Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lent: The love-hate relationship

***Don't forget to sign the petition (and this one too!) to save refugees from North Korea!***

Blessing #7 - Food

We all have a love-hate relationship with food, don't we?  I like cooking, and I often like eating, but I really don't like what happens when I over-indulge in those things.  Who does?

This morning I got a reminder email for an event that I forgot I'd ever signed up for: the Isaiah 58 Challenge end of the month fast, and, wouldn't you know it, this month it was a fast from food.  Being unprepared, I opted to not participate today, but I haven't had dinner yet, and it's bugging me.

I'm hungry.
I have a headache.
I'm getting irritable.
I'm ever so slightly dizzy.
People are posting pictures of food on Facebook.

And I'm trying to do taxes.

I wonder how people feel who are lucky to get one meal a day.  Does the aching stomach wear off?  Does the headache eventually go away?  Do they learn to squelch the irritability?  Is there a trick to walking a straight line while dizzy?

I realized how blessed I am to have those questions (although, I'm not totally sure that being born to wealth is a blessing and not a curse).  But, as someone (I honestly can't remember who, right now) has drilled into me,

I am blessed to be a blessing.

Who can you bless today?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lent: Even though I don't like it at times

***Don't forget to sign the petition (and this one too!) to save refugees from North Korea!***

Blessing #6 - Education

Today, I graduated from the TESOL program at KNU.  I must say, I did not enjoy the class, overall.  But, now I'm certified, and I have my certificate, which should be good globally.

Me, my professors, and Dr. Im (and my certificate and plant).

I also appreciated the class, because it gave me the opportunity to re-bond with the people who came in the same time as me, as well as some of the new people.  I really do feel a lot closer to them now.  I hope it sticks!

The whole group, professors, Dr. Im, and all.
What is it that you dislike in the moment, but are grateful for in the end?

The latest on the repatriation issue

Once again, I'm simply copying this off Ask a Korean.  Please keep this issue in your prayers.  Refer back to my earlier post on this topic for my other suggestions on what you can be doing.  While you're at it, sign this petition and this one, too.

*                  *                  *

Here are some more tidbits on the North Korean defectors front.

- Graduates of Yeomyung School, a South Korean charter school for North Korean defector children, created the most successful online petition to date. At, a petition to the officials of the United Nations, European Union and the United States has garnered more than 127,000 signatures so far. Please take your time to sign the petition, and share them on your Facebook and Twitter. It will only take a minute.

Cha In-Pyo (center) protesting in front of the Chinese embassy.
- Backed by the Save My Friend movement, superstar actor Cha In-Pyo and other celebrities organized two protests in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul, on the 18th and on the 21st. National Assemblywoman Park Seon-Yeong has been holding a hunger strike in front of the Chinese embassy since the 21st as well; she plans to continue until China announces that it will treat North Korean defectors as refugees. There are also candle light vigils being held in various cities of Korea.

- The Chinese government is stonewalling. There are reports that nine of the 28 North Korean defectors were already repatriated, although other reports say they are still in China. The Chinese government has refused to verify the whereabouts of those defectors. In a regular briefing held on the 24th, Chinese government official only repeated that China has been handling the issue "in accordance with domestic law, international law and humanitarian principles." When asked which humanitarian principles were followed when China previously repatriated North Korean defectors, the spokesman only repeated that China has been keeping with the principles.

- Korean government is considering what may end up being an extremely helpful measure: issuing temporary South Korean travel certificate to any North Korean defector in China. With the travel certificate, even if the defector is arrested by Chinese police, s/he can credibly claim that s/he is a South Korean citizen. Even if the claim is less than completely credible, it may provide enough cover for the Chinese police to receive bribes and let the defector go. (Apparently, right now the going price is 100,000 yuan per person -- approximately $16,000.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lent: Heartsick

***Don't forget to sign the petition to save refugees from North Korea!***

Blessing #5 - A roof over my head

Today was my last teaching practice for TESOL.  All I had to do was prepare and act out a story, equipped with props and strong characterizations.  I picked a story I drilled into myself (and everyone around me) when I was little: The Three Little Pigs.  This is a story I could tell in my sleep, if I wanted.  For props, I collected a bundle of sticks, some hay - straw - from my rabbit's stash, and a bag of rocks that I wedged out of the frozen earth this morning.  Except, I never meant to have rocks at all.

Yesterday, on the way to church, I found some broken bricks at the construction site across the street from my apartment.  I grabbed them, but realized that I was making a trip to Seoul right after church, and I didn't want to be lugging around bricks all day - although I finally could have answered "yes" when someone asked me if I had bricks in my purse, which may have been extremely gratifying.  But I digress.  My solution was to leave my broken bricks with a whole one that I found a few meters later.  I figured that no one would mess with a couple stray bricks.  I was wrong.

When I went to retrieve the bricks this morning, there was no sign of them.  Confused, I panned out and began to radiate from the spot I thought I'd left them, figuring I'd just remembered wrong.  Something about a bottle to my left caught my eye, and I went to get a better look.  Upon closer examination, I realized that the juice bottle was tucked neatly under a black plastic bag, almost as if it was a doll, snuggled into a made up bed.  Then I noticed an interesting layering of rocks nearby.  But black seemed like such an odd color for rocks.  Then my eyes landed on the distinctly circular hole in one of the rocks, and I registered it as a fragment of broken brick.  Finally, I began to put it all together.

The juice bottle was, in fact, marking a bed, the train bridge overhead serving as a decent roof.  The black rocks were not rocks at all, but rather the remains of a fire from last night, serving as a substitute for walls.  My bricks had gone to protect the bed's occupant from being burned to death.  I shivered.  My bricks had certainly been put to a better use than some silly story telling.

Today's Lenten Calendar entry (click on the title) suggests that today we give away something that is adding to the clutter in our lives.  I think I just found a good home for some blankets that have been slowly overtaking my couch.

When was a time that G-d reminded you that everything here belongs to Him, and we are simply stewards, waiting for Him to claim it back?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lent: The awkward comment you wish you hadn't said

Blessing #4: Heartache

I know that this seems like the absolute strangest thing I could write here and that it will probably make some people uncomfortable, but I'm grateful that, in spite of everything that's happened, I'm still able to ache over things that broke my heart.

Because that means I'm still able to love.

Which means that I'm still able to trust.

And I'm still able to hope.

And that, my friends, truly is something.

What's that thing that you're grateful for, even though bringing it up makes other people uncomfortable?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lent: Unexpndable

Blessing #3 - G-d

I don't know how I could possibly expand on this topic or why I'm grateful for it, so I will simply leave it at that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lent: Fazoli's and Bathrooms

Blessing #2: Friendship

I am so grateful for my friends, from the ones whose family met up with mine at Fazoli's, to the ones who just spent a ton of time with me, holed up in a bathroom - they are a G-dsend.

Maybe I met you on the map, painted onto the blacktop.
Maybe I met you at a family get-together.
Maybe I met you on an airplane, on the way to Korea.
Maybe I met you while sitting in the cafeteria.
Maybe I met you through other friends.
Maybe I met you doing music.
Maybe I met you by crashing your birthday party.
Maybe, along the same lines, I met you by crashing your TESOL party.
Maybe I met you at work.

Wherever I met you, I'm very grateful to you right now.

I want to take a moment to recount something I saw the other day that got me thinking about how special my friends are.

I was eating lunch at Han's Deli (The links give info on a Han's Deli in a DIFFERENT town, but it's the only one I could find.), which isn't a deli at all, when this group of two families came in.  They promptly separated - adults and kids.  They were all smiles, apparently used to this setting.  This was definitely not their first time doing this.  
I watched as the adults chatted, seemingly grateful for the reprise of a safe location in which they could be adults.  The kids seemed quite content to do their own thing (I kept a sharp eye out for any hint of "Finger Mother, May I?" - I saw it not).

I couldn't help but smile, because I had lived out this scenario, too.  Growing up, my family met up with another at Fazoli's for "Italian" fast-food, endless breadsticks, and hours of contained, adult-child segregation.  Honestly, meeting them at Fazoli's afterward was the only thing I enjoyed about church back then.  Our families have managed to keep in touch over the years, and, while the relationship now looks very different, I feel that the Fazoli's meetings laid a groundwork for a relationship that can be picked up at a moment's notice, no matter how many years have lapsed.  I pray the same will happen for the family I observed at Han's Deli.

Where did your most treasured friendships begin?

***Don't forget to sign the petition to save refugees from North Korea!***

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent: Te protejo con la sangre de Cristo

Blessing #1 - Orlando

In 2009, I visited Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (80% of the population lives on $2 a day).  Just before I left to go there, I developed a massive inner ear infection.  The school nurse was nervous about the amount of pressure that was on my ear drum at the time.  I started my antibiotics, and I got on the plane anyway.  I spent a couple days on my own, meeting one of the kids I sponsor through Compassion International, and then I met up with my mission group in Costa Rica.  We stopped long enough to pick up our missionary, David Webb, and his summer intern, head to the river, get on a boat, and enter Nicaragua by water.

It was there that I met Orlando, the then Nazarene District Superintendent for that area.

Orlando touched my life deeply those two weeks.  The man traveled all the way from his home to be with us, but chose to sleep on the dirt floor of a nearby house.  I don't know if it was because he wanted to show solidarity with the community or he had some moral or dictated stance against accepting a room from us in the hotel where we stayed or what, but it touched me nonetheless.

Orlando got up before us and went to bed after us.
Orlando organized our missions activities.
Orlando suffered through our horrible attempts at Spanish, making efforts to          communicate with all who tried.
Orlando sat with me as I heaved my parasite-infected guts out under the                Nicaraguan sun.
Orlando found me a doctor in the middle of the night.
Orlando woke up the bus driver to take me to the hospital.
Orlando insisted upon staying by my bedside, to wake every time I                        whimpered.
Orlando showed me Christ in a way I had never seen before.

David, Orlando, and another man who helped us do construction on a school.  Photo taken by Ashley Meeks.
The question still occasionally baffles me: Why would a man shepherding the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere make time to care for a spoiled little rich girl like me?  Surely, he has much more pressing issues on his plate.

And yet, he still continues to take care of me.  I want to share with you one of the most recent emails I got from him.  I will post it in the original Spanish, because I believe firmly in preserving the intended quality of the message (many things from many languages simply cannot translate into English).  You can find the translation here.

Dios te bendiga, espero que cada dia mejores en tu vida espiritual.
Te protejo con la sangre de Cristo y el poder de Cristo cada dia en tu vida.  No dejes que el diablo te robe la bendicion y la salvacion de alma.  No dejes que  la oscuridad de este mundo empañe tu salvacion y las dudas te sieguen tu mente.  No dejes que tus impulsos  te traicionen. 
Los problemas de este mundo siempre estan.  Nosotros nos morimos y los problemas se quedan en la tierra. 
Con Cristo estoy juntamente crusificado y ya no vivo yo mas Cristo vive en mi:  
En Cristo,
Orlando Alvenda 

I can't tell you the blessing it is, knowing I have a prayer warrior like Orlando on my side, slashing away at Satan for me, when I get too weary to do it myself.  Orlando is the man I think of when I direct my thoughts to my Christ-model here on Earth.  Yes, Orlando is definitely only human, but if I look forward to one day hearing Christ come to him and again say, "Bien hecho, siervo bueno y fiel."

Who is your Christ-model?  Why?

***Don't forget to sign the petition to save refugees from North Korea!***

Lent: Count your Blessings


It's funny how that one word can cause more greif than a string of other "four-letter words."

I think we look at Lent wrong.  Absolutely wrong.

As the video says, Lent is a time in which we dwell on the stories of Jesus spending 40 days fasting the dessert and the Israelites spending 40 years in the wilderness.  But what we DON'T tend to focus on is G-d's constant provision throughout those stories.  (Check out Matthew 4:11 and Exodus 16.)  Instead, we've perverted it and turned it into a way to focus on self... again.
Oh my gosh, I just want chocolate so much right now... is it cheating if I take Sundays off?
We've missed the point.

Lent is about focusing on G-d and allowing Him to refine us for 40 days, leading up to the celebration of the single greatest act of Love this earth has ever known: The day G-d laid down His Life so that we would never have to.

This year for Lent, I'm going to do something somewhat uncharacteristic of the season.  Whereas most people are thinking of Lent as a somber time, it is my intention to spend these 40 days counting my blessings - or at least 40 of them.  Hopefully, I'll be able to bring the focus on to Him a little more through this exercise.

Will you join me?


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Act now. Demand the preservation of human rights.

I was informed today that a petition has been created concerning the repatriation of North Korean defectors.  In addition to everything I mentioned HERE, please go HERE and sign this petition.  You have to make a account, but it's quick, painless, and I've never been sent email from them without requesting it.  We're looking for 25,000 signatures.  I was signature #11.

Leave me a comment with your signature number and a suggestion of what I should do to celebrate signatures numbers 1,000; 10,000; 20,000; and 25,000.  (Because I have absolute faith that they will come.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Apparently, we have our answer.


Recently, as the world knows, Kim Jong-Un succeeded his father as the leader of North Korea.  We all waited with baited breath to see how he intended to rule.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have our answer.

In December, I visited Korea's Demilitarized Zone, and got to peer across the border into North Korea itself.  What I saw broke my heart for the people who live there.  

We've all heard of the few who speak out and make their ways to other countries, gaining refugee status.  Unfortunately, North Korea and China are not honoring this status, "even though North Korea joined the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and inserted additional ‘respects and protections of human rights’ article into the constitution", and the "Chinese government agreed to the UN’s Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the UN Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK stipulates ‘the principle of non-refoulement’ that the North Korean defectors seeking asylum should not be put back to dangerous situation." (Quoted from the article below.)

A single voice can be drowned out with plugged ears, but the voice of the many cannot be quelled.  Let me suggest a plan of action:
  1. Read the article below, then post it to any and all social media sites to which you have access.
  2. Join with the families of the arrested refugees, whether by mirroring their abstinence from food and drinks, abstaining from something else that these refugees are no longer allowed, setting aside a certain time for prayer for them each day, some combination of these things, or something entirely different.  These people are scared and feeling unheard right now.  Let them know they're not alone.
  3. Correspond with your representatives and senators.   (A simple copy-paste of the plee below should do just fine.)  It's an election year in the U.S.; our voices travel further than they usually do.  As such, you could even go all the way to write to the president.  He's made a big show of his camaraderie with South Korea, demand that he stand by that now.  (The White House online correspondence asks for a limit of 2,500 characters, so I would recommend copying and pasting the first three paragraphs of the plee, and then pasting in "As refugees, these people are entitled to protection  under UN Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights.  This situation cannot be allowed to continue.  For more information, please visit" Make sure you select "We the People - Petitions" in the subject line. I made sure I requested a response. That is up to you.)
  4. Boycott all products from China. Look for the label. Nothing speaks louder than your money.

Let's not be the generation that stood aside and let massive slaughterings of people happen AGAIN.  It is a cycle that keeps repeating.  We ask our grandparents why it took so long for America to respond to Nazi death camps.  We ask our parents why it took so long for America to respond to the situation in Rwanda.  For what will we be known?

Every human life is intrinsically priceless.  Please read the article below, as copied from the blog Ask a Korean, and take action.

*                  *                  *

First, a little bit of background. As Kim Jong-Un attempts to consolidate his power in North Korea, one of the new regime's focus has been arresting as many North Koreans in China as possible. Right now, North Korea has sent into China a task force of covert agents numbering in the thousands -- a scale simply unprecedented -- who would pretend to be North Korean defectors, only to rat out true defectors to the Chinese police. The Chinese police arrests these defectors and repatriate them back to North Korea. Once back in North Korea, these defectors will face near certain deaths in gulags out of hard labor and starvation. Recently, there was an arrest of 28 North Korean defectors in China, who will be repatriated back to North Korea in just a few days. Right now, even as we speak, these defectors are essentially facing a death penalty if they are sent back to North Korea. Some of the defectors' families in South Korea (who defected before this group of defectors) are pleading that if these defectors are to be sent back to North Korea, they are better off killing themselves in the Chinese prison.

Mr. Joo Seong-Ha, whom regular readers of this blog would know well, decided to do something about this situation. Below is his plea regarding this issue, translated into English. Mr. Joo is hoping that the social services networks worldwide would be plastered with this message, so that the Chinese government would hopefully think twice before condemning North Korean defectors to certain death.

The Korean knows that a lot of AAK! readers came to this blog because of the peerless insight of Mr. Joo. If you learned anything new about North Korea thanks to one of his posts, you owe him -- and now is your chance to return the favor. It will not take much to put up this message on Facebook, Twitter, LinkdIn, or any other social network to which you belong. Please, please carry this message forward. You may end up saving lives. Thank you.

*                  *                  *

Our appeal to the Chinese government and the international community for help. Please stop the repatriation of North Korean defectors! Forced repatriation is ultimately a death sentence.

Please help save the lives of North Korean defectors who are about to be repatriated by The Public Security Bureau of China. The defectors including minors are crying out for help, saying they’d rather die in China than be repatriated. Please help us stop the inhumane repatriation by the Chinese government. Compulsory repatriation will only result in cruel torture, persecution, and public execution. We ask the Chinese government and the global community to help in our effort to protect the human rights and save the lives of the innocent. 

From February 8th to the 13th, 28 North Korean defectors were arrested by the Public Security Bureau agents in three cities near the Chinese border. The first group had 10 people (4 men and 6 women) arrested in Shenyang, the second group consisted of 9 people arrested in Yian-ji, and the third group had 12 people arrested in Changchun. Reportedly, the 10 people detained in Shenyang contacted with their family in South Korea by the phone. 

The refugees escaped from North Korea for many different reasons. They had to suffer extended period of financial crisis, wide-spread starvation, electric power shortage, ‘guilt-by-association’ political system, absence of freedom of speech, travel or relocation, and violence against women and children. Some refugees escaped from the prison camps, while others left their country to meet with their families who had settled in South Korea. Most of the refugees want to come to South Korea but a few of them want to start a new life in other countries like the United States, the U.K. and Canada. 

The arrested defectors will go through 7 to 10 days of investigation before their repatriation. Therefore, the 10 people arrested in Shenyang are now facing immediate deportation. For a decade, the Chinese Bureau of Public Security has postponed the repatriation until the international community diverts their attention to other issues, and has so far repatriated over 10,000 refugees. The Chinese government is now evading negotiation on this matter with ambiguous answers, saying they cannot confirm the arrest of 28 North Koreans.

Recently, the North Korean government ordered a harsher crackdown on escapees during the 100 days of mourning period for Kim Jong-Il. After repatriation, the defectors will be sent to political prisoner camps and their chances of public execution are imminent. In the prison camp, their human rights of will be cruelly abused as they are subject to forced labor, involuntary abortion, physical violence, sexual assault, public execution, torture, medical experiment and lack of hygienic care. Even though North Korea joined the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and inserted additional ‘respects and protections of human rights’ article into the constitution, it has never followed or adhered to any of the rules. 

Most of the refugees want to come to South Korea, and many of them have families already residing in South Korea. For instance, one of the refugees under arrest is a teenager boy who does not have any family or relatives in North Korea but has a brother and a sister in South Korea. In this case, he is a full citizen of South Korea and the South Korean government has the right to ask the Chinese government to send him to South Korea. 

Kim Jong-un and his government must admit the sovereign default and the abuse of human rights of its citizens. As a leader, Kim should help promote the well-being of his citizens rather than promote the death of his people.

North Korean defectors left their country due to poverty, autocracy, and many other political reasons. So, their escape from North Korea and their desire to settle in South Korea prove that they qualify for the status of refugee or asylum seeker prescribed by the international law. The Chinese government agreed to the UN’s Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the UN Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK stipulates ‘the principle of non-refoulement’ that the North Korean defectors seeking asylum should not be put back to dangerous situation. Therefore, the Chinese government must stop the forced repatriation and allow the refugees to continue their lives in other countries.

In an effort to show their opposition to North Korea, the families of the arrested refugees are abstaining from food and drinks, and appealing to the Chinese government while also trying to reach out to the international community. In one extreme case, a father of an arrested female refugee stated that he would rather have his own daughter killed by poison than taken back to North Korea. Her repatriation will only lead to indefinite torture eventually ending with public execution. 

We urge the Chinese government to protect the basic human rights and the lives of all human beings. Also, we encourage the Chinese government to understand and realize the importance of freedom and democracy for all people. Repatriation will cause long and painful suffering to the family members of the refugees. Tens of thousands of people in North and South are already feeling guilty as they failed to save their family. Please help us stop this pain and injustice. 

We appeal to all the people of conscience around the world, including worldwide news media, governments, leaders, and organizations. Please raise public awareness of the North Korean refugee crisis and the devastating effect of the Chinese government’s unjust repatriation. Please help save the lives of North Korean defectors. Show your love for humanity! 

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


Re: Shiva

In one of the most interesting twists of this week,

Parker King is NOT dead.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to have him alive, but I'm upset that he chose to fake his own death.  That was incredibly insensitive and rude.

In an effort to increase views on his music video and win a contest, Parker led the world to believe he had overdosed on heroin.

That being said, I'm going to repost some of the things I wrote that I would like to continue to display for the world, because they're important to me:

I have, unfortunately, experienced death enough in my life to know that sitting Shiva is one of my most cherished traditions within the Jewish faith.  Although he has not yet been buried, I began my Shiva for Parker King tonight.  That is the awful part about living so far away - things like funerals for high school friends must be missed. 
This is an old picture of Parker, from when we had Ancient and Medieval History together.

If we all are honest with ourselves, the reason why people saying "You're not guaranteed your next breath" is so cliche is because we all already know it.  The people about whom the general They like to say "They think they're invincible!" are just the people who don't care. 
What we DON'T stop to think about is that the person sitting next to us isn't guaranteed their next breath either.

I don't care what kind of research you think you've done.  Anything you put into your body is a big deal, especially the things that change your body chemistry, whether it's chocolate, ibuprofen, or heroin.  These things are not to be taken lightly.  I'm sure this soapbox won't surprise anyone, as I've always been picky about taking drugs, and as a result can get as high as a kite from 600 mg of ibuprofen.  You may laugh at that, but it's my point entirely.  While plenty of people throw back 2, 3, 4 ibuprofen, even mixing it with maybe Excedrin to take on their headaches, one is enough to make me lightheaded.  These things are a big deal, because we build up a tolerance for them.   
Eventually, whatever you're doing to deal with your issues isn't going to be enough.  You're going to need more or something even stronger.  Before you know it, what started out as something you did to relax can take over your life. 
Drugs do not mess around.  Maybe you look at them as playing by the "shoot to incapacitate" rule, but let me correct that assumption: They take no prisoners, heroin especially.  Look at it - just quitting alone can kill you.  That is not something you can deal with, and it's certainly not something you can escape from on your own.  Don't touch it. 
If you're currently tied up in drugs (addiction or none), I would strongly recommend starting to open the lines of communication with people who care about you.  Start this before it is too late.  If talking to those people just isn't on there radar, The Hopeline is an anonymous outlet to a group of people whose sole purpose is to listen to you and try to help you find to the strength to continue seeking help.  They're a wonderful group of people. 
Heroin is not your friend.
Don't leave the people who care about you in favor of it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Crazy Love: Dear Chris Brown

"I think sometimes we assume that if we are nice, people will know that we are Christians and want to know more about Jesus.  But it really doesn't work that way.  I know a lot of people who don't know Christ and are really nice people - nicer and more fun to be with, in fact, than a lot of Christians I know.
"There has to be more to our faith than friendliness, politeness, and even kindness.  Jesus teaches in Luke's gospel:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even "sinners" love those who love them.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?  Even "sinners" lend to "sinners," expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
                                 -Luke 6:32-36 
"True faith is loving a person after he has hurt you.  True love makes you stand out."
                                                     -From Francis Chan's Crazy Love 

Chan continues on in the book to reference the horrible incident that happened just outside Lancaster, PA in October of 2006 and the amazing response of the Amish community, especially the families of the girls who had been murdered.  My family has spent a lot of time in Lancaster, most likely in contact with those very same families.  Perhaps that's why this event struck such a chord with me.

2007 in Lancaster, PA
I remember that day vividly for many reasons that have nothing to do with this blog post, but, for some reason, I always manage to forget the resolution I made to myself to strive after a forgiving faith like was shown by those families.  This week, I outdid myself in my forgetfulness.

You see, this week, Chris Brown reappeared at the Grammys.  The only opinion that I'm going to link you to about that is attached to the title of this post, because I think that his is the only balanced, G-d-like opinion that I've read so far.  But that didn't stop me from linking a VERY different opinion to my Facebook page (don't look for it; I've since taken it down).

I was hurt that this had happened, that no one seemed to care (still) what he had done, that no one felt it necessary to stand up for the rights of the abused, that no one felt it necessary to really see him PAY.  I'm not talking about a mamby-pamby little pay, here.  I mean, PAY.  I wanted tears and sweat and begging.

I wonder if G-d has ever wanted that from me...

After reading this small section entitled "Lovers" in Chapter Eight of Crazy Love, I knew what had to be done.  I had publicly flaunted my unforgiving heart, and I publicly needed to make amends.  The following is a letter that will be making its way to Mr. Brown's manager, who will probably hand it off to an intern, who will probably roll their eyes and throw it away (hate to burst your bubble), but I'm at least going to do my part in this process.

Do me a favor, friends, and try not to say anything you're going to feel a need to eat tomorrow.  Okay?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Picked up.

I've been picked up again.

My lastest entry in the Diary of the Unrefined just went live.

You've already seen it here, but if you want to see it in print somewhere else, go here.

I'm rather excited, I must say. :)

Be Still

I'd like to introduce you to the last song on the album "Scars & Stories" by The Fray, which is quickly becoming my new favorite.

As I once said to a 9-year-old, "I think you have to have gone through something truly terrible to appreciate The Fray, so I'd really rather that you didn't like them."

So don't worry if it's not your thing.  However, if they are, I think there's a lot of healing to be found in this new album, so, go click on the title (of this post) and buy it.  The deluxe version, which includes 17 songs, a booklet, and a video (along with a couple other tidbits) is $13.  You can't beat that.

And this is an excellent cover that I saw and liked a lot.  He covered it based only on live performances, I'm pretty sure:

Have a good night!

Finding G-d where others see Satan, I mean Harry Potter, I mean... What?


I don't want to trick you.  This post has to do with Harry Potter.  If you've reasoned and prayed out your thoughts on the topic, go no further.  Do what G-d tells you to do.  If you haven't, I'd like to present a third opinion into this very heated debate.

I want to start this with two articles, the longer of which I will post here, voicing a very popular view, and the shorter of which I will post here, voicing a decently reasoned, succinct (but usually drowned-out) rebuttal to the first.  I feel the need to clarify the second, because, all too often, the counter-argument is not reasoned out well at all.  Not once does the article pull the "It's just fiction" card.  Nothing is "just fiction."  Don't kid yourself.  Everything you put in you affects you.

This is my official stance, right up front for you:  Most sin is relative.  The Bible lays some out for you, but, unless you're reading a different version than me, nowhere does it say, "Thou shalt not read Harry Potter."  It does warn against anything that could lead you away from G-d and toward Satan.  SO, know yourself.  Do you think Harry Potter could tempt you toward practicing witchcraft?  If you answered yes, then stay away.  These books are not for you.  Are you in the middle of reading them and feeling yourself pulled into trying some of these things out?  Stop immediately.  Get rid of your Harry Potter books.  Heck, burn them if you have to.  Do whatever it takes to keep them out of your life.  Are you reading them and finding them bringing your closer to G-d?  Well, maybe it would be a sin for you to permanently stop reading them.


Hold up.


You heard (saw?) me.  If these books are drawing you toward G-d, I would fathom a guess that it would be sinful for you to give up Harry Potter.

This isn't just some happy scenario I'm making up to fodder my fandom of the books.  I have plenty of friends who could testify to their faith life being encouraged by the books.  Until yesterday, I never thought that it could be very drastic, but I can honestly now say that the books have had a drastic impact on my faith life.

Yesterday, I began to wonder if I had a dark and evil destiny looming up in front of me (a thought process with which I regularly struggle).  I began to wonder if I could possibly be demon-possessed or placed on this earth sheerly to slowly torture people and lead them away from Christ.  (Upon admitting this to a friend today, she doubled over in a fit of laughter, which I took as a good sign, but it didn't seem so funny until I had come to my conclusion.)

In book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry goes through a similar struggle after dreaming a dream in which he is a snake that attacks his friend's dad.  This dream turned out to be Harry actually witnessing the event, which led one of the adults to suggest that Harry could be being possessed by Lord Voldemort, the Satan analogue in the book.

Where some people would quote scripture to themselves, Harry's thoughts flowed to my brain as I struggled, once again, with the question of the ownership of my soul:

He felt dirty, contaminated, as though he were carrying some deadly germ, unworthy to sit on the Underground train back from the hospital with innocent, clean people whose minds and bodies were free of the taint of Voldemort: he had not merely seen the snake, he had been the snake, he knew it now:  
A truly terrible thought then occurred to him, a memory bobbing to the surface of his mind, one that made his insides writhe and squirm like serpents.  
"What's he after, apart from followers?"  
"Stuff he can only get by stealth: like a weapon. Something he didn't have last time. "
I'm the weapon, Harry thought, and it was as though poison were pumping through his veins, chilling him, bringing him out in a sweat as he swayed with the train through the dark tunnel. I'm the one Voldemort's trying to use, that's why they've got guards around me everywhere I go, it's not for my protection, it's for other people's, only it's not working, they can't have someone on me all the time at Hogwarts: I did attack Mr. Weasley last night, it was me. Voldemort made me do it and he could be inside me, listening to my thoughts right now...
I've always joked about and been amused by the fact that I have these books all but memorized.  I won't lie.  I have a greater percentage of them by memory than I do the Bible.  I'm bad at memorizing the Bible, partially because it stresses me out.  If I misquote a word from Harry Potter, it's not a big deal.  If I misquote a word from the Bible, it could change everything.  Also, there's not a bunch of verse numbers to memorize with each passage.  People demand those verse numbers, and they should.  They need to go check and see if you've changed a word and thus the entire meaning of the passage you're quoting, potentially changing that person's whole faith.  If I misquote Harry Potter, no one will care.

So yes, Harry Potter quotes flowed more easily this time, whereas the Bible verses didn't.  Most times, it's the other way around, but you see, G-d knows me.  G-d knows that yesterday, I wouldn't have listened to the Bible.  Yesterday, I didn't want to have anything to do with the Bible.  Yesterday, the Bible and I needed a break.

But I would listen to Harry Potter, so that's the medium through which G-d chose to talk to me.

I think most Harry Potter fans remember this chapter of the book series rather vividly.  Thrown in the middle of the most whiney, uneventful book of the seven, we have the chapter where we wonder if Harry truly is the hero.  That same chapter is also the one where we begin to understand Ginny (Harry's future wife... yes, it's a spoiler, but, goodness, if you haven't found that out by now, you must have really been working hard at avoiding all of this) for the strong woman she is, because, until this chapter, she was simply his best friend's kid sister.  Who can forget that it's in this chapter that she points out that she was the only one who'd been possessed by Voldemort that Harry actually knows?

It was to that scene that my mind jumped once it got done processing how unbearably dirty it felt:

"We wanted to talk to you, Harry," said Ginny, "but as you've been hiding ever since we got back-"
"I didn't want anyone to talk to me," said Harry, who was feeling more and more nettled.

"Well, that was a bit stupid of you," said Ginny angrily, "seeing as you don't know anyone but me who's been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels."
Harry remained quite still as the impact of these words hit him. Then he wheeled round. 
"I forgot," he said. 
"Lucky you," said Ginny coolly. 
"I'm sorry" Harry said, and he meant it. "So- so, do you think I'm being possessed, then?"  
"Well, can you remember everything you've been doing?" Ginny asked. "Are there big blank periods where you don't know what you've been up to?" 
Harry racked his brains. 
"No," he said. 
"Then You-Know-Who hasn't ever possessed you," said Ginny simply. "When he did it to me, I couldn't remember what I'd been doing for hours at a time. I'd find myself somewhere and not know how I got there." 
Harry hardly dared believe her, yet his heart was lightening almost in spite of himself.  
It was my memory of this passage and it's laughably simple answer that saved me.  I immediately began looking for my laughably simple answer.  There had to be one - either an "Of course!" or an "Of course not!"  And when I looked long enough, quieting my raging thoughts, I found it.

Why would I care if I truly was destined for evil?

I hardly dared to believe it, yet my heart was lightening almost in spite of myself. 

It was that simple, and one chapter of Harry Potter is what brought me to it.  Make sure you're not counting them out because society tells you to.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Crazy Love: Brother

"Dare to imagine what it would mean for you to take the words of Jesus seriously.  Dare to think about your own children living in poverty, without enough to eat.  Dare to believe that those really are your brothers and sisters in need."
                                      From Francis Chan's Crazy Love 

"Sell your possessions and give to the poor."  -Luke 12:33

"Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." -Mark 3:35

If I truly thought of these people as my brother, my precious brother, my mind would be made up before I even knew the extent of the situation.  I wouldn't look at my bank balance.  I wouldn't check the calendar against my next payday.  

I would empty my entire bank account and sell everything I owned to get him what he needed.

Without thinking.

Without debating.

Without hesitation.

"But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'..." -Luke 10:29

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Crazy Love: Jungle

"When Jeremiah voices his hesitation and fear, G-d - the G-d of the galaxies - reaches out and touches his mouth.  It's a gentle and affectionate gesture, something a loving parent would do. Through this illustration I realized that I don't have to worry about not meeting His expectations.  G-d will ensure my success in accordance with His plan, not mine.
"This is the G-d we serve, the G-d who knew us before He made us.  The G-d who promises to remain with us and rescue us.  The God who loves us and longs for us to love Him back."
                                             From Crazy Love, by Francis Chan 

I feel like I'm finally coming awake after a long hibernation.  I'm learning this idea that G-d desires to be close to me, just as much as (and more than) I want to be close to Him.  I feel like I knew this in my brain, but I'm just now starting to learn it in my heart.  It's a very cool thing.  I'm not used to feeling wanted.

It's already changed the entire timbre of our relationship.  I'm not feeling like I'm chasing after a G-d who's marking out a path, ambivalent to the fact that His steps are so much bigger than mine.  Rather, it's much more like Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the sistine chapel, with G-d stretching so far to reach me.

If you follow that painting to the moments after what is depicted, you'll see G-d, finally deciding it's so much easier to reach us if He topples off His cloud and comes some place lower - like when you're trying to reach something under the couch while you're still on it; it's so much easier just to roll off and reach under the couch for it.

Here's another example: It's like when I was in Thailand, hiking to find the Rafflesia Flower.  I was keeping right up with Teak, our guide, at first, even thought the path was quite hard.  But my blood sugar quickly crashed from exhaustion and the unexpected exertion.  I honestly wondered if I would be making it off the mountain.  But Teak did not leave me sitting there, nor did he keep his fast pace, letting me fall further and further behind.
Instead, he took my bag (read "burden," in case you're not good at analogies) from me and slowed to match my pace, letting me lean against him, balance against his shoulder, use him for support, and even went so far as to desperately beg me to let him carry me over the most dangerous parts of the hike.  When I refused, he went ahead of me, positioning himself at the bottom of the steep, muddy slope, between its base and the sheer drop-off at the edge of the path, so that if I slipped, it would be him who toppled over the edge, not me.

This is what G-d is like.  I've been straining my eyes, trying to see Him somewhere far ahead of me, unable to see Him, because he was standing next to me, hands halfway raised, ready to grab me when I slipped.

And it's not that we're discovering this path together, because G-d, like Teak, knows this path like the back of His hand.  He spends as much time as He can deep in this jungle, because yes, it is dangerous, but it is here that true beauty is found.  His people are pushed beyond what they thought were their limits, they discover what they're made of, and He begins refining it.  He knows all this going into it.  He knows each and every dangerous moment of the hike before we ever leave the starting point.  He knows each branch-off and how to find the rare, hidden beauties that can only be found in this jungle.  He knows where to take a few steps ahead of us, so He can position Himself between us and the mud ramp into the abyss.  He deliberately brings us onto the path for which we are totally unprepared, because He wants us to better understand ourselves, Him, and the wonder of everything around us.

Stop straining to see Him somewhere far ahead, and start figuring out what it is that is propping you up in your weakness, because, right there underneath your weary, weary arm is the hand of G-d Himself.

I'd like to introduce you to


Abel is the latest addition to my "family."  I wrote in my last post about how my mindset is changing.  I want to elaborate more on that.  I was doing some prayer, prompted by my reading of Francis Chan's Crazy Love, asking G-d to help me vote for the man He thinks is the best leader of America.  That particular prayer actually has very little to do with anything Chan has to say, but bear with me.  But that's okay, because G-d's answer has very little to do with my prayer.  The immediate response I got back was:

"I think abortion should be stopped."

This definitely caught me off guard, because, until 3.5 hours ago, that was not my opinion.  So, I started praying some more, and fell asleep, but, when I woke up, I was overcome with the notion of how a sacrifice isn't really a sacrifice if you're not sacrificing.

So I started thinking about that, and I realized that my income has increased considerably, but my giving has not.  My immediate response was that I needed to sponsor another Compassion child.  As soon as I got home, I popped on Compassion's website, and began scrolling through the first page of kids, overwhelmed, and, once again all but in tears attempting to decide which one.  Who is it that actually is going to get their needs cared for?  Oh, how well the devil knows me.  He knows that that tiny whisper is almost always enough to chase me away from that page.  And it almost did tonight, too.

At the bottom of the page was Abel.  He was the only kid on that page to be denoted as a child who had been waiting for over six months for a sponsor (193 days, to be exact) - indication 1.  He lives in Peru and speaks Spanish - indication 2.  I all but threw up and burst into tears when I scrolled on to the next page - indication 3.

I threw on the brakes and turned the car around.  Abel's wait was over.

It didn't occur to me until half an hour ago how truly fitting this sponsorship is.  Abel.  Abel is the child I'm choosing to sponsor as an act of sacrifice to G-d.  Abel is the child whose name alone will keep me reflecting on the act of dying to self.  Abel is the child who is named after a man who did what was right in the eyes of the L-RD, even at the cost of his own life.  Abel is the child who will inspire me, simply by having his own name, to draw back to G-d.

G-d works in the most mysterious ways.  Praise be to G-d.

Crazy Love: Reality Check

"Whether we admit it or not, every one of us has offended G-d at some point.  Jesus affirmed this when He said, 'No one is good - except G-d alone' (Luke 18:19)
"So why does G-d still love us, despite us?  I do not have an answer to this question.  But I do know that if G-d's mercy didn't exist, there would be no hope  No matter how good we tried to be, we would be punished because of our sins.
"Many people look at their lives and weigh their sins against their good deeds.  But Isaish 64:6 says, 'All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.'  Our good deeds can never outweigh our sins.
"The literal interpretation of 'filthy rags' in this verse is 'menstrual garments' (think used tampons... and if you're disgusted by that idea, you get Isaiah's point).  It's hard to imagine something more disgusting that we could brag about or put on display.  But compared to G-d's perfect holiness, that's how our good deeds appear.
"G-d's mercy is a free, yet costly, gift.  It cannot be earned.  Our righteous acts, just like menstrual garments, certainly don't help us deserve it.  The wages of sin will always be death.  But because of G-d's mercy, sin is paid for through the death of Jesus Christ, instead of the death of you and me.
"The very face that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just G-d loves you and me is nothing short of astonishing." 
                                                           From Crazy Love, by Francis Chan 

I know, that's a vastly long quote to start this off, but it's only a fraction of what I read from this book today.  I spent a lot of time on trains and subways today, so I got a had a lot of spare time for it.  Mercifully, I tend not to get motion sick when I don't have a window seat.  If you haven't been keeping up with my blog, it probably won't occur to you why this passage stuck out to me so much, so you should probably read this post before moving forward. 

Now that everyone's working from the same page, let's talk about this long quote.  I'd had a hard time imagining good deeds as dirty rags before, no matter the illustration.  I'd always looked at it and said, "But how could anything good be like dirt?  Yes, it's not as good as G-d, but shouldn't it still fall under the realm of goodness?"  But, somehow, Mr. Chan made it click for me.  I think it was that a few pages before the one that features this section, he had been writing about pride.  Having those two so close together made something click into place in my brain.  But I knew it wasn't the full thing that needed to click.  I felt like I was on the tip of the iceberg, so I looked around the subway, and my eyes landed on the red, plastic handholds that were hanging from the ceiling.  Watching them sway with the movement of the subway made it easy for me to imagine them as used tampons, as Chan suggested I do.  As I watched, I began to understand the magnitude of my pride.

These things that I do or have done, they're nothing compared to the goodness of G-d, and they're still performed by a flawed human being.  They're tainted by things like my pride and ulterior motives.  I am a sinner, and, as such, my actions will always be less than what was originally planned.


Jesus loves me anyway.

Let me type out the rest of what Chan says about Christ's love:
"The wildest part is that Jesus doesn't have to love us.  His being is utterly complete and perfect, apart from humanity.  He doesn't need me or you.  Yet He wants us, chooses us, even considers us His inheritance (Eph. 1:18).  The greatest knowledge we can ever have is knowing G-d treasures us.
"That really is amazing beyond description.  The holy Creator sees you as His "glorious inheritance."
For a girl that really hasn't ever felt beautiful in her life, this being wanted idea is a big deal.  Nothing I do is going to earn me that place with Him (think about it - the best we end up giving are these "dirty rags"), but it's not something to be earned, anyway.  He wants to be with me just as badly as I want to be with Him.  That's a big deal.

So, I'm thinking that while all of you are out, eating  chocolate and buying flowers on Tuesday, I'm going to be have a date with the One Man who has always pursued me, always wanted me, and always loved me.  Yes, I know I'm sounding über cliché right now, but - you know what? - I DON'T CARE.  This has been very, very much needed.

I'm hoping that you're reading the joy into this that I'm feeling.  This is not a down on myself post.  This is a post about a mindset that's changing.

Lots of love to you all.