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Lenten reflections

Lent colors
The first Ash Wednesday service I ever attended was pretty sad. Not just sad because we were  thinking about mortality and repentance – sad in the sense of a failure. I was helping to plant a church and while we’d had an exciting public launch – 5 months into it our numbers had dwindled.

I was leading music that night and was setting up the slideshow for projection in our 4th floor attic room. But just before we were to start, some folks from our host church came to take the projector for their own event. So there we were – the 6 of us singing while crowded around an old, donated laptop. We read some prayers and reflected on our mortality and our need for repentance.  We received ashes.

Lent that year was so challenging.  I was fasting weekly and gave up music in the car so that I could pray instead.  It was probably too much all at once, but it made me very aware of my need for God. Take away a little food and my music and I was keenly aware of my how much they were coping mechanisms for me.  At church, Lent was hard too – our numbers were low and we wondered if we would ‘make it’ as a plant.

But that Lent season ten years ago became a powerful time both in my life and in the life of Mosaic.   Something outside of ourselves was at work. Our Holy Week services were incredibly powerful for our small crew.  With Resurrection Sunday there was new light.  Literally.  There was an incident where a candle caught the tablecloth on fire…

Once, my 3 year old niece was upset at being given a time-out saying “This is terrible! I don’t know what’s going to happen next, this is terrible!”  In that, she captured the human condition.  We don’t know what will happen next and we can’t control it.  Lent reminds us of this – time in the wilderness.  Coming face to face with our limits.  Dealing with our dependence on food, caffeine, music, or whatever it is.  Waiting longer than we want to for a dating relationship.  Losing a loved one.  Facing transitions.  Hoping for children.  And we can’t know when the light will come until it does. As Florence + the machine says, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

The season of Lent reminds me that wilderness seasons are a part of life.

So as I sit with Lent this year, I come up against my limits and I am at the same time grateful and impatient.  Grateful because I am reminded that I am but dust – I am limited.  I have little control over circumstances.  I can choose to be grateful.  But I am impatient also for the dawn.


I am using the website http://www.pray-as-you-go.org as a guide for my Lenten prayer times.  It has audio of a prayer and reflection time that I have found very helpful in ‘holding the space’ for meditation and prayer.  


gratitude brings her own gifts.


I checked back in on my blog recently and got the ‘wordpress annual report’ which is meant to be encouraging, but showed me how little I wrote last year.  Yikes!  

I thought today was just an ‘ok’ or ‘meh’ day – and thought I would write this first post ironically about what a glamorous workday I had.  But as I was thinking, I realized that today was actually a great in terms of ministry – and while maybe not glamorous, I need to be grateful for what it was.

So for those who have wondered what I do…

  • Yesterday we had a staff team meeting with 12 of my staff to debrief Urbana, and start thinking about this winter quarter. Today I followed up on some of yesterday’s content, and also got back to some staff on important planning items in terms of campus strategies.  God did great things at Urbana, and there is more to come.
  • I spent an hour on the phone with a colleague debriefing some leadership lessons and brainstorming ways to grow the partnership team for our ministry in the Silicon Valley.  My leadership got sharpened!
  • On another phone call, I did some work on big-picture themes for our entire region.  My vision was expanded as I started to dream about what God might do in our region.
  • I wrote up our proposed plant at De Anza College and highlighted my staff’s strengths and the excitement we have about starting an InterVarsity fellowship there.  As I wrote, my heart got excited to love students we haven’t even met yet.
  • And tonight, I translated ten verses of Romans for my Greek exegesis class that just started.  My brain is tired – my Greek is pretty rusty since I took Greek over a year ago. But I feel so grateful to have the tools and ability to study.  


Yes, there are lots of other things that had to be done today, and still many more that await.    But taking the time to reflect even just briefly has changed the way I feel about the day.  I hope that in a moment of reflection that you find hidden (or not so hidden) gifts that were in your day too!

21 – an old norcal birthday

Today was a good birthday party – friends, food, and bocce ball.  And it was good to have so many old friends there too.  In a year where I’ve felt so new and unknown it was great to have 4 friends there that I’ve known since college.  And new friends too!

A couple nights ago I remembered this isn’t my first birthday celebration in Northern California.  I celebrated my 21st birthday here, visiting friends before heading out on my 2nd trip to XJ.  We went to dinner at Chevy’s ‘fresh-mex’ where they give you a sombrero if it’s your birthday.

I’m surprised that I’ve had about the same haircut since then.  🙂  I miss that old denim shirt.  I’ve been trying to remember what that Sabrina thought life would be like.

I had just graduated from Rice the month before, and would start working in Information Technology right after the China trip.  I was wrestling with whether I might ever be able to join InterVarsity staff. That mission trip felt like a consolation prize. While many of my friends went ahead into full-time ministry, I felt like I was headed into the wilderness.

And at times it was wilderness – in the transforming and painful ways that wilderness works.  We don’t get maps for life (at least not accurate ones).  Som-brina (tm KC) had no idea what was ahead – what the next 12 years would hold.  The adventures, heartaches, friendships, conflicts, medical scares, joys, travels, and heartbreaks.  The money and power, and later feeling poor and powerless.  The excitement of new ministries and planting a new church.  Ordination!  The sadness at leaving.  And new adventures in California!

I’m glad she didn’t know.*

This is how it works

You’re young until you’re not
You love until you don’t
You try until you can’t
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

-r. spektor (from the album ‘begin to hope’)

*By the grace of God, I can say that in hindsight about the past journey.  But in the present I often still want the map.

windows down

Tonight I was driving home from a wonderful concert in someone’s backyard – the only downside being that it was sweltering all evening.  So, driving home, I put the windows down – it felt cooler than it had been just sitting outside, and I especially like driving at night with windows down.

As I drove up Enfield with the radio on, I heard some other music interfering, as if a party was going on nearby.  I looked around for a club confusedly, there aren’t any on that street.  Then I realized it was coming from the truck in front of me.

The truck changed lanes to turn left, and as I pulled up I recognized the music first.  It was unmistakable.  1992’s “Baby Got Back.”   The truck turned out to be a very low truck that was also a convertible (?!) and there were two college-age women in it bopping along to the beat.  They were probably still toddlers when the song came out!  I laughed as I pulled away.

And then I laughed at myself, when I realized what my radio was playing — Third Eye Blind… ‘doo do doo, doo do doo do’  [sing along now – yes, now it’s in your head]’

The things you learn when driving with the windows down.

PS – the movie “Yes Man” has a hilarious scene with a Third Eye Blind song in it…

31 feels younger than 30

I had a great 31st year (it’s that weird thing where you’re in your first year before you turn 1…).  Some major accomplishments of last year include taking a great sabbatical (and coming back from sabbatical), taking a wonderful trip to Hong Kong,  and not dying.  Yes, that last one is a big reason why 31 feels younger than 30.   Not trying to be dramatic, just honest.  I’ve had my share of close-calls, but this spring’s anaphylactic shock was … well, shocking.

Taking a ride in an ambulance makes me appreciate this year’s birthday celebration so much more.  And celebrate I did!   First, by preaching a sermon on perhaps my favorite passage of Scripture – Mark 5 – with Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman.  You listen to the sermon audio at http://mosaicaustin.org/media.

Then, a potluck with lots of church friends at Amber’s house (a co-birthday celebrater).  And then my first immersion in Barton Springs.  Wow!  It was wonderful, and I felt soooo alive jumping into the 68 degree water.  Alive with the refreshing cold, and alive with the joy of having the energy to do it! (Sharp contrast to lying on the couch with no energy for a week after the ER).

After that, a wonderful dinner with old staff friends.  We laughed so hard!  I hadn’t laughed so much in a long, long time and was blessed by the food, company, and joy.IMG_5773

On Monday, there was more laughter and fun at Red House Pizzeria, and later a trip to Sandy’s for frozen custard.  They have random horses inside Red House… which I realize, works for me since I was born in the year of the horse.


Finally, on Wednesday I flew to Madison for my seminary class.  And participated in Party 31 – so named because Jenn I-M had 31 days until sabbatical, and because of my recent birthday.  It was a blast!  Here’s a picture of Jenn, Brenda, and I.


I wrote most of this post on Thursday, and then found out that one of our IV students at UT passed away on Friday morning.  She had been sick for two years, but it is still very sad.  I’m reminded of a thought from my sermon last week – I had gotten stuck writing the sermon.  I told the congregation that I needed to acknowledge that there are lots of stories that end with the daughter not getting brought back to life, or the woman not getting healed.   But in Mark 5 (the gospel reading last week) – we see Jesus the loving healer.  We see a desperate woman, and a desperate father, and we see Jesus meet them in their need.  As many of us mourn losses, Jesus meets us in those needs too.


As a kid, my job was to make sure that the new-fangled gadget, the VCR, would record the local and national news for my parents.  We recorded WWBT Channel 12 – the local NBC affiliate and grew up with Tom Brokaw so it was great to see him again at my brother’s college graduation (he gave a great speech). We kept up with the weather report, and what was going on in the world.

I remember the day of the Challenger explosion  and talking about it on the bus ride home.  But I vividly remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

It was Saturday morning Eastern time, and I had come down to watch cartoons, but there were no cartoons.  Just the news.  And it was bad news. Even before I looked at the TV,  I knew it was bad news because my parents were visibly upset.  For weeks, the Chinese college students had been protesting in the square, and now there were pictures of tanks on TV and the voices of journalists in Beijing talking about gunfire.

I was only in 6th grade, so I only really understood the basics.  I remember going to a vigil/protest/memorial in Richmond soon after, and seeing some of the other Chinese American families we knew in town there.  Some people had created a copy of the “Goddess of Democracy” like the students had in the square.

I know now that there were a lot of factors at work.  The students weren’t as pure as the media made them out to be.  There was a  power struggle going on in the Communist Party, and the hard-liners won.  Even with those nuances, reading eyewitness accounts and seeing video footage still brings tears to my eyes and makes me angry.

But only more recently have I realized what an impact it had on my sense of self.  Richmond back then had so many less Asian Americans… we all stood out, and we were often teased for being different.  The news kept talking about how the Chinese government crackdown was so horrible.  (And it was!)  But whether someone actually said it to me or not, the questions and comments I got after Tiananmen Square  communicated, “You’re from that place where they shoot college students.  That’s bad.  You must be like that.”

I’m not sure why anyone didn’t say (or I didn’t hear), “You’re from that place  where college students are brave and where pedicab drivers risked their lives to rescue the wounded.”  or “You’re from that place (Hong Kong) where millions turned out in protest and solidarity with students.”  But I guess years of racist comments had taken their toll.  Reflecting back, I’m thankful that God has brought me healing in so many of these places.

I still admire the courage of the students and really the workers of Beijing (historians believe that actually more workers may have died trying to keep the Army from reaching the students in the Square).  I have a photo of the Tank Man in my living room – it reminds me of the message it sends when even just one person stands up to something.  

And I’ve spent the last 8 years working full-time with college students.  When I think about Tiananmen Square, I look at my students and imagine men and women their age captivating the world with their hopes and dreams.  Now more than ever,  I believe that college students can change the world.

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