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

My favorite time of the year (cont.)

And then, with the passing of Thanksgiving comes my absolute favorite time of the year, advent. Bellies full from turkey leftovers and warm soups, we enter a time of waiting and joyful expectancy for Christ to come. Like many other days and moments in our lives outside of this season, we wait.

We sit at traffic lights, we wait for our laundry to finish, we wait for water to boil, we wait for that text message response. We wait for bigger things too, perhaps. A new job to start, our resume to be evaluated, a diagnosis, a baby to arrive. Of course we’re still running around like crazy, trying to get all of our work done, meals prepared and errands run. But, I like to take moments in the season of advent, while doing my normal things, while waiting in that same light that takes forever on the corner of Allen and Walnut, and remember that because of this season that we’re in; the waiting is different than the other times.

Because we’re waiting for the moment when that baby that changed the course of the past, present and future will arrive. It might feel like just another day, another year. For those alive at the time of Jesus’ birth, it was just another census, another year to make the long trek back to their hometown.

But really, it was the most remarkable and life-altering moment, even if a lot of people didn’t realize.

So, a good way to remember, honor, celebrate and prepare for that remarkable, life-altering moment is — in the middle of monotonous, dragging moments and days this winter — take some time to do something differently and more intentionally. Like be kind to people in the midst of the waiting; be kind to yourself. Recognize that this is a remarkable time.

This is a short post, but I don’t have a lot to say in the beginning of this advent season — as the acts of waiting expectantly, listening, giving thanks, being mindful and intentional — I hope, will speak themselves in your own lives. I hope it’s a reminder to take joy in the next few weeks, as Christmas is quickly approaching!

My favorite time of the year.

It’s getting to be that time where even in Southern California, the air is shifting and we’re all breaking out our turtlenecks, cozy slippers, pine-scented candles and hot tea. The weather is still so weird here around this time though; I remember a couple years ago when it was in the 90s on Thanksgiving. It may be superficial, but I’m already thinking about what I’m going to wear this year to Thanksgiving dinner — on top of the weather being weird, how do I dress for the amount of food I’m going to eat?! Haha.

In all seriousness though, this is my favorite time of year; because worked into our calendar and the things we celebrate are ideals of gratitude, thanksgiving, love, family, community and birth. My church congregation this past weekend “hung the greens” and decorated the building to mark the end of the church calendar and the start of Advent next week. After Thanksgiving passes, Christmas is right around the corner and then it’ll be the New Year. But my naming of those quick seasonal changes this time of year isn’t meant to make you feel anxious about the approaching holidays, or stressed because it’s all happening fast. It’s to hopefully help you take a step back this Thanksgiving and Christmas season, pause, breathe, and reflect on the goodness you have received, the things you’re thankful for and the uniqueness of the people you celebrate with. After you’re happy, sleepy and full of turkey, of course.

This year, I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with my aunts, uncles and cousins in La Canada Flintridge, and so my Aunt Gini asked me really graciously if there was any dish that was meaningful to my family that I wanted at this year’s Thanksgiving. It was so thoughtful, and reminded me of truly how meaningful the particularity of this holiday is for everyone. Each family’s, friend group’s or community’s Thanksgiving is unique and significant in particular ways to the people involved. Whether it’s sweet potatoes baked a certain way, mac ‘n cheese (both of which we never had at my family’s Thanksgiving, but both of which I’ve been delighted to discover at other people’s), pecan pie, a specific kind of cranberry jelly or gravy, or something totally different than any of those items, you know these particularities that I’m talking about. I’ve been part of more and more conversations lately on adoptive identity, narrative and journey; and I’ve been thinking about those conversations in combination with the celebration of Thanksgiving and in combination with the particularity and uniqueness of each of our stories. My story (as well as all of your stories), is both part of certain larger stories, like the Asian American narrative, the adoptee narrative, the Christian narrative, the millennial narrative, the female narrative, etc. — but it’s also particular and unique — transcendent and inclusive of each and all of these stories because it’s only and wholly my own.

In a sense, the way we as an individual, family or community celebrate Thanksgiving — the particularity of our family’s food and customs — is one reflection of our combination of each of these hybridized, interwoven and unique narratives that make up who we are.

For example, for me, the smells and flavors of Thanksgiving food and the warmth and memories associated with celebrating it on Ingleside Ave. in Pennington, New Jersey, with my mom, dad and sister, Beth, will always be conjoined and extremely sentimental in my mind and heart, now and for years to come, even as things continue to change for all of us.

We gathered around the table sometime in the middle of the afternoon, sometimes with exchange students from Princeton that my parents were friends with at the time, sometimes with other friends of my parents, but normally just the four of us. We played an ABC Thanksgiving game, where we went around the table, each saying things we were thankful for in alphabetical order. We played Hide the Pilgrim with little plastic figurines of a pilgrim boy, girl and turkey. We always prayed and thanked the Lord for the blessings He provided for us, recognizing that this day, in addition to every other, was from Him, for Him and centered around Him. We had the typical dishes — squash and green bean casseroles, stuffing, turkey, canned cranberry, mashed potatoes, apple, pecan and pumpkin pie. An outside observer may have thought it seemed pretty normal, a pretty typically American way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

But, if you haven’t experienced my particular family’s way of being together, who we are, what we eat, what we talk about, you can’t necessarily understand. Just like I can’t completely understand the way you celebrate with your family or your people. That uniqueness of your family and uniqueness of mine brought together around a common time of celebration, gratitude, love, comfort, feasting and belonging is what I so love about this time of year. It’s a delicious and tangible expression of each of our individual, family and communal stories — centered around food, the table, and ideals of love and gratitude — a deeply theological expression, whether we consider ourselves spiritual people or not.

So I hope in this time, we share our stories with each other — how do you “do” Thanksgiving and Christmas? I also hope we invite each other and others into our homes and our lives in this time, because that particularity and uniqueness that our people have can and should be shared with others.

Happy Thanksgiving! Eat lots of stuffing and green bean casserole for me! (or mac ‘n cheese, if that’s more your family’s thing)

xoxo, Joy

The table.

Tables come in all shapes, sizes and materials. In some cultures, there is a short table on the floor and everyone gathers around it on a bamboo mat to eat. Some cultures use spinning tables at certain meals so that everyone can share the food easier. When we can afford it, my roommate and I need a new kitchen table because we want to be able to host more people. Tables are for gathering and sharing food, stories, and life together.

Today at church, we sang one of my favorite songs, called “The Table.” There are a few reasons why it’s one of my favorites — firstly, I love it because of that image of tabling, or feasting with the Lord. One of the verses says, Come all you weary // Come and find // His yoke is easy // His burden light // He is able // He will restore // At the table of the Lord. There is rest, restoration and rejuvenation at the Lord’s table.

I love tables because I love food. And I love that the image of gathering around the table is one constantly used throughout Scripture. In the parable of the great wedding banquet, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. The king invited those esteemed guests and members of the royal household, sending servants to check on them and make sure they were coming, but they refused. The king had prepared the best food he had available, his oxen and fattened cattle, but the guests turned down his invite and one of them even mistreated the servants that were sent to him.

Reading this now, I’m like, why would you pass up (what at that time seemed like) an amazing feast?! But they did. So the king told his servants to go out and gather people from the streets to come eat and celebrate, because the food was ready but the guests were not. Sometimes v. 14, “for many are invited, but few are chosen,” is debated, but I want to focus on the idea of feasting at the table as an image for the kingdom. We are invited, and it’s a free and beautiful invitation to come eat! It is free because of the free gift we have been given in God through Jesus, which we symbolically celebrate around the communion table in Eucharist too. Because of what has already been done and prepared for us, we are invited to come gather, as the chosen and invited ones, around the table for a delicious meal.

One reason why fall is my favorite season is because of the food. And that the flavors, the colors, and crisp, cool air, I find, bring people together. After our church service today, where we sang that song, we gathered for an autumn potluck together and laughed, caught up, shared stories and ate around communal tables. Everyone was encouraged to bring a fall dish, and flavors like pumpkin, apple, squash and caramel tickled and warmed my senses. I was so happy; we were all so happy to be gathered around tables eating together.

That this is an image for the kingdom of God is so beautiful, so accessible and so identifiable. Everyone likes to eat, and most people like to gather with other people. Most people like to be invited to things. I know I can often do a better job of being a warm, inviting, and welcoming person — sometimes as an introvert, it is easier to want to eat alone or not start up a conversation with someone new — but it’s important.

The image of gathering around the table also brings in this idea of belonging, our place, our invitation, and our importance to the dinner party. In a world of competition, envy, deceit, hustling and genuine struggle, I have to remind myself everyday that I bring something important and unique to the table. Maybe it’s a similar dish as another person, maybe I look like another person, but I am unique and it is important because it is me. And God made me, and each of us uniquely and especially ourselves. This sounds so cliche, and it’s not in an “I’m so different and special” or “more different and special than other people” kind-of-way, it’s more to help me (and you) recognize our own individual value and worth at the tables we feast at.

Real talk is that I struggle a lot with wondering, is what I’m bringing to the table good enough or enough? Am I writing enough, am I thinking enough, am I dreaming enough, am I doing enough?

The truth is, I may never know the answers to those questions but I will know what it feels like to have truth in the midst of those questions — the truth that God created me and invited me to the table. The most important question is, will I accept that invitation? Will you?

Big lessons from little kids’ books.

I’ve been nannying some kids for the past month or so, a 3 year old boy named Dylan and 5 year old girl named Ellie, who are hilarious, wild, crazy, sometimes really obnoxious and mischievous, but normally just a lot of fun and I’m learning so much from them. It’s true that I often think, “this isn’t my real job” or “what I really want to be doing long-term,” and it definitely isn’t. But in the meantime, this is my current reality, and so I’m investing in it as much as I can and truly learning a lot.

For example, the kids are half Korean, half Taiwanese, and both they and their parents have taught me a lot about Korean culture and food. I had a great conversation with their dad the other day about his childhood in Brazil and then his move to the US and the struggles he had learning English and connecting with other Asians because he identified more as Brazilian than Taiwanese or American.

But the big thing that struck me last week came while I was reading some books to the kids.

Lesson one came from The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. It looked like a nice book to read to Dylan before a nap; it has a pretty, green cover and I had fond memories of it from childhood. Has anyone read it recently? Warning that, if you’re anything like me, there’s a high chance it’ll catch you off guard and make you cry. A brief recap … this tree and this little boy become friends; the boy climbs the tree, plays in its branches, etc. As the boy grows up and moves away, the tree misses him and still wants to be his friend. But the boy comes back in need of bigger things from the tree, like a house and a boat. And the tree continues to give and give, and the boy continues to age and need more. And then it gets to a point where the tree can’t give anymore to the boy, and that’s kind of the end of the story. The boy is off living his adult life, full of change, growth, emotional hardship, etc. and the tree remains behind but is always the one giving in order to sustain the friendship and the boy’s needs. It was pretty heartbreaking to read this story again in my adult life, and to realize how uneven and unbalanced this giving – receiving friendship between the tree and boy is. What type of message does that communicate to kids?

I’d like to challenge you to ask yourself (as this book challenged me to ask myself), are you just taking from your friendships and from others, or are you giving as well? Are you finding balance with yourself and in your interpersonal relationships?

Self-care is really important too. Are you being refilled and replenished as you give to others?

The second book that made me think a little bit last week was actually just a children’s Bible storybook, so a very simplified version of Bible stories with pictures designed for toddlers. It wasn’t anything about the stories themselves or the way they were simplified that got me thinking, but it was the fact that the writers left out completely Jesus’ death and resurrection from the story and skipped right from his birth to his ascension into heaven and then the book ended. Likely they left it out because it’s a gruesome and sad part of the story that Jesus was crucified, and it’s hard to put that in a little kid’s book. You also can’t talk about the resurrection without talking about the crucifixion, so that part couldn’t be included either. It really made me wonder in that moment how I was taught about Jesus’ death when I was a child. Was it mentioned in Sunday School and at what age did I start hearing that part of the story? I can’t remember, honestly.

I was helping the kids get ready for a Good Friday service at their church a couple weeks before encountering the Bible storybook, and I remember Ellie, the older girl, asking me why they had to go to church “not on a Sunday and at night?” and I wondered, “hmm how do I say this well to her?” I said something about having to remember the whole story of Jesus and having to honor Good Friday before we can celebrate Easter. But I didn’t give her the whole story or mention death, I don’t believe.

Why did I, in that moment, and why do we as Christians, shy away from talking about hard or difficult things or including parts of the story that may prompt our kids to ask us questions that we can’t answer? As parents, I’m curious how you talk to your kids about death and the tougher parts of Bible stories.

I wish, as a kid, I had been told more often (and I had seen others in my life saying more often) that it’s okay to not have all the answers.

I’m learning so much from these little ones, and they’re not even my own children; I’m only with them for four or five hours a day. It’s incredible how inquisitive, adventurous, funny and intelligent they are. I think they (and all children in our lives) deserve the most authentic and thoughtful storytelling experiences we can give them at their age. It’s just not good enough to leave out the death and resurrection of Jesus in a Bible storybook. That’s the most important part of the story, of our story. Today, as an adult, I’m afraid or hesitant to ask hard questions sometimes, or to be honest and transparent with my thoughts and feelings. It could be totally unrelated to the way these topics were broached in childhood, but if it is at all related, I wonder, why are we modeling to our children anything other than complete honesty and trust? Especially when it comes to the Bible and telling the story of God truthfully.

Self-Concept: How I Found Freedom in Understanding my Identity.

My name is Beth, and this is my story about finding my identity.

I was adopted from China and brought to America when I was seven months old, so most people would say I am Chinese American. But I didn’t always see myself that way. My loving parents made their best effort to educate me on Chinese culture so that I knew where I came from. I vividly remember my mom coming into my second grade class to celebrate Chinese New Year with my classmates by getting little envelopes with money in them and making paper lanterns. So even my friends understood that I was born somewhere else. As much as I enjoyed all the festivities, I still never felt like it was truly a part of who I was.

As I continued to mature, I don’t remember even trying to make sense of this disconnect. Throughout grade school, I didn’t know many other kids who were “like me”, as my school district had an extremely low diversity rate. And, as is typical of most teenagers, I wanted to fit in with the latest trends in fashion, hair, and music, which were mainly flaunted by my White American peers. I thought nothing of it. I watched my sister go off to college and start studying Chinese, and she even studied in China for a year and came back with all kinds of insight on what it meant to be a Chinese American in China. We had visited China as a family when I was 12, but I never got a strong desire to return. My sister’s stories made me wonder if I should be more curious, since we had similar stories and the same upbringing. Nevertheless, after a while, I let it go again.

My slap-in-the-face moment didn’t present itself until I was a senior in high school. One of my best friends at the time was Korean, and she invited me to her Korean church. I was excited to go, since at the church I had been attending, I was one of maybe five Asians, including my sister. That Sunday morning, I walked into church with my friend, and I shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of Asians in a Korean church, but I had never seen such a strong minority presence. My attention shifted quickly to the one White, red-headed boy standing in one of the first few rows of seats. As soon as I saw him, I turned to my friend and said, “Hey! I’m not the only White one here!” Big oops. She burst out laughing. It was at that moment that I realized I had no idea what race meant to me.

Fast forward to present day, and I am nearing the end of my college career. I decided to take a course titled “The Psychology of Power, Oppression, and Privilege”. We discussed the idea of racial identity, and more specifically, centrality of the identity. This is the idea that for some, race is an important part of how they see themselves. Even within a particular racial category, membership of that racial group can mean different things to different people. Those who consider race to be more essential to their own self-concept are more likely to be triggered by subtle microaggressions. I was not one of those people. But that’s okay because everyone’s experiences are different.

As I reflect upon the things I have learned through this class and through life experience, I think about how I do identify myself, if not first and foremost with race. If someone were to ask me in this very moment, I would probably say something along the lines of “I am female, a Christian, and a student.” And all of these things are true. Now it is also true that I am Asian American, cisgender, heterosexual, and non-disabled. Just because the latter are not included in my major identifying factors does not mean that they are not true. My experiences as a member of all of these categories listed above have made me who I am. I have just finally come to terms with what is most important to me when I consider my identity and how this drives my behaviors.

Growing up, I thought identity was a checklist for everyone and that people expected me to identify strongly with everything on that list. I have learned that this is not the case. And for anyone wrestling with self-concept, I would encourage you to think more about who you are and less about who people expect you to be. What it means to be you is not what it means to be anybody else. So be proud of who you are because you matter!

Thank you for reading 🙂

Beth

Image Credits: COFFEEANDMILK / IAMBADA / GETTY / NAJEEBAH AL-GHADBAN

Minimal living.

A few days ago, a friend recommended to me the Netflix doc, Minimalism, and watching it really got my head spinning, as good documentaries often do for us. It was created by the two founders of The Minimalists, who in 2010, launched a nationwide, large-scale movement stemming from their personal journeys away from corporate, high-paying jobs and toward the pursuit of minimalist lifestyles. It is a challenging yet compelling message that they offer, to leave unnecessary possessions, fancy cars, homes and jobs, in exchange for fewer material items but more overall meaning and significance in the things that they do have and in the relationships and non-tangible things that they value most. Their movement offers books, lectures, films, a podcast and more, and I’d highly recommend looking into it!

As a person who has never valued objects that much, and who finds myself in a transitional and mobile stage of life where I don’t own a home or necessarily have strong ties to physical possessions, it is not that difficult for me to consider giving things away and living on less than I do. That being said, I do have a lot of shoes and really need to clean out my bathroom vanity too. I feel a little more motivated to do so after watching this, which is good. What struck me most about this doc, however, were the social, moral and spiritual implications that it posed (this is solely my interpretation, not necessarily the intent of the filmmakers).

The questions that it leaves me with, and that I want to examine are these:

How can minimal living encompass our mental, emotional and spiritual space as well as our physical possessions?

How can decluttering our lives and hearts reveal our devotion?

I saw the minimal lifestyle championed in this film as a metaphor for discovering truth. Let me explain. Minimal living, in essence, requires cleaning out the parts of our lives that distract from what truly matters to us: our families, friends, vocations, passions, purpose. It is a means as much as an end; the significance is in the process as well as the result. We are shaped and formed as we discover what it is to live with less, what we can do without, where our priorities lie, what we cannot do without. This could be paralleled to the spiritual process of being refined and strengthened in our faith journeys, perhaps even a process that could run alongside a physical cleansing of our worldly possessions. In Malachi 3:2, God is described as “the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap, He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.” The decluttering process can be spiritual as well as material, and through it, the re-prioritization of goods and values can allow God to do His refining work within our hearts.

Additionally, when we remove excessive physical objects in our lives that are vying for our attention, we create physical, mental, emotional and spiritual space for other things to take their place. The truth is that, as capable, well-developed and sophisticated as we are in multi-tasking in this day and age, as humans, when we are devoted to one thing or a few things, we cannot be as devoted to others. Our attention can only be truly concentrated in a limited number of compelling objects, people or causes. It’s a fundamental fact of our existence. So, I interpreted the movement toward getting rid of physical objects to be a moral statement about elevating in importance our devotion or attention to other things instead. The question therefore becomes: in what do we place our devotion if it’s not our material possessions?

Taking the spiritual parallels one step deeper: I’m reminded here of Jesus’ cleansing(s) of the temple in the Gospels, where he overturned moneychangers’ and vendors’ tables and demanded allegiance to his Father (Mt. 21:12-17, Mk. 11:15-19, Lk. 19:45-47, Jn. 2:14-16). His anger toward the desecration of his Father’s house into a marketplace illustrated a few things: 1) The temple was holy; it was a place of worship of God alone; 2) The temple represented communion, access and forgiveness, where people were accepted without barriers (key point of Jesus’ anger was that Gentiles were being swindled by moneychangers, inhibiting their access); 3) Again, the temple was holy, and it represented more than a physical building; it was Jesus’ body, the church. If you’re tracking with me, this biblical story is sort of a perfect parallel to The Minimalists message made spiritual, because the cleansing or decluttering of the physical space of the temple was a metaphor for something much greater, the reorientation, cleansing, refining and purifying of peoples’ hearts and the church. There was distraction and clutter in the way of people (especially Gentiles in this case) freely accessing and worshipping God in the way He had intended, and Jesus was infuriated by this.

This reorientation of our priorities and cleansing of our homes (and hearts) is incredibly spiritual if we want it to be. Decluttering can be more than a socially conscious action to live lightly (although that is exceedingly important in and of itself); it can also be a spiritual statement in allegiance to God and his ideals of love, care for our earth, and acceptance of its people. In resisting idols of wealth, power, status, etc., we are aligning our hearts with His. I truly believe that when we resist consumerism, capitalism, and cycles of production and consumption that exploit people and our environment, we are making a spiritual statement that we align with Our Creator and His ideals of justice, peace and love.

Joshua, one of The Minimalists’ founders, encouraged viewers if they decide to get rid of possessions, to think through each item, and only keep things that are necessary or serve a tangible purpose that we could articulate and justify. Way easier said than done, I know. I wonder if we can go through this process spiritually too. Can we recenter and refocus our thoughts on things above? Can we invite God in to purify, cleanse and declutter our souls too? Can the material, physical process of cleaning out our home propel forward the spiritual process as well?

Sometimes this looks like it did in the film for the founders or like it did with Jesus in the temple: a force ravages our lives and we are confronted head-on with our priorities and what is getting in the way of focusing on them solely. There is a distinct moment where we come to the awareness that we need to make changes. Sometimes, however, and I can speak from my own experience here, there isn’t going to be a drastic moment of realization or truth where we know exactly what we need to do. A lot of changes are gradual, incremental, and filled with indecision and hesitation, and that is okay too.

I think (and I’m taking my own spiritual liberty here) that we can be patient and forgiving with ourselves too, open ourselves up to change, refining, purifying and decluttering, but still take it slow. Again, the transformation is as much in the means as it is in the end here; a lot more could be changing for us or being refined within us than we may realize. Can we start by opening our imaginations to what we may need to do to either begin or propel forward this process?