Thanksgiving for health

I am learning to be thankful for health. I don’t have a history of major health problems. I can walk, move, and live without chronic pain. I don’t have problems with breathing, migraines, or anemia. If I get a cut, I know I will heal fine. I can move my limbs and my joints without limited mobility.

I don’t have to worry that I will die before my parents do. I don’t have to shy away from making friends, to try to protect others from the grief of my imminent passing. I don’t have to worry about people staring at me, feel out of place, be worried that some malicious person will attack me and leave me helpless simply because they can.

My mind is clear. I don’t need to fear forgetting the faces of my loved ones, of losing relationships as memories die out. I don’t need to worry that I would possibly be a danger to myself or others. I don’t have slurred speech or become confused in my home.

I don’t know what it’s like to live with these physical or mental challenges. My thankfulness is not meant to denigrate, mock, or pity anyone with these concerns. I don’t know their full experience and don’t know their story, and my heart goes out to them. All that I mean to say is that I want to be thankful, to be grateful that I have riches that others do not, riches that I have not from my own effort or deserving.

Learning to listen

One skill I learned as a peer counselor was how to help people process through their emotions. Many clients would seek counseling because they did not feel safe working through their emotions with others. Often they would hear phrases like “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or “You’re wrong to be so angry.”

Some clients came with legitimate grievances. Others knew that they were overreacting. Some didn’t even know fully why they were upset. Yet all they could see was their anger, sadness, or bitterness; it was impossible to hear the words of others. I would often hear “My friend doesn’t even understand how I feel, so how can he know what is going on?”

I was taught to listen carefully, to not pass judgment, to not tell the person that their emotions are wrong, bad, or inappropriate. I would try to understand the reasons behind the emotions. It was only after building that relationship of trust that I would bring up inconsistencies or concerns. Yet I always remember that it is the client that is the expert about himself, about his emotions, experiences, and perspectives.

The past few days have been incredibly emotional for so many. There is very little that I know about the history of both entire communities and individual people. I want my default posture to be one of listening, of trying to understand, recognizing that there is much that I do not.

Sermon Reflection: God in the Mundane

A meditation on a sermon by David Whited:

A phrase I often hear is “I can’t wait.” About schoolwork: “I can’t wait until this class is over.” About school generally: “I can’t wait until I’m done and can start working.” About work: “I can’t wait until the week is over and I can have fun on the weekend.”

A narrative of delayed gratification, living for what is to come, not what is at present. And it is true that we often do things for the benefits that are to come later on. I may not enjoy reading about the statutory framework governing capital gains tax, but I read it to build my knowledge.

However, there is a grace in learning to appreciate what is at present, to see the beauty in the ordinary. It may be reflecting on the place of the mundane in the will of God. It may be simple thankfulness for what I have, not fixating on what I lack. It may even be the mystery of practicing the presence of God at all times.

In any event, it is useful to know that nothing is inevitable. As much as I may work hard in school, it is not certain that I will reach graduation, or that I will even reach next week. So I make it my goal to live, not just to maintain, and to seek to see the extraordinary in the routine.

Money is the lowest

One of the best pieces of advice that I received from my dad is that “Money should be the lowest consideration in your decisions.” He has seen people take a job for money, get married for money, or go to school for money, and they have all regretted their decisions.

My dad told me about such a decision he had to make. When he was planning to come to the US for his graduate studies, an rich older gentleman took him aside and offered a deal. “My daughter really wants to move to the US. If you marry her, our family will pay for all your education. We will provide for all your needs.” My dad was facing an uncertain future and possible debt. I asked him if he was tempted. He said “Not a bit.” He was madly in love with his girlfriend. Though she came from modest means, no amount of money could draw him away from her. That girlfriend, of course, is his wife and my mom.

My dad said that later on, the woman from the rich family found a willing man to take the offer to marry her and take her to the US. Last he heard, they are in a bitter relationship.

When I asked him why he wasn’t tempted, he said “She’s my girl. No amount of money will change that.”

Disagreeing Well

I live with two guys in my church, Scott Erdenberg and David Malison. One thing (of many!) that I appreciate about them is how they disagree well. They embody how friends can hold very different worldviews. David is an economist by training, and tends to be more libertarian. Scott is a theologian, and tends to be more liberal. Several times, I have come into the apartment to hear them arguing over some tough subjects, such as the minimum wage, government regulation, and public goods. They seldom reach agreement on any of these topics (I am usually reading for class, so I can’t participate.)

Yet what I applaud is how they don’t allow their disagreement to poison their friendship. They could be very far apart in many aspects, but still respect and care for each other. The situation may be different if their disagreements were more personal (the conversations tend to focus on large societal issues, not personal ones.) Yet even then, I believe that their respect for one another will remain. Living with them is a good reminder that it is possible to disagree with someone else yet still love them.

Veterans Day

War has forever altered my family.

When the Korea War broke out, my father’s parents were living in the northern part of the peninsula. As conflict ripped across the land, they fled south, leaving behind homes, possessions, family. Even now, I may have relatives living in North Korea. Cousins, aunts, uncles, family members whose names I may never know and who may well be dead.

The Korean War shaped the face of modern Korea, its boundaries, institutions, and ideologies. Yet I will confess to a wholesale ignorance of the war. When I visit South Korea, it takes effort to remember that only 60 years ago, the country was torn apart by war.

Once, I was walking through a mall with my dad when we ran into a veteran. He was around his 60s, Caucasian, wire-frame glasses and a “KOREA VETERAN” cap perched on his head. My dad stopped the man and asked if he served in Korea. When he answered in the affirmative, my dad thanked him for his service. He said that the man’s sacrifice meant a lot to him and other Koreans.

There is a lot that can be said about the Korean War, especially regarding the impact that other countries, including the US, played in the conflict and its aftermath. Yet today on Veterans Day, I want to give my thanks for all who served, in the Korean War and in all other conflicts. Thank you.

Just saying hello

I was on the plane to DC for a career fair when a man sat down next to me. He whipped out his phone and started playing a game, his earphones plugged in. I figured I would listen to a few podcasts on the flight, so I plugged my earphones in as well.

Shortly after takeoff, he put his phone away and pulled out a magazine called “Affordable Housing Finance,” as well as a few pamphlets that said “How Housing Matters.” I am currently in a clinical class working with developers of affordable housing, and I find housing a fascinating space. I thought “I could either continue listening to my podcasts, or I can say hello. The worst that could happen is that he doesn’t want to talk.”

So I said hello, and we ended up having a great conversation. He is the executive director of a national housing organization that works on affordable housing issues all over the country. He gave me great insights into housing generally, how he entered this field, and what I could do as a law student to get involved. He also told me about all the great things about living in DC and the changes in the city in the past few years. As we left the plane, he gave me his card and said that he wanted to keep in touch.

I am glad that I reached out to say hi. There was so much that I got from that conversation, and I’m excited to continue learning about housing issues.

Marriage is death

My pastor here in Chicago, David Whited, served for ten years as a university chaplain and seen many people get married. Here is my reflection on his words regarding marriage:

Many people come into marriage because they are lonely. They believe that marriage will quiet their inner loneliness and fulfill their deep longing for intimacy.

Marriage isn’t about fulfilling your loneliness. Marriage is death.

Marriage is learning to die to your own desires on a constant basis. Marriage is giving up your own preferences for the sake of another, whether it be where you will eat for dinner or what city you will be your home. Marriage is dying to your pride, to let go of legitimate grievances because it’s not worth it to win the argument but lose the relationship.

That’s why so many marriages fail. Both parties enter it believing that it will fulfill their personal desires, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s not even a give and take, a quid pro quo. It’s giving. and giving. and giving.

This isn’t about codependence or submission to abuse or anything of that sort. Those are pathologies. But between slavery and kingship there is mutual servanthood, a self-giving that builds each other up.

We all want unconditional love. Are we ready to love unconditionally?

h/t Scott Erdenberg

For it is in dying

When we were children, we learned to receive care. We cried for attention, helpless even to say what we need. We learn to talk, then to speak, to articulate, to ask for what we need. For food. For comfort. For forgiveness. For understanding.

When we grew, we learned to care for ourselves. We learned to dress, not just to keep warm but to express ourselves through what we chose to wear. We learned to take care of our needs, to be ok when we are sad, lonely, or hurt. We learned how to be with others, of eye contact and shaking hands and pouring hearts.

As we grow older, we learn to care for others. We learn to be attentive, to be mindful that there are others with wounds that we are meant to heal. We learn to listen, to cry with, not just about, to not help for our need to be needed but genuinely for another. We learn to sacrifice.

Life is a continual death. Maturity is learning to die to oneself in service to others. Not to a destructive degree, of course (there is such a death of self that makes life not worth living). Yet true freedom, the freedom from our own insecurities, anxieties, and discomforts, can be found in the giving of oneself to another. For then we realize that we are gifts to bring life.

It is in dying that we find life.