“it’s finally over”

Confession: I did not write a novel this year. NaNoWriMo ended up being a month of plotting and pushing myself to do my usual (ridiculously convoluted) method of planning a story. I got to know my protagonist, and I feel that we can be good friends and enjoy meals and tea together. She told me her story and entrusted me to do it justice. I’m still learning the rules and intricacies of her world, so the journey has only just begun, and I am excited to galavant through its lush plains and trek through its harsh deserts; to learn about its governments and belief systems; to experience its magic and allure; and to gaze in wonder underneath its starlit sky. It’s a privilege to have gotten to know her this far, and it’s an honor to be able to go even further forward from here. The “problem” of writing is that the adventure is never truly over.

Write on, friends.

 

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an amateur writer’s advice for amateur writing

I hesitate to call myself a writer, and I often even hesitate to call myself an aspiring one. “Amateur” even seems too grand a term for me because I feel like other “amateurs” have a better grasp of this whole thing than I do and are way ahead of me.

When my friends call me a writer, I flinch.

It’s a great honor to be considered so by people who know and love you, but it also feels daunting and big, like there are high expectations to meet and big clown shoes to fill, and I only have size 7 feet.

In my head, I feel that I haven’t earned the privilege to be categorized among people like Toni Morrison, Joseph Conrad, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ray Bradbury, JRR Tolkien, Sandra Cisneros, etc., etc., etc. In my heart, I know they all sat where I’m sitting, agonizing over blank notebooks with a pen weighing heavy on their hand, needing to put to paper what makes sense in their own minds but may not translate properly outside of it. In my heart, I know they risked being misunderstood, I know they had moments where they didn’t know if they would make it, I know they had bad first drafts and more than their share of rejections and criticisms—fair or otherwise. The heart may be more deceitful than all else, but sometimes your head’s just as bad.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking of all the things that I assume writers do that I’m doing wrong and learning to accept that none of it matters. We don’t write for others so much as we write for ourselves, and we don’t write for the finish line so much as we write to discover the adventure that lies on the path to it—whether “it” (the finish line) even exists at all. There are a lot of weird things that I do as an aspiring storyteller that I highly doubt anyone else does (though I’m sure I would be surprised. We are an odd bunch after all), and there are things others do that don’t work for my brain. Whatever the process, what matters is that we do what we must.

So here is a list of amateur advice from a fellow amateur that has been marinating and baking in my brain:

1) Don’t let anyone tell you how or what to write.

I was at lunch with a group of writers and aspiring writers who were all just meeting each other (it was introvert hell, let me be upfront). One of the guys had always written mystery, but he decided he would write romance this time around since there’s money in it. Perhaps he will find his groove and produce a wonderfully written romance novel. But if it were me, and I was writing to sell novels, it would read like a dry and boring piece that I wrote in order to sell novels. It doesn’t help that romance is not a genre I’m actually interested in. It doesn’t excite me or make me feel alive or accomplished. It makes me feel gross actually. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a little romance within the big narrative, but I don’t fancy it as the big narrative. For me, I feel alive and accomplished after going on an epic quest, slaying beasts and conquering foes. And it’s likely going to be other adventurers like myself who will enjoy the things I want to write about, so long as I’m honest with my words and myself.

But that being said…

2) Write outside of your comfort zone.

While you know best what you enjoy writing about, don’t be afraid to write about things you don’t know or understand (bonus points if you explore something you don’t agree with). If we all only wrote about comfortable subjects and things we totally get, we wouldn’t have books that touch our souls and make us sing and weep and grow. Stay within your moral boundaries and be true to yourself, but don’t shy away from uncomfortable subjects or situations either. It’s a delicate thing to balance, I know. But writing is about growth and discovery after all. Be forewarned, however, that your characters may not share your moral grounds, and you’ll need to be prepared for that tension and decide which is more important: your beliefs or theirs, your behaviors or theirs. One of you will lose the argument, and both options could have dramatic effects on your story. Whose voice is needed in what you’re doing? I understand it is not easy to walk the line, so give yourself a little grace, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Baby steps are how we all learned anything after all.

Along the same vein…

3) Find your people.

Your people. Your tribe. Your crew. The ones who may “get” you and your quirks, but definitely the ones who appreciate it. This could be fellow writers or the people you want to take on your adventure (which I guess could also be fellow writers… we were all readers and adventurers first after all). Recently, I’ve been realizing how “compromising” some of my Google search history can look because I’m trying to write about something I don’t know that may be outside my comfort zone. If you judged me based off that alone, your conclusion would likely be that I am a pregnant serial killer who is deeply involved in a cult. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m actually just an office worker with lofty dreams of writing fantasy stories (and I’m most definitely not pregnant). In talking to other researchers, I feel at ease that it is not just me that the CIA/FBI/Interpol have their eyes on, and if we’re ever imprisoned together, we can rest assured we will never be bored. It would suck, yes. But we would be with our people. And we will always understand the struggle. 😉

4) Find/do what you need, no matter how ridiculous or small or crazy it is.

I’ve seen the way people outline their novels, and I am so jealous. It looks so… structured and simple, and it works for them. They have a pattern established, a formula to fill in, and everything just falls into place and clicks for them in their heads.

I can’t do it.

Instead, I write in the most roundabout and convoluted way that would elicit the criticism of being inefficient, and that criticism wouldn’t be wrong.

But you know what?

Who cares.

I’ll share my crazy method so that you can feel better about yours because I’m fairly confident that no one else is this inefficient in their plotting.

I like to interview my characters. Yes, I know there are character profile forms out there that I can fill out with their hobbies and favorite songs, but it’s just not enough to know them on paper or to only know about them. I want to know them. Who they are, how they’ll react to spiders, what happens after they eat spicy food. I’ll ask mundane questions to get to know their personality and mannerisms, and I’ll interview multiple characters together sometimes to see how they interact. But I don’t leave it at just this. I have my protagonist tell me the entire story from beginning to end, and ride along whatever rabbit trail or detour they want to take me on (and sometimes that I take myself on because I do not write from beginning to end. I’ll write the scene I want to write at the time I am sitting down to write because that excitement will translate into the scene itself). And I’ll ask supporting characters to tell me about certain big or small events that I find important within that grand story from their perspective. One thing I am not so great at yet is doing this with my antagonist and actually wanting to do this with my antagonist. I want to hate them so bad sometimes that being in the same room with them is unnerving. But their story is important, too. It also has a place in the larger narrative.

And once I’m satisfied I’ve covered all my bases and have looked at it from enough angles, I’ll get started.

I can’t tell you how successful this is or isn’t because this is one of the first instances where I’m spending so much time and effort, but I can tell you that throughout this process, everything that I’ve attempted so far has clicked in my head, and I feel like I can fill in the details and do the story justice once I really get it going.

Fair warning, though, you can very easily get sick and tired of your characters and story with this because of how much time you spend together. Which is largely why I’m fairly confident no one else is this crazy. 😛

Oh. And I also need to do everything with pen and paper first. My brain thinks differently with a pen than it does with a keyboard. This one I know other people run into, so at least in this, I’m not alone. Tack this onto “inefficient” as well, though. Like I’d just mentioned, I don’t write in order; I write what I feel like writing when I sit down to do it. I’d get lost having to scroll through a Word document and hoping that I’ve put it out of the way enough from the previous scene I wrote or that I pasted it back in the right place. My notebooks have notes all over that a certain scene “continues on page XX” or “continued from page AA,” etc. And THEN I can piece it together easily when I type it out and feel confident that I have things in the right places.

Speaking of pen and paper, here’s another ridiculous quirk I have that I’m convinced is important: I cannot use completely blank notebooks. I find blank pages to be totally intimidating, and I struggle to start and put something on it. It feels judgmental and sterile. Too clean. Untrustworthy.

But it’s more complicated than that. It’s not enough to just have a picture or something in the corner, and it’s most certainly not good enough to just have the same pattern or design on every page.

You can imagine how complicated and difficult it is for me to find a proper notebook! It’s hard to explain what kind of notebook I like, but the best I’ve got is “stained” or watercolored. I usually have a pretty good run with Ellie Claire journals, but even those don’t have everything I want (they have most things, though, so I like them).

My ideal journal:

  • Has stained pages that are unique to each page (MOST important – see image)
  • Is a thin hardcover
  • Lays flat (I will settle for a spiral bound, but I like the ones with a flat binding just a bit more)

I think that’s about it as far as what the non-negotiables of the perfect notebook are for me. But little details change here and there as I discover more notebooks and whatnot.

See? Don’t you feel better that your Type A brain is not as ridiculous as mine? And don’t you feel better knowing your plotting methods are probably not as complicated as mine? But you know what? This all works for me. And if this is what it takes to get me writing and moving forward, then it’s a good method, no matter what it may look like from the outside. I am completely unapologetic about any of this. Don’t ever apologize for being who you are. You do you, friend. No one else can do it better. 🙂

Finally…

5) Get out of your own way.

We’ve all heard it. “You’re your own worst critic.” It may sound cliché and trite, but you know what, it’s true. You really are the one that is and will be most critical of yourself and your work. There are days I feel like I don’t want to or legitimately can’t write. Whether I’m too full or too empty, some days I just don’t have the energy to transfer thought to paper. I’ve been told to write anyway because if you wait till you feel like it, you’ll never write.

I’m learning to take that advice with a grain of salt.

There is a lot of truth to that statement, but you also know yourself. If you need to discipline yourself to write in order to build good habits, then do it. Just remember that no one needs to see it if you don’t like it, and also remember that you’re writing to develop a discipline. You’re not going to fart rainbows. Allow yourself to have crappy writing because all first drafts suck (sometimes second and third drafts, too), and the sooner we accept it, the better off we’ll be. And don’t be overly critical of yourself or beat yourself up for not wanting to write or for needing to force yourself to write. I don’t want to get out of bed some days, and I don’t feel bad for needing to force myself to do so in order to get to work and make a paycheck to pay for all my complicated notebooks and pretty fountain pens, and I’m not sure if you’ve realized it, but traveling to new and exciting lands can be expensive (BUY ALL THE BOOKS!).

This is in no way a comprehensive list of things to do or not do, or to be or not be (that is, indeed, the question 😉 ) in order to be a good writer, but these are things to keep in mind in order to love what you’re doing and not let anyone convince you otherwise. Writing is for you before it is for anyone else. It doesn’t always “feel good,” but it is rewarding in its own way.

In writing, there is a vulnerability that most don’t realize exists. It’s not safe. It’s not quiet. You are not in control. It is a raging storm, threatening to overthrow your mental stability and challenge everything you’ve been taught and everything you believe to be good and right and true. Writing is an entire ocean trapped within a single, solitary tear. The writer is both slave and master to her words. She can give genesis to them in her mind, but they will do as they please once she does, and she will be as bound to them as they to her.

The road from amateur to writer is fraught with adversity and frustration, and you’re going to want to quit more times than you can count and certainly more times than you’ll care to admit.

But if this is what makes your heart sing and your soul breathe, hold onto it with all your might and then some.

Some days, I need to write more than I want to write. Some days, I have to remind myself that this is the dream that God put in my heart. Some days, I have to remember that writing is how I must worship because it is how I will best worship. When our passion and our talent brings us closer to God than anything else, then this is a gift that He has given us in order to bless and love us that we may, in turn, bless and love Him and work to His glory, and it is a waste to not experience what makes us feel so alive.

I don’t feel like a real writer yet, and maybe I never will. Maybe we never really do. Maybe the journey to becoming one is the whole point.

So, my fellow amateurs, novices, and friends, let’s keep our pens moving and put to page the story that is trying to escape from our hearts through every pore in our body. Let’s write and write and write as though our very breath depends upon each word, each letter that graces the page. Let’s build worlds that will welcome us home with warm tea and a fresh pie when we just need a little me time. Let’s allow the beating of our hearts to be heard through the words and imageries that are coursing and singing through our veins.

Write, writers, and see how we can change the world.

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.

just lucky, i guess

I seriously don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason, I seem to always get into conversations about singleness. In particular, conversations where I have to convince someone I don’t need to be cured from it. It’s the most bizarre thing.

Anywhoo.

At my age, most of my friends are getting married or have gotten married and are starting families. So when there are oddballs like myself around, one of the first things I get asked from people is whether or not I’m seeing anyone.

It’s a seemingly harmless question, but what kills me is when it’s used as a measuring stick. “Oh, good. She’s still single. I’m not so badly off.” “I just need to find someone before she does.” Or, “well, at least I’m dating someone right now.”

(I suppose this entry is a little more tailored to the ladies because well… I don’t know the guys’ perspective on the subject.)

The second most popular question I get asked is “how/why are you still single?” I get it. I’m awesome, and it doesn’t make any sense (just kidding… but seriously). Sometimes people are well-meaning and think a single friend of theirs is great, and can’t fathom why it is that someone that could be a significant other hasn’t figured it out yet.

But listen to that question.

“Why are you still single?”

“Why are you still single?”

It doesn’t ask anything of Mysterious Person X who hasn’t got the brains to be attracted to this person, but it speaks everything of the person you’re talking to.

“What is so strange or incomplete about you that you’re not married yet?”

I’m not saying this is on everyone’s mind when they ask this also seemingly innocent question—chances are it doesn’t even come into thought—but it does linger in the air for the listener and receiver even if we don’t realize it at first. I don’t doubt people have had their confidence shaken up by that question. I know I have. To the point where I had to talk about it to justify myself. But why should I have to?

Why am I still single? I don’t know. Why is it so important for me to not be? I don’t know that either, except that society tells me it’s a big deal.

Now, if any of you have had these conversations, you know what’s coming next.

Consolation.

“I’m sure he’s out there somewhere; you just haven’t met him yet.” “Guys are idiots (I really don’t find it reassuring when we just put guys down either, but I know we’re all guilty of playing the blame game). Someone’s bound to figure out how awesome you are.” And my personal favorite: “God has a purpose for you while you’re still single.” (And yes, He does. It’s called serving God. Which I’m pretty sure is not limited to just me and my single friends.)

And then sagely advice and wisdom.

“The moment you’re completely satisfied in your singleness is when God will bring someone to you.” “When I decided I was done with guys, I met my husband.”

Well, that’s great, and I’m glad that’s how God decided to provide for some of you, but that’s not the formula for all of us. There is no formula. God doesn’t work in formulas. If we’re all unique, and God created us to be so, why would He impose formulas to blanket us with?

Also, there is some really bad theology going on.

For those of us who do desire to be married someday, we will never be completely 100% satisfied in our singleness. And Scripture doesn’t tell us to be. We are called to find our worth and satisfaction in God alone and desire God alone above all else (Deuteronomy 6:5; Romans 12:2; Psalm 139:14; Psalm 62).

Besides, it seems cruel for God to suddenly give me a boyfriend the moment I’m fully satisfied in my single status. What a jerk! (I’m sorry, I guess that should be “Jerk,” capital J.) And should that not work out, then I have to go through it AGAIN? Yikes.

What I’m trying to communicate is that we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by our relationship status. If we did, what would happen if or when that status suddenly changes? We cannot allow the world to define us because the world has no right to do so. The world did not create us; it does not provide us with purpose.

Only God can define us.

We’re not more or less holy because we’re more or less married. We’re holy because God has set us apart for His purposes. We were all created to bring God glory. The purpose of our lives is to serve God and give Him glory, and we can do that no matter what our relationship status is.

The purpose for single people is to serve God. The purpose for married people is to serve God. That doesn’t change. The only thing that does a little is how.

Single people, God does have purpose for us at this point in our lives. He doesn’t need to bring us a significant other before He can finally use us to our fullest potential. But only He knows if “this point” will ever actually end. Will you still believe and trust that God is good even if He decides not to change your relationship status?

One of my absolute greatest fears in this area is settling. “Well, he’s close enough.” I’m deathly afraid of rationalizing all the reasons some guy may not be right for me.

And for me, for all of us, the greatest defense against that is being rooted firmly in the God who created us and everything beyond us (Jeremiah 17:8). He defines my value and worth, and if I believe that I am worth the death of God, then I will behave as though I do. From our heart, from our identity, will flow our actions.

The advice that often follows that last one is to “wait for God’s best.” Okay, yes, but don’t leave it there. Waiting is not a passive verb; it can be as active as we want it to be. Yes, absolutely wait, but don’t wait for God to sit a husband in front of you and part the clouds to tell you he’s the one. We deserve more than to just twiddle our thumbs and wait for our soulmate to suddenly appear. We deserve to live and be alive before we ever meet someone.

Another meaning for “wait” is to serve.IMG_3113

Serve God because that is your purpose. That will always be your purpose. But don’t play games to try to get God to submit. Reverse psychology doesn’t work on Him (trust me).

Don’t do great godly things in hopes of attracting a great godly guy. Do great godly things because you were born to serve and belong to a great God.

We’ll never be able to “trick” God into doing what we want. He does not exist to make all our dreams come true. We exist to make His.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have absolutely made my relationship status my idol at some point in my life.

But I don’t live for men, I don’t live for marriage.

I live because He gave me life. And I won’t waste it waiting around passively for someone to finally see my worth. God has already seen it. I will submit to Him and wait on and for Him because He deserves to be praised and worshiped for the sole reason that He is God.

So single people, rejoice! Married people, rejoice! Rejoice because we have one God, and that God is good and gracious and pours love and grace with a generous wrist (Ephesians 3:19).

home sweet home

Hard to believe I’ve been home for a little over two months now. I keep promising an update, but truth be told, I haven’t really been in the mood to say much. Not a whole lot is going on in my life right now, and I guess I want to write when something takes a turn for the better for me in this chapter. I keep thinking that I want to write when things are finally going properly in my life.

But that’s not why we’re here. That’s not why we write.

We write through the pain and the awkward, through the rough times, through the valley, as well as on the mountain, during times of peace, through healing. Otherwise, it gives a false sense of who we are if all we show is our highlight reel.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” —Ernest Hemingway

Whether I realized it before or not, I’ve always lived (or survived) like life can only happen after the transition; I just have to hold out until I get through the awkward part and into the life part. That’s when I’ll write. That’s when things get good. That’s when I’ll be alive.

I was reminded yesterday that living happens during transitions as well as during times when roots have become established. And it’s in these times of upheaval where we can live the most freely, simply by choosing to live. “Transition” is kind of a fancy word for “fork.” At this fork, you can choose to go God’s way, or you can choose to take it on yourself. (*Hint: God gets His way eventually, and it’ll really spare you some heartache and wasted effort if you pick the former to begin with. I need to take my own advice on this one.)

These forks are the most exposed area, however, and your indecision can open you up to an ambush from the one who wishes you harm. It’s in these times when the enemy advances his ranks and tries to overtake us. It’s in these moments when we are most vulnerable to his attacks. He got me pretty good just a few nights ago.

I’d been surviving, redirecting what little energy I had left in order to keep me going to the next day and the next and the next. I was not prepared to defend myself. I was not equipped to resist and flee. And so I fell on my face. But rather than dwell and dig myself into a pit and allow my life to spiral out of control like I’m prone to do, I was surprisingly able to get up, dust myself off, and choose to live for Jesus.

It’s in these moments of transition where we can see God work most clearly. In these moments, we can choose God. In this moment, I can choose God. In God there is life, and in that life is the light that overcomes darkness (John 1:4-5).

If Israel simply sought to survive in the desert, would that mentality have allowed for them to get through forty years of wandering? It was one big transition time out of captivity and into freedom, where they had to learn to take on a new identity as a free people and shed their slave identity. They were completely physically removed from what they knew to be a way of life so that they can achieve the promise of something more. The entire identity had to be re-written. You have to be alive to allow for such a shift, or you cannot survive it.

I have not been alive. I have been existing, surviving. I’ve allowed my circumstance to define my being. Unemployed, passed over. Failure. This is the identity I’d taken on in the last five weeks. I survive in hopes that I can live again.

But I’m living now. Or rather, I can live now. Life is happening whether I choose to live it or not. My tomorrows are about as guaranteed as anyone else’s. Each breath I take is a breath borrowed from God.

I have a lot of fear in this time of unknown, this fork. However, the sky’s the limit every single day, especially now. I don’t have to protect God from my fear and lack of faith; He knows they’re there. The only thing to do is bring them to Calvary and leave them at His feet.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” —Joshua 1:9

Beyond my strength, beyond my ability, beyond my means, God is greater, bolder, and He is with me always. Because of this, I can have joy even now. There is life and joy in the tension and the transition.

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” —Romans 5:3-5

God pours grace with a generous wrist. I will have what I need to make it through.

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.

hemmed in

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
~ Psalm 139: 1, 5, 7

I have a stalker.

Okay, not really. Not at all, actually.

I broke out along my jawline overnight, and after a round of weeping and mourning that my skin is up to its old tricks again, I thought about what else could’ve caused it. And I think I figured it out.

Stress.

As you beautiful people know, I quit my job a little over two weeks ago now, and I’ve been waiting for a position I really want (I’ve also applied to some other places and signed on with a temp agency). As rough as this time has been, there hasn’t been a part of me that’s regretted leaving the Renaissance. I’ve also been very thankful that so many people have been encouraging at this time. I know more than anyone the weight of that decision, and I’m grateful a lot of people understand that.

I think that in this waiting period, God’s trying to get me to make up a bit for the Sabbaths I’d skipped the past decade (hopefully not ALL of them, or else I’d be out for over a year). I’ve been spending time in the Book of Hosea, and what I clearly see in that book is how faithful God is, how patient He is, how loving He is while we are none of these things. And He pursues us and refuses to let us live apart from Him for our sake.

Today, God and I had a pretty good chat. I was thinking about the stress that caused me to break out and realizing how much it just wasn’t worth it. And while I’ve been honest with God as to how I’m doing and feeling, I’m not so sure I was honest as to the depth of it.

I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m annoyed. I’d voiced these (you learn eventually that you can’t hide your feelings from God, and also that you don’t have to protect Him from them. He can handle it) just about every time we talk. But deep down there’s more.

I’m petrified.

I’ve never not been able to take care of myself before. I have student loans coming due in a little less than a month and another round of rent and bills in the next few weeks.

I am literally in a position where I can do nothing about that.

And this verse came to mind earlier: Psalm 139:5 “You have enclosed (NIV says “hem”) me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.”

I’m sure many find a lot of comfort and security in that verse, and I probably would’ve as well.

If I weren’t feeling trapped and stuck instead.

God has fenced me in. There is nothing I can do by my own power to escape or take down the fence.

At first, I did what anyone would do in this kind of situation: panic. I was crawling up the walls, frantic for something to do! (Can you tell why I need a Sabbath?)

And then I realized who I was stuck in a yard with.

And it really wasn’t so bad. There are worse people to be trapped with (way worse).

If I was going to be enclosed behind and before from God and with God, I’d best make the most of it. So I pulled a chair up and we chatted and hung out.

The time we spent together drove some truths from my head into my heart: that I am not able to do anything for myself but He is. And because of who He is—because He is good and works in us and for us for the sake of His glory—I am in a safe place.

John Piper said this about Ruth, “She has esteemed God’s protection superior to all others. She has set her heart on God for hope and joy. And when a person does that, God’s honor – not the value of our work – is at stake, and he will be merciful. If you plead God’s value as the source of your hope instead of pleading your value as a reason for God’s blessing, then his unwavering commitment to his own glory engages all his heart for your protection and joy” (excerpt from A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper).

God knows what I’ve got coming at me. He understands the urgency. He knows that these are needs, not desires (I’d desire nothing more than to not pay student loans and rent). And He’s laid His hand upon me.

There is not place I can go to escape Him. There’s nothing I can do to hop this fence and go off to try and fix my life, though days will come when I’d want to, as they have before.

But because the Person in here with me will fight for me, I also know that it is a safe place.

working and waiting

I quit my job.

And I don’t have a new one. Yet.

This decision was the most aggravating decision I’d been faced with since choosing to move to Seattle. I felt guilty that I was so pessimistic about my job. I knew that working in the hospitality industry could be a wonderful ministry opportunity. I repeated this to myself everyday.

When it wasn’t enough, I felt more guilty. Obviously my faith wasn’t big enough to see all God could do with my position and my job. I was definitely being selfish and prideful for not wanting to be in the same position I was in before I got the degree.

I tried. I tried so hard to stick with this job. God provided it for me after nearly two months of unemployment and e-mountains of e-mails sent to e-mployers. I felt like I was failing Him by not thriving or enjoying this position.

I also remembered the email exchanged I’d had with Dan from WitnessLA. He’d told me he felt the Holy Spirit’s moving to find me a job. I didn’t want to be ungrateful to God or those who prayed for me.

And then I realized how toxic the environment was there. Along with how much my worries centered on myself.

It’s difficult to describe the suffocation I felt during my time there. I am still having difficulty putting it into words. After some managers berated all the new-hires for mistakes made because we weren’t properly trained, I put in my notice.

And immediately I was relieved.

I did not make this decision lightly. Having grown up on the heels of poverty, this decision went against all my logic. As soon as I was old enough to work, I worked. This was how I could guarantee my survival. I could pay for rent, food, bills, etc. And my student loans are coming due soon. Of course, I need a job.

The one thing that concerned me most was that by quitting, I would be testing God. “I took a risk, so now You have to reward me with a blessing.” But considering how deeply concerned I was with that, I trusted God knew my heart. And I realized what my attitude and response really was.

I took a risk.

So I need You in order to live.

Working had become a stronghold, an idol, for me. I was bound by it. It was the only way I knew how to ensure my survival. I relied on my paycheck more than I relied on my God. It was the one tangible way I knew I’d be provided for: by my own hands. I think we took this stronghold down the day I put in my notice.

It was a terrifying decision, but I am at peace with having made it. Thinking back to that conversation with Dan again, I wondered if I might’ve slapped God’s hand. But instead of rebuking me for quitting, God seemed to rebuke me for other things. “Who says I’m not still at work for you? Who said My promise extended only to the job you just left? Will you trust Me to keep working for you as it pleases Me to do?”

God is still working. Amazing.

The night I put in my notice, I received an email from Mars Hill Church in regards to an application I sent in for the editor position. I could not believe the timing. I eventually had my first interview with them and am being scheduled for a second as I write this entry.

Right now—as always—my survival, my life, depends on my God. There is no firmer foundation than Him. I realized when I’d quit that I didn’t come to Seattle to work in hotels again; I came to Seattle to grow with God and serve Him in a way I couldn’t serve Him previously. I came to use the gift and talent He’s grace upon me in order to touch another soul. And another. And another.

As thankful as I am to be out of hospitality, I am still grateful having worked there. In a very eccentric way, God taught me and grew me to listen to His voice and re-evaluate my trust in Him, while providing for me until I learned the lesson and became ready to step into something new.

Here I am, jobless once again in a state where I am still new. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I know and trust that God does and is actively working to get me there. It is an absolutely terrifying position to be in, as I am in the wake of student loan payments on top of other existing bills.

Yet I am absolutely confident—more so than I have ever been—that God is working for my good and His glory.

The theme since I’d moved here was God telling me to take a step and see what He could do.

Here’s one rather large step.

I’m pretty stoked to see what God will do.

I’m in the middle of one enormous adventure. It’s alarming and scary and very exciting. And I’m not going it alone.

Please be praying for me in this season. I am excited to share what God does with it and to see where He brings me.

“They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the LORD.” —Jeremiah 1:19

Shattered

A creature created from the earth, living with borrowed breaths from the Sculptor. Her heart is weak, and her flesh is ever more so. How does a creation with these qualities come to gain so much pride?

She had asked for brokenness. She had asked for a glimpse of His heart for His people, for the students He’s blessed her with this summer. He hears her prayers, and He answers in His time.

His time came a few hours ago. In fellowship with the body, she felt the weight upon her heart called “conviction.” She wasn’t giving her all, and she’d known it for some time. Going through the motions and giving only half her heart.

But no one can survive with half a heart. In order to have life, it must be whole. No one can love with half a heart. It is all or nothing. Completely devoted or completely not.

Her hardened heart was shattered in the most remarkable way. While gathering to pray, she suddenly experienced it: a glimpse of His heart for His children.

Oh, how beautiful is His love and how perfect. A love that He wants to flood into His creation. A bigger glimpse into the heart of God to see the great love He has for the young lives He’s entrusted her with this summer.

His heart breaks for the lost, and she thinks of the lives and the faces she comes in contact with everyday. A glimpse of His love for them, His desire for them, His jealousy for them, His heart for them was all she could take. To have taken the entirety of His overflowing emotions for them would render her to her knees and flood her with great longing and heartbreak.

Her doubts have been washed away. This return shook her confidence. Is she truly meant to return after finishing her educational responsibilities?

The crash of her shattered pride and broken heart tells her yes. Her Father has shown her this night that He is not a God of confusion. He is the Good Shepherd, and she is one in His flock. This night, she can have confidence through Him that she will return here in His time, that she will go where she belongs, where He calls her to in His time.

A glimpse of His heart. To see and experience the intensity of His love shook her to the core.

All this time, she could’ve done so much more. Yet now, she has only four days left at her school with her students. What will she do?

Give me a tender and malleable heart, that I may love them with all that I am and give them the best for what’s left of the time we have together and after. If I leave without having a relationship with these students, then this entire summer was in vain.

Let my love overflow. Fill me that I may have what I need in order to pour into them and be fed as well.

This is the day her God gave her the gift of the answer she’d been waiting to know.

Tuesday 27 July 2010 – 12:54am Hong Kong

Here Am I

The beauty of Hong Kong is eluding. Here it is, yet still so far away. Beneath my feet and 7,254 miles away from home. Here and now, stepping on its soil (or concrete, if you will) and yet two more years away.

In a city filled with lights and buildings that stretch toward the heavens, the darkness looms among its streets and alleys. Yet the LORD is Adonai even in this place.

His presence in His people is not something to be comprehended or taken advantage of but rather to be revered. His glory dwelled in a box in old times. A very beautiful box, but yet it was still a box. Why did He choose to travel in a box? And one that only takes two people to lift and move?

Why does He choose now to dwell and travel in the hearts of His people? Fragile skin made of the dust of the earth. Within its fleshy confines, rests the glory of the Lord Almighty. Is it not humbling?

The Word of the Lord, the glory of His Name is not meant to sit silent and immovable. It is meant to be carried across distant lands and told to His creation. This is proof of His love for us that He should make us holy that He may dwell in us.

A creature of unclean lips, dwelling among a people of unclean lips. Touch burning coal to my lips and take away my iniquity and forgive my sin. Make me holy and send me, Lord, to these people. This summer and in the future.

Here am I.

Grow even the smallest amount of faith I can muster. Let me gather faith the size of a mustard seed from within my heart. And let my feet run the race, my hands touch the hearts, and my mouth speak Your love.

Here am I.

Sunday 11 July 2010 – 7:52pm Hong Kong