The Yans – A Score & Ten

THIS PAST JUNE, my parents celebrated their 30th anniversary. I haven’t given them many gifts in the past, since they live simply and are content. But this year was something special, and I knew this year had to be different.

I wasn’t sure what to get them at first, but then it dawned on me. Inside my parents’ house sits a picture frame with a family portrait that we took at Sears about 13 years ago. Aside from random pictures in wedding photo booths, we hadn’t taken many pictures together since. Why not take new family portraits? I thought it’d be a nice way to commemorate their anniversary, so I pitched the idea to my sister Cat.

As it turned out, Cat was planning on flying back to LA on a weekend in late June after a business trip to Seattle. She was planning on surprising my parents. And, well, she did. The next morning, after I had dropped her off late the previous night, Cat told me that Mom had awakened from her sleep only to see a dark figure in the hall. It took her nearly a minute–and only after my sister chuckled and said “Hi Mom”–to realize that it was my sister. Cat said it was like she had seen a ghost. Mom would later explain, “No, I just thought your brother had brought home a girl.” I chuckled when I heard the story; I didn’t know what was more believable.

I called my good friend Steve to see if he could set up an impromptu shoot for our family. I had initially tagged him to do it, but he had planned on heading up to SF that weekend. Fortunately for us, his trip got canceled last minute, and so it worked out. I told my parents to bring out their Sunday’s finest as we were celebrating their anniversary with a photo shoot in Chino. Mom was delighted. She said it was the perfect gift as she had also been thinking about updating our family portrait. God has a funny way of working things out.

Pops

My pops said that back in the day he used to look like Chow Yun Fat. I replied that he still does, but with a bit more emphasis on the FAT. We swap a lot of jokes between us–and advice about ladies, too–but when it comes down to it I love this man. I didn’t agree with some of his decisions when I was younger, but I’ve come to a better understanding as an adult. Throughout the years, he’s dropped a lot of nuggets about being street smart, dealing with hardships and how to man up. I can say that as we’ve grown older, we’ve arrived at a place of mutual respect and appreciation.

“Remember son, if all else fails, marry a rich girl.” Much respect, Pops.

Mama

Whenever my dad was gone, working late nights at the liquor store out in South Central, Mama would rule the house with a stick and spatula. She’d be the one to discipline me with that wooden, feathered stick, only to serve me a hot bowl of rice and veggies moments later. I thank her for that. Love isn’t letting stuff slide. It’s saying I care about you enough for you to learn the hard way now, rather than the harder way later.

Of all the people in my life, I don’t think I’ve ever known a more considerate and selfless person. It’s not rare for her to go out of her way, even to her own inconvenience, to ensure friends and family are taken care of. When my friends used to come over during the school year she’d often cook up a storm of ribs, shrimp, fish, and “green sticks.” Her cooking was legendary in my circle, and she might very well have been responsible for half my friendships.

Mama, I’d sing a song for ya but I think Tupac already did it well: “There’s no way I can pay you back, but the plan is to show you that I understand–you are appreciated.”

Sister

One day back in high school, a group of friends ran up to me all giddy during lunch. They told me they had spotted a girl who looked just like me, except with long hair. “Yeah, we followed her around and called her Martina!” I asked these fools if they were talking about my sister, to which they replied in disbelief: “What! You have a sister?!” One of those fools happened to be our photographer Steve. How fitting.

As you can see, a decade has passed and my sister has more than blossomed into her own. She’s cool, hip and beautiful without trying. At present she’s carving her own niche out in the bright lights of New York. I haven’t been a good brother; I don’t call or pray for her as much as I should, but I love her and am proud of her all the same. Sometimes when my friend Chris and I are hanging out, we’d bring up the topic of our sisters and how much cooler they are than us. Yep, I’d say, she’s one incredibly cool cat.

The Happy Couple

This is probably one of my favorites in the bunch. It was a candid moment, after my pops said something funny (both gross and endearing) and they were busting up. I like it not just because it’s candid but because it captures what I believe is an honest glimpse at their marriage. They’re not perfect by any means and they’ve had their share of struggles, but in the end they learned how to give and take and make each other happy. She helps him put his life in order, and he knows how to make her laugh and smile. They share a lot of great memories, but they don’t come without sacrifice, compromise and commitment. Love takes work.

That’s my family

My sister and I often talk about how blessed we are to have such a close family–parents and cousins and aunts and uncles to walk with together in this journey. Listening to my sister talk about how much she misses us, especially all the milestones and moments, reminds me to not take the people whom I love for granted. True, some people are separated by distances and time zones, but it’d be a real shame if it is our heart that keeps them away.

I don’t know how many days I’ve spent chasing or toiling for things that don’t matter. There’s always more money to make, more achievements to reach, more demands on your life. But in the quiet moments, when I reflect on moments like these, it becomes clear as gold: loving God and loving people. I can stake my life on these two things and it will not be a wasted life.

Thanks for reading!

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A Tale of Two Romances

THE DIFFERENCES couldn’t have been more pronounced. The night before, I had watched Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo + Juliet (you know, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes). It started off kinda weird, what with its fusion of modern day culture and original Shakespearean dialogue, but I grew to enjoy this dichotomy as it progressed. Sometimes you forget how beautiful the language is until you hear it recited to you; before I knew it I was quietly rehearsing those very lines as though I were the star-crossed lover. I went to bed thinking how crazy it is to love someone with such intensity that it would cause you to scheme a plot to fake death–and when that fails, to go as far as to induce death–all in the name of love. Mind you, this is one of the most celebrated (albeit tragic) love stories of all time.

The morning after, I came across another piece about love. It was a short video entitled The Story of Ian & Larissa. For nine minutes, I watched and listened as a lovely young lady told her story about tragedy and triumph. Her boyfriend at the time had suffered a traumatic injury that left him incapacitated. But she committed to him, and they eventually got married. “I think what helped us in making this commitment to each other, at least for me, is knowing that Ian wouldn’t have left me if the roles were reversed,” said Larissa. “And that we love each other and we know God will be faithful to our marriage.” It was one of the most beautiful testimonies I’ve ever heard.

Romeo + Juliet. Ian & Larissa. Both of them were bold declarations of love. Yet each one said something entirely different about what it looks like and what it truly means. One speaks of a romance ignited by coquettish gesturing and physical attraction, the other of a selfless commitment to give, serve and choose to love for “better or worse.” We often dream of our own Juliets–or ladies, your Romeos–but what I think we really want deep down inside is an Ian & Larissa story. I’m sure they have their share of hardships and struggles–those common to all relationships as well as those unique to their own–and there might even be days of doubt. But theirs is a romance built on certain truths that will help them weather the storms when they come, in and out of seasons, whether they are feeling the butterflies or not.

I am a neophyte when it comes to this kind of love. I live in a society that tells me it’s about finding someone that fulfills my greatest desires and needs. It tells me that beauty only lies skin deep, that I need to take as much as I can get and only give to her as much as she is willing to give to me. An exchange of goods, bartering type of system, if you will. This is a love no deeper than mere economics.

My subtle belief in this approach towards relationships requires correction. It’s something that invites God’s rebuke in my life, quiet but firm. So God gives me stories like these to awaken a greater part of me. It is a challenge to rise above the dregs of our soul-numbing consumerist mentality. It is a call to await the strokes of grace that will paint this next phase of my life, whenever that will be.

In the mean time, I am to make the most of my singleness. To love, serve, give, sacrifice and put others above myself. Funny how those terms are applied in marriage as well. If I want to be a good husband, guess I better start now.

Confessions of a Facebook Addict

One is a lonely number. In fact, it is the loneliest number. Adam knew this when he took account of all the animals in the garden. John Donne knew this when he once declared “No man is an island entire of itself.” Even the very idea of the Christian God does not exist apart from community–the Holy Trinity is quite the awesome company. No, you cannot get lonelier than one.

I was submerged into this sort of thinking when I found myself, in the middle of the night, clicking on random Facebook pictures of people whom I don’t really even know but consider “friends.” I was pining over their glamorous married lives and their newborns who look as bald as their fathers and their extravagant dinner entrees and their spectacular trips around the world and Pluto and what have you. All of which worked to remind me, of course, about how unspectacular and dull my life has become–there was no Like button for my life.

What I really wanted, what my soul truly craved, was community. Connection. The opportunity to sit before a real life flesh-and-bones human being and be able to share a drink and talk about God, relationships, Kobe or the next Tarantino film. I think four years of college trick you into thinking that community is automatic. That you don’t have to work for it, that you are entitled to it and it just comes. So what’s as close to being automatic as turning on your laptop and clicking on things all from the comfort of your seat? I wanted community, but what my mind had mistaken–and really had settled for–was instead a faux community that brings people together to spy and stalk each other from our isolated chambers of comfort.

I had a talk about this with David at a bar in downtown Los Angeles. I told him how tricky this whole social media thing is, how one might try to fulfill that desire for community but end up feeding more into it after hours of browsing. “It’s like people can have 25 days of the month that were totally horrible, and perhaps five days that were good. And yet all you see are those five days because that’s what these people post up. And they make you think, ‘Man why isn’t my life that good?’ It creates this sense of falseness.”

I agreed, though I am no better. I’ve been in that. In fact, I still struggle with it. Living in the age of digitalization and instant-everything, I feel like there is a constant need to edit out the good parts of my life and put it out on blast, to build this mirage that my life is like a party at Bel Air everyday. So that you can peep my carefully fabricated life and feel bad about yours and have you try to make amends by doing the exact same thing.

But truth is many of us are probably as miserable as you.

David said he doesn’t bother with social media as much anymore. And I can relate. But still, as much as I like to bash on it, I feel this medium could be used for great purposes. To organize real life events. To find lost or old friends. To connect people so that they can take it a step further and connect in real life.

Not replace real life interactions.

I don’t want to live my life through pictures on Facebook. I don’t want cyber-reality. I want substance. It’s always been the same order for food and conversation and people–give me real meat. That’s what I’m praying for.

Evening at Carole’s

Carole invited us to her house today. It was a very unassuming, cozy house in a middle-class suburban neighborhood. There would be no better place to host a meal for our party of seven.

We arrived one by one, making our way to the dining table through the bright walls of the foyer. For some of us, this was an introduction and reunion of sorts. Reilly was new to the group, and Kaori hadn’t seen us since she regained full walking ability, since her life-threatening car accident over a year ago. Seeing them reminded me of the blessing it is to make new friends and not take old friends for granted.

Carole had prepared her grill for well-seasoned steaks and chicken. We insisted on helping, as Carole is well into her seventies and had no business carrying out the tasks that were before her, but she refused. “All I want you guys to do is sit down and relax. I want to treat you as kings and queens today,” she said.

She meant it. So we sat around the dining table, making light conversation as we told stories and laughed at memories. From time to time, I would peek into the backyard to find a frail, thin grandmother hunched over with her tongs, smiling as she cooked our meal on her old-fashioned grill.

The meal was delicious. I jokingly asked Carole what her rate was and whether she would consider working a few months as my personal chef. She laughed and smiled, merely pleased that our group was satisfied with what she had presented. After the meal we offered to do the cleaning, but again Carole refused. Her only request was that we continue our talks and play our games and enjoy the time we had together–it was her gift to us.

In the backdrop I would see Carole put away dishes and wipe down the countertops, her face lined with an indelible smile. Every now and then she would laugh or contribute her two cents when something caught her fancy. She listened to us with great interest and joy. She played the role of the delighted observer to the jot and tittle.

As the evening winded down, we said our goodbyes and thanked her incessantly. We were perhaps a bit sheepish that someone her age would bend over backwards just to ensure a good time. Indeed, we were treated like royalty.

As we were leaving, Peter pulled me aside.

“Did you know that Earl passed away?” he asked.

“Yes, he went in December,” I recalled. “It had been a rough time for her.”

“That’s tough, man,” he sighed. “But she was really happy we were there. You can tell by her face. We filled her house with laughter, with sound.”

I agreed.

“I bet she hasn’t heard that in awhile,” he said.

For a minute I had forgotten her story. I didn’t think about her struggles without Earl, only about how discourteous it was to have her do all the work. It didn’t feel right to be treated so well. In my pride, I struggled with accepting her gift.

But she didn’t need us to do the cooking or chores. What she needed were voices, and laughter. She needed to feel a connection, something she has not felt much since her husband passed away.

Carole had purposed for us a different role on this day. In her service to us, and in our humble reception and enjoyment of it, she found fulfillment. She realized an unbridled joy in the mere presence of company. She wanted us to be filled and merry; we returned the favor simply by indulging.

It was our gift to her on this day. And to her that made all the difference.

K.I.T.

Through situations both expected and unforeseen, I have come to the realization that I am not good at maintaining relationships. I have been blessed with the gift to make friends with relative ease, but I haven’t fostered many of my friendships over the years.

I remember in my middle school and high school yearbooks how everybody would write “K.I.T” and “H.A.G.S” and “Hot dang, I’ll miss your sexy Chinaman ways.” Okay, not really the last, but Keep In Touch always seemed to find a way onto my pages. Unfortunately, most of us grew apart after graduation, and we went our separate ways.

Granted, some people and friends come in and out of your life, at different seasons and times, and you never know when they might turn up again. They might be your new co-worker or your inmate on cell block four. The way life is, you just never know. But what I do know is that I miss a lot of you. I miss the people who’ve made an impact in my life. I miss the moments that truly mattered. And I want to change that. I really do. So, I’m doing something about it.

I’m just letting you know, if you are a good friend, and we haven’t talked in awhile, I might randomly reach out to you. No more “catching up” through Facebook. It’s time for real face time. I might just invite you to go out for a bite. Or I’ll just call to say I love you Stevie Wonder style. Just don’t be creeped out.

And please, if you want to keep in touch, this is an invitation for you to do the same. Let’s K.I.T.

-Marty

Letter of Hope

From my friend:

So after having a talk with one of my friends, I wrote this. It was late at night and I couldn’t sleep. The conversation was intense and I just had to get it out. It was hard to hear about a person so close to me thinking something like that. It struck me hard. You can post it on your blog or whatever. I’m hoping it will help encourage people.

*****

Dear Best Friend,

I’m glad you’re still here. You told me about your childhood and all the crazy things that had happened. You told me how you had no hope. You told me how you tried to take your own life. I have to say that this is the one time I’m happy to hear you failed.

Best Friend, you have been a huge part of my life. If you had succeeded, you would have killed a part of me back then, too. I thank God for you and all He is doing through you. I wish you could have seen yourself now, back then. Maybe you would have realized sooner just how meaningful you are. Best Friend, I’ve never been great with words, but I really want to say I’m glad you’re still here.

Sincerely,

Anonymous