Category Archives: Family

Cousin Hana

Sonia has a beautiful singing voice and musical gifts run deep on her side of the family. This is true of her cousin, Hana. God has obviously gifted Hana but what impresses us more is that she desires to use those gifts to honor Him. One way she is seeking to do this is to make an album that brings greater awareness to those who are victims of sex trafficking. This video is of a song that she already wrote and performed to give a voice to the plight of those suffering this injustice.

If you would like to contribute toward the making of Hana’s new album, check out this link. She explains her inspiration in the video below.

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Family Farewell

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On April 16, 2006, I joined these people to plant a new church in Chino Hills. Yesterday, nearly nine years later, I worshipped with them for the last time while serving as their lead pastor. The day was inevitable but definitely not an enviable one. It left me emotionally and physically exhausted.

How do you suddenly say goodbye to people who have been such an integral and intimate part of your life for so long? People who partnered with me shoulder-to-shoulder in ministry. People who cried on my shoulder and allowed me to cry on theirs when life’s pain was unbearable. People whom my children call “auntie” and “uncle” although very few of them are actually blood-related.

In fact, when we brought Eden home from China, we had a hard time explaining the difference between the new “aunties” and “uncles” that she celebrated the holidays with and the dozens of people at church whom we celebrated the Lord’s supper with. After a while, we stopped trying. Partly, because it required further language acquisition, but mainly because we wondered if it really mattered at all, anyway. After all, these people are not just fellow church members. They’re family. And that’s why it hurts to know our journey with them is over.

Yesterday, I was naive enough in my male pride to think I wouldn’t shed a tear. My wife wisely made me put tissue in my pocket before departing the house. I should have stuffed some in my back pockets too. When I arrived, the first person I bumped into is the eldest and one of the godliest men in our church. He began to express his appreciation of me, how much he was going to miss me and how God was going to use me in mighty ways in the near future. He was blessing me. How did I respond in return? With a quivering lip and teary eyes. I cried during my sermon. I cried during the program they had in our honor after the best potluck lunch I have ever consumed. Why all the tears? Because Lifesong is our family.

Today, as I try to get over the emotional hangover, I hold onto the truth that they’ll always be family. Yes, our relationships are going to be different but I also know they do not end. Bloodlines in the family of God run eternal. God sent His Son to redeem us in order to adopt us. In other words, the Father wanted us to be family forever. The sweet joy of Heaven is by far God Himself but the icing is the family that he gathers around Him. At times, when our paths cross and even join while pursuing God’s mission this side of Heaven, we get a small taste of that delight and we don’t want it to end. True fellowship is like that. It’s a shadowed taste of Heavenly koinonia promised in and through the Son. So when it does end, we are left longing for more. That’s the way it should be.

Thank you, Lifesong, for being family to me and my household over these past nine years. My heart for you echoes the words of the apostle Paul in his affection for the Philippians, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

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She is One of Us

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This is a purple yam. Really. It is a purple yam. And this is how Eden found it in 99 Ranch Market yesterday. I immediately took a picture to share her find with my youngest son and wife. When I showed them the image, Jaren began to laugh incessantly and Sonia told me to go get it so we could purchase our newfound treasure. Kind of like the treasure hidden in a field that you sacrifice everything for in order to purchase. Maybe not. OK, not at all.

When we got home, we set the groceries on the counter and I asked my oldest son to put the yams away. When Evan picked up this one, his eyes popped out of his face, he turned all red and began to cry because he was internally laughing so hard. He had the look of laughter but with no sound coming out. Too. Many. Jokes. Immature. Overload. Even my eldest daughter had to laugh at our portly piece of produce.

Either God has a sense of humor when he created this yam or we, Horis, have an imagination that went afoul when we saw it. You may find this type of thing inconsequential at best or vulgar at worst. But my family happens to find these kinds of things amusing for a variety of reasons, none of which I will go into at this time (although I’m really tempted to).

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After such a long hiatus from blogging, why would I restart with this? Because after the zany dust settled, I realized my new daughter had become one of us. She has become a Hori. For the good or (more likely) for the bad, she is now truly part of the family. I don’t know if she would have found this humorous if she was still living in an orphanage in Nanning. I doubt they even have yams like this in China. All I know is that Eden’s delight in this rotund yam reveals she is now one of us. While a similar sense of humor is part of a shared family culture, I hope we are growing to have so much more in common than a fascination with odd root vegetables. Sonia and I want all of our children to broadly share our faith, our values and our love. This does not happen overnight. It takes time. It takes intention. It takes prayer.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, adoption is easy but family is hard. Moving from being a family of five to being a family of six is a matter of simple addition. But transitioning from being one, unified family of five to becoming one family of six is relational calculus. It involves daily conversations, taking advantage of teachable moments and simply living life together. This type of oneness is difficult to measure in its progress. So, little signs of unity, even silly ones that happen in the produce aisle, I hold onto as small glimpses of change and hope. Who would have thought a portly purple potato could do so much?

Surprised by Growth

It’s been a while since my last post. Again, busyness, illness and laziness were the culprits antagonizing my will to write. Unfortunately, they claimed victory for the past six months over my blogging brain. But today, I am back…at least for now.

Eden_Beach

There are other reasons for my blogging hiatus but I will reflect on those in forthcoming posts. For now, I wanted to share an update on Eden since she came to be a part of our family nearly nine months ago. Yes, it’s already been nine months!

China requires a 1-month, 6-month, 1-year, 2-year, 3-year, and 5-year follow up. Each visit requires us to produce a report with recent photos and fill out a 6-page questionnaire. While this can be tedious, it can also be quite helpful. Sometimes it’s so hard to recognize significant change when you’re so deep in the grips of everyday life. In other words, when you’re in the thick of daily details, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest of progress.

Take for example, Eden’s sleep patterns. Ever since she arrived, Eden has been sleeping a lot. I mean…a lot! She can sleep 12-13 hours at night and still take a 2 hour nap in the afternoon if we allow her to. She said this was not her typical routine in China so we weren’t sure if she had a new medical condition, if her disabilities were demanding more of her body or she was overwhelmed by all of the recent life-changing transitions.

Dentist_Visit

We didn’t want to overwhelm Eden with all of the medical appointments so we started with the most urgent ones first. There was no doubt dental care would be first on the list. Seven visits in the first four months involving endless X-rays, seven tooth extractions, two fillings, a temporary bridge and only a few tears on the first visit. We were there so often, the dentist could have charged us rent. Fortunately, he is my former college roommate and good buddy. Thanks Dr. Bui!

In addition to the dental exams were trips to the pediatrician (also excellent and dear friends, thanks Endos). Eden was given a full physical exam with all the necessary blood tests. I was wondering if she was anemic, but all the various tests revealed that she is healthy. Eden weighed only 44 lbs. upon arrival but is now up to a whopping 50. In my heyday, I used to curl 50! OK, maybe not, but I digress.

After the initial appointments were completed, we moved on to the specialists. Eden was assessed by a speech therapist and an occupational therapist and both had encouraging reports. There are obvious physical limitations that cannot be corrected but there is also quite a bit of hope for strengthening, training and growth. With consistent therapy, both specialists were confident that Eden would be doing more. How much more? We will have to wait and see.

Next on our medical tour was the pediatric neurologist. After an initial assessment, an MRI and a seizure test, he confirmed what we were told in the past. Eden has schizencephaly, a very rare brain disorder that has no corrective measures. He also said that every schizencephaly patient he has ever assessed has always had seizures. When we were in China, we asked every caretaker if they ever witnessed Eden having seizures and they all said, “no.”

The neurologist also said with the exception of probable seizures, Eden’s condition and its symptoms would not get worse. He said, “If you showed me her MRI scans, I would never picture a girl with Eden’s ability.” I said, “What would you expect to see?” He said, “The worse.” He told us that she is the highest functioning patient he has ever seen with schizencephaly. Basically, Eden should not be doing the things she can in light of how much of her brain is missing. The doctor attributed this to the adaptability of a young person’s brain. But, I know it’s a miracle from the hand of the Father who gave her life and continues to sustain it.

Eden_snow

So, while the medical tests didn’t reveal any reasons for Eden’s Rip Van Winkle impersonation, they were quite informative and encouraging. All this made me wonder if maybe all of the excitement and stress of the changes were wearing on Eden’s stamina. After all, she has experienced an endless series of “firsts.” First trip to Disneyland, to Legoland, to Sea World, to a dog park, to Yosemite, etc. First Halloween, first Thanksgiving, Ground Hog’s Day, first time to Costco, first time in the snow, first In-N-Out burger, flying a kite, etc. Considering all the new experiences, Eden has adjusted remarkably well. She is very flexible and joyously adapts.

So why has she needed so much sleep since she arrived? It’s because Eden has grown. After comparing the one-month and the six-month follow up reports for the social worker, we were shocked to discover that Eden grew two and a half inches in the first six months she was here! No wonder she’s been so tired! Her body has grown but so has her personhood. Her awareness has grown. Her perspective has broadened. Her life has expanded. Any and every type of growth requires a lot of energy and a lot of rest. It’s gradual so it’s subtle. It’s subtle so it’s indistinguishable. It’s indistinguishable so it’s unappreciated. When the slow growing trees of daily challenge are in your face continually, it’s easy to lose sight of the overall growth of the forest. It’s nice to know that she is growing and we are growing after all.

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Norm is Not Normal

I love the title of this post simply because one of my lifelong friends is named “Norm” and sometimes, I’m not sure he’s all that normal. Norm and I met when we were in the sixth grade and we’ve been through thick and thin ever since. While I would love to write an entire post about my dear friend, unfortunately, this is not the focus of my ramblings today.

Picture this…you wake up from a nap, immediately dress up in a silly costume, go to an event where everyone else is dressed up as pirates, princesses and Pokemon. You proceed to eat hot dogs with the crew of characters, play games and then let people give you tons of candy whether you win or not. This was Eden’s experience on October 31, her first Halloween ever. That day, Sonia and I assumed that the other had explained to Eden what she was about to experience. Comically, neither of us did. Who knows what she was thinking? Especially when all of this madness transpired in a church of all places! I bet she never attended a church like that in China.

   
Ever since returning from China, we’ve been busy trying to acclimate Eden to the American culture because it’s our “norm.” But what is truly “normal”? Our norm always seems normal until we stand in someone else’s shoes and see what they see. If we do, we may discover that our norm is quite abnormal and all of the sudden eating hot dogs at church dressed up as paper doll sounds more bizarre than it did before.

What should I really be exemplifying to Eden as the new norm for her life? Is it the same thing that I’ve taught my other three children? Is it simply American culture? Or a middle-class suburban way of life? If it is, then I have failed as a parent. While I live in a specific country with a particular culture, my norm cannot and should not be determine simply by the cultural and socio-economic forces that surround me. Why? Because I am a son of the King.

The triune God of the Bible created the universe and all that is within it. As such, he rules over all. He is the universal sovereign King who also happens to be my Daddy! God sent His Son to redeem me in order to adopt me into his family as one of his own (Gal. 4:4-6). I am a son of the King! But, I am also a citizen of his Kingdom and as such I should learn to live under his reign. My allegiance is to him. I live by his rules, for his purposes, according to what he values, all for the sake of his glory. Some might call this a “Kingdom culture.”

Contrary to common belief, American culture is not Kingdom culture and capitalism is not Christianity. Every human civilization bows to a human authority seen or unseen. But, as children of the King, our norm should be Kingdom culture rather than any other. If we live under the reign of the King, then being poor in spirit, meekness, righteousness, purity of heart and peacemaking become values we live by and for. Joy in all circumstances, radical generosity and ongoing repentance and forgiveness become normal rather than occasional in our daily living.

This type of living is abnormal in the world because Kingdom culture is inherently countercultural. It swims against the stream so intentional efforts must be made to live differently than the natural flow. This is true in every area of life including our parenting. We must set forth a vision for our children of a life under the gracious rule of Christ. One in which we walk by faith and not by sight and success is measured by faithfulness.

Teaching my children a new norm in light of the gospel is an ongoing process that requires me to step out of my own shoes to evaluate the culture by which I live. This can only happen when the shadows of my life are exposed by the light of Scripture and are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. By the grace of God, my old norm is feeling less and less normal and my heart is longing for the Kingdom to become my new one.

For now, I think it’s time for me to give my friend, Norm, a call to see how his normal life is going…

Me and Norm@the beach. Does he look normal to you?

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The Wisdom of Shan

My 7-year old niece, Shannon, has some of the best and most profound sayings. A few years ago, Shan was really excited about going to an amusement park the next day. When she woke up in the morning she said, “Today is tomorrow so it’s going to be a gooood day!” True, but not quite, yet I totally understand what she means.

A few days ago, she was pondering the meaning of the phrase, “of course not.” This is what she said,

“Of course” means “yes” and “not” means “no.” So it is like “saying yes-no, yes-no, yes-no.” But it really just means “no.”

So true, Shan, so true. Deep thoughts that could only come from the mind and mouth of a child. Wisdom from the wonderful world of Shan!

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Picking Up the Pace

Just as a follow up to the last post, I wanted to share what happened this morning. In our house, Eden is always the last to rise, but this morning, she was the first one out of bed. By the time I came down to the kitchen, she was coloring a picture and her brother proudly reported that Eden had already eaten breakfast. Apparently, she poured herself a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, enjoyed it immensely and cleaned up her own mess before any of us came downstairs. What do I know? I’m so proud of my girl. She is really growing up. Now, if only I could learn to enjoy my time with Mr. Crunch like she does…

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Time with Cap’n Crunch

As Eden’s father, I have taught her a few new things but as my daughter, she in turn, has taught me much. One lesson being learned gradually but taught daily is to slow down and enjoy life. Eden moves at a very leisurely pace. Occasionally, it’s due to her disabilities but mostly it’s because she’s unaware of time and urgency. In other words, she’s in no hurry. She makes the tortoise feel like a hare.

One morning while Eden was helping herself to a bowl of cereal, I sat nearby observing her every move. Since the box of cereal was already on the counter where she was going to eat, Eden hopped down from the stool to get a spoon on the other side of the kitchen. After retrieving the spoon, she gently placed it at the eating place. She then returned to the same place in the kitchen but this time got a bowl and brought it to join the spoon. Why she didn’t get both at the same time, I do not know…but I digress. She then proceeded to open the refrigerator to get the milk but rather than bring it to the bowl, she left the milk on the edge of the freezer door and went back to the counter to retrieve the bowl. The bowl was filled with milk and brought back to the counter. Upon lifting the box to pour the cereal, Eden noticed Cap’n Crunch along with his puzzles and mazes. She spent one minute staring at the side of the box before unraveling the plastic bag inside. But, before doing so she noticed that the Captain was also on the top of the box as well and stared at him for another thirty seconds. After a wonderful visit with Mr. Crunch, she poured the cereal into the bowl of milk.

Five minutes. That’s how long it took for my daughter to pour a bowl of cereal. Five minutes. It may not seem like a big deal but when you multiply the added time for every single morning task, it can take nearly two hours for her to get ready. When we’re in a hurry, this is not amusing, but on the rare occasion when there are no time constraints, I find it fascinating and almost charming. Whatever is in front of Eden becomes her entire world at that moment and even that moment is not an urgent one. She savors every instance. In my frenetic life, I wish I could enjoy a bowl of Cap’n Crunch like she does. I would be a lot more pleasant of a person if I did.

I share all of this not to embarrass my daughter. This episode with the Cap’n had nothing to do with disability but had everything to do with distractability. This is not her fault. She is bright and very capable but was rarely made aware of time or other people’s schedules. One of the many things I appreciate about Eden is that she is a quick learner. Teach her something once and she will apply it consistently. I am quite proud of my daughter because she has come a far way in a very short amount of time. Her progress is remarkable. With gentle reminders in the morning, she is now getting ready in under an hour.

My progress, on the other hand, is not as quick or as far. I still have much to learn about slowing down and appreciating what’s really important. Being busy is not necessarily a sin. In his 30+ years of life, Jesus lived a full and busy life. Countless people harassed Jesus for a slice of his schedule, yet he was never hurried or harried. It was at the height of his “popularity” when Jesus rose early to spend time with his Father in a desolate place. And while the friends and family of Lazarus wanted Jesus to hurry to save his life, Jesus stopped to recognize and heal the hemorrhaging woman along the way. As a result, those at the tomb witnessed a resurrection rather than a healing.

James 4:14 reminds me that my life is but a vapor. This profound point is clarified not so I will hurry, but instead so I will see my time on this earth in light of eternity. I am reminded about the brevity of my life that I might steward it for the eternal purposes of the Kingdom. If I am hurried and harried, then there is something wrong that goes much deeper than simply being overbooked. At the heart of a hectic schedule lies a misguided heart. When my eyes are fixed on what I see rather than on whom I follow, then I am servant to the tyranny of the urgent rather than to the King of Kings. The here and now is lived for the sake of the hear and now rather than for the sake of a now but not yet Kingdom.

If I keep my eyes on the King and his Kingdom then this eternal perspective will sometimes force me to change what I do but more importantly, it will change the purpose and pace by which I do it. So, while there may be times that I fast from breakfast for Kingdom purposes, at other times, I may be called to slow down and feast on Cap’n Crunch with my daughter all to the glory of God.

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This is God’s Will

A few weeks ago, while I was sharing with a friend some of the things that we’ve recently taught Eden, he responded with an interesting question, “What has she taught you?” As I searched for an answer, I discovered that I underestimated just how much I have learned from my new daughter. Here are a few of the things she has taught me.

 

  1. To be Joyful Always: Eden’s middle name, “Joy,” befits her perfectly. She is genuinely one of the most joyful people I know. It’s even more remarkable when I remember the hardships that she has endured for the first ten years of her life. Joy is contagious especially when expressed freely in unlikely circumstances. So, whether she’s riding in an elevator, watering vegetables in the backyard or even visiting the dentist, Eden rejoices and I cannot help but so do as well.
  2. To Pray Continually: Eden’s emotional, physical and spiritual needs far outweigh my personal resources and abilities. This humbling realization has invited me to ask the Father for everything on her behalf. This growing awareness of my need to pray for everything has expanded to not only include Eden but also my entire family as well. Trying to love my daughter well has forced me to draw close to my Father in continuous prayer.
  3. To be Thankful for Everything: Eden has many limitations. Some, like language and cultural awareness, are fading quickly with the passing of time. Some, like enunciation of language and physical strength, may fade with proper help and therapy. But, there may also be new challenges that Eden’s disability may pose in the future. All of life, especially a relatively healthy life, is grace, pure grace. Every day of life with my daughter is a gift that I am thankful for.

One of my favorite Bible passages is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Eden has taught me to live this truth without intending to. But, it is clear that this was the Father’s intention. What always strikes me about this passage is that rejoicing, praying and thankfulness is God’s stated will for my life. Eden and all that she is teaching me is clearly God’s will for my life and I genuinely love my life especially my life with her.

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From Gory to Glory

For the past few months, I often get asked, “How’s it (adjusting post-adoption) going?” My generic answer is “Overall, things are going extremely well. On a day-to-day basis, it’s a lot of hard work.” Most people are satisfied with that answer and I am usually glad to give it. It’s not only truthful but brief since most people are simply making small talk.

Learning to be family, post-adoption, is glorious. God is definitely at work. But, it’s also a lot of hard work. Most people don’t want to hear about the gory details. Glorious highlights, yes. Gory details, no. Quite frankly, I’m reluctant to share the gory details partly because I don’t want people to think adoption is a bad idea. It’s not a bad idea because it’s God’s idea. But, I’m afraid that sharing the challenges of post-adoption will lead people to believe that they shouldn’t adopt because it’s too hard. Some may even wonder if it’s truly a blessing to adopt. After all, how can adoption be a blessing if it leads to difficulty and personal stress?

This thinking was reflected in a recent conversation I had with my son, Evan. We were having a private, disciplinary talk because he was acting out in jealousy and sin against his new sister. This is how the tail end of the conversation went:

Evan: “Dad, do you think God knew it was going to be this hard to adopt?”

Me: “Yes.”

Evan: “Then why did he still call us to do it?”

How would you have answered him? Before I share what I said, let me address a subtle lie that most Christians believe inherent in Evan’s question. Put simply, the lie is, “Blessings from God are easy and painless.” Glory, yes. Gory, no.

We have subtly bought into the contrasting, black and white world of the prosperity gospel. A world where everything painful and difficult is bad and not of God and only things that are pleasurable and easy are blessings from God. This is obviously another gospel. The cross of calvary transpired in a “gray” world where the gory suffering of the cross led to the glorious miracle of the resurrection. So while pain and suffering are not good in and of themselves, they can still be considered blessings because God’s work in the world is always redemptive. He works out all things, good and bad, unto his glory and in that, is our blessing.

Romans 8:17-18 reveals that glory shares a close, purposeful relationship with suffering. Suffering and glory are not only connected but in many ways suffering is the way that often leads to glory. Renown biblical scholar, FF Bruce writes, “It is not merely that the glory is a compensation for the suffering; it actually grows out of the suffering. There is an organic relationship between the two for the believer as surely as there was for his Lord.”

The health-and-wealth gospel is not only bad theology but disconnected from our personal reality. For most of us, redemptive suffering that leads to blessing is cognitively difficult to accept but, experientially, it’s received all of the time. Think about the greatest blessings and truly fulfilling moments in your life. Weren’t the majority of them preceded by testing, challenge, suffering and/or pain? Childbirth is a great example. How about a job promotion? Purchasing a new house. Having adult children who walk with the Lord. Owning a chiseled body with little fat. No pain, no gain.

So, how did I answer Evan? I said, “It’s because God loves us. He knew that our sins of jealousy and selfishness were so deep and unnoticed that he was willing to let us experience things that would bring them all to the surface. He wants us to see our sins so we can repent, be cleansed and be blessed. Adopting Eden is for our blessing because it will make us more like Him.”

Some may falsely conclude that adopting an older child from a foreign country is what makes everything so unnecessarily difficult but the problem is not Eden. The problem is not adoption. The problem is my sin and it was always there long before Eden ever arrived. It was just unnoticed, buried deep or self-justified. Adopting Eden and learning to be family happened to be the occasion that God used to expose Evan’s folly and mine so that he might complete the good work that he began in each of us.

My Father loves me too much to let me continue in my sin. He knows it causes pain inside of me and outside to those around me. He knows it ultimately leads down a road toward destruction rather than blessing. So, rather than sit idly by and watch me grow in my sin, my Father intervenes. He allows friction in my life because it’s under heat, especially intense heat, that the dross melts away and my heart is purified. A pure heart is the fruit of a tested heart and the promises for the pure of heart are profound. God is good to the pure in heart (Psalm 73:1) and of course, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:3). If this is all true then the converse must also be true. Those who are not pure in heart will not experience God’s goodness or see Him at work in their lives.

Without a pure heart, it is impossible to truly experience blessing. But a pure heart usually requires trial and suffering. Thus, true blessing often comes through difficulty. It has to be this way, not because God is callous but because we are stubborn and prideful. God’s love is fearless and relentless, doing whatever is necessary to bring us to himself that we might become like him. It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun. But, oh, how I am learning to appreciate the gory details of my sanctification as they lead to God’s glory perfected through Christ in me!

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