Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Trip out of Frankenstorm: Part 6 (The Amazing Race Home!)

When I walked into the Philadelphia Airport at about 5:15am after being dropped off by Gabby, I saw on the screen that the 2 flights before me heading from Philly to Dallas were canceled.  I went to the ticket counter and asked if they knew why those previous flights were canceled and if my 11:20am flight was at risk.  They said they didn't know why and that it was possible my flight would be canceled, especially since planes were not coming in that were necessary for the connecting flights.  I felt a wave of panic, wondering if I might be now stranded in Philly, but it subsided a little when I received a boarding pass in my hand.  The flight wasn't canceled. . . yet.

I had 5 hours to kill and probably should have slept since I was running on a total of about 3 hours of sleep in 2 days, but all I could think about was whether or not I would be boarding that plane.  I was now so close to getting home that I could almost taste it.  If the flight remained intact, I'd land in Dallas at 2pm, drive to my house by 2:30 (my car was in the airport parking garage), and surprise the kids when they got home from school at 2:50pm.  Then I'd have a little time to settle in, change, and get ready for our Halloween Block party starting at 4pm in my yard.

I sat myself down at an airport restaurant where I could plug in my phone and get some breakfast.  I ordered food but couldn't eat because my stomach was in knots, waiting to see if my flight would be canceled.  I just drank hot tea and checked the computer screens every half hour to see the status of my flight.  There were still some lingering dark clouds outside, so I asked people to pray that God would clear up the skies.

At about 10:30am, the sun began to shine, and I had hope that I was really going to be getting on that plane.  When they announced we were boarding, I almost cried.  I took a picture of the plane and posted it on FB so people could rejoice with me that I was going home!!

I slept the whole way, and when I awoke, we were in Dallas- earlier than expected, at 1:45pm!  I felt an incredible amount of relief and thanked God for the safe journey.  However, I knew I wouldn't fully rejoice until I actually pulled up into my driveway; this trip had already shown me that every leg of traveling was up for grabs.

Boy, was I right.  I got off the plane, walked to baggage claim, and waited, and waited, and waited.  After about 30 minutes with no bags appearing on the conveyor belt, a lady walks in and announces, "Sorry ladies and gentlemen, there is a jam on the conveyor belt.  We are working on it.  Thanks for your patience."  I laughed.  "Patience" was the operative word this week!

While I waited, I was able to secure communication to my girls through friends that I was really coming home but was running late, I enlisted help in getting some extra Halloween candy since I had forgotten to purchase it, and a friend was going to pick up some Korean food for me to eat so I'd have energy for the party!  Things were coming together; I just needed to get home!!

I finally got my luggage and was racing to my car.  I was SO ready to rip out of the airport!  I tried to unlock the car with my remote, but nothing happened.  I pressed it again- no beep.  I then manually unlocked the car and got in.  I thought it was strange that no lights turned on; what was going on?  I tried to start the car- nothing.  No engine, no sound, nothing.  I froze; this couldn't actually be happening. . . my car won't start?  What??  God, really, is there some reason you don't want me to go home??

I called Todd; no answer.  I then decided, "You know what?  I need to get home.  I am leaving my car here and getting in a cab right now."  So I posted my dilemma on FB because it was too crazy not to report, and then got in a cab headed out of the airport.  About a minute later, I got a message from my friend John who was 3 miles from the airport and said he could jumpstart my car.  I couldn't believe it!  I immediately told the cab to turn around and take me straight to my car in the parking garage.  I paid him for his time, and then waited for John.

He was there within minutes and had everything he needed to get my car started!  The only weird thing was that my car would not stop honking.  John was trying to figure out how to stop it, but I said I didn't care if it honked all the way home; I was driving it ASAP!  He turned the car off and started it again several times, and finally the honking stopped.  I thanked him profusely and he made sure I drove out safely to the exit.

It was now about 3:15pm.  I was going to make it to the party!!  I just prayed nonstop that I would not get into an accident on my way home. . .

I drove into my driveway at 3:45pm, and as soon as I got there, the doors flew open and my girls were ready for hugs!  I held them tightly and told them how much I loved them and missed them, and they said the same through tears.  They were so excited I was home for the Halloween party, so we got changed quickly and started setting everything up outside.  People started to trickle in around 4, and it was a great party with lots of celebrating!  Several friends came up and told me that they had been stalking me on Facebook for updates, or that I was the topic of conversation at work, or that they considered themselves weather experts on Superstorm Sandy now, just because I was there.  A few admitted that they really were scared that I wasn't coming back, but they didn't want to say anything to me at the time.  It was so interesting to hear others' perspectives on my trip and how they handled the stress;  I was touched by all their stories and glad to have a happy ending to the madness!

At the end of the night, I practically fell over from exhaustion, but I gave thanks to God for my family, friends, and even Facebook for getting me home, supporting me through the scariest night of my life, and being part of a story that I'll never forget as long as I live!  Each kind stranger, every text, phone call, FB note, or private prayer for me during those few days was critical and sustained me, truly.  I may never know how many people prayed for my safety, but I can tell you I'm here because of it.  This whole blog series has been a way for me to process what happened, but also to thank everyone in my life who cared so much and showered me with love!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Trip out of Frankenstorm: Part 5 (Gabby saves the day!)

So, how would I get from NYC to Philly?  No planes were flying out of La Guardia, the subways were flooded and no buses were traveling, but Amtrak was selling tickets.  I purchased a ticket that left at 7am which would leave me plenty of time to get there for the 11:20am flight to Dallas.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

We got a call from Ken and Angie saying that they could barely find a taxi to drive them back to Battery Park City since the roads were flooded, so we should just stay where we were in Midtown for dinner.

Peter and I decided to go out to dinner- to Korean BBQ of course!  We left around 7:30pm, hoping the lines might be shorter, and they were a little.  We enjoyed an awesome meal and he introduced me to soju (Korean vodka).  I had never had it before, and Peter said if I wanted to remain his sibling, I must enjoy some with him.  I was getting to know all sorts of things about Peter that I hadn't before this trip!

When we got home, I got a phone call; Amtrak was canceling all trains due to flooding in the tunnels.  I freaked out again; I was desperate to get home.  I called every airline to see who was getting to Philly; at one point I was going to rent a car to drive 2 hours to Scranton (yes, the Office hub) to fly out to Philly.  When I told Peter my plan, he looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Tam, stop and think!  The roads are flooded, it's dangerous, you could get stuck somewhere out there all by yourself.  Just stay here another day and be safe."  I shook my head adamantly and said, "I can't!!  It's unacceptable!!  I WILL find a way to Philly!!"

After about 2 hours of researching and calling around for options, I finally admitted defeat.  It was about 12:30am, and I called my neighbor Stephanie (who is a night owl too) and told her that I wasn't going to make it to the Halloween block party after all.  We went over some details of what time things were being set up at the house, where my girls costumes were in their rooms so she could help change them, other odds and ends.  Since all the flyers had said the party was held at my address (and there was no way to inform the whole subdivision that it was changing locations on the day of), we decided to keep everything stationed there, but she would come over and help set up, letting everyone know I was stuck in NY.  I remember saying, "I can't believe I won't be there after all this planning.  I can't believe I have to tell my kids I'm not coming home again.  I just need to get to Philly; there MUST be a way!" when I got a text from my college friend Gabby who lives in Philly.  I shrieked a little and told Stephanie I'd call her back once I talked with Gabby.  My heart was racing; I knew this wasn't coincidence.

And it wasn't!  Gabby was working at the hospital, and her charge nurse had almost sent her home at 7pm.  Gabby's power was out at home, so had she gone home then, she would have missed my Facebook post pleading for help to get to Philly!  Instead, she was there at the hospital and finished around 1am, checked her email and Facebook to find out how things were going with the storm.  She saw my post and immediately texted me, asking if I was still awake.  I texted back "YES!" and then called her.  She said, "I'll come get you and bring you to the airport right now."  My mouth dropped open; I couldn't believe it!  I hesitated and asked, "Gabby, that's a 2-hour drive, and it's in the middle of the night.  Are you sure?"  She said, "I'm already driving and on my way!  Where can we meet?  Just find a place that's not in Manhattan so we don't get stuck there."  

I had tears of joy and gratitude; I couldn't believe God had arranged a personal ride from a good friend that I hadn't seen in 15 years to be my way out to Philly.  He had shut all the other doors of transportation so I could ride in a car and catch up with Gabby Brinton!!  I laughed when I visualized myself like a child throwing a tantrum screaming, "I need it NOW!" and God holding me tightly saying, "Just wait a little longer and trust me- I've got it all figured out for you."

Peter was in shock too and said, "Now that is a good friend."  Poor guy was so exhausted but waited up for me as I took a shower, got my stuff ready to go, and was trying to figure out where we could meet up that would be a safe place.  I certainly didn't want to be standing around somewhere in NYC in the dark!  We were looking for 24-hour CVS Pharmacy locations across the Lincoln Tunnel (the only dry tunnel) into New Jersey, but none of them were answering the phones.  Finally I chose a parking lot of a supermarket in Weehawken, NJ as our meeting place and called Gabby with the location.

I gave Peter a big hug and said thanks for everything during this whole time, and he went to bed; it was about 3am.  I got a cab on my own outside the building and prayed for the best.  We drove through the tunnel and on the other side into New Jersey, it was pitch black.  There were no lights on anywhere, and the only way we could see was through the help of a few police car sirens lighting the way.  We wouldn't be able to find this supermarket, so I called Gabby and she said there was a McDonalds that was open by the JFK turnpike in Weehawken.  We got there safely and I had the cab driver take our picture; it was a HUGE blessing to see her!

What we didn't know until later was that most of lower Manhattan, Hoboken, and Staten Island had flooded and there were no cabs driving out of NY to NJ.  There were even some reports of flooding in Weehawken the next day, but somehow, by God's grace, He made a way for me to get a cab and drive out on dry land to NJ in the dark.

Gabby and I picked up some coffee at McDonald's and then started on the road.  We laughed that we were both pulling an all-nighter like we used to in college!  We chatted about what we did after college, talked a bit about our mutual friend Gloria who had passed away in August, and told each other what life was like now being married with kids; we picked up naturally like we had just seen each other yesterday.  Friendships like that are so rare!  2 hours went flying by, and we arrived at the Philadelphia Airport at about 5am.  I gave her a huge hug and told her I would never, ever forget what she did for me.  She said it was exciting for her to be part of the adventure, and that she knew how much I wanted to get home so she was glad to help.  I still couldn't believe that she was willing to drive for 4 hours in the middle of the night, after work, and not even hesitate about it for a second.  If you know her, you know how special she is.  And if you don't, I hope that you will have the honor of meeting her someday.  I am blessed to have a friend like Gabby!


The Trip out of Frankenstorm: Part 4 (Gotta get to Philly- again!!)

Somehow it was morning (Tuesday Oct. 30), and we survived Hurricane Sandy!!  I thanked God when I awoke and saw that the windows were not blown in, that the sky was calm, and the city was still intact.  Dez and I did some more dancing to M.C. Hammer's "Can't Touch This" with the sock monkey, and my brother Peter, the budding DJ, showed me how to use his turntable to mix songs together and we had some fun!  We thought we should create a "Sandy Mix" of songs as a souvenir of our experience.  He showed me some awesome mixes of "Gangnam Style" with "Call Me Maybe" and other unusual choices!

Ken and Angie found out that miraculously, their building in Battery Park City did not lose power even though much of the area did.  Again, coincidence?  Or the power of prayer?  They planned to return to their place right away and began packing.

I got a phone call that my flight out that night was canceled.  No surprise; I waited on hold again to figure out how I was going to get home.  I finally booked a flight that went out Wednesday morning (Halloween) from La Guardia to Philadelphia at 9:15am, then from Philadelphia to Dallas at 11:20am, which would get me home by 2:00pm.  That was perfect since I would make it to our Halloween block party AT MY HOUSE by 4pm.  This party had been planned for months, with flyers going out to everyone in our subdivision about our bounce house, karaoke cab, and Halloween treats.  I could NOT miss this!!

We said good-bye to Ken, Angie, and Dez, and planned to meet them for dinner at their place later that night.  Peter and I went outside to see if anything was open for lunch- in Korea-town, of course.  We were shocked at the sheer amount of people out!  Every restaurant had a line out the door.  We tried waiting at a Korean BBQ restaurant and struck up a conversation with the guy in front of us who said that everyone from lower Manhattan was headed to where there was power; Korea-town was on 32nd and still had power, so this was the spot!

Peter and I decided to just grab something from Cafe R next to his apartment.  It's like a mini Whole-Foods with prepared meals ready to go; since they had kept power, they were exploding with customers too.  We finally got our meals, ate in the lounge, relaxed and talked for a while.

When we returned back to the room, I got a phone call that my flight was canceled.  I officially started to freak out.  Peter was laughing at me as I started jumping around in the room saying, "No!!!  I CANNOT stay here another day!!  I have GOT to get home!!"  

I convinced US Airways to let me keep the connecting flight from PA to TX; the person on the phone asked, "How are you going to get to Philly?" and I said, "Don't worry about it.  I will get there.  You  just make sure I get back to Dallas."

I was on a mission.  I HAD to get back to Philly.  Wait, didn't I say this just a few days ago?  But this time there was more urgency.  I had spoken to my girls and told them mommy was going to be home for Halloween since they were in tears about me being gone for so long.  Both Chloe (9) and Sophie (6) had vomited during the last 2 days, and Ellie (11) was feeling a lot of pressure to take care of them and be the "mom."  I could not let them down and miss the party that we had all planned together, and they were counting on me to be there for our family costume: Psy (Todd), his Korean dancer (obviously me), Katy Perry (Ellie), Pink (Chloe), and Taylor Swift (Sophie).  I couldn't bear the thought of telling them that I would be here another day!  I needed a miracle!

The Trip out of Frankenstorm: Part 3 (Sandy's Fury and Facebook Frenzy)

Once my perspective had changed on the storm, Dez woke up from his nap about 4pm, and we all decided to get out of the room for a while.  We went down to the 7th floor where there was a lounge, pool table, gym, and basketball court.  Ken and Peter shot some hoops and I took a walk on the treadmill.  Dez ran around with a ball in the gym too, so we all got some energy out.  We thought about staying there longer to play pool and relax with some coffee, but then changed our minds quickly when we considered the idea that if the power went out soon, we'd have to walk 44 flights of stairs back to our room!

Once we got back to our room about 5pm, we could see the bright lights of the city from our windows through the rain.  Seeing life around me made me feel a bit safer, knowing that we weren't alone.  I could even see the World Trade Center lights again through the clouds, which was comforting.

Ken, Peter, and Angie began making our "last supper": spaghetti with vegetables and meat sauce.  I was babysitting Dez while they cooked- a nice break for them and for me!  We prayed, thanking God for our meal and the time we had together.  We kept the news on so we could watch what was happening throughout the city.  Battery Park City was beginning to flood, Jersey Shore and Atlantic City were slammed really hard, and we watched in horror as personal videos were streaming in of a Carnival cruise ship that was riding huge waves and batting water in cabins.

I decided to keep a closer record on Facebook of what was happening in the storm so that my friends and family could be informed and pray for us.  I committed to writing an update even if I began flying through the air!

At about 8pm, we saw on the news that Sandy had ripped off the face of an apartment building in Chelsea, just a few blocks south of us.  I asked people to pray harder for our safety now that we knew Sandy was really approaching.  I immediately received prayers, notes, texts and Bible verses from friends, which was a huge comfort.  It almost felt like with every bit of communication, someone was there with me, helping me walk through the most frightening experience of my life.

We started to feel the building shake and creak with the wind.  The windows sounded like they were popping a bit, and the lights began flickering.  Peter and I cautiously looked out the window and saw that most of lower Manhattan had lost power; there were no more lights on in the World Trade Center towers.  I felt more unnerved at that moment; I looked to those towers for a sense of normality, and it wasn't there anymore.

As we sat and braced ourselves for more of Sandy's fury, we saw that the doors to the bedroom were slowly swinging back and forth on their own because the building was swaying.  Someone texted me to take a look at the toilet water to see if it was moving on its own, and it was!  We decided to shut the doors to the bedrooms and stay in the main living room where there were no windows in case they all came crashing down.  The doors then began to rattle on their own as the building continued shaking.  The wind whipped around us and the building literally moaned.

I remembered that a man in the elevator had told me to keep a glass of wine on the table to see if the wine or the glass would move on its own.  It seemed the right time now to put it out on our table as a way to judge how much our building was shaking, and when I posted what we were doing, someone replied, "And when it starts moving, drink it!"

Peter received an email from the building manager that they were shutting down the elevators; we were now stuck on the 51st floor and the only way out would be to walk.  We then got a call from ComEd saying that there our power would be going out soon and to be prepared.  The lights flickered a little more; I posted on Facebook to pray that we would not join those whose power had been lost.  We waited, and waited, and waited.

The power never went out.  Miraculously, the power was out from 30th street down.  We were on 31st street and kept our power, but some buildings even north of us lost power.  Coincidence?  Or an answer to prayer?  You be the judge.

We weren't sure if everything had subsided, but we decided to shut off the news and start watching one show we all enjoy: The Voice.  We needed to get our mind off things and we talked about all the different contestants in the battle rounds of the competition as we viewed the previous week's episode.

About an hour or so later, we opened the doors to the bedrooms again to look out the windows.  Most of Manhattan was pitch black with loss of power; we couldn't believe how different the city looked without the lights.  You could see sirens sprawling out over the city; I could only imagine what was going on in the dark, dead of night in New York City.  I prayed for those people who were probably much more frightened now than we were.

We put our hands on the windows and we could feel the pressure of the wind against us; it was incredibly forceful.  The windows still made crazy popping sounds, like any second they would crack!  My brother Ken said in his signature chill manner, "Yeah, I think we got past the storm.  I'm going to bed."  And with that, everyone went to their rooms.

Except me.  There was NO WAY I was sleeping in a room with floor to ceiling windows making popping noises all night!!  I "slept" on the couch in the living room and videotaped the creepy creaking noises and popping for my girls to hear when I got home.  When I replayed the video, it really looked like a Halloween horror movie!  Frankenstorm certainly lived up to its name!

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Trip Out of Frankenstorm: Part 2 (Turning Point)

Monday morning (Oct. 29), I received a call that my rescheduled flight was canceled due to the storm.  I stayed on the phone for about 2 hours to get a live person to reschedule it again for Tuesday night, and I canceled all my lessons for Tuesday.

My nephew Dez waddled into my room with his blankie and pacifier, and we played for a while.  He is a techie genius, able to navigate my iPhone with incredible precision for a 2-year-old!  I had bought him a sock monkey the night before that sang "Can't Touch This" by M.C. Hammer, and Dez would laugh hysterically when he pressed the button for the sock monkey to start dancing like a maniac.  I usually only get to see Dez twice a year, so spending this extra bonding time with him was such a gift!

After a while, my brothers and I looked out the window and could see the clouds getting darker and gathering closer together.  We were on the 51st floor of Peter's apartment building, which gave us incredible views of lower Manhattan and parts of New Jersey.  Peter and I joked that we would be citizen journalists that day, posting pictures on Facebook so everyone could see real time events.

We turned on the TV and watched the reports that said the storm would get worse around the afternoon/evening, so we decided to go out and walk around a bit to get some fresh air.  It was about 10am at the time.  Dez loved walking the streets of New York and dancing in the blowing wind!  We were amazed at how empty the streets were; barely anyone was driving or walking.  You could stand in the middle of the street and it would be several minutes until you saw a car come through.

We ended up going back to our favorite place to eat: Korea-town.  Korea-town in New York is heaven on earth for me; it offers different Korean restaurants- Korean BBQ, dumpling houses, soup/tofu restaurants, Korean bakery and dessert shops- anything and everything Korean for several blocks straight!  Most of K-town was open and had power, so we went to a place known for its soups, perfect for the weather.

When we left lunch around 12:30pm, the wind had definitely picked up and it was now raining pretty hard.  We walked about 5 minutes back to Peter's apartment and went straight to the big windows to get the larger view.  I was surprised to see how close the clouds were to the buildings, and it looked like they were coming right at us.  We heard that the wind was traveling about 75-80 miles an hour, and saw on the news that a crane on one of the buildings 20 blocks south of us had snapped in half, dangling precariously off the top of a high rise condo.  As the news anchor was outside explaining the situation, the windows in the car next to her suddenly shattered from the wind.  My mind tried to register that the wind was really that strong, and I looked at the floor to ceiling windows in our apartment with a bit more trepidation.

At about 2pm, Dez needed to take a nap, so we all went to our separate rooms to rest a bit.  I couldn't get myself to sleep at all.  I kept looking out the window, watching the clouds begin to snake through the buildings and whip around the patio furniture on the rooftops.  The clouds were so thick that they would cover the visibility of the buildings as it got closer.  I could no longer see the World Trade Center towers anymore or New Jersey, and my view of the city was cut in half.  That's when it suddenly occurred to me that I might not make it out of New York.  That thought began to spiral into a storm of its own, picking up speed with questions about what my kids would do without me, how I would say good-bye to the people I love, if I had lived my life to the fullest, what would death actually look like if the storm broke this building in half and my body went flying out in the streets of NY. . .

In tears, I prayed to God to help me with my fear, and He did.  I felt Him say to me, "I am bigger than this storm."  I smiled when I realized that was true; He IS bigger than this storm!  There was no need to bargain for my life, "If you get me out of this, I will commit to ____."  If He wanted me to be in this storm, He would be the one to take me out of it, in His way, in His time, in His power.  In my heart, I came to terms with the fact that I'd be going home: either to my heavenly home or to my earthly one.  I didn't need to fear because I knew where I was headed and my hope rests in the One who created my life and can take it away.

From that point on, I looked at the storm in awe and wonder, not with fear.  I saw it as a testament of God's incredible power and strength, and it allowed me to worship Him through the storm.  I remembered the famous line in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe where Mr. Beaver answers little Lucy's question about the King of Narnia, Aslan.  She asks if he's safe, and he replies, "Safe?  Who said anything about safe?  But he's good."  I thanked God that He is good, all the time, and that if these were indeed my final hours, I was grateful to be with my brothers, sister-in-law, and nephew, in this 3-bedroom apartment in NYC all to ourselves, with the wide views to see His awesome handiwork in the sky.  I could feel His presence with me, more than I had ever before.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Trip Out of Frankenstorm- Part 1 (Change of plans)

Saturday (Oct. 27th) was spent sightseeing in Philly, catching up with my cousins (who are really like my brothers and sisters), and celebrating my cousin Aaron's wedding that evening.  The entire day was beautiful outside, and there was talk of the impending storm as the night drew to a close.  Most of my family had purchased tickets for flights out in the morning, but because I rarely saw my brothers in NY, I had purchased a ticket that left La Guardia at 7pm so I could make the most of the day in the Big Apple with them.

On Sunday (Oct. 28th), Hurricane Sandy was already on its way; you could see the dark clouds beginning to gather, and though my parents' flights to Chicago were delayed, they left NY successfully later that afternoon.  At about 2pm, I got a phone call that my flight had been canceled due to the weather conditions and I needed to call back to reschedule.  (My flight was connecting in North Carolina where the storm was expected to hit first.)  The hard part was that over 6,800 flights were being canceled all over the East Coast due to "Frankenstorm," so trying to get a live person was at least an hour wait on the phone.

We rebooked my flight for Monday evening, pending the weather.  My brother Peter said I could stay with him in his 3-bedroom apartment in Midtown Manhattan (31st and 7th) since his roommates were on vacation in Europe.  Perfect!  Once I called my husband to let him know what was going on and canceled all my piano lessons for Monday, I embraced this unexpected change in plans and was excited to spend more time with Peter.  A few hours later, my brother Ken found out that his building in Battery Park City was under mandatory evacuation because of its proximity to the water and potential flooding.  Peter graciously offered to have Ken, his wife Angie, and son Dez stay with him too for the evening since they had to leave their place for the night.

We all did a little grocery shopping before getting together that night, and the lines at Duane Reade, CVS, Whole Foods, and other stores were snaking out into the streets as people were preparing for the worst.  While at CVS, we picked up water, fruit, nuts, breakfast bars, and of course some wine.  I also purchased Halloween plates and napkins to appropriately commemorate Frankenstorm's arrival!

The weather really wasn't bad that night, just a little cloudy and rainy, so we ended up eating out in Koreatown in case we had to be holed up the next day.  We lightly discussed our stages of survival in terms of food: 1) eat out as much as we can before the storm hits too hard, 2) if forced to stay indoors, eat the planned menu for the next day 3) if forced to stay inside for several days and all our groceries run out, raid the roommates' pantry stash 4) if desperate with no food left, break into Cafe R (like a mini-Whole Foods) located next door to Peter's apartment!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Trip In (Friday Oct. 26th)

Right now, I'm sitting on the 51st floor of my brother Peter's apartment in Manhattan, waiting for Hurricane Sandy to make her appearance.  It's Monday morning, Oct. 29th, and typically at 7:00am I am getting my girls ready for school, packing lunches, making breakfast, etc.  Instead of running around like I normally do, I am forced to just sit and wait, so I've decided to document this weekend's travel events in hopes that when I return to Dallas on Wednesday (Halloween), I will win a prize for the craziest trip ever.

I had a master plan of how Friday, Oct. 26th was going to turn out.  I bought a ticket through US Airways (first mistake!) that took me to PA where I was to meet the rest of my siblings and extended family for my cousin Aaron's wedding in Philly.  I arrived in Philly at 3pm, but my luggage did not.  It went to NY (another long story), and because I needed that luggage for the evening, I had to retrieve it myself.  Rather than getting off in Philly to hang out with everyone, I flew to NY.  I arrived there at about 6pm and got my luggage, breathing a sigh of relief.  Now the trick was how to get back to Philly in rush hour traffic!

I called my brother Peter who lives in Manhattan and he chose to have me take public transportation since I arrived at the worst possible time in NYC.  These were his exact instructions, "Take the Q33 Bus to the Jackson-Roosevelt train station then transfer to the E train (blue) going downtown to the World Trade Center, get off at 42nd street/Port Authority Bus stop.  Pick up the Greyhound there."

Really?  I live in Frisco, TX, which means that almost everything I need is located off of one main road- Preston.  And I can drive anywhere in one car, by myself, with my Google Maps if necessary.  This was going to be a huge challenge, and I started to panic a little more when I saw that my phone was dying and thought, "Hope it's just the phone and not me!!"

I headed out of the airport and followed a mass of people outside who all looked like they knew exactly what they were doing.  I watched several buses go by and had no idea which ones they were until I saw one that said "M60" with flashing lights on the front window.  Then I realized that I had to be looking for the flashing letters and numbers on the buses- hello!!  Q33 finally arrived and I got on.  I had asked a stranger right before how much the bus was, and he said "$2.25", so I had my bills and a quarter ready to go.  When I tried to put it into the box next to the bus driver, he said I had to have exact change in coins only.  I must have looked like I was going to cry because then he quickly said, “Don’t worry about it, just get on.”  Who said New Yorkers weren’t nice?

Once on the bus, I began to frantically write down Peter’s instructions on paper so that I would have them in case I completely lost power on my phone.  I called him briefly to say that I was on the bus, and he reminded me that the Greyhound left promptly at 8, so I needed to try to purchase my ticket online first and do my best to get there quickly.  It was about 6:45pm.

I used up the rest of my power on the phone to buy my bus ticket online, and then asked the lady next to me how to get to the subway.  She smiled and said, “The bus takes you right there at your next stop.  You’ll be fine.”  Again, a sweet New Yorker!

I arrived at Jackson-Roosevelt, walked down into the subway station, purchased my Metro ticket, and tried to find the E train (Blue) going downtown to the World Trade Center.  There were 2 E trains and lots of other letters in the subway station!!  As a train was approaching, I asked the guy next to me, “Is this the E train to the World Trade Center?” and he practically shouted, “No!!  This one goes to Queens!!  Run up the stairs, go across to the other side and get on the E train going to Manhattan!”  Thank you, random commuter, for saving me from going the wrong direction!

Hurried onto the correct train and arrived at 42nd street.  It was 7:20pm and I was starving.  I had hardly eaten breakfast since I was at school by 8am that morning for an assembly, and then had driven from there to the airport.  I hadn’t eaten lunch since I expected to hang out with my family and eat at the hotel in Philly.   There were a few places to pick up a bite to eat at the Port Authority stop, but I wanted to secure my bus ticket first.  I expected it would take about 10 minutes to get my ticket and then I could eat while I waited to leave at 8pm.

Instead, I waited in line for 30 minutes to pick up my bus ticket from will call, and then walked to the end of a massive line waiting for Gate 68 to Philly a little before 8pm.  I knew it would be a long night, but I was relieved to finally be at the bus stop, proud of the fact that I actually made it there in one piece and on time!  Philly was only a 2-hour ride away now.  I waited, and waited, and waited, and finally at 8:30pm I asked the people next to me if they knew why weren’t moving at all in the line or getting on the bus.  They had no idea either, so I asked someone to save my place in line so I could go to the front and ask what was going on.

Guess what?  The people at the front of the line were waiting for the 6:00pm bus and had been there for 3 hours!!  When I heard this news, my stomach fell.  I just couldn’t believe that there was now a 3-hour delay at the bus, which meant I’d be waiting another 5 hours to get to Philly.  I wanted to scream!

I came back to my place in line and explained to everyone around me what was going on.  Some people just left right away, some stayed, but one young guy suggested, “You know, we could probably take the Amtrak train and get there quicker than waiting for the Greyhound.”  So I went with option #3 and followed New York angel Mike to the Amtrak.

We took the Amtrak to Trenton, New Jersey, then transferred to another train going to Philly.  We arrived in Philly at 11:30pm and Mike made sure I got dropped off right to the Courtyard Marriott.  I thanked him for saving my weekend and he said he was glad to help; he was on his way 2 blocks down for a medical student reunion so it was no trouble.  These New Yorkers are amazing!

When I got to my hotel room, I took out all my ticket stubs from the day and marveled at the sheer number; I had literally taken almost every possible mode of transportation offered in NY: cab, city bus, train, Amtrak, and airplane.  The only thing I didn’t take was the ferry!  As I closed my eyes to sleep, I thought, “I’m sure the trip out will be much smoother.”  Little did I know what was in store.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

From Fu Manchu to Gangnam Style!

Something crazy is brewing out there, and it's called "Gangnam Style" written by South Korean pop star Psy.  ("Gangnam" means "Korean.")  The song is sung/rapped entirely in Korean, and yet it has hit #1 on the iTunes charts this week, above Taylor Swift's "Never Ever Getting Back Together."  Psy's music video has had over 120 million hits on youtube, he's been on air with Ryan Seacrest, and he was most recently on Ellen DeGeneres' show teaching Britney Spears how to dance gangam-style!

When my girls saw Psy's performance on the Today Show on NBC, they were cheering and immediately started dancing to the infectious beat.  My 2 younger brothers got special seats for the taping of the show, so they were part of the NY city crowd that went wild, singing and dancing along with Psy.  I watched in disbelief.  My brain was trying to process the fact that Psy is a celebrity.  And he's Korean.  And he's rapping in Korean.  And Al Roker is dancing to Korean rap music.

What my girls don't realize is how much American pop culture has changed in its portrayal of Asians.  When I was growing up, we had no cool Asian rappers or dancers.  We had white guy Mickey Rooney playing I.Y. Yunioshi with his gross buck teeth, greasy black hair, and a massively heavy accent.  And remember Sixteen Candles and the hot mess of Long Duk Dong's pitiful character saying, "What's-a happenin, hot stuff?"  Later Jackie Chan entered the picture and sealed into the psyche of our culture that all Asian men are martial arts experts.  At least it bumped up the image a notch from before, but it was still a caricature of sorts.

Now we have Psy, a regular Joe from South Korea (whose real name is Jason Park), dancing in a colorful suit, bow-tie, cheesy sunglasses, and the crowd loves him.  His music video shows him dancing with older Korean men and women on a bus, with other younger guys in slick suits, and obviously with "yuh-jahs" (girls).  He is making a crossover in generations, as well as in culture.  Korean culture is more mainstream and popular than it has ever been in the US, and it's the real deal- no white actors, no random karate-chop moves, no one-sided figures.  Thanks to Psy and Gangnam-Style, I might even dare say now it's almost cool to be Asian- gasp!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Power of Friendship

In the last week, I have been struck by the sweetness of friendship.  I lost a friend, but in my grief, I was inundated by old and new friends with sincere concern over my well being in the form of hugs, messages, texts, and prayers.  I heard from people I hadn't spoken with in years due to miles and busy schedules, I reconnected with old college friends who were able to pick up right where we left off 15 years ago, and I felt so much love from everyone who reached out to me with the simplest of gestures, people who never even knew Gloria, but felt my pain in losing her.  No one can really explain the power of friendship, but I can testify that when you have a friend, you have a beautiful gift that transcends the temporal and tastes the eternal.  I think that's why I cried so much during Gloria's memorial services and felt such a strange mixture of sadness and joy; it was so hard to say good-bye, but it was inspiring to see the magnitude of her friendships in this life.  Losing her made me realize that my friendships are worth the investment of time, even when it feels like I don't have enough.  I told one of my old Northwestern friends that hanging out again was like opening a gift that had been on the shelf for 15 years; what took me so long to unwrap it and enjoy it?

My old church while I was in college, Evanston Bible Fellowship, had a 25-year Anniversary celebration this past weekend.  Todd and I were unable to attend, (sadly missing it by only a few days of being in Chicago for Gloria's memorial), but we got to hear from other friends how amazing it was to see each other after decades of being apart in different states and in different stages of life.  These are the people that we did life with during college and our first few years of marriage; our relationship and spiritual growth was greatly impacted by Pastor Martin McCorkle and his leadership at EBF.  We truly would not be the people we are today without his sermons, his friendship, and his shepherding of this church.  All past and present EBF-ers were able to get together this weekend to reminisce, worship, laugh, cry, and enjoy each other's company again.  Knowing many of them, I have no doubt it was a great party!  One friend who attended shared a quote that resonates with me so much right now:

"In friendship. . . we think we have chosen our peers.  In reality, a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another. . . the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart.  But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances.  A secret master of ceremonies has been at work.  Christ, who said to the disciples, "You have not chosen me but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another."  The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out.  It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others."
-- C.S. Lewis

I love the idea that God chooses the people He wants us to know in this lifetime, and I am eternally grateful for His choices for me in all the different stages of my life!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Gloria's Memorial- Part 3

During the service, my eyes kept watching Kelissa.  I wondered what her 3-year-old mind was thinking.  Did she know why all these people were gathered?  Was she happy to see the pictures of her mom on the screen?  Did she understand why everyone was crying?

The service lasted about 2 hours, and it was hard for her stay in her seat that long, understandably.  She left with April a few times to get some energy out.  6-month-old Karinna would cry intermittently throughout the service, and she was cradled back to sleep by relatives.  Every time baby Karinna cried, I cried too.  Karinna is a miracle baby, born prematurely in order that both she and Gloria could live.  Gloria was diagnosed during her pregnancy with progressive fibrosis, a lung disease that required a lung transplant.  Gloria continued to get worse, but Karinna began to get better.  Gloria would visit the NICU daily to see her daughter, talk to her, pray for her, touch her little hand.  You can tell Karinna's lungs are healthy; her cries were unmistakeable and piercing, and it hurt my heart that she would never know in person the woman who gave herself completely to love her back to health.

The service concluded with a home video of Kelissa singing to her parents, "This is the day, this is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made. . . I will rejoice and be glad in it!"  After she finishes, she confidently takes a bow and says, "Thank you, thank you."  Kelissa is a performer and loves to make people laugh, just like her mommy.

My eyes were fixed on Gloria's mom at the end of the service when people were lining up to pay their respect to the family.  I couldn't hold back the tears to witness so many of her friends coming through the line, torn up about their friend losing a daughter, giving desperate hugs that held so much love and sympathy.  Her face was a stream of unending tears.  She lost her baby, her only daughter, and a wonderful friend.  I remember that Gloria's relationship with her mom was very close.  In college, Gloria told me that her mom was diagnosed with lupus.  She had seen her mom looking at herself in the mirror, touching her face with concern over the changes created by the lupus, and it made Gloria so sad for her mom that she would cry talking about it with me.  That was Gloria's heart; she felt others' pain like it was her own.

When it was my turn to come up to greet the family, I gave Chad a big hug; I don't remember what I said, if anything.  I shook Mr. Hsu's hand; he was being so strong for his family and had a sweet smile on his face for everyone who came by.  I wasn't sure if Gloria's mom would remember me since I hadn't seen her for 15 years, but she did and said in a surprised tone, "Tammy!"  I hugged her really tightly and told her I loved Gloria so much.  Through tears, I gave hugs to Steve and his pregnant wife, and Simon and his pregnant wife too.  Though it grieves me to know these babies won't meet their Aunt Gloria, I am grateful that the Hsu family will have a season of joy as they welcome these new little ones into their lives soon.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gloria's Memorial Service- Part 2

After Chad's eulogy, 3 people also shared about Gloria: Sora Yoon (one of Gloria's good friends from church), Steve Hsu (Gloria's oldest brother), and April Clark (Gloria's best friend).  Sora talked about how she and Gloria were restaurant buddies, enjoying places all over town, especially Bob Chinn's (since Gloria LOVED crab).  They would talk about Lost (which I agree is THE best TV series of all time), they shared perspectives on marriage, and they texted each other constantly.

Steve shared stories as Gloria's brother, explaining her tomboyish tendencies as a result of the fact that he and Simon always played basketball, soccer, baseball, and every other outdoorsy sport with their younger sister.  Gloria told Steve that she appreciated when he would come over to tickle Kelissa or wrestle around with her since she couldn't do it with her RA.  One of Steve's vivid memories of Gloria in her final days was watching her play with Kelissa, pretending to run away from her while she dragged her oxygen tank along.  Gloria was so dedicated to her girls, trying to do everything she possibly could with them, despite her physical limitations.

April's eulogy was an inspiration; hearing her friendship with Gloria made me laugh, cry, and mourn her loss even more.  You can read April's eulogy here: http://www.facebook.com/notes/april-elaine-clark/bye-for-now-glo/10151144612049697

Next, her brother Simon Hsu read from John 11:17-44, and the pastor of their church NCPC (New Community Presbyterian Church), Brad Paik, gave a message about hope after death.  I was expecting a typical sermon on the theology of the resurrection, but what surprised me is that Pastor Brad began by confessing he was angry at God.  He shared that he hadn't really cried when Gloria passed because of his anger towards God for taking her.  He didn't want Gloria to die; he wanted God to heal her.  Pastor Brad admitted though, that after hearing Chad talk in his eulogy about trusting God and worshipping Him simply because He is God, no matter what our circumstances, he began to weep uncontrollably.  He was humbled by the faith of both Chad and Gloria in their trials, and said that he was standing there speaking that night not as someone who knows how to comfort us in dealing with Gloria's death, but as someone who is struggling to let Gloria go just as much as each of us are, asking God to comfort him as well.  

One of my favorite stories that Pastor Brad shared was Gloria's process of joining the staff at NCPC.  She was working part-time at the church and also teaching at Walter Payton College Prep, but she felt that God was asking her to join the church full-time as a worship pastor.  She was still single, and her mom had said that it was possible if she decided to work for the church, that she may never get married.  This didn't sit well with her because she had always dreamed of getting married and having children, so she didn't want to give that up.  She also loved her job teaching high school and found great joy interacting with her students.  She and Pastor Brad prayed and talked over her conflict, and he said that during that whole conversation, they both had no idea that her future husband was literally 6 feet away working on staff as the Community pastor at the church!  Gloria joined staff in faith that God would provide a husband for her, and He did!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gloria's Memorial Service- Part 1

It took nothing short of a miracle for our college friends to get to Northbrook, IL on Sunday night, Aug. 26th 2012 for Gloria Hsu Pirotte's memorial service.  Flights had to be rearranged, vacations cut short, first days of school plans changed, sacrifices made by all.  I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it happen either until a friend of mine generously covered my flight from Dallas to Chicago.  God provided a way for me to go, and I was grateful beyond words to be able to attend. 

Despite the steady downpour of rain that entire night, it was standing room only at her memorial service.  Collages of her pictures were displayed in the foyer of the church, and everyone received a CD of songs written and performed by Gloria.

When I walked into the sanctuary, I was struck by a strange feeling, a mix of beauty and dread.  I realized the last time I saw Gloria was in a church, 6 years ago, on her wedding day.  As I perused the crowd and recognized so many familiar faces, I wondered if I was entering a season where I'd be attending more funerals than weddings.

When I saw the casket, I broke down.  I couldn't believe Gloria's body was really confined to that wooden box.  Sweet, funny, wonderful Gloria.  This is the first funeral I'd attended for a friend my age, (she was only a few days shy of her 36th birthday), and I was not prepared for all the tears that flowed out of me from somewhere so deep inside.  

Before the service began, there was a slideshow of pictures of Gloria in her college days, with her church friends, with her students, on her wedding day, her family, their vacations, the birth of Kelissa and Karinna, and a few of her in a hospital bed with the oxygen tubes in her nose.  It was completely silent in the chapel for almost the entirety of the video, except for some chuckling at one precious picture of a pregnant Gloria standing next to Kelissa, who was pushing out her stomach to match her mommy, and Chad who was on the other side of Gloria, pushing his belly out to match the rest of his family!

Chad began the service with a eulogy.  He talked about how he fell in love with this girl whose heart was so pure and simple, who did not hold on to material possessions, who was extraordinarily intelligent, receiving a perfect score on her GRE and almost perfect on her SAT, but did not pride herself in her musical talent and accomplishments, like earning her BA in English and Psychology from Northwestern, her MA in Education from Harvard, and teaching English at Walter Payton College Prep, one of the best high schools in the nation.  Instead, she was content in a modest home, with her T-shirt and jeans, and drove a car that was dented with hail because the other one was stolen.  He had only seen her wear makeup twice; once as his bride and another time as a bridesmaid.  You would never guess from looking at her that she was probably one of the smartest people you'd ever met!  He said all of this made her so beautiful to him.  

One of the things that Chad loved about Gloria was her voice; she sang all the time, to him, to the girls, to herself, to God.  She would play the piano while he worked, and he said it helped him to focus.  He was also amazed at her ability to disappear while she led worship at their church; she made sure that all eyes were on Christ, not her.  He smiled when he said that the reason their church was small was not due to Gloria's worship leading but their pastor's preaching!  (The pastor later came up to speak and amicably agreed with Chad's assessment).

Chad shared about the secret pain that Gloria had endured because of her rheumatoid arthritis.  They had to train Kelissa not to shut doors because Gloria could no longer turn a doorknob.  She felt guilty because she couldn't rough house with Kelissa or carry her newborn like other moms.  Chad read a couple excerpts from her journal where she was brutally honest with God about her RA, writing a list of every part of her body that hurt and sharing her fear that she may no longer be able to do the thing that she loved most: lead others in worship through her music.  She was confused; was God upset with her?  Did she misunderstand her calling?  Didn't He know how much she wanted to serve Him in this capacity?  Why were things getting worse?  Didn't He want to use her anymore?

She was also concerned about sharing her pain with others because she did not want God's name to be defamed if He chose not answer their prayers in the way that they wanted.  She knew that she would worship God whether He healed her on this side of Heaven or not, but she feared being the cause of hurting someone's faith if they prayed for her healing and it was not granted.  

As Gloria was entering her final days, she and Chad had to talk about the memorial service.  Gloria, in her typical lighthearted manner, suggested that it would be funny if they presented a half-open casket with only the bottom half open instead of the top half!  (Chad said that obviously the family chose to keep it closed for the solemnity of the service, but they let Gloria be dressed in her favorite outfit: her PJ pants and her Northwestern sweatshirt.)

Gloria did want to pick out the songs that she wanted to be sung during the service.  One of them was the hymn "In Christ Alone," with lyrics that end, "No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me.  From life's first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.  No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand.  Till He returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand."  Not a dry eye in the house when we all sang that together.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Memorial Fund for Gloria Hsu Pirotte


Here's a forwarded message from the Pirotte family concerning the upcoming memorial for Gloria:

Dear friends and family of Gloria and Chad,

It is very evident how much the Pirotte family is loved by all the tremendous support you have shown them through your unceasing prayers, cooked meals, and heartfelt words of encouragement. The deepest valleys of life often present the greatest opportunities for the most beautiful acts of sacrifice, as this community has so profoundly demonstrated the past several months.   

Many of you have expressed a desire to practically serve Chad and the girls at this time. In response to this growing sentiment and in lieu of flowers (which Glo doesn't really like and would think are a waste of money), a memorial fund has been created. The memorial fund donations will be a crucial source of finances for Chad and the girls that will assist them both immediately and in the long term.  Chad has been hesitant to say this because he doesn't want people to feel emotionally obliged in any way to give, but due to Gloria's Rheumatoid Arthritis, they were not able to cover her with life insurance.  These funds will help the Pirottes with their immediate financial obligations (e.g. funeral costs); additionally it will aid Chad in paying off existing debt (student loans, mortgage, etc.), which would relieve him of considerable stress regarding the family budget. As you can imagine, this has been a year of extraordinary and unexpected hardships for the Pirotte family—so your desire and willingness to give generously is even that much more meaningful to Chad.

If you would like to make a donation here are some ways to give:

1. If you would like to donate electronically via PayPal, gifts can be sent to glopirottefund@gmail.com

2. If you would like to wire money, email 
lizkimha@gmail.com and she will send you the account information


3. A donation box at the wake/service. All checks should be made out to the "Gloria Hsu Pirotte Memorial Fund"

4. Lastly, if none of those options work, you can mail your gift to Liz Ha, at 1919 W. Addison St. #R, Chicago, IL 60613


If you have any questions, please contact Liz Ha at lizkimha@gmail.com or (646) 382-4420.  Also please forward this on to anyone who may have been touched by Glo's life and would like to contribute to her memorial fund. We know this will be far and wide.

Lastly, on behalf of Chad, Kelissa, and Karinna, thank you for loving them so faithfully.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Gloria

This week my friend Gloria Hsu Pirotte is going to meet her Maker on her 36th birthday.  She is a wife and mother of 2 little girls (ages 3 and 6 months), and she celebrated her 6th wedding anniversary this year. She has suffered through months of a deadly lung disease that causes progressive scarring of lung tissue and inhibits her from getting enough oxygen to breathe, and the doctors have now said that there is nothing else they can do for her.  It just doesn't seem possible that this energetic, outgoing college girl that I know and love is dying from having trouble breathing, sedated on a hospital bed with an oxygen tank and kidney dialysis.  I can't wrap my head around it.  

Gloria was a force to be reckoned with.  I first met her at Northwestern University when my friends and I were leading a Bible Study with Campus Crusade, now called Cru.  I was just learning to play the guitar, so I brought it to the first meeting to play a few praise songs with the group.  Gloria sang beautifully along with the rest of the girls.  Afterwards, she said to me, "Oh, by the way, I play the guitar too, so if you want, I could lead some songs next time."  I gladly passed her my guitar, and guess what?  She was a rock star!!  The girl plays like John Mayer, no kidding.  I couldn't believe how ridiculous I must have looked picking through a few bar chords while she was able to shred the strings!  But Gloria never made a big deal out of her incredible talent; she just did it for the sheer joy of playing and using her gifts for worship.  (Gloria did not like drawing attention to herself.  Even when she was accepted to Harvard for graduate school, she would just tell people that she was going to a school "near Boston."  She never wanted people to feel that she was inaccessible, even though she was incredibly intelligent and talented.)

Gloria and I soon became very close friends.  We had lunch in the cafeteria all the time, she came over to my dorm room to "study," and we spent hours upon hours in what we called "Tammy Time."  We talked about our past, our hurts, our problems, our dreams, our joys.  She wanted to be Amy Grant and I wanted to be Linda Hamilton.  We both drooled over Brad Pitt.  Her last name was Hsu and mine was Suh so we would argue about whose was incorrectly spelled.  We began signing our names as Hsu(h) or Suh(su).  We attended Cru meetings together and would hang out talking by the rocks on Lake Michigan, or at the Norris Student Center, where it seemed Gloria knew everyone.  I mean, everyone!
Gloria was such a people person that she couldn't do anything without people, especially study.  I once dared her to spend 2 hours in a room alone to see if she would actually get some studying done.  We went to the McCormick Engineering building and found 2 empty classrooms.  I left her in one, and I went to the other.  I loved studying in peace and quiet, so after the 2 hours, feeling satisfied with some work done, I packed up my stuff and went to find her.  When I opened the door, I burst out laughing.  She had sprawled out everything on the table and had her head on the desk, snoring.  She had barely read 2 pages in her Biology text but had done a lot of doodling in her notebook, especially making those G's with a smile that she loved to sign her name with!
Gloria was always smiling and laughing.  I can still hear her laugh.  She would make this face right before she laughed, where her eyes twitched, her nostrils flared, and her cheeks looked like they were about to burst.  Anytime she made that face, it was infectious!  And she was always jumping around too- never just walking.  She had so much energy that she couldn't just take a few steps; she was practically galloping to class at times.
Gloria and I didn't see eye-to-eye on one thing; clothing.  Even though I was highly unattractive in my college days (chunky, terrible clothes, bad skin, no makeup), I still tried to dress up sometimes and be girly.  Glo?  NO way would you catch her in a skirt.  She was always in a hat, t-shirt, and jeans.  Her favorite outfit was her overalls; she constantly tried to convince me to get a pair and I was appalled, as if it would ruin the purity of my baggy jeans and oversized sweatshirts.  I do remember that I was leaving my dorm one Sunday afternoon and out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Gloria walking home in a skirt and heels!  She didn't see me as she was looking for her keys to enter the building, so I quickly ran up to her and said, "And just WHERE do you think you're going in that skirt?"  She literally let out a shriek and slammed the door on me!!  I called her room from the dorm phone 20 times until she finally picked up and confessed that yes, she sometimes gets dressed up for church when she plays the piano there!  I told her that now that I'd seen her in a skirt, she MUST wear a dress on her wedding day.  She said, "No way, I'll be the first to wear a cool set of Bridal overalls!!"  (Of course, I was pleasantly surprised to see her in a beautiful dress on her wedding day, but I have to admit I was curious to see if those overalls would show up. . .)
One of the things we liked to do most was sing/play worship music.  We both played on the worship team for Cru (Glo on guitar, I was on keys or violin), but we could also just sit in a room listening to music and be worshipping together- loudly in our hearts.  The soundtrack of that time was lots of Jars of Clay, Rich Mullins, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, and songs from the Vineyard church.  One year we worked together on the Concert of Prayer at NU, where all the different campus ministries unite for an evening of worship music and prayer.  I still remember us picking out the songs together, rehearsing, hauling all the equipment across campus, exhausting ourselves in the night of worship, and hanging out afterwards, having the time of our lives.  
Gloria was serious about God.  She loved the Word and it bothered her when she wasn't centered around it.  Her sin bothered her too; she asked me to point out to her when she wasn't right with God, and I remember having some tough conversations where we both spoke truth into each other's lives.  It was really an iron-sharpening-iron relationship, and it is a rare gift to have someone like that in life.
Gloria and I slowly grew apart after I got married.  I moved off campus and started my student teaching, and we didn't see each other like we used to.  I was only 21, and I didn't know how to manage my relationships well.  I thought that I was supposed to spend my time developing new friendships as a couple with my husband, and I didn't know how to keep the girlfriends that I had made on my own.  I do regret that time where I let my friendships fade, especially with Gloria.  She had such a profound impact on me as a person, and when I think back to my college days, they are filled with memories of her.  I am thankful that I knew her for that slice of time in my life, and I consider it a privilege that we were so close during those years.  
So with much love and gratitude, I say good-bye to a dear friend who taught me to love deeply, live humbly, and laugh loudly.  She is one-of-a-kind, and I know that her impact on people is more far-reaching than we can even grasp.  This girl lived her life to the fullest, with the glory of God at the forefront of her heart and soul.  She embodies "Soli Deo Gloria"- glory to God alone!  I love you Gloria, and I look forward to the day I will see you again!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Confessions of a Twinkie

I've asked God a million times why I was born Asian.  I hated growing up with my darker features in a sea of beautiful blond, blue-eyed friends.  My mom said that I used to sit in front of the mirror as a 5-year-old trying to stretch my eyes open to make them look like everyone else's.  Pitiful, I know.

Embracing my ethnicity meant that I had to embrace being different.  There was too much pain associated with my culture that I couldn't fully allow myself to celebrate who God created on the outside.  Through the years, I assimilated as best as I could, making lots of Caucasian friends, refusing to speak Korean, trying to avoid the older Asian folks that stare at you and follow you around wherever you are to see if you're related to them. (My Asian friends know EXACTLY what I'm talking about!)

When my oldest daughter started kindergarten, the school hosted a Multicultural Night to celebrate the diverse demographic of the school.  I told her we were not participating; what was there to celebrate?  But the more she asked me about it, the more I was confronted with my own strange self-hatred.  Why couldn't I celebrate being Korean?  Why was she so proud of it?  Would I let my painful memories of discrimination in the past keep my own children from embracing who they are?

I decided to put together a little display and participate in the Multicultural Night representing South Korea, just to appease my daughter.  She loved every minute of it, and there was true joy and pride in her eyes as she wore the traditional Korean han-bok that night in front of her teachers and friends.  As I watched her glowing with excitement, I realized that God was going to use my beautiful half-Korean, half-German daughter to finally change the way I saw myself.

This year I was asked to help our school celebrate its cultural diversity and come up with ideas on how to make our school more inclusive, representing its changing demographic.  My initial thought (which I kept to myself) was, "NO WAY!!  Don't you know I'm a white girl inside???"  But instead, I politely said I'd think about it.  And I did- I prayed hard about it too.  I really felt a struggle because I knew if I opened this door, I was going to have to deal with my own junk.  But you know what?  It's time.  I'm 36 years old; I need to stop shaking my fist at God asking Him why He made me the way He did, and start seeing myself as a beautiful creation, not in spite of my ethnicity, but because of it.

I attended my first PTA Leadership conference in Austin, TX last weekend and looked for another Asian in the crowd of hundreds of representatives from across the state.  Not one.  I realized that there is a huge lack of participation from the East Asians, South Asians, and Europeans in the PTA for various reasons discussed during break-out sessions.  What better way to encourage them to be an integral part of the school family than to volunteer as a representative myself?  I know how it feels to be the outsider, the one who doesn't fit in, whose broken English prohibits interaction with others.  And then it suddenly struck me- if it weren't for the way I looked, I might not have as much of an impact in this role!  It may be that my darker features make others like me feel more at ease to get connected, finding their unique place to serve in the school.  It's taken a long time to get to this place of being comfortable in my own skin, but I am grateful to have found a measure of acceptance that I never thought I'd have.  I'm still a twinkie:  white on the inside, but I no longer hate the yellow on the outside!  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Your New Life

Guess what?  God's not done with dealing with idols in my life.  I'm in a Bible Study this summer called "No Other Gods" by Kelly Minter, and we read Colossians 3:1-17 in several different translations tonight.  The Message version struck me to the core; there is so much richness in these words.  I want to savor every bite, letting it sink in, allowing it to change me from the inside.  I hope this passage encourages you to find new life, true life, and a fulfilled life in Jesus.

Colossians 3

He Is Your Life
 1-2 So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.


 3-4Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.


 5-8And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.


 9-11Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.


 12-14So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.


 15-17Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Reflections on Redemption: Part 3

3.  Jesus plus Nothing equals Everything.

Let that sink in for a minute.

To have everything in life, I need Jesus.  Just Jesus.  What does that mean?

It means I don't put my hope for life, love, happiness, or salvation in anything but Jesus.  Where do I tend to look for ultimate joy?  Usually myself, others, or in systems.  The irony is that I'll never make myself happy; I'm too unpredictable, unreliable, and unable to to understand my own heart.  Others will never fulfill my needs the way I want; they are broken people too.  Systems will eventually fail me somehow- systems such as the latest and greatest how-to books, seminars, counseling, accountability, Bible studies, even Redemption groups!  None of those things will give me freedom from my idols, or lasting joy and satisfaction.  The only thing that will satisfy is Jesus.  Just Jesus.

When I look to anything but Jesus for life, I am basically saying that I love these things more than Jesus.  Because idolatry is essentially about what I love, the only way I can really remove those idols is to change who I love.  Thomas Chalmers put it this way: "The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one."  In other words, I can't white-knuckle my way out of idol worship.  My heart will do what it loves.  What the heart loves, the will chooses, the mind justifies.  If I love someone or something more than Jesus, I'll always make excuses for why I need to worship it.  The only way for lasting change is to replace what my heart loves.  I must love Jesus more than my idols to be free from the idols.

Questions:  Do I really love Jesus?  Or do I treat him as a means to an end?  Do I come to him looking for answers to prayers and for ways out of hard circumstances, rather than just coming to him to spend time with him?  Do I treat Jesus like I'm in a marriage without joy?  Or does my heart have a great affection for him- not just for what he has done for me, but simply for who he is?

At the cross, Jesus took my slavery to my idols and the punishment I deserved for it.  I am guilty for what I've done, for how I've worshipped other idols, but Jesus bought my guilt at the cross.  I am no longer defined by my idols, and I am no longer under their control.  I will never be able to repay God for what He did for me through Jesus' death.  When I begin to grasp how incredible that love is, love that is purely sacrificial toward the beloved without expectation of reciprocity or earned deservedness, I will begin to fall in love with Jesus.  I will begin to behold him more than the dead idols I've chosen instead, and I will start to taste and see that Jesus plus nothing truly equals everything.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Reflections on Redemption: Part 2- Demolishing Idols

2.  "Pain is God's megaphone." (C.S. Lewis) 

God is committed to breaking down the idols in my life.  An idol is a substitute for the real thing, and God will not let me settle for less than Himself.  He is committed to disrupting what I love more than Him.  This process hurts!  When my idol doesn't satisfy as I hoped, or when I cannot obtain my idol, I experience frustration and suffering.  Ripping away an idol is painful because sometimes the idolatry has become so much a part of you that it's like tearing your skin to be free from it.

How do we handle pain?  We may try to ignore it, but it keeps haunting us.  We may try to medicate it with hours in front of the TV, overeating, reading, shopping, partying, spending time in hobbies, sports, busy schedules or religious activities.  The most significant way we respond to suffering is that we give meaning to it.  We derive a story from the suffering and come to faulty conclusions- "God doesn't love me or this wouldn't have happened."  "God is cruel." "God cannot be known, and He doesn't understand."  "People cannot be trusted."  "Relationships are too hard; they aren't worth investing in."  "There is no hope for me."  "I am unworthy of love and affection."  "I'll do whatever makes me happy to get rid of this pain."

These conclusions have more impact than we realize.  They become central to our lives and part of our schema.  As humans, we are meaning makers, hard-wired to interpret life.  Author Paul Tripp says, "We do not live our lives based on the bare facts of our existences; we live our lives according to our interpretation of those facts."  Based on the events in my life, I believe a story of my life, I tell a story from it, and I live my life according to that story.  If 10 different people were going through the same circumstances, there would be 10 different meanings, stories, and reactions.  We are unique in the stories that we tell ourselves.

The devil lies to us in our stories; he does not want us to approach God in our pain.  Satan whispers, "The idol will take care of you, God won't.  The idol gives you what you want, what you crave; it relieves your pain; it liberates you.  Fight for your idol; serve and defend it."  When we stubbornly hold on to our idols and our own stories, we do not see the true purpose of our pain- that God is loving us out of our idol worship.

Yes, demolishing idols means we will experience pain and frustration as we confront the lies we have believed, the stories we have created with ourselves as the main characters.  But God can and will work through my sin to bring me closer to Him.  How far will He go to get my attention?  Sin knows no rock bottom; if I hit rock bottom, it's called the grace of God.  Once I'm there, God wants to show me that what I'm looking for is Him; no person, no experience, no dream will ever fully satisfy the deepest longings of my heart.  He wants me to understand what it means to have joy to the full, life abundantly, and unconditional love. He wants me to see that He is at the center of my story, and when I begin to recognize that, my idol will lose its mastery over me.  Why?  Because the end of slavery is the beginning of freedom.

Questions:

1) If you had to write a one-sentence title to the story of your life, what would it be?

2) How have you suffered?  What meaning have you made from your suffering?

When I had to answer the first question in class, we had about 10 minutes to think about it.  Here was my life-story title: "A girl who longs to be loved for who she is, not for what she does."

This title originated from many hurtful experiences growing up in the 80's as a Korean-American in a predominantly Swedish town in Illinois.  The meaning I made from my suffering was, "You are different, you are ugly, nobody wants you, nobody accepts you, nobody loves you."  This caused an intense self-hatred; I despised the things that made me different- my hair, my eyes, my skin, my small frame.  I didn't believe I could ever be loved, accepted, or celebrated for who I was, so I dealt with this pain by driving myself into perfectionism in order to be accepted.  "If you don't like me for who I am, maybe you'll like me because of what I do."  I even remember telling myself this as an 8-year-old sitting alone in my room.  I was determined to be the best at whatever I did so that there would be no reason not to be liked, accepted, or respected.  Though I didn't know it at the time, I built my idol of perfectionism that day, and I vowed to worship it forever.

I have clung for years to a faulty conclusion that my worth is based on my performance.  Being punished for making mistakes, losing a competition, or getting bad grades only reinforced this conclusion.  Perfectionism and performance are so much a part of me that it is extremely hard to believe that I am actually valuable outside of what I do.  Who am I if I'm not striving for something?  Can I really accept myself without any accomplishments?  Where will my significance come from if it isn't from the things I have created?

Someday I want to rest in the knowledge that I am loved, deeply loved, for the soul inside this Asian body.  I want to believe that God created me exactly the way He wanted, and that when He looks at me, He sees the heart of the little girl who has longed to be loved all her life and who desires to rest in grace but is too afraid to stop running.  How do I get there?  That's coming next. . .

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reflections on Redemption- Part 1: Idolatry

I joined a group this spring at my church called Redemption.  It was 11 weeks of being confronted with the state of my heart as we read through Exodus and the Redemption book by Mike Wilkerson from Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  I've decided to share four statements that were game-changers for me in this process, but I will do them in a series so I can digest them fully!

1.  Our hearts are idol factories. (John Calvin)

We were created to worship.  You can't turn it off; either we are worshipping God each minute, or we are worshipping something or someone else.  Worship is not an activity- it is an identity.  Whatever is most worthy of your attention and devotion, whatever drives you at the core and flows from the essence of who you are- that's what you worship, that's what you live for.  We love to worship; it is part of our basic human wiring.  To not worship is to not live- I worship something every day, whether I recognize what it is or not.

Sin corrupts worship.  It doesn't cease worship; it just distorts it.  We will exalt a substance, an experience, a person, or a dream to the level of a god.  We worship idols as one who have the God-like ability to "fill" us with esteem, love, admiration, acceptance, respect, and other psychological desires.  They are worshipped because we perceive that they have the power to give us something.  We define life by its attainment, and we feel like dying when it eludes us.  This is idolatry- something or someone has become bigger than God.  Addictions and other issues are not just problems- they are worship disorders.  They flow from hearts bent on worshipping created things rather than the Creator.  Our sin distorts the distinction between the Creator and the created.

We are both spiritual and physical beings, but many times we believe that the essence of life is found in the physical things.  As physical people in a physical world, it is hard for us to keep physical things in their proper place.  The result?  We end up dealing with spiritual things by indulging in physical cravings.  For example, if I have a spiritual need for love, I may seek to find it in the physical affection from another person, or if I have a spiritual desire for acceptance, I may seek to satisfy it through physical comforts or affirmation from people.  If I have a spiritual need for security, I may create physical safety by furnishing my home, working harder for a bigger paycheck, and surrounding myself with physical items to fill that void.

What starts as healthy longings, such as love, acceptance, significance, can lead to bondage and slavery.  Because of sin's blinding effect, we tend to look at our motives and see only what is pure, just, lovely, and noble, when in fact there is pollution, revenge, perversion, pettiness, and indulgence.

Question: What is your answer to the statement, "When I _______, then I'll be happy," or "There's nothing wrong with wanting __________."  Your answer exposes an idol.

My own personal answer to this was, "When I achieve perfection in all areas of my life, then I'll be happy."  "There's nothing wrong with wanting excellence in everything I do."

I have a huge idol of perfection.  I have bowed down to it and worshipped it for decades.  However, I never saw it as anything bad; instead, I've always believed my perfectionism was a strength- it just pushes me to do my best, isn't that noble?  But perfection always eludes me: I want the perfect spouse who treats me perfectly, perfect kids who do the right thing all the time, a perfect house with all the best furnishings, the perfect figure so that I can feel good about myself, the perfect wardrobe so I can stay up with the times, perfect relationships where no one gets hurt and there's no conflict, perfect performances where I make no mistakes.  On any given day, I am reaching for perfection in some way, shape or form.  When I don't achieve perfection, I beat myself up for being imperfect.  Even if 95% of my performance was great, I obsess over that 5% that wasn't good.  Even if my husband does wonderful things for me, I fixate on the small percentage of his flaws.  When listening to my kids play their instruments, I have a hard time recognizing how much they have accomplished and instead focus on how far they have to go before they get to the level that I think they should be.  My idol isolates me from the people I love most and hurts them deeply.

Why do I worship perfection?  What do I think this idol will give me?  I have discovered through this process that what my heart really longs for is true love and acceptance.  I want to be loved, to be valued, to be accepted.  Deep down, I believe that if I can achieve perfection, I will finally be valuable and lovable.  I got this message in subtle and not-so-subtle ways growing up, and it shaped my heart, creating an idol that is core to my being.