eulogy

My father died three days ago, and it seems so soon to reflect on his life and the contributions he has made into my life; yet it is a testament to the parent he was to me that I feel compelled to share what he bequeathed to me. The only way to keep anything is to give it away, and by sharing what he has given me I hope it will live on in your hearts and my own.

Three years ago, my beautiful son was born and I began to understand the weight of responsibility associated with being a parent. There are joys and sorrows in raising a child, and if you truly care about the child, you likely will find yourself questioning every single decision you make. I cannot say I agree with every decision he made or every opinion he held, but the essence of a person comprises more than that. One of my favorite authors, Bob Goff, wrote that every time he asks God about his opinions, God asks him about his heart. “We won’t be remembered for what we said but how available we were,” he wrote.

My father was the best person I knew, and it is precisely because of the love and generosity I experienced from him. The investment he made in my life fueled everything about the way I live my life now, and because of how available he made himself to me, I understand the importance of being present than being perfect.

As soon as I comprehended the span of 54 years between us, I dreaded the day of his death. I imagined, not illegitimately, that he could die when I was ten, or fifteen, or twenty. I count it a gift that I have in fact had twenty-six years of relationship with my father, and despite the typical highs and lows inherent with the transitional teenage years and becoming an adult, each year has been marked with my unequivocal knowledge that I was loved.

This love was validated in verbal expressions, but conveyed most clearly in the generosity of time, energy, and affection he showed in his sacrificial emotional availability to me. He was the best listener I’ve ever met. After a heavy workday, when he must have wanted nothing else than to kick back and relax, he would come to my bedroom and listen to me for hours every night. He cared so deeply he actually cried with me when I found out a boy I was interested in was dating someone else. It was a fanciful infatuation, but he knew what it meant to me and understood my pain enough to be present with me in that moment. He actively expressed his love to me until the day he died. Though I would rather him still be with us, I cannot question his devotion.

He was quiet, notoriously being unable to talk for two minutes straight; but it wasn’t out of a lack of engagement. He was observant and intuitive, and consistently supportive and involved in my activities and interests. He was a reliably steady force in my life, and I can truly say any commitment he made to me he always followed through. I will always remember him joining me behind the piano, tapping his foot to the beat. I will always remember lazy Sunday afternoons watch (and falling asleep to) golf tournaments. I will never forget his quirky grin as he sang about LSD in Muskogee.

It still is so hard to accept he is gone, to have watched his breathing slow and eventually stop. What I keep of him still is intangible, but very real, and I share with you: the memories, the love, the lessons, an embodiment of the qualities I want to characterize my life.

Dad, I love you more than you could ever know, and I’m endlessly grateful for all you were to me. I hope my son is half the man you were. I hope he will see you in me. I love you.

home

the concept of home is so evocative. a bright yellow bridge hung over three merging rivers. grey clouds over winding highways blending brokenness and truth. dry farmland for miles of loneliness. palm trees, golden sand and promises of impossible dreams. quiet anonymity amidst the noise.

los angeles is beautiful. i will miss the mountains, the ocean, the sun. but if these four years of wandering have taught me anything, i have learned that home is only meaningful if your heart is there. and today, i am coming home.

renée

it’s like forgetting the words to your favorite song
you can’t believe it; you were always singing along.
it was so easy and the words so sweet.
you can’t remember; you try to feel the beat.

you spend half of your life trying to fall behind.
you’re using your headphones to drown out your mind.
it was so easy and the words so sweet.
you can’t remember; you try to move your feet.1

in six weeks, a dream that has been four years in the making will finally be realized. this story is almost over. i am almost a college graduate. the changes that have occurred during this time feel thorough and all-encompassing, while i remain inherently myself. i am the same, yet completely remaderenée2.

my Redeemer specializes in healing broken people. He finds beauty in unlikely places. with Him, bruised reeds aren’t broken, and flickering flames are not quenched3. and i was flickering.

i used to believe faith was something i had to manufacture to earn God’s favor4. i objectified my own body5, believing its power was irresistible6. i thought i was responsible for the sin of others7.

even as i was told Jesus wanted a personal relationship with me, i imagined my parents had special intimacy with God that i could never attain. i disavowed prosperity gospel, not realizing that my view of God should be subject to my knowledge and faith in Him rather than my circumstances.

i am not ashamed to renounce these beliefs. i easily assent to them with peers, colleagues, strangers. but surrounded by those who knew me before, i have seen a tendency within myself to disassociate with them in an attempt to protect myself from their criticism.

the truth is, i am different now. i wear tank tops when it’s hot out. i listen to rock music. i use strong language sometimes. occasionally, i drink alcoholic beverages with my husband. i am learning what it means to no longer try to earn God’s favor by what i do or how i look.

in the future, my life will probably look different still. i might get a tattoo. i might send my kids to public school. i might vote for a democrat. i’ll probably have a career. and i’m going to wear clothes that make me feel confident, comfortable and yes, sexy.

i say none of this in an attempt to be shocking or antagonistic. i am grateful for much of my upbringing. i cling wholeheartedly and only to Christ. but to pacify others, i have been hiding behind a veil of hypocrisy and i am done with that. i will be authentic.

Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.8" after tasting freedom, there is no way i can go back to the bondage of legalism. the Son has set me free, and i am free indeed9. and so grateful.

love

i know looking back at this time
i can’t believe just how i felt for so long
so now i’m gonna walk around and look out for some new hope
and i won’t care if you fall down at my feet

but if i hold on, hold on
i just might make it;
if i keep strong, keep strong
there’s nothing wrong when i’m

here in the dark—
this is who i am.
there may be fear in this heart
but this is who i am
so i don’t need you to be the one who saves me
when all you do is push and break me
you’ll not lay me down, my love.1

my baca, the weeping willows, have not completely disappeared with august, but “there is grace2" and with past grace, there is future hope.

until time had distanced a bit, i hadn’t realized the valley i’d been in spiritually over the summer. my desperate need for pacification, to be lead toward the lie that i am good, that i am noble, that i need not redemption, save the one invented of my own clay…3 i interpreted every negative event through the lens of God’s judgement and disapproval and felt incredibly distanced from Him, abandoned by Him.

i never used to think of God as humble—it’s strange to think of Christ as humble—but humility is the only way to describe the lowliness with which He stooped down to me in my despicable condition, ignoring Him, pushing Him away, accusing Him of violating His own character and entertaining thoughts about God that were completely unworthy of Him.4

lewis, in his problem of pain, explains that when we say that God is good, we almost always mean his kindness; and by kindness we don’t mean much more than his prodigal benevolence that simply wants everyone to have a nice time. the more i read, the more ashamed i became of my own arrogance. because life wasn’t being as pleasant as i expected it to be, i was doubting His love. what a small view of God!

"since i have reason to believe nevertheless, that God is Love, i conclude that my conception of love needs correction.5

he writes, “if God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness; and it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt.” [emphasis mine.] how life-changing is this grace! in asking for heaven on earth, i was asking not for more love, but for less—”the LORD reproves him whom he loves!6" how could i have forgotten?

i wanted a loving God. how loving He is! and how good.

i cigni cantano dolcemente.


hello, august

hello, august.

since january, i have been taking one picture each day. it is now august. when i began, i had no plans of coming to here. i simply wanted to document the year because i have seen the unexpected ways i’ve been led and i didn’t want a moment to slip away.

there are incongruent lines in my story, and as i reflect over the places these seven months have brought me, i try to make sense of it all and understand why i was here, what my purpose was in this place at this time.

japan had never previously sparked my interest. i never wanted to be a teacher. my motivations for coming were superficial, perhaps even existential: i didn’t want to revert to tradition; i didn’t have an apartment in california; i wanted to experience another culture.

being unable to think of any reasons not to come, i came expecting God to effect His own intentions for the circumstances he arranged. in everything He does, He does ten thousand things so i have been searching…but not finding.

my perception of God has grown dim and made it harder for me to see Him. He has promised not to forsake His children, and yet my sense of abandonment and neglect is deep. i have begun to think of Him as an unloving, detached God.

this is not true, of course; He is remembers me. He is deeply involved. He loves me. but for now these are only recited words to convince myself of a truth that feels fabricated and unreal because of recent experiences. truth is absolute, but my sense of it has become fluid and i feel lost.

there has been a disconnect between what i’ve been taught—that God is the most loving of all beings and that loving and worshipping Him despite opposition is worth the cost—and the reality that has been subjected upon me. cognitive dissonance.

in the core of my being, i cherish the gospel with every fiber of my being. but the minute details of it and practical applications present a dichotic impostor for the true Messiah which has been disillusioning and crushing.

God is love, and whoever loves has been born of God because God is love. so doubtlessly, my mission is to love. my specific purpose is less clear, and muddied with conflicts of interest. i am hurt because one of my greatest passions and joys has been snatched away. i am forced away from simplicity and a better answer is demanded of me.

maybe the point of it all is faith. maybe i won’t know the end until the final page has been written. maybe He is teaching me to listen more. i enjoyed being uncomfortable. i loved the people. i effectively observed and clearly critiqued. i learned about humble leadership. i became a better communicator. but i don’t understand how this fits into the greater narrative.

my unbelief bleeds through: my love must still be imperfect because i am afraid. i am afraid this is as good as it gets. my view of God is stunted because i can’t imagine Him gracing me with any other stretching experiences or fixing my broken pieces into anything usable.

the fact that i am still a violinist confuses me. i don’t understand why He has brought me three years through a program i don’t enjoy and is asking for yet another. the fact that relationships are dissolving makes me question whether i truly understand His nature. He didn’t come to bring peace on earth1, but He did require justice, kindness, humility,2 He did preach love to the least of these3, did He not?

my instinctive response is to cut ties. it seems practiced, though it was never intentionalーi left self-sufficiency; i left pittsburgh; i left syracuse; i left texas; i left america; and now i’m about to leave japan. i have remained personally invested in costly relationships even from a distance and i’m not sure i have the endurance to continue, though grace beckons me to persevere.

Jesus invites me to come and have faith in Himself, not in His people; but when His people inflict unanticipated, unreasonable heartbreak it is easy to conclude that He is just like them, when He is actually far more loving than i ever suspected, or than His image-bearers ever projected.

thinking about how undeserving i was of His mercy and the costly grace of His sacrifice on the cross, i know He loved and loves still. He is not unkind. He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness even when i do not.

what if it was all a gift? when i first arrived, i called it my canaan. it seems selfish but if it’s true that He intimately knows me, loves me, and is intricately working to shape my life into conformity to His will, it doesn’t seem too ostentatious to wonder if it was all just an expression of His love, an attempt to confirm and sustain me when i needed it most. maybe He is not unloving.

i have a million questions, and countless more needs. if there were ever a time i needed Christ, it is now. the truth is, He is loving. He is kind. there is hope for my future. He has promised. and while i don’t currently have the faith to believe it, this is also a gift awaiting me that He will provide if i wait expectantly for Him.

ma per ora, i salici piangono.


grace

“i see Him, but not now; i behold Him, but not near.”1

some people hate the rain. the dreary grayness depresses them and their spirits match the weather until the clouds finally break and the sun reappears. i have nothing against sunny days, but rain and fog are intrinsically beautiful to me in ways blue skies simply cannot compete. behind the veil is a promise, a sense of hope hiding just beyond the cloud cover: what you see is not forever, is not even an accurate depiction of reality—the sun, in fact, still exists.

it’s the rainy season here, and yesterday as i was leaving the school, i was overwhelmed with the beauty of the fog in the mountains. it seemed to embody the confusion and lostness i’ve felt in my own heart lately. what has brought me here? where is God? who am i?

of course, i know the answers to these questions; but it’s easy to lose sight of them in the process of sanctification and maturation which faith brings. so today, i took a walk to beautiful 浜の町, drank 抹茶, listened to amazing grace, and remembered.

it was His grace that rescued me from myself, that opened my eyes to see Him and liberated me to walk in the light of the gospel. it was not accomplished by my own efforts to keep the law or to conform to some outward standard of righteousness, but through the gift of faith i received from His hand.

“‘twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

it is a paradoxical gospel, in which all i do to qualify is to admit i don’t. through this gospel i learn that mercy triumphs over judgment; that Jesus is more satisfying than anything this world could offer; and that my relationship with Him is prioritized over all else. He is Emmanuel: God with me.

so who am i? i don’t know—i am hid in Christ. where is God? He is with me. and what has brought me here? “‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead home.” each day brings me closer, perhaps not to the earthly home i yearn for, but definitely to the place of eternal rest, refuge within the God of love.

“we’ve no less days to sing His praise than when we’d first begun.”

japan

next week, i will board a plane to japan.

it seems like i’ve been doing that a lot lately. a few weeks ago, i flew home to see my family over easter break. once finals were over, i joined my school’s choir and orchestra on a flight to atlanta for our concert tour of the southeastern states. and now in a matter of days, i’ll be flying to japan.

maybe i’m trying to convince myself that it’s real. i never thought i could say those words and mean them, but they are true and it’s such an exciting reality. i’ll be interning with guy healy, japan developing an english curriculum for a new program called english for the next generation (eng). i can’t wait.

"the world is a big place and i like to think we bring death to distance."1 everywhere i go, my understanding of God’s grace expands and i see more facets of His glory. i can’t think of a better way to spend my summer.

what are you waiting for? the day is gone.
i said i’m waiting for dawn
what are you aiming for out here alone?
i said i’m aiming for home2

integrity

somehow in the past three years, i have grown increasingly disillusioned with music. maybe i always have been to one degree or another, but i had a meeting with one of my professors that really accentuated my disbelief in the power of music.

even as a freshman, i never wanted a job in an orchestra. from my perspective, orchestras were breeding grounds for apathetic musicians to mask their imperfections in a co-op of sorts where they could take turns covering for each other.

orchestras ideally are united artists who together create excellent, harmonious music and bring beethoven’s fifth to life; they rip your heart out, purify you, and put you back together, sending you home a little better than you were walking into the concert hall.

granted, i’m not in juilliard and i haven’t played with many exceptional musicians but from a very young age, i’ve had a huge aversion to playing in ensembles where even professional musicians have said, “yeah, if we can’t get the notes we just fake it.” (true story.)

the friends of mine who still believe in classical music would tell me that this doesn’t happen in the great orchestras—take orpheus or the berlin philharmonic for example—but really! to land a job like that, i’d have to be the next hilary hahn.

as my dislike for classical music has grown, i haven’t spurned music completely: i turned to alternative, folk, and electronic—anything i could listen to without imagining myself playing it. i looked for untrained voices, simple harmonies, and anything without violin.

regrettably, even this has become distasteful to me. i’ve seen cheap vocals hired just to sing to a click track and be mercilessly auto-tuned and edited to perfection. try as i might to avoid the question, i am forced to ask: where has the integrity of music gone?

pablo casals once said, “in bach’s time everybody played out of tune. the spirit is more important than wrong notes.”1 during a recording session once, his recording engineer asked him for another take for intonation. “but that’s how i played it!” he responded.2

maybe i’m just tired. i’m tired of competing for the superficial applause of the crowd; i’m tired of pretending to play the notes in orchestra; i’m tired of editing audio clips; and i’m tired of practicing.

i’m tired of listening to schumann and rossini and vivaldi just so i can absorb a bit of the style and play better. i’m tired of the compulsory enjoyment i’m supposed to have in this. i love bach. i love lazarus. that’s about all right now, honestly.

but i’m a violin performance major. now that’s ironic. after such sentiments about music, my degree program becomes a bit irrelevant, eh? my core beliefs are still the same: i exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. it might just look different than it did a few years ago…

california

california is beautiful. i love being immersed in new environments, and detecting slight differences in environments and cultures i might not otherwise get to enjoy. the best way to describe california is free. i noticed it almost the moment the plane landed, this freedom from inhibition and liberty to be yourself.

they walk down the street barefoot.

i’m not really sure what they do with their shoes—if they never put them on, or if they just get tired of them by midday, but i have to fight involuntary giggles when i see them sometimes.

lots of times, they’re barefoot skateboarding, too. it’s awesome to watch; it’s a regular art, with all the leaning and riding the inclines and whatnot. and they get so embarrassed when they fall off, too, like it actually reflects their character or something.

they wear whatever they like to wear, absolutely whenever. i’m not really sure anything is in style here ever. everyone just wears whatever suits them. maybe that’s america and not just california in general, but i’m pretty sure half of them just walked off the beach before class.

i love it. i love how unafraid they are of being true to who they are. it’s a beautiful concrete reminder of what true freedom looks like…like when the Son sets us free, which is the only time we’ll be free indeed.

paradox

certainly wrung. possibly broken. the truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows1, who was certainly wrung, definitely broken for us. c. s. lewis says that “to love at all is to be vulnerable. love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.”2 how selflessly He gave of Himself, being wrung and broken for us. but to take this for ourselves, to personalize, embrace, and let it beat through our hearts is a tragically beautiful thing. “life is a lot of things. our hearts are heavy and light.”3 like paul’s “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”4, anyone who feels understands this paradox.

the truth is, this is life and you are living. i’m glad. i’m glad to be living, and i’m glad you’re alive. i am wrung and i am broken for you, because i love you. imperfectly, but truly. And there is One who loves you more, who lived love by laying down his life for you.5 this is, as jamie says,6 an attempt to move you. your story is important. your life matters. you are not the only one who hurts. you are not the only one with questions. you are not the only one who dreams. you are not alone. we are all people in need—people in need of other people. hope is real and help is possible because of Jesus.