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.

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.

Dating is Like a Zoo

My best friend Peter rolled by my place last night. He strolled in with his fancy button-up and meticulously styled hair, leaving an exotic trail of cologne with every step he took. How well he was put together was often an indication of whether girls were involved earlier in the evening. That evening, he left no doubt.

He stopped by to measure the trunk space of my dad’s 4-Runner. He had recently set his sights on a new hardtop cover for his white S2k, and he was in need of a car big enough to carry the piece from one place to another. Not wanting to add precious miles to his lovely S2k, he was intent on borrowing my dad’s car. If all else failed, he was even willing to rent a minivan–just anything but add precious miles to his lovely S2k.

Peter lined his measuring tape closely from one side of the trunk to the other, down to the exact centimeter. That was him–always detailed, very exact. “It’s just who I am,” he would say. “That’s how God wired me.” We determined that the fit was possible, though it would be a tight squeeze. Peter said he would return home to research some more; for now, it had settled the matter.

As we sat at the edge, legs dangling from the trunk, we started to talk about life. Though it is hard for most men, it is not unusual for him to bear his soul. Peter was that sort of fish where you’d throw in your hook and he’d bring down your boat. Whether it meant life or death, he was never afraid to bite. The thing with Peter is, you never know how you feel about yourself when he is talking. Sometimes, it can be like reading a deep novel, discovering something amazing; other times I feel like I’m the only sane person in the room. Because of his early life struggles and experiences, he understands things about life that most people his age do not. In a sense, he is a man before his time. But that is who he is–extremely passionate, intelligent, unorthodox, and at times hard to comprehend. Either brilliant or insane.

As we sat there in the trunk, I couldn’t help but feel a bit awkward. Being shirtless didn’t help. We talked for a good half hour before heading back inside. We naturally progressed onto the topic of women and relationships. We were both poor shots in this department–he couldn’t catch ’em and I couldn’t keep ’em. Eventually, I relayed to him my fear of marrying wrong and one day waking up to discover that she has changed completely. Peter paused for a beat.

“You know, dating is like a zoo,” he said.

Like a zoo? I gave him my usual what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about glance before he continued.

“When you go to the zoo, you see a lot of animals, right? Polar bears, penguins, whatever. They act all nice, cute, cuddly…because they are tamed. But these animals aren’t from there. They were captured from the wild, right? They were raised in their natural habitats before they were brought in and trained to act a certain way. That’s like dating. You are taking two people from their natural elements and you’re telling them to act a certain way to attract the opposite sex. But once they are married, once they are comfortable, they revert to their habits, to who they really are. Sure, some of that is ugly, even scary. Penguins can be very mean out in the wild. Oh–but when they love, they love.

I thought about it briefly; I thought I was onto something brilliant. “So…you’re talking about penguin sex?” Peter gave me the you-idiot face.

“No, listen. Have you ever seen March of the Penguins?” I nodded, faintly recalling Morgan Freeman’s smooth narration as black-coated animals froze their tails off. “You know how the Mom leaves while the Dad is caring for the egg? The penguins return after being months apart, and they try to find each other. In the mass of thousands, they call out to each other. The Mom and Dad can locate the voice of the other because it’s unique. They know each other specially, and he knows she’s the one.”

“But I thought I had found the one,” I said.

“Did you love her like Christ loved the church?”

Damn, if you put it that way … I guess we both knew the answer.

“That’s love. With all her faults. You see them, but your love is willing to cover them. Of course, there will be changes–we all change. But God will protect you two from the poachers,” he paused. “When you see her, when you connect with her, when you know her–you’ll know it.”

It was well into the early morning. Before he left, Peter thanked me for listening to his “crazy stories, his crazy life.” But none of it seemed crazy at all. Love, for all its whims and woes, finally started to make sense.

There are nights when I struggle to make sense of it all. On nights like these, God likes to deliver bricks. He’s saying, build on what you know.

For Better or For Worse

I’m learning about it means to be a good husband. Yes, I am single–in both the technical “marital status” and actual sense. But as a friend had once shared with me, as a Christian I am joined together in a spiritual union with Christ. How I grow and nurture my relationship with Christ provides insight into how I will or will not grow and nurture my relationship with my future wife.

When I realized the truth of this statement, I was saddened. For no sooner had I come to see another truth: I would make a terrible husband. Over a decade ago, as a hopeful but naive teenager, when I had first committed to following Christ, I was in essence making a vow that declared my complete devotion to him–for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health–for the rest of my life. Indeed, I was proving myself to be faithful, when it was an easy vow to keep, when it was for the better, and I was in richness and in health.

But then came the trials and temptations of life, and suddenly the very cords of my relationship were being stretched and broken. Through the lusts and greed and pride of life my heart had become hardened. As the days progressed my love subsided more and more. It happens, so slow and subtle. My feelings became dull, my love grew heartless. I kept serving the church, believing it was my duty. That will keep him smiling, I thought. But he was not pleased. After all, shall a wife be flattered when she receives roses bought in obligation?

I admit there were times when I was unfaithful. I had other lovers. Times when I found other things more attractive. Money, respect, relationships. These lovers danced before me so alluringly. They whispered secret pleasures, they spoke of great thrill. For some time I had listened. I would leave in the evenings to flirt with them, coming back home worldly-drunk, not unlike the man with the smell of cheap perfume and faint lipstick on his shirts. Yet I still had the audacity to face God and say, “But out of them all, I love you the most!”

That was what I was. An unfaithful, unloving spouse. Yet in all his right and power to divorce me, God has stood by my side. He forgives, he forgets, and he chooses to love. He waits for me to come around. This is the power of a vow. Not that it is merely kept, but that in every right for him to break it he chooses not to. That is what is meant by the terms “love” and “unconditional.”

So, here I am. I’m thinking I’ve got to get this right. If I’m not good with God, the most patient and perfect lover, then I will never be the husband and father I ought to be.

Raise Dem Glasses

My cousin Galvin got hitched this past weekend… (Congrats to him and his lovely bride Alicia!) The ceremony was held outdoors on a hill and the reception was inside the fine banquet hall at the Diamond Bar Center. It was a gorgeous site.

They had also rented a photo booth, nowadays a popular staple at weddings. Here is the madness that ensued (because of the “ghetto” nature of these pictures, I have requested my good friend and rapper T.I. to write special guest captions):

Yo this be yo stand-up guy T.I. fillin’ in for mah boi Ma-in. First picture check it. Dis crazy mess right herre be Marty Mar’s couz Karen (aka Da Killah) commin’ from NY to represent. Special shout-out to Queens, Eastside! Werd. She holdin’ it down, cuttin’ loose on da goose. Pops be feelin’ on da JD. CY special guest appearance at da end, ya heard??

We be talkin’ bout dem Bonnie n’ Clyde in dis right hurr. Ma-in and his partna-in-crime K be keepin’ it real. Girl know how to conversate n’ got dem moves on tha dance flo. Girl got sum mad game too–a chick even asked fo her digits! She da GOAT–greatest of all time–plus one.

Awww naah….ya’ll ain’t ready fo dis one mang. We talkin’ bout some family biznazz. We got Ma-in, CY, Pops, and Mama Yan her bad self! Look at Pops wit da blond wig tryin’ to be Lil Kim or somethin’…but instead he be lookin’ like B.I.G. wit his quadruple chins n’ all (cop dat last frame). Dem dollar signs screamin’ bout dat paper trail! Check dat… Ain’t nuttin’ but luv like fam man… YEAeAAEHHH OKKKKAYYYYY! (Mah bad folks, Lil Jon dun took my mic for a sec, playa be trippin’…)

*****

Yup…so that was my weekend in a nutshell. In all seriousness, I am blessed to have these wonderful people around me and I am super glad to welcome Alicia to the family!

Happily Ever…Before?

“So, have you been married before?”

We were in the midst of a ‘get-to-know-your-coworkers’ type conversations when Cori, a co-worker, shot that question to me, deadpan. It struck a taut chord within me; it sounded like something I’ve heard before, but surely something wasn’t right.

“I’m only 24!” I quickly quipped, not sure exactly how to take the question. She just gave sort of an uneasy chuckle, and it was then that my brain was able to process the slight change in verb tense, and an extra word added at the end, that had caused all the initial confusion. It was then I realized how loaded the question was. Did she imply that I had been divorced? Maybe she was just wondering if I was currently married and it came out all wrong, but why wouldn’t she have just asked, “Are you married?” like all the other times I’ve gotten the question? Did I even look old enough to be married, let alone married before? I didn’t come to understand her slant on the question and the full weight of it until I was driving home later that night.

I elaborated, just for reassurance: “No, I haven’t been married before, and I am not married.” She nodded, then managed to open up to me about her experiences. Soon, what first began as a simple factual question became an open invitation for the both of us to shareand perhaps, ventabout our catalog of failed past romances.

You see, Cori had once been married. She probably had the same grand vision as most women do: that she’d find the right man, share a lifetime of growing together, and live happily ever after. Of course, as with all other relationships in history, her marriage would go on to experience some turbulence. But for some reason, whatever reason, hers was not able to weather the storm.

And when it rains, it pours. Divorce never just affects the man and the woman. The parents-in-law feel it. The friends feel it. The children, worse of all, embody it. She had three beautiful kids, two of whom came to visit the office, and they were a fruit of this before-marriage. I hurt for them. There is now something in those children now that can never be fully replenished.

I didn’t know Cori that well, but there was something that led me to believe that she had striven to make it work. Maybe she never gave up. After all, she at least owed it to her children to do so. But the thing with marriageand any relationship, for that matteris that it rarely matters what one does or thinks or says unless the other is involved. She never told me what it was that drove her and her husband apart. I could only imagine it was somewhere along the way that she lost the hope that had once compelled her to keep going in spite of previous trials. The real kind of hope that helps keep things alive.

As I was driving home later that night, in the harmonious silence of my car, I played back the question she had asked me: “Have you been married before?” It was then that it hit me. Of the four cubicles that sit in a straight row right behind me, all four of them are occupied by women. Of those four women, three of them had once been ‘married before.’ The only one who wasn’t divorced had never been married, and she, the youngest of the group, was at the ripe age of thirty. Of the three divorced, none of them shared commonality in race, background, or religion. And they had all brought children into the world.

It occurred to me what Cori had asked was not just an odd twist to a common inquiry. Rather, it was intentional. It was a conscious extension of her inner-self. It was an amalgamation of her wounds and pains from her past, as well as those of her fellow co-workers, friends, and family. It is the indelible scar of a broken covenant, of broken promises, and it is a scar that has come to mark so many of those around her. Her question, it would seem, was a reaching out for sympathy from a fellow runner in the race of human struggle.

It broke my heart. It hurt me to see how marriage has become so trite, how divorce is becoming so commonplace, and how one cannot even take for granted the marital status of the new 24-year old employee. Most of all, it hurt me to hear their stories and see how many of them have been wronged and abused, whether emotionally or physically.

I came back home that night with an eerie sensation. It was the night before Thanksgiving, and indeed, I had the next day’s trimmings and activities to anticipate. But what Cori and her kids and those like her had reminded me of was that there aren’t many who are nearly as fortunate. I will no longer entertain Thanksgiving as a holiday for cheap pleasure.

I’ve never been married before. But my hope is that one day, if I were to be asked that question again, I can respond, “I have been married before. And it’ll be forever.”