Tuesday, December 25, 2007
My parents began to give books as Christmas presents once upon a time when they had access to good Christian books from the United States. It was an experiment, and somehow, it worked enough for them to try it again, and again, and again.
Since then, it has become a tradition. Every year, the family would visit OMF, go around different book stores, or order books on the internet. Then it would be time to list down everyone's names and their corresponding presents, wrap up the books, and label and give away to our heart's content. It is a very happy tradition for the bookworm me.
This tradition comes with its conveniences. We don't have to visit many places to do our Christmas shopping. My mother and I don't need to learn to wrap anything other than books. The price bracket of books is just right for the economic position of a pastor, not too much and not too little...and so on and so on. Yet behind all the conveniences, there is a mission that we hold close to our hearts.
Every year, choosing books becomes a responsibility for our family, a duty that we take on with passion and delight. Whether we are surfing an online catalogue or going through a bookstore, there is a certain excitement in trying to find the right book for every individual. Sometimes, we choose a book because someone would love it. Sometimes, we choose a book because it addresses the very need of someone (and silently wonder if it would offend). And sometimes, we choose a book because it entails the hopes that we have for the receiver.
There are people who seem suited out for so many books, and we have a hard time choosing. There are also people who wouldn't seem to read anything we gave, and we scratch our heads. It's all part of the package.
Over the years, we've had different responses to our presents. There are people who smile every year and say, "Yey, I'll have a book to read again." There are others who set it aside as soon as they get home, knowing that it's something they wouldn't use anyway. There are also people who tell us they count upon receiving our devotional books every year, and they even use those same materials to lead their employees in Bible Studies.
Some people think the system is wonderful and meaningful, some others consider it strangely impersonal. Yet regardless of the response, we shall continue with our tradition.
It's not because of convenience, nor because of affordability. It's not because of tradition's own sake. Why do we give books for Christmas? Because it is our mission, our passion, our particular way to show how we care.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I've mentioned before that I've been trying to squeeze my current correspondence course requirements into a shorter timeframe. That's what I set out to do the moment my books arrived two weeks ago, and, well, that's somewhat why I failed...
When my "schoolyear" officially began, I set out as ambitious with my personal goals as ancient China was with the Great Wall. I wanted to do a nearly triple-dose of the suggested study pace, I wanted to maintain all my ministerial duties, I wanted to keep my cyber-life almost as active as before, and I wanted to do a thousand other things. Many people died building the Great Wall, and many parts of me died these two weeks. I lost all quality time with my family, I was always rushed even when expressing concern, I couldn't read, I couldn't help around, and I had no time to rest.
I tried to be supergirl, and since supergirl doesn't exist, I failed.
The first reminder was my health. Having no time to eat, sleep, or exercise well, I lost weight "without reason." My eyes and back became unduly strained by long hours at the computer.
Reminder number two was my mom. She was nagging me since day one that I was over-shooting my goals, but I dismissed her advice as mothers-have-to-nag syndrome. "I'll prove I'm okay," I thought. Well, I was okay for a week, during which I used up all my reserve energy. After that, I faltered, often leaving work undone or just nodding off everywhere around the house.
Yet still I was insistent. Surely I could achieve what God would have me do, right? His strength shall be sufficient for His work, right?
Then strike three was Elizabeth Elliot in her book Discipline: "There is always enough time to do the will of God...when we find ourselves frantic and frustrated, harried and harassed and hassled, it is a sign that we are running on our own schedule, not God's."
Ouch, now that hurt. Yet at the same time, it relieved me, because it showed me the problem.
While I am too happy with studying to be frustrated, I really have been "harried and harassed and hassled." I had been running on my own schedule, not God's. When I think about it, God never required me to cling obstinately to all my activities while studying overtime. God never told me I had to finish 33 lectures, four books, and two major papers by the end of the year, even while handling camp, Christmas, and other matters.
Well, if it hadn't been from God, then from whom?
Me, it had all come from me and my stupid pride. I was the one who wanted to be a non-resting, over-achieving supergirl. I was the one who wanted to outpace even my parents' expectations and awe everyone with the amount of responsibilities I could handle. While it's true that God wants me to maximize my time and perhaps give up an addiction or two, He never told me to cram like crazy, never rest, and neglect everyone around me.
God never wanted me to be supergirl; He only wants me to be His little girl, a sinner child adopted by His grace.
I tried to be supergirl, because I thought it would be cool. I tried to be supergirl, and thank God I failed. After all, that's never what I was meant to be.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
In an effort to maximize all the time I have at hand in the face of an uncertain future, my parents and I have determined to squeeze the requirements into a much shorter time. In other words, even as I try to maintain my church commitments, social interactions, and basic family responsibilities, I have to "double up" on all my college assignments. It can get draining.
In the vocabulary of college students everywhere, I could be having "hell week" every week. Yet strangely, at the same time, there is something heavenly about these hell weeks. There is a gratefulness, an excitement, an enthusiasm about my studies that I seldom had before. It's strange, yet it's true, and I know the reason behind it.
For the past two months or so, I have been frustratedly idle. I did not have any studies or work to keep me busy, and I was impatient for my college books to arrive. There were days when I would sulk silently; there were days when I would complain ceaselessly. I wanted my books to arrive as soon as possible, and I bugged everyone--the school, my family, my friends--about my frustration over boredom and idleness.
During that time, I was tempted to anticipate my college assignments as heaven, as if anything on earth could be that. My mind would rant, "If only they would come soon, all would be well." Looking back, I feel that if they really had come sooner, if these assignments had directly followed my high school requirements, I would probably have broken down in overwork and tears.
That period of rest made me energized for this new challenge of life, and even more, that time of inactivity restored to me the joy of industriousness. All these requirements that I am trying to rush...they bring me mental labor, but they bring me joy and gratefulness. Because of that time of waiting, I learned to treasure their worth.
I did not wait because I felt this thing was worth it. Instead, this thing increases in worth because I had to wait for it. It's not that there's waiting because of worth; there's worth because of waiting.
God is the wisest indeed. Perhaps when I keep these pointers in mind, waiting to drive, waiting to travel alone, waiting to work, waiting to love, waiting to teach, waiting to lead, and all those other "waits" won't seem as daunting. If worth comes from waiting, then perhaps at times I'd rather wait more than less.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Last Sunday, my 9-year-old brother Kye was hospitalized for pneumonia. He was the baby of the family, and the event brought worry, pain, and busyness for everyone. It was hard for all of us to see the usually bright-eyed little cupid weak and pale upon the hospital bed he could barely fill. As his "third parent," I was simply laden down with concern.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I have to admit my share of foolishness and vanity in this area. For the last 2-3 years, I've gone through braces, contacts, and make-up. I've ceaselessly spent efforts observing what clothes make me taller, thinner, and what colors would work on me. On top of that, I resolved to shed all the unwanted pounds I had, and underwent my share of self-denial (or self-abuse) to achieve that resolution.
Then one day a few weeks ago, I stood in front of my full-length mirror. I had finally done it. I had my fair-skinned face adorned by long, straight hair. I had perfect teeth and no glasses. I had the features, form, and "perfect" figure that I had always wanted. Then I had to ask, "Now what?"
When your goal has been reached...now what?
I took a deep, deep breath in front of my mirror that day, realizing the answer to my two-worded question. After paying so much for the sake of outward beauty, I had to face the reality of whether or not it mattered, or more importantly, whether or not I had anything to "back it up" inside.
God soon gave me the perfect illustration. Last week, our family had epidemic week. Family members fell sick one after another, and we had to nurse each other while sick ourselves. There was no time for vanity. For the first time in a long while, I would live days without a single glance at the mirror. It was all about caring, giving, and strength...
One day, I took a peek at myself. My hair was in tangles, my eyes were puffy, my face was spotted with pimples after days without facial care, my form was, well, formless in my pajamas and jacket. If I had been pretty, I wasn't pretty then.
Whenever I do not use make-up or dress well in real life, I get much less attention. When a girl wants to stand out, she has to be pretty. Yet did it matter?
My mother toiled endlessly during those days her children were sick, sacrificing sleep and rest. We were an ugly bunch, but that never kept her away. And when we had to watch out for each other, what mattered wasn't appearances. What mattered was character in patience and selflessness, what mattered was spirituality in prayer.
Those were things the mirror could never have told me. Yet in times of crisis, those were the things that mattered. Inner beauty, character, spirituality, and care—things the mirror never tells—are what differentiate loved ones from strangers, or deep from superficial.
As my time and strength to pamper myself returns, I hope that I would remember this lesson. Outward beauty has its role, but it can only do so much. "Outer beauty catches the eye, inner beauty keeps the heart." O may the Lord help me seek the inside even more so than the outside.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
I wasn't offended, since I realized that my mom had a point in every criticism she laid. My wordings were archaic, my statements were ambiguous, and the whole set of lyrics just didn't have much content, period. I wasn't offended, just a bit disappointed. Why couldn't I write good lyrics in an instant?
My mom then reminded me about the most basic principle of all composition: polish, polish, polish, don't rely on the first moment of inspiration. It's the same way with any works. I shouldn't be so hasty to write new things if my degree of experience and understanding can't support new ideas. Patience is the key.
I have to admit I don't like the patience part. It doesn't feel nice to wait for rich content before writing a new work, and it definitely isn't sweet to pour myself over a draft, patiently polishing. My mom says I should wait for life to give me more content. I am, after all, only 19.
Well, it's easier said than done. Impatience is an easy pitfall in every area of life. I can't wait to drive a car, I can't wait to jump into ministry, I can't wait to write a book, I can't wait for so many things. I feel that there are so many ideas of what I want to do with my life, and I just can't wait for them to happen.
In my wiser moments, I know that God still has His polishing to do. It's not the right time for me to carry out all those ideas, nor write down all those compositions, because I am not yet ready, though I might think myself to be. C. S. Lewis once compared God's love for His children to an artist's perseverence towards his work. If I want God to complete a good composition with me, I better be ready for the polishing.
I may have more wisdom in terms of life, love, ministry, family, and the like in comparison to many of my contemporaries, but it's just the rough draft. I mustn't be so impatient to declare myself a presentable composition yet. God still has His polishing to do. This time of my life isn't for me to just be a waiting composition thrown aside until the time of use. Instead, it's a time for polishing...patient, painful polishing. The varnish may sting for now, but it's for my own good. I must wait, patiently wait. He's polishing me yet.
And I can't wait to see what the finished product will be. No, wait...I mean, yes, wait...I mustn't "can't wait." I must wait. He's polishing, polishing, polishing...
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Well, they still can't beat God. God created all things out of nothing, and He made man in His own image. In my life, I'm realizing that He also teaches out of nothing; He molds His children out of things that never even happened.
After I decided to apply to the University of Hong Kong last year, my family did their best to prepare me for life in Hong Kong. My parents invested time and money to aid me in learning the Cantonese language. I familiarized myself with the lifestyle of Hong Kong. We disciplined my brothers to take over many responsibilites I have at home, and I helped to train church talents to sub for me in my music and language ministries.
A couple of weeks ago, my application was confirmed to be denied. Yet even as I cope with the rejection, I find myself amazed when I realize how much these months have taught me.
In terms of skill, I mastered an addition language within 2 years time, and I learned many essentials of lone survival. With regards to my family and friends, I learned to treasure them so much more as the reality of impeding separation weighed upon me during those months. Others also benefitted from this ordeal, since I know my brothers and trainees wouldn't have been taught so much if I had not been going anywhere.
Yet most importantly, this event has taught me to trust God and live one day at a time for Him. After living through several months without knowledge of where I'd be within the year, I was trained to wait upon God. Realizing that I would soon be surviving on my own, I was compelled to grow even closer to God in my personal walk, since I would not have the spiritual aid and security of family and home church soon.
Most people might consider these lessons to have been learned "in vain," since I am not going to Hong Kong after all. But I know better. I know God was at work, molding me and the people in my lives through this seemingly failed ordeal. With the apparent disillusionment came valuable lessons and intimate moments with our Lord that I would never have known otherwise. God teaches in mysterious ways. Yes, He really does.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Yes, for more than 48 hours this week, our DSL-accustomed family was struck with an internet draught. Thanks to PLDT’s disservice, we were isolated from cyberspace for what seemed like endless eternity while it lasted. For the entire duration of the experience, my brothers and I would cry out spontaneously, “Still no internet?!” while my parents would sigh every time they could not access their favorite webpages. It was so frustrating.
My dad had his news and investment information to track. My mom had junior church matters to research. My brothers had their game progress to follow. I had my blogs to manage, many chatmates to contact, and lots of time-sensitive information to relay through Yahoo Mail or Messenger. And to think all these were merely our most basic internet activities. It was irritating.
Yes, yes, I know it was no big deal. A pastor’s family can’t survive without internet? No way.
True, we can survive without internet, and we did survive without internet, though not without plenty of whining, complaining, sighing, and outright boredom.
Remember those days when you would treasure electricity so much only when the house is struck with a brown-out? Remember how you realized food needs an effort to acquire only when you were hungry and the fridge at home was empty? I guess that happened to our family again.
We would never have realized how great a blessing, and also how great an addiction too, the church’s high-speed internet were to us if we had not been deprived of it. As we found ourselves complaining and tired without access to the world wide web, I realized it was time for some thankfulness and confession.
I heard a magician’s testimony this past Sunday, about how he learned to be thankful for his nimble hands only when he almost suffered the loss of a finger. It was a very touching account, and I learned a lot from it as well. I don’t want to lose more things before I remember to treasure them, nor do I want to idolize anything lest God should whisk them away. I don’t want to think that I have the right to enjoy any luxuries, for they are all grace.
Thank God for my family of sinners, thank God for leading my life so far. Thank God for so many talents and resources to serve Him. Thank God for out internet recovery…so I could post this account. Little things, big things, they all add up. I could be constantly grateful for them, or I could let them become my gods. I pray it will stay the former.
Now the internet’s back, and everyone’s happy. And I hope, that what we do now and feel now with this tool will make Him happy too.
Monday, September 3, 2007
When I was a little girl, I abosolutely adored that term. "Princess Wenslyn"...how delightful, how charming, how wonderful! It reminded me of all those fantasies as a young princess parading my long train, wearing my tiara, and twirling around in a ballroom of candles. And I was ecstatic whenever anyone in real life referred to me with such words. It was magical each time.
Once a teen, however, I stopped loving that title. Wanting more affirmation from people my age, I detested the reference of "princess," since it reflected my aloofness, my intimidation to others, and my oftentimes inconsiderate socialite mannerisms. I took the term to be more an insult than a compliment or word of endearment.
After many years, I've heard those words again...and this time, they made me think a whole lot.
At different stages in my life, I've over-emphasized the good or the bad effects of such a position, and I adored or detested the title accordingly. Yet all of a sudden, I realize that perhaps it is fact more than comment. In the world of Filipino-Chinese ministry, I do come from a stronge heritage of "royal blood," inclusive of all the wonders and the challenges.
Almost like a princess, I enjoy the concern and recognition of so many people. I own the comfort of a model pastor's family spiritually, materially, ministerially, and so forth. I am blessed with numerous ministry opportunities due to my high-profile position. I am well-loved.
At the same time, the struggles abound. There's the constant struggle to think myself more important than others. There's the struggle of high expectations. There is the sometimes overwhelming responsibility to uphold a high standard in all family and social interactions, even as we live in a fishbowl, plain for all to see.
So what then, if I am a princess? Am I to strive for normalcy after living so differently all these years? Or am I to take full advantage of my position as ministerial royalty and continue to try new boundaries for youths in service? The answer is a balance, I know, but that balance is oftentimes so tricky to find as it swerves over the years.
I am slowly learning, that as a ministerial princess living inside the ivory palace of our church, I have more than human expectations to meet. Maybe soon I will no longer live this high-profile life. Maybe the princess will walk among others anonymous, or maybe she will still be a starlet for some time to come. I don't know...but I do know that when human expectations cease, God's expectations don't. I'm a child of a King, and it is for His standards that I live.
I don't need to argue whether I'm a princess or not, because I am, and it is for the standards of my Father that I live, I trust, and I persevere. "Princess Wenslyn"...I know I'll always be one. Perhaps now in an evident way, perhaps less in the future. Yet there is no escaping the fact, and my duty and my joy is to be found in living whatever may be my portion in each chapter of my life.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
God has planted numerous blessings in each of our lives, and I personally know that I am overwhelmingly blessed. Yet sadly, taking things for granted every day is far easier than being grateful for what has already been given. God gives us reminders, and I do not want to neglect those reminders, lest God apply greater and more painful ones to grab our attention.
I live inside the church building, and the parsonage we occupy is a charming apartment indeed. Our church building is massive for our current congregation's size, with large halls, countless function rooms, and impressive technical support. As if that were not enough, God has bestowed upon UECM many talents in areas from music to computer, from cooking to preaching. Yet how often to I live like I remember these things? Not often, I'm afraid.
This past month, I've had the chance to entertain almost two dozen church visitors around the place upon different occasions. As I tour my friends around the building, narrating numerous details along the way, I am influenced once more to look at the place as "at first sight." As we tried out all those instruments, walked through every room, recounted all those tidbits, and discussed all those systems, I am awed once more by what God has granted our undeserving church and family. There is no real love at first sight, but there is a wonder and admiration in it that I do not want to lose.
Whenever blessings are being taken for granted, I now remind myself to take a step back to imagine myself as someone seeing for the first time my life. The spiritual heritage, the family support, the concerned friends, the various opportunities to serve, and the unbelievable blessing of God's election...I am blessed indeed.
And take a deep breath, my friends. I think you are indeed blessed too.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Dad, mom, Wen, Dan, and Kye were all shopping together at the mall late Wednesday afternoon when our father's cellphone rang as it does so often around the clock. The result of that call was rather urgent. A certain bereaved family from our church was in a worrisome state, and there were are many things that my dad needed to help settle with them as soon as possible.
In prompt response to duty and concern, the five of us quickly finished our shopping list and piled into our SUV. The rain was pouring hard, and the sky was growing dark. It didn't look like a good day for a family trip.
Our church member resides in a more sparsely populated part of Manila, within the area of Novaliches, and my dad was not sure of the way. He turned at a forkroad that led us to a very jam-packed road, and we were stuck to advance onto the highway whether we liked it or not. The rain was pouring, the sky was dark, and my dad was upset.
We edged along the highway, trying all our might to find a way to turn back. There was none. The rain was pouring, the sky was dark, the road was slippery, my mom was sleepy, we kids were tired, and my dad was upset.
"It's a waste of time, of gas, and of energy!" my dad exclaimed, frustrated that we could not get to our member's home sooner. The turn of events was rather disheartening, and we were all weary of the day. We exited the highway at the first stop, and the trip wore on with rickety roads, screeching wipers, and blurry lights in the dark of unfamiliar territory.
Then suddenly, my mom turned around to 9-year-old Kye. "Hey Kye," she piped up with a smile, "it's an adventure, and this time you are around to be part of it." Kye flashed his adorable grin. He had always complained that he was born too late to witness many family adventures, but this time he was there to be part of it.
Yes, why not think of it as an adventure? So we did.
From that point onwards, my dad didn't complain, my mom couldn't sleep, and all three of us were full of energy. Together as a family, we asked repeatedly for directions, some ambiguous and some amazing accurate. We tried to look for landmarks, ridiculous as some of them seemed. We turned into a one way, the vehicle shook along with the bad roads, we met a truck face-on...but it was all fun. A discouraging journey had turned into an unexpected adventure.
We finally arrived at our member's home an hour later than expected. By God's grace, however, that hour of supposed agony had become an hour of memories. Little Kye was thrilled, and so were the rest of us. It was an interesting piece for the family puzzle, and I know I will treasure it in the years to come.
Thank God for the unexpected adventure. Thank God for the unexpected memories.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
As I have previously mentioned, I've always been known as the grandchild of Rev. Ang, the daughter of Rev. Reyes, the niece of the junior Rev. Ang, and so on. My position in relation to these ministers molded me to be everything I am today, and it is also this position that defines my identity.
As I grow up, therefore, there is oftentimes an impulse to desire more personal recognition. I tell my parents and friends that I want to be Wenslyn, not merely the daughter or niece of this pastor and that pastor, not just a living homeschool testament, not just a ministerial starlet of the United Evangelical Church of Malabon. I am discontented that "I" should be recognized only in relation to others.
Yet God convicted me with an unexpected reminder this past week. As I was reading Elizabeth Elliot's book Let Me Be a Woman, I came across a chapter wherein the author reprimanded young wives who would be unwilling to be known only in relation to their husband. These young women argue that they want to be known as someone in themselves, not merely as "Mick's wife" or "Dave's wife." They want personal attention.
While I might not be able to directly apply that lesson in my life right now, the principle hit close to home. Like these young women, I am dissatisfied to have my identity hidden in that of others. Out of my pride, I am too selfish to be happily known by the position God has given me.
If I cannot be contentedly associated with the reputation of my family, how could I ever rejoice in being hidden in the glory of my King? If I am so concerned that people should recognize "me," how would I point them to Christ?
It is a lesson to learn indeed.
"He must increase, I must decrease," my life verse reads. May God continue to teach me this lesson. Let me be hidden, Lord, in Your glory.
Monday, July 30, 2007
I have observed, experienced, seen, heard, and played witness to all these scenarios multiple times within the last few years. And sometimes I can't help but wonder why these foolish human cycles repeat themselves. Why should such sad heartaches happen so often? Why can't we humans know the better through observation instead of letting ourselves hurt each other repetitively?
I cannot give an outright answer. Some people blame it on youth, some on idleness, and some on inconsideration. I don't know, yet I do know one thing. We are fallen human beings, and we are stubborn.
So often I see such situations at their developmental stage, yet do not take action. It may be out of selfish pleasure, or it is often because I am too lazy to warn my friends against their actions. It doesn't feel nice to tell good friends that their actions are improper, and it is even harder to convince them to believe you. Giving constructive criticism is a thankless job.
If friends are difficult to convince, then the self is even harder. So with all these factors at hand, more often than not, I refrain to advice, to rebuke, to discourage certain thoughts or actions, be it myself or a friend involved. After all, who wants to alienate personal pleasure or friends' esteem?
Yet each time I see another such scenario repeat itself, I can only wonder why I did not act. If I had spoken up, if I had exercised more wisdom, would things have been different? Could the heartache be avoided? Had I once more missed a chance for God to use me? I can't help but wonder...and the thought haunts me...
Christian love is honest, patient, and rejoicing in the ultimate welfare of the other. Perhaps I need a little bit more self-control, a little bit more boldness and love for my friends. Perhaps some heartaches could be avoided yet.
Lord, use me, I pray...mold me to obey.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Her craftsmanship, however, is not the only reason for my adoration of her works. There is something intangible that makes her stories appealing to me, and it took me years to analyze it out.
Persuasion did not captivate me from the first chapter like Emma or Pride and Prejudice did. It seemed boring at first, and there seemed to be no promise of a happy resolution for the heroine Anne and the man she loved. Yet something kept me reading, and that something directed me to see why Austen writes in a way that nurtures faith in the divine.
In all of Austen's novels that I've read, there is always a happy ending, an ending in matrimony that gives total poetic justice to all the characters involved. The heroines always end up with the men that suite them best, even when those men were initially disregarded by them or uninterested in them. In reading every novel, I could trust in a perfect ending, even if I know that the leading man for the heroine might not be what I expected. There will be a just and happy ending...and that kept me reading.
Another element of Jane Austen's heroines that teaches me a lesson is their need to prove themselves before receiving their "prince charming." Anne had to prove her steadfastness, Emma had to admit her misled notions, Elizabeth had to overcome her prejudice, and so on. These women had to earn their happiness, and prove their worthiness of a perfect ending.
These were two ideas that kept me reading Persuasion, and as with every other time, I wasn't disappointed. I read my perfect ending, and I rejoiced that Anne earned it for herself.
At the same time, those two ideas came to be applied to myself. God has a perfect resolution for every person's love story, and that is enough encouragement to "read on." The ending might not be what is initially apparent or expected, but God is in charge and has His perfect plan.
As His children, however, we are not supposed to wait passively for this perfect ending to come upon us. While we can never prove deserving of any gift from God, we could still strive to be as worthy of His presents as we can be. I don't know what form that "perfect ending" would take for me, for my family, and for my friends...but the Great Author is writing, and I will happily, anticipatingly read on.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Reflecting this background, my own immediate family is growing basically within the ministry. From joining children's choir at two years of age up to choosing to handle a leadership camp, I've always lived life within the boundaries of church ministries, as have my two brothers after me.
When the family was talking the other day, we realized that this morning would be a "typical Sunday." In other words, everyone has a job. My dad would be preaching, my mom would be worship-leading the children, I would be playing the piano for adult service, and my brother Dan playing for junior. It's a family business.
I am thankful to God for giving His grace to our entire family, allowing us all to serve Him together. However, there is always the tendency to take things for granted. I was born into this, raised into this, grown into this. Serving the Lord sometimes becomes no more significant than inheriting an earthly possession or trade from older relatives. Very often, I forget that I am an individual blessed individually by the Lord with an opportunity to serve Him.
As I was preparing my heart for worship this morning, God seemed to whisper to me, "Wen, who are you playing for?" That question, and the answer it required, called me to re-focus on the Lord.
Who am I playing for? At times, I play to impress. At times, I play for my family's legacy, and at other times, I play merely because I enjoy it. Serving the Lord is about more than expectations, family or otherwise. I must remember the honor and sacredness of serving Him...after all, I am a blessed individual serving one God alone.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Now, I was invited over for the second service, where lots of people recognized me, knew me, and adored me. To them, I was the gifted one and only daughter of the beloved Rev. Danny. For them, I was like a young guest of honor, someone a specialized driver picked up for the translator's position on the pew and in the pulpit. That's what I had expected.
What I didn't expect, was to be greeted as a late-comer by an English service usherette who reacted to my formal business attire. Since I was just waiting for the next service, I opted for a back seat. There I sat, anonymous and quiet, no high-profile, no people reacting with smiles to my presence. It felt weird.
My comfort was restored with the turnover to the Chinese service. Sitting up front, standing on stage, having everyone know me, I felt everything to be back to familiarity...but I had realized one truth already.
Over all these years of nearly living on stage every Sunday, I've been allowing my ministry rather than my Christianity to define me. I'm used to having a seat every week, on the first row as translator, at the front pews as worship team member, or perhaps with the choir. I'm too used to doing something, too used to letting ministerial posts identify me. Whether in my church or another church, when I'm all alone without any "service" to do, I don't even know where to sit.
That experience was quite a wake-up call from God. I know my duty is to worship Him, and that includes the times when I am alone with no church duties at hand. When I'm beset with numerous duties in "worship" service, I sometimes lose the ability to be a pure and simple worshipper, one who worships in spirit and in truth, regardless of the job, regardless of the seat.
This is no dramatic experience, nor is it any beautifully-written incident of an encounter with God. This is just a post about another reminder from the Lord, a reminder that I think I need more often. I am a Christian, who serves on stage...not vice versa.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
As a pastor's daughter who grew up witnessing countless weddings a year, however, I have a slightly different perspective. The gowns, the flowers, the music, the candles, and the rings are all wonderful, but I seek for the meaning of the covenant more than the romance of the event. For me, my favorite wedding items are the promises, the vows, and one item that is not always present--the tribute to the parents.
In our church, the groom and bride often give verbal tributes to their respective parents before exchanging vows themselves. Right before they become an independent unit before God and man, it provides a chance for them to express their gratitude towards those who had raised them.
For me, I often dream of what I would say to my parents on my wedding day. I would thank my mom for her time, her love, her teaching, and all the skills and traits that she had passed on to "Hensie jr." Then I would thank my dad for his provision, his love, his guidance, and his amazing model of a heavenly Father's love. I would be such a teary-eyed daughter whipsering words of heartfelt gratitude.
During a wedding last Saturday, a truth hit me.
Even if such words on my wedding day would be based upon absolute sincerity, they would be meaningless if my life does not manifest the gratitude that I profess to have. If I truly understand what my parents have done for me, then I must respond by respecting and loving them through my everyday life.
A very good friend once agreed with me, "The more you grow, the more you love your parents." True, maturity will help us to see what our parents have done for us. However, it doesn't stop there.
Do I love my parents with the way I live? I don't know. It is easy to use flowery statements to say that I thank them, but it is a greater challenge to serve and honor them in my daily life.
This is a lesson that I hope to always keep fresh in my mind. May I learn not only to thank my parents with pretty descriptions sometime in the future, but may I truly live with such gratitude today. They are, after all, among God's greatest channels of blessings to me.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
I was the music coordinator for our camp and was told to handle the last night's praise event. I was excited from the moment I received the task. I've always loved leading special events, and I wanted to do so many innovative things with this one.
There would be four groups of children doing choreography, there would be a god-glorifying atmosphere the whole evening, there would be impeccable coordination for our dual-songleader experiment, and there would be perfect musical chemistry with my mom as our pianist. I was extremely excited. I was praying everyday for the event. I knew it would last long in my memories.
It will last long in my memory, but not in a positive way.
That night, the camp children were all rowdy, disobedient, inattentive, and stubborn. The choreographies became self-glorifying, worldly special numbers. The technical support struggled. My co-songleader and I had horrible coordination and almost zero command. My mom did not have enough time to practice with us.
It was a living nightmare.
After the event, the kids were shouting at the top of their lungs and comparing their programs. Some camp leaders told me I did a good job, but I knew I didn't.
I wanted so much to cry after praise night, and I would have blubbered if I could have found a place to be alone with God. My dream of a wonderful god-centered evening had turned into the campers' popularity contest. I don't know what went wrong...I really, really didn't know...
During the rest of the camp and for many days afterwards, I cried out loud to God. What went wrong? I had prepared, prayed, and searched for a pure heart...but still, something went wrong. What? Why?
It would be easy to blame it on the kids' lack of discipline. I could say it was the fault of immature leaders. I could also blame the inexperience of our music team together. Yet I knew I couldn't do that, I knew God was telling me something else.
Then it came to me as tears were brimming in my eyes.
Even though I had always thought about the event as a god-glorifying event, even though I had started out with god-centered motives...that dream had become my own. Something like what Phil Vischer said about Veggietales, I had taken a godly dream and made it all about my own vision. I was excited about glorifying God that praise night, but I was more concerned with successfully making MY OWN event glorify God.
And as could be expected, it didn't.
I am sad over this, very sad. Just the thought of the entire ordeal brings me pain. It is a lesson hard-learnt. I am sad in particular that I actually deceived myself into thinking I had a pure heart, when I had a selfish one.
Still, I thank the Lord for His graciousness in pointing this out to me. It is a lesson that I might have to apply again as I continue to serve Him. I pray that He help me remember this lesson, and let my example serve as a warning to my fellow servants.
It must be all about Him, and really all about Him. Teach us, Lord, to remember this.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Ten years ago, life was the same everyday. In fact, I would find myself actually wishing that life be the same everyday. I was just enjoying my childhood. I didn’t want things any other way.
When the teenage years arrived, I began to look ahead. I wanted more thrill, more excitement, more heartbeats. Life became more dynamic. Yet still, it was predictable. Grade 8 comes after Grade 7. Age 14 follows 13. Next Sunday, next month, next year would follow their counterparts with everything remaining more or less the same.
Then all of a sudden, the future is more uncertainty than stability. Within the last two years, my house changed, my lifestyle changed, my interests broadened, my acquaintances grew in number, my ministries matured…and my whole life is caught in a whirlwind of unpredictability.
At the moment, I do not even know where I will be and what I will be doing six months from now. With changes impacting both childhood and new friendships, I do not know who will be by my side to witness the experiences I will have in the next few years.
Will I continue to build upon and try to excel in what I’ve been doing all my life? Or will I be exploring uncharted grounds all alone? Will I have time to process a student visa? Will I apply for correspondence college instead of university? Will I lose friends? Will I gain friends?
There are so many uncertainties. I’m confused…scared too, at times…
My mother shared something to me this morning, a phrase from her devotional reading. “The Lord is never too late, but He is never too early.” He will wait until I have learned total reliance upon Him before revealing His will. He will not allow me to even think I planned things on my own. It is His plan.
This afternoon, someone texted me a simple forward. “Wait on the Lord. There are times when GOD asks nothing of His children except silence, patience, and tears. You’re never late when you wait on the Lord.” I guess God really is trying to tell me something.
Wait on Him, Wenslyn, wait on the Lord.
It won’t be easy, but I get the picture. Lord, help me wait upon You.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Over the years, I've had opportunities to be a pianist for camps, fellowships, and worship services. There would be challenges, but I enjoyed living up to them. I practiced everyday, I did my best. I was determined to shine in this skill as much as I could.
Then all of a sudden, somewhere along the line these last two years, I realized that I was near the top...in other words, I was the leading pianist for our fellowship, an assistant pianist for our choir, and a seasoned pianist for our praise team. Wow, I was so impressed with myself.
I was now something of an authority in the field. People would come to ask "Achi WenWen" what to play. Friends would tell me that they are very confident whenever they have me as their accompanist. I now had the responsibility to be teacher to younger pianists. Oh, I loved it.
So I trained younger pianists. Some of them were great, some of them were lazy. I felt so proud to be the musical mentor of the great ones. I loved it when they thanked me for tuning up their skills.
We were all growing for the glory of God, and that was all that mattered...well, until I realized I wasn't thinking about that most of all.
One particular trainee of mine, the most patient and determined and talented of them all, became better and better as the weeks progressed. I loved it; I was proud of him...then, he started to outshine me.
I could hear it clearly with my own ears. Those techniques, those patterns, and that strong undercurrent of pure talent were nothing I could ever have for myself. He was too good, so good that I could hardly imagine him to once be my student. That talent and affinity for a pianist's "touch" were what I could never attain through grueling practice or sheer determination. My potential as a musician is less than half of his.
I was upset, though I did not show it. True, I was still proud of him, but this realization that the student could be higher than the teacher bothered me. I selfishly felt that I was not receiving the proper recognition as his tutor whenever people praise the young man for his skills. I thought it was all unfair. Why should he, who owes so much to me, be better than I am?
Ouch! God hit me once more. I messed up many sessions of playing the piano. My heart was no longer right.
I still practiced the piano like crazy for church ministries, but mostly out of a desire to prove myself better. But, better than what?
God does not require me to be better than all pianists. He does not want me to outshine everyone. He only asks for my best from me...that's it, my best. It was I who was not satisfied, not Him. If I was lacking in my music ministry, then it was only because I lost a pure heart.
I thank God for helping me realize these lessons. I do not need to fret that my efforts seemed to go to waste. No, they are not wasted. I should live up to the talents God has given me, the same way my student should live up to his.
Instead of pouting that I am not as good as others, I should celebrate that God has used underserving me to train better servants for His kingdom. I should be thankful, not discontent. I should rejoice with those who rejoice, not wallow in self-pity.
My piano skills may be just enough to serve a certain purpose in practicality, but God also used them to teach me a lesson on purity of heart. Thanks be to Him.
Monday, April 30, 2007
All my life, I have been identified as the grandchild of Rev. Ang, the daughter of Rev. Reyes, the niece of the junior Rev. Ang, the grand-niece of Rev. Huang, the grand-niece of Rev. Go, and so on and so on. This identity has always born with it its share of concern, of pressures, of love, and of expectations.
I have no complaints about my position, as I trust it to be a divine appointment of God. However, it is oftentimes a temptation to wonder, "What would life be like otherwise?"
Am I royal? Are the expectations and pressures I have to face any more demanding that those laid upon other teenagers? In other words, do I have the right to complain?
Yesterday was my grandfather's 70th birthday, and we conducted a thanksgiving service to commemorate God's grace in his life and in his 42 years of ministry. As the representatives from different churches took the stage to describe his ministerial work in their respective churches over the years, a realization came over me.
This is the heritage I have--42 years of ministry for my grandfather, 23 years of ministry for my father, almost 20 relatives in the ministry. I never asked God for these, but He gave it all to me. Those four hundred people sitting their with their smiles and support, the numerous church workers who helped with the thanksgiving service...these are God's gifts to me.
God's grace is sufficient. No, wait, His grace is more than enough.
Even if I face expectations that appear to be higher than usual, I also have the heritage, the support, and the guidance to live up to them. I do not need to wallow in self-pity, claiming that I have a life more pressured than I can bear. Instead, I ought to build my life upon what the Lord has given to me, to reach what He has ordained for me.
"Royal blood" may bring pressures that are beyond the usual. Yet at the same time, it offers a heritage beyond compare.
I do not intend to boast. It is all about God. I am nothing but a little girl overwhelmed by the wonder of what He has done in my life. And the only response I can have is to strive to be all He wants me to be, trusting daily that His love is everlasting, His grace sufficient, and His strength ever perfect.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
As my family prepares for the celebrations of my maternal grandfather's 70th birthday, I will finally post something with a lighter tone. After all, Christian life is equally if not more about rejoicing in our God than in cowering beneath His chastisement.
The above is my favorite Bible verse. The things that we see and hear in this world are already indescribable, be it nature, techonology, or anything pertaining to complex humanity. Then there are also the things we imagine, the things our mind conceive as combinations of our former ideas and experiences. And yet, the Lord declares that none can compare to what He has prepared for those who love Him.
A friend once shared an idea with me: if the imperfect love that we chase after in our youth may already feel so good to the mind and heart, then how wonderful indeed must be the true love that the Lord has prepared for our future! Even though this statement may primarily address the issue of romantic love, its principle stands true in every aspect of Christian life.
What we may consider as the best pales in comparison to what God has planned--things beyond our human conceptions.
Who could have expected my grandfather, nearly the youngest in his family, to be instrumental in bringing our other relatives to the Lord? Who could have imagined that my parents would meet each other with negative impressions only to be gladly celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary this year? Who could have thought that a little gospel center in Malabon so many years ago would grow to be the nearly 400-person congregation it is today? Really, who could have known?
God is amazing.
As a young girl facing various uncertainties in the near future, I have to admit it is oftentimes incredibly difficult to completely trust in the goodwill of the Lord. Yet if what He has prepared is even more than anything I can ever imagine...what have I to doubt?
Saturday, April 7, 2007
People have always taken me for a ministerial prodigy who is multi-talented and extremely capable. Over the years, I have enjoyed that image, and I went to our retreat this year with a desire to prove myself to truly be a young ministry “supergirl.” After all, I had my schedule and age as evidence.
Yet once more, I was wrong.
In reference to my previous post, I did serve the Lord with thanksgiving. And I also felt humbled to be used by Him time and again. However, I was thankful and humble with the wrong goal in mind. Instead of delighting in the fact that God could use me for His glory, I was excited to use God’s work in this retreat to add another building block to my reputation. Instead of desiring my efforts to prove how wonderful He is, I awaited the product of my “service” to prove my ability.
God’s rod struck me again. This time, it did not strike in an area as obvious to the eye as physical frailty…it struck me on my weakest, most girlish, most childish place—my heart.
I do not wish to go into details. Suffice it to say that many unpretty, painful emotions that I thought I had long overcome came flooding over me again during those hours of the retreat. It was horrible, facing a tight schedule and a throbbing heart simultaneously. I had enough strength to fulfill my duties, but with so much pain that I had to constantly cry out to the Lord for help. Well, I guess that’s what He wanted to have happen.
It is one thing to rely on the Lord’s power for His glory, entirely another to abuse it for one’s own acclaim. God had to give me some spanking before I remembered that.
They were painful to undergo, but those emotional struggles successfully reminded me that I was merely a “child of weakness” in God’s eyes who would fail in any attempt to glorify herself. Thus now, looking back, I thank God for those pains, piercing as they were during their peak. The Chinese say that “Good medicine is bitter to the mouth.” I thank God for that bitter medicine, knowing that it was a good and timely medication for me.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Then, even in my frailty, I was self-glorifying. Surely I was working too hard for the Lord. Surely God would be pleased to see how His young servant was pouring out her health and life for Him. I felt so sacrificial.
Upon realizing the faultiness of such thinking, I changed my mind path. This time around, I turned to "faith." Since I was so important to the work of God's kingdom in the coming two weeks, He would surely heal me....right? On second thought, maybe not.
I must not be focused upon myself; I must have my heart with God. Switching to my third line of thought in my two-and-a-half days of illness, I willed myself to recover. I refused to allow myself to wallow in my physical misery. I was determined to regain my health in order to serve God. Wow, now I was so right...right?
I went to sleep on Monday night, certain that I would be totally well by Tuesday. After all, God must be moved by my heart to serve Him immediately upon recovery. I woke up on Tuesday sicker than ever. I guess I was wrong.
After many more hours of alternating pain and medication, I realized one thing. Perhaps this illness was not a trial, as I had all the while considered it to be. Perhaps this time of weakness was, more than anything else, a reminder from the Lord.
True, I am I capable and skilled worker. Yes, I am an experienced church volunteer with a will to serve. However, I am nothing by my own strength, and I am in no way indispensable. If God wants me sick, then I could never will myself to health. If God does not empower me, I am helpless. If God does not choose to use me, then He will use others, whether I like it or not.
By God's grace, I am nearly fully well now, quite in time for all the camps, meetings, and rehearsals. In spite of my foolishness, God seems to still be willing to use me. Praise the Lord. As I try to serve Him by His power in the coming days, may He bless me with not only the strength to complete my tasks, but with a heart of humility, reliance, and thanksgiving.