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:

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

2. If you would like to wire money, email 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 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


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!