Our Lives in Only Four Words

Last Thursday night, my husband, the kids and I drove up California Interstate 5, San Francisco bound, late into the early morning — kids fast asleep in the backseat.

It took nearly eight hours with three stops.  But we finally rolled onto my mother-in-law’s driveway at a perky 2:30am.

The garage door opened with a familiar hum against the silence.  Everything, as always, so familiar — the tandem garage neatly packed with memories, the long stairs leading to the front door.

San Francisco is much like a second home to us —  it’s where my husband grew up, where he and I spent our first year of marriage in a tiny one bedroom apartment, where the kids have cheered on the Giants at AT & T Park on numerous afternoons, where we’ve had so many happy memories with family.

But we knew this trip would feel different.

My father-in-law’s funeral was scheduled for that Monday.  Even though a lot had already been done, there was still some preparing and planning to do —  including visiting the church to make sure everything was set for the service.


There was also a lot eating … this is a family that appreciates “good” food, no matter what.

Especially noteworthy was my mother-in-law’s miso salmon —  drizzled with Sake, organic miso paste, Japanese furikake, atop with slivered ginger.

scottish miso salmon

Another tasty highlight was my husband’s aunt’s stuffed pork dish — nicely put together with some greens and homemade dressing and San Francisco’s Boudin sourdough bread (and a vintage wine from my father-in-law’s basement — they all said it was still quite nice).  Such low carb yumminess, which I personally appreciated.  🙂

stuffed pork

We spent a lot of quality time with the family.

johnny and karis

And made a lot of memories.

kid drawing

Then on August 18, 2014, on a typical foggy San Francisco morning, nearly four hundred people gathered together at the Lakeside Presbyterian Church to celebrate my father-in-law’s life (or otherwise affectionately known to his grandkids as Gung).

memorial flowers

It was touching to see the steady stream of family and friends walk through the church doors, generously filling the pews and spilling into the balcony.  “This is one of the most well attended memorial services I’ve seen,” one of the pastors commented.

Pastors, friends, family members all shared heartfelt words. My husband gave a tearful, moving tribute to his dad.  The six grandkids, ages four to eighteen, bravely went up on stage to share their favorite moments with Gung, too.

There certainly was such a beautiful effort to tell Gung’s story that day.

He was a man who graced this earth for seventy seven years, wore many hats (literally and figuratively), and was known by a handful of names …  a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather (Gung), a cousin, a friend, an accountant.   He was a man who despite years of weathering illness and disability and extended hospitalizations, left a lasting impression on hundreds of lives with his quiet and assuring presence.

Seventy seven years.  And it all seemed to come down to four words.

Generosity.  Longsuffering.  Others.  Smiles.

He gave generously —  his resources, his service, his time, his attention.  He pressed on with courage through years of chronic illness, living with Diabetes and all its accompanying discomforts and limitations, with an upbeat attitude and a quick wit, even while in the ICU.   He never hesitated to gather people into his home, on trips, into his life.  His life was about others.  And he smiled often — not with an ear to ear grin — but with this half turned, Mona Lisa-like smile that was genuinely his.

So with the comfort of these four words, the near four hundred people filed out of the church, many of them gathering appropriately at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet lunch afterwards.

Then our family assembled together at the gravesite, under the overcast sky, to say a last goodbye.


gung pic

We will miss you, Gung.  We’ll never forget you or the manifesto you lived with your actions.

One day our lives will be summed up in just a handful of words, too.

So until we see you again in the Lord’s presence, we’ll do our best to learn from your four words and live by them as well.

Generosity.  Longsuffering.  Others.  Smiles.

So on that Tuesday afternoon, before heading back on Interstate 5, we stopped at Wing Lee on Clement Street to pick up some dim sum.

“Eww, what’s that smell?”  the kids said.

It never fails — dim sum smells horrific in the car, and some child always complains.  But somehow, without fail, it all tastes so good …

Thank goodness some things never change.  

We gobbled all this deliciousness in the car in honor of Gung (barbeque pork cha siu baos not pictured — they were inhaled by the kids before I could take a photo).   My absolute favorite?  The shrimp and chive one.  Yes, you better believe it, my Paleo diet went out the window that afternoon.

But it’s okay.  Somehow, I think Gung would have been proud.


On our way home, we stopped at my husband’s cousins’ house, so the kids could splash and play in the swimming pool for one last summer hurrah …

swimming hee cousins

They swung high and freely and a little unsafely —  but what a gift it is to make new memories.

And what a treasure it is to hold the old.

gung and k puppets

Be generous, be longsuffering, never stop gathering with others, and smile.

boy alone

What four words would describe your life? 

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  2 Timothy 4:7

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