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I love the smell of my parents’ house. I visited my parents in Northern Virginia this Thanksgiving, and the moment I walked in, I smelled the pungent, crisp whiff of my mother’s fresh-made kimchi—traditional Korean fermented cabbage, still raw and crunchy in the giant stainless steel bowl she uses to massage the vegetables with chili paste. As I kissed my father’s cheek hello, I smelled his familiar aftershave. Then I ran upstairs to kiss my mother, and smelled her sweet milky lotion. My mother, hearing the growl of my stomach, heated up my favorite chicken soup on the stove, and I inhaled the aroma of golden broth, sweet carrots, and earthy mushrooms.
This year was not easy for me. I realized that during a family dinner: While going around the table sharing what we were thankful for, I made a passing remark that it had been a hard year, and all of a sudden, hot salty liquid flowed from my eyes, surprising everyone, including me.
As a journalist for a Christian magazine, I meet a lot of people with inspiring testimonies—people who suffer much yet hold fast to their faith, people who glorify God through their work, ministry, and life. I also meet people who don’t know God and despair because of it, and I desire to tell them that their only hope and joy is found in Christ. Truth is, as a journalist I may observe, hear, and report such things, yet as a 30-year-old woman traveling through life, there are still many moments when I struggle to feel what I think I know to be true. I know and talk and write about God’s amazing love, but why do I so often not feel His love, or feel that His love is not enough?
I brought these conflicts with me when I arrived at my parents’ house. There, all sorts of senses immediately greeted me. It started with smells—the smell of my parents, the smell of comfort foods, the smell of freshly laundered sheets in my bedroom, cleaned and warmed for my arrival. Touch and sounds welcomed me too—my father’s plump and toasty hands on my shoulders as he prayed for me, my mother’s arm linked around mine as she told me her insights as a pastor’s wife, the laughter we shared over a silly joke, the hot water bottle on my belly that my mother prepared every night because she knows I get cold easily.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He told them first to cry out, “Our Father who art in heaven.” That’s how I pray too, always beginning with “Heavenly Father.” And I remembered then why Jesus taught us to start all our prayers with “Our Father.” In this primal, instinctual, intimate call to God as Abba, we declare once again, in earshot of angels and demons, that we are the beloved, cherished children of a God who desires intimacy with us. But how distracted are our minds, how feeble our hearts, that we so often forget the love of our Father God! How easily we diminish it into something abstract and ritualized! How quickly we doubt it when we’re swaying in the currents of anxiety and fear and apathy!
In this primal, instinctual, intimate call to God as ‘Abba,’ we declare once again, in earshot of angels and demons, that we are the beloved, cherished children of a God who desires intimacy with us.
This Thanksgiving, through the smell and touch and taste and sound and sight of my earthly parents’ love, I once again felt the love of my heavenly Father. His is a real, present love that is all-giving, like my earthly parents’ love. I am a full-grown adult paying her own bills, yet I saw in everything my parents did their desire to give, give, give to me as much as they can. It’s miraculous, this love that parents have for their child: It comes naturally, it gives without conditions, it risks much for little in return. To me, that means this innate yet extraordinary love of a parent can come only from a sacred source, from Someone wholly good and beautiful.
On my last day, as I hugged and kissed my parents goodbye at the airport, I could sense their longing to hug me one more time, to hold my hand till the last minute. I checked in through the security gate, rolled my suitcase over to the escalator, then turned to wave at them one last time. I saw the crease around my parents’ aged eyes as they smiled and waved back, and I knew with a pang that I would never be able to pay back the tears, sweat, and aches they’ve given for me, nor would they want me to.
As I descended down the escalator out of sight, hot salty liquid once again flowed down my face, and continued to flow on the flight back to Los Angeles. But this time, it wasn’t because I’d had a hard year. It was because I realized that all throughout this year, even during the times when I didn’t feel it, God has been giving, giving, giving me His love—without fail, without conditions, without any payment of my own. My heavenly Father has been present all along.