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 job for the most part. Tabata mentioned that we might not get the most “complete” story because it’s told from Noct’s perspective, and he’s not omniscient. 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. 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. 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…), 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 (by throwing them into a boss fight), 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. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Even if we nixed #3 on the list, the rest 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.)
  8. Shiva’s 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.

(EDIT 11.10 I was going through some of my saved images and videos, and I just realized that they completely forgot about Ravus in the above mentioned scene. While Luna is in thought, Ravus comes, and they argue. Then Luna starts her emotional monologue, and Gentiana arrives. But Ravus is not shown or mentioned again. I think this scene is supposed to connect with one in the main storyline, and Luna tries to give Ravus the ring, but Gentiana is not in that scene. September update was a horribly written fanfic.) 

**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 (one thing I believe is a big deception is the role and person of Bahamut. I really think he’s secretly a villain and has passed himself off as benevolent and good. I guess we’ll see if I’m wrong in the next year or so).

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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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.

ohana

Dear Family,

What does this word actually mean for you? You toss that word around when it’s convenient for you, and when it’s not, you hoard it to yourselves and keep it exclusively. When has that word ever been used to describe us?

Yet you asked me this week—no, you shamed me—in order to convince me you’re my family. You tell me that you can’t believe I would trust an outsider over my own family. It’s not the first you’ve shamed me with this either.

But let me ask you something.

Where were you?

Where was my family when I had to put a restraining order on one of our members? You were on the side of my abuser. Where was my family when I longed to belong to it? You were abusing me and shunning me from your presence. Where was my family when the inheritance I received from my grandmother disappeared and the account closed? You were the ones closing it. Where was my family when I was suicidal in high school because of the abuse? You were oblivious to your role in my suffering, and you could not be found.

How do you ever expect me to trust you? How could you ever ask that of me?

I have not allowed you to define this word for me for quite some time now. The word “family” does not belong to you.

It belongs to the Person who guided me out of suicide. It belongs to the Person who redeemed my greatest abuse to lead me to my greatest salvation. It belongs to His children, who have walked beside me and carried me these past fourteen years when you were nowhere to be found.

“Family” does not end with blood.

Blood may be thicker than water, but grace runs deeper than blood.

You made me feel that I needed to earn a place in this family. Was being my mother’s child truly not enough? Yet in this grace community, there is no such thing as earning a place in the family. We are family because of Him.

This word is still being redeemed for me, but here and now, I claim it as my own. It is not a word for you to throw at me to acknowledge your authority. This word will not be reduced to something so petty.

This word means hope. It means acceptance. It means love—love unconditional, love to the point of sacrifice, love for life.

This word is too precious to me now. You cannot define it for me any longer because I know what it is now.

My Father told me. He showed me with His loyal love.

I have a new family now. Maybe you can join it some day. But you’ll have to understand, it’s on His terms, earned by His death.

I hope you can give up your small definition for His great plan.

It’s a Wonderful Life

I could have died when I was fourteen.

No, I didn’t run up against any near death accidents or get kidnapped by a maniac or anything that dramatic. No one was threatening my life either.

Except me.

My dear reader, I know by now you’ve picked up a bit on how traumatic my childhood and youth were. What I haven’t really talked about is how I’d coped at the time. Yes, I’m a tougher, wholer, person today, but then? Then, I was a mess. Then, I was tired. Then, I was sick of it. Then, I was ready to end it.

Day after day of surviving, of doing everything possible to not go back to a house and see the relatives who had invaded what was home for eleven years—it wears on you. Not having a home, not having a place to belong, to feel safe—or rather to have had it ripped from you—it wears on you.

I sat in my bathroom one day; my eyes were dried up from tears long shed. My heart was weary, and my body followed. I sobbed a tearless fit, and I wondered, “how much longer?” How much longer do I have to feel so cornered? How much longer do I have to feel so broken? How much longer do I have to feel so oppressed? How much longer do I have to feel so unwanted? How much longer do I have to feel so unloved?

And a solitary answer drowned all other thoughts.

Not much longer… if that’s your desire.

I could end it. I could finish it. I could finally stop feeling lonely and hurt because of my oppressors’ actions and words. The power was in my hands to never suffer again.

But then a rebuttal resounded through all of the dark corners of my battered soul.

If you do this, they win.

What did they care about what happened to me? Would it have filled them with remorse?

No. No, I doubt it would’ve. They were incapable of remorse.

Instead, my last action on Earth would’ve been breaking my mother’s heart and leaving her completely alone with them.

What a legacy that would’ve been. I would’ve proven to them that they could overpower me.

If I ended it this way, it would’ve been my loss.

And I have never been a gracious loser.

My focus shifted at that moment. I was going to come out of this a winner. I was not willing to allow anyone that much control over me to the point where I no longer had the ability to fight back, prove them wrong, and heal.

So instead, I thought of how I could win, how I could make something of myself, prove that they couldn’t break me.

Being that I was fourteen, plans to change the world weren’t exactly on my mind. I started small. I was going to be a leader in my extra-curriculars, and I was going to graduate high school, and have a life defined by my own terms.

What prompted this entry… you know, I’m not completely sure. I just started thinking about the people in my life and how much I would’ve missed out on had I not chosen to live.

I would’ve died never knowing what family really was.

I’ve just started figuring it out within roughly the last year. I would’ve missed out on redemption: the experience of real family and unconditional love. And I would not have hope for everlasting life but would be living in everlasting death.

Looking back at this time, it’s clear to me that, in this moment before I even knew Him, God had His sight set upon me.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”—John 10:27-28

It makes no sense, right? As far as I know, there has never been a Christian in my bloodline. I was a Buddhist in an abusive situation.

And God said, “I want her.”

In the midst of a hopeless situation, God saw me and led me into His arms and shared with me His family.

No one else can write a story this good. What a legacy this will be!

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you know just how loved you are; that when you see no hope, God will shower hope on you; that when you want to give up and let go, you find something to live for, no matter how small it is.

Because you never know when a small thing can change your life in a big way.

deeper than blood

Family is a loaded word.

For some, happy memories come to mind first. Smiles, laughter, enjoyment, safety, love—these are the things that encompass their family.

For kids like me, that is the family we long for.

Sorrow, pain, brokenness, fear, humiliation—these are what come to mind for me.

Never enough, always alone; surrounded by people who share half my blood, yet I was the stranger. I was the intruder. To me, they wore a mask that showed kindness and offered me terms for admittance. The mask was all I saw for most of my life. Beneath it lie deception, pride, hatred.

I was the relative. They were a family. Of sorts.

I think I feared the word “family” for many years. Aside from my mother, there was no one else I was related to that I would ever call family. I hated being asked about “my family.” It was a simple question that to me was the most complicated thing to try to answer.

What do you want to know about my family? Do you want to hear the truth? That the people I called “family” for over a decade tried to destroy my soul? That I had to prove myself and overcome my last name—both of which were impossible stipulations that shouldn’t have been in place—in order to be allowed access to the small ounce of hope of feeling accepted by those who should’ve accepted me for the simple miracle that I was born?

This was what I thought of family for years.

And this is what God is unteaching me.

There are many things I see and have seen in my life that bluntly tell me God works to redeem us for His glory. The simple fact that my heart still has the capacity to love is one. That I can praise God for using my loaded past to get me to who and what and where I am now is another one. At our current chapter, however, the biggest thing I’m seeing Him redeem is family.

I’d always been taught that your family is your greatest asset, that, in times of strife, it is your family that will stand by you and get you through.

I was taught this, but I didn’t see it. I couldn’t believe it.

And then here come all these people who become my greatest asset, who, in times of strife, stood by me and got me through.

And not a single drop of blood is shared in common between us. There had to be a catch. If those related to me couldn’t love me, how can those not bound to me by blood do so?

Blood is thicker than water.

But grace runs deeper than blood.

By grace, I’ve been given new life. This new life includes new family. Of course, it it does. Why wouldn’t it?

What do you want to know about my family? Do you want to hear the truth?

I have been blessed with the best people biology couldn’t give me. From the hard-working airplane mechanic (and future pilot) who didn’t give up on me when I probably gave plenty of reason to do so, to the tea-loving freedom fighter who gently encourages me, to the best friend who saved my life and led me to Jesus over a decade ago, to the talented brother who emboldens me to be the faithful servant I was meant to be, to the hug-givers, Asian food-eaters, tender rebukers, positive speakers, and warriors of prayer, to those who radiate love from the centers of their souls—this is my family. This is where I’m accepted, forgiven, built-up, and loved.

To be able to say this is testament of the holistic healing I’ve been given:

I have the best family.

And I’m spoiled; more people keep coming into it.

To all of you: I’m so grateful for you in my life. I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to express it, and I know I haven’t said it enough.

But thank you. And I love you.

God’s pretty great, isn’t He? ^__^

Perfect Life

Background story on this entry: in Friday’s counseling session, my counselor had me speak to my cousin as though he were in the room and tell him what it was like for me growing up and what it was like living in the situation I was living in upon entering high school. At some point, I also went into who I am rather than what the family has labeled me as. And it hit me that no one else is living in reality. This was the first step in returning shame that didn’t belong to me back to the people who put it on my shoulders. This song shuffled on as I was driving to work, and everything that it said was more or less what I saw in this relationship with my relatives. And after work, this entry was born.

You pretend what you say you feel 
You pretend that you’re something special
All the lies that you hide behind
I see right through you, see right through you 
Paint it on, cover every inch 
Any flaw will expose your weakness 
I’m immune to your fantasy 
I won’t become you, won’t become you…

I never deserved how you treated me.

I never volunteered to be the family scapegoat.

I never asked to carry your shame and guilt.

So why did you make me?

The more I think about it, the more strategic I’ve realized this was: in order to protect a grown man’s damaged image and honor when he threw it away by his own decision, you targeted the most vulnerable person you had access to – the only one without the protection of a father. When did this decision take place, and why wasn’t I invited to be a part of making it?

We all got along fine the first few years of my life. We played together. The adults treated me like we were family. Because we were. We were.

Weren’t we?

So what changed?

When we moved to the West Coast, I still hadn’t started elementary school. And I was blindsided with that change.

You all treated me so terribly all of a sudden. And I didn’t understand why. Can you imagine how confusing that is for a child? I still don’t understand. But considering how loyal the kids in this “family” are to the parents – to a fault – I don’t doubt the parents were involved in this decision.

Guys… all of you.

I was three. Maybe four at the most.

How did grown men and women decide that the four-year-old was going to be shamed for no reason but to save your own faces? How did you even think it was okay to get your children to agree to it – to be the ones who treated me the worst while you passively observed? How did you justify this to yourself? “She’s not one of us.” “Her surname belongs to someone outside the family.” “We’re not harming our family, we’re protecting it.”

Did it go something like that?

That’s just… pathetic.

You want a perfect, PERFECT LIFE
Nothing wrong, nothing real inside
All I see is a perfect lie
I don’t want your perfect life

I don’t deserve this shame. So you can have it back.

I am not defined by what I lack. I am not defined by what kind of man my father was. I’m not defined by his sins. I’m not defined by who my mom is. I’m not defined by who I’m not.

I’m defined by a whole lot more.

You think I’m hateful. You think I’m disrespectful. You think I’m selfish. You think I ruined your lives because I stood up for myself against you.

No. I think you’re looking at the wrong person when you say those things. Maybe you should walk into your bathroom and stand in front of your mirror. And then say those things. Because that’s who deserves to hear it. And that’s who still needs to stand up for him or herself.

I refuse to be defined by your fantasy, no matter how much you’ve convinced yourselves it’s reality. I refuse to carry the burden of your sin against me any longer.

I refuse your shame. It was never mine. It was never about me. It was always about all of you.

So, keep your dream with no consequence
You’d damage me just to feed your senses
All you fake for reality
I see right through you, see right through you
Take your pride, take your vanity
Can’t you see that your ego’s empty?
I will turn, I will walk away
I won’t become you, won’t become you…

If you’re tall because you’ve forced me to kneel, you’re not tall at all. You just rob me of what belongs to me. You clothe yourself with my innocence and stand tall, and clothe me with your shame and force me to my knees with this burden.

How was it okay to have done that to a four-year-old?

You want a perfect, PERFECT LIFE
Nothing wrong, nothing real inside
All I see is a perfect lie
I don’t want your perfect life

I’m still living the repercussions of your decisions. I’m still learning to shed your shame. Why should my relationships be damaged just because you damaged ours? Why should I be damaged just because you tried to make me damaged?

It’s clear now.

You’re afraid. You’ve always been afraid. You’re not afraid of me – or if you are, you’d never admit it.

You’re afraid of yourselves.

You’re afraid of what you’ve all done. You’re afraid that your fantasy can never become a reality.

And so you’ve convinced yourselves that I was the cancer, that I was what kept your perfect image of yourselves from being true.

And you tried to destroy me.

But isn’t it ironic? Can’t you see?

Those actions are exactly what prove that your fantasy is fantasy. Those actions prove who you really are: small people who have to make other people be small in order to be big; broken people who have to break other people in order to be unbroken; selfish people who have to pass their guilt onto other people in order to be gracious.

My eyes are wide open
I see the enemy, the hypocrisy
Your cover is fading
Secrets pouring out, castles falling down
There’s nothing to hide behind
I know who I am inside

I’m perfectly broken

I’m not without fault. Why else would I need a Savior?

But I don’t own your faults.

And you can’t make me.

No more.

I’ve got enough of my own, thanks.

I don’t have resolution to this yet. I wish I did. I wish I can be past this and moving onto greener pastures.

But this is my first step toward those.

This is me. Handing your shame back to you.

And if you refuse it, one day I’ll learn to drop it at your feet. As well as Someone else’s.

I don’t want this burden anymore. Carrying it for over two decades is too long – I will not carry it any further. This lie will no longer damage the good and true things in my life.

I see that I’m not perfect, that life is not perfect, that people in my life aren’t perfect.

And the imperfections are what make my life so beautiful.

You want a perfect, PERFECT LIFE
Nothing wrong, nothing real inside
All I see is an empty lie
I don’t want your PERFECT LIFE

I am not the abuse you dealt me.

I am perfectly broken.

And adopted into one heckuva family with the only perfect Father.


Lyrics from “Perfect Life” by Red on their album Release the Panic © 2013 Provident Label Group LLC, a unit of Sony Music Entertainment. Find them at http://www.redmusiconline.com

enough

When will I be enough?

I was born into a completely powerless position: the daughter of the youngest (and only surviving) daughter and divorcee, the only Gao in a family of Tongs. I was an outsider from before I began.

My father deserted us about 2 years or so after I was born. I still remember little things about him. I remember getting so excited when he knocked on the door, and I was the one delegated to unlock it for him when he came home from work. I remember sitting on his lap, watching TV with him, listening to his heartbeat. I also remember not liking him as much as I liked my mom. Guess I knew even then?

I don’t know if he loved me or not during the short time we knew each other. Our relationship was a fling, at least to him. No, Mom and I were in the way of his true love (insert dripping sarcasm here). And since my mom and her family provided him access into the land of the free and the home of the brave, we were of no use to him anymore.

This was the first person who left me. Defenseless. Innocent.

When will I be enough?

Growing up with my mom’s side of the family, I’d believed things would’ve been better for us had I been born a male instead (you know how the Chinese prize males). I’m pretty sure I wished and prayed (to something) that that could happen. Then maybe we would be treated better. Then maybe I would have some value and worth in this family. Then maybe it wouldn’t matter that my mom was a divorced single mother and lacking in formal education. I would be her son – her redemption – after all.

When will I be enough?

At some point, I accepted that I would never become a boy. So instead, I tried to be as close to one as possible. My male cousins liked basketball and video games and guns. So I decided to like those things, too. They had short hair, so I had short hair (the infamous bowl cut -.-“). They treated me badly, so I learned how to cuss like them to fight back, but secretly, I thought I must’ve deserved it since the favorites of the family had instigated it.

When will I be enough?

I grew up like this for a long time. It wasn’t family, but it was the illusion of one and something to strive to achieve. I hadn’t realized that all my efforts to be accepted by a family whose last name I didn’t share only resulted in my voice being denied me.

It became evident in the most painful way.

Ask anyone who’s related to me, and they will tell you that I was being an ungrateful, selfish, hateful child. They will tell you I didn’t know my place, that I bit the hand that fed me. But there’s one problem: no one cared about my side of the story. No one believed the useless little outsider with no power in the family. No one believed she was attacked by a wolf.

When will I be enough?

But everyone accepted that she cried it, that she spun some hateful tall tale against an honorable member of their family and disrespected all of them.

It was then that she found her voice. It was then that she used it – untrained and untamed.

When will I be enough?

I fought against a family I’d tried so desperately to belong to my whole life. I pursued justice at the expense of pride and face. I sought true honor to replace the show we’d put on for over a decade. I clung to the courage to force myself from their trajectory and change the direction in which my life would go forever.

And I became public enemy number one of the Tong family.

A mass exodus happened then. Every relative sided with the wolf (or at least didn’t side with the one he hurt). And at age fourteen, the voiceless girl was forced to find her voice and fight back or forever be silenced and trampled on to continue the illusion of a humble and perfect little family.

When will I be enough?

Mom and I were on our own. She was my one constant through all this. She stood up against her own brother for my sake and my safety. She found a voice to some degree, too, I think. I thought this relationship was unshakable, no matter how much people told me all human relationships were very shakable, including mother and child.

And then one day, it was shaken. She chose a complete outsider over me and let me go to fend for myself. I lived in a garage for one month with no regular access to even the bathroom or a place to keep food, borrowed a room in a house for several months (could use the bathroom, praise God for indoor plumbing), and eventually started my life as a renter. At age nineteen.

When will I be enough?

I’ve never been enough for anyone. I wasn’t enough to keep my father with me. I wasn’t enough to be protected and given a chance. I wasn’t enough to be chosen over a stranger.

Why wasn’t I enough for any of these people, and when can I have a sliver of a chance to be?

I never allowed myself to voice this question; it’s too raw, too vulnerable. But re-evaluating my past, recounting my heartache, only one thing is clear.

Everyone walks away from me.

When will I be enough?

But it really wasn’t because of me, was it? How can it be a toddler’s fault that her father left? How can it be a teenager’s fault that her uncle abused her? How can it be a grown woman’s fault that her mother makes bad decisions?

All in all, there’s no such thing as a nuclear family in my life. There’s no such thing as a family at all. Not here anyway.

When will I be enough?

Somewhere down the line, I met this Guy. He told me He’d never leave. He told me this is the only relationship that is unshakable. He told me that I have always been enough.

I called BS.

Even as I believed in Him to the point where I relinquished my past and my former gods, even as I walked with Him, I was pretty sure He would leave. I pushed Him, tested Him. I drove myself to the deepest shame and guilt, believing I deserved to feel all of the condemnation despite having been already forgiven and justified.

You sure You want to stay? Look at me. I am never enough. They were right. I will never be enough.

I expected Him of all people to leave. He had more right to than anyone else. But He stood where He was, keeping Himself always in my line of vision.

I tried pretty hard to sabotage this one before I got hurt from Someone else leaving, before I heard once again that I wasn’t enough.

But He stayed. And He kept telling me I was plenty.

And ultimately I started to believe Him.

To have gotten through all of that told me He really was here to stay – the only One who never left while being the only One with valid reason to.

I was finally enough.

Some days it’s easier to believe than others. I’m still afraid of more people leaving. I hate wondering if this pattern will continue until I really have nothing and no one. But I guess even with that, I’ll still always have One.

When will I be enough?

To the world? Never. Who am I to be enough for the world? Certainly not one who can save it.

But to the only One who matters, who is already complete without me?

Always.

featured in the March 2013 issue of SHADES Magazine

to the man who broke my heart

You. Didn’t you know? You were supposed to be my first love. Didn’t you know? You were supposed to protect me from tears and heartache. Didn’t you know? You were supposed to model a good example for me. Didn’t you know? You were supposed to love me. Didn’t you know?

Didn’t you know?

Instead… Instead, you chose to fill your own selfish wants and desires. Instead, you caused my tears and heartache. Instead, you became a model of everything I don’t want in a man.

Instead, you gave my heart its very first scar when I was just a child.

Are you happy right now? Are you happy with your new wife and the kids she’s given you? Did you fulfill your duty to them? Were you your daughter(s)’s first love, your son(s)’s first hero, your wife’s one and only? Are you happy? With your 4-5 bedroom house in suburbia? Looks like you didn’t move too far from where we used to live when we were a family.

Family. Were we really a family? You were you. Mom was mom. I was both of you. We were three people—no, two and a quarter, I guess—occupying one very small space. I really didn’t know anything about you. What you liked. What you did for work. What meal you enjoyed coming home to. Your favorite color. Your favorite book. Your favorite food.

But I remember this.

Everyday, when you came home, you would knock on the door, and I would rejoice that my daddy was finally home, and I’d run to the door to unlock it for you and run into your arms like I hadn’t seen you for years. Ironic.

But I can’t remember this.

Were you happy to see me, too? Did you open your arms to me? Did you enjoy coming home to us? To me?

Who do you think you are, that you can abandon a woman you pledged your life to and the child who is flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, and never look back? You’re as much a stranger to me today as you were before you left. But the damage you’ve done is much more intimate. You are a parasite, a wolf. Plain and simple.

But you know… I can thank you for two things.

I thank you for the physical life you’ve contributed to me.

And I thank you for being the lesson of forgiveness I needed to learn.

You didn’t love me. You weren’t the knight who rescued the princess—there was no knight, and I was no princess. You didn’t think I was enough. You didn’t think I mattered. You didn’t think I was your responsibility. You didn’t think of me as your child, or of you as my father.

But I hate to break it to both of us… it is true. I’m as much your DNA as you are mine.

And that’s all we will ever be to each other.

I wonder what you’d think if we ever met again. Would you recognize me? Growing up, everyone told me I looked like you—and it must’ve torn Mom apart to hear it so much. Would you care to know me? Would you see me as more than an insect?

No.

No, I don’t suppose you would. I don’t think you even can. You had the chance to prove me wrong once several years ago. And you didn’t prove me wrong.

Instead, you broke my heart all over again.

It is a daily struggle to forgive you. Some days, I want to hate you forever. Some days, I want to punch you in the throat. Some days, I want to scream at you at the top of my lungs.

But who am I to judge you? Your sin is replicated in me. I have lied. I have cheated. I have broken the heart of my Love. I have left Him for other things. I have severed our relationship.

Like father, like daughter.

What a legacy, huh?

The first time I was able to see this… such a weight was lifted from my heart. I couldn’t judge you. I couldn’t condemn you. Your sin was my sin. I needed to repent as much as you do.

Because of a father, I learned to grow up before I should’ve. I learned the world was ugly. I learned that I was expendable.

But because of a Father, I learned—am learning—how to be a daughter, a child, an heir. I learned that He has overcome this world. I learned that I am covered in His fingerprints and am loved beyond measure.

He gave me you for a father for a reason. He had faith enough in me to believe I’d turn out all right — better than all right. He is strong enough to carry me through you. And you and I… we get to team up and bring Him glory in my life and through it. Don’t you feel special?

I’m not a messed up little girl with a father complex. I’m not a broken kid, desperate for any and all male attention. Oh, how close I could have been to either, but take a look at who I am. I am a woman firm in her Savior. I am a woman confident in who she is. I am a woman satisfied in the love of one Man. I am a woman strong enough to be weak. I am a woman who’s turned out pretty darn good.

And I am finally an heir. And Someone finally came to save me and defend me.

Bless you and your family. Bless your life here. May you enjoy all the seeds you have sown and reaped. Bless your children, that they may have the father I never did, and your wife, that she may have the husband my mother never did. Bless you.

But it’s really too bad you never got to know me. Your loss, really.

I’ll be praying for you as much as I can for the rest of my life. Some days (like today) will be more difficult than others. But I have forgiven you, do forgive you, and will forgive you.

Have a good life, dad. As best as you can without me, anyway.

Father’s Day Thoughts

The build-up of Father’s Day from all around her. The hype of June 20th coming and now going. The number of cards purchased in the last few hours. All this reminds her that she cannot join in the festivities.

All around her, others talk about trivial requests from their fathers for this day. They talk of ways their fathers have loved them, and the ways they wished their fathers would have loved them. That he obviously didn’t read the Five Love Languages (=P).

How much would I give to be in those shoes? The shoes that belong to the fathered. The shoes that belong to those who can say their father loves them.

How much would she give?

To be able to picture as a little girl a knight in shining armor with the face of her daddy coming to save her from distress. To be able to ride on her dad’s shoulders as they walked around Disneyland together. To be encouraged every time she fell down from learning to ride her bike as a kid. To have little disagreements about the boys she likes and watch as he scares the pants off whoever comes to the door to take her to In-N-Out and a movie.

But these things she can never have. In the years under her belt, the one gift she wishes for from him is that he wouldn’t have given up. He wouldn’t have left. 

But he did. 

He left. And he never looked back.

Still.

Though she may not be able to express love to a father she barely knew, she can be thankful for the physical life he’s given her that, in truth, came from the creativity of a Father who would never leave her heart lonely.

“When ‘important’ individuals go away we are sad, until we see that they are meant to go, so that only one thing is left for us to do – to look into the face of God for ourselves.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

In the end, it is for His glory. He calls her His. In every sense of the word. She belongs to Him. She is His daughter, His princess. He gives her the love she’s always wanted from a father and gives it freely and abundantly everyday.

Yet she doesn’t know how to receive it.

Love from a father. What is it like? How does one go about receiving it? How does one go about giving back?

Just when she thought she had her journey figured out. He’s full of surprises. 

She has not been willing to let Him love her as wholly His. Loving in friendship, she understands. Loving as her Father, she has yet to fully grasp. Loving in marriage… that’s a whole new issue.

There is so much to learn about her Papa. And if she doesn’t give her whole heart into seeking Him, she will not receive anything from it. Her whole broken and dusty heart that only wishes to never stray but always does. Her whole broken and battered heart that has difficulty finding solace in His love. Her whole broken and selfish heart who keeps searching elsewhere for everything He’s already offered her.

Father’s Day 2010. I commit to learning about God as Father. My Father. There’s two more hours left. Plenty of time to start the journey.

It is not a fatherless Father’s Day. There will never be a fatherless Father’s Day so long as she remains in Him.