’ve learned, is that they tend to be less verbally expressive than Americans.  Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate this commitment to not just saying the right thing but DOING the right thing.  Or (since it seems everyone is copying this phrase), another way to put it would be:’Your word is your bond’.  Quick aside, the origins of this phrase are actually in the Bible, when Moshe says to the tribes of Israel: “When a man … swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”  More recently, the phrase garnered an entirely new meaning during the slave era.  According to Rachael Ferguson, an ethnographer and professor from Princeton University, the principle “word is bond” allowed merchant traders in the late 1500s to make agreements legally binding before the advent of written pledges.  Your word was as good as a contract.  But, I digress.

credit-ny-daily-news-zadoga-act-extension-front-coverMy point is that actions matter and words should not be meaningless.  When these ladies gathered, their words were full of emotion and gratitude because they articulated a truth we already knew, and now merely repeated in order to bless this friend on her special day.  But, this is not always the case.  We may ask first responders to stand in our church services on 9/11, and we swear to never forget, however, reality is that it was an uphill battle to secure passage of the Zadroga Act, Federal legislation intended to provide health monitoring and financial aid to sick 9/11 workers.  In fact, for a long time, the hashtag, #WorstResponders was trending online in response to congressional resistance; even celebrities like Jon Stewart went to testify, in order to essentially bring attention to and shame legislators who opposed the bill.

Yesterday, our pastor talked about the distinction between ‘Christian’ and ‘Disciple’, pointing out that the word ‘christian’ appears only 3 times in the Bible while the word ‘disciple’ appears 269 times.  The best synonym for disciple would probably be apprentice.  To be an apprentice implies work and commitment – it is more than a label.

Class Photo
Chicago Symphony Orchestra 125th Year

Fun fact about me: I play the flute.  When I was in 5th grade, at Grove Avenue Elementary School (go Grayhounds!) in Barrington, IL, I joined the band.  I was lucky enough to live near a lady, who was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and editor of Flute Talk magazine.  I became her student, her apprentice.  And, I can assure you that you cannot bullshit your way into being a good flutist.  I remember, she used to make me play with big chunks of carrot between my back teeth, so I could learn how to keep my mouth open – not fun, especially after several hours of practice.  Even attending Chicago Symphony concerts was did not make me a musician, although they were fantastic for inspiring a young flutist like me.  You had to commit yourself to the trade.  You had to embrace the carrots.  It was more than a title – it was a life.


All of this leads me to believe that THE DAY AFTER is almost more important than the DAY OF.  You see, it is the day after the birthday party that we get be a real friend who shows up to help with a move or take care of a sick kid, even when it’s inconvenient.  It’s the morning after the candlelit dinner when we acknowledge love is hard but we vow to daily recommit to cherishing one another.  It’s the day after a diagnosis when we find a new way to live.  It’s the day after the concert we get out the carrots and tuner, and spend hours practicing.  It’s the day after the parades, when we are putting away the flags, when we decide whether to be there for our national heroes, the way they were there for us.  It’s the day when we decide whether we are content with a label or we want to be an apprentice.  It’s the other 364 days that make the one day matter.  That’s not to say that parties and memorials and ceremonies are bad; it just means that they’re that they’re that much more meaningful when our word is our bond…and, we actually know what that means.

Here’s to September 12th.