Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Obeying Orders

Life's most important lessons are often learned in the midst of crisis. I learned one of mine last week.

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.

The moment his hospitalization was confirmed, my mind rushed into a frenzy of questions. How could I help? When would I have my shift in the hospital? How could I be of service in any way? I wanted to help all I could...that is, in the way I wanted to help.

Like every restless soldier yearning for his first battle, I wanted to have my share of the action. I wanted to help in the hospital, I wanted to help accommodate any visitors, I wanted to take charge of Kye. I repeated to my parents that I wanted to "really" help.

My parents assured me that they needed my help, but my assignment came in a way I didn't like. With my father presiding over decisions in the hospital and my mother watching Kye at night, I was assigned to stay at home base, cooking for anyone at home, watching the house, and being information center for anyone inquiring about Kye. I would usually have liked such responsibilities, but that time, I wasn't content.

"I want to help more!" I insisted to my mother as I pleaded for a chance to help at the hospital. I didn't want to stay running the domestic system. I wanted to prove my ability to take an adult's job in the crisis. I wanted to feel like I was really helping.

"Wen," my mother's tired voice was almost broken that day, "obeying IS helping!" She went on to say that obeying orders, staying at home, and taking care of everyone at home WAS helping. Real help wasn't insisting to do what others were doing; real help was doing what I had to.

Exhausted from her hospital shifts, my mom was near tears, and so was I. Her lecture was breaking down my mental system. She was challenging the way I thought...did I really want to help, or just to prove myself? If helping meant obeying orders and staying at home, would I help?

I cried to the Lord in my room that Monday afternoon. I had some lessons to learn.

It wasn't an easy pill to swallow, but it was something I had to learn. In different chapters of my life, there will be times when the best way to help would be to do what I least wanted. There are parents to obey today...but there will be pastors, teachers, and perhaps even a husband to obey in the future. If I can't obey, if I can't be content in doing my job, I would cause more harm than good. Even helping can have its selfish side, and God wanted me to give that side up.

By God's grace, Kye is well now. The family is functioning regularly again, with me assuming my daily duties at home and at church. If the lesson I learned stays with me, however, things will be different from now on. If I want to help, I have to obey. Obeying orders...easier said than done...yet ever important, and achievable by His grace alone.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

Like many girls, I often find myself investing thoughts, time, and effort into making myself pretty, or at least as near as I could get to that description. Who doesn't want to be pretty? Beauty captures attention, it wins envy from other girls, it boosts one's confidence, and yes, most significantly, it attracts guys. It's the dream of every girl to be the "fairest one of all."

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.

Hard work does pay off, even if it's in an area this vain. I began to catch more and more eyes whenever I dressed up. I would hear so many more compliments than before. Finally, I was feeling pretty.

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


Okay, it happened again. I wrote a composition from a stroke of inspiration, rejoiced over my own ingenuity, printed it out, showed it to my mother (my sole occasionally-available critic), and got my work a harsh but honest evaluation. Her final verdict: it sucks.

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...