Once Blind to Beauty, Now Stunned by all I See

She stood next to me, towering over me. My legs swung back and forth from the playground bench, trying to stay in rhythm with the nearby slap-slap sound of a jump rope smacking the blacktop, again and again.

She told us she was going to be a model. I believed she would be and easily could be. The rest of the girls with us agreed. She was beautiful.

When I said I wanted to be a model too, she half-smiled. Then she chuckled and said, “You’re cute, but you can’t. Asian people are short, and short people can’t be models.”

The words were quick and effortless, the way my finger pushes the start button on our dishwasher. One press and things begin to whirl into motion. A belief began to wrestle around, looking for a place to stick: Asian women aren’t beautiful. I am not beautiful.

I lay in bed after that, night after night, pinching the edge of my nose together, hoping to make it longer, pointier, taller — less cute. I stared in mirrors, trying to imagine my strong, long hair a shade lighter and a little less wild. I stood on my toes in my room, pretending I was taller.

Read the rest of the post over at (in)courage

The Tender Side of Conflict

Originally written for Coalesce Magazine

I spent a season avoiding my Bible when I was in college. It wouldn’t be the first time I avoided my Bible, or God, for that matter. That long season of avoidance felt like the dark early evenings of Winter and persistent static in my hair. My soul had become dry. Instead of reaching for the only thing that would quench it, I ran from it for fear of confrontation. 

Months before, I had decided to continue on in a relationship that I knew I needed to let go of. It was a comfortable place for me, but one that wouldn’t allow me room to move forward in the ways God had invited me to step out and trust Him in. So, I politely declined by way of ignoring and left my Bible under a stack of class books. It sat there patiently and persistently present, holding up all of the weight of my evasion. 

I was afraid to engage in conflict with God.  

Growing up, conflict was something scary. I became an expert at circumventing it. My earliest encounters with conflict showed me that those who engage in it don’t always come out of it for the better. Conflict sounded like the extremes of volume and silence: words screaming loud like scissors and then cut short after an abrupt silence on the other end of the line when someone hung up. It felt like running into dead ends and walking on eggshells.

Conflict made me question the ground I stood on. It taught me to tip-toe around the questions I was too afraid to ask out loud: Am I still loved when the face looking back at me is scrunched up and hot with anger?  How do I find footing and make the room we are in stop feeling unsteady like the early tremors of a coming earthquake? 

After months of walking by my Bible and looking away, one morning, I stopped. My desperation pushed me to reach for it. Days before, I ended the relationship I had been clinging to. Like a prodigal daughter, who became so hungry and was now undistracted with nowhere else to turn, I opened it again. I was ready to go back, no matter the reprimand and shame.

Instead, I found the book of Hosea.

Through that book, God spoke to me with passion and kindness. I pored over the book and read these verses in Hosea 2:14-15, and wept, “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” The words were for His people in another time and day, and they were for me. I learned about the way God used the prophet Hosea’s life calling of being married to a prostitute, to show His people the way he felt about them and how he would pursue them despite everything they had done. The confrontation and conflict were necessary guides on the path of relational restoration and redemption. There were passionate words used in the exchange between God and his people, but there was also tenderness, pursuit, forgiveness, and hope.

A few years later, during training for a job, I learned about healthy conflict resolution and was given tools for how to engage. It was eye-opening to learn about how the language and posture I used during conflict would either help bring resolution or make things worse. The right tools helped me learn to engage when I didn’t want to, and reminded me that the end goal of conflict is to bring greater depths of understanding, love and intimacy. I thought about the way God had pursued me by engaging in conflict with me, not because I was unloved, but because of how much more I needed to know that I was loved. Conflict is still hard for me. I don’t run and hide like I used to, but now when I feel those tendencies, I try to remember how far God’s tenderness has brought me. His continued pursuit of me through conflict has made me confident that the ground we stand on is firmly fixed with His gentle and determined love.

Think about what conflict looked like and sounded like when you were growing up.  How does that affect the way you approach conflict with others and with God now?

God’s love for you is perfect. He is tender, passionate, intimate, steady and good. How does knowing those things change your willingness to engage with him honestly, no matter the conflict and confrontation it may bring?

The Destiny in Our Daydreams

She scurried over to the rice cooker and opened it. Using a rice paddle to scoop out a few grains of day-old rice with her right hand, she then picked them off of the paddle with her left, squishing them together between her slender thumb and forefinger. I watched her move quickly and silently, her dark eyes focused and on task.

I am the daughter who was ever seeing but never understanding. I listened to stories and yearned for more answers. The barrier between us has been hard, at times as unyielding as concrete. It’s thick middle fortified by cultural misunderstanding, language lost in translation, hidden stories, the grief of lives stolen and the gift of lives given.

Moments before she had shifted her focus towards the rice cooker, I had rolled my eyes and declared we couldn’t go to the event we’d been invited to. The gift that had been carefully picked out months before couldn’t be wrapped because we couldn’t find tape anywhere in the house. Why was there always some needed item missing? We were already going to be late as it was, and at the time, I couldn’t fathom attending the event without a proper gift, wrapped like all the others would be. I didn’t want to be the one who stood out again, who didn’t know the protocol again, who might have to explain not having something as simple as a roll of extra tape on hand, because so much of life was busy trying to figure out how to fit in as the multicultural family we were.

Read the rest over at (in)courage

Glorious Weakness: A Book Review

I wrote my first story in elementary school. My teacher encouraged us to think about a snapshot or memory of our lives and make it into a book. I remember sifting through ideas with my parents at dinner, imagining what I would draw and the words I would piece together to tell my story.

My parents shared my birth story with me often as I was growing up, so frequently that I thought I remembered the entire ordeal myself. This was what I chose to write my first story about. I was born too early, and once I was born, according to my mom, I barely survived. 

Every time I shared this story, listeners quickly moved on to how strong I must’ve been, to have survived. I learned quickly how uncomfortable we all are, myself included, with weakness. We want to flip the card as quickly as possible. We want to answer for it and find a weightier reason for it.  

I started telling my birth story in a way that didn’t make anyone too uncomfortable. I made sure to focus on the miracle of my survival and how my underdeveloped lungs grew against odds. As I got older, I didn’t talk about how I still sometimes felt so small that I was hanging on for dear life inside. Until recently, I didn’t tell people about the way I’ve felt closed in by the weight of not knowing how to embrace my God-given identity as a woman and a biracial Korean American, just like the way I began life: enclosed in an incubator and dependent, the opposite of confident and strong.  I wrote the story again as an adult, understanding for the first time that weakness is where strength is birthed .

Alia and I met over Voxer, or maybe through She Loves Magazine. Once we started Voxing, I felt like I had known her for years and our conversations there have felt like a breath of fresh air, a place where I can be real as a writer, as an Asian American woman, and as a person who often feels the weight of weakness in a world that is terrified of that description.

I knew that I would love Alia’s book, as I have loved every word she’s written publicly and spoken to me over the phone. Alia is a prophetic poet that isn’t afraid to tell the truth and make room for others with a hospitality that’s rare in the world today. She writes raw, but not just for shock value.

What I didn’t expect was the way God would use her words, masterfully weaved on every page of Glorious Weakness, to speak love to me. As Alia shared glimpses into her own life, from her personal experience of pain, mental illness, church and poverty, I felt God’s love.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of the multitude of Christian books out there with empty messages, ones that pass over the pain, only tell stories of triumph, try to convince us that we can live shallow lives, chase small dreams of personal success, and twist Jesus’ call for us to love like he did into an easy, comfortable love.

“Christians lie when we sell a packaged and sanitary way of following God. We offer a discounted gospel when we say it will fix your problems, ease out the wrinkles of your day, give you shiny, full-bodied hair and perfectly behaved children. We wield our Christianity like an omen to ward off hard times. We want a warning sign or someone to blame when things get broken. When children die. When dreams fail. When we are summoned to great and immeasurable loss and the hits keep coming.” (147).”

Many of us need to know that we were never made to muster up our own strength to live and thrive. Many of us need to be reminded that hope lives through the death of our dreams and the confusion that comes when we’ve been sure of our calling and then lost our way. Most of us need to know that love doesn’t cease to be love when things get uncomfortable, and that we can indeed be found no matter where we are. That in our weakest moments, the ones we think would disqualify us, bench us and leave us enclosed, God moves most powerfully.

“I didn’t know my dry and weary bones were kindling for a spirit ablaze with the weight of God’s glory.” (169).”

“Weakness is my spiritual gift. In my complete and utter poverty, I give up my illusion of control and my weakness becomes my greatest offering of worship.”  (171).”

Alia’s book launches into the world tomorrow. Don’t miss this book, friends.  This one is for everyone and it’s a message the church and the world today desperately need to hear. Order the book here or here.

Courage is for the Faint of Heart

I rubbed my bulging stomach, trying to appease the skin that was stretched and desiccated, begging me for assurance. We were expecting our first child, and at that point in building our baby registry, my mind was whirling. I wanted to hide from the bright white lights of the colossal store, but they reached into every aisle and reflected their potency from the vinyl flooring. My feet felt like stubs too small for the weight of my body and my son’s growing one. I felt too small for the weight of “shoulds” I had agreed to without a fight.

Ten years ago, at this point, I thought our decisions about everything from sleep schedules to discipline, homemade verses jarred baby food, and whether or not we taught our son to speak sign language along with other needed languages, would determine how bumpy our flight of parenting would begin and stretch forward. Beyond that, I believed that all of our work would ensure our son’s safety, thriving, well-being, and basically, his everything.

Read the rest of the post here.