Obedience Over Sacrifice

“But Samuel replied, ‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.'” (1 Samuel 15:22)

This verse has been on repeat in my head for the past week or so. It’s taken from a passage where Samuel tells Saul that God has now rejected Saul as king. How heartbreaking and tragic for Saul. It seems as though he had it all at one point. What gets better than being a king and having God’s favor?

It’s easy for me to shake my head at Saul because as a reader, it’s pretty clear. God tells Saul to completely destroy the enemy, the Amalekites, and totally destroy everything that belongs to them (v. 3). But Saul is unwilling. He doesn’t go all the way. He keeps some things — “the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs” (v. 9). Later he and his men sacrifice these animals to the Lord, but God is not pleased. Saul tries to patch things up with a ritual or routine. Maybe he thought that God would somehow be swayed by his reasoning.

Somewhere in Saul’s heart, he became proud and used his own judgment to determine what was best. I do this a lot, too. I obey God when things are comfortable or when everything seems to line up. But when it costs me, when it doesn’t make sense, or when it may hurt my pride, I tend to look away, secretly hoping that God would forget because I’ve done the “other stuff” like go to church and pray for my friends. To obey God isn’t a part-time thing. It’s full-time. I can’t obey God a little, I’ve got to go all the way, even when my reasoning may seem “fit” or “right.”

I think that’s the tricky part. Sometimes I think I’m obeying God when I’m serving others or using my time and energy to accomplish some task, but it may not be what God is asking me to do. Sacrifice can look like obedience on the outside, but only God knows my heart. It’s a constant going back and forth to make sure that I’m connected to him and living out in obedience, that ultimately my heart is in the right place and that my desire would be to please him, not fill my life with religious activity or comfort.

Happy Waiting

#HappyWaiting. A mentor of mine used this hashtag when she posted up a picture from my engagement. I thought it was cute and clever, everything a hashtag should be. It was on point, sorta.

Today marks two months and 11 days that I’ve been married. Were the years of waiting to meet and marry my husband worth it? Absolutely. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband, partner, and best friend. But I wasn’t always happy in waiting. There was that time when I didn’t go to a wedding because I didn’t want to be alone or the time when I was so frustrated looking for a nursing bra for my friend that I gave up and went home angry. It wasn’t the nursing bra that made me angry. It was because In that moment it seemed like everyone else was going somewhere in their life — getting married, finding fabulous jobs, and growing their families — while I was waiting.

Waiting is hard. According to madbid.com, we spend 6 months in our lifetime waiting in line and 20 weeks being spent on hold. We’ve all been there. The grocery store, a concert, the bank, the doctor’s office, the post office, or customer service. We’re bored to tears. Whipping out our phones and scrolling down to catch up on the latest status or news update is so natural. At least we know that the waiting will be over soon.

Waiting for a future ______ as years pass by is much harder to get through.

Even while we live in an age where things come to us easily with just a click of a button, there are still things that don’t have one-click solutions. These are matters of the heart. Our dreams, our future or our hopes. It takes work and sometimes we feel like our work or attempts in trying are in vain. Then there is a lot of waiting.

In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Vladamir and Estragon wait and wait and wait for Godot, a character who never shows up. There has been speculation that Godot is symbolic of God but Beckett never confirmed this. I remember reading this in college and thinking how empty life is, how we wait for things to happen but ultimately we are left feeling void. I don’t think like this anymore, but looking back helps me remember how far I’ve come in my relationship with God. Thankfully, unlike Godot, we have a God who is present. He may not deliver exactly what we want in the timeline that we had already organized in our minds, but he is here. We must never let our hearts become so hardened that we think that God will never show up or that our God puts us on pause because He’s too busy doing something else. He knows exactly what he’s doing and maybe he’s working on our hearts so that we don’t get accustomed to the one-click solutions that we have grown used to in this modern age.

Happy waiting. I’ve grown to really embrace this phrase. To wait in contentment, not boredom; to celebrate for others when it’s their time to shine; to value the deep things and not sweat the small things.

So to you who are waiting, I propose a toast. Let’s clink our glasses and celebrate this season. Happy waiting.

Preparing for the Right Time

A few months back I wrote about how my grandmother gave me a wedding gift and how it triggered all these emotions inside of me because I wasn’t getting married anytime soon. Well, I guess grandma knew better.

I am getting married soon.

About a month and three weeks after that post my boyfriend (now fiance) proposed to me. I know, how could I not have seen it coming? My relationship with my fiance developed pretty quickly. Each week and sometimes within days new revelations and milestones were made. So within those several weeks a lot of things had changed. I had become more emotionally ready with being okay to move forward and we had both agreed that getting married in early 2015 sounded just about right for us. It’s interesting, this whole timing thing. One moment you can feel really lost, confused, or unsure and the next everything seems to be falling perfectly in place.

I’ve been learning a lot about timing lately. Time is not in my hands. I’m not talking about the mere hours and seconds on a clock, but about those moments when things seem to click. When God starts putting things into play, there’s no stopping what He will do and accomplish. In the meantime, when the emotional “a-ha” moments haven’t come yet, I need to be faithful and keep moving forward with the truth He’s already given me so that when the God-moments come, I don’t miss out. There have been situations where I tried to make things work or come up with excuses on why such-and-such thing had to be the right thing. But all those attempts were in vain.

But God’s timing, there’s something special and sweet about it because it can’t be manipulated or forced.

In the meantime, folks, I leave you with this encouragement: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Don’t give up. Wait for His time.

The Thing About Being Friendly

If you are from Los Angeles, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that the weather a few weeks ago was ridiculous. It felt like we were in Vegas. (Sorry, Vegas.) It was like summer had decided she didn’t want to leave and was mad at fall for stealing her thunder and then punished us all in the middle of her tantrum.

So in this sweltering heat I parked my car in the same ole parking lot a few Sundays ago and started walking towards the sanctuary. I wanted to do a power walk but it was just way too hot for that. I only made a few steps when I heard someone say, “Hey,” but figured it wasn’t towards me so I kept on walking. A car drove up next to me and the driver rolled down his window. I looked inside to find an older, first gen Korean couple. I thought they were lost. To my surprise, they offered to drive me to the sanctuary because it was so hot. At first I denied the offer like a good, Korean kid (you know, the rule is that they offer but then you deny until they seem really serious about what they are talking about). And then flashbacks of elementary school came into my head. Isn’t it wrong to get in a car with strangers? Pessimism. Doubt. Judgment.

They said it was too hot to walk so they wanted to drive me just up to the corner and drop me off. I know the few friends I told thought the same exact things that I initially thought when offered a ride, but that simple gesture of driving me a block down the street and around the corner really made my day! I’m not advocating getting into strangers’ cars or giving rides to strangers, but I’m advocating friendliness and care. I know there are some places in the world where hitching a ride is not a big deal. But here we don’t do that kind of stuff. It’s dangerous. But what about other things we can do to help others?

The thing about being friendly in a non-friendly world, especially in a place like Los Angeles, is that people may think you’re weird. People will be surprised. God has called us to be loving and kind. He has called us to be servants. This means that we are servants everywhere, not just at for a couple hours at the church local outreach. It means it should exude out of us every day, especially to brothers and sisters in Christ. My church is large so it’s easy to get lost in the mix of things or to only speak to people you know, but I realized that no matter how large or small, church is church and we should act like family. I didn’t even catch their names, but I was so thankful for that short yet thoughtful air-conditioned ride. I think I even walked into the sanctuary with a smile.

Wedding Gift

My grandma gave me my wedding gift a month ago. You may think that’s sweet and thoughtful. I would think so too, except I am not getting married. At least not yet. No wedding invitations have been sent out because well, I am not engaged.

I don’t know why, but my relationship with my grandma triggers a lot of emotions. I love her and when I see her I feel like I should do more. I want to hug her longer and listen to her stories. At the same time she drives me nuts sometimes. I know she comes from a different time so when she told me as a freshman in college that I needed to find a husband because I was worth gold, I laughed along. But I think deep inside those words did something to me. The next year she told me that I was worth silver so I was still valuable and worthy. The year after that she did not equate me to any metal. I think it was too shameful for her to say. She would only urge me to find a good man, more specifically, a doctor and get married. I didn’t meet her expectations and I wouldn’t for the next 10-plus years after college. In those 10-plus years I have learned a lot about myself, struggled with disappointments, envisioned where I want to go in my life, and cried out to God for direction. I have so much to say to her but our conversations are very short due to our broken communication. Broken because our words get lost in between her Korean and my explanations in English. Often my feelings are too complex to explain in my limited Korean vocabulary.

Now that I’m in a serious relationship my grandma has high hopes that I’ll get married to this man that she has yet to meet. She’s frail and I know it but sometimes I think she is dramatic. She gave me a wedding gift because she thinks she might not make it to my wedding and this saddens me deeply. For some reason a part of me feels guilty that I couldn’t give her what she wanted in her timing. I don’t know why my relationship with her triggers so much emotion and why so much of my identity hangs on what she thinks. Though I laugh when I talk about my grandma and try to brush it off like the words that she says to me are no big deal, I actually think about them a lot.

So I’ve been asking myself why this wedding gift bothers me so much. Maybe it’s my sense of responsibility because in some subtle way I feel like I have to fulfill her expectation to get married and to do it fast. Or maybe I’m just really hurt that my identity has always been attached to being something else, something that I couldn’t be for a long time. I’m not sure if I’m looking for her to tell me that I’m okay just for being me. I’m not sure why I have this complex relationship with her. But I love her. And every time I think about her I think about all the good food she would prepare for me when I would come home from school. I think about her walking me to my bus stop early in the morning and how she held my hand and kept me warm on those walks. She scolded me when I’d pull the sleeves of my sweater over my hands because she said that was not ladylike.

What am I worth? I go back and forth. I would be lying to you if I said that the words people say to me don’t hurt or bother me. I’ve come to realize that there are cultural, generational, and familial expectations that I may not be able to fulfill, but that is okay. There is One who calls me worthy and in Him I have the strength to be patient, to love, and to serve, even when it’s difficult and emotions aren’t translated correctly and when wedding gifts are received way before a date is set. Even when sometimes the people you love drive you crazy.

Hope Lives After Easter

The last night as a freshman in college, my friends and I decided to take a hike in the hills of Orange County. When you’re 19 years old, hiking in the dark seems like a good idea at 1 a.m.

I don’t remember all the details, except that what started out as fun ended with my sweaty hand gripping my friend’s palm for dear life. Tired and scared, I convinced myself that the images I could barely make out in the dark were wild animals waiting to eat us alive. A couple of guys who had confidently said that they had been on the hiking trail before eventually lost their confidence, leaving us with no choice but to walk aimlessly—a group of about eight trying to find our way back to our cars with two dimly lit flashlights. As a college student who always wanted a few more hours to sleep in, I don’t think I had ever wanted to see the sunrise so badly.

The sun rose. When it did, I saw the mountains and hills for what they were. What I believed to be menacing, moving objects were stationary trees and bushes.

Imagination tends to run wild when we’re left in the unknown.

Maybe you have felt like you were wandering in a dark and confusing place with no light and no direction. You know, it’s the illness, the death, the loss, the heartache, the child/house/school/dream you’ve been praying about. It’s the disappointments in life that make you feel alone, scared, and lost because you’re wondering where God is in all of these moments.

A few days ago we celebrated Easter. We celebrated life that conquers death. We celebrated victory over shame, guilt, fear, and hopelessness. There’s a lot of expectation before Easter. There’s the season of Lent so we’re reminded to prepare our hearts and minds for the big day and in case we forget about Lent we’re reminded of Easter with all the pastel wrapped chocolates in grocery stores. There’s all this build up before Easter. But what comes after? I wonder what good there is in observing Lent and celebrating Easter Sunday when we go back home, wake up Monday morning and nothing’s changed in our hearts.

Romans 8:28 reads, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.“
You know what this verse tells me? It tells me that God is in control and he knows what he’s doing. God doesn’t take us through dark places so that we’re stuck on a mountain, living our life in fear, trying to look over our back. God is a caring father. He is the most caring father. He doesn’t want to hurt or harm us. Life happens. Sometimes the periods of darkness may seem longer than others. But hold on. The light will come. Let’s remember that in the big picture, Jesus has conquered all darkness. God had a greater plan and Jesus had a greater vision than anyone could understand. Jesus came to bring hope. He brought the greatest hope of all. He conquered death so that we could be set free.

Hope is not for one day or one season out of the year.

So go ahead and hope. And when you feel like a failure or life has failed you, hope again. The sun will rise.

He already has.

Love Anyway

A couple nights ago a work event led me to my alma mater. This was one of the handful of times that I had ever been to a campus fellowship. You see, in college I was turned off by fellowships because I was turned off by Christians. At 18 I thought that I knew people — and they were all the same. Christians just attended church for social reasons or to make themselves feel better but they didn’t really believe or live out the stuff they were learning. I thought they were all nice because they had to be. It wasn’t a genuine overflow of who they were. And so God became a very old king in my eyes. He ruled the world but he wasn’t really good and he definitely didn’t have any power, because if he was good and powerful, why would people not be living life with more passion and taking his words seriously?

I remember visiting a fellowship with my friend my second year of college, sitting in the back and crying the whole time. I didn’t know how to articulate my feelings but there was a deep emptiness and loneliness inside. I think I was really grieving over God’s smallness in my life. I wanted him to prove me wrong. I wanted him to tell me that he cared about me and that he had power. I wanted him to tell me that he was ruling the world and making things happen — restoring, transforming, healing.

The next year I started to sporadically attend another campus fellowship. A girl in that circle was also in one of my classes. She tried to befriend me by starting conversations and inviting me out to events but I was cold and unfriendly whenever she tried to talk to me. I was afraid that if I became friends with her I would feel obligated to go out to the fellowship every week or that I would get sucked into doing things I didn’t want to do with a group of people I didn’t know. (Yeah, I know, I think way too much. I definitely had to chill out.) So I closed myself off and eventually she stopped talking to me. I look back at the girl I was and I feel so sorry for that student who reached out to me.

So I’m writing all of this to say no matter how people treat you on the surface or how closed off they may be, love them anyway. I was a scared and often depressed college student who may have seemed like I didn’t care about God, but I really did. I just didn’t know how to ask for help or where to turn to. The people you are ministering to, praying for, and serving may seem distant and cold, but love them anyway. I’m sure that girl who tried to talk to me would be shocked that I am now working for a ministry. I mean, I surprise myself too when I think about this, or rather I am surprised by God. God is working. He is real and he is fresh. He knows what he’s doing. We may think we know people, but we don’t. Only God knows the depths of a person’s heart.

Our job is to show grace and love.

Happy Lunar New Year!

In my perfect world I would’ve written an inspiring post on the first of January to kick off the new year. You know, the kind that would make you want to go to the gym every day, finish that Bible reading plan you’ve had for years, take up knitting, be a big brother/sister at a local youth center, and climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But alas, I am not perfect and that wishful, perfect-world blog post was never accomplished if you haven’t noticed already.

But I’m thankful for second chances. Since I’m in Korea and celebrating the Lunar New Year is a big deal (friends have been telling me that it’s like celebrating Thanksgiving + Christmas + Easter) I’m taking this opportunity to celebrate and finally write a New Year post.

So for those of you who don’t believe in second chances, stop that. There are second chances. You may not be exactly where you thought you would be literally or figuratively on January 31, 2014, but don’t lose heart. God is in the business of bringing new life where there is none. So breathe in and out, write a list of goals for the new year and tackle them one by one. Believe that he is creating something new in you this year. After you’ve done that, go eat some rice cakes.

Happy Lunar New Year! 
 

Favorite Things This Winter

It’s been three weeks since I’ve been in Korea. When I first landed it didn’t feel like I had left the U.S. Seoul looked like a cleaner, larger Koreatown. There are some things that I’ve had to get used to, but there are some things that I’ve come to appreciate. Here are a few of my favorite things here in Korea:

1. Heated floors. I must admit that I was afraid of spending my winter in Korea. But I am grateful for heated floors while indoors! I wish I had this back home.

2. Stationery. Nothing beats Korean stationery. You can go into any small, corner stationery store and discover cute pens, pencils, notebooks, and cards. The writing on these items may not always make sense, but we’re looking at cute factor here, not grammar. Even the cheap writing tools write well!

3. Fruits. The last time I was in Korea was 15 years ago. I remember eating a lot of fruit and loving every single bite. This time around is no different. I’ve had the most delicious strawberries and oranges. (Maybe a bit too many oranges being here on Jeju Island. Jeju is known for their oranges and they are everywhere.)

4. Socks. When I was growing up, relatives and family friends would always bring back socks from Korea and I hated wearing them. They were white and had these lines that would make imprints into my skin and had “BYC” or some other Korean brand stamped on the side. I was so embarrassed to wear these. They screamed fob. These days Korean socks are cute and they fit really well. They don’t slip off my feet, which I really appreciate since I find myself taking off my shoes more often here.

5. Pants. I bought a pair of thick pants to keep me warm during my stay. I realized that they not only fit well around my waist, but I don’t have to hem them! Yay! I almost always have to hem my pants because I’m vertically challenged but now that I am in the land of my peoples I find that clothes fit me better.

6. Learning from Korean speakers. I’ve been able to listen to speakers from all over Korea and am grateful for their teaching. Through them I’ve been learning more about what God is doing here in Korea and what he’s done in the past.

Hope you’re experiencing joy wherever you are this winter.