Years from now, maybe even generations later, people will maybe wonder about the origins of the building that stands on the corner of Colima and Nogales. If I’m around, I’ll tell them that it began with a shiny red car.
That would be the hard-top convertible, Lexus IS 250C, an ostentatious gift given to my mom by a doting husband. The purchase of this car was the fulfillment of a long-held dream, call it the “Man Dream”, a modern-day rendition of chivalric pomp. Never mind that she hated the thing, it was never meant to make her happy. This “gift” was all about him.
Momentum was certainly on his side at the time. After years of building and saving, he had enough to invest in the “sure thing”, the sort of opportunity where you bet big and take down the house. A cautious wife was not enough to stem the tide of a man and his golden ticket. The day he signed the papers, he beamed at us, his family, and asked a single question…would we rather move to a mansion near the beach or one close to the mountains? He roared in laughter and even his wife managed a forced grin.
This was all behind the scenes though. To the world, he presented the right sort of face: humility and faith. At the opening of the business, he invited the pastor and elders of the church to pray at the ribbon cutting ceremony, a strange blend of commerce and religion. For some reason, this reminded me of a Bible story, the one about the money-lenders conducting their dirty business in the Temple. Jesus drove them out in fury.
This was like that…only in reverse.
Within months, the business was dying. It wasn’t from a lack of trying, though. He woke up early, sometimes even 2:00 AM to pass out fliers to late-night partiers at local nightclubs. He poured his sweat into that place, a drain-hole that never swelled or smiled back. Within months, years worth of savings turned into years worth of debt. We shuttered up the place in less than a year.
Things only got worse from there.
He asked me to stand with him in court to translate (his former tenets were suing him for mismanagement). I’m afraid I wasn’t up to the task. People called my father incompetent, a failure, a liar, a fraud. I don’t know these words in Korean.
I’m not sure I want to.
My mother used to say during this time that she just wanted to hit bottom. The bottom is not so bad, it’s the sliding down feeling that’s the hardest. When we hit bottom, she said, we’ll know that it’s finally done and we can begin the process of getting back up. She just wanted to hit bottom.
Bottom came and I found myself at a Cheesecake Factory eating dinner one night with my Mom and Dad. It was quiet as we had nothing much to say to each other. That’s when my Dad said something I’ll never forget.
“I’ve failed at everything. My only success was marrying your mother.”
I think it’s something that should have made us cry, but that night, for whatever reason, we laughed.
Maybe we needed it.
NOBODY wanted the job. Who would be crazy enough to give that much time and effort without pay?
The newly installed Pastor asked several men, probably more capable and experienced, before he was forced to ask my Dad.
“Will you chair the Building committee?”
If abortion is the third rail of American politics, the building project played a similar role at my church. Multi-million dollar project in this economy? And who would possibly give up his day job to work on it for free?
Luckily for my Pastor, my dad was just out of a job.
Fresh off the biggest failure of his life, he balked. He asked everyone for their advice and nearly everyone said not to do it.
One night, he asked my grandma. Her answer was straightforward.
“If the Pastor asks you to do it, you do it.”
He accepted the next day.
The shiny red car became a lumpy Church van. Sweat, blood and tears that went into a dying business instead went into the raising up of a sanctuary. My father, a notorious late-riser, made a pledge to attend early morning (5 AM!!) prayers every morning until the job was finished. Two years later, a man who prayed became a prayerful man.
Perhaps nobody outside the family will ever know or have noticed the transformation that fixed my father. But I did.
I watched with a great deal of sadness and a bit of unsettling recognition, story after story in the news of murder-suicides at the height of the Great Recession. Once proud businessmen who had lost everything decided it was just too much and ended their families.
I say this with a touch of irony: Had my father been a greater man, this could have been our fate.
Our faith teaches us to become small so that our Father can become bigger in us. For those who doubt that, this faith is not for you. But I ask that you don’t scoff at its notion or power.
I saw how faith stood idly by while a man in his prime was torn down, his edifice completely destroyed. Faith then built him back up into a renewed man, a bit humbler, a bit more resiliant to the whirlwinds and windfalls. It happens all the time, my dad just happens to have a physical building to show for it.
I tell you now that he found his faith in the rubble. He used it to turn rubble into a building. I tell you now that faith saved his life.
When people ask about the origins of the Church that stands proudly on the corner of Colima and Nogales, as people tend to do about lovely buildings like it, I’ll tell them…
That’s the House my father built.
That’s the House my Father built.