Wake Up, Singles

As the title suggests, this post is about how to endure against the tilt-a-whirl of the Christian dating scene. It was inspired by a recent conversation with a friend, who voiced her frustrations stemming from her latest encounter with the opposite sex. Our discussion made me realize that her story and this topic is not an anomaly. In fact, it’s quite common in the Christian circle. So, I’m writing this partially to appease her.

But I’m also writing this because I haven’t been good at this romance thing either. This post is, in a weird way, a pep talk to myself to risk and to dare more in the dating realm. So, take from these words what you can. After all, I’m no expert on the subject, and I speak mainly from my own experience.

(There, that’s my full disclosure.)

Frankly, Christians need to be more open towards getting to know the opposite sex. I think guys shouldn’t be afraid to ask girls out to coffee if they want to know them better, and girls should be more willing to accept dates–even if his hair is shaggy or he acts a little awkward sometimes.

I say this knowing full well that I’ve been guilty of not practicing what I’ve preached. After a couple failed relationships and several false starts, I was hesitant to dive deep into the dating pool. In my experiences, it seemed as though girls weren’t willing to explore it further or I lost interest and ended up hurting them. Nothing in-between, nothing steady. I thought I was no good at it. I almost kissed dating goodbye.

What ended up happening was that I started armchair dating. If finding a mate is like looking to buy a house, then I was effectively camping outside different properties wondering, “What’s behind the door?” I was trying to figure out if I wanted to buy a house without looking inside. I was imagining who she was or how she should be without really exploring or learning about her in person. I began to sit back and wait until I thought I had come across someone who had that perfect combination of beauty, personality, humor, spirituality, intelligence, vision, direction, motivation and passion (I’ll admit, my standards are a bit high). In my mind, she would come as a package, ready and open for someone like me to possess and there’d be no working at it. And she’d also see what an amazing catch I was (if truth hurts, there’s always delusion). So I waited, and waited. As you can imagine, no one came around.

A couple of my friends had to wake me up. They showed me that I was subtly maneuvering to control all my variables, that I was trying to make clean and orderly a process that is inherently messy. I had to come to understand and accept that there are inherent risks involved in dating. I was putting myself out there to possibly get hurt or disappointed. But so are those who agreed to date me. I cannot do their job for them–to guard their heart if they aren’t willing to protect it themselves–nor could I guarantee myself a painless, rejection-free process. But this is what it means to date in the real. The only other option was to remain in the realm of safe, imagined hypotheticals. To quote C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.”

So readers, here’s the application. I encourage you to be more open to knowing the opposite sex. This isn’t about lowering your standards (although some of you might need to do that), it’s about lowering your barrier of entry. Sometimes we set the bar so high that no real person would ever reach it. I’m not saying you should settle. Don’t settle. But just recognize that a lot of what you’re looking for in another person cannot be found in one interaction or on a first date. You need to allow yourself room for things to develop. Be patient.

Also, I should add that the process isn’t as important as the person. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for dates or you’re looking to be arranged. Whatever you do, just be intentional and treat others with respect. If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll both know, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

But don’t live in the clouds. This is not where spouses are found, nor where the deep roots of relational knowing are developed. Be willing to attend the open house. Knock. Get inside. See for yourself.

Best wishes to you in your journey of risk and vulnerability, and God willing, love.

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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!

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.

27: Thanks

Most of us live out our days in between states of perpetual want and grief. When already given much, we still look for more. Or when stricken with hardship, we often question why difficulty should befall us. It seems natural, as Shakespeare put it, to “beweep our outcast state.”

Yet rare it is for a man to pour out his blessings to measure, and rarer still for him to do so in the face of suffering.

This year has not been easy. Through the thicket of personal and mental travails, some seeming to persist with no end, I had lost all hope and direction. Days when I didn’t know how much more I had to give. Feeling abandoned. Shipwrecked. Times when I felt and acted like a spiritual orphan. It was in these moments that I was challenged to give thanks still, and look up to remember the Father who has numbered and marked all my days in love.

It’s just nights like these when God seems to make my task easy.

This year I didn’t want a big deal. I just wanted to lay low for once. But love wouldn’t let me play the part. The many friends and family whom I’ve been blessed with did not let this day go in a whimper. From the co-worker who baked cupcakes (thanks Awu, resident birthday baker!) to the other co-workers who came bearing gifts (Bho and Davey–gentlemen, you are), and from the friends who planned an impromptu after-dinner celebration (and the friends who were willing to actually make it out) to my ever-supportive Mom and Dad with their fabulous dinner treat–it was a resounding declaration that God is lavish. He’s making it rain. Like mad. And if wealth is measured in love, I am truly one of the richest to ever walk this earth.

In spite of the few trials I have faced this year and in years past, I can truly say that my life is wonderful. To all the giants and heroes in my life–I am genuinely thankful for each and every one of you.

Some days I wonder who I am or what I have done to merit such divine favor. But more and more I’m learning that it’s pure and unabashed grace. And grace, much like gifts on birthdays, is something that you get simply for being you.

Thank you all deeply from the bottom of my heart,

MY

it’s not me…

it’s you.

it’s the fact that you will never be pretty enough. even if you are a model. because i will always find someone with a nicer smile or better skin or more defined cheekbones.

or smart enough. there she is with more knowledge, more understanding, more student loans. she can take the conversation to new depths while your feet are still planted on the shore.

and i like the way this other girl tosses her hair and does her makeup and laughs at my jokes. you don’t always laugh at my jokes. by the way, she happens to bake better snicker doodles, too. (the trick is to add more butter.)

i will come across someone who’s more patient, more kind, more understanding. who knows, maybe we would even have better chemistry. and babies.

all these other girls get me. they get me. why can’t you?

because it’s not like i ever get awkward or lose my train of thought or fumble around for clever lines. i never lose my temper or get out of line or think inappropriate things whether you are or aren’t in the room.

i don’t try to mask my insecurities with nice clothes or smart remarks. i never worry about my money or how i’m going to provide for a family or where i’ll end up in three years. i always obey the bible perfectly and follow through on my every word and never talk bad about others.

no, it’s not me, really. i’m perfect. isn’t it obvious?

Like Horse & Carriage

I made a trip up to Central and Northern California this past weekend to observe two marriages. One actually becoming official “before God and these witnesses” at a small chapel in Fresno; the other fresh and exciting after a couple weeks spent honeymooning in Europe. Both reminded me of the beauty found in marriage.

Ricky and Jessie came together in a simple yet meaningful ceremony. Pastor Jon officiated the wedding and delivered a memorable sermon. Nothing too long or heavy, but it was full of honest and practical wisdom. I remember one quote in particular in which he said (paraphrased): “In marriage, one half plus one half does not equal one. In this equation, rarely does each person ever give their full share of the fifty. Sometimes you might feel you are giving more, sometimes less. But if you are putting the other person’s cares above your own and you are running toward the other person to meet their needs, then rest assured you two are bound to meet each other somewhere in the middle.” It reminded me of the whole concept of giving, not taking, in marriage. Knowing the kind of man that Ricky is, I have full confidence that he will cherish, protect and provide for her with every ounce of God-enabled strength.

After the reception, Jeremy and I headed on the road to Oakland. The next day, we met up with my dear friend Deborah. We were introduced to her husband Jerry. We spent the entire afternoon and early evening together, going from church service to brunch to J-town to the piers over at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a lot of activity, running into fobs at J-town and dodging fat birds, but through it all I got to see how Jerry served and loved his wife. They had that sort of chemistry that spoke of deep trust and understanding. I recount how at one Japanese novelty store, Jerry asked the cashier if they had a Domo ear-set to complete her full-body Domo costume. They didn’t have it, but Jerry was obviously looking out for her best interests. (Sarcasm intended.) I became a big fan of Jerry and I am glad that she is well taken care of. (It also doesn’t hurt that his hair reminds me of a cross between Beatles Paul McCartney and Super Saiyan 3 Goku.)

As I reflect on these two stories, I begin to see how they tie together. I think about the Bible and all its talk about marriage being a symbol of Christ and His church. How Christ in all his glory came not to be served, but to serve and make lovely His bride. How even when we fail or falter, Jesus is pursuing us with a passionate and furious love. He is fully committed. And He will not rest until He has us, wholly and completely devoted to Him.

This is what makes marriage special. This is what makes it divine. The world looks in to see what we have. It discovers, as a matter of fact, that it is a love triangle. Indeed, Christians are the most scandalous lovers of all.

Rebirth of the Cool

In 1957, Miles Davis released an album entitled Birth of the Cool. I’ve always been a fan of jazz and Miles Davis. It wasn’t always just the music, as good and soulful as it is. But when you were around jazz it was like you felt this sort of sophistication, a touch of class. You’d always see Miles in those pictures with his sweatshirt or blazer, big cheeks blowing the heck out of that trumpet. You’d think it was cool.

But is that all there is to being cool?

As I thought about it, I realized I could not quite wrap my head around it. This concept called “cool.” What does it mean? What’s the formula? Who determines this thing? Shrug. The only thing I knew was that being cool had some significance and meaning to society. As Donald Miller wrote in Blue Like Jazz, if you knew how to make something cool you’d be able sell it to anybody and make it big.

I used to think cool was somewhat like that Rebel Without a Cause bad boy who rides his motorcycle in his leather jacket, hair tossed back and eyes hidden behind aviators as he cruises against the wind. He runs into trouble with the law, smokes Marlboros till his lungs burn out, and knows all the ladies by touch. Is that what cool is? A call to remake ourselves into a new sort of James Dean?

For a long time I thought it was. But as I’m getting older, I’m starting to see the futility in that sort of thinking. What clothes I wear, what car I drive, what music I listen to, what house I live in–nobody will care about any of that 50 years from now. But how will they remember me?

It seems as life progresses, it gradually becomes more classical music and less like jazz. Don’t get me wrong. It still has its moments, with its funky improvisations and what have you. But with age comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes bills, debt, mortgages, husbands, wives, kids and calendars. All that requires good orchestration, balanced measures and rhythms. It becomes less cruising down PCH and more “I need to trade in my bike for the big red minivan.”

That idea used to scare me. Until I saw the beauty in this sort of cool, which involves sacrifice, commitment and love for others. Cool started to look like that man who is working 50 hour week shifts, slaving to ensure hot meals for his family of four and a solid roof over their heads. Cool is the single mother with low income who spends her free time–whatever left of it–helping her son with his science fair project. Cool is the young single who devotes his Saturday nights to serving at the homeless shelter when all his other buddies are out having a drink.

Isn’t that the stuff good stories are made of?

The great thing about jazz is that it is all about freedom, going where the music is taking you in that moment. It plays whatever is on the heart, however raw and unwarranted.

You might lose some of that in classical. Maybe sometimes you feel restrained. Strings are going off when you want brass. The cello isn’t getting its solo. And there’s never enough cowbell…

But I dare you to look beyond. Seek the beauty in harmony, orchestration, direction. Wait for the crescendos.

Jazz will always have its solos, but you are gaining a symphony.