Tu és fiel, Senhor!

This past summer, I was in Rio de Janeiro with my friend Albert Alby Wang to celebrate the wedding of Vinicius Gripp B. Ramos and his wife Christina. Vini and Christina had already gotten married in May in Berkeley, but this was a celebration for friends and family in Brazil. The ceremony was a simple one, conducted at the church where Vini’s father was a pastor. The ceremony was conducted in Portuguese, so I could not understand any of it. However, we did get to sing several hymns, including “Tu és fiel Senhor”, which in English is known as “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

I have grown up hearing this hymn, both in its English incarnation and in Korean as “오 신실하신 주”. Yet there was a beautiful richness in hearing it afresh in a new language. I kept the program from the ceremony and still sing the hymn every now and again. It reminds me of the wonderful time I had in Rio with my friends and of that beautiful city. It gives me a greater appreciation of the truth of the words.

“Tu és fiel, Senhor! Tu és fiel, Senhor!
Dia após dia, com bênçãos sem fim.
Tua mercê me sustenta e me guarda.
Tu és fiel, Senhor, fiel a mim.”

Dream 2: Carrying another’s burden + a surprise

Dream 2: Small town. I was with a few friends, visiting the hometown of another friend, “Bill”. As he walked through the town, he started reminiscing over things in his past (this is someone I actually know, but I don’t know anything about his family history, and Bill isn’t his real name.) He started sharing about his ex-wife. As he talked about how long it has been since he has seen his two children, he started getting teary-eyed. We sat, quiet, listening to him share about his disappointment in his failures as a husband and a father.

At some point, our group ended up sitting on one porch, while Bill was sitting on his porch across the street. We called to him to come sit with us. He said that he was grateful for the invitation, but that he couldn’t leave his house. He smiled a sad smile, and started to walk back inside. Without a word, our group got up, walked over to him, and sat down next to him. Some of my friends hugged him. He started crying. We sat in silence.

Just then, a large black spider with a body the size of a quarter came scuttling along the porch at a frenzied pace. My friends jumped back with a scream. The spider crawled onto the leg of Bill, who yelped. The spider crawled over him, up the wall, and onto the ceiling right over my hand, and then jumped down. I shut my eyes tight right before it landed on my face. I stood completely still, keeping my mouth closed firmly. I could feel the spider scrambling all over my face.

Dream: New York City buses

4 dreams last night.

Dream 1: New York City. Almost sunset. I was standing in a cafe with dozens of other law students, all of us chatting idly while waiting for the bus to take us to the event. I fidgeted with my suit and looked at my phone. The bus was due any minute to pick us up at 900 Grayson (East Bay friends, note the reference). I looked on the map and noticed that there was a small produce shop nearby. The map showed the prices of fruit (app developers, get on this), and I noticed it was cheaper at the shop than at the Ralph’s (SoCal friends!) a few blocks away.

I got excited because the produce shop looked just like one I have seen on Seinfeld, the one that sold the melons that got George perked up. I tried to tell others to get them excited (about the shop, not George), but they were not interested.

I looked at the map again, and with a sudden sinking feeling realized that we were waiting at the wrong spot. The buses were waiting on a peninsula several blocks away. Our group left the cafe and started walking. Soon, we were marching lock-step, stone silent, the sound of our leather-heeled steps ringing in the humid night air.

Caribbean Dream

Had a strange dream last night I want to share:

I opened the door to my cabin and set my bags on the ground, a big smile on my face. I walked over and opened the window, taking in the refreshing sea air. “I made it!” I said to myself, as I looked out onto the brilliant blue water. I had signed up for a study abroad program on a boat in the Caribbean. For a year, the boat would travel to different countries, where I would learn about the Caribbean ecosystem.

I walked over to the sink and started washing my hands. I noticed that the sink was filling up with water, so I pulled the stopper out of the bottom. Suddenly, the roof started leaking water, and soon the whole room was flooded. I grabbed my backpack off the floor (now soaking wet), and scrambled toward the door. The walls of the room crumbled down, and I found myself swimming in the crystal clear ocean water. The water was warm and pure. I turned and saw a man and a woman sitting on a bench on the shore, dressed in bathing suits. I thought they were fellow students, so I swam over and said hi. The man shook my hand but didn’t introduce himself. The woman gave me a quick awkward smile. Then they started making out heavily. I left in a hurry.

As I swam away, I saw other students getting into the ocean. I heard people talk about how excited they were to get wasted and laid on this trip. I started to feel upset. It seemed that people came on this trip just to party and that no one was interested in learning about tropical ecology.

I dove down into the water. The water was wonderfully clear; I didn’t need goggles to see. As I poked around in the sand, I was dismayed to find it strewn with garbage: small bottles of alcohol, gum wrappers, food. I picked up a few bottles and swam out to shore. I walked over to a bar on the beach, where the friendly bartender with tanned skin and dark curly hair said “What can I get you?” I told him I just wanted to empty out the bottles in the sink. Once the bottles were empty, I told him where I should put the recycling. He flashed a smile and said “We actually don’t recycle” and threw the bottles in the trash. Somehow, I felt worse on hearing that.

I walked away, the sounds of laughter echoing behind me. I felt really out of place, and wondered if it was too late to get a refund and cancel the trip. I reached into my bag and pulled out the brochure for the trip. I flipped to the back page, which in my excitement I had not yet read. I was stunned to see written in bold print: “We guarantee that you will lose your virginity on this trip!” Underneath that was, in smaller print “Just kidding. We know you all lost that years ago.” I thought “This can’t be real.” I looked out over the beach, the water, all the people, and thought “Is this a dream?” Then I woke up.

Winning to Lose

“Be careful not to win the argument but lose the relationship.”

I am not an argumentative person. I lack a strong competitive desire to win, and this is born out in my conversations with others. Yet even still, there are times when I find myself in deep disagreement with others. In those times, I remember this saying.

I have seen relationships fall apart when disagreement turns to enmity. What started as a conversation of differing viewpoints becomes an ego-driven need to be right above everything else.

Of course, handling disagreement well is an important facet of life; any relationship that has no disagreements may need re-examining. Yet I still find it useful to ask: “Is this issue so important that I’m willing to risk this relationship just so I can be right?”

The introvert pastor

One of my inspirations to start writing was an interview I read with Timothy Keller.

Tim Keller is the founding pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. In a highly secular and skeptical city, Redeemer has been flourishing in drawing in young, urbane, sophisticated professionals. This growth is in no small part due to Keller’s intelligent and informed sermons. He is the author of several books, one of which (“The Reason for God”) was on the New York Times bestseller list for March 2008.

Yet in an interview, Keller described his “painful introversion” and the strange irony that an introvert like him could become a megachurch pastor in Manhattan. Keller described overcoming a feeling “like nobody likes me.”

As an introvert myself, I resonate with Keller’s experience. Many times in my life, I have told myself that no one cared what I had to say. When I started thinking about writing, my initial response was: “People are too busy to bother with your words. Stop wasting their time with this nonsense.” Yet I found comfort in this interview. If Tim Keller, who has written many books and pastored countless people and preached fantastic sermons, has felt this way before, maybe it’s not so strange that I feel this way. If Keller feels this way, and I feel this way, maybe there are other people who feel this way too. Just as I drew comfort from knowing that I’m not alone in thinking these thoughts, perhaps sharing about them can help others as well.

I’ll have more to say about this later, but for now I’ll say to anyone who has felt that no one cares what they have to say and their voice doesn’t matter: It does. It really does. You have the wonderful gift of your perspective to share with the world. Now, just like any gift, you need to treat it with care, especially in trying to share it with people who don’t want it (especially so on the internet). Just like any gift, you don’t want to compare it to someone else’s gift and say yours is better than theirs just because. Having a gift isn’t a license for rudeness. But for those who believe that they have nothing important to say because their perspective doesn’t matter, don’t believe that.

The interview:

Rains and Rivers

My home state of California has been experiencing some very heavy rain these past few days. This rain has been a welcome respite from the terrible drought of the past year. However, in certain parts of the state, the rain has been dangerous. A very dry year and numerous wildfires have stripped the earth of its vegetation in some regions, such that mudslides and flooding are a real danger. Though this rain is important, in some ways the ground isn’t ready for it.

When I heard about the mudslides, I remembered something I learned years ago. There is a biblical image of one who does not follow wickedness but meditates on truth. Such a person is like a tree planted by streams of water. This image of the stream is important in how it contrasts with the rain. Any gardener or farmer will say that rather than have a heavy downpour all at once, it is far better to have a steady flow of water. Abundance is good, but consistency is better.

In my life, I see this principle take root. There is a temptation to put off important priorities because I believe I am too busy. Exercise, prayer, time for rest — I see a tendency to put things off to take care of all at once. “I’m too busy to do this today; I’ll wait until the weekend and get it done all at once.” I see this tendency in other people over longer stretches of time for relationships — “I don’t have time to eat dinner with my family these next two months, but I’ll make it up to them with a vacation.” Certainly, there are times when consistency is difficult to practice, but relying on some future downpour of activity as compensation isn’t wise.

The rain may come with terror and storm, but may find only a cracked and barren earth to welcome it. The water will wash out the soil into the sea. Yet even a quiet, constant river brings rejoicing, for where the river flows, everything will live.

Snow Walk

This is my first winter in a cold climate, and so for the first time I need to deal with the snow. I bought several pairs of boots, socks, and long underwear, and so far it’s not been too bad. Sometimes, though, the snow can get quite deep, and walking through it can be frustrating. A walk that would ordinarily only take a few minutes can feel longer just because of the need to trudge through the snow.

Sometimes, in walking through the snow, I feel a strange temptation to just give up. I think about how much work it will take to get home, take a shower, unpack everything. I think about how much work there still is left to do. It’s strange, but I feel a seductive urge to stop, fall over, and let the cold embrace of winter take me. Very dramatic, for a ten minute walk! Yet it is in these times that I need to remind myself to keep walking and take every step. Rather than fixate on how much time it will take to the end, I need to keep going.

I’ve been trying to approach this law school experience the same way. When I think about finals or Spring Quarter or the next two years, it all can seem so daunting. There is so much to do, and in some way it’s tempting to give up. Yet I need to remember to just keep going forward. There will be failures and missteps and problems on the way, and that’s ok. In fact, just like a walk on a still winter evening, snow gently falling into the crisp cold air, the journey can be beautiful.