They Grow On Trees


Creativity, Poetry, ArtJenica Halula3 Comments

A few years ago and I taught my daughter’s grade school Sunday school class, and I never ceased to be amazed at the passion that welled up in the children every time we lined up to go anywhere: each of them wanted desperately to be in the front of the line. The pushing, the boxing out of kids who are their best buddies, the pleading faces aimed towards teachers.  


One day we were lining up to go upstairs to practice the Christmas play and the heated contest continued among them.  


"There is no difference,” I said, "we’re all going to the exact same place, just line up so that I don’t lose any of you on the way up there. Your parents would not be pleased if I lost you.”


What they didn’t realize was that whoever was first in this particular line would walk into the row of theater seats upstairs first and sit down, resulting in their being at the very end of the line when we stood back up to walk up on stage for the play.

"Ugh!  He cut!  I was here first!  Frownie Face!  BLEH!”  


Why did I sign up for this? 


“Guys, seriously, what is our memory verse this week?  'Whoever wants to be first must be the very last and the servant of all.'  Jesus said that if you want to be the first, be the very last.  So maybe next time you line up, instead of racing to be the first, try saying, “After you.”  And let someone else go before you.  See what happens.”


They all got in line. Primarily because they were tired of me talking at them like Charlie Brown’s teacher.  


A few weeks later one of the sweetest girls, (who I don’t think has ever pushed her way to the front of anything) came up to me and said, “I did what you said to do at school.  I let everyone go in front of me in the line.”


“Oh, yeah?”  I laughed, amazed that something I said stuck.  “How did it go?  What do you think?”


“Well…. I was just sad,” she said with dramatic slumped shoulders, “because I was at the very end of the line.”


I have no idea how I responded. I’m sure I laughed, and “aww-ed” and side-hugged her and said thanks for doing that, and I tried to say something of value  …. but really… what is there to say? I asked her to do something hard and she was good sport and did it, and it turns out it was, in fact, hard. 


I don’t believe there is a literal line that we stand in to enter God’s restored life, but I imagined for a moment that there was … and that we all lined up, racing to the front to be nearest to God, who was waiting to take us “upstairs," so to speak.   And we were all racing to elbow each other out of the way to get our shiny faces closest to God.  But perhaps, Jesus is there at the end of the line, saying, “after you, after you” until no one has been left out or forgotten.  


The person at the front of the line is, I imagine, so proud to be a servant of God, holding out his arms and basking in the glory of being so close to God, and the person behind him, has the unfortunate circumstance of being a servant to God and this fool in front of him, and the person behind them both has it even worse, being a servant to God, and to two selfish buffoons. The poor girl at the very end of the line, the servant to all, is nowhere NEAR God.  The glorious soul in the front sees himself as finely attuned to God’s every move and he can dedicate his entire life to God’s service. Yet, if someone behind him needs a hand, how would he know?  The girl at the end, on the other hand, would be pretty well-positioned to be “a servant to all” way back there, where she can see everyone.


And then, perhaps, God will say, “OK, we’re ready to go!”  And we’d all turn around following Jesus into full, awake life.  And in this way, as the good book says, "many who are first shall be last and the last shall be first."


I read this verse recently, thinking about all the news of the day,  and then I thought about these memories.  And my heart breaks for the people in my community, and in this world, who are being elbowed out of the line. 


And my heart steels with the reminder that it is, in fact, a hard thing God asks us to do.  And I’m overwhelmed that I don’t know what it looks like for me in my community, house, school, church, country, these days.  But I know that it should look more like, “After you," than like, “Me first!”  That will continue to be my roadmap.


And I’m sorry to those of you who have been dealing with being shoved out of line for your entire lives and I haven’t really been paying attention. I’m hoping to join you in the work you’ve been doing. 



SpiritualJenica Halula3 Comments
Gonzo by Jenica Halula

Gonzo by Jenica Halula

The stress was mounting. As the end of the day loomed I turned desperately to a run to even out the reeling tide of hormones that come with the stress.

It worked.

I left my ponytail long and it swayed from side to side and I felt free like a kid. It felt like dancing. The setting sun highlighted leaves and I ignored all things that were not beautiful. I ran above the highway, racing cars stuck in traffic, beating them. I slow momentarily to look through the chain link fence at the sunflowers and golden California Poppies growing on the steep hillside by the highway even in drought conditions. 

I do feel obligated to tell you, though, that I did scowl at a pinecone on the ground, because of the havoc the pine tree pollen is wreaking in my head.

The run works its magic, but the extra emotions pile up and come out as sobs out of nowhere as the dog jumps joyfully at my feet, when he sees I am ready for the happiest part of his day.

I often think about the length of his life now. I run with him as often as I can. I feel so sad for him that we do not live on an acreage filled with squirrels and mud. 

So many people say big dogs should not live in an apartment, but we kept him when we moved to Koreatown; he was family. We walked him twice a day and he was snuggled by our children and guarded us. At least I felt secure on those long weekends or weeks when Wes would be out of town and I was alone with the babies.

I do feel sad for Gonzo that he is not spending every sun filled moment chasing lizards through almond trees. Dogs were not meant to live like this, but neither were humans. I feel this same sadness for my children, for myself. 

Today, the sobs welled up and I thought, I hope he has endless fields to run in, in dog heaven. This is silliness, of course. Dogs don't want endless fields. They just want a family. And a few fields. At least one. I hope Gonzo has at least one field in heaven. And I hope he has a family.  

I hope that this life of sleeping next to our kid's beds and running through smog-filled streets is better than no life at all for him. It is for me. The dog is chewing a leftover stew bone and sitting under my chair as I write this. Of all the limited fields our life has to offer, he always choses to sit as close as possible to me. 


A better mother.

Poetry, ParentingJenica Halula1 Comment

From a digital "scrap of paper" (the notes app on my phone), 2014.


Mother than I.


Everyone, other than me,

is a better mother than me

(than I?)

My own mother uses two forks to tear the roast into portions

Then plates it up on a serving tray.

“Here.” Is what I’d say,

dishing it straight from pot to plate...

The Common cold.

SpiritualJenica HalulaComment

It's taking so long to get better, I thought. Staring at the bottle of 14 antibiotic pills. Why do I have to wait twelve hours to take another one?

I have an ear infection and bronchitis.  Is it a double ear infection if its both ears? Did she say it was a double ear infection or does double somehow mean something else, like middle and outer ear?  I probably have a paper that says somewhere, but I can’t get out of bed.

My kids have been out of school for a week due to sickness, and they have to go back tomorrow, but I’m so sick, I can’t take them.

My sinuses hurt with every single breath, they feel so dry. I need to drink more water, but I’d rather suffer with each breath than try to muster the strength to get up.

These ear drops are not analges-ing as much as I want them to. Two hours is close enough to “every three or four hours” right.  I don’t care.  The pain…. The pain…

When I go into the kitchen and toast bread so that I can take my antibiotic “with a meal if possible.”  I have to sit down while the bread is toasting because I’m too tired too stand.

Hands and Feet

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I created this on a drawing break today, in between some very serious logo design work. This was inspired in party by my friend Jessie and her comment that she's been really intreagued by hands and feed in design. 




Jenica HalulaComment

From a “scrap of paper.” An entry in one of my journals.

I lay in bed with this horrible pain in my upper back. Pain radiated into my neck, my jaw, my head, my entire body writhing. I felt nauseous. I was pretty sure it was not a migraine, but I thought it must be a similar genre of pain. The pain was crippling. I lay in bed hoping the Ibuprofen would kick in. My doctor said the headaches I get are tension headaches, and as I lay there I thought I might not have been describing them to her correctly. 

Tension headache conjures up images from the Excedrin commercials of my childhood. Well-groomed adults wincing, a manicured finger and thumb press gently to a temple.

This headache that I have radiates from my upper back. From years of bad posture at my computer, likely.  Does the tension radiate up into my jaw causing grinding at night, or does the clenched jaw work the tension down into how I carry my drooping shoulders. These thoughts float in and out as I writhe. I try to breath slowly and will each muscle to relax.

Floating Flowerpots

Jenica HalulaComment

"I have a recurring dream where the Earth stops spinning and gravity stops working and everything starts silently floating upward. In my dream, there are lots of flower pots sitting on windowsills to demonstrate this. The air gets thin and we all watch the flowerpots float up into the sky and we look at each other and try to speak but all we can do is say, with our eyes, I GUESS THIS IS IT."  - Heather Havrilesky, AKA Polly Esther of the Ask Polly advice Column.

I have so much to say about Heather. I sat here for a long time wondering which things I should say.  Weather I should tell you about that time we walked down the quiet street after drinks and I saw an enormous tiger in the toy story window and I said, "When I was a kid I used to imagine I was an albino tiger with one green eye and one blue eye." And she pointed to me and said, "Yes. Yes. That's what I want to talk about more." 

She is one of my favorite people in the world. She is soft and kind and strong and loud and brave and notices details and she is this incredible mix of enthusiastic and nonchalant. She holds ache and joy in her heart with equal vibrancy. She appreciates the need for both rules and grace. 

I cannot recommend her columns enough. Unless you can't abide a few swears here and there. In which case, I'm not sure how you're existing in modern society, but good on ya.


The Mayberry Pipers

Jenica HalulaComment

I'm just stopping in to pass along some more delights. The wonderful Allie Munson is in this band. She was my roommate in college who was too nice and happy to be real, but, it turns out she is real. And I found out there is a better way to live.

I'm listening to this in the background on repeat as I author a DVD to pay the bills.

It is keeping my spirits up.  (But also I feel sobs welling up periodically).

"Come on in, what's the good word? We've been waiting here for you. We've been waiting here for you. Come on in, Come on in, brother. What's the good news?"

Ktown Is My (and my friend Helen's) Town.

Jenica HalulaComment

My dear friend Helen Kim unveiled a new website today. It has been a long journey to this day and I am so excited for her. Excited that we published websites on the same week, unknowingly. Excited also because Ktown, is in fact, my town. 

When I first met Helen, I showed her this video I made, and she said, "Oh, this reminds me of the idea I have of doing a walking tour of my neighborhood in Koreatown." 

You can find Helen's page at

And here is the video, of a piece of my ktown days.

License Lab

Jenica HalulaComment

I want to post about how great License Lab is just about every time I use their website. It is a complete and utter joy to work with their music and their website.

The song titles. The search functions. The music, oh, the music. 

....And they put a collection together for national poetry month -- using the song titles like magnet poetry.  

That they craft so carefully the experience of finding music on their site, always gives me a pick-me-up to push through to the finish line in the final hours of a project.

Happy Listening.


Oranges and Coffee

Jenica HalulaComment

My kids were with my parents for part of spring break, up north visiting my aunt. They returned home with a cooler full of freshly picked oranges They are incredible and we are basking in the glory that is fresh citrus.

I can only assume we are called the golden state because Californians were under a trance, picking orange globes of golden sunshine off of trees, peeling away the fragrant rinds, juice dripping down arms and chins. The skin is the perfect brightness, and the segments somehow one degree brighter, translucent rays of light. 

Fresh oranges are as mesmerizing as the Mediterranean Sea. When we were in Greece and I stood on the white beaches and gazed into the pure blue water, though I could not swim, and though sea urchins littered the sand just under the blue, I was drawn in.  I was pulled into the water by beauty and I kept thinking about the Iliad and the sirens.  There were sirens in that water, I tell you. And there are angels of comfort and sustenance tending orange trees in California.

When we first moved to California I was pregnant and broke and lonely and overwhelmed and I missed my friends with such a deep ache. And though it seemed pathetic to me, I thought that the fresh fruit, the 10 lb bag of organic oranges we bought on Sunday after church for $7 at the Hollywood farmers market from Burkhart Farms was a nice consolation prize. It was not as nice as having friends, but it would last almost the whole week, we could carry it home in the bottom of the stroller, and it was a comfort in my sadness.

Wes said later, that the smell of coffee and oranges together will always be the smell the of our Koreatown apartment garbage. The garbage was continually filled with coffee grounds and orange peels, both fragrant. This is a grace, too, I suppose since we had two in diapers in that era. Now, in orange season our garbage is filled with those smells again and most mornings one of us will state in the midst of a quiet morning, "Orange peels and coffee grinds." as we empty an aeropress of grounds or a plate of peels. 

It is a bit of a prayer of thanks, when I say it. For oranges. For coffee.  For those days.  For these days. For memories and someone who remembers.


Washi Balloons

Art, Creativity, Poetry, SpiritualJenica HalulaComment

I heard an amazing story about Fu-Go. It is worth listening to Radiolab's episode on the subject. It is possible that the following post will spoil it for you, so feel free to go there first.

This is, however, not about the real Fu-Go story. 

This is a retelling, of sorts, in a world where swords have been beaten into ploughshares.  A place I long for.  A place that burst through in the protected, or perhaps cleaned up, corners of my brain. 

Washi Balloons.


Jenica HalulaComment

Due to the incredible friends I have on Facebook, I suppose, I find that my Facebook feed occasionally contains a real gem.  This song arrests me. It fills up the background space in my brain I was saving for an incurrent of half-hearted worries. I love it.  Kip Jones is the brother of one of my dearest friends Allie. His music is far reaching and brave and I recommend searching to find what he and his bands have created in the world. I won't link here because you can find your own way through the forest.  It will be much more rewarding.

The song is longer than a radio would like, I guess, and that is one of the things I liked about it. And the kickstarter video they made was actually appropriately short. Bravo for that, too, Morning Zephyr.

The Selection Process

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I was inspecting the progress of the baby limes on Sunday afternoon and I noticed that there were not as many as before. Were the ants carrying off enormous limes to their colony? "Get them while we still can, boys!"

It seemed odd that there was 1-3 limes left at the end of each branch. Did the gardeners do this? (Yes, if you're not from LA: we have a gardener.  This demands its own post. If you are from LA: yes, this demands its own post.)

I knelt down. Tiny limes littered the ground. I felt a wave of panic.  No, no! Put them back! Who did this?! 

Google seems to think its likely that the gardner did this. If you thin out the limes they'll grow bigger. I had wondered how the branch would support so many limes, when I first saw babies appear. 

I am still unsettled though. It feels so final. So unfair. What if they picked the wrong ones? Are bigger limes better? 


Baby Limes

Jenica HalulaComment

I'm starting a garden and the sun is trying to kill the fragile greenlings already. At least we have the lime tree. It will produce fruit. The blossoms appeared after Christmas, and now there are the tinniest little baby limes on the tree. I look at them every day, licking my lips, anticipating the fresh limeade. I wonder at when they coined the phrase, "Money doesn't grow on trees."  They might not have considered how long it takes something to grow on a tree.  Contrasting the production rate of this tree to me,  I think it'd be better to say, "Don't throw that lime away, son. Limes aren't made at work." I think baby limes take about as long as baby humans to be full term, and how many seasons did it take the tiny seed to grow into this producing giant?  This makes me also wonder at my impatience at becoming patient. I expect things to download into my brain, not to grow. But things like patience, kindness, self-control, they grow on trees.