The day after I graduated High School, I went to the mission field.  During my first summer as a missionary, we had long worship and prayer sessions every evening before our concert.  At first I resented these times.  They seemed long and boring.  I had little reason to resent them.  It was felt more than thought, and it was probably spiritual in nature, although I did fixate on the fact that we sang worship songs that I didn’t really know.  Therefore, I decided that they must also be worship songs that were not as good as the ones I knew.

But on that mission trip I learned how to worship.  I discovered that worship was a skill that came naturally to humans, but that I (like probably most people) had become so used to worship primarily myself and I had to fix that before I could understand how to worship God.

I took a Greyhound bus that August from Butte, Montana to Tacoma, Washington in order to start my freshman year of college.  There, I joined the university Christian club, who had weekly worship sessions.  I fought with all I had to not resent those times, because now the songs were different than the ones I’d learned as a missionary.

I struggled passionately to keep my intimacy with God.  I worshipped with them, learning new songs, but now I had learned how to worship, and I could worship anywhere.  I learned the joy of worshipping alone.  Some nights I would sneak away to the piano practice rooms in the music building.  They were open 24/7.  I could sit in a small empty room with a closet and worship by myself.

I would play what little I could, and always faced a resistance at first.  But I would press through that, and suddenly I would come to a song that would spark an emotion or a certain heart-string and the tears would flow.  All that was me would seem to melt away as I connected with God and felt His presence.  That feeling is indescribable really, but all I can say is that it is better.  List any good adjective you can think of, and that feeling is better.  It was water to my own soul.

It has been a while since I’ve felt that, I must admit.  I have taken times worshipping on my own and have even had moments of intimacy, but not like that.

It is my lunch break now, and earlier this morning I was listening to my worship mix from my hard drive as I worked.  Tim Hughes He’s Got the Whole Worship in His Hands started playing

When all around is fading
And Nothing seems to last
Each day is filled with Sorrow
Still I know with all my heart
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
I’ll fear no evil, for you are with me
Srong to deliver, mighty to save
He’s got the whole world in His hands

Lately, each day is not filled with sorrow and I feel like I am losing nothing, particularly.  I am doing quite well.  And yet the tears started to fall as I sang along.  All I can describe, the best I can do, is that His having all of it in His hands hit me in a new way.  My sin, my joys, the things that I have given up, and the things the enemy has stolen from me, the moments of triumph, and those things I can never undo…all of it, in His hands.

I have nothing to fear.  You are with me.  You’ve got it all in Your hands.  And here I am, better.

Dear Yuni Chen

The other day I got one of those junk mail pieces offering me “up to” $8,800 for my old Honda Accord.  It was in fake handwriting font, with FINAL NOTICE in Stencil font on the bottom, complete with slight Gaussian blur and acid wash to make it look like someone used a red ink rubber stamp to let me know that it was that serious.  Apparently, they are really in need of 9 year old Honda Accords.  They are at the hight of demand.  If you go in say, “I want a brand new Pilot Premium,” they will say, “Why would you want that, when you could drive a 2005 used Accord?”

The best part was the fake check and stub it was all printed on.  It had a realistic-looking customer ID # and Account number section below a pretend perforation line, and a check at the top.  Where you would write the amount tendered on the check was written “up to $8,800.”†  It was all signed by someone named Yuni Chen.

Realizing it has been several years since my infamous “lost pet” incident, I thought it was time to have some fun.  So I wrote Yuni a letter in response.  I have included it below.


It is stamped and ready to mail. -Ryan

† I have decided to write all of my checks like this from now on.  My electric bill this month is written for “up to $63,20.”


This entry is part 1 of 1 in the seriesThinking back


There are times I’ve found myself in moments so surreal that it felt like my experiences were happening remotely, far away from me.  I think everyone has encountered that feeling before, when you seem to be a bystander to your own existence, a fly on the wall watching yourself go through something.


Often, these times seem be connected to some great tragedy or hardship.  It is then, when your stomach seems to fall out, like the first great drop of a rollercoaster, or that tingly swing set feeling.  Sweat starts beading from a clammy forehead and your throat goes dry.  But even as you are experiencing this, the camera shifts perspective and in your mind’s eye you are now watching as a spectator. I had a moment like this just a week or so ago, not filled with terror but surreal in its own right.


I visited my grandma, my father’s mother, in a convalescent home.  Or maybe it was a rest home…I don’t quite know if there is a difference, or if it matters what we call those places where people end up getting stored as their candles flicker out.  She is by no means ignored the way many people are there.  My relatives, who just aren’t able to provide the degree of care that a Parkinson’s patient requires, visit Grandma Nina almost daily.


I’ve watched many of my older relatives pass away, some suddenly and some ever so slowly.  My Aunt Ruby gradually disappeared into the couch over a period of years as the same disease that is taking my grandma gnawed at her body.  I am still not sure which kind of death seems nobler, disappearing overnight or fighting with every breath.  I think the quick version has more appeal to me.  I’d rather remember Aunt Ruby playing her organ or making me a sandwich, than be stuck with the picture that is now her predominant profile in my mind.  I hope that others remember me at my best someday, as well.


But with my grandma there in that home I don’t have that choice.  I have very little memory of her at all outside of the other day.  For reasons I won’t discuss here, I haven’t talked to her since early childhood.  When I think back, there are only snippets in my mind of her or my paternal grandpa.  It may be sad, but it is the truth, and I have chosen not to try to deconstruct the reasons why things were the way they were—instead to deal with things as they are now.


So there I sat, with a virtual stranger in that place, talking about the weather and birds, and a tree that was blooming nearby.  And I was outside of myself, very far away but wanting to be close…wanting memories that just aren’t there.  And wishing that there was something else, anything I could talk about… something that had more meaning.


In the end as I left, she gave me a long slow look—and maybe I returned that gaze, I don’t know.  Her eyes said that she realized she didn’t know if we’d meet again, and that she also wished there was more to talk about than the weather and the birds.  I think maybe, despite me being outside of myself, that presence, us both in that moment was itself just enough. —Ryan