Beauty This Christmas

The Christmas season is a time that’s both celebratory and somber for many, as we celebrate hope and joy and close the year, like ending a chapter.  We tend to wonder about the worth of the past year and feel the excitement and intimidation of being at the threshold of another new year.  I find there’s one thing we desire to be the sum of ourselves through the journeys we travel — that is to achieve beauty.  Beauty, however, is more than a superficial covering, but a triumph over the broken, meaningless, hopeless, and regretful.  This is beauty marked by truth, the good, wholeness, and dignity, under the rich classical notion.  This beauty is fought for by ourselves and, at the same time, bestowed on us by those who treat us with love and respect.  To fight for beauty in ourselves, in our lives, and in our journey, we need the fierce courage to create beauty in our lives and the humility to find and receive beauty from others.  So as we come to the closure of a year with a celebration of joy, hope, and peace, I invite us to capture the beauty that was gained this year.  Do something this Christmas that makes you more beautiful.  Relish in the beauties of this year.  Marinate in the company of those who nurture greater beauty in you.  Above all, wherever your path has been as you arrive to the conclusion of 2016, allow this Christmas to remind you that you are far more loved than you could possibly imagine by a creative God who has envisioned a beautiful life for you.

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Creative Urge: I Gotta Do It

Ideas float through our minds like an autumn breeze carrying colored leaves. Inspirations revisit our thoughts, stirring our imaginations to feats of wonder. We move on with our daily functions, taking care of practical needs, but we ponder over the ideas again. Though we forget about them during the humdrum of our routines, we’re aware of the ideas sitting in the recess of our minds. Whenever they visit us in our daydreams, we sense the urge to embark on the ideas that have taken residence in us.

The urge is a natural compulsion towards creativity – to paint that painting, write that story, make that craft, learn that instrument, design that invention, build that construction, or test that recipe. The idea calls to us because ideas desire to go from conceptualization to birth, to be giving life by manifestation into tangibility. The idea does not want to remain invisible and aware to the world. It wants to have form and function, where it can be seen, heard, touched, used, and experienced by others, including yourself. The urge comes from our God-given calling to creativity (Gen. 1:25, 2:15). The urge does not come from a fluke or superficial part of us. It comes from a core part of our identity that stems from the very design of who we are by God’s intention. God went from ideation to creation in the invention of the world. As image-creatures of the Creator, the creative call renders us unsatisfied with remaining in ideation. An urge moves us toward creation.

I encourage us to create. If our ideas will promote the good, making someone’s day a bit more fruitful, adding a little more effectiveness to someone’s productivity, simply giving a measure of joy and peace in someone’s heart, or illuminate a view of God’s character and gospel, you ought to satisfy that creative urge. It will require commitment, application, and investment. These are necessary to satisfy the urge. You may procrastinate. You may get lost in the pragmatics of life with bills and taking out the trash. You may distract yourself with mindless activities because you tell yourself you need to relax. But the creative urge will revisit you, begging for birth. You will keep hearing yourself saying, “I gotta do it,” until it is done.

Call For Creativity in the Present Destruction

The recent 7 deaths got me thinking about creativity as it pertains to righteousness. The good is the intimate outcome of creativity. When the good is devoid of righteousness, which is inseparably related to justice, the good is compromised. The good may still be there but compromised in its realization. The final consummation of the good is still not fully in our grasp. As Creativity Catalyst seeks to bring about the good of human flourishing as intended by God when he called us to be His stewards of the earth as His image-bearers, the specific aspect of righteousness in society has to be addressed in light of society’s brokenness. Creativity has to speak about righteousness, justice, mercy, and moral goodness into the destructive forces charged by fear, anger, insecurity, and hatred.

When I read about the Dallas sniper who shot 5 officers who did him no harm but they were shot because they were of a certain profile that fit his overall paradigm of hate, I’m gripped by the seething brokenness embedded in our society. Then when I read that he served our country as a veteran and in the Army Reserve, the murderous actions made even less sense to me. I thought about my father who, as an immigrant, served in the Armed Forces for over 20 years for the protection of our country. And here we have a fellow military service personnel waged war on other officers in uniform who were also sworn to protect people.

Our nation has been shaken to reconsider the state it is in. Technology and medicine advances, but souls are still in dire desperation and seeps into societal rampage. If we are to be creative – truly creative, we have to create works that presses forward towards goodness in the real context of present destruction. But the destruction is far from simplistic. It’s complicated and muddy. There’s a lot to be sorted through. A lot to be understood.  The creative process has to knead through the messiness of brokenness that motivates wrongful actions as well as to inspire redemption of our society.

So I call on my fellow Creativity Catalyst team to be creative in speaking into the present darkness. Draw drawings, paint paintings, write poems, shoot a series of photographs, make 30-second videos, compose a song, or video record a jogging journey that speaks about righteousness, explores brokenness, and grasps for goodness. Come up with something medically related, an educational component, or a business product that creatively addresses the social ills reflected in the specific destructive incidences. Let our creativity be a voice that speaks into the darkness and illuminates light. I’m calling us to create something by August 15 that we can share. Our creativity begins in silence, is formed in the studio, and then is voiced in society. So that, we might press forward toward the good.

Adoptive Dad 24: A Disturbing Adventure

I wanted to take my 2.5-year-old son on an adventure in Stanley Park, Vancouver to find a big head, about the size of a person, carved out of a tree trunk. I showed a picture of it that I found online to my son. He immediately got excited. I asked him if he wanted to go on an adventure to find this “Big Head,” and he was ecstatic. This is my and my son’s first time to Vancouver. My wife’s second time but she had not been to Stanley Park.

When I showed the picture of the carved head to a staff person operating a tour service in Stanley Park and asked her where I could find this, she was shocked that she had never seen this before. That made finding it more intriguing.  I asked the woman at the information booth and she said, “Finding it will be tough, but I can point out the area it is located in.” The mystery enticed me even more to find this head, accentuating the feeling of going on an adventure with my son. She marked it off on the map for us and off we went! I showed the map to my son, told him this was our “treasure map” and pointed out the spot on the map. He would from time-to-time hold the map, walk with it, and pretend to read it. He ran on the trail, chasing me and me chasing him. We saw colorful ducks.  We saw a swan sitting in a huge nest it made for itself. We came across a turtle, held it, and took pictures with it. A very well-mannered raccoon kindly approached us, and we took pictures with it. After an hour and a half of trekking, we finally came to the area. I said to my son, “We’re here. The Big Head is in here somewhere. Let’s look for it!” That’s when we entered the unexpectedly disturbing.

The area was just off the main path. A couple of dirt paths led into the woods. The paths criss-cross and wound this way and that. So we wandered around in there, looking at the picture shown online and tried to find the tree trunk with the giant head. Inside the woods, I was reminded of Fangorn Forest in Lord of the Rings – Two Towers. There were other people in the woods as well. My first thought was that these people were also here looking for the giant head! We followed one or two of them, thinking they knew where it was, but it turned out that they would back track the way they came. In fact, there were quite a number of individuals meandering in these woods. They appeared to be walking aimlessly. Of course, I think we appeared to be walking aimlessly as we searched for this head. Some individuals that sat on logs and others wandered. I thought they were there for some solitude. There was a tent pitched in one area. And there were some that walked together in two’s. After 20 minutes of us searching with no success, an older man approached me.

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

I kind of didn’t want the reward of discovery to be taken from me, so I didn’t say I was looking for a giant, wooden head, carved in a tree trunk. “We’re just looking around,” I said with a smile.

He took a couple steps closer and said, “This area isn’t safe.”

That was weird, because I thought, Well, what are you doing here then? “Not safe from what?” I asked, thinking maybe he was referring to animals, like snakes, or the ground being too uneven and slippery. But again, what was he doing here then?

“What?”

“Not safe from what?” I repeated. “What’s not safe here?”

“This area is for men,” he stated.

Now I was puzzled.  I looked around the woods. “What do you mean it’s for men?”  Were these guys monks?

“You figure it out.”

My wife, who had been searching in another spot not far from me, approached. I said to her, “He says this area is not safe, that it’s only for men.” My wife had the same surprised, puzzled look I had.

I asked, “Why would an area for men be unsafe.” I know. I wanted to really drill in on this and get to the bottom.

“This is place is for gay men,” he clarified. “By law, you have a right to be here, but I’m letting you know that it’s not safe for your wife and your son. You should stay on the main path.”

I politely thanked him for letting us know, because we were clueless about what we walked into. I suddenly did notice that there were only men in this area.  We came across more than a dozen. I was reluctant to leave still, because we had an adventure to accomplish with our son! But nonetheless, we started to make our way out. And sure enough, as we were about to exit the area, a man who was wrapping up his tent shouted something belligerent at us. Once we were back out on to the main path, we saw one stranger walk up to another stranger, exchange a few words briefly, and walked off into the woods together.

My wife and I were disturbed by the experience. I was extremely perturbed that a group of people could capture a beautiful, public area for themselves for their diabolical purposes, adulterate it, and prevent others from being able to share this place. This was Stanley Park, one of the main attractions of Vancouver! We had more than a legal right, by law, to be there.  We had an inherent right to the beauty of the place that is part of this earth.  The man who warned me was respectful, but he made it clear to my family and me that we were not welcomed. We didn’t belong, as that was reinforced by the other man shouting at us. There was a part of me that wanted to finish our search for my son, but I didn’t know what we could’ve walked into while peeking around in the woods. So we did the prudent thing and walked away. My heart sink the most when our son asked where the big head was, and I told him that we couldn’t find it. We couldn’t complete our adventure.

Nearly three hours from the time we started on our adventure, we made our way back to our rental car and drove to our next destination – the famous Totem Poles in Stanley Park. When our son got out of the car, he saw the totem poles and said, “I found the big head!” He ran to the wooden totem poles with the many large heads carved into them, thinking that was what we had been looking for all along. My heart was lifted at seeing his joy and his sense of completing our adventure. On our drive back to the hotel, he said with reassurance, “Daddy, Daddy, we found the big head.”

I replied, “Yes, we did.”

Uniquely You

I don’t know the statistics on how many people wish they had someone else’s life, but I’m guessing many have felt this. How many of us have wanted someone else’s circumstances? How often have we thought she’s so lucky for having something in contrast to ourselves or I wish I have what he has. We want their position and privileges. We wish we had someone else’s success. We want to be the next so-and-so. We want another’s lifestyle and living conditions. We desire our friend’s social and leisurely life. Maybe we’d rather have a different past. What if we were born to different parents? We may regret choices we made that committed us to certain circumstances. Maybe we second guess choosing the person we married or regret having had children too early and wonder what life would be like if we chose differently. What if we chose a different career? If only certain factors of our lives were different, our lives might be closer to what we perceive as the ideal. We compare our lives to others’. If only we could do life over… There’s always someone else’s life, or some aspect of it, that looks better than ours. Envy is a non-satiating hunger that leads to starvation.

An important point about your life is that this is your story. Someone else’s life is not your story. But why is it that I’m still not married while my peers are? Why can’t I have children, like the majority of normal people in society? Why was my past so painful and why couldn’t I have been born into better conditions? One of the greatest realities in life is of the billions of people in human history you’re the only you. The fact that there is not another you in this world presently or in all of history past or ever will be in the future is a miracle. You are a genuinely unique design. You didn’t come from a clone, off a production line, or a generic mould. You’re an unrepeated person. Making a unique person every time is inefficient, but it is original. This outrageous uniqueness means that you are a creature infused with love. It means a lot of care, inspirational thought, and wonder was poured into the making of you. Since there is only one of you, you are the only one who can live your story. Nobody else can live it for you and you can’t live somebody else’s. From the moment you were formed in the womb, your story began – the time period and economic status you were born into, who your parents are, what ethnicity you are, your genetic make-up, your temperament, and all the baggage and blessings of your circumstances (Psalm 139). Your story is both your privileged right and your sacred responsibility. You have the wonderful opportunity to live your story well. The trials, tragedies, and triumphs are part of a powerful story. What are you called to be and do in life? What is your specific place in the world? How can you turn your tragedies into triumphs as part of the beauty of your story? When you entered the world, you didn’t replace someone else, and when you’re gone, no one will replace you. Your story will not be repeated. Your story is not just handed to you; you must own it. Your story is your inherent opportunity. It is part of your dignity as a human being. So we might bemoan aspects of our lives and wished our conditions were like somebody else’s. We might despise the cards we were dealt. And all the while, miss out on the story you were meant to live. Your journey involves exploration of beliefs, discovery of truths, finding beauty in the midst of ashes, healing from hurts, resurrecting from your deaths, and crossing from one chapter to next. Through the chapters of our lives, a wonder we’re meant to discover is that there is a loving Author who desires to orchestrate the good for those who love him, bringing about a glorious ending to conclude a uniquely wonderful story (Romans 8:28).

The greatest defeat is not the inability to achieve someone else’s life. It’s not living yours.

Adoptive Dad 23: But I’m Not Like You

Dear Josiah,

My little Jai Jai, adoption is something that is still not understood very well these days. Adoption is not common. So, one day when you go to school, some of your schoolmates or friends might ask you questions that could bother you. They aren’t being mean. They just don’t understand. Some of your friends may ask you, “Why don’t you look like your daddy?” They may say, “I look like my daddy. People say I have his eyes.” You might feel bothered, maybe even hurt, and wonder, “Why don’t I look like Dada?” You might say, “Dada, I don’t have your eyes. Mine are rounder and yours are narrower. Dada, I don’t have your hair. Your hair is black and straight, and mine is brown and curly. Dada, I don’t have your nose. Your nose is bigger. I don’t have your eyebrows. Yours are bushy and mine are thin. I don’t have your height. I’m going to be so much taller than you. (And you will be). I don’t have your color. You’re darker and I’m lighter. You look Chinese, and I don’t.” I know one day you will likely have these questions about your differences from me. And they are all true. Our differences may make you feel bad and that you would want to have the same traits as your Dada as other kids do with their daddies.

But I will say to you, “Jai Jai, you have Dada’s corky laugh and silly sense of humor. You might not have Dada’s mouth, but you have Dada’s cheesy smile. You don’t have my arms and legs, but you have my silly dance moves. You’re affectionate like I am. You love to love like I do. You like superheroes like I do.  You like books, comics, and cartoons, like I do (or maybe I like them like you do!).  You like art, painting, and drawing like I do. You like martial arts like I do.  You like ketchup like I do.  You have my curiosity and will explore everything. You have my imagination and will dream up anything. You have my spirit and will live life as an adventure.  You have my faith, as even now you like to learn about God.  You love your Mama like I do. You do outrageous things that drive your Mama nuts like I do.  And yes, you will grow up to be different from me in many ways, and that’s okay, because you will become your own person.  In whatever ways we are alike or not, you are my son and will always be.  But I do want you to be different from me in one way, that you would be a far greater man than me.”

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Adoptive Dad 22: Power of Permanency

Exactly a month ago, we adopted our little foster son after raising him for 2 years and 20 days! It took some time for me to process over for what the legal conclusion of adopting our son meant to us. The weightiest factor that sunk in was that we couldn’t lose him anymore. For the two-plus years that we raised him, there was the possibility looming in the back of our minds that he could leave our care. Within the fostering life, anything can happen until it is made legal – an unknown relative steps forward to fight the case, a new judge takes over the case, no attorneys get into the picture, biological parents appeal the termination sending the case to an appeals court… My wife and I had given up our first foster son after raising him for 8 months and 1 day, and, boy, did that wrench our hearts! We were proud of his biological mother for doing what was right to get her son back, but it was still hard after loving a child as your own. I still remember the look on his face on the day I delivered him over to his birth mother. Loving with a disclaimer that you may lose the one you’re loving is part of foster parenting, and it’s a risk that is assumed with full awareness. But, man, it’s hard, especially after raising a child for over two years. I think loving and losing is one of the hardest things in the world. Although, we do it all the time.

Permanency is powerful, isn’t it? It means getting married with the intention that you and the other person would never leave each other or break your commitments to each other. It means investing into a relationship with someone who becomes your best friend, and you hope to be best friends for life. It means having a parent-child relationship and not fearing that you should one day lose your child or that the child would lose you. Permanency translates to us as lasting, enduring, or unending. The permanency of relationships – permanency of love – is not only something we deeply desire. It also grounds us, giving us a kind of stable framework for our lives. I think we crave for permanency, because deep inside of us we have a desire for eternity, for good things and genuinely loving relationships to last. I pray for permanency of love in everyone’s lives. We can work hard to gain success, wealth, accolades, fun, and gadgets, but investing into loving relationships that become lasting is crucial. I’m deeply glad that God promises to never stop loving us. I love that my wife and I can’t lose our adopted son and that he can’t lose us. As a new adoptive dad, I celebrate the permanency I have with my son, whom we named Josiah.