fix it with a plothole

The September update for Final Fantasy XV came out yesterday, promising to disclose the details that lead to the Astral War. Having been discussing the world and its history with several others, I was very much hoping this update would canonize the Pitioss Ruins theory by Perona77 (don’t read that if you don’t want major *spoilers*, but it’s totally fantastic, so you should read it if you have a love for storytelling and won’t be bothered by *spoilers.* Have I said “*spoilers*” enough yet? *spoilers*).

It seemed to do the opposite.

I have loved this game since choosing “New Game” and getting introduced to the boys. This is the first time I’ve truly been disappointed with regards to the story. Yes, the game has a few issues to address (particularly in pacing), but as for the continuity of the story, I felt they did a pretty fine jobone obvious problematic continuity issue being that Iggy’s eyes went from “ain’t that bad” to “I can barely see you without my glasses” somewhere between Cauthess and the Vesperpool. They don’t get specific on history and mythos in the game either, so you do have to dig around a bit for that, which is particularly why the Pitioss Theory was so goodit seemed to fill in the blanks almost perfectly.

But this.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**

In the established storyline of the game (prior to this update), Ifrit, the astral of fire, is called “wicked,” “fickle,” and “the Betrayer” because he turned against humans and sparked the Great War of Old. (Although, if we track with everything that Shiva said about her feelings toward humans in this update, it sure sounds like she’s actually the fickle one here.) It’s been a while, but I don’t recall there being an explanation as to why he did what he did, and it seemed a little unprovoked considering the language surrounding the betrayal.

In the new patch, the player has the option to ask Shiva, the astral of ice, about the past. She has always been described in the game as the astral who held the most compassion toward humans and the one that was most likely to be in their corner, yet she explains that she once held disdain for humans (cue still image of her freezing them to death for some unknown reason), but Ifrit was fascinated by them, admiring their willpower, and so blessed them with fire, which helped them advance their civilization, etc. He eventually warmed her up (pardon the pun) to humans as well as himself, and they fell in love. Then the humans became prideful and rebelled against the gods, and Ifrit reacted by attacking them. But because the astrals had sworn to protect Eos, they fought alongside the humans. Ifrit then is used by Ardyn and corrupted by darkness. Shiva pleads for Noctis to free her love from the bondage of darkness, and Noctis accepts.

There are several issues:

  1. How does one get labeled “the Betrayer” when one is more accurately “the Betrayed” according to the update?
  2. The battle with Ifrit becomes problematic, as Shiva comes in near the end, proclaiming, “Pyreburner. That heart of flame was turned to ash once. A dead flame must burn no more. Taste again the chill wind of death.” (Basically, “Hey Ifrit, you supposed to be dead. Time to go back to being dead.”) I get that killing the guy would essentially “free” him of the darkness, too, but her request didn’t seem to suggest that’s what she wanted. And then she comes in and kills him. Also, for Noctis to fulfill his new promise to Shiva, wouldn’t he have to actually seek Ifrit out? They never planned to meet him; it was Ardyn who had a plan to introduce them, but we can’t exactly rely on Ardyn to do anything we want him to.
  3. What the heck kind of purpose does Pitioss now serve? Granted, it was a theory to begin with, but it made so much sense that it really might as well have been officially canonized. You go through this dungeon and see the story unfold through Ifrit’s eyes (as his testimony of innocence), showing why he did what he did to start the war (I’d argue chaotic good for him as well). This was the one piece in the world that told the truth about what happened. Instead, you now have a random woman, represented by a statue deep in the ruins, that Ifrit went to save despite being in love with Shiva.
  4. Even if we nixed #3 on the list, #1-2 are still valid issues, and the question of the purpose of Pitioss Ruins is also a valid question. Why put a 2-3 hour, crazy confusing dungeon in this game without giving it a purpose, when everything else seems to have been quite deliberate? I’d heard that Tabata himself said that this dungeon told a story, but what story can it possibly tell now? (EDIT 10.6.17: I’ve now heard that Tabata has denied Pitioss has a story at all, that it was just a creative outlet for a designer’s imagination. So the Ifrit statues, the statue of Titan, the woman in chains, the barreling skull that is probably Doomtrain… all of it is random. It makes even less sense for it to be random.)
  5. I have to wonder, considering how freaking insane Niflheim is, and their goal is to become the Solheim of the new age, if Niflheim bears any resemblance to the old civilization of Solheim (who themselves are guilty of pride as their reason for turning on the gods), it almost seems like fighting against the humans would protect the world more so than fighting against Ifrit.
  6. The scars on Ifrit’s body were described in the update to be a result of Starscourge, but they seem more consistent with the burns that Noctis and Nyx both got from tapping in to the power of the Crystal.
  7. The patch said that some time in the age that followed the war (however long it took for the nations to be developed, Ardyn to be named the Chosen King, and Ardyn to be corrupted and shunned by the gods), Ifrit is revived by Ardyn and corrupted by the Starscourge for Ardyn’s own plans, which awakens Shiva to rush to help him. If I remember correctly, Episode Prompto said that Shiva was awakened because of the experiments at the First Magitek Research Facility where the Empire was attempting to create daemon-Magitek superhybrids, such as Diamond Weapon. She purposely goes after them in an attempt to stop these dangerous and immoral experiments. This aligns more closely to her being the compassionate astral who actually likes humans (lawful good, if you will). She set them back, killing much of their army while sacrificing herself in the process, and the Empire began developing weapons to fight the astrals.
  8. Her story does not describe how the darkness came into the world, despite previous notes in the game that said Ifrit brought the darkness when he betrayed the humans and the gods. It’s suggested that he was resurrected by the darkness, and corrupted and driven mad by it, so again, where did the darkness come from now, if he is now not its bringer? But as it seems Shiva transported herself into the Messenger Gentiana when she died; I’d always figured that the body we see Ifrit in was also that of a Messenger, which was why he looked a little more human than depicted in Amano’s Big Bang art.

Speaking of Amano’s Big Bang…

We can identify Ifrit by his horns. And that blonde woman in his arms is definitely not Shiva (you find her slightly right of center), so what is he doing with another woman, and why is he trying to rescue her when she doesn’t seem to have room in this plot anymore? This blonde woman happens to also be bound at the wrists and in the same position (link credit: Perona77) as the unnamed woman in Pitioss. It’s been long speculated that the unnamed woman and the blonde woman in the Big Bang art is Eos, the goddess of the Dawn, herself. She had always been important to the story, but now I’m not sure how she’ll fit. Considering she’s the goddess of this world, it seems strange that she would be glossed over in favor of something this basic, something that leaves no room for her story.

(EDIT 9.30.17: According to FFPeasant’s video on this, the FFXV Ultimania says that Eos is not only the name of the world in which this story takes place, it is the name of the “goddess whose power is bestowed upon the Oracle.” So yes, she indeed is supposed to be important to this story.)

There was one thing about this update that I very much liked, and that was the extended clip about Luna’s feelings toward Noctis. You do see many other clips in the latter part of the game, showing exactly what Luna felt for Noctis, and you can infer how Noctis felt for Luna based on his reactions and mannerisms. They now make his feelings a bit more explicitly stated in this new clip. However, those of us who have been paying attention to the changes in his behavior and demeanor when it comes to Luna figured it out fairly early on—pretty much right when we first met Umbra at Longwythe. You see a much more gentle side to Noctis where Luna is concerned. So while I thought this scene was beautiful and heartbreaking, and while I am glad that it was included, we have also had many beautiful and heartbreaking scenes showing exactly how these two feel about each other. Had it not been added to the story of the War, I doubt this scene would’ve warranted an update by itself.

**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**

This seemed to be a pretty big miss, so I’m hoping that I’m just missing something that will be revealed at a later date, and I’m hoping that the potential something doesn’t just convolute the story more. It seems the September update decided to fix missing information (that realistically could’ve stayed missing, at least for now) by creating several new plotholes. I’m hoping that this is not the full story but rather, another “doctored” account, much like how the history books don’t mention Ardyn, or how Ifrit has been excluded in the Genesis painting, among other deliberate deceptions in the game’s story.

In my mind, I’m going to jettison this update into an alternate universe. I do very much still love this game; it is very dear to my heart, as it is the tool by which God reminded me how I best worship Him.

To bring us back to a more positive view of this game, check out this article from Geeks Under Grace on God and FFXV (again, **spoilers**). I was a hot mess when I finished this game, and, if I’m honest, **SPOILER-ish** it’s been a month, and I’m still mourning. This article really let me see that other geeks are also finding God in the small things like video games and other media. It was nice to know I’m not alone, and also that there are other people who also don’t limit the ways God wants to reach people. I came across a disturbing image from a group that called themselves “Christians Against Final Fantasy” while searching for something FF-related. It was captioned something along the lines of, “allowing your daughter to play Final Fantasy is like allowing her to be groped by thousands of sex-scented hands,” and depicted a naked little girl with a bunch of photoshopped man-hands all over her. Right, that image came to your mind, but FF is the problem.

I’d written my final Soteriology essay in college on Final Fantasy X. I never got it back, but I passed the class, so it must’ve been pretty good. FFX was not as Christian-friendly as FFXV (as the Geeks Under Grace article mentioned, XV is the first double-digit FF that isn’t totally anti-religion/anti-Christian). At another time, I will try to re-explore that here, but for now, I’ve deviated enough from my original intent.

Game on, brothers and sisters. ^-^

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Journey to the Badlands

“The wars were so long ago nobody even remembers. Darkness and fear ruled until the time of the barons, seven men and women who forged order out of chaos. People flocked to them for protection. That protection became servitude. They banished guns and trained armies of lethal fighters they called Clippers. This world is built on blood. Nobody is innocent here. Welcome to the Badlands.” – opening introduction

In recent months, Into the Badlands has become one of my favorite shows. In the wake of a certain superhero “martial arts” show failing to live up to its hype and the popularity of its predecessors, Into the Badlands provided a refreshing look at how a martial arts show should be made. Rather than zoom in so close that you can’t see the action (in an attempt to mask how badly the “martial artist” fights), ITB pans out so that you can see the full scale of the choreography and work these actors and stunt people have put in. Rather than splice up the fight scenes (in another attempt to cover up the Living Weapon’s lack of skills), the camera follows the action properly so you don’t miss the details. Rather than teaching the Immortal One his fight choreography fifteen minutes prior to shooting, the actors of ITB come together for fight camp during the offseason to learn and train with the masters behind decades of successful Hong Kong martial arts movies.

It was also a new story. They created a post-apocalyptic world with its own system of government (however flawed), and centered it on martial arts. It’s awesome seeing Daniel Wu and Stephen Fung doing successful things in American media. Into the Badlands also gives us a type of media representation we hadn’t seen much of before in Hollywood: a strong, multi-dimensional, desirable Asian male lead.

As a quick summary for the two of you who still read this blog, Into the Badlands stars Daniel Wu as the main protagonist Sunny, the head clipper in service to his baron. Sunny is very stoic at the beginning, having become desensitized to years of service to his baron. His back is covered in hash marks–one for each successful kill. As the season progresses, we see Sunny struggle against the norm and have to learn how to become more human. He has a small group of people to protect, one being a young boy named M.K., who is also one of our protagonists. In the second season, Sunny befriends (I use that term loosely) a man named Bajie. Bajie is a bit of a “chaotic good” alignment–he follows his own moral compass, which, while good, may not align with the rest of the population. I introduce these three main characters for the following reason.

Despite having caught up on both seasons, it took me till almost the end of Season 2 to draw a connection between Into the Badlands and Journey to the West. Journey is a folktale about Tang Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk tasked to retrieve the original sutras from India (“the west”) and bring them back to China, but he is often accosted by demons and evil spirits because the flesh of a righteous person is more delicious (*cringe*), and—if I’m remembering correctly—grants special properties. Throughout the story, he gains three disciples: Sun Wukong, the Monkey King; Zhu Bajie, the pig demon; and Sha Wujing, the sand demon. Wukong joins him as penance for wreaking havoc on the heavenly kingdom, and this journey is also part of his own spiritual journey to deification.

I know, I know. What’s a professing Christian like you doing reading and watching stories about Buddhism? Right?

As it turns out, I was raised Buddhist for the first fifteen years of my life. My house was adorned with many idols, and it constantly smelled of incense. My mother was often found chanting the sutras, praying, and serving food and drink offerings. We spent festivals and holidays at the local temple, doing much the same in a larger community. I took the oaths (I’m not sure that they’re called in English, actually) when I was ten-years-old. One of the things I committed to when I did that was observing a vegetarian diet on specific days of the lunar calendar (because I was on the school lunch program, I made up for it on weekends), and those were the worst days of my life. I often felt very afraid and even judged by the ceramic idols in my home. We had them in the living room and one of the bedrooms. If I forgot something in the living room at night, I either decided I could live without it for the night, or, if I couldn’t, I reached into the next room and flipped on the light before I entered it, and would do so with every single light in my path. Then I’d turn them off behind me and run toward the light of the next room. Once, we noticed a green scepter in the hands of a small Guan Yin we had in the living room and to this day, we are convinced she did not originally have that. So yes, I understand the darkness of spiritual matters quite well. And you should take time to learn about things you don’t agree with so that you know why you don’t agree.

Anyhow, back to the point.

I’d seen how “Bajie” was spelled throughout the entire second season (I like subtitles and captions), but they pronounced it “bah-jee,” so I didn’t think much of it (more on why this is relevant later). Over the summer, I bought a Playstation off a grad student (refer to this post for details), so for the first time ever, I had Netflix on my TV in my living room (what a time to be alive!). (Note: Yes, I know people have had this ability for many years, but my most recent system up till then was a Playstation 2, sooo… yeah.) One thing I enjoy is watching Chinese movies and shows with my mom, so since Netflix had The Monkey King and The Monkey King 2 available, we gave it a go. Despite no longer being Buddhist, this story is still a part of my childhood, and I shared many hours bonding with my mom and grandparents over this story.

And it was the first time I noticed that the romanized spelling of “Zhu Bajie” looked familiar (in Chinese, every vowel is pronounced: “bah-jee-eh”—see? It was relevant).

So of course, this made me connect “Sunny” with “Sun Wukong.”

From there, I did some googling and discovered that this show actually is loosely based on my childhood stories, though the article was written early on before more players and plot were in put in play.

In Into the Badlands, M.K. holds the key to find a place called Azra, which exists outside of the Badlands. It’s fabled to be a utopia, but as no one has ever left the Badlands, its existence is shrouded in myth and legend. I’m considering a connection between Azra and “the West,” and I’m going to draw a parallel with M.K. and Xuanzang. Sunny and M.K. decide to find Azra, and Bajie eventually joins them. Both Sunny and Bajie protect M.K. like Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie protect Tang Xuanzang. While it doesn’t seem that Sunny does this out of penance, as his identity slowly begins to shift away from being a clipper and more toward being a regular human, he does realize he has much to do penance for. Another connection is that Wukong is the best martial artist who can even take on the strongest demons, like Sunny is the best clipper in the Badlands. In Journey, Zhu Bajie is lustful (which is actually what got him kicked out of the heavenly realm and turned into a demon) and sometimes a total blunder, though he has the party’s best interest in mind. He and Wukong give each other a lot of grief and grate on each other’s nerves. Bajie (ITB) is also pretty lustful and a blunder, and, as I’d said, chaotic good. He and Sunny butt heads a lot and definitely frustrate each other (sometimes comically, like Wukong and his Bajie).

The characters I have not placed are Sha Wujing and the White Dragon Horse.

I’m impressed by and I really appreciate how they’ve creatively re-contextualized a popular folktale. They don’t call it Journey to the West because it is not Journey to the West. It is something all its own while also drawing familiar elements from a beloved fable. This is what it means for something to be “inspired” by something else. It is still respectful to Journey because it hasn’t dismantled it to make it something else while still claiming it’s the same thing. It’s difficult to explain, but I hope you can kind of grasp what I’m communicating.

Lewis Tan just announced that he’s been cast in a recurring role in Season 3. If this goes in the same trajectory as it has been, I’m secretly (not so secretly) hoping that Gaius Chau is Sha Wujing, the Sand Monk, so that we can see more of him as the story progresses. Fitting for the man who could’ve been the Young Dragon in a corporate drama cosplaying as a martial arts show to instead be on a martial show cosplaying as… a martial arts show.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store.

This is what storytelling is all about. It’s the details and the intricacies that make it what it is, for better or worse.

status update

I’m considering using this blog as a place to post status updates and general things happening in my brain while I’m writing. I’d definitely like to keep this still going, even if it’s not so frequent.

To start, there are lots of things I have to research in order to be able to write, and this gives me an awkward Google search history. If you look at my search terms when I’m researching, you’ll probably assume I’m a serial killer, in a cult, or pregnant. Or all of the above.

Other research requires more than a simple search, so I’m currently in a self-defense class (I’m primarily in the class because I’m a very small woman, and I’ve always wanted to learn, but the research is great, too). I’m also making a case to learn how to use a sword because that’s definitely necessary as an aspiring fantasy writer.

These reasons are totally valid, right?

Or maybe it’s like I said in my previous entry, and I’m experiencing quarter-life crisis.

Either way, it’s going to involve swords.

stand by me

Hello to my handful(?) of faithful followers.

I wanted to say thank you for walking with me through my blogging journey thus far. As you may have noticed, my regular posting has declined in recent years, and I have made several promises on my Facebook page for more posts, and I haven’t followed through.

There was a long, dry season where I felt as though I was going through the motions. I didn’t write because I didn’t have anything to say. I did not pray very much during this time because I was struggling with shame and probably depression (though I was not diagnosed). It was difficult for me to get out of bed and do anything because I just felt like I would screw up the rest of my day the moment my feet hit the floor. I felt like the biggest screwup on this side of eternity, and I saw no way of God ever wanting me. Yes, I knew that I’d walked this path many a time, and He has always taken me back, but there’s always that one little voice that says, “What if that was it? What if you’ve exhausted God’s grace, and He’s tired of cleaning up the same messes over and over? What if God has no purpose for you anymore? What if you never hear His voice again?”

I leaned into all of those thoughts and did not look to God for answers (which just perpetuated the shame and sent me deeper into the spiral).

Then one day, I bought a used Playstation and Final Fantasy XV off a seminary student.

Not where you thought I was going, was it? But bear with me for a bit.

I started playing this game and seeing how well-written the characters were. Rather than feeling like a game that I was trying to beat, it felt like I was among friends, exploring a vast and gorgeous world (albeit a little daemon-infested). I started piecing hints within the game together and seeing how the world works, seeing the stories within the story, and putting all of that together to assemble the overall narrative and the history of their world.

Around this same time, I was also waiting to hear if I got accepted to seminary myself. There was a time in my life where I was very interested in seminary, if not for the money. I got one of my BAs in Bible/Theology, and I’ve pretty much always enjoyed exegesis and inductive Bible study. I love seeing the way things fit together and how perfectly they connect. I love finding out the cultural context for why God did things a certain way. I also loved seeing the meanings of words and the message they convey. Funny enough, this sounds like all the reasons I loved FFXV.

So June comes around, and I get word that I’d been accepted, and we’d figure out the deposits and such in the next week or so. At this time, now that it was real, and there was a deadline, I started asking if this was what I truly wanted to do. I was going to be able to do this at a discount, but did I want to spend years and money on a degree I didn’t know what to do with? One I wasn’t sure I still wanted? I went back to leaning on my logic (which has failed me every time in decision-making when what’s logical doesn’t line up with what I actually want), and I thought that I should do this. It seemed wrong to not want to study the Bible and theology when this opportunity was open for me. And I needed to do something different to get me out of my funk.

That weekend, I took a drive to see a former English student of mine graduate from university. Heading home, I was stuck in two hours of traffic, so I had lots of time to contemplate the meaning of life and what I was doing with it (hint: it wasn’t much). Since I had time, I called a friend (hands-free, of course, because I’m safe like that) and kind of verbally vomited on him, discussing my conflict between seminary and suddenly feeling pulled back toward storytelling. All those times leading up to this conversation when I was talking about the depth of the story of FFXV were times I was most alive. You could hear the excitement in my voice inflections, and I could not stop talking about it. My friend suggested I take a few days to pray about it and decide what it is I really want to do, and I realized I didn’t need a few days; I knew I wanted to create worlds that people will want to visit, characters that people will fall in love with, and stories that will make people cry tears of joy and sorrow. We realized that seminary was not the right environment for what I wanted to do, and I withdrew my application and acceptance.

I’ve said that fiction has a way of getting past people’s defenses to teach them lessons they were too stubborn to learn head on. It seems God agrees and used the same tactic on me. Don’t ever tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor when He is the same God that used a video game to set me back on the path of writing. Writing has been the way I connect most to God, and it is the way I worship Him best. I spoke to another friend after getting home from that long drive, and he asked me the same question. What is it you really want to do? I answered a little more confidently this time, just an hour or so later. He then asked me if I thought pursuing this would hinder my relationship with God, to which I answered that I think it would be the exact opposite. He replied that he figured this was the case, and when it is, when our passion and our talent brings us closer to God than anything else, then this is a God-given gift, and we need to use it to worship Him because this gives Him our best worship. It becomes less of “I want to write” and more of “I need to write,” and I definitely feel this when pen meets paper, and I fill several pages with ink and story.

Since then, I’ve been trying my best to write regularly. I’ve been going through an online novel workshop, taking a few hours to put pen to paper, and occasionally meeting up with a friend to do some work. I am also trying to find a mentor to walk this journey with me, as I am not a very skilled storyteller. I’m not sure I’m really even a novice—novices seem to be ahead of me in this area—but this is what feeds my soul and makes my heart sing.

yes, i’m a grown woman, and i like video games.

Writing has also propelled me into other interests. I picked up sewing because I wanted to have a bag for my notebooks and pens, and I couldn’t find anything that was the right size and feel. I don’t usually like carrying bags, so I figured if this was the best way, I’d carry a bag that I liked, and since I couldn’t find that, I decided to make it. It actually didn’t turn out half bad, and it fits everything perfectly. I have more fabric to try so I can have more writing satchels, and I’m pretty excited about creating things. I’ve also turned a few old t-shirts into totes.

reversible tote, ftw!

Aside from sewing, I’ve also acquired an interest in hiking. I suppose with how epic things have been in my brain, I feel that real life should be a little more epic, too. Or I’m going through a quarter-life crisis and just want to try all the things (I also want to learn how to ride a motorcycle and am currently learning self-defense). Either way, I get out of bed a little easier these days.

All this to say, I think my season of regular blogging has run its course. I hope to still post irregularly (as I have been) when I have something to say or ponder, but I am going to be focusing on a new writing adventure. I’ve been thinking I’d create a weekly episodic blog with connected short stories every week or bi-week (like a podcast for readers). This may well happen once I build my world and work out the rest of my outlines and character sketches, and I will announce it here once it does. I am most definitely not a good novelist presently, but I may do all right in short bursts, and the practice can’t hurt.

Anyhow, I just wanted to close with another thank you to all of you who have stuck with me to this point, and also to those of you who will walk with me in this next season of writing. I can’t do this without you.

Walk tall, my friends.

daughter day one

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”Luke 8:48

“Daughter.”

In a time and culture where fathers advocated for their daughters, this woman came to Jesus alone and ashamed. She was known to all as unclean, and there was no father to defend her or speak on her behalf.

Upon touching His cloak, she was healed from her ailment, from what made her unclean.

Yet, it is the word “daughter” that restores her identity and heals her soul. In a situation where no other defended her, Jesus chose to be her father. With one word, Jesus filled the lack and accepted her. She was clean. She was directly addressed. She was seen―seen by a man who would call her His child.

I have always been uncomfortable with this relationship of father and daughter. It is the identity of God that I relate to the least. While I never expected God to hurt or betray me in this role, I simply didn’t get it. I didn’t understand who I was in this relationship or who He was. I didn’t know how to be a daughter to a father, and I didn’t know how a father would normally relate to a daughter.

Several months ago, I felt that God was inviting me to discover this with Him. I felt that He wanted me to know Him fully, and this was the relationship that was most awkward for us.

So I did what any daughter who grew up with an absent father would.

I turned around and walked―no―ran the other way. I could not get away fast enough.

Because I know that exploring this would ultimately bring me back to the father I never had, the father who never wanted me.

I spent years trying to heal, forgive, and move forward from the abandonment I experienced at his hand. While in college, I had finally done it. I was at peace that he was not there, and I decided I would forgive him so as to not be eaten alive by the pain and anger I felt toward him. His sin was my sin―just manifested differently.

This was the place I refused to go. I already healed. That was it. I would revisit this no more. So I built up my walls, hardened my heart, and wondered why I felt so empty.

(Pro-tip to those who receive an invitation from the God of the universe, Maker of heaven and earth: take it.)

Last night, my mom and I somehow got on the subject of my father. My mom asked me a question about his new family, and I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. So she told me about an article she found, and I looked it up.

Within seconds, I realized this was the biggest mistake I’d made in quite some time.

What I was looking at was an interview about my father, conducted by a girl who could possibly be my half-sister.

I read about his upbringing in China, which was similar to my mother’s. I read about how he did not want his children to experience not having food or clothing like he once did. I read that he came to America in 1988 and struggled until he learned English and could open his own business.

And I was angry.

In one sentence, he managed to insult both my mother and me, as he didn’t seem to care if we had food or clothing. The factual error of 1988 tells me that no one knows about my part in his history because we were a family in America by 1987. There were no details of how he came to America because that would have to include the ugly story of how he married a woman so that he could join her family, who was beginning to emigrate from their side of the Pacific. And then sired a child with her that he did not raise.

And then at the end of his interview, he boldly proclaimed that what he was most grateful for was that he would not have known Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior had he not come to America.

I was livid.

We may have happened before this, but we still happened. There was no attempt to reconcile, despite having been in contact with one of my uncles for years. This made me furious, but my anger only served to mask the deep hurt that was coming from a wound I thought was long closed.

This was why I didn’t take that invitation. This was why I ran. I had been hurt by this man long enough, and I did not want to invite him to live rent-free in my head once more. It took too much to heal the first time.

I have written countless letters, journal entries, and at least one poem regarding what I was feeling toward him, how I was processing, what I needed to do. And a few years ago, I wrote him an eviction notice. I was free from him. Finally.

I do not regret my life without him, despite having wondered more times than I’d like to admit, “why not me?”, “what would it have been like?” I was sent into the fire early, and from there, one can burn, or one can rise. It’s no one’s choice but your own.

But in the midst of this, God blessed my father and allowed him to gift the character “phoenix” toward my name as part of His plan: before I was even born, God declared that I would be victorious.

I was afraid to come to this place because I did not want the wound to reopen. I feared returning to a place of darkness, anger, hatred. But it seems the difference this time is that the wound is shallow and uninfected, and I am pressed to address it while it is so. And it is God who will have to help me keep it this way because my natural leaning would be to pick at it.

To be here now, as difficult as it is, God had gone to drastic measures to barrel through all of the walls I had built up, for the sole purpose of extending His invitation to me again.

God is a God of second chances, and when your heart is as hard as your head, He will break that rock-hard heart to give you one that beats and lives, and ask you to try again.

A spiritual mentor recently told me that because I have endured this much pain, my capacity for hope is this much greater. My wounds and scars run deep enough that the foundation is set for hope and love to be poured in to fill these broken places.

Months have passed since I was invited on this adventure. I was not ready to accept it then, but I think I am now.

It feels like the first step toward something huge.

I am terrified of the idea, but I am also feeling something I didn’t feel the first time.

Hope.

The one gift my father gave me is also my greatest burden. To bestow the name “phoenix” is ironic and fitting and everything I don’t want to bear. But it is a name that is redeemed because God called me something else.

Daughter.

He saw my lack and chose to fill it. He saw my wound and chose to heal it. With one word, He claimed me as His own―His own daughter. With this word, He chased away the hurt, shame, and lies that I had chosen to believe for much of my life.

He gifted me the bearing of a phoenix to fulfill the promise He made to me with this name. I will be refined with fire in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

And a phoenix will always rise.

Above the ashes.

I am a daughter―His daughter. And I will learn to live what that means.

This is day one.

One More Choice

I’ve had Facebook for the last 3 elections, and I have never seen things get as personal as this one. Discussions were not being had; people were being talked at. If someone voiced a different opinion, they were not welcomed into the discussion, but belittled and attacked.

And this happened among friends.

The damage has been done, the words have been said, and the wounds have been inflicted. We are tired. We are all tired of hearing one thing or another, and being made to fit into one box or another. We are numb and weak from fighting back.

But I’m asking that we all make one more choice.

Decide if it’s more important for you to be right, or if it’s more important for you to be in right relationship with those in your community and your circle of friends.

These are the people who will go to your kids’ soccer games, run the booster club with you, or sit with you for coffee or a meal. The politicians will continue to be faces in the crowd and our TVs, and they will be perched on a mountaintop we cannot scale. They will never love us back, nor will they feed and clothe us when we are broken.

But we, the people, will be in each other’s lives, day in and day out. We, the people, must be each other’s community, and we must hope for a successful term, whether we voted him in or not.

Because what he does in these next 4 years does not affect only those who voted for him, but it affects all of us and even the world, and the generations that follow. If the captain doesn’t know what he is doing, the ship will sink with all aboard.

So pray for our neighbors, pray for our leaders—both locally and federally. Decide if a relationship is worth it, and say what you need to say in order to mend it or move on from it. Think before you speak and act. Listen before you pass judgment. Learn what it means to truly love, sacrificially and unconditionally, to the point where it is uncomfortable and asks us to give everything we have.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a nice sentiment. It is a command. Love your neighbor. Love your African American neighbor. Love your Mexican neighbor. Love your Asian neighbor. Love your gay neighbor. Love your hypocritical neighbor. Love your white neighbor. Love your Muslim neighbor. Love your racist neighbor.

Love like Christ loved the church and gave all for her.

love your neighbor (redux)

We hear it all the time.

Love your neighbor. Jesus tells us to love. Jesus is love, and He wants us to love like Him.

What is that supposed to look like? Do we “love” someone by tolerating them? Do we love someone by doing our best not to offend them? Do we love someone by keeping our mouths shut regarding their actions, even if they may be dangerous, but it makes them happy?

What does Jesus say about what it means to love? What does He say it means to follow Him?

To know that, you must look in the Scriptures.

It demands our life, and it demands our comfort (or lack thereof). We like the “hippy Jesus” that tells us to accept people and be good neighbors, as some consider to be the “core” of Christianity, but let’s take a look at what that actually means.

In Luke 10:25-37, we have the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We have our cast: the wounded Jew on the side of the road, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan man. Let’s take a look at the last three a little more closely.

Many priests at this time lived in Jericho and went on two week assignments to Jerusalem, which was about seventeen miles away. The road they traveled was a common one and was known to them. A priesthood is extremely exclusive; it stayed in the family. This priest was likely wealthy and riding on an animal.

What were the stipulations and requirements to be a priest? What was his duty according to Old Testament Law?

1) he was not allowed to approach or touch a dead body, lest he became defiled
2) had he approached the wounded man to discover he was dead, the priest would have had to return to Jerusalem to be ceremonially cleaned
3) he would not be able to use the offerings he received (usually of food; his family and servants would also not be allowed to use them)
4) if the wounded man died later, the priest would still be considered unclean
5) serving as priest while unclean was punishable by death
6) when upon a dead body, he would have to tear his robes, but he could not tear ceremonial robes

The Levite was an assistant to the priest in the Temple. He likely just assisted this particular priest and was on his way home as well. Knowing that the priest just walked by, he could not challenge the decision made by the priest to pass the man, and so he would pass as well.

There’s a lot more than meets the eye, right? This isn’t in any way to excuse or pardon the fact that they were not neighborly, but we cannot deny the gray area in this situation. And isn’t the gray where most of life is lived? It’s not as pure as black and white.

Inserting a Samaritan into this story was a particularly radical move by Jesus. Samaritans are a mixed-race between the Jews of captivity and the Samaritan people of the land in which they were captive. The relationship between these two peoples were hostile as a result of their history with one another. The Mishna states, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.” The Samaritan is not a Gentile but is bound by the same law as the Jews, yet they were considered impure “half-breeds.” The Samaritan would not naturally be from that area, so the half-dead man would certainly not qualify as his neighbor. And the Jewish man would likely have chosen death over associating with a Samaritan.

In that time, a tradition known as “blood revenge” was practiced. In it, a relative of the guilty party may be punished for the crime in his place. It did not have to be an immediate relative but could extend to the most distant branches of the family tree.

So let’s recap the sacrifices this man had to make in order to love a man who was not necessarily his neighbor and would not likely have welcomed his help or offered it in turn:
1) he risked defilement
2) he poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds, sacrificing monetary and material resources
3) he paid for a place for the man to rest and heal
4) he paid for the man’s treatment
5) there was no way of guaranteeing that money returned; he was not expecting repayment at all
6) he exposed himself to the innkeeper and made himself and his entire family and tribe vulnerable to blood vengeance

Loving our neighbors requires sacrificing our comforts and possibly even our lives. It means more than just being tolerant. I would hate to just be tolerated by my neighbor. I would hate to just be tolerated by my friend.

What often keeps us from what’s best is what’s good.

Tolerance is “good.”

Acceptance is “good.”

Love is best.

Yes, Jesus preached love, but this love is dirty. It is demanding and sometimes demeaning; it requires us to get in the middle of people’s messes in order to love them. It requires us to point out what is wrong but not stop there—we must replace it with what is right.

It required a sinless God to step down from His throne to become a Man, made of dirt and clay; and it required His death to overcome death itself and His blood to cover all of our sin.

Pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians has been done over and over by the national media. Do we as Christians really need to add to it? When the world sees us dividing against each other, would they really want to know the Jesus we both claim to serve and love? Choosing to turn from each other is a declaration of a Pharisee, praising God that he is not a sinner like the tax collector, who is quietly begging God for His mercy to be extended toward him (Luke 18:9-14).

We don’t like the Christianity that is being portrayed in the media. We don’t like the hatred that is preached by some who call themselves Christians. We don’t like the misconceptions with which we label others, and we certainly don’t like the misconceptions with which they label us back.

Then what are we going to do about it?

Are we going to shame those people into submission? Did Jesus ever do that?

The kind of love we need in order to heal each other doesn’t come from us. It can never come from us. Look how easily and willingly we can choose to tear each other down.

So no, the core of Christianity is not to be a good neighbor. Even if it were, by context we are failing horribly at it. No, friends, the core of Christianity is Jesus.

If we are going to preach real, biblical love, this is it. It is gritty and it demands so much more than words and Facebook posts talking at people. Real, biblical love demands for us to destroy our pedestals and use those pieces to build homes. It demands for us to dig deep into our our poverty and feed someone else. It demands for us to love someone with a ferocity that destroys apathy and hatred in its wake.

Are we ready to do that?

my life in boxes (redux)

There has been one constant in my life for the last decade. From sunny Southern California to the rainy Pacific Northwest and back, one group of companions have gone through it all with me.

Boxes.

Lots and lots of boxes.

In the last ten years, I have moved over twenty times. I want to say that this last move might be lucky number twenty-three, though I could be off by one or two, give or take. I learned quickly that good moving boxes are hard to come by, and when I knew I would only be in a space for a limited time (whether it be a few months or a year), I would hang onto my boxes, breaking them down and keeping them in a safe, dry place. Sometimes I don’t even unpack fully. I have been surrounded by boxes, proof that my roots ran about as deep as a non-Chicago-style pizza.

People joke with me that I must be a professional at packing and moving now, and I have to confess that it is the complete opposite. Packing, moving, unpacking… the whole process traumatizes me and causes me to freeze in my tracks. I have gotten progressively (regressively?) worse at packing every time I have to do it. New boxes join old boxes, reminding me once again that it’s time to be transplanted.

It’s that dread that tells me how desperately I want to be rooted. I feel a sense of impending doom when it comes time to compartmentalize my life into cardboard cubes, closing off little pieces of who I am until time comes for them to make an appearance again. Yet, how long will they get to this time? After ten years of wandering, looking for a place to belong, I want to find it. And the frightening thing is, I still don’t feel like I have yet.

I was sitting in my living room a few weeks ago, taking a break from unpacking and ignoring the ever growing pile of empty boxes taking nest in the dining room. I stared at them for a while, knowing I should break them down and toss them, and knowing inevitably that I will. However, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but feel a little wasteful, and the thought, “what if I need them in the near future?” kept flashing through my brain. I knew I won’t, at least not for quite some time–plenty of which to reload with new boxes.

Boxes intimidate me, yet I cannot let them go. They were a sort of safety net for a while, but what I’m beginning to realize is that they are now a crutch. They tell me that I cannot go too deep in friendships because I will leave soon. They taunt me that have not found my place in the world and frighten me into believing that I may never find it.

How can I keep them if this is their message to me?

Yet, the obstacle between their demise and my freedom is all that they hold inside. I’d mentioned that unpacking had become traumatizing at some point in time, and it still is. It has been two months since I’ve moved, and I still have boxes in varying degrees of emptiness and fullness scattered all over the house. I even had a box that was lost for so long, I thought it’d vanished.

In the midst of all this stress and box hunting, I overlooked the most constant companion beyond these ten years.

Who else but God has carried me through all of these moves, made them possible to complete? Who else but God can empathize being on-the-move so much? In the Gospels, Jesus and his crew stayed with people as they traveled; sometimes they were invited, sometimes they had to ask for a roof for the night. Yet Jesus was so rooted in who He was and what He had come to do. He trusted that there would be food and lodging because He fully grasped what His purpose was. The rest of the details would fill themselves in because they are details in a plan for God’s glory. Because God’s ultimate goal is to glorify Himself, and because He has chosen to use us to get to that goal, He absolutely will take care of the details that will get us there.

I have allowed my many moves to affect several pockets of my life. I have doubted my purpose, I have doubted my usefulness, and I have doubted my Father. I have felt as though all I’d been put here to do is survive and exist, and I have nothing to contribute otherwise.

But I do have something to contribute. Why else would God have placed me on this earth with my specific struggles and pieced me together with all the conflicting identities that make up who I am? I have nearly stamped out my voice, burying it under ten years of cardboard. I have lost faith in who I am, but I am finding faith in who He is. Moving is traumatizing for me.; it exhausts every cell of my body, but moving cannot take my purpose from me. I have been transplanted more times than I can count, but thankfully, God is a wise Gardener that knows how to keep my roots alive to give them a chance to dig deeper.

To give them a chance to find home.

I can’t say that I’m going to be cured of my psychological attachment to cardboard any time soon; it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to cold-turkey this in the blink of an eye. But I’ll be doing my best and working on it. It will likely involve loud, angry music, a sci-fi show or a rerun of a hockey game playing in the background, and maybe a few friends, but it’ll happen some day.

I have to believe that God has more for me than boxes and shallow roots. There is such a great desire in the deepest part of me to belong, to do something meaningful and come back to more than just a place to lay my head.

And I hope some day soon, I really will lose my need of boxes. I hope to find the place where I will settle down and stay and root.

Until then, I’ve got some work to do.

the struggles of a female hockey fan

I am a female.

I love hockey.

“You must think the players are hot.”

I understand the game.

“That round thing is called a puck. They want to shoot it into the opponent’s net.”

My favorite player is __________.

“You think he’s cute, don’t you?”

When I defend said player.

“You need to get over your obsession with him.”

My least favorite player is __________.

“What’s the matter? Not good-looking enough for you?”

When I go to games.

“Are you bringing a huge ‘Marry me, ______’ sign with you, Miss Puck Bunny?”

When I attempt to have a civilized discussion/debate with other fans.

“Whoa. Calm down.”

When I disagree with other fans.

“Stop trying to pick fights with fellow fans.”

When I pull facts and stats to discuss my points.

“Sorry, I disagree with your opinion.”

When I give constructive criticism on my team (usually in aforementioned discussions).

“You don’t understand hockey and probably only watch during playoffs.”

When (in the rare occasion) someone appreciates what I say.

“Wow, I’ve never met a girl who knows hockey like you do.”

When I get a new jersey or shirt.

“They’re not meant to be fashion statements.”

When I correct someone on just about anything.

*stink eye*

I am a female.fan

I love hockey.

I understand the rules of the game.

I definitely get the basic concept of putting the puck in the net.

I also get that centers, wingers, defensemen, and goalies don’t all have the same role and responsibility.

I am, however, still sorting out my left wings versus my right wings.

I know there are different kinds of defensemen and different kinds of forwards and even different kinds of goalies depending on where and how they learned to play, as well as their preferred style.

I understand that when we win or lose a game, the glory or blame does not fall on just one player.

I understand that sometimes, the numbers don’t tell the whole truth (whether positively or negatively).

I don’t think the “ref, you suck” chant is okay by any means. I’d rather just cheer for my team instead.

I don’t believe in booing teams, especially our own.

I don’t believe in giving up on my team, no matter how much they may be struggling.

I don’t rub my team’s success in people’s faces because I know that failure is the other side of the same coin.

I do celebrate my team.

I mourn with them.

I don’t know all the personal histories of the players or their wives, girlfriends, dogs, cats, etc. They deserve some privacy, too, and the ensuing drama does not positively affect my fanship, so it is unimportant.

I don’t always even know where they’re from.

Or how tall they are.

Or how much they weigh.

But I know how to pronounce their names correctly.

And identify their position and titles.

Because I think that’s respectful and the least I could do.

I call out BS when I see it.

Especially from analysts and commentators (I’m looking at you, NBC Sports).

I have met several women who are more knowledgeable about the sport than me.

I don’t like the women’s cut of a jersey, so I will usually opt for a men’s. (Very fashionable indeed.)

Many shirts I like only come in men’s sizes, too.

I know icing isn’t just for cupcakes.

I understand what offsides is.

I know most of the referee hand motions for penalties.

I definitely enjoy a good fight.

But I especially hope to see a goalie fight live in my lifetime.

Or at least a Gordie Howe hat trick.

No, I don’t expect to marry a hockey player.

Though I’m not opposed to the idea either.

I stand by my team.

Because they’re my boys, and I’m their fan.

I am a female.

I just love hockey.


This is (obviously) quite different from what I usually write, but I wanted to explore femininity a little differently this time through the lens of something I enjoy. Hockey is traditionally considered to be a “masculine” sport, but it is something I am quite passionate and knowledgeable about. Many of these reactions I have received personally; some have been experienced by other female fans I’ve interacted with. My hope is that when you see the second half of this piece on what makes me a hockey fan, you would see that a woman can enjoy this sport just fine and does not deserve the prejudices and snap judgments that we often receive. This may not be every woman’s experience, but it is mine and some of my friends’.

 

Ben

“The LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.’”
(‭Exodus‬ ‭3‬:‭7-8‬a)

“I know your sorrows,” He says to me.

Yes, I know He does. He sees more loss in the span of a day than I probably will in a lifetime, yet His eyes are still so kind, not hardened by the grief of each day.

And despite that, my sadness still matters to Him.

It has been a year since I lost my friend. I didn’t make it in time to say goodbye. By the time I’d arrived, he’d already gone, the smile that I had come to anticipate from him nowhere to be found. The young man I met years ago, who was so vibrant, so full of life, so infectious, had gone home to be with his Father. I can only imagine how excited they were to see each other, to meet face-to-face. I wonder, did Ben tell Jesus He’s “tight,” or was he so awed to speechlessness that all he could do was stand and gaze upon His face?

He’d dedicated his life to loving his Father. This love allowed him to love his wife, their son, and every single person he’d come in contact with throughout his life. Here was a man who was so selfless, always willing to assist where he could, never asking for anything in return.

I honestly can’t recall our very first interaction. We were probably introduced amongst mingling at Intervarsity. But subsequently, we became good friends, shared our insecurities, discussed Scripture, and laughed a lot—usually over a meal.

Ben once asked me, with my past how it’s possible that I don’t hate God. I think I’d said something along the lines of not being able to—His grace is irresistible after all. I’d answered that I’d seen too much from God to forsake Him, that He’d redeemed too much for me to try to keep going alone.

I thought about that question that day, and I still think about it now. I’ve concluded this: how can I ever hate a God who could and would breathe such a wonderful person into life and allow me to meet and become friends with him? The creativity and love and joy that went into creating a man who possessed such creativity and love and joy must’ve been exponential.

There are not enough words to describe who this man was and why we all loved and still love him. There aren’t enough to describe the way he loved God and people. He was always prepared to “speak on it,” giving all glory to God always.

There’s a song that I’ve been listening to a lot lately called, “Carry Me Down,” by Demon Hunter. In it, there was one line that always made me think of Ben:

So if you see me losing sight of all the death in life
You’ll find the peace in every time I failed to see the death in mine

If ever lived a man who poured out all he had every day, it was this one.

I miss you, my friend. You will never be just a memory. Your life will continue in all the people you’ve touched. What a legacy you’ve left behind in 29 years full of life.

Happy one year anniversary in Heaven, brother. Miss you and love you loads.

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