And you’d say…

I know that this isn’t normal. That in a lot of ways maybe I’m not normal. And that “hanging out” with me would mean that you’re not normal.
But what if we had met at Starbucks? Columbus Coffee?
And I was just some guy that smiled at you and said Hi. And I had the guts to say something like:
“My name’s Paul. Can I buy you a coffee?”
And you’d probably say something like,
Umm, I’ve already got one, thanks though.
because we’d be in a coffee shop and what else would you be doing in a coffee shop.
So I’d have to come up with something else to say to salvage the conversation like
Uhh, yeah, I meant, uh… I mean, can I join you? Something real smooth like that.
And you’d say…

Thirty Three

I’ve never been good at answering the question “So, where are you from?” My standard reply includes a hesitation, followed by something like “Well, I’m kind of from Texas.”

Poor kid. Doesn’t even know where he’s from. (Bless his heart, *pat on the head*, etc.)

I grew up here, but I’m not at all from Texas. Texas was just one of a very (very) few locations my dad could be stationed because of his job at the time (another exciting story; ask me about it later). My dad is from Miami and my mom is from South Korea–a little place called Jochiwon in the Chungcheong province, yet she tells everyone ‘Seoul’ which isn’t even close, but you’ve heard of Seoul so it makes things easier.

I’ve been planted, uprooted, and replanted all my life; or so I thought.

A few years back, a friend of mine described me as a potted plant–rooted, yet portable–and the illustration stuck with me ever since. I had spent so much time fearing the idea getting ‘stuck’ somewhere; of being planted in the ground, never to move again for the next fifty years or so. While I’m completely ready to ‘settle down’ as in get married and start a family, I’m not quite so ready to commit to a geographic location (not completely true; I’d totally settle down in NZ).

Meyer Lemon Tree

My potted lemon tree. My parents bought me this tree in March when I moved to Houston.
This was taken in December just before harvest. Well worth the wait!

I’m not much of a gardener, but I love the idea of gardening. Planting a seed into the earth and watching it grow into something beautiful; all while being subject to the forces of nature as there is actually very little you can do to cause your little seed to grow.

I’m talking philosophy, not biology. We till the soil, sow seeds, water. When you’ve done everything you could for your newly planted garden, you just have to wait; it is out of your hands. There isn’t any way around it. But when all conditions are right, the seeds sprout.

It’s the waiting that I love.

It’s tension. I don’t enjoy the feeling of waiting, but I enjoy the results. Results that can be yielded no other way. They are genuine and cannot be faked.

My word, or theme for 2015 is ‘wait’. No where near as exciting as 2014’s ‘love’ at first glance, but, ‘wait’ means tension which is a precursor to action. ‘Wait’ is a finite period of time, even if it is months, years, decades. ‘Wait’ means those tomatoes, or lemons, or roses, or love will be sweeter, juicier, more beautiful if you let things unfold unhurriedly.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” Psalm 130:5

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

Lessons in love

For the past several years, at the beginning of the year I try to ‘listen for’ a word to meditate on throughout the year; sort of like a theme. 2010 was ‘intentional’. 2011 was ‘hope’. 2012 was ‘obey’ (took me a month to accept that one). 2013 was ‘faith’. For 2014 it was ‘love’.

As a not-so-young, single guy, you better believe this caught my attention. ‘Now we’re getting somewhere!’ I thought. Maybe this would be the year?

Doesn’t look like it. Haha.

As 2014 draws to a close I can safely say that I have a whole new understanding of what it means to love; the lessons I learned wasn’t what I was expecting.

Love is Costly

Jesus told a rich, young ruler that he lacked one thing (Jesus; he needed Jesus). His prescription was to sell everything he had, give it to the poor and to follow Him (and he would have treasure in heaven). Everything?

Everything.

I’ve never sold everything I owned. I have sold/given away nearly everything I owned once and it was incredibly freeing. That moment when you realize you don’t have any keys because you have nothing to lock up. You start to see your stuff as just stuff and even your money as just money. I think that makes the early Church’s “and they had everything in common” a lot more possible when we look at it this way. We can focus less on whether to tithe before or after tax and just give to our brothers and sisters who are in need.

Love is Irrational

When it comes to the cost of love, it isn’t about math; it isn’t going to add up. Jesus told a story about a man who found a pearl of great price. This guy went home, sold everything he had so he could buy the land the pearl was on. He found a treasure and did whatever it took to get it. Love is a lot like that. It demands a great price.

I’ve done a lot of foolish things because I was in love. I’m still doing a lot of foolish things because I’m in love. I teeter back and forth on what would be ‘wise’ and I think I’ve got a faulty definition of wisdom. I confuse ‘wise’ and ‘rational’. I am not saying love is irrational, except when it is. There is no reason for the God of the universe to love me, and yet, He does.

Love is Demanding

You can’t ‘sometimes’ love someone; you either do or you don’t. How many times do I have to confess to God that I don’t love Him? I fail at love everyday. Every time I doubt Him my unbelief says “I don’t love you”. Love is demanding—it demands perfection.

Impossible?

Quite impossible. But anything less isn’t love. It’s an imitation intended to fool us into thinking we’re doing alright. Our standard for love is the love God has for his children. While we were still stuck in our sinful nature, His perfect love was shown to us by sending his Son to die on a cross to pay for our sins. The ‘reason for the season’ isn’t a cute, little baby born in a manger—His entrance into this world was the solution. The cause for this season we celebrate is our sin. Our ‘helpless estate’ as the hymnist so aptly put it:

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul!

God’s love for us is so deep, so wide; words fail to describe it. His love is unending. As another hymnist put it:

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
and every man, a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above,
would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky.”

Love Endures

When the excitement is gone. When the newness wears off. When your affections aren’t reciprocated. When any reasonable person would give up; walk out. When you just have to wait (and wait). Love endures.

No safer place

I was going through some old emails and found this letter that I sent to my family and friends while I was in Afghanistan. I’ve never had any real ‘near death’ experiences in my life that I can recall, but this was one of those ‘close calls’ that gave me a chance to really consider what it was that I believed. Looking back, I see this season of my life as an opportunity to grow in my faith and deepen my dependency on Christ to provide for my needs. He is my strength and shield.


May, 2011

Hello friends and family,

This update has been a work in progress. I started jotting things down on paper and on my laptop as they came to me and slowly I’ve been piecing them together into this update. I’ll try to be as detailed yet as brief as possible (for me).

Life here is, well, difficult but I’m starting to have a better attitude about it all. While the thought “what am I doing here?” was a frequent one my first several weeks here, the question has all but gone from my thoughts. Not to say that I have found some “purpose” for being here that is of any significance, I just have more of an assurance that God has not let me wander into anything He hasn’t already prepared for me; that I am here intentionally, for whatever reason that may be. Maybe simply to endure a little hardship. Regardless, I’m not leaving any time soon.

We had two close (close is a relative term; to some people on base it was more than just ‘close’) rocket attacks last week; my first experience. I tried to recall what was going on and what was going through my head as best I could.

Tuesday, May 3, around 8:30pm

As I’m leaving the testing center and heading to the main education center office (just a few feet away) we hear (and feel) a very loud BOOM! Now there are a lot of loud noises around here that we don’t even flinch at any more, unless they are accompanied by the percussive “thud” that you feel in your chest. At first I thought that they had set off another controlled explosion and forgot to give us the warning (or I had missed it). Then I heard a second one, followed by the air raid siren and “Incoming!, Incoming!, Incoming!” As I rushed out the Ed Center, more explosions and I saw a stream of soldiers and airmen running for the bunker. More like sprinting. Then we wait. 30 minutes before we get the “All Clear”.

Friday, May 6, around 8:30pm (again)

Since the last rocket attack I’ve been a bit more jumpy. On Wednesday or Thursday there were a few ground attacks during the day; these I don’t worry to much about because we’re not close to any of the gates or the fence. As I was getting ready to head over to the Ed Center (maybe there’s a pattern here?), I hear the air raid siren go off. I pause, waiting for the instructions that always follow. “Shelter in place” is what I’m expecting to hear, since I hadn’t heard any explosions. “Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!” My heart begins to race as I pick up my body armor, putting it on and locking up the office on my way out the door. The bunker scene is a bit more relaxed, probably because this one wasn’t as close (I didn’t even hear it). We can hear helicopters taking off as we wait. Then planes. Ground attack siren goes off. I still don’t have a clue what was going on, but after about 10 minutes at the bunker they gave the “Shelter in place”, meaning less of an immediate threat. Since we weren’t even IN the bunker (it was full) anyway, we decide to wait it out in the Ed Center (still wearing IBA). Over the next 20 minutes we heard 3 ambulances rush by. More planes. Heavy vehicles. Then, eventually, “All Clear”. We found out later that two people were injured in that attack, just “up the road” from the Education Center.

I’m still trying to process all of that. It’s all certainly put me a bit more on edge, and I sleep with my IBA next to my cot. All in all, I still feel safe here. It’s a big space, and while they have to land somewhere, it’s probably not going to be where I’m at.

“Though Satan should buffet*, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control;
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
and hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

*buffet is a military term meaning ‘to strike repeatedly and violently’.

Life isn’t just a random game of chance. God hasn’t just left us to fend for ourselves as if to say “See you on the other side. Good luck.” As Horatio Spafford wrote in the hymn above, Christ knows and has considered, the helpless state we’re in; His blood wasn’t spilled in vain, nor was it done in a way that was out of His control (as if to say it was the consequence of man’s actions); it was done deliberately, and specifically to save (let every believer say with me) MY soul. If my life was bought with such a high price, I can say with confidence that I won’t be an unexpected visitor when I finally reach Home. That doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed tomorrow, but it does mean I’m guaranteed every day God has set before me, however many that may be.

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:15-16

I could not be in a safer place than right here with God.

Thank you again for your prayers and your e-mails.

Grace and Peace,
Paul