October 17, 2011 § 2 Comments
I’ve been thinking a lot about Time lately. Whether it is against us, for us, absolutely indifferent to us and our existence. And I’m talking about it in merely a personified sense; I don’t actually think Time is conscious of what it does to us, but I trust you get it.
From the moment that we suddenly become cognizant to things around us, Time has been there. We learn to get acquainted with it, read it, wait on it. Time invites us into some form of a symbiotic relationship with it from the very beginning. In my short-lived life so far, I found myself deeply invested in Time, trusting in it to provide me with the next milestone of life– a promising enlightenment, accomplishment, fulfillment, or restoration of past wrongs. I expected that ‘with Time on my side’, things could be made alright. It would never hurt me, it was never out to get me. As they say, Time heals all wounds. With Time, you’re good.
However, as of late, I find that this so-called symbiotic relationship with Time has become ‘parasitic’ to me.. (Any ecology fans out there?) In the ways that it once helped me along and taught me the ways of life, somewhere along that way, it’s like it forgot the commitment we once had and reared its ugly head.. And now we are at odds with one another, duking it out.
And I suppose this mindset seems relevant to the life-stage that I’m currently in now. After being released from my years of “undergraduate studies”, I think I’ve found the ambition of Time suddenly unattractive. This ambition keeps pushing me–pushing me to get moving on towards the next milestone, to embark upon fulfilling my next accomplishment. But I find that I’m just not ready for it yet. And to be completely honest, I’m not sure I desire whatever this “next thing” I feel Time has subscribed me to. I do desire to move, but find myself moreso stuck most of the time. I’m in this place of wanting Time to just slow down with me. Take tea, and explain itself. How did Time suddenly become an enemy? What relationship am I meant to have with my once-trusted friend of any hour? Clearly, in today’s society, efficiency and productivity has gotten to Time’s head and has created strife within me and probably every other student who has earned an undergraduate degree, and finds oneself suddenly wedged between said-academic accomplishment and the pressures to catapult oneself forward onto becoming something even better. And dear God, it is absolutely frightening sometimes.
As I sit here and ponder this tangle that I’m in, I suddenly see the other trap I am prone to: Nostalgia. Yes, good ol’ Nostalgia. As much as I’m not ready to press on, leaning back into the past can be just as harmful to my soul. But we all do it. We imagine the paragon of pasts we once had, secret hidden places where we feel safe, warm and fuzzy inside. It doesn’t even have to be a pretty past.. It’s merely because we’ve lived it before. We remember the outcome and how we withstood it, and it makes us feel okay, if not more delusional. I came across this line in a novel I was reading awhile back and found it suitable to my case:
“The truth is, stillness is an idea, a dream. It’s the thought of friendly, welcoming lights still shining in all the places we’ve been forced to abandon.” [from Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall, if you’re interested]
Two things I took from this: 1) Movement is the name of the life-game. We can’t change that fact. As much as Time goes on, we are naturally inclined to move on as well. I too, yearn for growth, deeper wisdoms, more peace and understanding– things that can only come to pass with moving through this life amidst circumstances of both simplicity and difficulty. 2) Unfortunately, Fear paralyzes and Deception blinds us. Life sometimes feels like we are tightrope-walking blindfolded, and any precarious movement will make us fall helplessly to our doom. But we know, even beyond this exaggerated metaphor, that such Fear and Deception can make us delusional and be fatally crippling. It is ridiculous to think that one decision made will have a life-or-death consequence, like trying to make it to the next level of Final Fantasy with low health and few weaponry items, and what’s left is so many more battles ahead to fight and thirteen more video games in the FF series to conquer as well. (Any gamers out there?) How tiring would that be if we functioned like that? We would probably lose morale or Hope at some point when we venture through life this way. We’d begin to blame-shift, maybe doubt God’s goodness and wonder how we even got into this mess. Life is not meant to be lived that way.
So what do we do with that? I feel that I’m still struggling through this feeling some days. And the best I think I can do in these moments are: Stand still. Admit I am tired (and probably angry with God). Deny the temptation for cheap feel-goods. Seek counsel. Be present with God’s love in me and around me. Get comfortable. Here I am. On my own two feet. Praying that I don’t get swept away by productivity or nostalgia before I myself decide that I am ready to make that first step forward. It’ll all be okay. Time will always be there.
June 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
What does your schedule usually look like? Does it just scream your routinely over-committed disposition and head-under-water outlook on life? If this is you, you’ve probably experienced times that you were not able to complete everything you wanted to do on your to-do list, or you barely managed to scrape by but it did not feel good. And yet, we don’t seem to learn. We keep packing things onto our calendars. It’s an endless cycle. My defense for my tendency towards busy-ness often relies on these external voices that seem to be shouting at me—whether it be voicing their demands and expectations, or their challenges to prove my value or consequently, be deemed inadequate.
What about when we finally take the courageous step of walking away from certain commitments, or maybe even relationships. We feel like we have left behind unfinished business. I don’t know about you, but there’s a definite tension there for me. What am I meant to see all the way through and what is meant to be left to God to finish? When do we stop pointlessly beating the dead horse and allow God to step in and restore. It’s not so easy leaving things to God, even though we know He’s more than capable. And how do we go about starting new business?
I recently walked away from an internship with a women’s organization that I had for a good couple of months. To be honest, it was a really hard decision to make. I have a big heart for women and I saw this as an amazing opportunity to contribute to the organization’s vision. And it was. I worked hard. I gave more hours than I could afford, in fact. I was made valuable to the team. I was told that I was the best intern they have ever had and they appreciated my work. And I say all this to make a point about how invested I had become with this organization; a lot started to ride upon my involvement there. It became the place where I began to see not only my hard work, but also my satisfaction and safeguard. This internship was going to help me pilot towards any destination I wanted to go in pursuing my passions, finding the right connections, getting a career, etc. Call it false thinking on my part, if you want, but I was going to do whatever it took to keep that position, that value. So, you can imagine how hard it was for me when I had the realization that while it may have had all these possibilities, it was also giving me the greatest unease and anxieties. I could no longer justify the exhaustion I felt each night as I came home after having stressed about school, work, relationships, and this internship that had eclipsed the others in priority. I had to put an end to the never-ending, unfinished business of being busy. But what does that look like?
It seems that in today’s current lifestyle, we have to have all of our stuff figured out. I desire to be on mission with God, but I don’t know where or how sometimes. And maybe that’s why I feel like I have to capitalize on all venues and opportunities to make sure I am experiencing Him to the fullest. I am afraid to walk away from an opportunity to serve here, a chance to engage in community there, or a door to make a difference in this area because I fear that I will miss an opportunity to see God there. But is it up to me? No, I guess not. I can only lead with the convictions I know in my heart and trust that I will experience God not only through specific circumstances, but any time that I authentically seek and willingly receive what He has for me. Even if that means walking away from one thing to encounter something better.
April 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
Recently, I have been thinking about the innumerable things that dictate how we as people ascribe value and worth—whether to ourselves or others. Our value can be found in things like our appearance, our demeanor, our words, and our actions in certain settings. It can be in our ability to charm a crowd, please that one person, or even our ability to control what we want to disclose, withhold or portray to others. And it’s not bad to want to don nice clothes, or perhaps to think about the words we want to say before saying them (it should happen more often, I think), or to even want to mean something to another person. But, sometimes we get so caught up in this system of value-based motives and behaviors; we don’t even realize when they become the spaces that we fix most of our time, thought, and energy. Good things, good attributes, good actions become exploited for the lesser of praises and a lesser of real experiences.
In observance of Lent this year, I was challenged to give up my hair for forty days. What does that mean? Did I shave it? (No, that was sooo last May.) Did I not wash it? (No, again.) What I actually decided to do was cover it—by scarf, by shawl, by hat—for forty days. That may sound a little strange considering the usual surrender of soda, chocolate, and other sugary temptations people tend to commit to every year (though those commitments can be definitely challenging as well). I gave up my hair because, in addition to all the societal values of beauty and acceptance placed upon hair, it has been a site of my self-expression through various styles as well as a place that I had ascribed some level of value. I saw it as one thing that I could uncomfortably surrender for forty days for the sake of opening up an avenue to see more clearly my God as well as taking up the identity He has given me while functioning out of one less value-based system as I have mentioned earlier. And coming out of that experience, I wanted to share that here with you all.
I think I could talk for hours about the ways that God revealed himself in various instances, or the times that I felt uncomfortable, inconvenienced, or unattractive and was pushed to embrace something truer about myself than those thoughts and feelings. So I guess I’ll leave you with some snapshot lessons I learned:
- From the first day, I was challenged to face that I love and live to control. Walking into one of my classes the first day, I was thrown off by the consuming perceptions that I imagined others held of me. Granted, the first day I wore a scarf like a hijab so I guess the level of social judgment appeared high. Nevertheless, this realization that while the rest of me physically was as it was any ordinary day—fresh face with makeup and my usual wardrobe donned—I was overly preoccupied by the scarf on my head. The fact that I may have left one place vulnerable to the criticism of others made me deeply uneasy. It took days for me to finally get past this imagined persecution I felt, and I saw the tight grip to which I held onto my impressions and interactions with people. Everything about me usually had to be construed and fashioned in a manner that made sure that I was being perceived and understood in the right way… as how I wanted to be seen by others. Unbeknownst to myself, I had a controlling heart condition larger than I could have imagined.
- That challenge evolved into a lesson of self-assurance. Having to surrender a part of my appearance really got to me at some points. I got annoyed on days that I just wanted to look good and couldn’t do a thing about my hair to help get that ego boost. I got insecure on days where I was networking in a professional setting and felt that the beanie on my head made me look immature or sloppy. And this may sound ridiculous to some of you reading this–that hair, or appearance in general, can be that important. And I’ll admit, there were times that I was telling myself how ridiculous I was being. But I realize that there are people out there who will go to the extent of radically changing their appearance because they really aren’t happy with the way the look. They can’t stand it, in fact. And I think about how much that grieves God.. because He sees us as perfect and radiant beings. Here, I was challenged to believe that. There was nothing I could do (or, not do) that would make me less valuable or beautiful or loved by God. And while I did know that to some extent, I was not living out of that. What I needed to do was fix my eyes on that truth and never let it evade me.
- In the last few weeks, I experienced something I didn’t expect. Every day that I came home, I was so excited to let down my hair and enjoy it. Not because it would be seen by others or exploited for external value; but rather, when I freed it from its coverings and ran my fingers through it, it became a reminder of the beautiful and uniquely created being that I was. When I looked at myself, I was reminded of my Creator. It became an intimate time between me and God where I was reminded of not just the external image God has formed, but the internal parts of me that were chosen, blessed, and given power through Him to me. It’s an exhilarating truth, folks.
Lastly, I would like to say that these self-imposed, spiritual challenges aren’t something that I do normally. And this isn’t something novel for others to ooh-and-aah over. It’s not meant to cast myself in a special light, but moreso be a connection point for those who have struggled through things like this. We desire to draw near to God, but just don’t know how sometimes. We don’t know if we hear our own guilt, or the true convictions from God. It’s rather hard for me to enter into these things and not try to manipulate the experience that I think God wants for me to have. I struggle with taking the step to just follow through with things like this. So I would say, that it was a rare and humble moment when I finally acknowledged that I would not know where I’d be forty days later. I could surrender my hair during this time and at the end of it, love my hair more, become indifferent, or perhaps loathe it. Maybe it could have revealed some deep-rooted issue. Or not. Maybe it would’ve been just been a time where part of my appearance would be dropped from the priority list. Nevertheless, what I did know about this challenge was that if I sincerely turned an ear to God—giving up my hair or not—I would hear something. God would reveal himself and I would experience Him to some capacity. What it came down to was my willingness to engage with Him and to trust that He would arrive. Now, that’s truth. Amen?
March 29, 2011 § 2 Comments
It still unsettles me when I think about how much of my life I’ve lived, breathed, and functioned out of fear. Growing up, I only knew how to live my life in fear and anxiety. I was afraid of many usual and not-so-usual things. In my elementary years, I was anxious and afraid of the dark, the neighborhood Dalmatian, heights, monkey bars, speaking in Vietnamese to elders, show-and-tell, being chased, hair salons, Chuck E. Cheese—you name it. In my teenage angst, the fearful thoughts often regarded the unreturned feelings from some mean boy, the exaggerated insecurities of me being the fattest and ugliest of my friends, and what my parents would think if I didn’t get straight A’s again. And you can laugh at all of these, or maybe even relate.
Yet with age, when those childish fears cease to exist (though I still find the dark and people dressed up in furry fictitious characters discomforting) and we feel that we are no longer our awkward young selves, we think that a result of becoming an adult is that we no longer fear—that we’ve outgrown fear. Boy, was I misinformed. I found myself being taught new ‘adult’ fears to have—fears of not being loved, of failures and disappointments I’ll cause myself and others, of getting hurt or hurting others, of not getting to my dream job, of not being needed or helpful to anyone, of not being the person others or I myself want to be. It paralyzed me more than my adolescent fears altogether. For every obstacle I went through these past few years, I found myself holding my breath hoping that I’d make it through. And if I didn’t, I’d inevitably resolve to drown with my white flag in hand. I didn’t know what success meant. I had no sense of understanding victory. After awhile, I didn’t even care enough to want it. Fear had me, and with every battle, I just allowed myself to be vulnerable to the wrecking ball.
About a year ago, I made a decision to stop fear from being the largest motivating factor for my life. It was scary to say the least, but also at times, liberating, exciting, nerve-racking, and sometimes even felt like I was opting to feel nothing. Fear had become my base emotion. What would ‘normal’ look like if fear was no longer a factor? Well, for me, it meant that I’d have to admit that I could no longer have control either. I could no longer control the way people perceive me, challenge me, or love me. I could no longer control the problems of my family and other people that I love. I could no longer control the value of my college degree or my networking scope when I am deciding on my future career. I could no longer control my finances. I could no longer control where I will go and where I will live. I could no longer control my life or diminish its existence for the sake of fear of failure, insecurity and other forms of pain.
So—no fear, no control. What else is there then?
Perfect love, I believe. 1 John 4:16-18 says:
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
I’ll be graduating from college in about two months and there are looming expectations ahead to take off at once into some career, then get married, have kids, have grandkids, and become history. And blame it on the economy, the voice-in-your-head that sounds a lot like your mother, your “J” Myers-Briggs personality-type, or whatever, but there is a definite tension for us to ‘have it all together’ as we enter into the next chapter of our lives. It tempts us to reason out and diminish our desires and dreams. It wants to reacquaint us with our fears and anxieties. But in the passage above, we are reminded that as God’s children we rely on love to maneuver through this life—not fear. In fact, this perfect love we experience expels the fears of today, tomorrow, and each day thereafter. Being in tune with this love is what makes us confident to face this life.
March 21, 2011 § 7 Comments
“To Be Received”—(tbr) a pending, yet intentional state of being that invites the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of people. The type of invitation that should a word be uttered, it takes comfort in knowing it will be received by a nearby ear. The type of welcome that allows a person to impart real, unadulterated pieces of themselves straight into the hearts and minds of another. It is a pertinent part of the process of becoming known to another person. And here, in this state, is where my blog desires to take root—a created space for my musings to manifest, to be seen, and pending to be received—by you, the reader.
This personal blog-birth was inspired by a book I recently came upon called, “Receiving Woman: The Psychology and Theology of the Feminine” by Ann Belford Ulanov. Ann writes about the way we, as women, need to learn to receive our individual selves in its entirety—the feminine and the masculine parts—and not for the cheapened, restricted versions posed to us historically and newly each day by society. And from that growth in self-awareness and self-uniqueness soon spreads to those around us; that we may see each and every person as whole and deep beings. But she says it better:
“A modern woman with a strong sense of identity as a woman is not content with her own awareness of herself. She wants to receive others, men and women alike, in their individuality and to be received by them in her concrete identity as a woman who knows what it means to be a woman. She wants to be known as an individual and not simply a reflection of gender or anatomy. She refuses to reduce herself or others to parts of themselves, or to types or abstractions, robbed of personal life.
Into this vigorous yet delicate task comes a woman’s capacity to receive others as concrete persons. With a history of second-class citizenship, a symbolism of neglect, and massive projections cast on her as a female, a woman who comes to terms with all of herself is particularly sensitive to the left-out, neglected, or scorned parts of other persons. Concrete and personal in her reality, she is aware of the violence done by the abstract categorization of other. She can receive the particularity of the other. She knows the value of personal experience. Her capacity to combine the actual and the theoretical, the concrete and the general, suggests new ways of thinking about being, both theologically and in the daily life of faith. Her reception of others brings with it a confidence in full reciprocity, that others will receive her also.”
“To Be Received”, is meant to be a spin-off in my mind of the common expression “to be determined/defined” (tbd), which often is ascribed to making a concrete decision or set judgment regarding some sort of plan of action, etc. But what of people? While we all desire to have others come to a sense of understanding of the true us, it’s unsettling to think that oftentimes the tendency we have when meeting others is to gather enough personal information just to become a mere definition to another person. And sometimes the definitions people make of us are distorted, misunderstood, or cause the definer to leave us. I’d like to believe that we aren’t meant to be easily defined or pinpointed by others to one type, one label, one title—just one thing. We are dynamic individuals, each unique and different from the other. I think what we deeply desire for our lives is to be received by others uniquely and unconditionally, in our goods and evils, our passions and plans, our personal quirks and ticks. But time and time again, we are held back by the fear of being known and thus judged in the very things we desire to share and have received about us.
I won’t consider myself bold by any means for creating this blog and placing my thoughts and experiences in the hands of you world-wide web wanderers, but what steps are you taking to be received—as a woman, as a man, as a person? How do we make ourselves known? How can we trust that those we pose our thoughts to are wholly receiving us? As wise old Ann said, it takes a confidence in our own selves. We have to receive ourselves before we allow others to receive us. And so, with this blog, I want to share with you the parts of me that I myself have acknowledged and now wish to share with you—that it may be received by you, or spur thoughts in you that can be received here as well. We all are equally called to be listeners as much as speakers. May our lives be a beautiful dialogue.
To a new beginning,