Thursday, January 31

an excellent January partly cloudy

Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt, and then shadow sweeps it away. You know you're alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet's roundness arc between your feet.
- another from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I've been staying at my Gramaw's house for a week, helping to take care of her in her last days this side of eternity. She has someone to come out and be with her during the day, so I've been subbing and tutoring some at the school where my Grandad, Dad, Uncle, Aunt, and cousins went to school. I've been doing mostly high school math, which is fun because I get to remember all that math I've forgotten how to do in the past four years of teaching English.

I've always loved coming out here to the cotton farm, mostly because it was when I got to be with my four girl cousins who are more like sisters than cousins. We loved being together so much that they would try to hide from my parents in our car as we left to go back to Abilene. The idea was that they would reveal themselves about halfway home when it would be too late for my parents to drive all the way back. We never really had the courage to make it that far, though. Usually before we got off the dirt roads, one of us would break out in laughter and blow their cover.

Now I still love to come out, to be with family and enjoy the stillness, the cotton fields that go on forever - to the edge of the horizon, at least. From my Gramaw's front porch, you can watch the sunrise every day of the year if you want to and from the back porch, you can watch the sunset. The beauty of West Texas is its simplicity, the nothingness that makes you notice everything. Sometimes I think I could actually see the roundness of the earth as I look out on the horizon.

Tuesday, January 22

facing upstream

Live water heals memories. I look up the creek and here it comes, the future, being borne aloft as on a winding succession of laden trays. You may wake and look from the window and breathe the real air, and say, with satisfaction or with longing, "This is it." But if you look up the creek in any weather, your spirit fills, and you are saying, with an exulting rise of the lungs, "Here it comes!"

Here it comes. In the far distance I can see the concrete bridge where the road crosses the creek. Under that bridge and beyond it the water is flat and silent, blued by distance and stilled by depth. It is so much sky, a fallen shred caught in the cleft of banks. But it pours. The channel here is straight as an arrow; grace itself is an archer. Between the dangling wands of bankside willows, beneath the overarching limbs of tulip, walnut, and Osage orange, I see the creek pour down. It spills toward me streaming over a series of sandstone tiers, down, and down, and down. I feel as though I stand at the foot of an infinitely high staircase, down which some exuberant spirit is flinging tennis ball after tennis ball, eternally, and the one thing I want in the world is a tennis ball.

There must be something wrong with a creekside person who, all things being equal, chooses to face downstream.

(from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard)

Saturday, January 12

so grand and subtle...

After talking with one of my still single cousins today, doing my best to remind both of us that God has not forgotten we're on the face of the earth (and in fact lovingly has us in this specific place and circumstance for a reason), I thought more about things that I'm trying to make sense of. I have been trying to make sense of my life more lately, which has resulted in me being less content, more easily misunderstood and less understanding of others, especially of others who are experiencing what I long for.

I think trying to make sense of my life can be a good thing, as long as I'll follow it through to a point where I am okay with not understanding everything. It's just that getting past the (sometimes bitter or angry) point of "why is it like this?" takes some patience. Patience isn't something I've had a lot of lately, which is funny, because I've had a lot more time on my hands than ever before in my adult life.

I'm a person who loves the adventure of traveling around, seeing new places, revisiting old ones to reconnect. Constancy is good, but it's not a high priority for me. I do, however, need alone time to recharge my introverted side, and when I'm constantly around people, I can get irritated more easily. But after about five months of being a vagabond - staying in other people's houses and going wherever I'm needed or wherever the next thing is happening - I need a place to be mine, to unpack and settle again. That might not come for a few more months (hopefully I'm still dealing with months and not a longer time frame!), but I'll sure be grateful for that space when I can have it again. There's a part of me that won't get to unwind until then.

I am getting to a place, though, in my mind and heart, where I am grateful again for the time I have here. I'm getting to a place where I am happy with my purpose here again, which (like I've probably said before) is actually not different from my purpose overseas anyway. Some people have told me that my recent blogs have been depressing. (I actually thought they've at least ended upbeat.) This reflecting, while not always positive, is leading me and others to a deeper understanding of myself, and I think that's part of the reason I'm here (in this place and in these circumstances) for now. And instead of impatience, I'm going to try to patiently delve deeper into whatever understanding I can get.

A quote from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the Annie Dillard book I'm currently (joyously) wrapped up in:

"God is subtle," Einstein said, "but not malicious." Again, Einstein said that "nature conceals her mystery by means of her essential grandeur, not by her cunning." It could be that God has not absconded, but spread, as our vision and understanding of the universe have spread, to a fabric of spirit and sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of its hem. In making the thick darkness a swaddling band for the sea, God "set bars and doors" and said, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further." But have we come even that far? Have we rowed out to the thick darkness, or are we all playing pinochle in the bottom of the boat?

Thursday, January 10

2007 books

Last January, I put a list up of the books I read the previous year. I said I wanted to read more non-fiction this year, and I did. I thought I'd read less this year, but ended up getting to read more, partly because I've been on an extended trip to the States since August!

So, without further ado (and mostly for my own benefit, not intending to brag), here is the list of books I read in 2007. I put a star by the ones I recommend.


*Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi
(a teacher and her students in Iran)
*River Town – Peter Hessler
(an American teacher’s life in China)
*Wild Swans – Jung Chang
(a Chinese family’s history)
*For the Time Being – Annie Dillard
(her quirky but genius observations on life)
*Same Kind of Different As Me – Ron Hall and Denver Moore
(a homeless man and art dealer’s lives intersect)
Killing Fields Living Fields – Don Cormack
(a missionary’s story of Cambodia, before and after the Khmer Rouge – sometimes dry, but great to understand more of the country)

Spiritual Non-Fiction:

*Clowning in Rome- Henri Nouwen
The One Necessary Thing – Henri Nouwen
The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings Which Followed– William Newton Blair and Bruce F Hunt
For a Testimony – Bruce F Hunt
Deep Impressions - Susan
One Thing – Sam Storms
Through Painted Deserts – Donald Miller
Christian Beliefs – Wayne Grudem
*Knowing God – J.I. Packer
In The Presence of My Enemies – Gracia Burnham
*Eat This Book – Eugene Peterson
*Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret – Howard and Geraldine Taylor
*Red Moon Rising – Pete Greig and Dave Roberts
*Soul Keeping – Howard Baker


The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
(the prosperity and materialism of the Jazz Age)
Ahab’s Wife – Sena Jeter Naslund
(the wife of Captain Ahab, who was briefly mentioned in Moby Dick)
가방 드러주는 아이 – 고정욱
(a longish children’s book; my first real book to read in Korean)
To Swim Across the World – Frances Park and Ginger Park
(based on the lives of the authors’ parents)
*Mutant Message Down Under – Marlo Morgan
(based on the author’s experience with the aborigines of Australia - amazing)
*Life of Pi – Yann Martel
(a zookeeper’s son alone with a tiger in the ocean)
A Map of the World – Jane Hamilton
(a mother is accused of murder and abuse in a small Midwestern town)
The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane
(a young soldier in the Civil War)
Gathering Blue – Lois Lowry
(a young adult novel set in the future, the same author as The Giver)
*A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
(a story of family relationships in Afghanistan over three generations)

Thursday, January 3

Christmas pictures, thoughts

Christmas eve at my Grandmother's house in Austin. This picture (through the window) looks so formal yet warm to me.

The boys in the living room bonding over TV.

My Grandmother's ornament tree showcases these strange, fancy ornaments made my Great Aunt.

The past few Christmases (I think it has been four?) that I have spent in either Korea or China, I have felt nostalgic for home and time together with family. I still appreciated getting to spend Christmas with friends, especially with the new friends I made, and sharing some of my traditions with them. While teaching at the university, we shared the meaning of the holiday and did something special in class near the day. Often on the day, even though we had to give or grade finals, we still marked the day with some sort of festivity and enjoyed it together.

When I was there I missed being here, when I'm here, I miss being there. I didn't realize while I was there how wonderful it is to celebrate with friends in a faraway place. It's wonderful because I got to be with people with whom I shared the real meaning, anticipation, and joy of Christmas. There were a few gifts exchanged, but that was never the focus. We just enjoyed being together, remembering great Christmas memories and creating new ones. The traditions we celebrate here are great, and I enjoyed (and am enjoying) the time spent with family, but sometimes I feel like we're just going through the motions. The tradition I grew up in doesn't usually focus much on the meaning of Christmas because we are supposed to be celebrating it all year long. I hope, though, that in all the traveling, time with family, and gift giving, we can allow this time of the year to be less crazy and more of a time to be re-filled with love and purpose. I don't really know how to do that. I've allowed myself to get frustrated with the way things are compared to the way I think things should be without being a positive contributor to change.

So, I remind myself, as the new year is already almost three days old, that it's a NEW year and even though there are many things I am longing for, there are many good things in the here and now and I will rejoice in the opportunity for change!

I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.
- Through Painted Deserts, Donald Miller


I didn't get any pictures the last time I saw my nephew because it was kinda crazy cooking for Thanksgiving and traveling while they visited Texas. My parents and I came up for the new year, though, and I've had a chance to get one or two photoshoots in.

How can you not be a hit in a hat like this?

He can be a real charmer when he wants to and I think he likes to turn on the charm for the camera especially.