Thursday, September 6, 2012


Like always starting on the right side, when you brush your teeth; like always washing the glasses before the plates; like taking off your shirt first and leaving your socks until last when undressing; like always checking Facebook before you check Twitter; like childhood bedtime rituals; like chewing gum, smoking cigars, cracking your knuckles, biting your nails, and hugging your pillow in just that one certain way every night of your life, some things become habitual.

This is a topic oft discussed in classrooms, caf├ęs and congressional hearings: habits. Spending habits, sleeping habits, eating habits, dating habits - the list goes on. Some are better than others. Some are destructive. Others are just plain practical.

When I shave, I always start with the innermost part of the right side of my mustache, just under my nose. From there, I proceed downward, around my mouth, just tracing the tuft of hair on my bottom lip commonly known as the soul patch. After that, I shave the side burn on the right side, moving down over my jaw to the hair on my neck. There's a mental line down the center of my face and neck and I never cross over to the left, until the right is fully shaved. At which point, I follow the same routine on the left side. As a teenager, I once saw a commercial in which the man shaved only one side of his face in order to demonstrate the superior conditioning quality of a certain shaving cream. This stuck with me, and now I shave in hemispheres. I don't even think about it anymore. I just do it. It's become a habit.

Most humans are creatures of habit. I may be a bit more routinized than others, though. I love patterns. I enjoy habits. I am energized by organization. Most animals live habitually as well. They return to the same areas to do their business, they will sleep in the same place night after night, walk the same path from place to place. It's like the whole of creation is hard-wired to be orderly. Very few things are truly chaotic. Even tornadoes, which ravage indiscriminately, follow observable patterns and rules.

A philosophy professor in college once challenged our class with the idea that what we usually refer to as laws of nature, are really just predictable instances of God's faithfulness. Gravity is not a law, he asserted. It is written nowhere. It is not bound. It is, however, a pattern that we've come to trust, to take for granted. We assume it will always be there, simply because it always has. However, if God, for even a micro-second, let loose his grasp of gravity, all the universe would be utterly destroyed. Gravity itself is a marker of mercy and an indicator of God's indescribable omnipotence. You might say that the laws of nature are simply God's holy habits.

Have you ever had a habit disrupted? An instance in which you are, for some reason unable to do that one thing you've become accustomed to doing? Stopping at that certain coffee shop on your way to work? Watching a certain news program on Thursday evening? Going for a jog on Saturday afternoon? Enjoying a nice pipe in the cool of the evening? You find you're out of tobacco. It's raining when you wanted to go jogging. The coffee shop is closed for remodeling. The news program is cancelled due to a tornado warning in your area...(see what I did there? didn't think you'd see the tornado again, did you? but I brought it back! you gotta watch out...I'm tricky.) If you've ever experienced a situation similar to this, if you've had habits interrupted, then you know that something like this can totally throw you off. It can, in effect, affect your whole day...even your whole week.

Right now, I'm sitting in seat 16F, aboard Air Canada flight 64, with service from Seoul to Vancouver. In BC, I'll transfer to a flight bound for San Francisco. My wife is sitting beside me, and our cat is sleeping quietly (thank God) at her feet. This is a one-way flight. The first I've boarded in four years. One week ago, at this time, I would just have been turning in, after a day of teaching, and perhaps a delicious, home-cooked meal. However, as of Monday, I'm no longer a teacher...and as of today, I'm no longer a resident of South Korea. They took my residency card at the airport. My visa is expired. I'm now a temporary resident of seat 16F...

And a multitude of habits have been disrupted.

There are friends we won't meet for months and maybe years. Restaurants we'll never again visit. Our home was dismantled. Our car was sold. I'll most likely never again drive the streets of Pyeongtaek, walk the halls of the Community Center, drink a cup of Maxim, shop at Lotte Mart, ride the train to Seoul, or see a movie at Cinus.

These things, these places, these people...they have become habits for me. Their disruption will not merely affect my day, but will forever change my life. At present, it feels as if part of my universe has been utterly destroyed. In truth, though, it's still there. I'm not, though. There is here an important truth to take note of - the King is on his throne, and all is right with the world. God has in no way loosened his faithful grip on my life. On the contrary, we believe these steps to be taken at his bidding.

Looking back on the things we've left behind in Korea will forever be a reminder of God's faithfulness and providence. He has been so good to us, doing more than we could have ever asked or imagined...and this goodness won't cease just because we've moved across the world. His arms are certainly long enough to care for us in California...and still hold tightly to our friends in Korea.

They say old habits die hard. Perhaps some of them don't die at all...they just adapt and get a good tan.

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