Monday, December 29, 2014

Hope Chest

"You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
                        you have stolen my heart
            with one glance of your eyes,
                        with one jewel of your necklace."
                                                         ---Song of Songs 4:9
                        For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
            Let us rejoice and be glad
                        and give him glory!
            For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
                        and his bride has made herself ready.
            Fine linen, bright and clean,
                        was given her to wear."
                                                         ---Revelations 19:6-8 

One of the most powerful imagery of Christ’s relationship to the church is that of a wedding – Christ the bridegroom comes for the Church, his bride. While we, as a church body, await our Lord’s second coming, we are to be making ourselves ready (2 Corinthians 11:2), even as we allow Christ to make us ready in Him and for Him (Ephesians 5:25-27).

In the summer of 2013, during a season of studying through 1 Peter, Plymouth Church learned that Peter was considered the apostle of hope. At that time, I discovered that this chest in my apartment was called “Hope Chest” and that it was used by or for an unmarried woman to store items she would need for her marriage. These items would include clothing, household linens, dishes and plates that her mother typically would prepare for her unmarried daughter.

As an unmarried woman waits in great anticipation for the married life, we, the church, are to wait in great hope for our wedded life with Christ when he comes. But there is work to do now while we wait in our “engagement period”. During the season of studying 1 Peter, the congregation was invited to explore how we ready ourselves while we wait to be reunited with Jesus. The congregation responded to several prompts such as “When did you first realize that Jesus loved you?,” “How do you remain in Jesus’ love?,” “How is Jesus asking you to lay down your life?” or “What is hard about following Jesus?” by writing their responses on pieces of fabric. These pieces were then sown together to make this veil.

            The hope chest contains china, doilies, tablecloths and napkins in anticipation of not only the wedding banquet but also of the feasts we are invited to for eternity. In it, we also put many other things, such as our hopes, memories, even pains and sufferings. I recall John Steinbeck’s dedication in “East of Eden” to his friend Pat who asked him to make a box. Steinbeck presented the book to him saying,

Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts – the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation. And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you. And still the box is not full.”

I imagine filling up the hope chest with even our pains is appropriate because, first, they are true, but more importantly, they point us to the truer hope of redemption, a hope which will not disappoint.

Thanks in part to my mother, David and Sarah Maust, Debra Clark, Jan Boulter, Ann Hussey, , Jeff Juric, Barbara Boulter, Melanie Reimer, Diana Gruber, Davita Gruber, Ariana Gruber, Marylou de la Torre, Patrick Findlayfor helping with research, fabric donations, and the laborious work of sewing.

Friday, August 16, 2013

God's love - a story of a teacher who grades at the end of the school term

This may be an urban legend, but it was told among my grad school peers that when our poetry professor taught undergraduate classes, he would tell his students on the first day of class that he graded everyone at the end of the school term. There would be the usual assignments and homework, and he'd comment on everything, but it would be at the end, going down the list of their names, that he would assign a grade. No grading in between. 
Anyone, and certainly any student, would understand the anxiety his students must have felt about not knowing how they were doing in their grades until the end. With him, there would be no way to tell how one was doing in his class and how to improve, or how to do less to get by.
He would then say that if not knowing one's grade would be such a distraction to doing one's best work, he would give that student who asked for it an A. The student could then be free FROM the anxiety of a grade and free TO the real business of education. In the decades that he's taught undergraduates, so the legend goes, only one student dared asking for that A at the beginning of the school term. The student got the A, and it turned out that the student also did the best work in class.
This is a beautiful analogy of what God does for us. Christ would rather die for us than to have sin come between His love and our trusting Him. In Christ's death for us - before we knew him or loved him - the Father essentially gave an A grade to the whole world; those who asked for it would have it. With God, we need not do anything for His love but to believe in it and receive it. So if it's love that we want, we already have it. The real business the Father desires for us is the difficult work of holiness, sanctification, and obedience. Obedience is not about earning His love - that is already given, like the A grade. The obedience is then about education, about the real work of growing into Christ's likeness which is into who we truly are.
In the story of the professor, two important freedoms are granted to the professor and the student who has the A up front. One, the professor has freedom to critique and praise the student's work without having to be mindful of how the student performance will affect the final grade. The professor is free to critique deeply and to rejoice in each growth deeply. Two, the student has freedom to receive critique and praise and trust that these are offered in purity of motive. That is, because the student's performance will not affect the final grade, the student is free to trust that the professor offers critique and praise as a means to the end that is the student's growth, not the end that is a grade. How often have we suffered or rejected critique or praise because they were given with motives less pure than love? How often have we tried to give critique or praise with motives less pure than love? 
God is love; His love is pure. And if salvation has already been given, then all discipline and praise from God comes from love and can be received as love. It will not change how God already feels about us, which is the deep love that he has already lavished upon us. So when Paul says in Philippians 2 to "work out your salvation in fear and trembling," he is NOT saying to work FOR your salvation, but to work it OUT. It is the difference between working FOR employment (which one does not yet have) and working OUT employment (which can only happen if one is employed). Or, the difference between working FOR an A grade and working OUT an A grade. Or

So laws and commands in the Scripture need to be understood in the context of God's love. When the prodigal son returns, the Father's response is celebration. That is not to leave unacknowledged all the difficult work of healing that must have taken place after the party was over. But the healing (sanctification) is possible only because the son is not working FOR his adoption; he is working OUT the truth of his adoption.
There's nothing we can do - right or wrong, there's no work we can do FOR God's love. The real business is to work OUT the love that we already have and from which nothing can separate us.
Praise God for that!

Sunday, June 09, 2013

"Hope Chest" - Phase One point One

Put up phase one today. Will send out email this week and explain next Sunday. 

At the recent young adult men's group (YAM), a worship/fellowship/accountability group on matters related to sex, I taught about the love of God for us like that of a Lover for the Beloved as sung in the Song of Songs. It's difficult, I think especially for men, to appreciate the love that pursues this way (though I'd admit to not having read John Elderidge). The seed for this teaching came from "She Ran into the Girls' Bathroom" chapter of Rob Bell's "Sex God".

We first talked about romantic love, about what we see in our relationships or couples around us that helps us identify what love is like. Then I read Song of Solomon 3:9-15 and asked the guys to consider Christ speaking these words to each one of us. Here's the verse 9:

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
      you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
      with one jewel of your necklace.

Someone else's translation said something like "my heart flutters." Christ's heart flutters when he considers each of of us. Unbelievable. 

We then talked about heartbreaks and betrayals, the hurt of wanting but not being wanted. One of us had been cheated on, which gave us a glimpse of the hurt God describes when he charges the Israelites with being an adulteress. God makes Himself weak in his love. God opens Himself to rejection. 

Iwantyoudoyouwantme? This is the tension in which God resides. Sometimes we trust Him. Sometimes we hide. His heart is grieved but His love always hopes; His heart is betrayed but His love always trusts; His heart is hurt but His love always protects; His heart is broken but His love never fails.

At the end of 2012, reflecting on the four weddings that I attended in about 15 months, I was impressed to consider in 2013 the image of Christ as bridegroom. I would not have been able to tell you that it would be through YAM or this "hope chest" project that Christ would teach me this. 

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"Hope Chest" - Research #6

I've never been good at titling anything. I'm STILL in need of one for the project. Too bad I'm not like the McMillan's; love their titles.

To print on fabric (Thank you to this DIY page):

1) adhere ironed, cotton fabric to construction paper (I used plain paper)
2) feed through printer
3) remove fabric

This was actually printed from the church printer. My printer kept interpreting a paper jam. You can see the white paper portion at the bottom where I cut off fabric in my futile attempt to trick the printer into printing before it realized there was fabric. Someone suggested that I change the printer settings to print on thicker paper. Good idea I will have to try later.

Excited that this printing method actually worked, but the fabric was inappropriate, too noisy and hard to read. Felt sorry for the waste.

Tried again. One was better, but the other one needs either a larger font or less contrasting patterns. Here's the text:

      For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
      and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
      and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
      was given her to wear.”
                              ---Revelations 19:6-8


This portion of the project is made up of a chest, drawer and fabric. This chest is called a HOPE CHEST, which was used by UNMARRIED women to store items such as clothing and household linens  in ANTICIPATION of MARRIAGE.

One of the most powerful imagery of Christ’s relationship to the church is that of a WEDDING – Christ the BRIDEGROOM comes for the Church, his BRIDE. While we, as a church body, await our Lord’s second coming, we are to be making ourselves READY (2Co 11:2), even as Christ makes us ready in Him and for Him (Eph 5:25-27).

As an unmarried woman waits in great anticipation for the married life, we, the church, are to wait in great HOPE for our wedded life with Christ when he comes. But there is WORK to do NOW while we wait in our “ENGAGEMENT”. During this season in the first letter of Peter, who is the “Apostle of Hope,” we will explore how we ready ourselves by STANDING FAST in the TRUE GRACE of God (1Pe 5:12).

On the FABRIC provided, you are invited to WRITE responses to prompts that EXPLORE how our church IS the BRIDE of Christ. WEEKLY, drawing from your STORIES about marriage experiences (before and after, actual and desired, positive and negative), and drawing from our TEACHINGS, there will be new prompts, from which you can pick any or all to respond to.

Place the fabric RESPONSE in the HOPE CHEST.

Please use as MUCH of the fabric as you need. You can answer each prompt as MANY times as you’d like. Your name is appreciated on each response, but not necessary. If you have any questions, please contact Michael Liaw at 562-755-4000 or

Look forward to the NEW LIFE this collection of fabric will take when the responses are SEWN together in the next phase of the project.



“When I first realized that that Jesus loved me, it was when ___”


“When I first realized that I loved Jesus, it was when ___”


“What I love about Jesus is ___”


“When I think about Jesus’ love for me, He loves that I ___”

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"Hope Chest" - Research #5

My mother learned to quilt when we lived in the States. If she had a larger living space now, I think she'd like to make more quilts. Cutting up the donated fabric using craft scissors, which were not very efficient, I remembered that my mother used to have what looked like a pizza cutter, the kind with rolling blades. I could've used one of those.

One time last year when I started wearing dress shoes again, I needed to a shoehorn. I couldn't find it at a local convenience store, but it occurred to me that someone in the older generation at church must have a shoehorn. I was right, and within a week I was in possession of a plastic and metal shoehorn. Relatedly, I thought, someone from the same demographic must have fabric scissors. And sure enough. Though, what I didn't expect was how reluctant they were to lend it to me. Apparently the cheap kind cost $40-50. They were nice about it, suggesting that I go to a local craft store and get myself one. Or, if I'd preferred, they'd cut the fabric for me, or supervise me. This even after I promised not to cut paper. 

One of them kindly offered a cheap one the next time I saw her. The process got a bit easier.  

Then, deciding on the container. I inherited, as rental, most of the furniture in the apartment I rent, and I'm glad for it. I move around so much that the only furniture I own is an Ikea bed frame and a mattress that's a little longer than the frame. This apartment is also the place I discovered the hope chest. 

I try the crate but it doesn't feel right. Not domestic enough. I like most the long drawer, the bottom drawer actually, but I couldn't make that work conceptually since "hope chest" and "bottom drawer" serve the same purpose. 

I did eventually use a drawer from a night/lamp stand. I much rather the drawer, but bummed it doesn't make a stronger conceptual case. 

I continue to get stories, written and typed up. Very touched by the congregation's response. 

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Monday, May 27, 2013

"Hope Chest" - research #4

Got more fabric!
Got more stories!

Cutting up fabric! but need fabric scissors.

Supplies and setup needed:

-fabric pens/permanent markers
-what furniture to place fabric and pens on, by hope chest on stage?
-how to display weekly prompt?
-printed instructions

Notes and Questions:

-A title for the project.
-A concise way to introduce the project on a Sunday morning. When I speak to people in person I receive positive responses. Trick is to present to a large group.
-Take fabric home fabric? Fill out after service? During? Can't put in pews because there won't be enough markers to go around.
-consider putting hope chest, fabric, instructions, etc. in the foyer instead: better traffic, more hospitable than coming up to the front of the church, even after service.
-What does bringing personal objects as response to prompt look like?
-Be prepared for if another hope chest is needed.
-Introduce on 6/9, I hope. Go till 7/21 or 7/28.
-Sewing party some time 7/28 - 8/1.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

"Hope Chest" - Research #3

More donations!

And a story, too, from a sweet woman in her 80s. Most fascinating thing about our conversation had to do with how modern and foreign my question must have seemed to her. Love was love; marriage was for love; you sacrificed because you loved.

I wonder how rigid my printed questions must appear. What part is it generational? and what part because I'm single? and what part Tolstoy's point about happy marriages?

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"Hope Chest" - research #2

Some great fabric donations!

Will need to figure out how to write on these.

Some of you might recognize/recall the crimson theater curtain material on the left from Meg and Murray McMillan's "While She Waits for the..." show at California Lutheran University in 2009.

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"Hope Chest" - research #1

Being in at least two ways removed from being a bride, I asked a married friend what it was like to prepare for her wedding and marriage. I was treated to a glimpse of the excitement and anticipation we as a church could be reminded of as we prepare to be Christ's bride. Another friend shared about his failed engagement, how his fiancée did not put in the same work; it was a sober and convicting reminder of how we fail to equal the ardor of Christ who continues to prepare a place for us. 


Art Research: 

A quick search online for artwork regarding Bride of Christ reveals lots white gowns, women in swords and armors (I did not expect that), pictures of open Bibles with wedding rings, lots of white women, open arms, etc. Here are some I liked:

"The Consummation of the Bride of Christ" Daniel Bonnell

"The Bride of Christ on a White Horse" Daniel Bonnell

"Forbidden Love (Bride of Christ)" Garry Arnephy

All male painters, too. If any suggestions, please send my way!


Story Research: Here's the email sent out to the congregation:

Dear Plymouth Church Family,

During our season of worship through teaching of 1 Peter, I will be working on an art project for Plymouth, and need your responses and your help. More details will follow and unfold over the next few weeks. Here are some ways I'm in need of your help:

1. FABRIC: I am in need of fabric. Of any texture, color, pattern, in scraps or as a whole. My desire is for these pieces of fabric to be written on - or to have text sown on. If you have scraps or rolls of fabric you'd be willing to donate, please contact me.

2. SEWERS (that is, one who sews, a tailor, a seamstress): Some time mid-July to early August, I will need help sewing. If you can sew - or want to learn - and are willing to learn more about a sewing party(!), I need your help! Please contact me. We'll decide the when later, and the what will be a surprise.

3. STORIES: I am in need of your stories about your marriage (or, your idea of marriage) - whether you're in one, have a desire to be in one, have been in one or more than one, don't have a desire to be in one. For simplicity sake, the questions assume that you are married. For those of you not married, know that I would very much appreciate your responses if you are willing, and welcome you to reinterpret these questions as they apply to you. For all, please feel free to answer any or all of the questions, which are at the end of this email.

If you'd prefer to respond in person, let me know; I'd love to sit down with you and hear your story!

Thank you all in advance for sharing your stories. I expect some of what you have to share to be difficult and painful, and I am grateful for whatever you are willing to share with me. Your responses will help me formulate the directions and prompts for the art project and will not be shared without your permission. If you have any questions, please feel to contact me at 562-755-4000!

Peace and blessings and love,
Mike Liaw



a) How did you fall in love?
b) What about the other person attracted you?
c) What about you attracted the other person?
d) Describe the most memorable date/experience (pre-marriage) with the other person.

e) How did you decide to get married?
f) How did you prepare individually and together for the wedding? How did the other person prepare?
g) How did you prepare individually and together for the marriage? How did the other person prepare?
h) Describe how you were and felt leading up to the wedding/marriage. What were you looking forward to? What did the other person look forward to?

i) How do you know when your marriage is going right?
j) How do you know when your marriage is not going right?
k) Describe the memories that help you be the spouse you want to be. Describe the memories that help your spouse.

l) Describe the values that you and your spouse commit to.
m) Describe bible passages that have helped you in your marriage.
n) Describe the sacrifices you have made for your spouse and the marriage.
o) Describe the sacrifices your spouse has made for you and the marriage.

p) Describe the times that you failed your spouse. Describe how you processed making amends.
q) Describe the times that your spouse failed you. Describe how you processed forgiveness.
r) Describe difficulties in your marriage and how you handled it, how your spouse handled it.

s) When you started out, what did it mean to you to be wife or husband? How has that changed?
t) What do you look forward to now? What does the other person look forward to?
u) If there are questions I didn't ask, please ask it and then give me your answer!

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"Hope Chest" Project Intro

Tracking the new art project for Plymouth Church, tentatively titled "Hope Chest", inspired by:

1) Recently discovered fact that the chest I less recently discovered in a closet in the apartment I rent is a HOPE CHEST. 

2) What a hope chest is

3) Our season teaching through the first epistle of Peter, the apostle of hope

3) Revelation 21:2: I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

Hoping to explore with Plymouth what it means for us to be preparing, to be prepared, as the bride of Christ, through putting objects into the hope chest.

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