Photo by jimmy brown

By Tina Teng-Henson

Boxes of files neatly line the shelves and the center section of our garage. Some are filled with manila envelopes, each containing mementos, clippings, photos, and important documents from every chapter of my life. High school, college, every job I’ve ever had. Other boxes date back farther, containing letters from penpals in elementary, middle, and high school. What else? Journals filled with my signature chicken-scratch. Agenda books reminding me that even as a young person, I thrived on structure and schedules. Photos, albums, prints, even negatives (remember those?). Ticket stubs from when John and I were dating, wedding planning documents, and invitations to our 3 receptions. School yearbooks, all the photos from my Sweet 16 (both the good ones and all the awkward candids)…so much more.

When I think about these boxes sitting in the garage, I tend to feel some level of irritation with myself (and perhaps my parents) for holding on to so much stuff over so many years. At some point, when they moved out of our childhood home growing up, they shipped me all my belongings so I could deal with them. These were, after all, the artifacts of my life.

Seeing these boxes makes my inner critic come alive. Why can’t you just let go of all this stuff? Why didn’t you all clean your house regularly, and throw away unnecessary papers? Why do you feel the need to hold onto your college English books? Your psychology textbooks? Why can’t you just go through the boxes and discard everything except that which is most significant, truly meaningful, and actually worth keeping? Goodness knows, with 3 kids under 5, you need the extra space to deal with all the clutter of their lives!

My inner critic is not a very kind person. Imagine the pummelling upon my sweet soul. Such accusation and critique…ouch! Wow.

This weekend, we had the rare gift of two consecutive days of rest with very little on our social calendar. And in a special season where I am not working in any official capacity. Two friends generously offered to watch our kids so John and I could ‘get stuff done.’ With a determined brow, I sat down in my old rocking chair to start going thru the first of many boxes with a big empty ‘discard’ box beside me, ready to be filled up and cast off.

An hour and a half later — that box was still basically empty — but my heart was full. I opened maybe 5 of those manila envelopes — but was flooded by what their contents contained…each of those envelopes just a fraction, a sliver, the smallest slice of the incredibly rich life I have lived these past 36 years. College acceptance letters, journal entries from the night before and after John and I started dating, type-written alumni correspondence to an area director who had long since moved on. Photos of college blockmates glued to a faded green construction paper tree, valentines, magazine articles. Original artwork created by a good friend in print in an undergraduate literary magazine.

So many of the papers I rifled my hands through, I know I held onto back then — and will continue to hold onto today — with the thought: “maybe someday I can use this for a sermon illustration!” I know. I’m just that weird 🙂 But given that I may be on the cusp of receiving my first-ever call to be a teaching elder/pastor of a church, I am so very grateful for the depths of beauty contained within these boxes. I have already lived such an incredible life, but in this season where motherhood to three young children has rewired my brain circuitry such that I can’t retrieve or recall most of what preceded them — these boxes are a gift to me. These boxes, which my inner critic would berate me for holding onto, are the ongoing gift awaiting me in our garage — a reminder of who I still am — anytime I have opportunity to look inside. As long as I keep them — I will have a concrete way of tangibly remembering who I have been, where I have walked, when I have noticed God at work around me. I can go back and look thru these artifacts of my life and remember, savor, recall, mourn, and be glad. I can marvel, wonder, and thank God for giving me each of these particular experiences so many years ago, so that today and tomorrow, I might be differently equipped for the new work he is calling me to do. I’ve always feared I would not have enough to draw from for the work I’ve been called to do… but that’s ridiculous. There is a super-abundance here, already, to draw from — there always has been. And there always will be.

And not only so — but I realize not only do I have this one little life that I have lived — I have the fullness of the incredible Biblical text — its depths of polyvalent brilliance — story after story, verse after verse — history, import, interpretation — then, now, and everything in between. I cannot wait to delve in — I feel so hungry to do so after being with young children and community-organizing three churches. I’ve been saying, over and over, this might be the first scripture-facing role I’ve ever considered. I cannot wait! I have been waiting for this! Working towards this… for over a decade. Perhaps almost two.

So, I commend to you, dear friend, the joy of going back and remembering your life. Taking the time to sift, sweetly, the artifacts of your life. Slow down for a moment — to attend to your past. Give thanks for the richness of the life you have lived. Doing so may create heart space for the richness of the lives of each of the people around you. We have each been given so many treasures. They are there, within us, hidden yet profound. In truth, you are yourself one great treasure. May you notice that, and see the beauty of all that there is within.

Tina Teng-Henson has been blessed to learn + grow alongside so many different people, in so many places: Long Island, NY — Harvard College + the South End of Boston — Nairobi, Kenya and Lanzhou, China. Tina, her husband, and their three children live in northern California.


By Liz Chang

I am constantly in awe of the colors of fall leaves. I could probably sit and gaze at a tree with fiery red, orange and yellow leaves for hours. I especially love seeing trees that have the full gradient from green to yellow, orange, red, and all the shades in between. Continue Reading »


Photo by Marco Verch

By Debbie Gin

While “spontaneous” does not readily characterize me, I have engaged in my share of after-midnight, spur-of-the-moment beach-fishing runs and sleep-outside-on-the-stairs-of-the-college-chemistry-building-just-for-the-heck-of-it episodes. Most of these trysts with fellow rebels took place when I was younger — when I had fewer responsibilities and had less to risk. Now, older and with more to risk, I find it harder to welcome spontaneity.

To be sure, it rubs me the wrong way when the topic I was invited to speak on changes last minute or when the restaurant we’d decided on gets usurped for another, more exciting venue. As a fairly strong Myers-Briggs’ “J”, I like my world ordered. Spontaneity has little room in such a world, where “spontaneous” is a euphemism for “undisciplined” or “lacking in planning.” I also chafe at how society tends to value unshackled “creative vision” above careful “organized management” — with no imagination for a combination of these — in its leaders. So those who do welcome spontaneity by nature may find nothing to gain from this post.

In theological education (and in higher education, more generally), innovation has become a major driver. With post-2008 economic downturn decreases in enrollment and steady increases in operating budgets and tuition (for various reasons), institutions are having to defend their existence or, at least, show the return on students’ investments. In such tumultuous times, theological schools are needing to (learn to) be agile. Being agile (adaptable, nimble, flexible) is not the same as being undisciplined, however. The risk is too high to approach innovation randomly. Most newer schools are tuition-driven, while many older schools are endowment-reliant and finding themselves dipping into the endowments. They’re all finding ways to innovate responsibly. And, if books like New York Times’ bestseller The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses are any indicator, being agile means replacing 10- and 20-year strategic plans with ongoing strategic priorities or principles.

So what does this description of institutional agility have to do with individual spontaneity? Individual spontaneity comes through a strategically principled life — basing decisions on the principles that you have intentionally named for your life and vocation. I believe expressions of spontaneity in the life of the believer are experienced through the movement of the Spirit. The Spontaneous happens in the prompting to care for someone you know very little about. You experience It when a national atrocity occurs, and you rise — perhaps uncharacteristically — to fight the hate and injustice. You receive It when someone outside your community advocates on your behalf.

But spontaneity is not undisciplined; it is not irresponsible. This is good news for women, in particular, because, as typical multi-taskers, they have little room for spontaneity. Many of my women friends have had to make great professional sacrifices because they are taking care of children or elder parents or both. They are also hard-working employees and ministers, contribute to the life of the church, and keep their homes running. Their schedules are packed, so they must be disciplined. Having to don so many roles does mean they have little to no room for the spontaneous get-together with strategic potential partners, and the sacrifices they have to make keep them from benefiting immediately from a quick (i.e., “spontaneous”) decision because they have to find a babysitter, someone to take their parents to the doctor, etc. However, the disciplined life they have cultivated by necessity will hopefully have caused them to live by strategic principle, and the Spirit will ultimately bring expressions of spontaneity into that life of discipline. I encourage you (and myself) to also be disciplined in planning space in your schedules for the Spontaneous to prompt.

Dr. Debbie Gin is Director of Faculty Development and Research at The Association of Theological Schools/Commission on Accrediting, the support and accrediting organization of most seminaries in the US and Canada. She was formerly Associate Professor of Ministry at Azusa Pacific Seminary and Fellow for Faculty Development and Evaluation in the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment at Azusa Pacific University. She and her husband currently live in Pennsylvania.

Photo by Angela Mueller

By Sharon Lee Song

Traditional Korean family culture is not a culture that is characterized by spontaneity.  I would generalize and say that this is true for other East Asian cultures (Chinese, Japanese).  There are strong familial expectations for each individual, and particularly for children to fulfill their parent’s expectations for life, career, and future family generations.  Continue Reading »

Photo by Jakob Montrasio

By Tina Teng-Henson

When was the last time you did something kind…for yourself? That was good for your body?

Last week, on a whim, I walked into a little beauty school around the corner from where we live, that I’d never paid attention to before.  I’d often walked right by it over the past 5 years, nestled as it is between our pediatrician’s office and the Rite Aid pharmacy. I checked their hours and wrote down their rates for a haircut. Continue Reading »

Spontaneity: Pure Joy

Photo by Christos Loufopoulos

By Jerrica KF Ching

The word spontaneity often brings up a complexity of emotions in me that takes some time sorting through and processing.  In the past, I would not have described myself as a spontaneous person, and viewed it as the antithesis of being an organized person.  Continue Reading »

Photo by Alex Bellink

By Melanie Mar Chow

When is the last time you had a good belly laugh with others? The themes for the AAWOL blog this year comes from John O’Donohue in his book, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. “Anam cara” can be loosely translated as “soul friend” and yes, we all need a friend, especially for our souls. Continue Reading »

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