Sleepless Atlanta

Sorry for the corky title. It’s one of those nights when I close my eyes, thoughts that submerged in my subconscious during the day start to arise and flood through my mind.
I’m deep into three months of transition since I left Germany. I’ve been living at home, getting to know my new life in the U.S., and relearn what it means to walk with the Lord in my most comfortable comfort zone.
It has not been easy, but there’s grace- there’s always grace-given by Him that becomes my daily strength.
Some thoughts that flood through my mind: the student who had to leave school in the middle of the school year, how is he doing now? Did I ever take time to talk to him? The lunch date I had with one of the girls in my class…that was truly special! She really did open up to me. Will I ever see her again? The time when the whole class wrote a thank you note and gave it to me as a surprise- I will never forget the look on their faces…they sure take pride in surprising their teachers! It’s probably one of the most beautiful moments in my life as a teacher.
Not sure how to deal with the flash backs, but writing them down is probably one way! The Lord is teaching me to treasure the moment that is “now”, because there will never be another moment just like it ever again. No matter where I am or what I am doing, there will never be another day that’s just like “today”. Every moment is precious, is holy, is full of significance.
I’m thankful for the life that I get to live- and the lives that I got to know. In many ways my heart longs for eternity, where there will be completeness of time, and there will be no separation in time or space. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I think it will be truly amazing.
Miss you, my friends far away! Till that day, let’s walk worthy of His calling each and every moment.

A moment with my Iraqi little brother by the river near where I live now

Give You All My Dreams

The dreams you’ve given me long ago

I give them back to you

I’ve held onto them for too long

now it’s time

for them to find their home

Like the night sky filled with stars

You’ve planted a field of dreams in our hearts

We cannot always see them

but they are always there

You determine the times and seasons when they will shine

out of the depth of the night they break forth in light

I give all my dreams

back to you

the Dream Giver

My Room

Disturb us, Lord

After several weeks of traveling from Kandern to Berlin, from Berlin to China, then from China back to the States- I’ve finally adjusted to the time zone and the temperature here in Atlanta. There’s a lot going on in this transition, and sometimes I feel overwhelmed, stressed and empty. I came across a note with a poem from Sir Francis Drake as I was sorting through my stuff today, and it somehow summarizes it all.

Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future

In strength, courage, hope, and love.

– Sir Francis Drake

Goodbyes, goodbyes…goodbyes?? Goodbyes!!!

I’ve never really liked saying goodbyes. I don’t really know anyone who does.

As I was walking home from school this afternoon, I found myself treasuring the moment that I have just walking in the woods. i remember just several months ago speed walking on the same trail rushing to a meeting at school, and wishing the trail would not be as bumpy as it was, and that I would have a car. What made it so precious now in my eyes???

Goodbyes have a way to shake your world. It makes you realize how fleeting and momentary the present moment is, and it makes you treasure it even more.

Goodbyes have a way to make you see more clearly. I can’t remember how many times it’s when I had to say goodbye to a place, a person, or a community that i truly realize how much it had meant to me.

Goodbyes are painful at times- those sudden realizations that you are going to lose something that has been part of your life for so long, and you may never have it back the same way again. At the same time, it’s God’s way of saying, “Hey, look at the incredible ways that I have connected your hearts and lives and the amazing transformation that has happened, and you’re going to enjoy the fruit of all of it one day FOREVER.”

When Jesus cried out to the Father the night before he went on the cross, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am…” (John 17:24). There is pain and longing in those words- Jesus yearned for intimacy and friendship with us, and that we will walk in a relationship in which we will never be apart EVER AGAIN.

If I have pain and longing when I think about saying goodbyes, how much more the Father longs to be with us and for us to abide in Him in each moment that we live!

Help me, Father, to be present with you, and to spend each moment of my life with you.

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In The Garden Tomb

Over Spring Break, I had the chance to visit Israel for a week. This is my 3rd time in Israel, and it happens to be during Passover, when all the Jewish people gather around the table with their families and remember how God led them out of Egypt.

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Celebrating the Passover Seder with a Jewish family

They remember about their bitter slavery in Egypt, the ten plagues, including the last plague, when the lamb was sacrificed and its blood being smeared on the doorpost, so that no first-born male child would die in the Jewish household.

In the same week of the biblical calendar, Jesus walked into the garden of Gethsemane and drank the cup of suffering. He was nailed upon the cross and his blood poured out, so that the sin of the world would be taken away.

The Garden Tomb is one of my favorite places in Jerusalem. It’s located right outside of Damascus Gate, in an Arab neighborhood. It’s one of the historical places people believe where Jesus died on the cross, put into the tomb and rose again. When you walk into it in the spring, the flowers are blooming in every corner, a gentle breeze brushes over your face, and the birds make their home among the branches. It is a truly peaceful place. It’s hard to picture what happened there on that dark afternoon, where death came to Jesus in the most cruel way, and where hope was lost for so many of the disciples, and perhaps Jesus’ family.

On Easter Sunday, I went to the Garden Tomb. Hundreds gather at this place each year to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. It’s amazing to worship with people from corners of the world in the Garden Tomb, on Easter. It reminds me of the verse from Isaiah, “Come together, all of you, and listen: Which of the idols has foretold these things?” (Is. 48:14)

Worship at Garden Tomb

Worship at Garden Tomb

On my way back to Germany, I went through Poland and had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz. From the moment I walked into Auschwitz, I felt that I was in the Garden Tomb again. Pictures of the cruelty of death, stories of enormous suffering. As you walk through them, you can almost hear the loud cry, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

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The gate of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the train leads directly to the gas chambers

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed….Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
Elie Wiesel, Night

Jewish prayer shawls found at the camp

Jewish prayer shawls found at the camp

Where the gas chambers used to be

Where the gas chambers used to be

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The pond where ashes were spread

Yet, as I walked through the camp ground, I could not help but notice life. Just like in the Garden Tomb, who would have known, in such a place, 70 years later, the flowers brought by the visitors were blooming under the sun, the trees swayed gently by the wind, and the birds here too, had found a home in the branches.

I believe in the God of resurrection, in every sense of the word. Though I’m not sure what it will look like in its fullness, but I have hope, strong hope of His promise: the Light has come, and is coming again.

For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Rom. 11: 11-15)

Struggle In The Middle

It’s quite unsettling to realize that I only have three months left to teach and live in Germany. My process of reflection of this past year has just slowly begun in these past couple of weeks. It has been a difficult transition for me from teaching elementary to teaching in the middle school. In many ways, I feel that I’m still learning about how middle schoolers are different from the 4th graders I taught last year, and I’m still learning about where the boundaries lie “in the middle”. I feel that many days I have got the job done, but there’s a dissatisfaction within me that I have not truly connected with my students like i did before.

I feel discouraged today, that I might have missed the opportunities to be intentional with my students, and I felt that I still don’t know them so well. It’s not the first time I feel this way- just this past Christmas, the Lord used the same sense of regret to speak to me when i was in the ER with my grandpa- I have not been so intentional with him and have given up the hope to see God touch his life.  The Lord reminded me that life is not about accomplishments, but truly about relationships- at this present moment, where He put us.

it’s so easy for me to get into the mode of “work”. I tend to be an over-achiever and perfectionist and sometimes loose sight of the big picture. i’m asking God’s mercy today, to redeem the opportunities that I have lost, and to help me, change me, and teach me to love better.

Wisdom For The Wilderness

“And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you.” (Deut. 8:2-5)

We all experience wilderness times in our lives- it could last for a day, several months, or in the case of the Israelites, forty years. I’m reminded today that God has a purpose for the wilderness. When we encounter the bareness of our souls in the wilderness, we can either choose to escape our pain through distractions, or wait upon the Lord to come and satisfy our longings.

“Therefore, when I say that the root of Christian fasting is the hunger of homesickness for God, I mean that we will do anything and go without anything if, by any means, we might protect ourselves from the deadening effects of innocent delights and: preserve,the sweet longings of our homesickness for God. Not just food, but anything.” (Hunger For God, John Piper)

In the wilderness, the Lord can do powerful things within us, if we choose to wait upon Him. He will make us a voice- a voice that communicates the truth and the reality of the Holy One with power, a voice that will turn the hearts of children back to the Father (Isaiah 40:3).

Walk Not In Front Of Me

When I first became a Christian, I did not have many Christian friends. Those were my high school days. I remember one day I was craving for Christian fellowship and I went on this Chinese apologetics website with a chatroom. Apparently many Chinese believers connect with each other through the internet in China 10 years ago, and people were telling their testimonies, praying and worshipping all via audio chat at this place. I was in the US at that time, but it was amazing for me to hear their hunger and abandoned love for the Lord through their voice. And interestingly, even though I’ve never met them, the things they shared still stuck with me till this day.

One of those things, was the phrase “do not walk in front of the Lord”.

I still think about it often, especially these past few days, what it means to not walk in front of the Lord, but to follow Him, to wait for His leading, to lean upon His leadership, and to take time and listen to His voice.

It’s interesting the word “follow” paints a picture that you are walking behind someone, and if you are walking in front of that person, you’re not following. However, often times i have the tendency to be too quick to act and want to pass the Lord who’s leading me, assuming I’m going where He wants.

One thing that made me come to realize this tendency was how the Lord in a week completely shattered the “plans” I had for the next few years to teach overseas at BFA or elsewhere and left me with a big unknown. All of a sudden I realize I’ve been making plans mentally about my life to find a sense of stability and security in those plans. And honestly, it wasn’t good for me. The Lord wants me to trust in Him and His leadership alone and give him a blank check to fill. Even though it’s hard to live in the unknown, I’ve felt a sense of burden taking off from my shoulders, and a sense of relief- that I’m not the one responsible to make things happen, I’m not the one responsible to save the whole world, the Lord is in charge and He knows what He’s doing. I can find great rest in that.

A saturday hike in the Black Forest

A Saturday hike in the Black Forest

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

Prayer For France

When I got back to Germany this past Wednesday, the people of Paris were experiencing a deeply traumatic event. Two days later, it is still boiling over the region, and the “peace” that we’ve known all seemed to be a “slumber”. As I watched the news, it all seemed to be strangely familiar, and a commercial phrase kept playing in my head- “it’s coming to a place near you.”

In geography class today, we talked about the attack in Paris as our current event. The atmosphere of the room was heavy- we live about 30-minutes drive from the French border, and a 3-hour train ride to Paris. Almost everyone of my students has been to Paris, and one just moved from Paris- who knew the area of the shooting very well and her parents are still serving there. When I asked whether a similar event could happen in Germany, it was an unanimous “yes”.

“So how should we respond to such an event?” I asked, not quite sure about the answers myself.

Hands raised quickly, the first response was, “we should pray for the gunmen to come to know Christ”.

It was an answer from the heart, and it was met by heads nodding unanimously. Standing there, I felt I was the student in the room.

Give us courage Lord, to stand steadfast as your faithful witness.

What Is God’s Work?

Recently I took a trip back to the States and met up with some precious friends. It also gave me an opportunity to reflect on this past year. For some reason, this question has been lingering in my mind, what exactly, is God’s work?

When I open my mouth to share about what I’ve done this past year as a missionary, sometimes I sense the unspoken or even self-projected expectations- share something that’s intriguing, share something that’s new, sharing something that’s great…And frankly, I remember when I was the one who was sitting in their seats having the same expectations of other missionaries. And frankly, I have to say as someone who’s new to the mission field, I did not do anything different this past year in Germany as I lived in the States. If I am a missionary now- I was a missionary then, and I will always be a missionary. My mission field- even though my address changed, has always been and probably always will be the people God has put around me in my lives. Just because I am raising full-time support, does not make me more of a missionary than when I didn’t. The only difference, is probably I get to receive more gifts from many precious people than I have ever did before.

So this leads to the question, what exactly, is God’s work? My assignment in Germany is to teach in Black Forest Academy that primarily serves missionary kids. Their parents serve as missionaries in many countries all over the world. It has been my joy to serve the families in this way, but has also made me think more deeply about missions. I hear the phrase “God’s work” around me a lot, “doing God’s work”, “supporting God’s work” are just a couple examples. However, I am not exactly comfortable with this phrase. If I belong to Him- if I died, and the life I now live is fully His, doesn’t that mean that everything I now do, every breath I take, every word I speak, is part of God’s work? Are we not all missionaries in our own sphere of influence? And  is not God’s work in us, through us, and all around us?

I’ve learned this year that just because I am a support-raising missionary doesn’t mean that I am better than who I was, or I get to do “more” of God’s work than I did before. The same struggles I had when I lived in the States only magnified themselves when I moved to a different country. The deepest work of God, as I know it, is still when the Lord whispers to me His word in my weakness and encounters me with His tender presence in the secret place.

As someone once told me, the greatest ministry we will ever do in our lives is our ministering before the Lord. As David declared from his heart, ” One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord His all the days of my life, to gaze on His beauty and to seek Him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4) As I walk into a new year of teaching in Germany, I want to again choose this one thing, because it is the good part, and it will never be taken away from me.

Ps 27.4
If you’re interested, a fellow missionary who used to teach in BFA wrote a very thought provoking piece related to what it means to do God’s work in missionary families:
Would love to hear your thoughts if you want to share!