Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thoughts On New Year's Eve

I have seen you, have been you, in your wildest dreams;
your fair look, your features, your subconscious streams
of thought-life and movement and dazzling things
in love-light and moments spent setting these scenes.

Here's a wish: here's a dare. Life is full of extremes.
Here's to song that has spun itself out to its seams.
I have danced to your music and crushed all the leaves
that have dropped down the curtain on seasons, sweet deeds,

and the fist-flying fights that have held in suspense;
I have left them behind, neither pauper nor prince.
I have quieted battles, content to dispense
of the drama and spotlights and sit on the fence.

You require no promise to that or to this;
I have left years in questions without recompense.
It's a grand thing that's coming! I am caught in the midst,
yet I find soft the solace sitting here, present tense.

Monday, December 29, 2008


"Well, it's time to be wise; wise in the ways of the heart. . . ." -Vienna Teng


I have always wanted to be wise. I have always aspired to be astute; to have great maturity; to do what is right above what is easy, and do it with the deepest satisfaction. I know which things are wise in life; I know wise answers.

But is Wisdom really about knowing what is best, or could it be more about doing what is best? Because I know many things that are best; that which I should do to better my heart. I know many things that are satisfactory; those which fill me with good things.

However, does the heart naturally do what is wise? Absolutely not. We have all heard the verse slammed down on any situation of emotional confusion: "The heart is evil above all things!"And sometimes, our hearts condemn themselves, continually pounding: "Evil! Evil! Evil!" when our emotions are confused; when our feelings pull at the threads and peel off the layers on the surface that once conveyed "Established" and "Secure" and "Wise".

I am not disputing that the heart is evil; I am not denying the total depravity of man; but outside (or perhaps it's better said, "inside") the label of "Evil", really the human heart reveals itself as simply ridiculous; the simplest of fools. It may even grow to know Wisdom, contrasted by its own foolishness, and yet it will still slip away into its own ludicrous complications; its own eventual demises. To come out and say that the heart is just plain stupid may actually be saying something, well, wise.

"To do what is right before what is easy":
to both wise and stupid heart, that is a painful thing-- ripping out parts of ourselves that abuse us; constricting things that overwhelm us; sifting out the gritty pieces that rub us raw (or waiting until they have scrubbed us smooth). To do what is right before what is easy: not just to know it; not just to say it; but to do it? This is where hearts are rent and feelings scream; where the stupidity of the heart is tempted to decide that it is better to sink into depression and self-pity, excusing itself by its penitence of self-denial; where hearts tell themselves "I'm just a victim," and find loopholes to return to the comfortable place that soothes the need rather than filling it.

But if the heart will persevere to the completion of the task, to do what is wise beyond the knowledge of its good, there is the actual Good. Knowledge of Good does little to better a person or align our hearts with God's. But the acting out and insistent pursuance of Wisdom and her ways leads our hearts out of their inherent evil and into the manifestation of Good.

To do what is Wise is not self-deprivation left in a sad emptiness of what was. To do what is Wise requires discipline that hews out the harmful that we may be filled with that which gives Fullness of Life. The Spirit of God cannot dwell in a house already full. He says to "Get Wisdom": Wisdom which helps create a clean & open place for His Presence to dwell-- but even more, helps maintain the home that he may come settle in deep; that God may settle and stay.

Get Wisdom.

I want Wisdom, in its truest form: Wisdom that does what it knows & says. I want the bravery to do the things which must be done. Did you know Wisdom takes Courage? Of course it does. I could type out Wisdom and proverbs without ever daring anyone or anything, least of all myself. But to act with Wisdom takes the greatest valour of all.

I want the Wisdom to believe that I am not depriving myself of what I desire; rather, I am desiring what is best, that in the end, I am not deprived.

I long to be heart-wise.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Vision vs. Imagination

"Where there is no vision, the people perish...." Proverbs 29:18

There is a delicate line drawn between Vision and Imagination. It is a line easily smudged and altered; a fraction of a space between what the human heart wants to see and what true Wisdom sees.

There are times we look into a situation, times we peer into another person, and Hope is stirred when it foresees a better outcome, or perceives good inside a darkened circumstance. It's like observing someone behind one-way glass: the person caught behind the glass only sees his reflection thrown back at him and becomes discouraged that all there may be is him and that room and that mirror on the wall. But the person outside the glass knows that it is window, not a mirror, that shows the one inside is surrounded by more than himself; there is a world right there, and yet the one left inside has lack of vision, thus lack of strength, for lack of seeing the (true) big picture.

There are times when God reveals His Vision to see what others may not see; He shows Himself, and shows good, to spur us on to right actions and to encourage those still left behind their one-way glass. There is more, right there! Not less than an inch away from your face: you are part of something bigger, but you can't see past yourself.

And the people who see, and speak what they see beyond what is seen, are called the Visionaries: they perceive, and they speak what they perceive, in hopes to bring a disparaging people along, to lift their heads, and catch the vision for themselves; to be spurred on to good deeds; to "not become weary in doing good, for in the end you will reap a harvest if you do not give up".

Such vision is true and good and honourable. But what if sometimes we are seeing what we want to see? This is where the line is drawn, and it is so carefully held yet so easily crossed. Perhaps sometimes imagination takes the place of vision; perhaps there are instances when our hearts, bent on visions of what is true, good, and honourable, bend so far to peer into a situation that the visionary becomes the creator of a fantasy? If we are honest with ourselves, we may see that we are so impassioned to see good that we naively ignore wrong in pursuit of seeing Hope.

And yes, there is always Hope. No one can blot out the tender lines of Hopefulness that can pull anyone out of the most dire need and press them in the race as though to win, and to run as though it is already won. But visionaries, like myself, also live inside the imaginary. The eye is sharp to see what is not easily seen; to see one glint of light and run with it as it becomes the whole horizon. But discretion is desperately needed to define what is the Spirit of God implanting vision and what is the eager fabrication of a mind so desiring to see Good.

How do we weigh what is vision and what is imagination? A key lies in an aspect no one cares to delve into so deeply: it is what is called 'searching one's heart', or in different terms, disecting one's reasons behind intent. What is the outcome of seeing this 'vision'? Is there any personal motive, even a good one? Will we get anything out of this 'vision' being fulfilled? Or are we pushed to encourage for the sake of seeing God's heart fulfilled; to see another person enlivened; to selflessly back it with a steadfast heart that pursues the vision with a constance and passion that works in a pattern of Righteousness, not a self-derived want of seeing Rightness?

There is nothing wrong with seeing past the glass; seeing someone as more than they see themselves; seeing a circumstance in context of the greater situation; but let there not be confusion between what is man-derived and what is God-given. Though the line is a fine one, there is an enormous space of difference between Discerning Knowledge and Ignorance. Even the most well-meaning heart, working out of love in its entirety, can obvert the circumstance & still peer through the glass darkly.

There is such great Vision to pursue! Let us pray that our own goodness & kindness inside visionary creativity does not become naivety, but that the skill & Wisdom learned inside being visionary presses us to see through God's eyes, cleaning the glass to strongly define Imagination versus Perspicacity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Music

I find music inescapable. It's as haunting as words to me; the words that run their ribbons through my consciousness until I sit down and sculpt something out of them. And sometimes, when paired in music, there's no sculpting involved: sometimes writing music is like taking diction. I could almost promise I'm playing music already written: and I believe it is. If God chooses to use me to voice His song, I'm honoured. Why He chooses me is like someone asking why I choose a certain pen or piano when I write: I can't say why, but they are usually the ones that are readily available, and I know what is right for the task. If my hands are readily waiting & my focus on Him, I know there is a chance that, as I meander through each day, a song may just come of it. I spend a lot of time in thought, and sometimes I think best with my hands on a piano keyboard. My songs come from my own experiences; from observing people; especially from relationships that have built themselves around me & conversations that have filled those spaces; and of course, the “taking of diction” when God seems to decide to have some fun with me and watch me scramble for pen & paper when He drops a song into my mouth.

My heart’s cry is for people; I love observing them, knowing them, and loving them. If my music has one goal, I want to see healing in the tender & vulnerable places of our lives. If my music can enhance a time of reflection or prick a consciousness; if it causes some framework of peace in a moment of the day, then it has done its work. The human heart cries for beauty; for wholeness; for someone to find words that explain them and put their hearts to rest. I don’t know that I accomplish this yet, but if I have one musical & lyrical aim, that is it.

I grew up to music, traveling & singing with my entire family (parents & 6 children) around the East Coast in full-time music ministry. I first sang in public in a hole-in-the-wall coffeehouse in Ocean City, MD when I was 2 years old: the rain was pouring down in torrents outside and many homeless men had come in to stay dry & warm. I don’t remember the moment, but I’m told a baby girl—no taller than 2 feet—was set up on a bar stool, handed a microphone that filled both her chubby hands, her two pig-tails flopping, and allowed to sing the song of her choice: Jesus Loves Me. I’m told it was enough to make the toughest homeless guy in that place break down and cry. I, on the other hand, had no thought but to sing my song for God and then hop down and be done. Since then, I took dance lessons and quickly passed them up (for lack of grace) for piano lessons, then cello. I’d always written poetry since before I could write: I’d recite it against the cold glass of the window, feeling the sticky moisture of my breath on my cheek, hearing those delicious words reverberate back into my ear. And somewhere along the line, the music that I’d sung since a baby started pairing with my well-loved language & songs began to fill notebook after notebook throughout my childhood and teen years.

I am now a 22-year-old musician/poet/music teacher/worship leader and my music has graduated from college rule notebooks & cassette tape recordings to… well, My Documents folders & roughly recorded tracks by people who believe in me and use what they have to get my music at least hear-able. But though my tools may be limited, I don’t believe in letting it limit what God has for me. Besides, nothing could stop the music even if it tried. The only times I’ve felt the gift go slack are the times my heart is slowly distanced from the more intimate proximity to God’s heart. Only He can remove what He gives, and He will if I take it for granted.

So, in short (or rather, long)—this is me. I believe in the power of words; the great & precious tool found in music; in the incredible pairing of the two. But in as much as I believe in the Great & Profound Majesty housed inside them, just as I believe in the Great & Profound personified in God, I also believe in the intensely stirring power of the simplistic. I believe in the miraculous wonder of healing found inside the quietest song. I believe in the most life-changing experiences found in the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit. I believe in stripping away the excess & discovering the sweet, inescapable core of all that we do & are: it’s simply Love, and the heart-wrenching, beautiful Perfect seen in our imperfection when looked on through the eyes of that Love. I believe in that vulnerability. I believe in the stirring inside the stillness. I believe in the uncomplicated.

So that is my music: and for me, each song is custom, like a journal entry; it's an open page to my spirit & what His Spirit is doing. It's me singing the songs I sing when alone; in the turning over of thoughts in my head; in hopes that some vulnerability will open the closed places in hearts that are too afraid to go where I’m attempting to go; a place where I tread softly; a warm, whittling, & coaxing place in the presence of God.

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Where's My Wife?": A Muse on Old Age

"Do you know where my wife is?"
His loud voice startled me.
I shook my head and said I didn't,
afraid that I already did.

He sat in the middle of the hallway,
his shrill whistle made me look again
as he got the attention of the nurses:
"Where's Ima? Where's my wife?"
He grew impatient and urgent.

They glanced at each other warily;
"I just told him two minutes ago."
The whisper made me dread the answer
as he rolled his wheelchair closer,
his grey hair combed neatly, his one leg left missing.
(A war wound? Disease?)
He yelled louder for her still,
and I felt an ache inside.

"I told you," one kindly answered,
leaning over him in his shiny chair,
"she's not here now."
His mind wasn't his own anymore,
and I wondered whose it was.

His heart recalled things
which his mind could not;
but absent as he was,
his Ima was there.
I tried to walk out before
I'd hear what they would say:

"...I told you, honey. Your wife..."
I wanted to cry as I feared they would say,
would have to tell him, again...
" at a doctor's appointment."
I sighed with relief.

I thought he should be relieved too;
she'd be back very soon.
But I heard him yell from behind me,
his every two minutes a panick, booming:
"Where is Ima? Where's my wife?"


I can't imagine what it would feel like, to not remember my life anymore. My memory has been lapsing a bit the last few months and I dislike it. Granted, my memory has been strangely keen throughout my young life, but I've missed it when it drops a piece of information here and there. Passing the gentleman mentioned above at the nursing home last week really gripped me. His memory was gone; yet not completely. And I wanted to cry when I realised his mind had dropped the hows, whys, whens, & wheres... but not the 'who'. I heard in that 30 seconds of conversation between him, me, & the nurses everything I needed to know about him and his wife: they love each other, undyingly. Even when minds slip and bodies fall apart, he didn't forget her. He couldn't. His heart was right where it had been the day he married her. And it would stay that way.

Old age is strange to me. I see deteriorated people, and I constantly have to remind myself that they were young once just like me: with minds that were vibrant & quick, and bodies that were limbre & agile. They never used to repeat themselves over and over, or say odd things that people snicker at. Their hands used to be able to grasp their teacups without a thought, and they could walk hand in hand with the love of their life for miles without thinking how their knees can't take it or how each others' fingers can't intertwine because of too much pain.

I feel unsettled when I see old age. It doesn't scare me, but it just doesn't fit. And I realise, that isn't what was meant to be. God never had it in the plans to let us fall apart in the end. But it's part of the Fall; part of what we brought on ourselves. But I wonder; why do so many fall so hard in the end? And why do some claim it so willingly? Last week, I heard one older lady ask another how she was, and the response was, "Old. I'm old." The other said, "That's what you always say! Don't say that!" to which the second replied: "But I am old. With a body like mine, deteriorating? It's only a matter of time." And I cringed. I could never bring myself to ever think of the end continuously; to speak death over me. Yet some do.

Last week, I was beside a cemetary at a church, and one of the tombstones caught my eye: it was half a tombstone, half a bench. The stone was enscribed with the couple's names, and the names of their 8 living children. It said, something to the extent of, "They lived and laughed and loved; they loved their family. They lived to the fullest and enjoyed every day. So come, sit and enjoy the view and fall in love with your life just as they did when they lived."

Again, I wanted to cry. It was one of the most joyous and hopeful inscriptions, but still, my heart went straight to my life and the end; more, the ends of the lives around me. I don't mind leaving this world so much, but when I think of living it without those I dearly love, I break. (It's the one thought that brings into focus who I care most about, every time.) Yet I know, that even in the end, I want to have lived a life (and lived alongside lives) that have lived to the fullest, spoken life into each other, and aimed to redeem what has been lost. Age will come, its strangeness irreversible, but the Hope inside the Life that does not end with age is something to bring youth, joy, and vibrancy even to the oldest of people. But even though every two minutes might still bring the panick of, "Where's my wife?" I have to learn to see the hidden gladness inside even the heaviest trials: every two minutes, he might get concerned, but every two minutes he gets to smile with the new revelation that she's returning all over again.

I do not look forward to being aged, but I do look forward to the depth of life I will know and the love that I will hold through it all. There will always be something to be discovered, always something to learn, always something to remember, and always something to live for, come what may.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

'Tis The Season

They say things come in seasons.

I'm not sure who "they" are-- those highly elusive "theys" who seem to dictate every adage which pertains to the status quo-- but whoever they are, I think they are right.

As a writer, I definitely have my seasons and stages. I once journalled excessively; then I blogged on the (almost) non-existent Xanga; and then Facebook took over my world and I didn't write page after page, day after day anymore. Somehow, writing "notes" on Facebook just doesn't have the same feel. I somehow find it sterile and less inviting than a page solely devoted to the written word. And so I have written very little there and simply posted poetry.

But just as seasons roll around, fade, and about-face all over again, my want of writing (and wont of writing) has taken its hold of me and urged me the past few days to write faithfully again. And a public audience is exactly the motivation I need. I never realised how much properly blogging really does boost one's writing skills-- or at least maintains it.

So I'm back, with a fresh page. I'll refrain from saying, "I'm not sure how much I'll use this, exactly" because the last time I said such, I proved myself a definite under-estimator of the length & quantity of my writing capabilities. I do plan to write regularly, and keeping up with that will hardly be a problem for me, I'm sure. I'm afraid I'm almost never at a loss for (written) words.

I've been realising a lot of myself is feeling kept up inside, both artistically and expressively. My point in writing here will be to have a purpose to get things out-- much as my old page did, which, by its prompting of writing exercise and the wonderful critiques and encouragement from the readers, inspired me to come up with something each day. And some of us know how many of those posts (by the urging in the comments I received on them) became my first book. So, who knows where this may lead? I'm hoping for something even more. We're coming up on a new year; the days are fading fast; and my mind and heart are quickly weaving their skills together, bringing feelings to thought and thoughts to words. I know this feeling: it's what pushes me to write. It is what says I must, lest I lose these chances and inspirations. So please read, think, comment, and critique. I have much to say and much I want to learn!

'Tis the season to begin again.