What interests me, intrigues me, makes me smile,
and makes me wonder...

Middle-earth: a personal timeline

Anyone who has known me or has been reading this blog long enough knows that I'm a huge fan of Prof. J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973). I had read and loved his tales of Arda long before Peter Jackson made the Lord of The Rings movies.

I'm finishing this post just a few hours away from another 'milestone' in the Tolkien global fandom: the world premiere of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" in the Middle of Middle-earth (a.k.a. Wellington, NZ) on November 28, 2012.

So in anticipation of another exciting adventure into Middle-earth, below is my own personal timeline into Tolkien's wonderful imagination. First, though, the publication dates of Tolkien's most well-known books:
  • 1937The Hobbit
  • 1954-1955The Lord of The Rings (three volumes)
  • 1977The Silmarillion (published posthumously)

Now to my own 'unexpected journey' into Middle-earth...
  • 1985 — we moved from Jakarta to Los Angeles, California. I entered the American school system as an 8th grader in Junior High.
  • 1986 — my first encounter with Tolkien's works was initiated by The Hobbit. An abridged version of it was given to my freshman (9th grade) English class as a reading assignment and we also listened to the audio 'play' (I think it was the BBC version). Smitten, and wanting to know more about Middle-earth and its inhabitants, I bought a boxed paperback set containing The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Plus, to complete my immersion into the cosmology and the long history of Arda (the 'universe' in which Middle-earth is set), I also purchased The Silmarillion.

My first Tolkien books. Yup, still have them after over 25 years and moving to the other side of the globe.
  • 1986-1999 — I read all my Tolkien collection and re-read them intermittently throughout these long years. I escaped to Middle-earth quite often. I even rented the only 'movie' versions of those books available at the time, both produced in the late '70s: the Rankin/Bass animation "The Hobbit" and Ralph Bakshi's rotoscoped (and half-finished!) "LOTR". Those were ... underwhelming. And weird. Other than my brother, I didn't know any other person or friend who was 'into' Tolkien. Not in high school, not in college, not in any social or professional circles. I refer to this lengthy period as my 'solitude' in my own Tolkien geekdom (I was perfectly content in my isolation, mind you). But then, something was developing in the real world that would break this solitude and changed all stripes of geekdoms forever: the INTERNET. 
  • 1999 — rumor grew that a director named Peter Jackson would make the "Lord of the Rings" live-action movies.  Oooh! Finally, someone had taken up this task! A few websites that explored this popped up. I started checking one site regularly: TheOneRing.net. TORn, as it's known among its followers, seemed to have the best 'insider' info on this development, with 'spies' in a tiny country far, far away where the LOTR movies were being made: New Zealand. (By the way, TORn is still the best!) In addition to finding out as much as possible about this movie production, I also had a revelation: there were others like me! There were so many others who loved Middle-earth as much as I did, if not more! I was NOT alone! I had found my (virtual) Tolkien community! So glad to know that I wasn't the only one obsessing about this... 
  • December 2001"LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring" debuted. To watch this long-anticipated film I had asked my boyfriend to accompany me. He had never heard of Tolkien, hobbits or Middle-earth prior to this. But, being a good boyfriend in a relationship that was just several months old at the time, he obliged (at least I didn't torture him with a 'chick flick'!). After the movie was over, I asked if he liked it (I knew LOTR:FOTR would be quite confusing for those who weren't familiar with the books. The story was incomplete, after all.). He said yes, he did (... maybe he said it just to please his Tolkien-obsessed girlfriend ... hmm....). So then and there, I asked him to be my 'date' again for the continuation "LOTR: The Two Towers", which was still one year away. He said yes again.
  • December 2002"LOTR: The Two Towers" debuted. Yes, I watched it with the same boyfriend ... but this time he had become my fiancé (I knew he was a keeper when he accepted my obsessiveness with all things Middle-earth. Ehm.). We were just several weeks away from our wedding in January 2003.
  • January 2008 — My husband and I returned to Jakarta, Indonesia. By this time, our family had grown to include two young children. All my Tolkien-related collection had been shipped ahead in a container along with our other stuff from Los Angeles to Jakarta.
  • December 2011 — a decade (!) after LOTR:FOTR premiered and Tolkien geekdom has exploded into a global phenomenon, Bern and I commemorated by introducing the Professor's tales to the next generation: our sons who were 7 and almost 5 at the time. As a family we watched my collection of the LOTR Trilogy Extended Version DVDs over a couple of weekends.

Where are they going?

I was checking out the video below when my 4-year-old son got curious and climbed on my lap to watch it with me.

(go ahead, watch the video first, and it's worth viewing 'full screen' on your monitor)

We both were transfixed by this breathtakingly beautiful video of time-lapsed sky over the frozen plains of South Dakota.

I was explaining to my son, "Look at those stars as they move across the sky!"

"Kemana? (Where?)" he asked.

I was struck speechless by the innocence and also by the serendipitous poetry of that question.

"Where are the stars going?"

Now I know, and so do you, the 'scientific' explanation in response to his query. But ... that's not the point.

In school both of my children will eventually learn about the physical laws that govern the solar system and the universe. As their mother I also hope to share my own life-long fascination with science and space. One of my earliest memories is that of being immersed in the darkness while the stars whirled above me in the planetarium. As a young girl I wanted to become an astronomer and work for NASA. And, of course, I love Star Trek, and if I were a Starfleet science officer, I would have loved to be assigned to Stellar Cartography aboard the USS Enterprise-D!

But it is my hope that even when my two sons have learned the physics behind the movement of celestial bodies, the 'exactness' of science (a thing of beauty in itself) will never take away the equally critical sense of child-like wonder. It's the same imagination that drove the ancient civilizations to see animals and mythical heroes, monsters, gods and goddesses etched in the clusters of stars. That all 'learning' won't detract them from the eternal poetry of God's creation, imprinted in the human soul.

I'd like to leave you with this clip below. It's the jaw-dropping opening scene from one of my most favorite movies: "Contact" (1997). So, again, click the 'full screen' button, sit back and let your imagination take flight!

Our Wedding Tale

We recently celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary [post originally written in 2010]. Exactly on our fifth one, my husband and I and our two little boys boarded the flight that would take us from southern California to our new life in Jakarta.

In the little over two years that we've lived in Indonesia, we had attended several weddings here. Up to my return to Jakarta, I was more familiar with the smaller, more intimate American-style weddings, where guests number just a few hundreds at the most. The biggest wedding I'd ever attended in all my 22+ years in Los Angeles had 500 guests. It was huge for American standards, but puny compared to the massive wedding receptions in Jakarta that typically have several thousand guests, all crowded in humongous hotel ballrooms or function halls. I'd heard of these massive (there's that word again) weddings from Indonesian friends when I was in the U.S., and although I couldn't really imagine it back then, I remember feeling somewhat horrified at the thought.

Now every time I go to one of these enormous (I'm mining the thesaurus for synonyms for 'huge', can you tell?) weddings here, nice and ultra-posh as they are, I can't help but be extremely and eternally grateful that we had our wedding in the United States! As our seventh anniversary was approaching in January, I was struck by this singular moment from our wedding: that as I walked down the aisle toward my Groom and later at the end of the ceremony as we turned around to face the congregation as husband and wife, as I scanned the hundreds of faces packed in the church, I was happy to realize that I KNEW EACH ONE OF THEM PERSONALLY.

How many brides and grooms in the colossal weddings here could say the same thing?

Between my husband and me, we both knew each guest directly (or to borrow another term: just by "one degree of separation"). Neither of us was left wondering: "Who's that?" or "Who invited him/her and their clients/associates/uncles/aunts/cousins/nannies?"

Now I'm not going into the differences between American and Indonesian cultures when it comes to weddings; how different are the expectations, standards and pressures that come from parents, relatives, traditions and society as factors in the definition and execution of a 'wedding'. (Although I could... oh boy, could I go into all some of the ridiculous traditions, peer pressure, 'pride' factor, etc. ... What? Oh... yes, I'll stop now. To each their own... to each their own.)

Another indelible impression that I got from our nuptial was the overwhelming sense of PURE JOY. Not just our own private bliss because we were getting married to each other, but the joy radiated from our friends and families who came that day. It was so thick, so palpable. I still get all tingly and warm inside every time I remember their outpouring of joy.

I remember standing in the foyer of the church as we began the ceremony and listening through the doors as the church suddenly erupted in wild cheers as my Groom entered the Sanctuary. They also cheered for our Pastor, our Groomsmen and our Maids of Honor. Now I'd been to dozens of wedding ceremonies where the mood was solemn and hushed (it ain't a memorial, people!), but this ... this was the opposite end of the spectrum. As I wrote above, the joy was palpable in that sanctuary, and the noise could be heard outside the walls!

Then, finally, it was my turn. The double doors opened again and I entered and walked down the aisle in the arms of my brother. I wasn't just listening through the doors anymore, I was right in the thick of it: people on both sides of the aisles loudly cheering and clapping (not just 'polite' clapping, mind you, but all out shouting, hootin' and hollerin'!).

(Or maybe they were just cheering because finally! we thought it would never happen: "Tessa is getting married"? Yes, I was over 30 when I walked down the aisle. No, I never regretted not marrying sooner.)

And the worship session... oh, how we sang and worshipped our hearts out. Even though our backs were to the congregation, we could hear the whole church wholeheartedly worshipped with us. Our dear friends and fellow Music Ministers from our churches in Claremont, San Bernardino and the Youth played their instruments and sang their all (I think we had the most complete band ever in the history of weddings in our church).

"You are forever in my life, You've seen me through the seasons... And I sing to You, Lord, a hymn of love for Your faithfulness to me. I'm carried in everlasting arms, You never let me go through it all" *

Those lines perfectly captured all the gratefulness we felt ... The worship session wasn't just a cursory item on our Wedding Program. The presence of God was so strong that even our Pastor said to the congregation afterwards that it was the strongest he ever felt out of all the numerous weddings he had officiated. Even if everything else in our wedding fell apart (although it didn't!), we knew we wanted God's presence there more than anything else.

Then another unforgettable moment came as our Pastor said to my newly minted husband, "You may now kiss the Bride". And boy... kiss me he did! It wasn't the typical quick, shy peck on the lips... No siree! Bern took my face in both hands, pulled me closer and planted a big one on me as seconds ticked by... tick... tock... tick... tock... Oh, how the church exploded again (and not for the last time) in cheers, hootin' and hollerin' as my husband took his sweet, sweet time kissing me (not that I mind... oh, not at all! And the cheers were more raucous this time... yes, I just wrote 'raucous' in the context of a church. You read that right). We didn't plan for the 'Kiss'. We planned the vows and gazillion other wedding details, but we never planned how he would kiss me (what's to plan? But I guess Bern did plan it all along). He surprised me (and our 300+ guests) with that one. 

It was a wedding kiss for the record books (well, at least as it pertains to our local church there). In the reception many guys came up to my new husband, complimenting and slapping him on the back for that one. Mantap, bro'! 

When we attended other wedding ceremonies since then, as the groom kissed his bride, Bern would nudge me and whisper, "See? No one's beaten my record yet". Yes, honey. I was there.

One of the most precious (and also unplanned) moments happened during the Benediction when our Pastor called other Pastors who were there as guests to join him at the altar. We were so touched as seven Pastors from different churches (they are our friends and mentors) stood side by side at the altar, laid hands upon us and one-by-one blessed us with prayers. We didn't know our Pastor was going to do that, but we are so thankful he did. We were soaked in prayers!

My husband and I walked down aisle in each other's arms to a cheerful Celtic instrumental tune (did I mention we used all Celtic songs for our wedding ceremony? Except for the praise & worship songs, of course. Neither of us have a drop of Irish blood, but we loved the lilting and soulful-yet-uplifting Celtic arrangements of familiar hymns). 

Both of us were joyful and happy beyond imagination. We were grateful to the Lord, to our families, and our friends at church who did everything (and I mean everything: decorating, singing, playing music, cooking, cleaning, etc.) to give us a wedding beyond our dreams. You see, our budget for the wedding wasn't big at all. We only had our own savings to rely on, we decided from the beginning that we didn't want to burden our parents. So we planned the simplest wedding that our budget allowed. But when our church leaders and friends heard that, they took it upon themselves to bless us. Oh, how they blessed us! 

Some did the flowers and decorations. Others planned the menu, then cooked and plated the beautiful and delicious array of hors d'oeuvres for the reception. Some took pictures and videos. We just reimbursed the cost of the materials to them. That's all they were willing to accept from us. And don't think for a moment that results were amateurish. They were professional and exceptional! 

It boggles the mind sometimes to know the budget for weddings in Jakarta. Hundreds of millions of rupiah (tens of thousands of U.S. dollars) for flowers and decoration that would end up in the dumpsters a few hours after the wedding. Then a larger amount for the venue and catering. Then figure in the photographer, video crew and a battalion of others vendors hired to ensure a 'successful' wedding. 

I guess that's what 'floats the boat' here.

But for me, all it does is made me very grateful for the wedding we had seven years ago. I wouldn't have it any other way. The memories and significance I take from that day cannot be measured in dollars or rupiah or the number of guests. 

Every married couple has their own story to tell of their journey to the altar (not to mention the more important journey after you left the altar!). I hope that if you are married, by reading this you'll reflect back on your own wedding memories.

If you are single or engaged, then take the opportunity to think of what would be the most important things you'd want to have on your wedding day. Or rather: what memories from your wedding would you rather remember and treasure in five, ten, and thirty years into your marriage? You'd be surprised that the 'material' aspects would fade away quickly. Trust me. 

Although we now live on the other side of the globe from the friends who were involved in our wedding, they will always be an integral part of the most important day of our lives. 

I'm so thankful that our wedding memories were not (and could not be) bought by money. Our friends and families made us feel like the wealthiest couple by their outpouring of love and care. Time and distance only serve to increase our lasting appreciation. 

*Through It All by Hillsong Australia (from their 2002 album "Blessed")

Hi, there!

In case you're wondering why it's been over four months since my last post on this blog, part of the answer is that I've been 'micro' blogging (or whatever term you want to call it) on Twitter. Then there's Facebook. I've also written several posts over this time period on my food blog: Cucumber Pandan.

So if you've been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that I've been alive and well (and writing) ... and like the rest of the world, my life did go on after the event I wrote on my previous blog post (ehm...).

And I have no intention of abandoning this blog, so keep checking back periodically!

Thank you, Michael, for singing me through...

Dick Clark once said that 'music is the soundtrack of our life'. Then if I rewind the clock back to the 1980s, the video montage of me as a chubby, nerdy (some things never change) adolescent girl will be accompanied mostly by songs performed by one artist alone: Michael Jackson.

I was probably in 5th or 6th grade when I first saw Michael in his Beat It video (watched it on Betamax video tape. MTV was still non-existent in Indonesia back then and YouTube was a few decades into the future!). Then the Thriller short movie (or a very long music video, depending on how you look at it) came out. Oh my! I must've had worn out the tapes on those videos because I played them so many times! I couldn't get enough of this cute guy with an amazing voice, catchy songs and awesome dance moves. His music videos were like no other at the time, he made gangbangers and zombies danced with cool, crisp choreography... and he'd outdanced them all! (oh yeah, I studied and learned those moves, even the moonwalk ... and admit it, you did, too!).

Michael Jackson had completely captured this tween girl's heart. This was the first time I would seek music based on my own preference - I was just coming into my early teen years, so time for some independence, eh? My parents could hold on to their LPs of ABBA, Elvis and Boney M.

So I scoured music stores for his songs (those were the analog days before CDs, MP3s, iTunes - when you actually had to go to a store to buy music) and my cassette tape collection of Michael Jackson's music grew and grew: I started with Thriller, then every album all the way back to his Jackson 5 days. I loved them all. Hours flew by as I listened mesmerized and memorized the lyrics, even when I didn't fully grasp English back then.

Still, even with the language barrier, his ballads slayed me. Nobody could emote a ballad like Michael did. Nobody. His voice completely embodied the soul of the song. Even as a young boy in Jackson 5, he belted out soulful tunes like "I'll Be There" and "Who's Loving You" in his uncracked voice, possessing a maturity and polish way beyond his years. Any singer could do songs of romance or heartbreak, but who else beside Michael could also convincingly perform heartfelt odes to a pet rat (Ben) and a stranded alien who wanted to 'phone home' (Someone in the Dark)? He made those songs work. Beautifully.

Although I sought out as much information as I could about him, I wouldn't know what a global phenomenon Michael was until much later. Do remember, that back in pre-Internet 1980s, news, information and pop trends traveled at a much slower pace around the globe. But with whatever was available back then (cassette tapes, Betamax videos and a few magazine articles), I was already smitten with the Gloved One. Even when I found out that he was a mega-superstar and Thriller would be the #1 best selling album of all time (that record still stands), he was still my Michael.

His songs were so fiercely personal to me because they buoyed me through my teen years: the years when I was trying to navigate a rapidly crumbling foundation that was my family life. Cracks in my parents' marriage were already showing in those days in the early 1980s. Ultimately it would end up in an acrimonious divorce in 1985. The memories I have of those years are the sharp contrasts between the bitter awfulness of a broken home and the transcendent moments of joy that Michael's songs gave me. I didn't understand it back then, and I don't think I understand it fully even now, but he gave me a way to escape.

Also, that year of the divorce our mom took all three kids to the United States, further altering our world. On one hand, us kids were somewhat excited to move to America (oh, the youthfulness of our innocence...). But on the other, it was yet another difficult transition to go through. Through it all, when everything in my world was shaken and turned upside down and nothing was familiar, Michael kept singing to me. His songs that I knew by heart were among the few things I was able to carry from my 'old' life in Jakarta to this new one in Los Angeles (I had just turned 14).

They were the soundtrack of my life throughout those tumultuous years.

Now I'm back living in Jakarta. When I woke up to the news of Michael's untimely death just on the brink of his much anticipated global comeback tour, I was hoping against hope that it was an internet hoax. The wind was sucked out of me when I realized he was truly, forever gone. I was surprised at the emotions that flooded me, surprised at my own tears, even though roughly a quarter of a century has passed since that phase of my life. When I checked with my brother, he was going through the same thing.

We wept like so many of Michael's stunned and grief-stricken fans around the world. We mourned the loss of someone who wasn't even a personal friend or a family member, but in many ways, he had touched us much deeper than any other human beings ever will.

It is a testament both to the power of music and also to Michael Jackson's incomparable artistry.

There will be no other like you, Michael. Thank you for singing me through that season of my life.

"When someone in the dark reaches out to you
And touches off a spark that comes shining through
It tells you never be afraid
Then somewhere in your heart you can feel the glow
A light to keep you warm when the night winds blow
Look for the rainbow in the sky
I believe you and I could never really say goodbye
Wherever you may be...
I'll look up and see
Someone in the dark for me..."
[To my readers: even though this was a 'bittersweet' piece for me, I'd like to leave you on a happy note. The video below is from one of my favorite songs by The Jacksons (thank you, YouTube!). It harks back to 1978. Just try not to grin from ear-to-ear or move your body when you watch Michael, along with his brothers Tito, Randy, Jackie and Jermaine, as they blissfully boogie down in their disco-garbed, Afro-topped glory!]

Photo of MJ above from RollingStone.com, additional design by me.

Of Bibliophiles and Bookworms

Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high
Take a look, it's in a book
Reading Rainbow.
I can go anywhere!

Friends to know and ways to grow
Reading Rainbow...

I can be anything!

Take a look, it's in a book
Reading Rainbow.

Those are the lyrics from the theme song of "Reading Rainbow", a long running American program for children designed to encourage them to read. I watched that show almost everyday in the mid-to-late eighties. I was already in high school then, way older than the program's intended demographic of 4-8 year olds, but those were my first few years of living in the United States and the show (hosted by LeVar Burton, that's 'Geordi La Forge' for you Star Trek fans!) became one of my favorite ways to absorb and learn English.

I could put a more contemplative, erudite or witty quote from a famous author about the importance of books and reading, but I found that that simple song and the accompanying visuals of the show's opening sequence so perfectly captured the essence of why I have been a bibliophile (a book lover) and a bookworm (an avid reader) for as long as I could remember.

I remember going to a book fair at Jakarta Convention Center when I was in elementary school. Just a kid, I jostled my way through the crowd of big people to get to the shelves holding my favorite detective series by Enid Blyton (anybody remember reading Lima Sekawan/Famous Five and Sapta Siaga/Secret Seven?), Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. My parents told stories of how if my nose was buried in a book, they had to call my name repeatedly to get my attention before I would hear them (hey, I was totally engrossed in the story, what can I say?).

When we moved to America I found my 'bookworm heaven': the public libraries! During my high school years, my most favorite summer vacation activity was to indulge in reading stacks upon stacks of books and magazines that I checked out from La Mirada Public Library ... all for free! (oh, how I really miss public libraries...). Almost three whole months devoted to blissful reading, uninterrupted by homeworks!

When I was still single, I'd spend most of my free time in bookstores, usually hunkered down at the in-store cafe, a pile of books and a cup of coffee keeping me company (by the way, have you noticed this blog's header up there? I chose that image for a reason...).

As we were preparing to move from California to Jakarta, I insisted on shipping almost all of my book collection also (to my husband's chagrin, because books are heavy for their size and the shipping company charged by dimension and weight!). I'm still dreaming of having a personal library one day with an armchair in the corner. That'll be my haven.

Even until now reading is still my #1 hobby, but nowadays I do most of it through the computer/Internet. Although I like the Internet because it provides me with a mind-boggling breadth of reading materials that could not be found in a brick-and-mortar library, the bibliophile side of me still misses sitting down with a good book (not much opportunity to do that now).

Reading a book is visceral. Your hands cradle it, feel its weight; your fingers trace the paper, flip the pages, maybe dog-ear the corner; your nose may even pick up the 'new' scent of a book with crisp pages, or a musty one from leafing through sheets yellow with age; and your eyes trace the words on the matte surface of paper, not from a flickering, glowing computer monitor. A properly cared book keeps for decades or longer, it doesn't need an upgrade every few years.

I'm all for technology, trust me. Those of you who know me know that I'm no Luddite. But I just hope that even with the burgeoning number of e-books and the gadgets to read them (Amazon's Kindle looks amazing!), real books will still thrive for a long, long time!

So are you a bibliophile, a bookworm, or both?

Above: My first-ever set of J.R.R. Tolkien's books
(these are the three
"Lord of the Rings" books).
I had fallen in love with Middle-earth long before the movies came out.
These books had accompanied me for more than two decades
and moved with me halfway around the world.
Below: my humble, yet prized, collection of Tolkien paperbacks
with dog-eared yellowing pages and cracked spines from age and use.
The super thick book at the bottom is the newer
"70th Anniversary Edition of Lord of The Rings":
all three books in a single volume.

Love so Amazing, so Divine...

I love contemporary Christian worship songs. I listen to them, I sing along with them at church and at home, I 'make music' with them and I used them when I was leading worship.

But on a few occasions, only hymns that have stood the test of time could properly express the depth and significance of a particular facet of God's glory.

One such hymn has had a grip on my heart ever since I heard it several years ago. "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" dates back from 1707 and it was written by Isaac Watts. Most of you probably recognize it from a contemporary rendition by Matt Redmand and Chris Tomlin (although personally I prefer the more poignant version sung by Selah).

I invite you to read the lyrics below. Read it slowly, for there's eternal beauty in the sheer poetry and eloquence of the words. Maybe the centuries-old English syntax sounds awkward to you, but read it anyway, it'll make sense. Let the images evoked by the unflinching lyrics sear your heart and soul.

I still get goosebumps no matter how many times I listen to it or sing it slowly. This song unfailingly would 'lead me to the Cross where we first met', a sentiment penned by a modern psalmist named Martin Smith.

Yes, we're approaching Easter/Passover as I write this. And what better song can remind us of the greatest act of love anyone has ever done for you, for me? (and it just drives the point of how the 'bunny' is so ridiculously irrelevant to Easter...)

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Oh, by the way ... here's a thought: how many of today's contemporary Christian 'hits' will still be sung 300 years from now?

For the thrill of soaring...

When I'm asked if there's one song that could serve as my life's 'song' (or at least the one that defines a season in my life), my answer would be "For Such a Time as This".

It's been ten years since I first listened to this tune out of Crystal Lewis' "Gold" album and it has stayed with me ever since. As far as I know this song is quite obscure to the public, since it never received a lot of radio play. I don't think Crystal ever made a music video of it either.

But there's something in the lyrics, for they speak to me like no other song has. The lyrics' beautifully evocative imagery are powerful and moving, but beyond that, they have challenged me, chided me, encouraged me and given me hope.

You see, by nature I'm not a risk taker, and when I do take one, you better believe I have researched, calculated and weighed every options. I want to minimize, if not eliminate, the unknowns. If I take a leap, there better be an enormous safety net waiting to receive me!

But life (a fulfilling one) doesn't always work that way, and running toward the vision and destiny God has put in my heart means I have to put my faith in the Lord more than in my own calculated sense of security. As for that 'safety net'? He means for us to "mount up with wings like eagles" (Isaiah 40:31) and soar instead!

Written by Anne Barbour

verse 1:

I built my house here, along side this mountain
This rugged mountain that stands so tall
I've had a good life above the lowlands
It's more than I'd asked for, but less than I dreamed
I've often heard a voice call down to me,
"If you'd climb higher you'd find wond'rous things to see
But the way is steep and a storm may come... "

For such a time as this
Isn't it much to great a risk?
I've never flown from the edge of a cliff
Never walked on the water
But if I turned away
How would I know what I have missed?
Have I waited all of my life
For such a time as this

verse 2:
I've been content to not ask those questions
That stir the rivers and move the waves
The windless waters are so much more peaceful
They calm my spirit in silent song
I've often wondered what's eluding me
The yearning meant to free me from complacency
But the way is steep and a storm my come...

Sometimes the thrill of soaring
Has to begin with the fear of falling...

So, where are you now for such a time as this?

Let's clean up our act (literally)

When I first arrived in Jakarta over a year ago, one of the things that shocked me most was how filthy the city was. Garbage was strewn along the streets and it was clogging the rivers, canals and gutters. It was an immediate, inescapable visual assault ... not to mention the health hazards and a major contributing factor to flooding!

About a month later, I began to understand the reasons for Jakarta's trash-littered predicament, beginning with an unforgettable encounter at Mangga Dua. It was my first time shopping there and as I was walking along the narrow and crowded aisles, a lady crossing my path casually threw the plastic wrapper of her snack down on the floor. It landed near my feet. She just continued walking like nothing happened.

I was so flabbergasted I didn't know how to react. I was furious, too, but yelling at her in English wouldn't do anyone any good, right? I could not (and still can not) believe how thoughtless and inconsiderate that act was. "What is wrong with her?" I fumed, "couldn't she find the nearest trash can?"

But sadly, as I keep finding out, this lady's behavior is far from unique.

Over and over again I witnessed people treating the streets and other public places as a giant trash can. Pop a gum? Drop the wrapper to the floor or sidewalk (or straight into the gutter). Done cleaning the hand or nose with that tissue? Just let it go. Took that last drag from a cigarette? Just flick the butt away, who cares where it lands? Got that receipt from the toll/parking booth attendant? Just crumple it and toss it out of the car window. Huh? Is the wind going to carry into to the waste basket?

Would you commit such a careless act in your own house? Or while visiting a friend's home? (I'm sure you won't be invited back...)

And what's more heartbreaking is that I've seen this thoughtless littering being done by many people who should know better.

So here's my plea to all of us: let us be a positive influence to others around us on this issue of putting trash where it belongs. Be an example at school, in the office, on the streets and even when hanging out with friends at restaurants and the malls. Yes, even in Mangga Dua. In most instances all we can do is do the right thing, but if the moment is right or you're in the position to do so, you can also say something to the litterbug. If you are a parent, teach your kids.

An army of one million streetsweepers will not solve Jakarta's trash problem. A fleet of luxurious malls with a higher concentration of top designer stores than Beverly Hills cannot hide the third-world scene outside their marble-lined lobbies.

I'm not an enviromental activist. I'm just writing down what's been bugging me. I know Jakarta has much bigger problems, but we can at least contribute a solution to this one thing. It doesn't have to take a marketing campaign, a government edict or even a requirement to switch to a 'greener' product.

Just put trash into the trash can.

If my two-year old son can do it, then no one is too young, or too old, to learn.