So it is September now, and the days, like my memory, are unfortunately getting shorter, and we are officially approaching fall. I know this because I have had multiple people in the past two weeks happily exclaim to me, "Your first fall in New York!", which isn't even a complete sentence, but whatever. People are excited for me to experience fall here, which I guess is nice because I am mostly just depressed about summer ending, so, you know, it balances out.
Anyway, September. The most important thing to have happened in my life in September is that I discovered Terrace House on Netflix, and became instantly obsessed. Terrace House is a Japanese reality TV show which, like many American reality TV shows, features a group of strangers living in a giant house together, but which, unlike many American reality TV shows, features said group living together mostly peacefully and politely, with minimal drama, while still going about their ordinary, day-to-day lives. It is simultaneously the most mundane thing I have seen on television and also the most addictive.
There are many great articles out there that address this bewildering correlation between the show's mundaneness and its addictiveness and why it is so fascinating and enjoyable a watch, so if you are interested in further reading on this, I will point you to a couple here and here.
The main point I want to make here is that starting from when I was about five minutes into the first episode of Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City, I have not been able to shut up about this show.
Since September 8th (a day that I will remember as the day my already pretty good life improved even further) I have talked nonstop about Terrace House to pretty much everyone I know, in all existing social circles in my life, and across multiple mediums of communication. I have brought it up during weekly Bible study, on the phone with Edwin, in my company's workplace chat, over late night chicken wings, in texts with friends I haven't seen in months, and on Facebook. In the past nine days I have gotten four different friends to watch the show, one of whom blew through something like thirty episodes in two days (I will not name names, but she is a good friend of mine who also lives in New York).
And in all of these conversations, talking about Terrace House has come very naturally and easily to me. I love talking about this show because I love it, and I want other people to experience the joy that is watching it. A lot of people have laughed at me (I mean, I would laugh at me too, if I were unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of the barrage of words that inevitably pours out of my mouth every time I bring up Terrace House), seeing me get so excited about a Japanese reality TV show, but I have not minded the teasing because my love for the show is so great that I do not have any mindspace leftover to even worry about how patently ridiculous I sound in talking about it. As long as I can let people know that this excellent TV show exists, and that it has brought me great joy recently, and encourage others to watch it too, I'm happy, and can go on and on about it, ad infinitum.
Why am I not this excited to talk about the Gospel every day?
This very unwelcome question presented itself to me a couple of days ago, as I was making my way from Lincoln Center to my friend Jaimie's apartment (where, after she made me a very yummy dinner, I repaid her by sitting down and watching an episode of Terrace House with her, thereby creating my third convert). On my way there I was texting with Judy and talking about Terrace House (of course), when the thought hit me. I did not dwell on the question at the time; I "loled" about it briefly over text with Judy (okay, it's Judy, Judy is the one who watched thirty episodes in two days, but Judy also just took a difficult exam the previous week and deserved a break from studying, so Judy is not to be judged), but then put it to the back of my brain, for it to hang out quietly until such time when it deemed it necessary to emerge again and force me to confront it (ideally, never).
That such time ended up being today, when I met up with Haekyung and Christine for CORE group (which sounds like an intense, abs-focused fitness and exercise group but is in fact a mini church community meetup) at the Culture Espresso on 38th and 6th. Christine had to leave a little early but Haekyung and I stayed at Culture for another hour or so talking, and I brought up this question to her.
It would be cool for narrative purposes if I could say that I looked intently, even imploringly, at Haekyung from over my latte and asked her, Haekyung, how come I don't talk about Jesus the way I talk about Terrace House, and that she looked just as intently back at me from over her latte and dropped a profound wisdom bomb on me using only five words which I then went home and wrote in my journal and designed a calligraphic tattoo for so I could remember them forever, but really how the conversation went was that I just ended up answering my own question while thinking out loud, because that is how I process things, and usually I just need to verbalize something in order to get to the bottom of it.
Anyway, the explanation I arrived at via this narratively uninteresting process was this:
I don't talk about Jesus and the Gospel the way I do about Terrace House because unlike with Terrace House, I don't feel, lately, that Jesus has changed my life.
In my mind, I know that he has. In my mind, I know that I have been brought from death to life by Jesus's own death and resurrection. But in my mind I also know that broccoli is good for me, and yet I just can't feel it to be actually, practically true in my life.
This is maybe not one of my better analogies. I really just hate broccoli.
But Jesus! Jesus is so good. And he has done so many amazing, beautiful things in my life. It is just that all the cool "big" spiritual things happened a while back, and life has felt mostly pretty stable the past year or so, and as a person I've felt pretty stable, and there hasn't been anything I would describe as super momentous in my spiritual life recently that I can point to and say Wow God really, really truly SHOWED UP and did something big, transformed me, transformed my life, did something so good that I really must share it with everyone so they can experience the goodness too. That would be nice. But, instead. Not much there to talk about. I'm a Christian, God is good, life is mostly routine and lovely, and I am blessed. Have I told you about this Japanese reality TV show that has literally changed my life?
This is the realization I came to today, sitting at the corner table of Culture Espresso with Haekyung. Two relevant things happened after I came to this realization.
The first was that Haekyung, sometime later in the conversation and not as a direct response to this particular topic, asked me about my testimony, and I ended up sharing with her my story of how I came to encounter and know the Holy Spirit during college after a decade or so of being Christian without really knowing who he was. The freedom, joy, and explosive growth that came from stepping into a life filled with the Spirit. Going from black and white to technicolour. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, making sense to me for the first time.
Sharing that with her made me relive it all, relive that period of my life when I felt God working a very tangible transformation in me, when every day I was excited to see what he would do next, when I talked a mile a minute at anyone who would listen about how cool God was and how nothing was too big for him and how faithful he was. Sharing helped me remember that the point of a testimony is literally to talk about the things that God has already done in your life and how he has changed it, regardless of how long ago or how recent.
The second thing that happened was at church in the evening. I found a seat right in the middle and sat down as the worship set kicked off; I think I was praying something along the lines of God please help me to be as excited to talk about you to people as I am to talk about Terrace House even when you're not doing anything super momentous in my life, like right now. And I felt God responding immediately and saying I am doing something momentous in your life every single day. And then I broke down and cried and could not pray anything coherent for a while because it was so true, every day I wake up and live a life that has been transformed by the Gospel which is that God gave his son Jesus to die for my sins, and every day God is still changing me, at work in me, and if the Creator of the universe making himself known to me every day is not a momentous thing then what is?
Unrelated, but Jon's sermon today was on Nehemiah and holy ambition. Haekyung and I had been talking about ambition at Culture today too. Some days it is almost comical how blatantly God is like HEY PAY ATTENTION I AM TALKING TO YOU NOW.
The takeaways from all this for me today were pretty much: one, God is constantly doing big things in your life and transforming you daily, dummy, so recognize that and be excited to share it with people, and two, ask other Christians more often to share their testimonies with you because the act of sharing how God has redeemed is mutually life-giving for sharer and sharee, and most importantly gives God glory. And three, Terrace House, on top of being hugely entertaining and fascinating, can also lead to profound and timely spiritual revelations, so everyone should totally watch it.
Some other September things, while we're here.
I spent the Labor Day weekend visiting Jin and Sam in New Haven, and Sam showed us around the Yale undergraduate campus. It was so beautiful, I decided on the spot that all my children will go to Yale.
Jin came back with me to New York that Sunday, and the morning of Labor Day itself we went to Chinatown for dim sum with some of my friends from church. Afterwards she said to me You've found the sweetest, kindest group of people in New York, and I felt so at ease with them all. That made me so happy.
Also, spending three full days with Jin and feeling that she is so very close by was so lovely.
I told Edwin about my experience volunteering recently with The Father's Heart Ministries in the Lower East Side with Claire, for their Saturday morning breakfast program for low/fixed-income and homeless folks, and how I want to serve there regularly. He suggested we go together the next weekend he visits and I said that sounded good.
Some time after we made this plan I was at Claire's place and asked her if she and Dan would be down to hang out with Edwin and me the Saturday he's here. "We're actually going on a day trip somewhere upstate that Saturday; do you want to join?" she asked me. I heard the words "upstate New York" and said CAN WE GO TO STORM KING and Claire said "Yeah maybe sure!" and I got excited and immediately texted Edwin.
"Would you be down to go to Storm King on a double date day trip with Claire and Dan on Saturday when you're here"
"Oh wait ahh we were gonna volunteer"
"Lol what should we do"
"Can't we go after we voljnteer?"
"No too late haha"
[This "hmm" was like "hmm is it that bad if we just don't go volunteering like we said we would and go another time instead because Storm King looks really beautiful"]
Edwin is a better person than I am.
I mentioned this above, but the other day I went over to Jaimie's place and she made me dinner. I had worked from home that whole day with a cold, but gone up to Lincoln Center in the evening for volunteer orientation for the New York Film Festival. The orientation ended up being much shorter than I'd expected, so I was wondering what to do with myself as I didn't want to go back home so soon having been cooped up inside all day. I texted my church community group group text to see if anyone was in the area and wanted to grab dinner, whereat Jaimie instantly responded and invited me over saying she'd cook for me.
Jaimie is actually an angel. Not only does she make generous and hospitable offers to take in and feed lost souls aimlessly wandering Lincoln Square, she also occasionally fosters wizened old cats with kidney problems. She told me she doesn't like the name the cat she is currently fostering was actually given, so she calls it Nekochan ("cat" + term of endearment, in Japanese -- for the record, Jaimie is not Japanese), which I find hilarious and adorable and reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, only gentler, and Asian.
September has been a lovely month.
All my months in New York have been lovely so far.