Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Three Years...

It is difficult to believe that it has been two years since my last post. Ironically, it seems longer than three years since my return to the US. How is it that time can feel like yesterday from one perspective and a lifetime from another?

When last I posted, darkness surrounded me but a glimmer of hope existed. That darkness was so real. Tears were never really far away. What changed? I live in the same place. I basically see the same people. I frequently do the same things. But the darkness has lost its control. Gratitude fills me for that. So what have I learned?

I have learned that no matter where I live, no matter how many people I meet, no matter whom I love, no matter what job I have, the only thing that really matters in this life is how much I love and attend myself. The stillness that is I, waits; waits for...nothing. It expects nothing. It waits patiently without judgement like a firmly-founded rock in a raging river. Over time, the swiftly passing water may smooth the edges, but it has no power to move the rock. The glare of the sun on the rushing water distracts, but the foot in faith grasps the rock's firm edge and stands confidently.

Love escapes me. Friendship puzzles me. Observation consumes me. But the rock that is I, comforts me.

Yes, still learning...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

True Love and Answered Prayers

This past Sunday morning, I experienced something I must share. As usual, I woke early and did my morning writing in my journal. You will need some background to understand where this journal entry comes from.

At the end of 2006, I experienced some pretty difficult situations that left me feeling really alone. A six-month relationship with someone I had really opened myself up to ended. Though it had to happen, it was still painful. In the same week, I found out that my present job that brought me back to the US from Korea wasn’t as stable as was presented to me when I was trying to make the decision to come back. I was at a pretty low point. Now, usually, I am pretty good about dealing with major issues that come up in my life, but when two hit at the same time, it takes me a bit more time to bounce back.

I got through December with the help of holiday visitors and parties to keep me focused. But when I was alone, it felt like a deep darkness was surrounding me, and I was about to be swallowed up, never to be heard from again. With a failed relationship and talk of a failing company, I couldn’t help but wonder why God had brought me back to this. It was a scary time. I made it through keeping up my prayers in my journal.

I don’t usually ask for specific things in my prayers. I trust that God knows what He is doing and that I only need to ask for His will to be done. However, this time, I felt I needed to be a bit more direct.
January 7, 2007

Heavenly Father, you say in the Bible that you will do anything if only I ask. Well, I am asking. Please give me a job here that pays well and that I enjoy. This company I am with is sinking, and I don’t know how to save it. Please Father, in all faith I believe you will make this happen. You know my heart better than I. Your will be done. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen
Where are you, Lord? I am searching for love here knowing that only you can give such love. I see all these people living their lives focused on things here when all that is important is you. Your work is taking place here, but I just don’t see how I am helping that work. Father, love me. Please don’t leave me alone. I feel so alone now. I don’t fit in here. I can play the game well sometimes, but other times I just don’t get it. What good am I here? Am I only hindering your work? Forgive me for questioning you. You are the one and only one I can talk to. I love you. Please feel that. I need someone to feel that. Amen.

Immediately after completing my journal entry, I headed to church for my discussion group, ironically called, “Couples Class.” Although there are many singles in the class, it is still called “Couples Class”. The topic for the morning was “When God Talks to You”. The speaker gave some examples from the book When God Winks at You, by Squire Rushnell, of how God has spoken to people. The group was encouraged to think of ways God had spoken to us throughout our lives. As I sat listening to the examples from various members, I felt I wanted to speak up because God had certainly spoken to me in many situations in my life. Yet, I sat quietly listening to the others in the room tearfully give testimony of their communication with God. Halfway through the class, I sat with a sense of peace feeling that I wasn’t supposed to speak up. When class ended, I exited quickly not to be late for the second service that usually starts immediately after Sunday school.

I wasn’t able to take my usual seat at the left side of the sanctuary that morning because there was no space there. I ended up in a seat in the middle section directly in front of the pulpit. I sat there staring around the sanctuary as if it were my first day there. Although this new seat was only a few feet from where I usually sit, the difference in the angle gave a whole new perspective to the service. The ministers proceeded through the usual announcements and a special message from a visiting minister from Honduras. During the Children’s Church part of the service, I usually look up and read the passage highlighted for the day in the worship folder. This day was no different. However, when the time came for Rev. Moor to read the passage, I soon realized that I had gotten the verses confused and read a totally different passage. By the time I realized what I had done, someone else on the pew had already taken the community Bible on the back of the pew. So, I just sat and listened to Rev. Moor read the passage. I had no idea what I was in for when the message started. I listened as Rev. Moor gave commentary on the passage and started his message. Then, suddenly, he said, “I love you and you are precious to me.” My heart suddenly perked up as if he were talking to me. Strangely, he repeated these words again. I looked at him, and he looked right at me. I then looked around wondering if anyone noticed he was looking at me. Then, as he said these words again, I remembered what I had written to God in my journal that morning. There was no one else in that sanctuary at that moment. Rev. Moor was the physical form speaking, but he wasn’t the origin of the words. Like all those examples I had heard in Couple’s Class, I was an example in the making. I was overwhelmed with love. God was answering my earnest prayer, and He kept repeating it until I remembered what I had asked for. He got my attention.

There are those out there who, like me on that Sunday morning, wonder where God is. And there are those out there who search for love in relationships and friendships. Hard work is put in and time goes by, and the disappointments we face harden us to a true love that is just waiting for us to accept. We hesitate to give someone love because we don’t want to get hurt. I hesitate even now because I know that I will be disappointed. I even hesitated writing to God that I loved Him that morning; I wondered how I could truly love someone I don’t even understand. Then I searched deep in my heart and realized that I do love Him, truly. He is the only one who has been through all of my life experiences, my ups, my downs, my darkness, and He still remains. He knew me even before I was born. Why shouldn’t I love Him? That morning I felt that love, and I wrote to Him to make sure He knew. I pleaded with Him to know that I love Him. In a world where people don’t accept love, I needed Him to know that a true love exists in me, and I wanted to give it to Him. So, I wrote it confidently. And you know what? He replied. Right there in the middle of the sermon, in the middle of all those people, He told me He loved me and repeated it until He knew that He had my attention. He told me He loved me and that I was precious to Him. He then told me that He would take care of me. All of this came in words through Rev. Moor, but they were words intended to answer my earnest prayer that morning.

Who says God doesn’t answer prayers?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

An unexpected prayer...

These days I am having the most unexpected, amazing experience. I have always been a deep sleeper and have never required a nap during the day. Even if I have been out late the night before, I know once my head hits the pillow at night, I will not wake until morning. That hasn't been the case for the past few weeks. Each morning, some time in the early morning hours, I wake up in the middle of a prayer. Sometimes I am in the middle of the prayer, and sometimes I am just beginning my prayer. There will be a person on my mind, and I will pray for that person. I don't know how long this lasts because I don't look at the clock. In the past I have found that if I look at the clock after being woken up, I will focus on the time and worry about not being able to get back to sleep. And usually, I don't get back to sleep. Because of this, I have no idea how long these prayers last.

If I wake and no one is on my mind, I find myself praying the Lord's Prayer with the deepest sincerity and no loss for the words. Of course, I say the Lord's Prayer each Sunday and should have it down by heart, right? Well, yesterday morning in the car on the way to work, I thought I would just recite the Lord's Prayer to see if I could do it off the top of my head. To my surprise, I had to pause and search for the words. I was shocked. How could I not know the words if I have been praying them in church each Sunday and each morning in these unexpected prayers?

Growing up going to church regularly, I have always been around prayer. However, praying, whether out loud or to myself, was difficult for me. While praying to myself, I couldn’t organize my thoughts to pray what was in my heart. And while praying out loud, I was worried about saying the wrong thing or sounding strange, thus diverting my attention away from God. I finally just gave up on the whole idea of prayer. I had also given up on the whole idea of God. You see, I was attending a Christian College, and I just didn’t get into the hype of pop-Christianity. I hadn’t prayed in years, and, to be honest, didn’t really want to have anything to do with God. It wasn’t until I got the opportunity to study abroad that I started praying again. Money was tight, and I was doing all I could do just to pay my rent, buy books, and have enough left over to eat on. I wasn’t happy at the school where I was studying. I grew up and got all of my education in the same town, and I felt as though I was going to explode if I didn’t get out of there. So, I made a pact with God. I prayed a simple prayer explaining that if He allowed this study abroad to happen, I would never lose touch with Him again. He made it happen, and it was my turn to hold up my end of the pact. I found an empty sketch book in my father’s study and asked my father if I could have it to keep a journal while abroad. He consented, and I was on my way to a new life of writing abroad. I had no idea what was in store for me.

I have been keeping a journal for 14 years now. In the early years of my writing, I would simply write where I was and what I was doing at that moment. Although I really didn't like writing at the time, I was studying in London and wanted to keep a journal of my travels and experiences there. The early entries were actually pretty boring; they read like a daily planner of a travel agent. I also ended each entry with a little prayer of thanks in order to keep my pact with God. Seeing as how I didn’t really like praying to myself or writing, I thought it a good idea to combine these two activities I had promised I would do while overseas. Then I got the idea to write about my feelings while traveling to various places and experiencing varying situations. The entries then started to have a bit more color to them. A few years later, I started sprinkling the entries with thoughts and concerns about life. These concerns led me to my ending the entries with longer prayers. These mixed entries of experiences and prayers went on for several years. It wasn’t until I moved to Korea and stayed for an extended period of time that I stopped writing about experiences as frequently and focused more on the prayer.

During my time in Korea, I grew really tired of the same prayer jargon that I had learned to use from my childhood in church. I started just talking to God. I started talking to Him like He was a real person sitting right there with me reading each word on the page. I have to admit some of these entries weren’t the most pleasant passages to read. And, they certainly weren’t prayers I had been taught to pray in Vacation Bible School. At first I was afraid to write them. I felt like the wrath of God would come down hard on me for writing what I felt. Yet, I knew He knew how I felt anyway; I just needed to say it-or pray it. After writing such an enraged entry, I would slowly close my journal and with closed eyes just wait for something horrible to happen to me. It never did. As always, the same calm that had been there before my writing was there after. I just had a better understanding of my feelings. You see, God was speaking to me through my writing. Like some encrypted message shining through my tirade, God’s peaceful voice was there ironing all the wrinkles and filling the void. I could then go about my day not even thinking about what had just happened, but knowing deep down that I was going to be OK.

Today my journal entries are predominantly prayers. On occasion I will sit down and just write my thoughts. However, just writing my thoughts doesn’t seem to be enough. I want to pray. I want to talk to God. There is such a peace that fills me when I know He is listening to my silly concerns. Yet, the peace I feel in my unexpected early morning prayers is so much deeper. It is a stillness-a calm. At times I feel as though I am not even the one praying. I am just there listening. Of course the person I am thinking of at the time is someone I know, but the actual prayer just happens.

Concerns about literal words during prayer

I mentioned before about the prayer jargon I learned growing up in the church. This jargon, along with the rituals we perform in the church, stumps me at times. I will go on and on using the same phrases ingrained in my head from various worship services because I don’t really know how else to say those things. Sometimes in the middle of a prayer, I will pause, give up this silly regurgitation, and plead for God to sift through the mess to find my true intentions for the prayer. After all, the Bible teaches that prayers are not really formed with words but breath. We are to have a prayer on every breath. Is that what my early morning prayers are? Are all those words I have written in the form of prayers just a mask for the true work that is going on? Honestly, I don’t know. I do know that I don’t want to stop. There is a compulsion inside to continue. Who knows, maybe this is my purpose for being here. I will continue to pray for whatever or whomever is on my heart. I will continue to search for the right words to express what is inside. And if those can’t be found, I will plead for God to know my heart and hear my prayer.

The Bible and prayer

It wasn’t until 1999 in Pohong, South Korea sitting in my little apartment doing my daily devotionals that I truly understood what the crucifixion was all about. That didn’t come from any church worship service or Bible study group. It came at a time in my life when I was alone and truly searching for answers from God. I was searching for answers about things that had always puzzled me about God and all the things that I had been taught about Him. I was tired of asking people their thoughts about God; I needed to hear it from Him. That is when I sat down with my Bible, a devotional, and my journal and started asking God very specific questions. The most important question at that time was about the crucifixion. I asked God how watching the only person here on earth who was supposed to be the His son be slaughtered on a cross could possibly encourage us worship Him. Over the course of a few weeks, I slowly began to understand what the crucifixion meant…to me. You see, I believe that what we ask for we will receive. The Bible says ask for wisdom and it shall be given. Where I believe we go wrong in understanding the Bible is we ask to receive answers that will make us right in religious and Bible arguments with others. Understanding the Bible and God is a very personal thing that has to be cultivated over a lifetime. In Pohong, I was alone, and I earnestly wanted to understand what the Bible and stories of God meant to me. God knew that, and He taught me. The things I learned at that time didn’t prepare me for any religious debate or Biblical argument, but they did prepare me to pause and recognize when someone is provoking me to a religious debate. I experienced this later that year in a few discussions with a very strong Southern Baptist teacher who was living in the same city at the time. When we would start discussing religious topics, I could sense that I was being provoked into a debate where the motivation was to prove one person right and the other wrong. Each time, I was given the words to say to end the debate on a level where there was no right or wrong, only understanding. That brought me closer to God and increased my faith in Him.

The Holy Spirit

My answers to my questions about the crucifixion led me to questions about the Trinity-specifically the Holy Spirit. In Pohong I came to understand why the Holy Spirit was given to us, but it wasn’t until six years later in my last year in South Korea while living in Seoul that I came to understand what the gift of the Holy Spirit meant to me. The year 2005 was a year of learning for me. I had no idea what I was in for when 2004 passed, but I got a hint when change started in January and continued at a rapid pace for the next twelve months. I suffered a breakup of a six-year relationship in January, the loss of a business to that partner in May, the pain of a large misunderstanding with my closest friends there in Korea in September, the separation and solitude due to that misunderstanding in October, and the realization that my time in Korea was coming to an end in December. God really knew how to get my attention.

These losses forced me to turn to the only resource I had left-God. And God taught me who the Holy Spirit was to me. You see, I tend to focus on others and their needs a lot. Of course this isn’t a bad thing. One might say I am a generous person, and that is a virtue. However, when that focus hinders my attention on God, it becomes a vice, and God has to get my attention again. In 2005 one by one, the things I held precious in my life where slowly taken away, and I couldn’t understand why. During the latter months of the year, I spent more and more time at home reading and writing. This time I came to understand just how important the Holy Spirit is through some unexpected sources. I felt compelled to read books I had never really been interested in before. I wrote in my journals more and more. Looking back on those entries now, I can see how God was preparing me for major changes. Not just the change of a move back home, but a life change.

I once wrote in a journal that life was like a spiral; like a slinky, those rungs of the spiral sometimes get stuck together causing us to experience the same situation over and over until we learn the lesson embedded within. I was revisiting the lesson from 1999 in 2005. I had to learn what the Holy Spirit was all about and how to allow the Holy Spirit to guide me. To avoid any provocation of a religious debate, I won’t divulge the sources from which I learned the importance of the Holy Spirit. God uses any and all things to get His messages across. Who are we to question that? After all, He chooses those people, things, and situations because He knows where to find and how to get our attention. Once He has our attention-and that is usually when we are left all alone-His teaching begins. I learned that although I was physically alone, I wasn’t alone at all. Of course, we are taught that in every worship service we attend, but do we really feel it. Do we feel that there is this amazing gift from God, Himself, walking with us, listening to us, deciding what we will do next? I didn’t, but I am learning how to. The Holy Spirit is here to care for our every need and guide us in every situation, yet we go along on our own little way not taking pause to know what is really good for us. Then, when we get stuck and all those things we hold so dear have gone, He is there to pick us back up and set us on the course that God made for us. The amazing thing is had we taken pause and allowed the Holy Spirit to guide us, we wouldn’t have had to experience hardships. After all, the Holy Spirit is just following God’s will, and God’s will is our will if we just learn to focus on Him through our work, relationships, and everyday activities.

I take pause and search for God’s will through my writing. Writing that started as a mundane activity has now become the vessel through which God’s peace flows to me. I had no idea where a little old sketch book and a pact with God would take me. But He proved to me that He would take care of me no matter what. He has kept his end of the pact, and, though I get off the path from time to time, I have kept mine. He has proven to me time and again that this relationship is a lifetime commitment full of lessons and new experiences that may not always be easy. Yet, He provides me with the gifts to keep going. He has given me the gift of learning. Through this learning, I find new ways to fulfill what He wants me to do here. These may come in the way of writing, traveling, or meeting new people. Or learning may come in the early morning hours through an unexpected prayer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Sun Bath

This past Sunday there were knots both in the pits of my stomach and throat that wouldn't ease. I sought refuge from them at home to no avail. I tried reading to take my mind off to a place that would offer some respite from this dis-ease. There was no getting away. Finally, I threw a blanket in the car and headed off to the park.

The sun was very bright. There was a slight breeze. People rambled here and there. Many people huddled in the shade of trees to avoid the sun, but I felt the shade was no place for me. I found a spot in the open area of the park and spread my blanket on the grass. I took off my shoes and just sat wondering what I was doing there. I watched people as they strolled on and off the paths, and a sense of connection to all of them came over me. Immediately, I felt at ease and lay flat on my back in the sun. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, just deep, infinite blue. The mixture of the heat of the sun and the cool, freshness of the blue sky spilled over me and held me there for over two hours completely aware of all the sounds, smells, and sensations all around. This mixture of one part breeze and two parts sun cleansed me free of the knots I had felt earlier. There was no gradual melting away; before I knew it, they were gone. I sat up wondering if these knots of dis-ease would return once I came back to reality. But they didn't, and in my mind I knew they wouldn't. You see, I couldn’t have returned to reality because I had never actually left.

This trip to the park wasn't an exercise of escape. I had tried that path earlier by seeking refuge at home and in a book. Religions and even Eastern thought teach us that prayer and meditation will offer refuge from our dis-ease by giving peace. And that is true, but only for a short time. Once the “Amen” is said in a prayer and the eyes are opened from mediation, the tension of those knots gradually starts to reform. Pretty soon we are right back where we started wondering why our prayers hadn't been answered.

This invitation to the park was an invitation to take pause and enjoy the reality that is always with us. Prophets tell us to be in a constant state of prayer. How is that possible when so many stimuli are consuming our attention? Jesus said to be in this world, but not of this world. Being of this world means that stimuli affect us and pull our attention from the source of our energy. Being in this world means that we are aware that these stimuli are there but we are sheltered from the effects. We are a spectator in, but not of this world. We are not searching for ways to escape because our reality requires no escape. Our reality is that one constant still voice inside inviting us to the “park” to be cleansed. Our reality is to just be. That is true peace for the long term.

Friday, September 29, 2006


By the title, you are probably thinking that this entry is going to be some sappy, tear-jerking essay about the pain of being alone. And before I came back and read through my previous entries, I probably would have written such. It is amazing how we learn from ourselves while talking to others. If we listen close enough, we might just hear those tiny morsels of God's voice that comforts us in everything.

These days, solitude seems to be the theme in my life. While others are not around to engage in a conversation that might allow me to hear those morsels I mentioned above, my journal is around and those delights are ever so present.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote:

Laugh and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth;
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life's gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

I used to get so depressed and experience deep bouts of loneliness until I read the ideas of Thomas Moore on the melancholy in life. He explains in Care of the Soul our perception of these times in life needs to change. We fear times of depression and loneliness because of the darkness that surrounds such emotions. I guess even as adults we are still afraid of the dark. Moore encouraged me not to be afraid during these times because change is taking place. Something within is calling out for change and is using these emotions to get our attention. Moore stresses that this is the time of our true self with no distractions.

In the passage above, Wilcox describes what happens to others when we are in pain through depression and loneliness. One might read this poem and develop a cynical attitude toward the world. After all, why shouldn’t we have people around us to comfort us when we are down? Well, the answer is those comforters would only be a distraction from the area where true attention is needed. Taking time to listen or just be silent in these times of darkness is really all that is needed.

These days, I am experiencing the darkness of loneliness. Immediately, the human side of me wants to cast blame here and there to explain this calling to darkness away. But the spirit side of me knows it is time to just be and listen. There are still bouts of tears that come, thoughts that try to explain why, and guilt that scolds. But in the end I know that these are only the final bits of human fighting to stay alive while the spirit is calmly waiting-waiting to be the only thing left-the only thing real.

It is a good time to be alone. The leaves are about to change color and fall. The temperature is turning cooler. Fall is in the air. I am going to ride this out and see what change happens. I am going to just be and listen.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Learning the Illusion

It is all an illusion. This world and all in it offers only a veil to cover our eyes from what is truly going on. Like school that comes with books, paper, pencils, teachers, and students, this life comes with teachers, students, "paper", "pencils", and all the rest to show us...Love. All of this is but to teach us love. We study all those subjects in school, our teachers encourage and badger us into learning lessons when all the while the true lesson is about love.

There are no questions that come to mind as to why; we know why, yet we continue to live on in this fantasy land striving for success--and success is only an illusion. Democracy is a means, not an end. Money is a means, not an end. Fame is a means, not an end. Job security is a means, not an end. Yet, love is not a means; it is the end.

When the world learns to love, this life as we know it will end. The means have come to the end. Perhaps that is why we dally in the means. We are afraid of what love will bring: an end to life as we know it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Those bad days...

Yesterday, I had one of the worst days I have had since returning to the states. After work I went to the gym and swam like a fiend shedding all that negativity in the water. It was great. Then I woke up early this morning with plenty of time for breakfast, quiet time, and doggie time. Life is so much about attitude and perceptions. Isn't it a shame that so many of us live in our own little hell for a whole day when all it would take is a slight jar to our reality to wake us up to heaven.

This week is my 4th month mark in being back in the US. In those four months, I have been able to settle in quite well. Two days after my last blog entry, I closed on my first house. It still seems like a dream to have my own house. For weeks after closing, I would wake up and very slowly open my eyes wondering if, once opened, I would see my bedroom walls in Seoul. I would open my eyes and be comforted to know that the dream was a reality; my bedroom walls here in Atlanta were real. But, I would blink a few times just to double check.

It is still so strange to me that not six months ago I was still in that old apartment in Non-Hyun Dong writing about the house that I would someday love to have. I remember sitting on that terrace looking up at the sky and thinking how lovely it would be to one day own my own house. If you had told me then that in six months that dream would become reality, I wouldn't have believed you. Isn't it amazing how dreams can become reality.

So then, why don't we jar ourselves every now and then to the reality that our own little hell is exactly just that. When we have those bad days, it isn't the day that is bad, it is our perception of the goings on of that day. Change that perception and dreams do become reality.

Heaven is waiting just on the other side of that coin.