April 9, 2014

Why So Single?

At last night's meeting, my friend-cum-research participant challenged my relational status. Too many excuses for not shacking up, he said. Not only in this meeting but in our last meeting. I agreed. All my excuses are actually fears, some very deep trust problems with Father. I can blame everything else, my professional status, my promises and my beliefs, her beliefs and especially her looks, but eventually all roads lead to my relationship with God.

My friend also wasn't very convinced when I said I don't like anyone now. Of course you do, he shot back. He became exceptionally incredulous when I told him about all my recent blind dates with girls with good hearts. Well, people always possess attractive qualitities which I notice, I say. Who hits them all? And then I return to all my excuses and fears.

I receive all this feedback from this man because he can be a spiritual father in my life. After all, he loves The Lord and is more than twice my age! He cares for me and wants me married. I welcome this spiritual discontentment that I experienced after our meeting. My heart had been rattled. I ask God all the more, what's going on, God?! 

And my desire to straighten out my path grows, but let's not talk about excuses, shall we?

April 6, 2014

Storm Time

While I was napping an hour ago, God asked me if I could trust Him with my children. He asked me if I loved Him more than I love my children. Only The Lord saves my children. My children will be hurt, in spite of my striving, and only The Lord heals.

What am I transferring from generation to generation?

This conversation stems from my revelation yesterday in the shower, after basketball. The labeling effect in Hong Kong is too strong. I must leave Hong Kong and if possible, home school my children. I will destroy my family's enemies, anyone who calls my children weak -- labeling me is OK because, praise God, these earthly labels no longer stick to me. In Hong Kong, with my family, I would likely be killing a lot of people for how they hurt my wife and kids, especially my kids.

And that revelation came from the previous evening's incident. My brother in Christ and his brother speak partial Cantonese; the people at the table speak Cantonese in spite of my brother and his brother's incomprehension; and my brother zones out as usual. Later, one of the women at the table tells me my Cantonese is not nice. Who is she to judge, and so flippantly and arbitrarily? What angered me was not the thought of her assailing me with her labels -- I have endured and overcome -- but that she is school teacher, and she will assail my children and others' children in the same, flippant, unfairly judging way. I have heard too many formal educators, in my career and even these past few weeks, shame themselves and others not least by labeling themselves and others weak.

And God tells me am hour ago that no matter how hard I try to protect my children, sin has already been in their lives. Only God saves us completely from our sins in this world. I can do nothing. Hallelujah. Can I let God do the saving? I am not superman but dust.

The storm has arrived. I noticed last night how my brother in Christ spoke to me. He or whatever was going on, whatever word he said, spiritually unsettled me. I was uncomfortable around him.

This morning I run and reinjure myself. Later, I lay down the boundary with a woman; she and I have had an emotionally impure relationship; and I don't know out of what spirit we have been acting and attaching ourselves. Finally, something has troubled Godfrey. Something may have gone wrong, which also explains his brother calling me.

I had gotten my worth from striving, just doing. I got injured again! Doing, even, just trying to protect my kids. Resolution in my heart first, then my children. Indeed, after service, while being prayed for, I saw my inner man, and then a hamster running on a wheel. My inner man was running on a wheel and not building a house. A foot of Christ crushed the hamster and its wheel. I am a son. My inner man is a son.

I am battle-tested, and calm now. Armored, I head to church to serve. I wonder how quiet I am in the heart.

Injury Time

Too fast. Too soon. Again.

Two weeks of pain-free running after two months off my feet. I managed my miles well. But I realize I must manage my muscles instead. Recovering, rehabilitating, resting and training are all the same discipline. I cannot discard strength training, stretching and resting all my life!

Yesterday, I played basketball for three hours and ground my body into the ground. A little more than twelve hours later, with less than eight hours rest, I was on my feet, pounding the slopes of the HK trail. Not much rest. No stretching. Just a strong, insidious desire to run hard. Performativity strikes back hard and easily in my life. How unloved am I to feel I must prove something, even to myself!?

God is so patient and gracious with me. He protects and preserves me. I started to feel IT band pain accumulate after an hour, a little longer than ten kilometers. Fear swept in. My body was imbalanced again, and I wondered how severe the pain would become; and could I endure until the end of the 14K run? I looked at my watch lots. I changed my gait, and looked at my pacer's shoes, and ignored my legs for the last four kilometers. I thank God I could finish the run. Not only that, but I could still walk afterwards!

I chatted with my running partners, ate breakfast and now am returning home. I can't wait to stretch and strengthen! Maybe I shall nap too. I will do what I can. What The Lord really wants me to do is rest in and rely on him. Wait on Him. Receive Him. Be quiet in Him.

So the week awaits. Will I train per my schedule this week and run a race next Sunday? Stay tuned!

April 5, 2014

My Mother's Father

My maternal grandfather emigrated from Taishan, China before my uncle, my grandfather's youngest child, was born. Therefore, my mother grew up without the physical presence of her father, 7 years in Taishan, and 10 years in Hong Kong. The psychic presence was also absent: my mother recalled her father sending monthly welfare checks to the family in Hong Kong from the United States. The only communication in the letter was functional, an explanation for the check. My mother and her siblings did periodically send  school report cards to their father in the United States.

My mother thought this situation was normal. Her peers in Hong Kong likewise had many absent, working-abroad fathers. A generation of orphans was the norm. My mother did not think too much about this, as did her peers; everyone, she says, was too busy living day-to-day. Similarly, my mother had little interest in knowing about her father's life in the States. What is there to know beyond his function, she asked me. Her father didn't share much about his life, in his lifetime, and this was normal. However, she may have wanted him to visit his wife and children in Hong Kong -- my mother's answer was ambiguous and evasive; I took her answer as yes. 

I shared with her about generations. Like my mother, I have lived in Hong Kong ten years. Like her grandfather, my mother doesn't share about her life at all, and only this year have I actively sought intimacy with my mother by questioning everything about and on her life. Like her father not visiting her, my mother has not visited me in my ten years in Hong Kong, although I would welcome her visit, and my siblings' visit. I shared how my father came to Hong Kong once, several years ago, we met, and I cannot forget the time and the place of our meeting, a weekday evening at a Starbucks on Nathan Road in Yau Ma Tei, because I was so overjoyed at meeting him. I also shared how fear impacts generations: my mother shared her terror of flying because she loses  her sense of control, and for which reason she doesn't visit Hong Kong; I shared how her father may have feared flying and allowed that to inhibit his visiting her in Hong Kong; and I shared my struggles with flying, how God is teaching me to surrender all my desires for control to him, and how, were fear to overcome me, I perhaps would not visit my children abroad. Ultimately, fear can control us and impact those around us. My mother has a difficult time accepting generational reasoning. 

My mother first met her father at 17, at the airport, be it Newark or JFK -- my mother doesn't remember. She remembers her saying "father" was new, and strange to her. My mother had a functional relationship with her new father. With a partner, her father owned a restaurant in White Plains, New York; my mother and her siblings worked at her father's restaurant and resided in the apartment units above the restaurant; and my mother doesn't recall whether her father was a good boss, but she does recall the living accommodations in the building were small but better than Hong Kong conditions. (I must remember to visit this building in White Plains, if the building still exists, on my next trip to the States.) On weekends, my mother and her siblings would visit their mother, who worked as a seamstress and lived in New York City's, Manhattan's Chinatown. They would return to White Plains by train on Sunday evenings; and on Mondays, when her father's restaurant was closed, her father would visit her mother in Chinatown. Her mother's living conditions were not nice. Ultimately, the family would live together in Brooklyn, on East 29th street, and move one, final time in 1976, to the brick house that I became familiar with in my youth. 

My mother's father never told my mother explicitly that he loved her. My mother never told her father that she loved him. My mother said this is not how people, perhaps Chinese people, express themselves, not least because this  "I love you" sounds too formal and people do not express emotions much. The closest thing people would say, and her family would say, is that they sek3 each other. My mother was exceptionally ambiguous and evasive when I asked her if she ever wanted to say I love you to her father or if she wanted her father to say that to her; I could not make heads or tails of her answer and could easily believe her answer is as much yes as no! I thank God that when I ended the phone conversation, when I told my mom I loved her, she replied that she loved me too. 

My mother really wanted to leave Hong Kong -- I did not draw the generational parallel and tell her I feel the same. Her friend had left Hong Kong a few years earlier to immigrate to New York, and my mother wanted to see this friend again; and eventually they did meet up, praise God! My mother also had a longing for a more beautiful place, literally, the United States, not least because my mother felt there wasn't much she could do in Hong Kong. My mother is satisfied with being in the United States, a good choice! She is still especially critical of the Hong Kong education system, which, she says, taught her to accept everything without questioning; she was taught not to think critically and to think about complex things. I told her that not much has changed in the mainstream schooling, even after sixty years!

I did not say that to reassure her. Thank God this was a way to connect with her. My mother and I agreed that our difficulty in communicating with each other not least has roots in our different, formal education experiences. I told my mother that if she experienced such learning outcomes in Hong Kong and she and I have such difficulty communicating, and if Hong Kong mainstream learning outcomes have not changed in several decades, she could easily imagine how much difficulty I have in communicating with most people in Hong Kong. She could empathize. Hallelujah! 

Finally, my mother wonders about my questioning her. She asked me if I'm writing a book. I assured her I am not. My reason for asking her life questions this year is to know more about her, and therefore, more about my life. Indeed, she also has an opportunity to know more about my life, and therefore, her life. We impact each other through our individual and corporate experiences, past and present. We are laying the groundwork for intimacy -- that's the word, alongside openness and vulnerability -- in our family. And I will not relent even though the communication is very, very difficult.

April 4, 2014

Learning Cantonese from Mommy

I want to ask my mom lots of questions. I will not learn anything about her if I don't, because she will not share freely. Indeed, in our most recent conversation, while I encouraged my mother because our communication is becoming clearer and improving in that way, I pointed out how even her answering simple reply to yes-no questions about her opinions -- I asked her whether she wants her youngest son, my brother to learn Cantonese; and I asked her if she wanted my children to speak Cantonese -- is challenging. I did not tell her this is evasion and fear of man. I note my siblings and mother know nothing about me because they do not ask my taste and preference questions, and factual experience questions too! I am trying to fill in our relationships with shared knowledge, common ground.

I asked my mother about Cantonese in yesterday's call. I learned that my sister is learning Cantonese, and I posited that shame, as it did me, might motivate her to learn the language. To support my argument, I mentioned my earliest memory of my sister, me, mother and father at the dinner table, where my parents compelled my sister and me to speak Cantonese; somehow, this compulsion ended. My mom did not know why. My mother forgot the event. 

My mother did remember how my sister returned home from kindergarten one day and declared that she had to speak English. I shared similar integration pressure memories from kindergarten. To my mother's surprise, I told her how I had been placed in an ESL class with other non-white students, although I and others were native-English speakers. I was surprised the school never told my mom and this was the first time she had heard this. I suggested my yellow skin, and my selective copying of my mother's Hong Kong-styled English when I spoke in kindergarten contributed to my special placement. My mother and I are pretty forgiving of the school system. My point in sharing is that childhood memories impact adult behavior because experience and time are continuous and scaffolded.

My mom shared about how she was responsible for schooling choices, including Chinese schooling -- my dad would leave PTA meetings in ten minutes out of boredom, she said. I learned that for a year my mother took my sister and me to Chinatown, weekly, for proper Cantonese teaching and learning. That stopped. As did my mom taking my siblings and me to a Putonghua Chinese school in my town. A great sense of resignation masks my mom's narrative, and of course permeates the ambiguous, evasive remarks she gives when I ask her about her tastes and preferences for Cantonese in our family.

Pragmatism masks resignation and helplessness. When my mother shared about my sister learning Cantonese, my mom wondered why my sister wasn't learning Mandarin instead, the practical
choice. Similarly, she said learning Mandarin wasn't very practical for us, ultimately, in Livingston. I shared that I received the same kind of curious, hyper-pragmatic response from HK people when I told them I learned Cantonese and not Mandarin. I also told them that I want relationship with people in HK and need Cantonese for that. I forget if I told my mom that I need relationship to learn anything at all!