Residue.

Pico-Robertson, LA // August 2020 // taken on film

In the past couple weeks, I have been transitioning into a new job as a spiritual care resident at Providence Health, getting back into the “clinical pastoral education” mode of learning + orienting myself to a new hospital system and doubly rigorous schedule from what I had as an intern at Children’s Hospital LA. Feeling everything from excitement to nervousness to anxiety to extroversion and sensory overload as I talk to and interact with more people more frequently in the past two weeks than I probably have throughout the entire last five months combined.

A couple days ago, we had the chance to read excerpts from this book called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges, and reflect on it in writing. I realized that what was coming up for me was worth writing more about and sharing with the wider world because it’s about those all-too-familiar (yet always alien and unexpected) themes of transition, change, endings, in-betweens and beginnings. Most of us probably are encountering ourselves these days somewhere in the midst of one of these places.

“Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new” (Bridges, 11). It stands out to me this concept/feeling that Bridges raises of the process of transitioning both out of something – going through an ending – in order to go through a beginning, to start something new.

I find myself feeling deeply nostalgic, pensive and well-connected to the images and feelings that this author paints of loss, the ambiguity and ambivalence of the present, the way that endings leave residue and the way we approach endings and change, etc., even in the face of new and exciting change. 

I’m sitting at my desk in my room listening to a moody, indie/folk singer-songwriter playlist on headphones, candle burning in front of me. My mind drifts to recent memories of seeing my family this summer in Maine for a brief time, revisiting the feelings of anticipation surrounding my arrival back in New Jersey and reunion with them after almost half a year, the drive up to Maine together, the beautiful, whimsical, nostalgic, memory-filled and light moments together in the Maine woods, and then the feeling of it all drawing to a close and my departure and farewell and return to LA to confront a time of transition – moving to a new part of the city, a new apartment, starting the Providence residency. That sense of loss – a loss of moments and memories and things that maybe, truly, were not as good as what is to come – is still a sense of true loss and it leaves its residue. 

I can relate deeply and viscerally with that “strange and confusing in-between space” wedged in the middle of an end and a beginning. As recently as two weeks ago, I was sitting in a nearly, an increasingly and incrementally empty Pasadena apartment, as I started a move slightly west beginning on August 15th and finally happening in full by September 1st. Transitioning out of a part-time job in Pasadena that didn’t pay that well but afforded me a lot of free time this summer and was predictable, comfortable, and with manageable expectations – then leaping into a year-long residency that will surely bring with it unpredictability, challenge, immense responsibility and a higher level of commitment and engagement is frightening. Jumping from interacting with very few people because of COVID risks and the way that social organization has been restructured lately – to talking and needing to engage with my peers for 8 hours a day was a shock to my system last week and this week. I find myself tired from the socialization and array, depth and breadth of sensory experiences and input that I’ve experienced in a mere three or so days, simply in the beginnings of this orientation period. I also find myself expectant and anticipatory and excited for what is come – these feelings are held simultaneously and in tandem with each other. 

Which reminds me that while this reading made me very viscerally revisit those memories and feelings of loss, transition and change that have happened just in the past few months; it also reminded me of the value of each individual experience and the way I’ve been trying to take judgment away from my experiences and not feel like, “oh, I’m not experiencing ‘loss’ in the way I should be” or “this shouldn’t hurt as much as it does,” or “this is so much better than what came before, why can’t I just be happy and excited about it? Why do those residual feelings of nostalgia and loss and sadness keep creeping in?” Those are all judgment-type statements, I think, that give power and weight to the way that I perceive something “should” feel or “should” leave an impact or something, when realistically, we are human beings and we will experience things in different ways that we can’t always expect. And small things and moments will have incredible impact or lingering impact, but that’s not a “bad” thing. 

New experiences and seasons, like this residency, will invariably bring with them both beautiful and challenging feelings and anticipatory sentiments. The dichotomous experience of a “good” event leading to difficult feelings is simply part of the human experience, and recognizing those moments within ourselves and our own lives without judgment seems absolutely essential to me in moving forward and being able to open ourselves up to new things while fully honoring what we’ve been through to be where we are today.

Moving – both physically as well as mentally and emotionally into a new space – a new apartment, new job, new CPE unit, new part of the city, new and unfamiliar responsibilities – has certainly been accompanied by unexpected feelings of loss and nostalgia and rupture and endings and all that comes with them. A big piece of growth and adulthood for me has been finding value in the varied experiences that I’ve had without adding judgment or expectation, as best I can avoid it. Recognizing that each phase of life and moment carries with it sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, but that its impact may not always be predictable or logical or rational. And it’s okay to have lingering or residual feelings as things shift and change. 

While I think it is true that we “have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new,” I also think that we can sometimes hold both in tandem for a little while. The residual feeling of living in the apartment in Pasadena with the bright yellow tiles and streetlight glare and little squirrels and eastside people that used to be able to come over and coffeeshops to walk to – and then this new place I’m living with this new job that’s coming with so much responsibility and challenge and unpredictability, yet also an immense level of inevitable growth and learning and impact – these things I am still holding altogether as experiences that are sliding by each other; one is beginning when one hasn’t yet quite fully “faded from view.” 

Sometimes, we can see that one thing is much better than another, we find ourselves “moving forward” into something new and different and more prestigious or lucrative or impactful or whatever. Moving into a new relationship or milestone that’s just “better.” But, I believe that a dichotomy of human experience is that we don’t always feel the way that we would expect, or things impact us in ways we’d never anticipate. Like who would’ve thought that moving out of an old, creaky apartment without air conditioning or a dishwasher, where I was working a part-time job that wasn’t at all connected to a “long-term plan” or “what I really wanted to do with my life” could still leave me nostalgic and sad as I find myself now starting a new chapter, a new beginning? 

The reality of our experiences are that we can’t always anticipate what they’re going to feel like, and I don’t think we need to feel judgment or guilt or failure of expectation or something when they’re just not exactly what we thought they’d be like, or something “hits” us in a way we wouldn’t have expected or wasn’t quite rational. And so, I think I’m coming into this new experience holding it still in tandem with the many other things I’ve been through in these past few months, open and ready to what it will bring and the new beginning that it truly is – while still recognizing that I can feel nostalgia and fondness and loss and good and bad memory for all those other things – none is any less or more significant necessarily and a loss is a loss, even if it may be in the name of “moving towards something better.”

Finding, moving, creating “home.”

Whilst in Maine last week with my family, my sister Beth and I were paddleboarding at dusk one day around the little cove of Pocasset Lake where our cabins are, when we noticed a very loud and large splash — abnormally large for a turtle or fish — but definitely too small for a human. Hmm. Soon after, we spotted two little brown noses jutting out of the water, gliding in smooth circles interspersed with splashes, coming from the same area. One of the curious little beavers came within 10 feet of Beth’s paddleboard, circling and eyeing us intently, bold and unalarmed. It was the cutest thing I’d seen in a long time; but despite going back to the same area at the same time the next night, we only saw the little beavers once.

Maine is probably the place on earth with the most sentimentality for my family and me. What used to be every summer — and with age and distance has become sporadic summers — the week that my family spent each year at our lakehouse in Wayne, Maine, has become timeless and infinite. These were weeks of endless, strewn-together days and nights of swimming, ice cream, cousins, waterskiing, lounging and tanning. People changed and grew up, lives were otherwise busy and eventful, milestones like weddings, kids, deaths and big moves came and went, but Wayne, Maine and Pocasset Lake has always been.

The osprey, the Great Blue Herons, the beavers, the kayaks and canoes and dress-ups, the General Store pizza or Five Islands lobster, the gentle hum of the motorboat on a sunny, lazy afternoon — these memories and the people I always spent them with — are bottled up and will be stored forever in the creaking, mouse-nibbled floorboards of Robmir and fraying, taped-together ropes securing the boats to the dock. The beauty and power of memory — and especially the power of a certain place to hold, for years upon years — memories that bring an entire family, an intergenerational, transnational family together — is nothing short of magical.

This is turning out to be basically just a post for me to reminisce on my family memories and how lucky I was to take a summer trip to Maine this year, particularly. However, I find myself moving in the next couple weeks to a new apartment in LA — what may be my 6th move in 4 years — and I can’t help but contrast that transience with the longevity and meaning of a family “home.”

What creates a sense of home or what makes a place a home?

I think people and memory have a lot to do with it. When a location, a building, a structure holds sentimentality and memories, it is much more than simply a place. And normally, those memories are associated with people and moments. Do you have places, spaces or ordinary structures in your life that mean much more to you because of the people and memories that you associate them with? What does “home” look like for you?

This post-college, yuppie, Trader Joe’s frozen food and IKEA plant version of myself is still struggling to find “home” in Los Angeles, and yet, in so many beautiful ways, this city has certainly become my home. Despite the transient lifestyle I’ve acquired and the changing scenery and friend groups every year or so, pieces of my ethno-cultural identity do feel much more secure and able to grow, question and develop themselves here than in other parts of the US or world that I’ve lived.

But is that “home”?

It is certainly something — and looking both behind and ahead as I consider this next move, I hope that my life continues to align itself toward and around creating — albeit an ever-elusive — sentiment that this (wherever I am in any given time or place) is “home.”

Maybe “home” in this season of life can be created through rhythms and patterns of slowing down, or being intentional, or cultivating meaningful moments and relationships. Because when I think about what makes the Frederich family lakehouse on Pocasset, in a random town in rural Maine, so special, it’s those exact things. The meaning comes with longevity and time, but it comes primarily because of the people, patterns and memories associated with that time. And if we don’t always have the luxury of owning a property or inhabiting a space for any extended period of time, especially as a young person in Los Angeles, then can we still create “home” and meaning and memory through rhythms and people — even if they are geographically changing or moving within or across a city?

I think so; I want to at least hope so.

I’m not just a “model minority.”

The perception of universal success among Asian-Americans is being wielded to downplay racism’s role in the persistent struggles of other minority groups, especially black Americans. Taken from NPR.

I’ve spent some time lately examining further the “model minority myth” and especially how it wedges itself between Asian Americans and Black Americans, propagating the idea that Asian American “success” somehow illustrates that racism can be overcome by hard work, discipline and cultural values, or that the “success” of Asian Americans means that antiblackness, whiteness and racism isn’t an issue. Specifically here, too, I want to talk about the complexity of the “model minority myth” for a Chinese adoptee’s experience.

There are so many problems with adopting this myth as reality, a couple primary ones being that 1) the Black experience of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, mass incarceration and structural racism is very different than a certain Asian American experience — which also includes racism and discrimination — in forms such as internment camps or restriction of citizenship — but that you cannot compare/contrast the experiences to in any way defend or explain a history of racism in the US and 2) “Asian American” means SO many different things and is a broad term for dozens of ethnic, racial and cultural groups in America, many of whom have experienced tremendously unequal access to opportunity, privilege and wealth. Japanese Americans and Sri Lankan Americans probably have as much, if not more, of a different experience in the United States than Americans of different racial groups. Or, perhaps two different Japanese American families living in different areas of LA have even more of a varied experience compared to each other than a specific Sri Lankan American and Japanese American family. Who knows. The biracial or mixed race experience means something completely different for someone who is half-Black, half-Chinese than it does for someone who is half-Chinese, half-white, for example. One may be seen as “black,” one may be seen as “white” — yet both are Asian American. There are LAYERS to the Asian American experience.

So many people have written on the “model minority myth” already, so I’d encourage you to do some research or look for books on the topic if you’re interested. I want to focus more specifically here, however, on the complexity of the Asian adoptee experience — and even there, I can’t broadly generalize, I have to be specific. The Vietnamese adoptee experience is different than my experience, as a Chinese adoptee. Our histories and stories are different, individually and as part of an ethnic group with a certain history.

I was talking to my mom this weekend because I’ve been working on a memoir about my adoptive journey to date and I need to include some pieces on my parents and their journey to adopt me. It would be nice to say that international adoption is the pinnacle of the “model minority myth” — we were “saved” or “rescued” by white, Caucasian families from fates that we couldn’t imagine, given resources and opportunities that we didn’t deserve and couldn’t have received in our native countries, given the chance to grow up in wealthy neighborhoods with more access to educational, travel, extracurricular, etc. experiences than we ever could’ve imagined elsewhere.

In many ways, this is TRUE of my story, and I am beyond grateful for it.

I fully accept that I was given a new chance at a bright, well-resourced, well-educated, privileged future because of my adoption. However, there are layers to this as well, and I’m trying to wrap my head around it all the time.

For example, the truth also is that I was born in a country that completely rejected me and tried to get rid of and abandon me — this is also true of the Chinese adoptee story. China had an infamous One-Child Policy for decades, where likely my birthparents felt economic, social and political pressure to have a baby boy instead of a girl because they were only allowed to have one child and the son would be able to carry on the family name and take care of them financially when they were older. As a result, China has faced, still faces and will continue to face a highly sex-skewed population and uneven population demographics, with many more elderly than are able to be provided for well by their families or communities. THIS is a part of my history and it’s sad to me.

I’ve also felt disconnected from my cultural heritage and the nation of my birth. I don’t have family who share that heritage; I don’t have a grandma to tell me stories from the Cultural Revolution or aunties to make dumplings and noodles with. I have always felt drawn to people who look like me, but I always feel a bit disconnected because our family histories are different even though we look the same.

That sort of disconnect is unique to my Asian American adoptee experience; definitely uncharacteristic of a “model minority myth” that draws upon Asian ideals like filial piety or tight-knit family structure as one cause of “success” — I do have a tight-knit family but it has absolutely nothing to do with Asian cultural values.

I don’t have a clear way to move forward from the “model minority myth” entrapment, for either Asian Americans in general or Asian American adoptees; those books may be more helpful in doing so. I do have encouragement though, as I’ve continued to think through my own story.

I am trying to understand more of the Asian American experience in the US, because another truth is that it is not any less my story than another Chinese American girl’s who grew up in the US to Chinese parents. Whether or not I have a grandma to tell me stories of her childhood in China or the US, I come from a certain group of people with a certain history, both in China and in the US. I can learn both about a Chinese American history and a European American history — because technically I have pieces in both — no one is to say my dad’s family’s German background isn’t also “mine.” My first steps are to recognize and dismantle aspects of a myth that labels and boxes me into “belonging” in a certain way. Asian Americans have many times throughout US history stood on the side of racial justice instead of accepting that for whatever reason, some of them could reap benefits of white privilege. The dark side to that is that I also need to recognize that my Caucasian family has reaped enormous benefits of whiteness and I’m right in the middle of that as well.

There are layers upon layers of things to consider here, but that’s part of the point. Asian Americans can and never should allow ourselves to be “boxed into” a certain way of either conceptualizing ourselves or allowing others to conceptualize us. We have always, individually and collectively, been much more complex than that. The “model minority myth” is way too simplistic, if it intends to categorize and lump us into a subgroup of success, discipline, quietness and wealth — all seemingly great things, that we worked really hard to achieve. Why would we ever let those things pit us against racial justice and against the ongoing fight for racial equality and against systemic injustice?

I was granted privileges that I never deserved, to grow up in a nation and a family where I can say what I want, worship who I want, believe whatever I want, talk about it, choose whatever career I want, etc. With those resources and opportunities, I think, and the gift of growing up in the US, comes further responsibility as well. As Asian Americans, we are Americans, so we too inherit a responsibility, not only to ourselves but to the well-being of others. MLK Jr. once said that “one cannot be free until we all are free,” and that comes with being an American too.

Why, as an Asian American, I need to dismantle my “whiteness.”

There has been so much going on in the world, our nation and likely our own hearts and minds lately, to say the least. I understand that the overwhelming feeling that many of us are experiencing is nothing compared to the institutional violence and structural racism that our nation’s systems have imposed on Black lives – and I am glad that these issues are coming once again to the forefront of our attention – the weariness and “overwhelmed-ness” is essential in understanding the true weight, breadth and depth of the issue.

That being said, it’s necessary to continue to take care of ourselves and step away when needed from media. Spend time outside, have conversations, cook something from scratch, get some exercise – a rejuvenated and rested mind and spirit is also important in being able to best think through and address these issues.

Let me clarify “whiteness” too, because sometimes it’s hard to understand that we can be POC and still be very complicit in whiteness. Willie James Jennings, a Black theologian and scholar out of Yale who I really admire defines whiteness here as, “Whiteness is not a given, it is a choice. Whiteness is not the equal and opposite of blackness. It is a way of imagining oneself as the organizing reality of the world. It is an interpretative principle that narrates, sustains, and makes sense of the world. The fear that dogs whiteness circles around loss – a looming loss of possession, loss of control, and loss of the power to narrate the future of others. The focus of that fear has most often been nonwhite bodies.” Any one of us who has benefitted from a higher educational, economic, political, or social status from our placement within a society that discriminates against Black lives has been embedded in a structure of whiteness (which is probably everyone reading this).

I have constantly been thinking, over the past week or so, about my social location within the structural racism that persists in our nation. As an Asian American as well as an adoptee, I fully accept and admit that I have benefitted immensely from white privilege and “whiteness,” in the sense that my entire adoptive family (excluding my sister, who was also adopted from China) is Caucasian, highly educated, upper-middle class and with lots of access to resources, travel opportunities, good healthcare, etc. I went to really good public schools growing up and never had to worry about not getting enough food, not having insurance, not having my parents around because they both had to work full-time, violence in my neighborhood, or being killed or targeted because of my skin color. In addition, my status as an Asian American (unbeknownst to me as a child growing up) contributed to a sense of privilege and security – I was likely placed with many other Asian Americans in a “model minority” lens – seen by my peers or passersby as intelligent, docile, quiet and respectful, among other things. The intersectionality of my Caucasian family and my Asian features in the United States places me right in the middle of white privilege and the benefits of whiteness, whether I have liked to admit that or not as I’ve grown up.

This all being said, certainly I’ve experienced discrimination and both overt and covert microaggression for being Asian American. And it hurts. It hurt when a young girl once pulled at her eyes and made unintelligible noises when she saw me sitting behind her at a church in rural Maine. Or when people ask, “where are you REALLY from,” because “New Jersey” just doesn’t make sense to them. During my travels in Asia, as I’ve written about in previous posts, I experienced all sorts of different kinds of miscommunication and disconnect because of my features – I could not be accepted fully as Chinese OR American. In Thailand, I felt myself caught between a historical Thai-Chinese power struggle that I didn’t even realize was a thing, while also not being accepted as American. It made me question myself; “well maybe I’m not fully Chinese or American; what am I? If others don’t think I fit in anywhere, how am I to understand myself?”

However, these are slight microaggressions in the larger scheme of our nation’s and our entire globe’s deep, dark, savage history of anti-black racism and white supremacy. During this time, I have been thinking back on a cultural anthropology course, Caribbean Cultures, that I took in college. One of my favorite courses. We were challenged through reading Afro-Caribbean, Latin-Caribbean and Caribbean voices, to consider the wide-reaching effects of the slave trade, exploitation of black bodies and native bodies, rise of capitalism and supply and demand for cheap labor, in light of rising Western power and influence. We learned from authors like Jamaica Kincaid and Edwidge Danticat about the dark side of tourism and trade on Caribbean lifestyle and culture and the ways in which the “white man” has taken advantage – and continues to take advantage – in our capitalist world – of black bodies. My eyes were forever opened and I was really disillusioned by the violence and embedded racism and white supremacy inherent in our capitalist economic systems, systems that we accept as “normal” and necessary to a world order that’s familiar to us. After that class, I wondered if I could ever buy bananas or sugarcane innocently again, after learning how those multinational corporations take advantage of cheap labor and have been destructive to Caribbean life and economy for generations.

But I continued about my life.

As the #blacklivesmatter movement and protests have ignited across the nation in response to recent events of police brutality, I am reminded of this global hierarchy of power and race – as well as a dark national history of white supremacy and institutionalized racism, that rears its ugly head in present times in forms like mass incarceration, segregation of cities and communities, structural denial or restriction of economic or political opportunities based on race, desensitization to Black pain, defensiveness or lack of willingness to engage, the list goes ON and ON.

After having confronted, and continuing to confront my own complicit whiteness and reflecting on what I’ve both learned and am learning about the magnitude and historical size of whiteness, I have to try and divest myself from this. It’s difficult, and maybe not fully possible. I recognize that every opportunity I’ve been granted, and will be granted in America will be tainted by structures of whiteness, and I have to learn how to resist that as much as I can – resist and recognize it. This post is going to end without answers, because I still am trying to educate myself about the size of the issue; the answers have always seemed elusive. However, I would encourage you: before you start searching for answers, understand the problem and your place within it.

If you are Caucasian, learn about your family history and your nation’s history through Black eyes and Black experience, because that is as much a part of your history as what you did learn about; it has just often been silenced or disregarded. Now is past time that you come to understand it. If you’re Latino/a, I’d encourage you to learn more about the intersectionality of your heritage and the Black experience in Latin America and the US. There are probably many more things you share than you may realize – and if you discover these things, please enlighten me because I’d love to hear more from Latino/a voices, scholars and thinkers on whiteness and Black history. If you’re of mixed race, think about the ways in which you’ve benefitted from whiteness and what you can do to learn more about the history of the issue – how can you recognize your place in the problem and divest from it in certain ways?

Asian Americans – I realize that is a broad umbrella term for lots of people of different ethnic backgrounds and histories, or that you can be of mixed race and Asian American – but some questions for you to consider – what has the “model minority” stereotype afforded you? Or has it not? What are intersectionalities between your Asian American history in the US and Black history? How can you reach outside of your comfortable circles, learn and engage more on these topics?

This is a lot, but still not enough.

I covered some things on my mind, but I’m sure more on this issue will come. My family (parents and sister) and I are starting a little bookclub this summer, and the first one we’re reading is, So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo; it might be challenging, but I’m looking forward to learning more and talking with my family about it. I also watched the documentary, 13th, by Ava DuVernay, and it was incredibly eye-opening. I’d highly encourage it to everyone. I was going to say, “to people interested in learning more about mass incarceration and the history of racism in the US – from slavery to reconstruction to Jim Crow to an era of mass incarceration and police brutality” – but I say “everyone” because if you are living in the United States, this is your history – your past, present and future as much as is the “white-centric” history that we learned about growing up. I’m feeling pretty frustrated that I only learned about one side of US history in school. I took up to AP US History in high school and I don’t believe ever learned about the dark side, the real effects, of policy like the War on Drugs. I took global history courses in college that simply did not address to an appropriate and realistic degree the realities of the global slave trade and exploitation of Black peoples.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now because this is a very long post.

But please, I urge you to learn and educate yourself, as well as continue to support Black businesses in your communities, movements and organizations citywide and nationwide that are doing great work for racial justice.

As always, reach out if you have suggestions or want to talk with me more! I’d love to talk and learn more about these things from your perspective.

Peace and love, Joy

Black Lives Matter.

As a Christian, Asian-American, and Chinese adoptee, I’ve often found myself “in-between” cultures and places.

This is a moment in the history of our nation and in my own life where I need to make it clear that I don’t stand “in-between;” I stand against white supremacy and systemic, state-sanctioned injustice and violence against Black people. I stand against the officers that killed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others; I stand against Trump and a prideful, selfish, arrogant, propagandized “Christianity” that seeks to assert its own image and righteous personal status over mourning, grieving voices crying out for justice.

I stand against being labeled as a “model minority” who is just docile, easy-going, smart, respectful and complacent.

I challenge myself and my Asian-American, White, and white-passing Christian friends to listen, lament and take action. But first, please listen and lament.

As Christians, we need to acknowledge, question and challenge the fact that our own Christian identity is intertwined in centuries of colonialism, slavery, anti-blackness and the wielding of power over native bodies. Willie James Jennings, in his book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, that opened my eyes to the deep, dark history of Christianity – extending back to European explorers and conquistadors such as Cortes who came to the Americas and enslaved native peoples in the name of the cross – says that in order to achieve reconciliation, “we must first articulate the profound deformities of Christian intimacy and identity in modernity. Until we do, all theological discussions of reconciliation will be exactly what they tend to be: ideological tools for facilitating negotiations of power; or socially exhausted idealist claims masquerading as serious theological accounts.” He goes on to say, “it is not at all clear that most Christians are ready to imagine reconciliation.”

We need to lament, repent and ask for forgiveness. This will require reading books, acknowledging that we are wrong, both in our own biases and our position within a system, an institution that has been wrong. It will require listening, paying attention, unlearning and learning again how to be well-informed, humble and resistant to institutions of power and oppression. I’m still working on how to understand my Christian faith in light of its dark roots. How to untangle and understand the true way of the cross and the way of Jesus in light of ways it has been misinterpreted and wielded as a weapon of oppression and violence instead of a lifestyle of love and grace. The truth, as my Pastor, Scott, reminded me of in his sermon this past Sunday, is that Jesus and the Gospel resisted Rome and institutions of power and oppression. Jesus stood with those who were sick, poor, outcast and hurting over and over again – lepers, paralytics, demon-possessed people, a woman who was to be killed for what she had done wrong (Luke 5:12-16, 5:17-26, 7:36-50). Jesus once went into the temple and overturned tables of those buying and selling, those who had turned his “house” into a “den of robbers,” those who were disrespecting a sacred space and taking advantage of others, using it for selfish and profitable means (Mt. 21:12-13). So as Christians, we need to actively resist and reject an institutionalized, propagandized narrative of power or self-righteousness and examine who Jesus is and where he would be in the midst of our modern struggles, because he was never on the side of institutional power or oppression. He was always with those who were outcast, mistreated and hurting. He himself was put to death by Rome. He is with those who have knees on their necks, those who got hit with rubber bullets and tear gas, those who are having tough conversations with friends and family or those lamenting and asking for forgiveness and understanding.

As an Asian American and an adoptee, and for my fellow Asian American and adopted friends, it’s past time for us to have conversations about race with our families. For many of us, most of our family members are Caucasian and may not be active in racial justice conversations or movements. Some may even be openly or more covertly racist. We are all embedded in a society of institutionalized racism, and it’s time that we positioned ourselves in a way that calls attention to that. There are lots of lists out there of things to do; I encourage you to find them and start reading, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, writing out your thoughts and talking about them with friends and family. The New Jim Crow, So You Want to Talk about Race, White Fragility, The Fire Next Time, Invisible Man, Race Matters, countless other books – are a good place to start. And if anyone has suggestions of books that discuss race from an adoptee perspective, please let me know! We have an intersectionality to our story that others don’t have, where our families likely don’t share the same racial experience as us. Yes, we may be the “model minority,” stereotyped as cooperative, intelligent, driven and quiet, among other things – but we also have likely experienced racist or unjust assumptions in this current time of COVID-19 surrounding the inception of the virus in Wuhan. I’ve heard things specifically told to me in a joking way because I am Asian, “oh, you know it’s being called the Kung flu” or people eyeing me skeptically and avoiding me in grocery stores (more so in the beginning of the pandemic) because of my Asian features. It hasn’t been extreme, but still, it’s noticeable. Now is more a time than ever to start having conversations about race – examining our own racial and ethnic identities as Asian Americans adopted into white families, who share a culture that is different than our racial identity. What does this mean? Where does this position us in regard to a larger racial conversation?

Again, I’d implore you to take a stance. We can’t stay “in-between” forever, or give in to our “model minority” stereotype. We understand, on a level, what it looks like to feel out of place or in-between places. We can use our platforms to seek understanding, engage in conversation, listen to both sides – our Black friends, and Black voices in our communities – and then take that back to our White circles – our family members or friends. I think that our “in-betweenness” can be used to our advantage in that sense. Sign the petitions, make the calls, go vote when it is time, donate money to reputable organizations like Black Lives Matter, this great list by Reclaim the Block, Bail Project, Black Visions Collective, George Floyd Memorial Fund, Equal Justice Initiative, or countless others.

Thank you for reading all this, and please reach out if you have suggestions of resources for Asian Americans, specifically adoptees, in navigating racial topics. Or, if you have suggestions of informed theologians writing on race, lament or reconciliation – I am especially interested in Asian-American or Black theologians (at this time).  

Blessings to you all,

Joy

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK Jr., Strength to Love

Learning to lament & a train that wouldn’t stop.

I had a dream last night that I was riding on a train through LA that wouldn’t stop.

Night was imminent, an eerie sensation of helplessness in the midst of this train’s planned, intentional and determined route sunk deep into my gut and bones.

It wasn’t a panicked helplessness like that time the bus I was riding in Bangkok broke down at a random spot in the city (this situation ended up completely okay, not to worry).

No, it was like a deep-seated grief, coupled with nostalgia, memory, sadness and loss that began to emerge. The places this train was taking me were intentional and meaningful spots where significant moments in the past four years had taken place. It carried me by restaurants and parks where I’d passed old time with friends, by my church in Santa Monica, by a spot in Manhattan Beach where I’d taken my dad once, when he visited, to take photos, the old company I used to work for, the hospital that I’m working at now but not going to be working at for much longer, a churro spot where I had a date before quarantine started.

I woke up not because the train stopped, but because I realized that everything was empty and it jolted me; every place and memory wasn’t filled by the people that were once a part of it; there was only an empty shell of a building or distant voices but no one to associate them with as the train passed by each spot.

I don’t know what to make of this haunting dream, except that maybe it’s a representation of how quarantine, how this current state of the world feels, a subconscious, haunting, visual representation of emptiness and loss.

This time feels all about dichotomies and tensions to me — the tension between exhaustion & rest, silence & noise, essentiality and non-essentiality, virtual chatter & solitude, different degrees and types of grief (like the grief of the enormity of a global pandemic that’s claiming hundreds of thousands of lives or grief over a relationship that never happened or grief over not being able to see my family or friends), the past, present, future and the way they’ve melded together to become one and the same. The way I’m answering questions I’m faced with as a chaplain visiting families with sick children & the way I’m answering questions that I ask myself — the question that emerges from all of that: when is it okay to not have answers?

That train ride reminded me that I have lost things over the years.

And in the past month.

Things that may not be as “big” as others’ losses, but things that I need to make space to grieve the loss of, all the same.

Maybe an appropriate response to some of this tension, these dichotomies, is to make space for lament and grief. What does it look like for us to mourn the losses that we’ve faced in this time, without comparing them to other types or magnitudes of losses, without necessarily seeing them in tension with anything else, but instead simply a true representation of our past and present experience?

Sometimes the tension is good.

Sometimes though, it’s necessary to hold each thing individually, give each of those things space instead of inherently understanding them as “in tension,” in comparison with other things (I’m saying this more to myself than you). Our human brains look for significance, to make sense of things. It often doesn’t make sense why we care about certain things more than others; why some things move us much more or make us much more sad than other things. How do we measure personal significance or truly mourn our losses if we’re trying to understand their inherent “worth” in comparison to other things?

The losses through which your train ride would take you, over this past month and a half especially, matter a lot.

How do we make space for the grief and the loss of both “big” and “small” things?

How do we understand that all of those things are important and they matter?

What would your train ride look like? How would it make you feel? How would you remember, honor and lean into each of those places of memory?

Planetarium dreams

The other night I stood beneath the awakening moonlight
The sky folded in pale pink blankets where eyes could see
Soft shapes and shadows strewn across the night
Impending dark hugged me close, but let me be.

Like the planetarium visits of childhood
The sky’s dome hemmed me in
If I could go back to those memories, I would
But jumbled they become amidst the din

Of prosaic distractions and quotidian routines
That I was told would be good for me because I’m getting older
But age never was supposed to be a damper for dreams
It wasn’t supposed to only make my fear bolder.

So I find myself lost in nostalgia often
Gazing at pastel skies of dusk and dawn
Longing for simplicity yet meaning in tandem
Not knowing how possibly the time is all gone.

It all seems so close, yet so far away
Mental quiet, planetariums, unknowing of chagrin
Dress-up, dreams and all I always had to say
Bell-bottoms, flashcards, that smug little grin.

Who would have thought that South Pasadena dusk had this pull?
That skies could transport me to an alternate place
A home of meaning, memory, loneliness, lull
Nostalgia, quietude, an infinitely large space.

The sky felt close though, somehow it felt smaller
In that moment it caved around me, gave me a buffer
Between the joy and the shame that has come with growing taller
Between the memory and the regret of dreams that suffered.

Why do we so desire what we cannot have again?
It seems a characteristic of our nature, love, our dreams
Why we so pine for experiences or people that have been
When so much hovers above and before us, it seems.

The mourning dove.

Found myself at 3 am driving somewhere new
Cigarette smoke and clinking glasses, not a hospital room
Or quiet airport, a breeze through security
Checked in and at my gate before the fatigue hits me  

A different thing it is to look out a 6th story window
To see cars passing by, stoplights and billboards
Kids leaving school with dad, teens riding scooters
And know the child in front of you is breathing through tubes  

Standing on the corner of Sunset and Santa Monica
I hear your sound
Feel your voice
A tiny bird calls me
To remember my childhood  

Of summers riding my bike around the block
Stinky pear blossoms, flashcards, staring at the clock
Waiting for dad to come home and we could go to the pool
Reading and talking and the playground at school  

Had to google you because I didn’t know your name
Knew that sound but not from where you came
Harkened back to a time much simpler than this
Memories and feelings of love, joy, lightness and bliss  

Standing on the corner of Sunset and Santa Monica
I hear your sound
Feel your voice
A tiny bird calls me
To remember my childhood  

And there you were, little tiny bird with a whoo
A sound of innocence, of sadness, of youth
The cars in front of me rush by and I wonder
How such deep things a bird could make me ponder  

A season of mourning perhaps I’m now in
Standing with strangers and waiting for trains
Questions and loneliness and no one to ask
What meaning there is in the memories I grasp  

A divinity for daily life.

I experience the divine in the seemingly smallest things — the way the light pours through the cracks in my drawn blinds in the morning, the smell of a fragrant burning candle, the melody of an acoustic guitar, driving home on the 134 at dusk — seeing that view that overlooks the whole city, sipping a latte with a friend at a local coffeeshop.

I wanted to expand upon my last post, “I don’t think I’m a non-denom, evangelical Christian anymore,” because there are a few more places I can go with that one; I may end up doing a small series on it. Here, I want to talk a little more about my experiences with God and what I’m learning from friends and peers of other faith traditions or denominations about their ways of communing with and experiencing God. It has been teaching me a lot.

One of the beautiful things about being a part of the spiritual care team at Children’s Hospital LA is that I get to learn from the other chaplains about their traditions, how that informs their spiritual practices and ways of offering care, etc. It seems like in a lot of other faith conversations, there is an unspoken (or spoken) idea of exclusivity — this is where/how I practice my faith and in this context, that is the correct way — I don’t need to learn from other traditions or have them inform my practice in any way. In healthcare chaplaincy, it seems the opposite; sometimes the best way you can care for patients’ spiritual needs is to learn as much as you can about the worldviews and specific practices of various faith backgrounds.

For example, there are certain prayers for healing from the Qur’an that a Muslim patient would appreciate; he or she may not be comfortable with any other type of prayer. A Jewish patient will need his/her food kept kosher in a special fridge during the hospital stay — it’s necessary to be aware of and able to accommodate those requests.

In addition, as a Christian, learning about these traditions has been informing my own, in ways I wouldn’t have expected. In my Christian journey, growing up in a non-denominational church, I felt separated from certain practices of my faith — of tradition, liturgy, understanding the sacraments, corporate prayer, etc. because the components of my understanding of God were the Bible, my church, my small group, youth group, communion, service projects and mission trips and that was pretty much it.

When I read my devotionals on my own or Scripture on my own and didn’t “feel” the Spirit in that instance or didn’t understand the impact the words were having on my everyday life, I stopped reading and/or continued to read but felt disconnected. That often left me wondering if I was really “missing the point” or “missing God” in those cases, or was it just that the method wasn’t the best way for me to connect Scripture to a practical experience.

As I piece together a theology and understanding of my Christianity at this point in my life, it’s very helpful to learn about Jewish practices like Shabbat (Sabbath-keeping) or keeping kosher; these are practices that have kept the Jewish people constantly aware of — and connected to — a practical living-out of the faith. Or Catholics using rosary beads to say daily prayers. I understand it can swing to the other side and become “too ritualistic,” separated from the spiritual impetus, but for me, it is helpful to learn about.

My Jewish peer at work speaks so naturally and organically about her theology and spirituality — it has become a lifestyle, a way of seeing everything and understanding the world. As much as I’ve always aspired to that, and hoped that I reflect my faith in that way, I still feel that my Christianity can be easily compartmentalized — especially when it does not feel grounded and connected to practices of my daily life or spheres of my identity — what I’m eating, how I’m spending my time, what I’m paying attention to, what I’m thinking about, etc.

As I figure out what practicing my faith is going to look like right now, I want to remember to be conscious of the divine in my everyday life — whether that’s through a ritual or a liturgy I say with my church or alone, journaling or writing my prayers down — or whether it comes through reading Annie Dillard’s poetry or listening to Sufjan Stevens on a drive home, I believe each and every one can be a spiritual experience, a communing with God. A divinity for daily life.

What does my relationship with God look like when I’m questioning my Chinese-American-ness or adopted-ness — how, practically, can I feel connected to my faith in those moments? Or in moments of vocational questions — like how do I merge what is fulfilling with what is sustainable? The moments where I’m so sleepy and don’t want to pray, how can I still experience God?

I’m looking for rhythms and practices of life from the Christian tradition or borrowed from others that could help a feeling of practical-connectedness to God and to myself.

How do you experience God in your daily life within your tradition or spiritual practices? Would love for you to share with me! Thank you for reading. xoxo

I don’t think I’m a “non-denom, evangelical Christian” anymore.

I am increasingly noticing that certain moments and experiences of life force us much more than others to stop, confront and question who we are, our identity, belief and value systems — sometimes it’s in a halting and rattling way that we don’t expect, sometimes it’s in a more subtle and prolonged way that allows us time to react and process.

I want to spend my time around people who expose themselves to these kinds of moments too — because we can choose to avoid them — but we can also seek them out and learn tremendously from them.

About two weeks ago, I started a clinical pastoral education internship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where I’m part of the Spiritual Care team and training to be a chaplain.

I haven’t even started visiting patients yet; I’m still in the orientation phase, but already have been confronted with so many questions: how do I want to identify myself as a Christian, especially to people who don’t know me and may be wary of spiritual care? Rituals like baptizing infants in emergency situations is common; maybe my dad wouldn’t be okay with that — but I am — which means perhaps my theology has diverged from the theology of the evangelical, non-denominational church I grew up going to — I’ve known that for a long time, but not really ever been confronted with exactly how.

In the vein of becoming independent; over the years, I’ve had various experiences discovering and asserting my adoptee identity, my Chinese-American identity, my identity as a young but competent and intelligent woman — but my Christian faith has always been defined by what I grew up with, what books my former pastor would recommend in his sermons, the mission trips I used to go on, my InterVarsity influences in college, etc. Questions of my ethnic and cultural identity began to intertwine themselves with questions of theology when I moved to LA and started studying at Fuller. The gaps in my understanding of my Chinese-ness and adopted-ness unfolded in critiques of evangelical Christianity or church history — realizing in my modern-day understanding, I didn’t have a sense of anyone’s story except a white, male, upper-middle class, well-educated American one — because that’s the lens through which I’d been taught growing up.

I had noticed dissonance in the faith I knew as a child and the things (I think) I believe now, but wasn’t always in a position to wrestle with them. The recent silence over and within my spiritual journey comes in large part, from this, I believe. It comes from realizing all along — but again, not having jolting-enough experiences that were forcing me to confront anything in detail — that my theology has changed.

It’s a silence that comes out of lack of understanding of my place within the Christian story — location, placement, identity — all matter when having spiritual understanding, I think, because the Bible is a living word that manifests itself in our everyday lives. The people we hear the words from, and the way that they say them, affect the way we understand them. If we’re not hearing it from people who interpret & reflect the story in the way we ourselves are positioned within the story — then maybe it’s not always relatable and we can find ourselves feeling out of sync, silent, unable to grasp on to or experience resonance because we’ve lost our footing.

That’s how I felt, and in many ways still feel when I listen to others’ tell the story. What if the way I had been taught about God wasn’t always how I understood or experienced God? How do I make sense of my other ways of understanding and experiencing God?

This brings me back to the hospital bedside and my introductions as a spiritual care provider — in a state of extreme vulnerability, many times it doesn’t matter to the patient of what faith the chaplain is coming from. But, as a chaplain-in-training, it matters to me more than ever, because I want to have confidence in my faith as I approach the patient. I want my posture to reflect a growing — but confident — relationship with God — one with doubts and questions, of course — but one that knows and remembers why it believes what it believes.

I think it will be a challenging and insightful 6 months ahead in this spiritual care internship. I opened the hospital records the other day to get familiar with the layout and noticed a child accompanied by two foster parents; my heart broke a little without even having met her; I thought about my wonderful adoptive parents — and solemnly wondered if she was as fortunate.

I fight the urge to succumb to smallness or loneliness — “this is new for me, therefore I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not competent.” When we start something new and unfamiliar, often we don’t feel like anyone can relate to how chaotic and overwhelming it feels. How much we’re questioning ourselves. How much we’re needing to rely on our relationships and friendships with others; but not always having the words to say — can you check in and be there for me?

Much learning and growth to come in 2020, I’m sure. Thank you for reading. Keep an eye out for further reflection on this experience, as well as updates on a memoir I’m working on and some songwriting I’m doing for fun!

xoxo, Joy