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.

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?

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.

I got published!

Hi guys! Apologies for the long hiatus in entries. It’s been a really big time of transition for me as I’ve been getting used to being home. It’s a little hard to believe that I’ve been here two months already.

As you may or may not have heard, I recently got published! Hyphen Magazine accepted my piece on faith and culture, and how neither of them make the other one any less important.

Read it here, and please share it with your friends, family, neighbors, grandparents, and whoever else you have in your arsenal. 😀

Thanks for the support!

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.

I have hope for a unified Body

I came across an article today from LifeWay, and my soul smiled.

Dr. Thom Rainer, the current CEO and president of LifeWay Christian Resources, issued a formal apology for VBS material that was released 10 years ago called, “Far Out Rickshaw Rally – Racing Towards the Son.” The material was the subject of major controversy, utilizing Asian stereotypes and generalizations to teach kids about Jesus.

In his apology, Dr. Rainer addressed the issue, acknowledged the hurt that it caused, and proposed a solution to move forward. According to the article, LifeWay is planning to train staff members to be culturally sensitive and avoid disrespecting other ethnicities and cultures. And the fact that this man had nothing to do with producing that material speaks volumes as well. Above all else, his focus is on the Body of Christ and its members. It takes a lot of love and humility to give a 10-year overdue apology for something he didn’t personally do, and it has made the biggest difference in reconciling our cultures.

This is a huge step since my last entry regarding cultural insensitivity within the Body. It is a bigger issue than just skin color—when my culture is made one-dimensional, my identity is attacked. I am Chinese-American and Christian and female, and this is how God made me. It’s when my brothers and sisters don’t try to understand the implications of this identity that I am hurt. It is a complex identity. Being Chinese-American is already complicated. Both of these cultures clash in many areas as it is. And on top of that, I’m a Christ-follower, which clashes with both of those. When my Chinese culture tells me that my family, my blood, is the most important thing, that I am to be loyal to that forever, no matter what the circumstances, how do I reconcile that with my American culture, which tells me that the individual and the individual’s freedom is the most treasured thing? And then there’s this Jesus guy who says that He is the object of greatest value, and even our love and commitment to our family has to look like hate in comparison to our love for Him (Luke 14:26).

Being female in these cultures is a whole different can of worms. I don’t fit the stereotype of the typical Asian woman, and I have no desire to. I often wonder what God was thinking when He put me together. “I’m going to make her make no sense at all, and in doing so, make perfect sense.” Because essentially, that’s what it is. All of my cultures and pieces of my identity clash, but in me, they work, and they work together.

Someone once said to me that with Jesus, there is no culture. I would absolutely disagree with that statement. With Jesus, there is perfect culture. We, as broken mirrors, reflect that perfect culture imperfectly, but reflect it, we do. This thing called “identity” isn’t simple. It’s not just one thing. I’ve been told often that my identity is “child of God.” Yes, absolutely, but what does that mean? What is the makeup of a “child of God”?

I think “child of God” is more like an umbrella or a body. Underneath this identity is all that makes it up, like a skeleton, if you would. Underneath this yellow skin, God has, as I mentioned, created me to be Chinese-American and female. These absolutely affect my identity as child of God as much as child of God affects these identities. And beyond that, my identity as a healed and healing person also affects my identity as child of God. The way I see and experience God is very much influenced by everything that makes up who I am.

I feel most loved when those around me make an effort to understand or at least respect my identity—this includes my ethnicity and culture. I feel stripped of my identity when people try to be “politically correct” or “color-blind.” Color-blindness didn’t work for anyone else, it won’t work for us either. When you tell me you don’t see color when you look at me, I will hear that you don’t see me. I will feel like you’ve taken something away from me, like you’re denying something that is deeply rooted in me.

This article gives me hope for healing within the body. The Body of Christ cannot be masochistic if it is to be healthy, and when one part is hurting, the rest of it is also afflicted. We in the Asian-American community have been hurting, and this wound has been neglected for a long time. But we are a part of the whole.

As the Body is conscious of the pain it feels, I am excited for the healing that can come about now. When I signed my name on the open letter to the church, I hoped that someone would listen. We are hurting, and it needs to be addressed in order for this Body to be whole.

I am grateful both to Exponential, for their apology and speediness in addressing their contribution, and to LifeWay, for showing that it is never too late to reconcile.

a multicultural family of God

“We are a part of the body, we are North American Christians every bit as much as any other North American Christian, and we are weary, hurt, and disillusioned by the continuing offensive actions of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. When one part of the body experiences pain, should not the whole body feel the repercussions?”

Angry Asian Man and Kathy Khang have posted an open letter to the North American evangelical church from its Asian-American congregation. I’ve read over it before signing it myself. It’s not church-bashing in any way, but it does call the church out in order to seek reconciliation for some blunders. The letter is an invitation to understand Asian-Americans and why it hurts to have our culture minimized by the dominant culture, and it also offers ideas on how to bridge the gap that causes us to misunderstand each other.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me I put too much emphasis on my cultural and ethnic identity. And it really hurts me to hear that. Yes, my identity is first and foremost a child of God, but under that umbrella includes my being first generation Chinese-American amongst others. You cannot ask me to separate my Chinese-American-ness from my identity as child of God any more than I can ask you to separate your culture from your identity as child of God. It is a beautiful thing that people of all colors can worship one God, so why are we trying to make this family monochromatic? When you look at me, I want you to see how God has put me together down to the smallest detail—this includes my ethnic background, my gender, and my history. Look how God has made sense out of this mess that is my identity! It’s a thing of beauty, and all the things that make it up should not be diminished.

I’ve also been told that my American identity should be most dominant because I’ve chosen to be here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But what kind of “American” should I be? What does it even mean to be American? My American identity is affected by my Chinese identity as much as my Chinese identity is affected by my American identity. This country is built on immigration, and I am as much an American as anyone else here. The “American Dream” is attainable by me as much as it is by anyone else. It is a bloody, brutal, and dirty road to get there as evidenced by the need for such a letter to be written.

I think this letter is thoughtful and inviting. Please try to understand the hurt and the pain that is felt when our family doesn’t try to understand who we are—when my new family hurts me as much or more than my first family did. I’m still trying to figure out this identity as an Asian-American Christian. I’m inviting everyone to walk alongside me in that endeavor and understand a bit more clearly what the struggle is and how to overcome it.

Also, mad props to Exponential for giving a thoughtful and sincere apology and for taking the steps to reconcile and understand their family.

this free slave

The other day in counseling, I was asked how I’ve seen or experienced God in the part of me that’s Chinese. I had to think for a moment, and I realized I’m not sure about this one. From the beginning, I met God in a pretty American setting. We met at a Chinese church in Anaheim, CA. I learned about Him in English while surrounded by my fellow ABCs.

But I think as I’ve been working out more of my history, I’ve come to appreciate and experience God in a way that is uniquely my own.

See, my Chinese culture places high value on family. This is why my rebellion was considered level with blasphemy. This is why, to this day, I cannot have a blood family.

I chose my voice over family pride.

Pride is a parasite. It is an incomplete that distorts the complete. And yet, for our family, there was no basis even for pride. We were a fraud of a family. But boy, did we look the part.

And I would learn just what it means to sacrifice for this God romance.

In my Chinese culture, your surname – your family – is your all.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/subtlenuance/

Therein lies the conflict.

God clearly tells me that He is above all, and I must choose Him above mother and surname if I want to come to Him; I must love God to the point where love for anyone else looks suspiciously similar to hate.

Gaining my family’s respect was my life. Giving up my family for God gave up my life.

I wonder how many people can appreciate the gravity of this situation. I wonder how many people have experienced just how invasive Christianity is, how much it demands.

In shrugging off the burden of being my family’s scapegoat, I donned a new set if fetters: I am enslaved to my God for the work of His glory, doing His will.

But being God’s slave is more freedom than I ever knew in my fifteen years prior to our meeting. It’s hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it? But that’s okay. God’s big enough to handle paradox.

My counselor suggested that perhaps it is my Chinese culture that readied me to sacrifice all for who is worthy. I think it is very likely so.

Although it backfired for everyone else.

Worked out great for me, though.

And here is where God humbles me again.

Dear relatives,

Thank you for getting me here.

a definition of miki

It’s a freeing feeling to realize no one has to understand you when you’ve taken away their power to define you.

I think people have been trying to define me since I was born. I’m Chinese, my relatives say. But I was born in Clearwater, Florida (home of the scientologists’ HQ, apparently), so that actually makes me an American. I have a driver’s license from California (watch out now) and a passport from the United States of America. No such paperwork from China, however, but there is a yellow tint to my skin and an almond shape to my eyes (or so American literature has told me).

I’m Chinese, so I need to be fiercely loyal to my family. Even when they abuse me emotionally, verbally, and physically. Hm. Is that something I really want defining me? And what’s this about being a terrible driver? Apparently I missed that memo when they passed it around the office. And I’m supposed to be either “dragon lady” or property? Well, neither of those sound particularly appealing either.

But I’m American, so I need to be individualistic. I need to move out when I’m 18 (which I did, but that was a complicated situation), and I need to “take the path less traveled by” (which is a horrible misconstruction of a beautiful and bittersweet poem). I’ve got to do everything it takes to get to the top and get my white picket fence and family unit with a husband and 2.5 children (when exactly can I get the other half of that third child?).

Then I got older and found out there’s this thing called “Asian-American” (growing up I just thought that meant Asian living in America) – an emerging culture – making me both and neither at the same time. Now this one is messy. There is no structure, no script to follow; no identifiable footprints, maps, or blueprints. I just got thrown in the pool, and I’ve got to learn how to swim, or I drown. It’s tense, and scary – the kind of scary that can only be felt when you’re suspended 50 feet in the air walking a tight rope made out of fishing line. (Did I mention there’s no safety net?)

Can anyone see why I craved a definition for myself?

I took on many, accepted ones people have given me without prejudice. My cousin was more than happy to oblige while we were growing up: fat, ugly, stupid, useless; and then when I chose my dignity and life over family pride and appearance: selfish, ungrateful, etc., etc., etc. Sadly, I believed a lot of those. Then came the teen years with the church ladies: “lose a few pounds,” “if only you didn’t have acne, you’d be pretty,” and while this one was not ever verbalized, it was was most definitely felt: “you’re a failure for not being able to fix your mother.”

I’m not particularly sure why the negative ones were the ones that stuck.

Then in came this Man, and He called me daughter. He called me beautiful. He called me beloved. He called me His.

How did I respond to Him?

I laced up my red converse and ran like mad.

How could any of that be true when I believed the exact opposite for decades?

But yet they are. And only He has ever asked me to uproot everything I ever believed about myself and gives me the strength to do so. Often.

So somehow I got to a crossroad where I could choose to believe one thing and go one way, or the other and go another.

Everything the world defined me with stemmed from expectations of me to perform a certain way. And I’m sick of being a one-woman circus act.

I’m building an altar at this intersection. I’m taking all of the lies that told me I need to be a quiet, submissive, cute, little Asian woman and throwing it on there. I’m taking the lies that told me I’m ugly, fat, less than, and a failure, and slamming it on as well. I’m taking the lies that told me I have to perform an act to look like I have it all together in order to earn God’s love and my salvation, and it’s going on, too. The world will define me no longer. I am lighting this sucker up and leaving the ashes as a reminder of the decision I made and the path I chose.

And unlike Mr. Frost, I will not be dwelling on the what ifs of the other path.

On the other side of the coin, everything God defined me to be just required me to be me.

My identity is given to me by the Creator of the universe and shaped and defined by how much I believe in the freedom of being His.

Keep hurling lies at me if you want, world – it’ll just keep this fire burning. And it’ll remind me that much more how much I define myself.

Watch out, world, here’s your warning.

Miki is discovering who she is.

Can’t stop me now.

featured in WitnessLA January 2013

Ashes

So this was my first assignment in my creative writing class. It was a personal narrative assignment, specifically about a difficult time. I played on a theme and talked about two. You might recognize parts of the second half of the narrative cuz I had to supplement the assignment with some old blogger posts since I couldn’t quite summon the same emotions anymore. Funny thing about healing, eh? XP

Some parts were pretty hasty, partly cuz I couldn’t quite figure out what else to describe and how else to describe it and didn’t want to conjure things that weren’t real at the time or otherwise. Not the strongest work, but hey, that’s why I don’t have a degree yet, right? 😛 Judge me if I’m still doing this after the MFA. ^^

Thanks, Cam & Levi and everyone who helped proof and look over it. 🙂 And thanks for all you guys who’ve walked with me in some way or another whether through these times or another (or another or another or another :P) and for bringing some light into my life (especially when it’s so overcast all the time up here). 🙂

I’ll take literary criticism if you wanna leave some (please don’t rip my heart out and stomp on it, though :P). Encouragement is good, too (primarily on the writing, but encouragement on life is nice, too). ^^ Both are needed for an (hopefully) up and coming (hopefully ^^) writer. And give praise where it’s due (::cough:: to Jesus ::cough cough::)!

But please, no comments about how much these times sucked or that you couldn’t do it if you were in my shoes (I wouldn’t have volunteered if I had the choice) or how “strong” I must be to get through them. I’m not strong. It’s clear from the text that I’m not. God could’ve given this life I’ve been living to anyone. Really, he could’ve split my story up into a dozen or more lives, and it’d have been traumatic for each one. But somehow he found enough faith in me to put the stories all into mine. So who’s really the strong one here?

Appreciate the thoughtfulness, but let’s give credit where it’s due, yeah? ^_^

~*~*~*~*~*~

I am a phoenix.

Sitting in the bathroom, tears sketching lines from her eyes down her cheeks, she looked in the mirror at the exhausted and unfamiliar face.

“What have I become?”

Living in a nightmare, surviving one day just to get to the next, she wondered when it would be over. Was she strong enough to put another foot in front and another and another? Her thoughts fell into the abyss of potential and plunged ever deeper.

It can end now.

Eyes shot open, the tears continuing their solemn brushstrokes along the canvas of her face. It can end now, the consideration echoed in the pathways of her mind.

The thought echoed down passageways she had never traveled before. “It can end now.”

“But then… what about mom?”

Can she truly forsake her and leave her alone in the nightmare?

If you end it now, you lose. They win. Don’t do it.

New voice. Logical. Hopeful.

No, she could never do such a thing. To be this selfish? To seek release when the one dearest to her needs her the most? This is something she could never bring herself to do. Instead, she would rise above revenge, her problems, and her abusers. With that in mind, she exited the bathroom.

When her uncle had moved in a few months ago, it was a difficult transition from a house of two to a house of five when he brought his son and nephew with him. It had gotten progressively worse as time went on. Arguments, neglect, emotional abuse – these things made an appearance more and more consistently, to the point where she and her mother avoided returning to the house they lived in for eleven years until late evening hours. Still, she never expected to find herself in her bathroom contemplating suicide.

Her uncle had probably been the closest to a father she had ever gotten, though his living on the other side of the world majority of the year hid many of his shortcomings and the dark part of his personality. Yet her mother had always described him to be an upstanding, responsible man, who sacrificed much to care for his siblings when they were growing up. His was the model to strive after.

And one fated encounter brought her to the road towards freedom. The road shook and the pedestal he was placed upon crashed to the ground, and it was shattered in the blink of an eye.

One morning, her uncle and his family waited in the living room for her and her mother as she left for school. With a video camera. An ambush. He advanced upon her, and fearing for her safety, her mother pulled him away. He grabbed them both, threw them down, and pretended to be assaulted to pose for his camera.

And all of this… over a phone bill.

A sudden strike against her cheek, even she wasn’t sure it would ever come to that. The endless war was ending soon. A restraining order was placed, and a fragile, temporary peace descended upon the two females.

Amongst the chaos and confusion, she was growing up too quickly. An outstretched arm reached toward her in peace and offered her the ability to be a teenager. Out of love and grace, a friend’s family brought them to a church, filled with believers who spoke her mother’s tongue, lessening the burden that fell on her shoulders.

In the courtroom, what she least expected to see was mercy, especially coming from the wounded. After hearing that this man could ultimately lose his visa and be sent back overseas, her mother chose to drop the charges because the crimson in their veins runs thick with the same blood.

A picture of the Gospel.

Unbeknownst to her, her steps had been guided down the path to her freedom from the moment she chose to listen to that second voice.

Don’t do it.

Thinking of it now, she realized just how much she would have lost had she listened to the first. Instead, she was led down freedom’s path, a road not frequently traveled – though well paved and well tended – by a mysterious voice, powerful enough to calm the crashing emotions on the shore of her heart, yet gentle like the sun drifting to sleep beneath the horizon.

He called to her again. Many times. Interspersed between the whispers of the velvet night, His voice could be heard echoing in the depths of her soul. And as she followed the path her uncle had opened for her, she found Him: the Man who commands the voice, seated in humble majesty, a lazy smile crawling across his simple face.

“You’re finally here.”

She dropped to the earth, knees caressed by the gentle brush of the grass, and folded into herself, tears cascading down her face, heart pounding erratically against the steel bars of the cage erected around it, begging desperately for release.

He continued to call to her; she continued to cry. She knew that to follow Him would cost her everything. The face of her mother flashed across her mind. How would she tell her? Then the face of her late grandmother, humbly knelt in front of the family’s idols bent over and praying the sutras off the page. What would it mean to be eternally separated from her?

“It’s your choice.”

Again, an extended hand. She placed hers in the flat palm of the warm hand, calloused by labor, scarred by nails, and she found freedom in His embrace. She belonged to Him, thanks in part to her uncle.

Her uncle: the man who bestowed the second character of her name, meaning “the appearance or bearing of.”

The first burning of her nest, the first rebirth: complete.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I don’t want you.

This was the voice she heard as she read over a letter from an attorney in San Francisco. On the page was a short, quick, professional letter asking for her to contact this sender: an abduction lawyer.

I don’t want you.

The words on the page raged and swirled, the words pulled deeper and deeper into a black hole, where emotions went to die.

A year previous, during her last year of high school, their financial struggles brought them to the end of their rope. Her mother reached out and applied for welfare and was put into a training program and eventually found a job in which to support them with. During the time however, much information was collected, and it was revealed that no financial support came from her father, and he was to be informed and sought after.

No word – not for a whole year. Then again, it had been much longer since he’d left.

Upon visiting home for winter vacation after her first college semester, she received this letter in the mail. It hit her harder than she wanted to admit, especially to her mother, and weighed heavier upon her than she could bear to carry. No contact from him, still, just a letter from a stranger. She wasn’t even worth his time.

Her parents did not have the “fairytale romance” – or any kind of romance. They were barely friends. Their future together, decided economically by their families, and her father and mother were married. And his life continued to be shrouded in darkness – his life, his heart, his lover. His heart had left long before he ever had. It may not have been there at all.

On the day she received this greeting, she took her first step into the spiral of depression, anger. What about her made her so detestable in his eyes? Was she not flesh of his flesh, no matter what happened between he and her mother?

Struggling to banish him from her thoughts, she focused her energy into her studies, choosing to ignore the loneliness and bitter heartache that had already taken root deep within her soul. This pattern continued for years, and had it been her choice, would likely extend to today.

But He had bigger plans for her, and what marvelously creative plans they were.

From the outermost recesses of her mind and heart, a still small voice called out to her yet again. Thoughts, which she fought desperately to suppress with the weight of a thousand mountains, rushed through the cracks and flowed like lava, searing and transforming her rock-hard heart.

She needed healing – more so than she would admit in a million years.

And He wanted to heal her. Wholly. Make her an entire person. He wanted to mend her heart so that she could love from all of it and not just the parts that feel comfortable, the few unscarred parts she allowed others to see. This was the gift He wished to give her: a heart that is flesh and tender, a heart that is whole.

All around her, others speak of trivial requests from their fathers. They talk of ways their fathers have loved them, and the ways they wished their fathers would have loved them.
How much would she give to be in those shoes? The shoes that belonged to the fathered, the shoes that belonged to those who can say their fathers loved them even if it were just for a minute, the shoes that belonged to those who can talk hockey and culture and faith with their fathers.

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, enjoying the kiss of the sun’s rays and the embrace of the autumn wind together. To be encouraged every time she fell down from learning to ride her bike as a kid. To have little trivial disagreements about the boys she liked.

But these things she could never have. In the years under her belt, the one gift she wished to have received from him was 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 could 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.

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?

Forgiving her earthly father… she never thought she needed to. He had departed so early and abruptly from her life and growth that she felt he was a stranger in nearly every way. But he was not a stranger; a stranger would not be able to wound her heart so mortally. He was a man whose responsibility was to raise her and love her, and he threw it all away along with a daughter he wished he never had. He was a man who left her to fend for herself when she needed a father the most, in order to chase after his own fleeting desires. He was a man who broke her heart, shattered it to pieces, and scattered it to the four winds.

To pray for him? To forgive him? To… love him? Who am I that I can do such a thing? By the love and mercy of God, this daughter was called to do such. And by His strength alone she could pray blessings on a man she would rather curse for eternity.

Even so, as time has gone by, peace had begun to heal her heart. It continues to be painful to pray for him. To pray against the wrongs he’s done and possibly still doing… that’s simple. That is something she can do. To pray blessings on the man who trampled on her heart? To pray blessings on the family he replaced her with? How can she? They are the hardest prayers she will ever have to pray.

Struggling to forgive, straining for justice, she judged this man and labeled him a sinner. His sin cut deep and severed tendon from bone. He abandoned her, he cut out her heart and dropped it without a second glance. Yet she is called to forgive him.

She felt, however, that if she could forgive this man, she could do anything. She knew deep within that her lack of forgiveness for him and her anger that boiled into hatred would poison the fruit He wished to grow in her. She wanted to be fruitful for Him, and more than anything, to be made whole.

Forgiveness would come soon enough – soon enough on His time. To be forgiven, one must forgive. Were his sins really much different than her own? Had she not once left her Love, ripped out His heart, and spat in His face?

The sinless God came to the earth He created, relinquishing His right to be praised, clothing Himself in frail human flesh, and donning a servant’s clothes to wash the feet of those He taught. The sinless God, who had and still has every right to be angry and hateful toward us who break His heart over and over and over and over again, chose to forgive, and His love compelled Him to die for those who break His heart and His laws in order to allow them to come back into fellowship with Him.

The innocent sought the guilty for reconciliation.

So how could she, in her selfishness, justify hating this man for what he did? She was just as guilty as he. And their sins were against no one but Yahweh, God Almighty.

She would learn that forgiveness was the key to her freedom, and it was just within her reach. Forgiving him would release her from her anger, release her from her bitterness, release her from the cage she slammed shut long ago, and allow her to use all the wasted energy and time to focus on that which was more important and lasting like putting a smile on her Father’s face.

Her earthly father, having taken no active role in her life for over twenty years, taught her the only lesson he ever needed to teach her: how to forgive.

Her father: the man who bestowed the first character of her name, meaning “phoenix.”

The second burning of her nest, the second rebirth: complete.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Phoenixes are magnificent creatures. Through severe physical and emotional trauma, they are able to rise more beautiful than before, wearing their scars like jewels.

The appearance of a phoenix – a name given to her by the two people who would push her to live up to it for years to come; her name is a promise – a promise that life would not be easy for her, but also a promise that the scorching fire that licks her skin is a temporary sting that would lead her to be born anew.

Her name is a promise from God, a promise of a difficult life and a promise of perseverance through the fire. Scars etched deeply upon her heart and upon her past – they are being refined by the fire to shine like silver and gold.

He wants her heart. The heart that had been trampled on and forgotten about is the heart that the King of the universe wants to set His throne upon, to make His home in. He reveals to her from beneath a shrouded veil a heart that is whole, a heart that is radiant, a heart that is beautiful.

This is her heart. The scars that were once adorned on its surface have been healed and transformed by her Savior. These storms that were meant to batter and break and dirty this heart have caused it to shine even more radiantly than it once had, and more radiantly than it once could.

This is her heart. This is His home. There is still healing that must take place.

But He knows her.

And He will meet her in the storm.

And when the rain subsides, peace comes like waves spilling over each other before finally breaking on the beach, the scent of the sea an hour after a storm – the scent of peace – lingering lazily in the air.

In the scream of silence, the caress of a whisper brushes across her face. Born from the imagination of the Most High God, He seals her with His promise.

She is His masterpiece.

I am a phoenix.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-
featured in WitnessLA Part 1 Part 2