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Humbled by Hyunjin: “Today Also is a Gift”

smiling family

We did it! Hyunjin said, beaming.

Atop the empty grandstand, amid dust kicked up by the Massey hauling plow for the rodeo that night, Hyunjin slapped me one exultant high five.

Why?

Because with 30 minutes of a month to spare, he- we actually- finished HELLO UNIVERSE.

For the record, I don’t recommend HELLO UNIVERSE. The universe with its bright crystals and stars are gods. But it’s a book I’m glad I read because it gave me precious side-by-side time with Hyunjin.

Mother and son holding book
Top row of the grandstand. And, DONE!

The young-adult fiction was assigned by Hyunjin’s English teacher in Korea. With 320 pages, it was Hyunjin’s daunting summer read.

But heaviness  turned to joy in the top row of the grandstand.

Joys Doubled, Twice

Two years ago today, I posted about Kibum. I told you how our joys were doubled and our hearts were wrung by our first Korean exchange son. Wet eyes still come when I think about Kibum. Now they also come reliving the month with Hyunjin.

Which brings me to one of those sweet memories. Most nights before bed, I’d check in with Hyunjin about the next day’s events. That was the drill. So I walked into his room, calendar in hand.

Nine days left, I said.

Nine days? he repeated with urgency and scrambled for paper and pen. Then he did some long division: 238 divided by 9.

Oh! 31 pages, he exclaimed, eyebrows high.

Then I got it. He had nine days to finish an epic-long book written in a foreign language and he had barely begun. I knew what I had to do.

I read with you each day, okay Hyunjin? We sit together and read. We will get it done.

He smiled and sighed and for the last nine days, we did. We sat side by side on the sofa and read. And he taught me snake is pem and cat is goyang-i and I taught him that Prank is different from Frank and Birgil is not how we say Virgil. We learned and laughed.

And it was all joy.

Joy Shared, Joy Doubled

I’ve learned this pretty well, but sometimes I slip back into thinking I’ll be happier if I keep my little joys private. But I know better. Remember, love seeks not its own. Joy shared isn’t halved, it’s doubled!

Three smiling boys hiking trail.

Seeing our humdrum lives through Hyunjin’s fresh eyes proved it again: Joy shared is joy doubled.

Hyunjin helped us enjoy common things more: round-robin basketball in the driveway, dashing around in the van (sans flat tires), meals together, after breakfast reading and then turtle feeding, after lunch chess and playing with goyang-i, after dinner Monopoly Deal or even better slap-jack with dad.

In four weeks the boys played more chess, solved more cubes, took more bike rides and we all rolled our eyes at goofy-sounding words and our Korean mispronunciations and laughed more than in the whole year before.

There were more visits with family and friends and more lingering after dinner and, I admit, probably more home-cooked dishes than the other 11 months of the year.

boys playing basketballTo be sure, there was also more junk food in the bedrooms, more Dude Perfect flips, more multi-player video Brawl Stars and more goofy talk.

(Hyun-Jin, you know what we call that in America? Gabe would ask Hyunjin. Gooch. To mix it up, sometimes he’d say, equally ad nauseam by week three, Saucy.)

Go ahead, roll your eyes. Sometimes good friends do.

True Friendship

Hyunjin, like Kibum, brought out our best and smoothed out our worst. I like to think we grew a little more gentle and courteous last month too. Maybe we became a slightly less American and a slightly more Korean?

boys and cat in basketWe do miss Hyunjin. But there’s one more thing I miss: I miss what we were when he was with us. Hyunjin brought out something in each of us that wasn’t expressed fully without him.

C.S. Lewis writes about that in The Four Loves. He describes the way he missed his friend Charles Williams, and how that one friend changed the “dynamics” of the group of friends called the “Inklings.

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth…They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.”

Adding One Multiplies

Adding Hyunjin to our family didn’t divide our love. His presence multiplied it. 

Boys playing chessHyunjin brought out sides of Sam and Gabe that only a middle brother like Hyunjin could bring out.

Gabe cracked more and sometimes funny “Gucci-gooch” jokes and Sam played hard for chess Grandmaster. Hyunjin won the last game they played, for a 7-6 series lead. Sam says, “He’s lucky.” Gabe says, “gooch.”

Hyunjin also brought out fun sides of Jim I don’t get to see so much and, I suppose, more gentle, domestic sides of me.

His fresh kind eyes brought out our best and reminded us of the gift of each day.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we say. We ventured, we gained. We opened our hearts and home, and- you’ve loved- you know what comes.

C.S. Lewis again, from The Four Loves, 

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

Kamsahamnida, 현진. (Thank you, Hyunjin.)

So fast. Our days together went slow but the month went by fast.

Not too fast though. God’s timing is perfect and our times are in His hands. It’s like that Hangul printed artwork you made for us, and explained when I asked you what it said that it’s kind of hard to translate, but what it means is, Today also is a gift. mom and two sons with Bucky Badger

So kamsahamnida, Hyunjin. Thank you. Thank you for bringing out our best and doubling our joy as a son and brother and friend. Thank you for opening your courteous, gentle, Korean heart to us oft-times wild and willful Wallaces. Thank you for being so kind that your absence left a hole in our hearts. You humbled us in the best of ways.

And I’m really glad we read that book together, about crystals and stars and Virgil and Valencia and the pem. But the universe deserves no thanks for bringing us together.

The Master of the Universe and Giver of all good gifts absolutely does. Because he brought you to us last month. So kamsahamnida, Lord, for Hyunjin.

And thank you,현진, for reminding us Over and over that Today also is a gift.

today also is a gift Korean art
“Today Also is a Gift”  Hangul art from Hyunjin.
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Why I Pray about Little Things, even Dirty Dishes

Dishwasher open
Answered little-thing prayer.

Should we bother to pray about the little things? You know, for lost cats and clear skies and skinned knees?

Why should we pray for things that don’t seem to have a tight connection to spiritual growth, which we know is our greatest goal. Because, after all, great praying saints like Paul prayed far more for big things like inner strength than for relief from little circumstantial things.

So why would we pray for little things like broken dishwashers and dirty dishes?

Dirty Dishes

The party was over, the guests had gone home. The table was cleared and the counters were clean. And the dishwasher was filled to the gill with table service for 13.

But then, at 10:45 Friday night, with a rinse barely long enough to loosen shreds of beef and traces of greens, it stopped. A red OE showed up and it did its little dingy thing and five minutes into the cycle it quit. Barely into its fourth run, our brand new dishwasher was done.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

Well, I read the owner’s manual. OE, it said, means “Not Draining Error.” So I opened the door and, sure enough, gray water surrounded the drain.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

Troubleshooting

Rinse the filter was the obvious first step. But the stagnant pool remained. So it wouldn’t wash because it it wouldn’t drain.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

I read the next steps: Clean the disposal or air gap. Inspect the drain hoses for kinks. I sighed. We have no disposal and where’s the air gap? And how would an out-of-sight hose suddenly kink?

Still, I turned the kitchen sink faucet off and on and on and off and swished the dirty dishwasher for good measure. Then I closed the door and pressed start, again. It didn’t.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

Hon? I called to Jim, The dishwasher won’t drain. I know you can fix it. Will you please try? By now it was after 11. I trusted my handyman husband, and I went to bed.

Still Dirty

Morning broke bright but the dishes were still dirty and gray water was still undrained.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

I hurried out for my jog before a track meet that would mean a full day away. When we got home, I beelined to the dishwasher. But I knew- the nose knows- even before I opened the door that Jim couldn’t fix it.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

He got home and after we ate, I unleashed my best pep talk: You can fix anything, Hon. You’re so good at figuring these things out. Can you please try again?

What’s a Girl to Do?

But Jim was weary- he had a lot on his plate. More, in fact, than those ripening in the dishwasher: a broken kitchen sink faucet he’d already replaced twice this month, an air conditioner that wouldn’t cool, and plugged gutters to boot.

He sighed and opened the manual, again. Then he took out the filter, again. And sighed, again- and walked away. I did those dinner dishes by hand.

After all, what’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

The smell of the that load filled the kitchen each time the door was opened. And I knew these greasy old dishes were truly small potatoes. But it sure would be a gift this new dishwasher of ours could make them clean.

Then I knew- what a girl’s to do when the dishwasher won’t wash.

I Called

Pray.

Jim was sitting at the table sorting through his mail and the boys were already in bed when I walked over. Hon, I announced, I think we need to pray.

So pray we did. Father God, would you please help Jim figure this out? Would you please give him insight to drain that water so the dishes can get washed? Please open his eyes to see what’s wrong. And we’ll give you all the thanks and all the glory. Amen.

Then I went to bed with a broken dishwasher full of dirty, stinking dishes.

He Answered

I started the coffee Sunday morning, then walked three steps to the dishwasher. I winced as I pulled open the dishwasher.

The dishes were clean. The water was drained. God had fixed the dishwasher. And I had never been happier to unload a dishwasher.

How the Dishes got Washed

So that’s how the dishes got washed. I prayed, God answered. In a way the details don’t matter, but in a way they do. God fixed it. But he did so by answering my prayer, by giving Jim insight late Saturday night.

Turns out that the drain stop in the kitchen sink needs to be lifted to run this new dishwasher. If it’s down, the water won’t drain and in seconds the dishwasher quits. Jim was just poking around and, on a lark, pulled up the drain stop in the little sink. And that was the fix.

But, would God have done it anyway? I mean, if I hadn’t prayed on Saturday night, would Jim have had the insight to lift the drain in the little left side sink? Maybe. Or would we have paid a repairman to tell us to lift the drain stop sinks full of dishes later? We’ll never know.

But I do know I’m glad I prayed for this little thing.

Steering Wheel Or Spare Tire?

I do know that, once again, I called, he answered, and my strength of soul he increased (Psalm 138:3). I do know that I called to him in the night of trouble, and he delivered me(Psalm 51:15). And I know I will cast my cares on him because he really does care for me (1 Peter 5:7).

So now I ask again: Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire? I mean, are your hands on it always- even in little broken dishwasher troubles- or only when you’re stuck with a flat on the side of the road?

Can you think of anything that is big to God?

So why again, do I pray for little things?

A woman once approached the British preacher G. Campbell Morgan and asked, “Do you think we should pray for even the little things in our lives, or just the big things?” He answered, “Madam, can you think of anything in your life that is big to God?”

That’s answer #1. Because really is there any truly “big” thing with God? With the God who spoke and the worlds came to be, for whom the nations are like a drop in the bucket, who enabled a virgin to conceive?

Now here are reasons #2 and #3- We pray for “even the little things” because it opens us up to a double grace. God gets the glory and thanks, because the giver gets the glory. And, we get the joy of feeling as if we had a role in it. God instituted prayer, Pascal said, in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.

(Not) Impossible, So Pray

God gets us into impossible situations- situations we can’t fix by ourselves- take Abraham and Sarah, or the Exodus from Egypt, or Elisha surrounded by the enemy, even little things like dishwashers that won’t drain- to display his power and goodness. In other words, to reveal his glory.

So pray. Pray, pray, pray, pray. For big things and little things, pray. For his glory. And because our God cares about little things.

Because just maybe, to Him, all things are little things. And because He is able.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

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A Pathway to Health: Have you had your nature fix today?

What’s your secret? How do you stay so healthy? my friend asked, noting I hadn’t been sick all winter.

Ooh. Right into my wheelhouse. Because health and fitness are some of my favorite topics and I do have a few secrets. None of which, incidentally, involve dietary supplements, protein powder or organic juicing; some of which involve intermittent fasting, everyday friendship, and every other day push-ups.

And since today is my “golden birthday” -44 on 4/4- I’ll take full advantage to tell you one of my “secrets.” One the pathways to the good health I’ve enjoyed to this ripe old middle age.

But before I do, I must give credit where credit is due.

All Grace

Because the first and last word on health has got to be grace.

It is in Him we live and move and have our being. Because He is our life and the length of our days. And His word has given us life. (Acts 17:28, Deuteronomy 30:20, Psalm 119:50)

Any measure of health is a gift from God.

Because the LORD forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases, redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies me with good so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:3-4).

Means To Health

Not to guarantee it, but to go to places where God’s grace flows. You’re more likely to get sunshine on Sanibel Island than in Seattle. God has revealed certain channels through which he regularly pours out his favor, David Mathis writes. And we’re foolish not to take his word on it.

Just like we can’t force electricity or water to flow our direction, we can’t force health. But God has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open and trails to hike. Pathways to power, water and health should he send them.

Mathis explains,

Our God is lavish in his grace, often liberally dispensing his favor without even the least bit of cooperation and preparation on our part. But he also has his regular channels. And we can routinely avail ourselves of these revealed paths of blessing, or neglect them to our detriment.

Health is a blessing. And going outside avails us of that blessing.

The Secret: Vitamin Sea (or just a walk around the block)

Physical health and spiritual health are closely intertwined. Very closely. A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22).

So when I talk about this secret to health, I am talking about both. This pathway is a means to spiritual and physical health.

Have you been outside today?” is subtitled, “The Spiritual cost of Isolation from Creation.” In it, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris hail the spiritual benefits of basking in the great outdoors.

Hear them make the case in the rest of this post.

Have you had your nature fix today?

One of the defining features of God’s Word is how often it points us to God’s world.Much of Scripture, in fact, assumes a level of understanding about nature. So, it would seem, if we fail to go outdoors, if we fail to experience and engage in God’s creation, our faith could suffer.

Nearly every book of the Bible is bursting with references to creation, chronicling in soaring prose the making of the universe, identifying God’s covenant promise with colors in the sky, and inviting us to gaze with Father Abraham at the starry hosts, where an even greater promise was written.

The psalmist compares the longing of his soul for God with the thirst of a deer running to water, fully expecting his readers to get the word picture! He sings of the heavens’ divine declaration, he praises the Lord for making mankind ruler of “all flocks and herds…animals of the wild…birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea…”

John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris

The Birds And Beasts Will Teach You

“Ask the beasts, and they will teach you,” exclaims Job, “the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

The Bible at length promises that the consummation of history, like its beginning, will take place in a garden-city atop a mountain, with a river of life and trees whose leaves are to heal the nations….

Faced with this forest of references, it’s hard to see how someone who never spends time outside could fully grasp things the Scripture wants us to. Today, the benefits of modern technology have effectively cut us off from the natural world and the general revelation of God that it offers, perhaps more than ever before in history.

John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris

Go Outside!

There are costs to this insulation. Last May, the Washington Post reported that children today spend less time in unstructured outdoor play than any prior generation which, research indicates, results in worse school performance, less creativity, higher levels of obesity, fewer friends, and increased rates of depression and hyperactivity. Even more critically, the world kids experience today bears little resemblance to the backdrop of the Bible.

Writing at The Gospel Coalition, Scott Martin calls this modern isolation from creation not only physically, but spiritually dangerous. Citing studies demonstrating how time in nature reshapes our brains, he suggests that our manmade worlds of concrete and climate control rob us not only of the practical vocabulary to understand Scripture, but actually make unbelief easier.

Thankfully, there’s a simple solution: Go outside!

John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris

Path To Life

Now I realize I’m a privileged, living in the SE Wisconsin countryside and richly blessed to take a holiday at the sea every couple of years.

But even if you live the city or go to the sea, you can go out and look at the sky. You can be intentional. You can rouse yourself and gaze at creation. For your health, don’t isolate yourself inside.

He’s shown us the path of life. He has given us means to health and grace.

One just might be to see His work outside. So go take a hike.

You will show me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11

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Remember: What Dave Taught Me About Memory

This is Dave. He’s a friend, even though Dave can’t remember my name.

But Dave doesn’t take his memory problems lying down. Which is why we might all take a few memory tips from Dave.

Because I, for one, know that I have memory problems too. Spiritual amnesia, mine’s called. You know, when you forget what you should remember and remember what you’d best forget

Take Care Lest You Forget

Dave was in a motorcycle accident 20 years ago, give or take. He can’t remember the date. But he knows his memory hasn’t been the same.

So Dave always carries a notepad. Always. He’ll pull it out, scratch out a line or two, then tuck it back in his pocket.

Because Dave knows he needs reminding.

1. Remember Your Commitments

Why do you keep you so many notes, Dave? I asked between services.

I can recall this, he said, holding up his little green 3×5 spiral. At the end of the day I look back to see if I have to follow through on any commitments.

Dave is vigilant to remember. He explained how he transfers his notes from his little green spiral to a larger book at home, I don’t want to disappoint them and let them down. I don’t want to commit something to the Lord and forget about it.

But the problem, Dave said with a grin, is remembering to look back at the dumb notes.

We too should keep our commitments to others, and our word should be gold. For Christians, this includes the commitment to love God and keep his commandments (2 John 1:6, John 15:10).

In the Old Testament book of Numbers (15:38-40), the Lord told Moses to have the Israelites make tassels for the corners of their garments, “and a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them.”

Little green notepad or corner blue tassel or iPhone reminder, no matter- just so we don’t forget our commitments. We just have to remember to look.

2. Remember Who You Were

Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. This command to remember who they were- slaves, namely- is repeated over and over after the exodus (Deuteronomy 15:15, 16:12, 24:18, 24:22). In these texts, the reason for bringing up former slave status seems to be either to urge generosity and compassion toward those who are impoverished like they were, or to encourage thankful celebration under God for who they are.

Because we can take that for granted. And when we fail to remember that we were once slaves to sin (Romans 6:16), we can more easily fall back to slavery. Would-be-slaves, I called this once.

This idea is in the New Testament, too: Remember that at one time you Gentiles . . . were without Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:1112).

Remembering who we were without Christ is so important because it can intensify our love and deepen our devotion to the God who saved us. When we remember our life would be without him, we can cherish his forgiveness.

Dave had to relearn even his own name after the accident. He thinks it took months. But he’s got it down now. And another thing he’s got down- without consulting his notepad- is his testimony.

He remembers who he was. He remembers his testimony. In fact, he says rehearses his testimony while he’s at his “1200 pieces a day, assembly job.” And he told me how before that day in 1970 he wasn’t born-again, and then after it he was.

In other words, Dave remembers being a slave in Egypt and hopeless.

3. Remember The Lord

God’s people have historically had a bad memory. They had selective memory right out of Egypt, remembering-and grumbling about- the “free food,” but forgetting who they were- the slave status bit. The food may have been free, but they were not. That’s in Numbers 11.

Then, at the end of Judges 8, after strong judge Gideon had died, spiritual amnesia set in again. The people did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side

But apart from selective memory, and probably worse, is this third memory problem: not remembering their God. In Deuteronomy 6:12 the God’s people are told, take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

They should have been taking notes. Papyrus pads anyone?

Dave told me that one of things he tries to remember while at his work center is- I quote- “the work of God. I consult my notebook to remember things of this sort.”

There are practical steps we can all take to overcome our spiritual amnesia- our forgetfulness of how God has been at work. Ben Reoach describes seven here. And guess what? One of his suggestions is keeping a journal.

Like I said, Dave definitely knows what he’s doing.

I Shall Remember

I don’t know all of Dave’s story but I that it’s not all rosy. Apart from the physical and mental impact of the accident, I gather that close relationships have been strained. I’ve had some nasty times, he sighed. But even there Dave sees the silver lining, “A blessing of having a bad memory is that when someone treats me like poop, I forget and when I see them again I treat them real nice.”

Which brings us to Psalm 77:7-9, where the Psalmist ponders: Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again-Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?

Dave could ask those same questions. Maybe you could too. Living in the group home around the corner from the church wasn’t Dave’s dream. And despite years of prayers for his memory to be restored, he still can’t remember names without his notepad.

But Dave does what the Psalmist did, right after he wondered if His lovingkindness had ceased forever.

Remembering Is Effortful

I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? 

John Piper says that this remembering is intentional and effortful.

The central Biblical strategy for coming out of darkness and discouragement and doubt is a conscious effort of the mind. Notice these strong words of intentionality: “I shall remember . . . Surely I will remember” (verse 11); “I will meditate . . . and [I will] muse” (verse 12). These are conscious acts that he chooses to do. This is the fight of faith. This is the fight for delight. It is the opposite of passivity and resignation. This is a strategy of life.

Sermon, “I Will Meditate On Your Works And Muse On Your Deeds

This is what Dave does, what he consciously chooses to do. He carries that notepad and jots it down and gets it out. He makes sure to keep his commitments. And he rehearses over and over his testimony and who he was- not before the accident- but before he came to faith. And Dave remembers the Lord. He ponders the ways of his God.

Who Remember You In Your Ways

This morning and last Sunday, I asked Dave if I could take his picture and tell about him and his memory trouble and how he still remembers. Of course, he said. God gave this to me. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

And then, at the end of both little interviews, he chimed in, because he’s put it to memory, probably by writing it over and over and over in his little notepads, then transcribing it at home into his bigger book, Romans 8:28.

All things work together for good, he quoted. No matter how nasty it gets- it all works together for good if you love God.

So as Dave waits for the Day when he’ll again remember his friends’ names, he clearly remembers God’s ways.

And there’s a promise or two in Isaiah 64 for my friend Dave.

From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.

Isaiah 64:4-5a