F

19092653_10209700746025785_6007187308403635787_o

She takes great risks when she is with whom she has great trust.

I give her both of my hands as I teach her how to walk on the beam for the first time. I take back one hand, leaving the other in mid-air as she grasps, then eventually letting go all but one finger for her to hold. She wraps her hand around it tightly as she made her way down the beam side-stepping.

Using every part of her body, she tries to keep her balance. She becomes more daring, refusing my help and determined to do it on her own. But for every one step on the beam, she steps off with the following, for she had not mastered how to balance her weight. She realizes she had went off the path, but cannot help it nonetheless.

She looks up and sees me nodding in affirmation and smiling in encouragement to keep going. I keep my hand at bay for my help she has decided she does not need. She gets back up to try again.

One on, one off.

One on, one off.

She steps steadily, pauses when she gets distracted, and eventually makes it to the end. She looks to see if I am watching. My applauses received with a burst of laughter, full of delight. She heads down the beam and starts all over again.

爺爺

18034645_10209294160541402_303277676_n
These gentlemen are the dear 爺爺(Ye-ye)s, or Grandpas, of our Early Learning Center. They are the hearts and hands behind our students’ meals Monday to Friday. Every day at approximately 11:15AM, they cheerfully wheel our carts right up to our doors, greeting our anticipation with their arrival by gentle knocks.

When the children conclude their lunch time around noon, the 爺爺 seated on the left in the photo would come into our classroom to lend a hand and clean up left over trash and silverware. Whenever he enters, our students would unfailingly turn their heads, point, and acknowledge his tall presence. As our hands are often full throughout the day, his gesture of help gave us peace. Never once have I recalled him rushing us to clean up and would even interact with the children as he waited.

From a conversation had a while ago, I found out 爺爺 had lived in Japan for 8 years prior to moving to the US many years ago. Knowing very little Japanese, in his young adulthood, he made his way through working in humble roles in restaurants, eventually made a reputation as a cook, and in the process picked up fluency in Japanese. Every once in a while I would refresh my high-school level Japanese with him whenever I get the chance.

This past Monday, I excitedly told them I had been learning a song in Japanese and asked if I could sing it for them. They asked to hear it immediately but,

“I don’t have it memorized yet,” I confessed, “but I will sing it as soon as I do!”

It was a song that had been translated into Japanese that gripped me since I first came across it over the weekend. So much so that I spent the following two days listening to it on repeat.

As I left the kitchen that day, I was reminded of a prayer I had prayed not too long ago, asking God for ways to connect with the people at the center. Never had it occurred to me that it could be by way of songs, but I quickly remembered how the Ephesians were once instructed to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Perhaps this was one of those moments.

The next day, I made my routine visit to the kitchen to heat up my lunch. Immediately, as both 爺爺 saw me approaching, in the most kindred of ways, they reminded me that I had promised them a song. So across the kitchen counter, as my food spun in the microwave, I sang Seek Ye First to an audience of two, hoping it would bring the Lord even the slightest glory.

Since that afternoon, I learned that ye-ye loved singing himself. A song called 四季歌 in particular.

Since that afternoon, I pondered upon the kind of desire or sense of burden that makes people take courage to leave behind all that they once knew for something far more uncertain.

Since that afternoon, I was reminded of the joy of becoming like others in order to reach a few.

And since that afternoon, I gained a deeper understanding of how God can fill even a few moments with the richest of fare.

Currently listening:
Seek Ye First/神の国とその義を by Kenta and YUYU

かみのくにと そのぎを
まずだいいちと するとき
すべては あたえられる
ハレル ハレルヤ

Kevin

The first thing I noticed about his features were his wrinkles. They lined across his face from one edge to the other. In the broad daylight, I also noticed his blue eyes as he spoke with me through the glass. He held a poster with both hands with a half-smoked cigarette in his right. He gestures me to smile, as prompted by the words on the cardboard.

I roll down the window.

“What’s on the back of your shirt?”

I cannot remember verbatim what was written there, but the part I do remember said, “Be still and listen.” An ichthys, known colloquially as the ‘Jesus fish’ was sketched on the bottom left.

“Who gave you that idea?”, I asked, curious and trying to make conversation.

“My Father,” he said as he points and looks upward.

“I get my two-minutes sermon in every day here!” He smiles, still holding up his sign.

Dennis walks over.

“I got a Christian heart like he’s got a Christian heart in him, too. We’re homeless but we still got God in here.”

D grew up in New York. Wherever he had been previously I didn’t get to ask but he made his way down to Houston just a few months ago.

Some laughs later, I look over to see that the light had turned green.

“What’s your name?”

“Kevin. See ya!”

“Take care!”

As I accelerated, two other men crossed over the pedestrian path. One of the gentleman reached out for Kevin’s shoulder with brotherly affection while the other waved me goodbye with a smile in his eyes.

At approximately 6 p.m. almost every evening at this intersection on the way home, God softens the wounded and hardened corners of my heart. I am reminded of the kingdom of God and who it belongs to. It’s a special treat when I get to stop right at the light, as I know that routine would have it, these homeless fellows make their way back to the front to walk down the line of cars again. I’m convinced that it really shows on the faces of those who know that they’re rich in the things not of this world.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord. 

He is in the faces of those who do not have a permanent home. This time he was found in the face of Kevin and the other homeless men who sent me off to my drive home after a long day of work. What richness in the heart of many of these men on the streets, in the midst of their struggles and trials. If we are ever so bold, may we ask them where they’ve been and where they might be headed. Ask them if they’re saving up for anything. Ask them for their name and look into their eyes while doing so.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. -Hebrew 13:1-2

漢堡

IMG_5458

Sometimes thinking about the ways certain people enter into my life gives me a surge of delight in my trusted Shepherd who is behind it all. What good gifts he gives when we learn to ask. What was a creative, film major found to be doing at an Early Learning Center at this point and time- I’ve asked myself aplenty. These questions arise especially on the days when I feel (and know that I am) inexperienced, when I was not feeling well, when the director would walk in the moment when the students seemed like they had just been let loose and I had lost control of my classroom. But I knew one thing-I wanted to see God move in the neighborhoods and on the streets of this city where I currently call home. This opportunity posed as a chance to learn of community development and education simultaneously. I reckoned laying down and setting aside my creative ambitions for a time and learn of God’s heart for the least of these (and their families) would serve a purpose unbeknownst to me at the moment. With some early coursework in Psychology and a favored cover letter, for whatever his purposes, I joined in CCC’s community early last August. I only hoped that what he had made of my heart and experiences at the time was enough.

In hindsight, I can see how it was a place he had prepared for me that I may learn to balance an impending busy season.  Busy in mind, in responsibilities, and in disciplines. But perhaps the most important lesson the Lord would have me learn is to sustain having the heart of Mary in the midst of it all. To rest and listen, and to savor the words of my Savior so to not miss it when he speaks.

This past weekend some of the families and students from the center came out to an outdoor movie event hosted by FBCC. As I was in the midst of setting up some booths, I was moved in waves as I saw the familiar faces approach me from afar. A joining of my two worlds – a long awaited prayer answered. The parent pictured above noticed me by the side door after her son, a former student, pointed towards my direction from a distance and in his gentle way uttered, “Miss…Ma-ggie!”

漢堡 is the nickname given by his parents that I’ve grown accustomed to calling. Indeed, he loves his burgers. One by one I greeted a few other students as I walked over to the inflatables, where the families have set up a picnic area.

I longed to spend the rest of the evening with them but I knew I had to get back to facilitating the booth. I was filled with a sense of peace, as I acknowledged and grew in gratitude for the ways that God had been at work even when I was unaware. For the months of adjusting to new classrooms, learning how to manage disciplines, and even wrestling with my own purpose and call, I was blessed beyond words to have a hand full of tiny todds leap into my arms with grins on their faces upon greeting.  In this I am learning to recognize and be in a habit of thankfulness for early fruits of our labors. Since I’ve worked at the center, some of the most valuable things in life have been best learned as I walked hand in hand with these children who live life with an admirable amount of curiosity and candor.

“Stay close to those who are lowly (in height and meekness of heart), and there you will find Me.”

That was the Lord’s answer when I had set out and asked how may I know him better.

Often times children are the ways through which God reminds us of the most important things, the godly things. The laying down of pride, of worries, of the lesser things. They are those who forgive easily, confesses freely, and greets impartially. To all the lessons not yet learned. To the ways my heart has softened and has learned ways of perseverance, patience, and humility since working here.

In this season, many are the students and families I’ve gotten to meet. I have found a joy in relating to them in every downward stoop to speak with them or a stretch of hand to elicit a high-five or an effort to lead them to follow. I often see students find or complete something they’re proud of and proceeds to bring it to their teachers to show. Once I had a student dash to the other end of the classroom just to get his drawing to show me when I merely walked by his class. He stretched out his arm as high as he could as he catches his breath to show me his sketch paper. Though nothing more than discombobulated shapes, in that moment of course the only thing to do is to set aside my knowledge and need to correct so to be like him, speak like him, and stand in wonder like him. I’m learning to address each of the children’s milestones all the while teaching them to recognize and celebrate them.

Most frequently asked question of the night?

“Miss Maggie…What are you doing here!?”

Lily*

“Her dad is really good father.”


There was a day when I walked by one of the classrooms I used to assist in, wanting to take a peek inside. The desire to check up on past students hoping to catch these toddlers’ smiles and gentle waves never seems to get old.  I stuck my head in only to notice that one of the students I became fond of was not to be found among the sea of tiny faces.

“Where’d Lily* go?”, I asked my co-worker.

“Her family actually recently moved. They no longer come here because it’s too far.”

I immediately felt my brows flinch. My reaction of a missed opportunity. My heart sunk a little as I missed my chance to get a last grip of her tiny hands and say good-bye.

Pig-tails, bright eyes, and a gentle spirit. She had the love of her mother and father, though they could only spend time with her separately due to custody regulations. At 2.3-years-old, I wonder if such arrangement ever makes her question her security having to go back and forth from her parents’ homes throughout the week.

The world is still ahead of Lily* to explore. It’s known that the first stage of growth being Trust and Mistrust affects how a child engages with the world later in life. By 2 to 3-years-old, they’re growing a sense of autonomy, an important stage where they learn to step out of their comfort zone to take risks and standing up for themselves, presuming that they have a secure base to go forth from. This is notably the time in a child’s life where you’d often hear them say “no”.

When crucial components to a child’s growth aren’t consistent when they need to be or absent where they need to be present, as human beings, children learn to cope and adjust, finding sources of encouragement, affirmation, security elsewhere. The longing for those things surely remains into teens years, adolescence, and so forth until the heart is made whole again. It was probably why I felt an overflow of compassion for Lily* when I first heard about her family.

Perplexed, I frankly inquired of the Lord, “Why her?”

Though Lily’s* childhood might start out similar to many others who come from broken families, I knew in my heart that not all have to end in an endless search for love, approval, or security.

The Lord never gave a direct answer to my question. But at the response of my co-teacher telling me that her dad is a good father, her main guardian, I sensed it was a lesson to entrust people and things we hold close. Afterall, Lily* does have a good, good Father, whether she knows him or not at the moment.

20th Anniversary

Fort Bend Community Church recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and in lieu of the event, they asked for a video asking some staff and members of FBCC how they have grown in the past 20 years. It was indeed a blessing to see the zeal that still drives the older generations as I interviewed them as well as the lessons that kept them learning and chasing after God’s heart all these years. These brief interviews caught only a glimpse of their legacy in the making, but it was incredibly beautiful and humbling to hear of the ways God had always worked his most profound works in the unseen things. The personal relationships I’ve had with many of these interviewees made these testimonies all the more meaningful. I recall moments in the past where I would stop by in one of the pastor’s office years ago to pay visits to his two girls who would wait for their parents after church attending meetings. What joy it is to realize I had stepped into something profound in the making.

“Question of the Day” is a video series our church uses during our greetings time, having the idea of an icebreaker. This particular one of two videos had been planned, albeit in a short time, specifically for the celebration of FBCC’s 20th anniversary and was shown at the night of the church-wide gathering.  And of course, for those who were present, it would be hard to forget about the Jewish dances and children’s performances. Though I’m not quite sure, I could only assume that the Jewish dances were perhaps done in memory of past mission trips or to celebrate unity.

As for me, these years at FBCC have been a process of laying down my will and frustrations to realize what all God had been unfolding in and through his church body since I moved back to this city. Maybe all he ever wanted me to learn more of was to trust and be faithful. I have surely seen how he has fulfilled what he once said he would. Now it’s back to learning even more about what “in due time” really entails.

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

-Isaiah 55:11