Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

I just finished J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy about a kid growing up in Ohio, a grandchild of the hillbillies who made the trek from the hills of Kentucky after WWII in search of opportunity and the American Dream.  It was good to see the white working-class (lovingly called hillbillies) so well represented.  Mr. Vance is my age, early thirties, grew up poor and disadvantaged in the Rust Belt.  A lot of his experiences are extreme, and I grew up in an intact family with all the opportunity to achieve what I wanted, but his family members and some experiences seemed very familiar to me.  I have some nuts hanging from the family tree (thankfully they were not a large part of my formative years), but mostly what I recognized were the kids I went to school with.

The South has its own version of hillbillies called (lovingly or not depending on who you talk to) rednecks.  Rednecks come from the same Scots-Irish tradition as hillbillies and have the same honor code and are just as quick to fight.  It’s a deep and ingrained culture in the South and it makes no difference how much money you make or what subdivision you live in, a redneck will usually stay a redneck.  And be proud of it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with tradition and sticking by your kin.  What’s wrong is being content with a rotten life because that’s what you’ve always known, and you can’t see a way out.  These are the points Mr. Vance makes in his book.  Government policies, more school funding, more welfare.  These are not the things that help disadvantaged kids in these areas.  It’s people who make the difference.  Mr. Vance had people, family members, teachers, friends, who made him see that there was something more than the misery of his current situation.

People need Jesus.  And not just as a get-into-heaven-free card.  They need the power of the Lord to breakdown those demonic barriers that keep people fighting and fleeing for generations.  It’s Satan’s most successful strategy in the modern Western world: keep families angry and hurt and resentful and vindictive.  Keep widening the criteria for victim-hood.  Keep preaching hate and divisive politics.  Mr. Vance makes the point that the government can’t save these communities with legislation.  The only way a culture will change is when the majority of its adherents finally say enough is enough.  It’s people who are going to make the difference and we as people need to recognize barriers that are keeping us apart and call on the Lord to pull down those strongholds.

Hillbilly Elegy really didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, because I live in the same kind of culture, but I think it can be a wake-up call to those who don’t.  I recommend it for a quick read that’s also thought-provoking.

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Taiwan: The Rundown

Here it is.  The really long post about the Taiwan trip.  Bear with me.

We arrived late after a day and a half of travel and crashed.  Then we hit the ground running and we didn’t stop until we got home.  We went to visit and support the missionary family that lives there, Clay and Rhonda and their three little girls.  We pretty much just got in step with their lives in Taipei and did things like go with them to take the girls to school on the metro and join them in their ministry and outreach efforts.  Our first day we got to go to the girls’ school and present bible verses during their weekly chapel.  They go to a small English-speaking Christian school, but they are also learning Chinese.  We got to go to a professional basketball game because Clay ministers to a few of the guys on the team.  That was unexpected and less touristy.  We went to church with them on Sunday and met their friends.  It was awesome to worship with people from all over the world.  They have a Chinese service in the morning and an English service in the afternoon.  Clay took us to the famous Shi-lin night market, which was a whirlwind of light and sound and people.  There were vendors selling everything you can imagine.  One guy was grilling squid on a stick.  We visited a Buddhist temple and learned about how people there buy food and other items to burn for their deceased family members and to appease the spirits.  There’s a temple in every neighborhood and the temples make millions off the people.  It was an eerie feeling in there.  We babysat one evening so Clay and Rhonda could go on a date.  We read the girls bedtime stories and then watched some comedy DVDs.  It’s not your typical mission trip activity but it was really needed and appreciated.  We had some ministry time with their friends and got to know them a little.  We also did some prayer walking around the city and visited the campus of National Taiwan University, where some friends of theirs have a student outreach.

We also did some tourist things.  We visited the Chaing Kai-Shek memorial.  It’s a gigantic building with one bronze statue inside but it was awesome.  We went to the Taipei 101 building which used to be the tallest building in the world with 101 floors.  They have an observatory at the top where you can see the entire city.  One day the guys went on a hike to a waterfall in the mountains and Rhonda and I took their 3-year-old to the beach.  It was an hour away by train, but I loved getting out of the city and seeing the mountains and the rural areas.  The beach was beautiful, and they were having a sand sculpture festival.  The sculptures were huge and incredibly intricate.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

The rest of the time we spent eating.  Just kidding.  Kind of.  They took us to all their favorite restaurants and ordered lots of different dishes for us to try.  Some stuff was really good, like fried rice and dumplings.  Some not so much, like the seaweed and tofu dishes.  They do some pretty weird stuff like put peanut butter on hamburgers and eat them for breakfast and put mayonnaise on fried shrimp and top it with rainbow sprinkles.  I liked trying new things but by the last day I was pretty excited about Taco Night at Clay and Rhonda’s.  They invite people they know and people they meet along the way to their home for some good ol’ Tex Mex.

Traveling back home was exhausting.  We had to get up at 4 am and travel for 36 hours.  We had a seven hour layover in Seoul and then had to fly for thirteen hours to Toronto.  Then a short hop to Atlanta but then we drove three hours home.  I was pooped.  It took several days to finally recover from the jet-lag, but it was definitely worth it.  I had an amazing time and I would do it again.  But not for a while.

We did so many exciting things and yet the biggest thing that came out of Taiwan for me was the fact that I did it.  I packed one carry-on, got on a plane with two dudes, and flew to the other side of the world.  A year ago that would have seemed impossible.  Now, it’s a memory.  And it seems to have sparked a bravery in me.  The idea of travelling and going far away from home is no longer scary.  It’s exciting.  Because of Taiwan I have the confidence to try.  That is seriously not nothing.

Holy Fortune Cookie

Do you read the fortunes in the cookies when you get Chinese food?  I usually do and then gripe about how they’re really advise more than fortunes.  They tend to tell you things like “Eat more fruit.”  So when I opened the fortune cookie three weeks before my mission trip to Taiwan, I wasn’t expecting what came out.

I’ve written a couple times on this blog that I was struggling with self-doubt.  I wrote that I wanted to be chosen because I had something to offer and because I was unique.  I also wrote that I need to start seeing myself like God sees me, as a mighty warrior.  I knew God was calling me to go on this trip.  He made it possible for me to get a week and a half off work despite having been on the job less than a year and he provided the funds a long time ago.  It was obvious that it was His will.  And still I doubted that I had made the right decision.  I doubted I was worthy to be taken on a mission trip.

Then I got Chinese and opened the fortune cookie just for a laugh.  It read, “If it is meant to be who are you to change that?  Time to believe it.”  And I sat back and said, “Whoa.”  Cause if there was ever a fortune that was written just for me, it’s that one.  I needed that right then and Jesus put it there.  It just proves that He loves us and never stops pushing us toward our destiny.  And I think it proves that Jesus has a pretty awesome sense of humor.

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Kim, You Mighty Warrior

“When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.'”  Judges 6:12

I am going to Taiwan on that mission trip.  Yay.  And yes, it is exciting but of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t overthink it, right?

I wrote last time that I wanted them to take me for who I am.  I guess they thought I was good enough to go.  Our team consists of John, the Missions pastor at our church, Brian, who has been on many mission trips and spent two years living and doing missions in Cambodia, Jack, who has been in and out of ministry at various churches, and…me.

Me.  The girl who sits in the back of the church because it would be presumptuous to sit down front with all the staff and elders and the people who know them.  The girl who listens way more than she talks at any group or class.  The girl who comes and goes and tries to stay out of everyone’s way.  The girl who’s one step above hermit.

When God called Gideon, He called him a “mighty warrior.”  Gideon was anything but, at least in his own eyes.  But God spoke according to how He saw Gideon.  Have you noticed that God tends to call on the people who seem to be the least?  David was the youngest son, the small one, the one out tending the sheep.  And God called him to slay the giant.

So, here I am.  I feel insanely unqualified to be sent to the other side of the world to minister to people.  I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.  I don’t have any experience in missions or ministry.  I’m socially awkward, quiet, and introverted.  All I have is a willingness to try, a willingness to serve, and a fierce determination to be obedient.  That’ll have to be enough.

If God saw Gideon as a mighty warrior, maybe He sees me that way, too.

I Want You to Want Me

I may be going on a mission trip to Taiwan in April.  I don’t know yet.  I turned in an application and was then given an in-person interview with the Head of Missions.  He was very nice, very polite, but I can’t say if the interview went well or not.  I did a lot of interviewing for jobs this past summer and I found that you never can tell.

No matter how friendly the person may be, you always feel like you’re on your back foot the whole time.  Like you’re being judged no matter what.  And you are.  That’s what interviews are all about.

When they ask questions, I always get the feeling that they have an answer in mind and if you don’t get it right, they write you off then and there.  This was a little different than a job interview.  They are praying and asking God who should go on this trip so He’s in control but I still felt that there was a “right” answer.  I answered everything honestly and to the best of my ability.  I don’t know exactly what he was looking for but my answers were me.

I’m not the perfect Christian or missionary.  I don’t know everything.  I’m just me.  If they take me, I want them to take me because I’m me, not because I told them the “right” answers at an interview.  Take me because I have something to offer, because I’m unique.

If this sounds like an old refrain from me, it is.  I’m 31 years old and I’m still asking people to take me as I am, not how I “should” be.  After everything, I still want you to want me.

Never Enough

A while back the pastor at my church asked an interesting question.  He said, “What if you said to God, even if nothing else happens in my whole life, this is enough?”

I have been so blessed and though nothing this side of heaven will ever be perfect, I’m in a good place.  I went through a tough time changing jobs and dealing with some rough depression but despite all that I did say, Yes, this is enough.  I have been used by You and I’m loved by You and that’s enough.

But my God is so much bigger and so much better and wants so much more for me.  I stepped out in faith when I quit my job last spring.  I stepped out when I took this job.  I was obedient and I was content.  And just like that He called again.

During my unemployment I started volunteering with the kids at the local children’s shelter and was so blessed by them.  I got busy making the transition to a new workplace and took a break but now He’s calling me back there.  Someone there needs something I have to give.  I don’t know where it will lead but I’m excited to have the opportunity to serve the most high God.  Because what I’ve learned on this journey so far, being content with where you are is never enough for Him.

I Want to Be Radical

That’s right, I want to be radical.  Have you watched Darren Wilson’s films?  If you haven’t, see them.  They are amazing and life-changing.  But what I want to say is, someone said that the people in Darren’s films are “radical.”  I want to be like that.

I’ve said in my About change that I’m “sold out” to the Holy Spirit, meaning that I want Him to lead my life.  No one else.  Period.  That’s why I quit my job.  I felt God leading me away from accounting and it was a big “put up or shut up” moment.  I might even go so far as to say it was radical.  But that’s how I want to live my life.  I want to live from one of those moments to the next.

I can’t really think how my life could have gotten more boring as it was.  Now I finally feel excited to be doing things.  I get up expectant for what He has for me.  I do have a few tentative plans but nothing major.  And that’s just fine with me.  Here’s to being radical.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.  ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”  Jeremiah 29:11