paper lanterns – divine love affair, pt ii

part i.

Everyday I walk to the ocean, once in the morning for the sunrise, once in the evening for the sunset.

Some days, the sun doesn’t rise. Other days, it doesn’t set.
Some days, it’s neither.

Once in a while, I will take a trip to myself in the wilderness, and get away from the city. I spend my time driving up and down the coast, in search of one called God.

Some days, she is there. Other days, she is not.

This is the third trip that I made this year and this time, I’m camping out in Big Sur.
I’m walking on a trail in the Redwood forest, meandering in step and in thought, when I spot a patch of red paper in the distance.

My heart elates. I step off the trail and carefully way my way through the brush to untangle it from the shrub.

The candle is still barely smoking, emitting gentle pulses of warmth. I unfold the slightly-torn lantern and look inside.

There is ink on it,
but it is smudged away by rain. It is barely illegible.

Sigh.

I pack the scraps in my bag, step back onto the trail, and continue walking.

“Table for two?”

“One.”

She smiled.

“Right this way.”

Days are slow here.

I chose to leave the noise of the city, but some days, I cannot stand the silence.

The California coastline is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve never been to Big Sur before so I give it a shot.

Yesterday, I spent the whole day in the woods, so today, I decide to go to the water. The cliffs here are incredible and I could probably spend the whole day looking at the waves crash into them.

But there is a thick fog that has rolled in, and the ocean – along with everything else – carries a deadened gray hue.

It is underwhelming.

I try again the next day. And the next.
But the persistent fog refuses to leave. Every day, more fog rolls in and covers the sky and I am unable to enjoy the scenery.

Time passes at a strangely slow tempo here.

No sunrise. No sunset.

They say God speaks in mysterious ways.

“I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had left;
he was gone. My heart sank at his departure.

I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.”

I’m driving up and down the golden coast, in search of God. I trek through thick Redwood forests and scale cliffsides, hoping for a mere glimpse.

“Maybe this is a good place to look.”

Oftentimes, I do not know if I really found her.

I have a memory that still sticks with me, one that
even after all this time, still glows.

The sun is setting, but the air is dense and humid. We hurry up and finish painting on the red fabric for our mobile love letter.

Mom shows me the characters once more, slowly swashing brushstrokes with care and finesse. I try to imitate, but I was never good at calligraphy, or anything artistic, for that matter.

My characters look gloppy and messy – like a child’s watercolor painting. But the sun has set, so we finish up our inkwork to prepare for liftoff.

I watch as my mom slowly folds and creases the canvas, repeating the motion multiple times, until the ink-splattered piece forms a paper orb.

“Woah.”

I am mesmerized watching Mom turn our messy paintings into paper lanterns, soon to take flight.

Each of us takes a lantern and runs outside. Mom places a small dish of strange jelly inside, telling us it will help them fly.

There are crowds outside, other rowdy Taiwanese families eager to send off their own lanterns. The sky darkens, and the crowd hushes.

It is time.

Mom takes the lighter and ignites the jelly. Our lanterns inflate and take a life of their own. Soon enough, they begin floating and lifting off the ground.

I am a little scared to let it go, knowing how much effort I put into my Taiwanese-American characters, but I feel the thing pulling and tugging away gently.

My mom nudges me, “It’s time to let go.”

My small hands are clenched but after hearing Mom speak,
I unfurl my fingers.

I watch in awe, as the glowing lantern floats away,
higher and higher into the sky,
joining hundreds of other lights,
like a swarm of fireflies.

“Where will they go??”, I ask Mom.

I don’t remember what she told me that night.

But a part of me – the little Taiwanese child part of me – wants to believe that it floated somewhere far, far away beyond the horizon, where somebody else would be watching,
waiting to catch it.

I’m snaking my way through the winding Highway One.
It is a mind-numbing, mostly-gray drive.

I see a restaurant on the side of the road, and without thinking, pull over. I stop the engine, pull the key out of ignition, and sit in the deadened silence for a while.

I step outside my car, and walk inside.

“Table for two?”

“One.”

She smiled.

“Right this way.”

I get seated and look through the menu, but I’m heavily distracted by what’s in front of me – or rather, what’s not. Every few minutes, I peek over the menu, and hide behind it again.

“All ready to order?”

“Um, few more minutes.”

I forget what I order.

I sit around waiting, letting the feeling sink in. Twiddling my thumbs by the candlelight. Checking my phone with no reception.

Staring into the gaping, empty chair in front of me as I eat,
listening to other peoples’ conversations,
other couples’ conversations,

thinking to myself –
“Is this what desperate people do?
Am I crazy?”

How do I love you if I can’t even see you?
How is this going to work between us?

Is this our relationship?

I drive home that day, slightly buzzed from one too many.

The next morning, I scrawl onto a dinner napkin –

If it weren’t for this dreadful fog, 
these waves would be so much bluer,
the hills would be more alive,
spirits would be lighter,

life would be so much more colorful.

It’s been three days. Or, has it?

“Lift the fog.”

By the third – or fourth – day, I’m feeling ready to go home. I’m sick of hearing only my own voice, so I pack my bags.

I drive out into the woods again, and snake my way through Highway One, spotify on shuffle. Meandering in route and in sound.

Within the first thirty minutes of winding road,
the clouds clear, and the sun abruptly pierces through.

Finally, the fog lifts.

Then, I see it.

A speck of red, buried in shrub.

I slam my breaks and pull over at the next turnout. Emergency lights on. Treading carefully through the brush, I make my way to the paper lantern tangled in the foliage.

The candle is still barely glowing –
emitting gentle pulses of warmth – even after all this time.

I pick it up. I see traces of gloppy, messy letters, smudged and weather-worn after its long journey.

I unfold the torn lantern and look inside.

She looked off to the side, the way she does when she’s thinking – like her mind is onto something. Gentle pulses of warmth ebb and flow from the candlelight between us.

She pulled out her pen and grabbed my napkin.

“Let me show you something.”

And on she went, scribbling and scrawling whatever idea was up her sleeve. I looked intently, as she drew with care and finesse. I could see the resolve in her furrowed eyebrows.

Pen click. Push napkin.

“Here.”

I looked at her inklings. They looked great, but I didn’t understand.

“Looks like a wine glass… and an elderly man with a cane. Um, walking stick.”

“So.. what do you think?”

“Well, they both.. smell funny.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Think.”

“Okay um… well the wine glass reminds me of romantic dinners and fancy things. An expensive treat. And the walking stick makes me think of old age.”

She kept her eyes fixed on me, as if I would suddenly read her mind and understand everything.

“…Am I close?”

“Mmm you’re getting somewhere.”

“Growing old. Together.”

“Mhmm..”

“Oh, like an old couple. Wait, are you..”

“Hey. Focus. What do the two have in common??”

“They both.. smell funny.”

“They both age well.”

I picked up the napkin and examined it closely, then looked at her. Then back at the napkin, then back at her.

“The longer you let wine sit, the better it tastes. It draws out a flavor that is sweeter, darker, – yet richer. Sure, it might be harder to appreciate than say, apple juice, but it’s an acquired taste.”

“And acquired tastes are the best tastes.”

“Right.”

My turn to look off-screen. Her words took their time, sinking in.

“Hey… we’re both getting older.
Don’t you want to save the magic??”

I drove home that night feeling slightly buzzed, and it wasn’t just the alcohol. I took the napkin and stuffed it in my coat pocket on our way out, when she wasn’t looking.

What she said still echoed in my mind –
about growing older and how much harder it gets,
about deepening the flavor.

Aging well.

I thought about all the transitions I’ve made into adulthood recently and how much harder it’s been. Time has done its due and I am getting older. Searching for the Kid has not been the same.

I thought about how Kid Wonder keeps disappearing, again and again, and why he can’t just sit still in one place.

And I think the answer has something to do with romance.

The way it ages, but only gets better and better. The way it gets older, then becomes young all over again.

The playfulness of it all.
The teasing, the inside jokes, the roleplaying,
the cheesiness and the ridiculousness,

– the childlikeness.

The way it hides, then shows itself for no reason again.

Kid Wonder is still out there, so I must keep looking for him.

Everyday I walk to the ocean, once in the morning for the sunrise, once in the evening for the sunset.

Some days, the sun doesn’t rise. Other days, it doesn’t set.
Recently, it’s been neither.

I drive up and down the golden coast, in search of God. I trek through thick Redwood forests and scale cliffsides, hoping for a mere glimpse.

They say God speaks in mysterious ways.

“…for your love is more delightful than wine.”

“We rejoice and delight in you; 
we will praise your love more than wine.”

– Solomon

Oftentimes, I do not know if I really found her.

It is day four, and I decide it is time to go home.
Back into civilization, back into 4G LTE cell service,
back into adulting life. Whatever that means.

I’m snaking my way along Highway One, spotify on shuffle. It is refreshing to see the sun for once.

One lane eventually splits into two, then three,
and “Paper Airplane” starts playing. I listen to the words and think, maybe this is the type of relationship God wants with me.

Sending letters, throwing paper airplanes across the ocean,
and such.

Longing for our lovers, but at a distance.
Separated by spacetime.

Waiting.

I drive out into the Redwoods and travel along golden coastlines, scouring the land for messages in bottles, lanterns from faraway places, any sort of trace of her.

I look for any sign, that she is still out there,
still also looking.

Somedays, I find something. Other days, I do not.

Before I leave, I write a message of my own. I fold the delicate fabric, carefully creasing at the right spots, and craft my own paper lantern.

I place a small dish of strange jelly inside the orb, and ignite it with flame.

The lantern inflates and my mobile love letter is now glowing.

I am scared to let go, but I feel it tugging and pulling gently, as if nudging me to release.

After a moment, I pray that it will reach her, and let go. The lantern lifts up and the wind blows it towards the horizon. I stare at the floating light – the singular firefly – before it floats further and further away beyond eyeshot.

I cannot leave until I see it cross the horizon, because it is so sad, yet so beautiful.

As if watching a second sunset.

I’m not sure who God is,
but I can’t help but think that our divine love affair is like a long-distance relationship.

now you see Him, now you don’t

the way that God works is mysterious.  and strange.  and hidden.  i don’t think many of us understand it most of the time so a lot of times, we don’t see it.  other times, our eyes are just not tuned to the spiritual work of God so we seldom notice Him.  our eyes are tuned to see other things that we deem as “important”, such as our facebook profiles, our reputations, the number of stars at the restaurant we’re eating at, our annual salaries, the college we go to, our gpa’s, etc.  i’m not saying that these things aren’t “important” or “good” but it is often these things that blind us from the work of the Lord.  in fact, God usually has to take these things away from us [often forcibly] in order to get our attention.

over the past two weeks, God sent me on a mission trip with 15-ish other crazy taiwanese dumplings to the city of Hualien in Taiwan, our homeland.  objective of the mission: none other than to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  in a land where over 90% of its people don’t know Christ.  we must go.  the call is urgent.  the people need Christ.  mission accepted.  Jesus, I am in!

but how?!  how do we proclaim Your name to these kids and their families?  of course we could always go to their homes and shout “JESUS CHRIST” in their faces, but that might not work.  can’t take that too literally.  we need some sort of.. “vehicle”.  something that will allow us to reach their hearts.  we must first tend to their physical hunger, in order to reach the needs of their spiritual hunger.  what do the people want/need?  english.  many of the families want their children to learn some english.  so we’ll give that to them!  and at the same time, we give them Christ.  more of showing than giving, but yeah.  and so for two weeks, we taught english to around 85 kids at the donghong church, hoping and praying to God that these precious kids would come to Christ.  that was our mission trip.  the end.

a lot of people would conclude their reevaluations of a mission trip abruptly, like such^.  “oh, the mission trip was good and stuff, we had a lot of fun.  kinda tiring.  but like, it was good”.  hearing that makes me sad.  not only does it make me feel like you don’t wanna talk to me, but it also shows that you were unaware of all the work that God has been doing.  “seriously?!  nothing to share all??  there has to be at least one testimony…?  okay fine :(”

in my opinion, there should be tons and tons of testimonies to share on each individual mission trip. [btw, testimonies aren’t limited to just stories of salvation; they can be about anything that the Lord has been doing in your life].  why?  because God is always working.  to reiterate, the way that God works is mysterious and hidden.  if you can’t think of anything that God has been doing on your past mission trip, search harder.  over the past mission trip in hualien, i think God has really helped me shed my “worldly glasses” [as i like to call them] and open my eyes to see His marvelous works.  it was as if i was blind to a whole separate dimension and God just revealed the 3D world to me.  was blind, but now, i see.  it’s mindblowing.  eye-opening.  i can now see the invisible and mighty working hand of God, molding hearts, transforming lives, and even moving typhoons.  i can’t see all of it but i am so certain that His hand is there; i just know it.  there’s evidence everywhere!!

  1. changed hearts and changed lives – hearing from last year’s missionaries, there were supposedly only around three local TA’s.  very small youth fellowship.  this year, there were over fifteen.  i know that still doesn’t sound very impressive but the amount of growth that their ministry has gone through over the past year cannot be underestimated.  some of the TA’s have only been attending this church for six months!  and hearing from their stories, they went through dramatic change in just that short amount of time.  some of them were [i quote] “mean”, “scary” and “gangster”and yet, i didn’t see any of that.  i saw a loving and mature christian with a good heart.  it’s hard to believe that they went through so much change in six months.  and there was the hand of Yahweh.
  2. numbers don’t matter – on saturdays, the donghong church has a youth fellowship that welcomes anyone from middle school to college who wishes to commune with other believers and God.  this is similar to the “Friday Night Fellowship” that we do at East Valley, except with maybe less than a third of the people.  i’m pretty sure our EV team made up almost half of their attendance that day.  we could all fit within the first row of pews.  and somehow, i was still blown away.  not because of their attendance, but their passion.  their numbers were so few, yet their spirits were so strong.  when they played games, they were so excited and enthusiastic; when they fellowshipped, they were overflowing with joy; and when they sang…   wow.  i still don’t understand how they sang so loudly with so few people.  it wasn’t so much the skill of their singing [though they are good], but more of the heart behind it.  when they worshipped God, you could really tell that they were worshipping God.  they were passionate, bold, and unashamed.  it was so beautiful.  i couldn’t even understand the words to the songs [they sang in Chinese] and i still wanted to cry!  and there was the hand of Yahweh.
  3.  fruit – during our trip, we also spent our afternoons and nights visiting the families of the children who attended our english bible camp.  our goal was to be salt and light to their households, make a lasting [good] impression on both the kids and the parents, and ultimately, invite them to become church members at donghong.  most of our visitations were very successful; the families were mostly open to the idea of allowing their children to participate in church activities.  a couple of families even told us they would send their children to sunday school every week!  the sunday right after our team left hualien, there were already new kids.  and there was the hand of Yahweh.
  4.  coincidence?  i think not – God?  i think so.  july19th was our second and final day of english bible camp; we were already packed up and ready to leave hualien that afternoon.  we traveled by train and 2-3 hours later, we were back at the Taipei Main Station.  we all passed through the gate and showed our tickets.  well, all except one.  one of our team members somehow lost his ticket, causing us to wait for 5-10 minutes as he searched his bags and pockets.  thankfully, our team captain had a receipt of all the tickets so we didn’t have to abandon him but as we were about to leave, another group of 10+ asians speaking english passed by us.  i didn’t know who they were but they randomly stopped to ask me if we were a mission team.  it turns out that they were also a mission team from irvine, ca [not too far from us] sent to hualien for a mission trip for two weeks and they came back on the same train as us.  whoa!!  what the crazy.  now that i think about it, if our team member hadn’t lost his ticket, we probably wouldn’t have ever bumped into them.  fast forward 3 days.  me, my brother, and another church friend [J] were flying back to LAX; i kept trying to see if there was anybody on the plane that i knew.  but no dice.  as we were passing through immigration, J was telling us about the person who was sitting next to her; he was a caucasian male who was a missionary that was sent to taipei to learn chinese and spread the gospel.  and he just so happened to end up in the seat next to J and wanted to share with her.  whoa!!!  what the crazy.  if that wasn’t enough to swallow, it turns out that there was in fact somebody that i knew on the plane: my old small group leader that i met at a church winter retreat two years ago!  he also was sent on a mission to taiwan to spread the gospel with a team of 14-ish people.  WHOA. WHAT THE CRAZY.  what is going on.  from these different observations, i think i finally began to realize that God truly is working in Taiwan.  through this trip, i’ve learn to pray some prettyy bold and extreme prayers, one of them being the salvation of the entire city of hualien.  i prayed that hualien would become a beacon of light for the rest of Taiwan and soon, the whole country would know Jesus.  and throughout the course of these seemingly disconnected events, i think God was trying to tell me that He really was there.  right there in Taiwan.  doing His work.  doing His thang.  He gave me this assurance that..   that He was, in fact, answering my prayer.  of course, Taiwan won’t become christian overnight but i could see that God was doing His work.  werk it.  and from that moment on, i felt more at peace.  coincidence?  i think not.  God?  i think so.  and there was the hand of Yahweh.
  5. go away and never come back – i really don’t know about this one but i’d like to think that the typhoon was His doing.  originally, there was supposed to a severe typhoon hitting hualien on the first weekend but the typhoon shifted direction and went up north to Taipei.  had the storm hit us, we would have had to cancel one day of english bible camp, and that, in my opinion, would have made a big difference.  but instead, there was no storm, only a light drizzle.  and there was the hand of Yahweh?

these are only a few of the dozens of things that showed God’s work; i assure you that there are many many more.  there is a certain Jana Alayra song [woot] that goes “come and see what God has done, all the wonders under the sun..”;  we sang this many times during singspiration in those two weeks.  every time we sing it,  i am reminded of all these things..  the changed lives, the new church members, the “coincidences”, everything.  and it always blows my mind to think about it.  God’s fingerprints really are everywhere, we just have to open our eyes to see them.  perhaps it isn’t because these things are hidden, but more so the fact that we are blind, that we fail to acknowledge God.  perhaps we rely too much on the eyeballs of our face, rather than the eyeballs of our hearts.  next time you go on a mission trip, pray to God that you would be able to see things beyond a worldly perspective and i assure you that your trip will become so much more meaningful.  and bring it back home with you, too!  don’t just leave your spiritual glasses in the mission field.  don’t forget that you are always on a mission, whether you’re in taiwan, or back at home.

as i have learned to appreciate the invisible, yet awe-inspiring works of God, i have also consequently learned to worship that same God on an even deeper and more profound level than ever before.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  – C. S. Lewis