Archive for the ‘reflections’ Category

Aging: Choiceless Choices

Photo by chico945

By Angela Ryo

My dad turned 80 last month. I never thought I’d see the day my dad would turn 80, but there I was, driving to Chicago from Detroit to celebrate his 80th birthday. He celebrated just the way he wanted:  Eating take-out Chinese food from his favorite place, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, and talking to his 88-year-old brother in Korea over the phone. My four sisters and I tried to convince him to go to a fancy restaurant, but he was adamant that all he wanted was Chinese food. We offered to take my mom and dad on a cruise for his birthday, but all he wanted was a new couch to replace the old one that was starting to fall apart. I grew frustrated that he wouldn’t let us do anything nice for his birthday. But then, I took a step back and thought about how his 80th birthday was a true reflection of the frugal and practical person he has always been. He was celebrating his life true to the person he had become in the last 80 years of his life, regardless of whether it made his children happy or not.

I just turned 43 this year. As I get older, I realize that my decisions are based on the person I have become rather than circumstantial considerations. What I say and do is no longer carefully measured and monitored — it’s an outflow of who I am. In Thomas Merton’s words, “What we must become is what we already are.” I realize more and more that aging is much like sculpting — or at least sculpting according to Michelangelo. He once commented that every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover its true form. As wrinkles populate around my eyes and white hair cover my head, I pray that my true self would become more pronounced and my inside would completely match the outside. I found Richard Rohr’s explanation on this topic in his book, Falling Upward, very helpful:

“In the second half of the spiritual life, you are not making choices as much as you are being guided, taught, and led — which leads to “choiceless choices.”  These are the things you cannot NOT do because of what you have become, things you do not need to do because they are not yours to do, and things you absolutely must do because they are your destiny and your deepest desire. Your driving motives are no longer money, success, or the approval of others. You have found your sacred dance.

Now your only specialness is in being absolutely ordinary and even “choiceless,” beyond the strong opinions, needs, preferences, and demands of the first half of life. You do not need your “visions” anymore; you are happily participating in God’s vision for you.

With that, the wonderful dreaming and the dreamer that we were in our early years have morphed into Someone Else’s dream for us. We move from the driver’s seat to being a happy passenger, one who is still allowed to make helpful suggestions to the Driver. We are henceforth “a serene disciple,” living in our own unique soul as never before, yet paradoxically living within the mind and heart of God, and taking our place in the great and general dance.”

So, what are your “choiceless choices?”

Angela Ryo currently serves as the Assistant Pastor for Christian Formation at Kirk in the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She enjoys taking long walks, reading, listening to NPR, and drinking good coffee with friends and strangers alike.


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Photo by emdot

By Sarah D. Park

In the bathroom of my parents’ home, there is a poem scotch-taped to the wall. Should you sit down on the toilet, you can easily read it from there. I cannot remember when this poem first appeared — at least since the time I was in fifth grade — and it did not come with any explanation or fanfare when it simply appeared one day. And I’d like to share it with you. (more…)

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Photo by Elisa Self

By Joy Wong

Beauty’s a tough subject for me — and, I imagine, for most women. It seems that nearly every woman I encounter is unhappy about some aspect of her appearance. One woman laments the size of her hips and thighs. Another mom marvels at the ability of a lady on a blog who gave birth seven times and is still able to maintain a flat stomach. Personally, I’ve been noticing an increasing amount of freckles and sunspots on my face. I also wonder when (or if) my tummy will ever go flat again, and if I will ever lose all my postpartum weight.

What’s funny (and horrific) about it all is that it seems that my ideal self is an ever-moving target. These days, I pine for my slim self when I was in my 20s, but as I recall, back then I wasn’t happy about some other aspect…  perhaps some acne, or volumeless hair, or whatever. One of the graces I find about being a mom of three kids is that while I’m too busy to work on my appearance, I’m also too busy to spend too much time critiquing myself either.

“Beauty is fleeting,” as Proverbs 31:30 says (NIV). It makes me think of cut flowers — beautiful for a couple days, and if you’re lucky, for a week or so; but in a short time, it all starts to brown and wither. I find that roses tend to die most gracefully, but even dead roses are such a sad comparison to their former gorgeous blooms. Very depressing, especially when we think of our own beauty in the same way!

But a new metaphor is now dawning on me, and giving me a bit more hope: not the beauty of cut roses, but the beauty of a rose bush, planted in the ground. It reminds me of the tree “planted in streams of living water, which yields its fruit [or in the case of our metaphor, flowers] in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers” (Psalm 1:3 NIV). Or even of Paul’s exhortations to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17) and/or “rooted…abounding in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:7) (NIV).

Perhaps it’s true that our beauty is fleeting, but just as a rose bush yields new flowers in new seasons, so also perhaps our lives yield new beauty in different seasons of our lives. In aging, perhaps there is new beauty in confidence, in joy, in maturation, in appreciation, in wisdom, in gentleness, in patience, in perspective… and the list goes on.

For me, something I’d like to gain is appreciation… for the beauty I have, rather than the beauty I’ve lost, or don’t have anymore. After all, beauty is fleeting, right? What I have now (and fail to appreciate), I may not have tomorrow, and perhaps I may be lamenting the loss of it in the next season. Instead of succumbing to the incessant nagging of my inner critic, I want to be grateful. Moreover, I want to be rooted, yielding beauty in the due seasons of my life.

Joy Wong has an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, a BA in English from Princeton University, as well as four years’ experience in industrial distribution management.  She is a contributing author to Mirrored Reflections: Reframing Biblical Characters, published in September 2010. 

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Photo by newskin0

By Wendy Choy-Chan

I joined a line dancing class recently to get some regular exercise. The instructor is around seventy years old, and some of my classmates are in their eighties already. Needless to say, I don’t know any of the “pop songs” that we dance to. I feel I am being transported to an era before my time, but these ladies and one gentleman feel right at home, dancing like stars, with the rest of the universe as audience. (more…)

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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.

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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.  (more…)

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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. (more…)

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