between.

In a world that demands labels, identifications, and sides, it’s a nightmare to be stuck in between.  To not be “normal”, “average”, “white”, “straight”, “American” or “majority” is a constant struggle between two worlds.  I witness this uneasiness everyday working in a high school.  Students are constantly attempting to conform, change, shove, and push their way into the popular, smart, hip, skater, or emo group.  The labels high schoolers place on themselves and peers add pressure to ‘be’ and ‘act’ a certain way.  I especially see the struggle of my students with special needs as they try to make friends, and try to reach out to students who don’t understand why they look or act a certain way.  It seems as though they are seen as different from the start, and their struggle to “fit in” is so much harder than other students.  My heart breaks for them to know how much greater they are than they can even imagine.

I often reflect on my own life and what these labels mean and do to me now.  Life and it’s labels are given by society instead of the peers and colleagues around me.  The expansion of these labels have taught me a lot- mainly that I don’t belong.  Do we ever really belong?

I am a Christian, half Japanese, half American bisexual woman whose labels don’t describe who I am.  The complexity of a human being is fluid and much deeper than any label could describe.  I have felt caught in between many of these labels- it’s a pretty lonely place.

In particular I struggled with my “Christian” label and “bisexual” label.  When you think of what a “Christian” is, you think of a moral, conservative, creation believing, Bible thumper who has all the answers, right?  They are confident about where they’re going, what they believe and sometimes they seem to tell people they’re wrong if they don’t believe what they believe, right?

When it came to my sexuality, I had a picture that Christians were straight.  If they weren’t, they were celibate, that was expected and taught.  So, when I realized I was bi, I felt my “Christianity” was like oil and my sexuality was water.  They couldn’t and weren’t supposed to mix.  I couldn’t be both bi, and Christian.

Because I was told my number one identity was always supposed to be “Christian” (because I believe in Christ), I shoved my struggles with sexuality away.  I wrote it off thinking “I can’t think like that, that’s wrong”, and most of all sinful.

When I think about sin, I think about actions that pull you farther from who God is in a destructive manner, whether that’s destructive toward oneself, ones relationship with God, or ones relationship with others.  When I look back on my denial, ignoring, and bottling of my feelings towards the same sex, I realize how destructive it was towards not only myself and who I am, but also my relationship with Christ and how I relate to Him.  I felt shame, loneliness, uncomfortable, and stuck between two worlds.  When I began to come to terms with my sexuality, that’s when I felt a weight off my shoulders.  I felt God telling me it’s ok, the struggle is ok, and (most importantly) I am ok, the way I am, the way God created me.

The most dynamic, life-changing, view altering thing I’ve learned since coming out to myself and others is how great, deep, and expansive God’s love for us is.  No matter who we are, what we do, or how we hurt ourselves, His love is far deeper than we could ever imagine.  He has taught me how to love Him more deeply, and how to love others more deeply.  Even others who disagree with me.  I’ve realized Christians aren’t tied down to certain stereotypes, certain labels like I described before.  There are Christians who are liberal, independent, straight, gay, transgender, scientists who believe in evolution, smokers; Christians who drink, who aren’t sure, who don’t know everything, who don’t understand all of the universe, and most importantly who don’t know how God works all the time.  When Christ is involved, labels aren’t needed.  Christ is bigger than Christians in this world.  He’s greater than how we label ourselves, and if we go to church every week, or if we go to the biggest church in the country or the smallest.  He is bigger, his work is bigger, and his love for you is bigger.  He is not contained in a label- he’s not contained in a church, or a culture, or a specific bible passage.  He is so much bigger than all of those things.  I’ve found when I step beyond the labels, when I’m stuck in between the labels, although it’s deeply lonely sometimes, I’m able to grasp more fully an understanding of who I am in Christ- and nothing more.

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a thousand times over.

Today I was reminded of a quote from a beautiful book The Kite Runner. I remember reading the book for the first time and reading the words “For you, A thousand times over.” It wrenched at my heart. I felt like those words in the context of the book were awful. It was just the one little boy bowing down to the other prideful little boy and doing whatever he wanted him to do.

But now I realize those words are words of true love. I remember thinking about how he’s saying a thousand times he’d do the same thing for his friend. Not one time, not two times but a thousand times. It made me think of how boring that would be, or how annoying it must be to do the same thing over and over again. I remember longing for a friendship like that. Where there was a selfless love that I shared with another person. A love where I knew no matter what I did or how long I did it, or how I hurt them, they would still love me.

I told one of my friends “For you, a thousand times over today, and I’m pretty sure I freaked her out. That’s ok with me. I want to care about the people in my life deeply. God has put them in my life and I want to be there for them. I want to be a friend who selflessly, carelessly gives myself for my friends. Not in an unhealthy way, obviously if someone is using me, I’d stand up for myself, but rather being there for them no matter what. If they ask me to help them with something, I want to be there. I want to be the type of friend that people can count on, that they can rest knowing I’ll be there.

I’ve had many friends hurt me. I’ve had people cut me off. I’ve had relationships broken. But I pray God will still teach me to love them. I pray God will continue to challenge me in how to be their friends even while they choose to not talk to me. I pray that I can still be (like I remember always being…) that friend who says “For you, my love, a thousand times over.

I remember after reading those words in the Kite Runner imagining God telling me that same thing, “For you, Emy, a thousand times over”. I remember asking God about how if it was necessary (which it’s not), would you die on the cross for me a thousand times? He told me yes. The words “For you, a thousand times over remind me of God’s love for us. It reminds me of how much God loves us, that God loves us so much, he would keep forgiving us a thousand times over (and even more than a thousand times). I rest in that. And I also pray that God would continue to teach me to be the person who forgives, loves, cares for, encourages, drives around, blesses, advises, etc. a thousand times over for the people God has placed in my life.

river city lights.

Just because my last post said I didn’t have diverse posts… I’m widening my scope.

I love pandora, and this is why:

I find more awesome music than I ever would’ve expected, and I love finding new music that is actually good.

River City Lights by Griffin House
And The World Turned by The Gabe Dixon Band
Suffocation Keep by The Slip
Little Flowers by Denison Witmer
Middle Distance Runner by Sea Wolf
Comes and Goes (In Waves) by Greg Laswell
More Than Life by Whitley
Here We Are by Patrick Park
Glory Bound by The Wailin’ Jennys
Skiss Av Trad by Library Tapes
Hallelujah by MaMuse
Any songs by Ben Howard or Peter Bradley Adams.

These are all recent discoveries that I’ve very much appreciated.  These are all in general the same genre, because I didn’t want to confuse you all.  Honestly, if you saw my playlists you’d be overwhelmed. 🙂  Please enjoy and tell me what you think.  The links of the songs are from youtube, but if you want more info about the artist click the link of the artists’ name.

juxtaposition.

This world is an interesting place.  It’s a place of great hurt, pain, and suffering, but also a place of grace if we’re willing to accept it.  If I were to show you my notes from class, I think you’re mind would be thrown into circles.  I take notes on a white page of paper because it’s easier for me to make connections with other parts of the lecture.  When I have lined paper, I struggle with how to draw out different related pictures. I felt very confined by the lines on a piece of paper, and I didn’t realize it until I started taking notes on a blank page.

One chapel David Choi was speaking (for Spring Special Services part 1, 2, 3).  My chapel seat this semester is terrible, and I really struggle to stay engaged when I can’t see anything because of the chandeliers in the way. But I really like David Choi, so I decided to try and stay engaged.  I decided to start doodling because my mind was flowing into images of pain and suffering, I was really struggling with life in general while I was sitting listening to David speak, and although he wasn’t relating to me specifically, I was broken.  And I felt it.   I came up with this:

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It’s a picture of God’s grace, and my complete, and utter brokenness. I was quoting some of what David was talking about (he was talking about being branches, and he was talking about how there was nothing we could do to make God love us less, etc.).  I also struggled with the pain I was feeling and why I was feeling it, and I questioned why I was feeling it.  I didn’t feel joy in my heart, and I did feel God’s love or presence in my life at the time either.  I was struggling with who I was and who God created me to be, and I was met by God’s grace.  Words of love and grace kept flowing from my pen despite the pain and struggle I was feeling.  I was hurting and alone, and I was still met by God’s grace and love for me.  The collision of my brokenness and pain left me with grace and love.

extraction.

I was following a previous friend’s blog at one point in my life.  She was a very good friend of mine.  For some reason, I can no longer see the full entry, but she wrote a blog post 2 years ago, after I was having an incredibly rough time with my family and myself.  She titled it “Telephone Tears”.  I remember this conversation vividly because it was one of the most painful moments of my life.  I realized I was stuck.  I wanted something to be fixed, my family situation at the time, but I couldn’t fix it.  I realized that my friend couldn’t fix it either.  I felt helpless.  But the few words I read just now were a reminder to me of how beautiful my friendship was with her.  She said she wished she could give me a hug even though she could barely understand what I was saying through my tears.  But she couldn’t give me a hug. All she could do was just trust that God was holding me at the time.

She has since decided to “extract” me from her life (I needed to somehow relate this to the letter ‘e’!).  I miss her.  And I know she misses me.  But reading that limited blog post was a blessing in disguise because she wrote words of encouragement.  We weren’t physically with each other at the time, but she cared about me and she knew God was holding me in those moments.   Even though she has decided to stop talking to me, I still deeply, deeply, care about her and I trust that God is holding her in these moments of separation as well.  I can’t do anything to change her.  I can’t desperately try and contact her (even though I’ve tried and failed) and tell her about my life, even though there are so many things I’d love to tell her that she would understand better than anyone else in my life.  I’m stuck. I can’t do anything but trust. I hope and pray that God restores our friendship, but until then, there is a huge divide separating us.  A much larger divide than a telephone and distance.  This time it’s completely different, but I’m still trusting that God is holding her. God is a God of restoration and I’m so thankful for that. I’m resting in his peace and knowing that he is slowly restoring all things.

dry desert land.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend.  He was telling me that he was really struggling with his faith, not that he lost it but just that he was questioning a lot of things in his life.  Like me, he goes to an Evangelical Christian college.  His words caused me to think about my spiritual life at Wheaton College and how it has changed.

When I was a freshman, I came in on fire and fully trusting God with my life.  My story for why I came to Wheaton was powerful, and it was clear to me, and to everyone around me, God wanted me to be at Wheaton.  I woke up every morning my freshman year and prayed.  I lived on 5 West (fifth floor on the west side) of Fischer Dorm and I loved waking up in the morning and going to the lounge that overlooked the Grammar school below.  I would wake up before school started for them, and I watched the kids as they played on the playground, which was seriously incredibly fascinating.  I remember praying and talking to God about the struggles I was having being at Wheaton College, the supposed “Harvard” of Christian colleges, and how inadequate I felt to be here.  I remember God confirming to me over and over again that He had me exactly where he wanted me.  His provision for me continued and I continually found myself back at Wheaton.

But my sophomore slump came and I really started to struggle with my faith.  I was a DSG leader, and some of the fire in me from my freshman year was still present, but I really struggled with my family situation and bonds I had back at home.  I struggled with healthy boundaries and what it meant to be a Christian.  I began to think for myself and that scared people who expected me to continue to not think for myself.  This is where my faith began to dry up.

Into my junior year, I began to really feel my faith be challenged.  I didn’t understand why if God was so good, all of these terrible things were happening around me.  I didn’t understand why God could and did instantly heal some people and then left others to suffer. I didn’t understand why if I was doing the right thing, why I felt so isolated and alone in doing it.  I didn’t understand why I still couldn’t find a church to call my own and why I still struggled with what the community of Christ was meant to be.  I continued to feel more and more distant from God.  Not rejecting him or turning away from him, but I felt dry.  I couldn’t feel his presence anymore and I wondered where he went or why he left me.

As a freshman I came into Wheaton and felt like I knew what a Christian was and what it was supposed to look like.  I felt like my image of a Christian was neatly packed away in a nice cardboard box.  It was organized and laid out what a Christian did and what a Christian didn’t do.  But then coming to Wheaton, I ran into people who grew up all over the world, in places and cultures that look completely different than American culture.  Slowly, God began to take a part my nice, neatly packed cardboard box.  He took parts out and said, well, yes, but a Christian can also look like this.  My view of what it meant to be a Christian grew and grew.  I became aware of the fact that culture affects the way people live, grow, and relate to Christ.  This expanded my view of God and the way he works in people’s lives.

Looking back on my spiritually dry desert, I questioned my relationship with Christ.  I asked myself, did I know God better when I was a freshman?  Was my relationship with Christ deeper because I read my bible and prayed every morning?  My gut reaction was “Yes”.  But as I began to actually think about it, I realized that it wasn’t.  God tested my faith, and grew me in ways that I couldn’t even fathom when I was a freshman.  In order to get through my sophomore and junior years at Wheaton, I needed to trust God immensely.  Even when I didn’t feel like I was trusting God, I was trusting him to know where he was leading me.  This gave me a deep, deep, sense of freedom.

This freedom was realizing that I don’t need to read my Bible everyday for God to be working in my life.  I don’t need to wake up early and pray for God to work in my life. God is working in my life no matter what I do.  This caused me to realize, God is NOT dependent on ME to do the work he wants to do in my life.  He doesn’t sit back and make sure I’m reading my Bible and praying and then says, good job, now I’ll give you this blessing in your life.  God doesn’t work that way.  It made me realize God has taken ahold of my life and is working in my life no matter what I do.

I told this to a friend and she reminded me of the passage in Genesis where Abraham and God make a covenant, and God upholds His side of the covenant, but also Abraham’s side of the covenant.  We often forget that as Christians, God has lifted the burden of our obligation of the covenant off.  We have Jesus who has taken our sins away and who has taken the old covenant and fulfilled it with himself.

Being at a Christian college and being in Christian community, I think this idea gets muddled.  We feel like we need to act a certain way, follow certain rules to “be Christian”.  I’m not saying that rules are bad, and that we should go off and do whatever we want.  But I am saying that these rules, and legalistic guidelines confine us and our relationship with God to be a certain way.  And because of that confining, we lose the meaning of Christian community.  Christian community should be a place where people are themselves, fully accepted as God’s creation, sharpened by each other, and led closer and closer to Christ and who he is.  When Christian community becomes a place where people can’t be real, share their struggles- including with their own faith- then we lose a sense of the Christian community we are called to.

I want you to know, if you are a Christian in a Christian community struggling with your own faith and what it means, you’re not alone.  More than likely, there are many struggling and asking the same questions.  I don’t think God is opposed to this, questioning.  When questioning is in the right context, state of mind and kind of heart, it is a time of great, great growth.  Questioning can be sought to drive you further from Christ, but when your intentions are to understand more fully, God provides.

I will leave you with this:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39

For more on this idea of questioning, I wrote this post awhile back called “the questioning soul“.

abounding grace.

Yesterday evening, I had small group.  I’m not sure if I’ve written about my small group before, but I have been so incredibly blessed by them.  I love having a group of people and place to be myself, to study the Bible, to share, listen and be heard, and loved.  I’m so thankful for them, and I could pretty much brag about how great they are forever.  But I won’t bore you.

I led yesterday, which I’m not the best at leading.  But when I lead I actually end up having to read the passage before we meet, and I actually studied it, something I probably should do anyways… While I was preparing I was struck so deeply by the clarity of the gospel I read in Hebrews 10.  The freedom I felt while reading and preparing gave me the trust and the assurance that no matter what I did, God has forgotten about it.  All of the sins I’ve committed and will commit God has already forgotten about.

I went to a Christian high school, and I loved my time there.  I loved, and still love, the people I met there; I grew and learned so much that I hadn’t learned before.  I was never a consistent church goer, so going to school in a Christian environment was a whole new experience and it was wonderful.  But looking back on my time, and my growing up, I’m realizing the legalism I put myself under.  I had to be a certain way, look a certain way, act a certain way, in order to be considered “Christian”.  I needed to read my Bible everyday, and talk about Jesus, think about the philosophical ideas about God and understand why I believed what I believed.

After reading Hebrews 10 and looking back at my life these past 5 years I’ve been at Wheaton College, I’ve realized how awful of a “Christian” I actually am.  Wheaton’s Community Covenant, which we sign every year, is basically calling us to live a “Christian” life, and that “Christian” life must look a certain way.  And I’m not saying it’s wrong and that I don’t agree with it at all.  I do.  I agree with the covenant that I signed.  Actually, I don’t think I signed it this year… weird.  Anyways, I agree with the covenant, but just because we abide by certain rules, act a certain way, and live a certain life, doesn’t mean that we are more “Christian”.  It doesn’t mean that we are less sinful.  And that’s where I think the problem comes.

Reading Hebrews 10, one of the verses that struck me was verse 4: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  How many things do we do as Christians, make us feel like we are less sinful?  For example, if we don’t smoke, drink, or “immodest[ly], sinfully erotic[ally] or harmfully violent[ly]” dance, we’re all of a sudden better than those people who do those things because we’ve abstained from them.  Yes, we as the Body of Christ are being sanctified or set apart for God, but we are not sanctified because of our “abstinence from sin”.

As Christians, we sometimes get big heads because Christ has taken over our hearts and given us new life.  When really, the only reason he’s in our hearts is because of his great, abounding mercy and grace.  There was nothing we could’ve done to deserve it, and there is nothing, absolutely NOTHING that we can do that will make us deserve his grace.  God’s grace for us is just that, grace, and we as humans have this problem where we think we can do things to make us better than other people.  For example, if I read my Bible everyday for 3 hours, or pray for 6 hours everyday, I’m all of a sudden a better, more holy person because of my actions.  But NOTHING we do can take away sins.  Nothing we did will ever make us less sinful.  Only Christ has taken away our sins.  And only through his grace on us are we made sinless in the eyes of God.

Hebrews later goes on to say the Lord says “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more”, this is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that this is possible.  And Christ’s faithfulness to God’s will on the cross is the only thing that can take away sins.  Abounding grace fills our hearts and takes hold of our life.  Nothing we do, say, ask, or desire will change that.