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.

empty words.

Within our empty worlds filled with meaningless text messages void of emotion or feeling of any sort, lie empty words. Sometimes I don’t think we see the ramifications of the empty words we speak, other times we do. And we still speak them. Maybe that’s why I write. Just to read that I have some type of intelligent thoughts swimming around in my mind. And I don’t know the ramifications of the words I write nor do I see the ramifications play out.

But either way we say empty words.

Sometimes things change and words that were filled to the brim with meaning and feeling have lost all its sweet flavor. As if the time around us has created a rotten odor within the words we once spoke, destroying any life or joy within them. And they become empty words.

Sometimes bitterness creeps into the meaningful words we say and stain the meaning to nothing. As though we allow our words to lie unprotected and let the void within our hearts become jealous of joy we once felt. And they become empty words.

Sometimes our mouths are so impulsively swift and impetuous we say words we don’t mean. We cut deeply into those we love unintentionally wounding them leaving ourselves hopelessly trying to pick up the pieces and put them together again. Even empty words can cut and tear apart a soul.

Sometimes in the moment we throw words with meaning to intentionally cut and destroy only to step back and realize we didn’t actually mean what we said. And we are left hopelessly trying to pick up the pieces and put them together again.

We can cover up, ask for forgiveness and attempt to change the words we have said but truthfully no words, even words with meaning, can ever extinguish the words without meaning.

We live in a world where words are empty. Our interactions now are more than just simply words spoken. Words are read and interpreted with as many meanings as one can think of. Even the simple word “hi” can be given meaning of annoyance or simplicity or just a simple greeting. But the problem with the many interpretations is that the word is left without meaning.

Because of the vast interpretations of a single word, our society has lost the meanings of words. Words can mean and be read as so many things and it has caused breaks in our relationships that are unnecessary and painful. We’ve allowed words of emptiness strike at our soul and eat away at who we are as human beings.

We’ve allowed it.

Now when we read a response from a person, we give it it’s own meaning even if it was unintentional. It doesn’t matter. We still allow it to hurt us and deeply wound us. Or annoy us. Our frustrate us. Or anger us. Or give us hope.

This is the problem I see with the society we are creating. We a creating a society of humans who are becoming less and less human and more and more fragile and broken due to our lack of patience for empty words unspoken.

imago dei.

[bonus a-to-z challenge post!]

We live in an image saturated world.  A world that relies on images to entice, portray, convey, and convince us what the world really is.  A few months ago I watched this TED video.  The words that struck me from this video were not only how our society views images and decides what’s beautiful and what isn’t, it was the superficial reality of the images we place so much desire and hope in.

“Image is powerful, but image is superficial.”

Our reliance on images is scary to me, especially after watching this video.  I realized that the images we see of models aren’t actually real people, they are touched up, photoshopped people who aren’t actually real.  It opened my eyes to see that models are actually people too.  The images of her in real life during the same time as her shoots was completely eye-opening.

What’s even more scary is that young girls and women are constantly trying to be like those images we see in magazines and advertisements.  We see those images, which are not real, and we want to be like them.  We try desperately with makeup, weight loss pills, excessive working out, starving ourselves to reach a goal that is not even possible for the most “beautiful” women, models, on earth.  When we are young, we are constantly trying to look older and when we’re older we’re constantly trying to look younger.

Our lives are cyclically trying to attain a goal that is unachievable but images give us this false hope that it is attainable.  Our society is so focused on image and how we look that we forget that we are something greater.  I know this is cliché, but we are made in God’s image.  We are a broken, broken image of who God is.  But because we are so focused on the images society places around us we forget this, we lose sight of it and strive for the unattainable.

It pains me to see children be told that they are ugly or fat.  It pains me to see models who look stunning in images struggle with the way they look because they don’t look like at the photoshopped image man created on a computer.  It pains me to know that girls are striving to be something they aren’t and forgetting who they are in the process.  This world is crying out to be perfect when it’s not, and it never will be.

freedom.

Sometimes as Christians, we put ourselves and others in boxes.  I’ve mentioned this before in my previous post titled “community and short attention spans.”  When I came to Wheaton as a freshman, I thought I knew what a Christian looked like.  Christians were supposed to be put together, if not completely, they were supposed to know what they believed, and they were supposed to trust God with everything no matter how hard the situation they were currently in.  A Christians life was by no means considered easy or perfect, but rather, they were supposed to know the answers and understand life enough to “shepherd” and lead others on the path to a good, moral Christian life.

Since coming to Wheaton I’ve realized that this view of a Christian is not only wrong, it is confining.  There is some truth in this view of a Christian; that they should be trusting God in every situation.  But if I were to say that I know without a shadow of a doubt exactly what I believed and that I understand life enough to lead other people to whatever a good, moral Christian life is, then I would be lying.  Maybe I’m not a good Christian for saying this, but I don’t believe I know and understand life enough to know what a moral life would be.  We’re sheep leading sheep, we make mistakes; it’s the blind leading the blind.

It’s almost the same to me as the arminianism verses calvinism debate, and whether you can lose your salvation.  What is a “good, moral” life?  How much is too much and where is the line drawn?  Just like your salvation, how do I know that I’m living a moral life?  If I do this, does that mean that all of a sudden my life is no longer “moral” or “good”?  I don’t think the Bible’s purpose is for us to live life by a set of rules laying out what a moral life is.  I don’t think that God sent us the Bible to read it and decide how we should live our life.  I think God sent us the Bible so we would better know and understand who he is, and his love for us.  The Bible doesn’t lay out the rules by which a “good” Christian must abide and live by.

I find great freedom in this.  Knowing that the Bible is teaching me about God, not about life on earth.  It gives me freedom to make mistakes; try and fail.  It gives me freedom to be who God created me to be and to understand more fully who God is.  This freedom isn’t an anarchy, my life is still a life of following Christ and who he wants me to be, but instead of me having to follow a list of rules or guidelines for what a Christian should look like, I can be myself and love the God who has endless love and forgiveness.

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city.

I grew up in the small (I only realized it was small when I moved out to the suburbs of Chicago) town of Hudson, Ohio.  It’s a cute little town of 22,262 people who are majority middle class white citizens.  The closest city to me was Cleveland, and we all know what Cleveland is like, and if you don’t, then you don’t want to.  Cleveland was not very accessible (only by car) from where I grew up, so going into the city wasn’t really a “thing”. There was also an understanding that Cleveland wasn’t really that great.  When I went there, I didn’t really see floods of people walking around or people enjoying the city itself.

Since coming to Wheaton, I’ve realized that the city is so much more than just a place to go see the symphony or see sports teams play.  The city is the conjunction of our human corruption and our innate beauty and creativity.  Maybe I’m just spoiled because I live by one of the greatest cities in the world, Chicago, but when I go to Chicago I see the world more clearly as it is.

When I go to the city I’m overwhelmed with the diversity of people.  Not just ethnically diverse, but the different personalities the city calls.  The city shows me how different each of us truly are.  Not only do we look different and act differently, each of us has our own separate lives.  We’re each going on our separate journeys only momentarily running into each other and saying excuse me.  The city reminds me how easy it is to fall between the cracks of society and feel incredibly alone and isolated with no community of your own.

But, there are some stunningly beautiful parts of Chicago, particularly Michigan Ave., State St., and Lakeshore Dr.  But there are some also wretchedly ugly dehumanizing, and filthy parts to Chicago as well.  I was blessed to have the opportunity to go to the city every Saturday afternoon to serve the homeless for the first 2 years of my Wheaton College career.  This opportunity opened my heart to the homeless and showed me the pain of human life in the context of the city.  I saw humans who were living like animals in the deep cavities of Lower Wacker Dr.; people who are so ashamed and embarrassed that when we attempted to talk to them they barely knew what to say.  Then there were others who didn’t know when to stop talking. I mean if you think about it, these people have no one to hear them out. I can’t imagine living life like that. It started to make me think about the world completely differently.

What brings someone to beg for money?  What brings someone to live on the streets of the city? I was always taught that they were choosing to be homeless, that anyone can get a job in this great nation of America, and that anyone who can’t is just lazy.  But that’s not true.  It made me realize, yes, some homeless people may just sit in their homelessness because they grew up homeless, and some of the homeless are pretty darn crazy and not necessarily fully in their right mind, but there are a lot of homeless people who lost their jobs and are truly struggling.  There are homeless who are stuck in the cyclical addiction of alcohol and drugs and can’t find a way out.  There are homeless who truly feel helpless and have no where to turn.

Visiting the homeless and getting to know them made me wonder what it would be like if I were homeless.  I tried to think about how lonely it must feel.  I thought about how degrading it must be to beg people for money only to have them turn their back on you and ignore you.  I thought about what it would be like for me and what state I would have to be in to beg on the streets.  I thought about how I would have to feel like there was absolutely no other options for me, that the only way for me to survive was to ask other people to help me to get food for that day. Some may be taking advantage of the system but many are acting in desperation.

The city is full of opposing pictures of wealth and extreme poverty, the immaculate and filth, brokenness and restoration. It’s a magnified version of the world around us.

 

family, talent, and hard work.

I left to go home for Thanksgiving in Ohio on Wednesday.  I drove back to Wheaton on Black Friday.  I was particularly proud of my car for making it that long.  It’s a good car.  On Wednesday I was falling asleep at the wheel, so I turned the heat down and blasted Macklemore’s CD The Heist.  To keep me focused, I also attempted to memorize the lyrics of his songs.  Didn’t really work.  But hey it was an A for effort.

I realized that I really hate Thanksgiving.  The holiday is just not fun, we sit around a table and stuff ourselves with food until we no longer can eat anymore.  Then we eat more.  You never get enough time off to do anything significant.  It’s just really not exciting for me.  But this Thanksgiving was very good compared to the past.  For one thing, my whole family was present with the exception of one cousin.  The last time that happened I was still going through puberty.

On my trip home I had a lot of time to think and reflect on my time spent with family.  First of all, I was thinking about how weird families are.  How families are just a group of people who happen to be born into the same group of people.  It’s just weird.  Like I wouldn’t be connected or even know these people except for the fact that my mom is related to their mom.  Families are strange.

But the thing I really wanted to write about while in the car driving, (which I obviously couldn’t, so instead I recorded myself talking about it so I wouldn’t forget what I wanted to say, maybe I’ll post the recording on here for fun), was about “talented” people.  My extended family is convinced that one of my cousins is super talented at music.  He can pick up a guitar and play it by ear and he can write really good poems.  Congratulations.  But seriously, he does have a good ear.  So maybe he is talented, but talent doesn’t make you successful.

This problem happens particularly with musicians, athletes, and artists.  People are convinced that people in these areas are just purely talented and that’s why they’ve been successful.  Maybe it’s because the majority of the population can’t pick up any instrument and play it very well, or pick up a bat and hit a baseball 300 feet.  But it’s interesting to me that as a society we have this idea that people are purely talented, and because they are talented, they really don’t have to work hard to be successful.  I hate to say this, but talent doesn’t make success easy.  As musicians, athletes, and artists, maybe we are talented, but that talent doesn’t make us successful.  We may be gifted in a certain area, but we’re not just gifted or talented.  We’re hard workers.

I’ve been studying music since I was 5 years old.  I started taking piano lessons, and then when I was 10 I started playing the cello.  I’m now 23 years old and I’ve been studying music for 18 years.  It feels a lot longer than it sounds, but I’ve devoted the majority of my life to studying music.  I’m in college now studying music and devoting my life to it.  I’m to the point where I really can pick up any instrument and play it.  It’s not because I’m more brilliant (one of my older students called me brilliant for being able to play the violin and viola so well) than anyone else, I’ve worked really hard to get where I’m at.  I’ve cried, wanted to quit and give up and I never did.  That is how I got to where I’m at.  I may have started off having an affinity to music and you maybe can call that talent, but right now, I am not talented.  I’ve worked my butt off to get where I’m at right now.

This semester at Wheaton College, this man named Eric Lamb came to speak to us musicians.  He’s a flute player who has traveled around the world performing.  He is excellent at what he does and he has been very successful at it.  He told us his story which included being the top in his class at his conservatory which meant he practiced, practiced, practiced, and practiced more.  He also told us that he connected with the right people who led him to where he is at now.

At the end of his session, we had a question and answer time.  I remember this one man’s question in particular because of what I realized from it.  The man was asking this question in light of the fact that his daughter wanted to be a musician, and to make music a career.  He asked “Listening to your story, it sounds like you are just very talented.  You also seemed to have met the right people and just got lucky with who heard you and who you met with.  I’m just curious how I encourage my daughter to continue to work at being a musician with the understanding that she probably won’t make it as a musician unless she gets lucky?”  I’m obviously paraphrasing and also probably totally butchering his question.  But really what matters was Eric’s response.

Eric responded almost as if he was offended.  And I was slightly taken aback because I was like that is a valid question.  But Eric’s response was “Maybe I have been lucky, but what got me to where I am right now is not just luck.  I’ve worked hard to get to where I’m at.  When I wasn’t practicing, I was calling people and networking with people to get my name around.  I have worked hard to get to where I’m at.”  This was fascinating to me and it caused me to start thinking about our view of musicians in general.

Why is it that people always assume that we get to where we at because we’re lucky talented people?  People also don’t see being a musician as a legitimate career.  I’ve had people talk to me negatively so many times about musicians, talking like they are lazy, and like music really isn’t actually a career.  Our society has confused the idea of talent being able to take us somewhere.  When really, talent can only take someone so far, and then the real hard work has to kick in or else that talented person will just be a person with talent not a musician with talent.

I guess what it comes down to is, people are talented.  There are talented people, but that talent and affinity towards something will only take someone so far, and if they aren’t willing to work their butts off to go somewhere with their talent, then they won’t find success in that talent.  Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book “The Tipping Point” and in that book there is a chapter titled 10,000 hours (Macklemore wrote a song about this).  In this chapter, Gladwell presents research that he did with the top musicians in the world or something, and basically decided that they averaged around 10,000 hours of time they spent practicing.  He concluded that in order for someone to get close to successful at something, they need to put around 10,000 hours into it.

We read that chapter in my Senior Capstone class, and it’s interesting because a lot of my colleagues did not appreciate the mathematical thinking that Gladwell presented (what’d ya know.  We’re a bunch of musicians!).  But I personally really connected with it.  I came from a different perspective, it made me realize how our society thinks about successful people.  I’ve had many students come in who want to play the violin well.  They have a desire, but then when they realize how much work and time they have to put into playing Mary Had a Little Lamb, they automatically are like, the violin isn’t for me.  Because it’s hard.  You can’t pick up a violin and automatically sound like Joshua Bell.  You have to work to get to that point, and that’s where our society quits.

We want things right here, right now, and we don’t realize that in order to be successful or go places with our talents, we have to work hard to get there.  My cousin may be talented, and God has probably gifted him with music, but unless he works to perfect that talent, he is just like everyone else- a talented person who didn’t sow his gift and work at it.  No one becomes a good musician overnight, no one just wakes up one day and is able to shoot 95% at the free throw line, no one becomes good at something just because they breathe.  People have to put in time, energy, tears, blood, and frustrations to get anywhere with their talent.  That is where our society has come up short.  We think that we are all talented and we don’t have to work to be good at something.  That’s a lie.  And it needs to change.

pressure.

I’m 22. Almost 23. I will be graduating from college sometime soon, Lord willing. When I graduate from college and move into the real world there are expectations that my parents, friends, and community have on me.

I go to Wheaton College. Although not a conservative Christian college by any means, Wheaton is still an evangelical Christian college. I’m watching as many of my friends are getting married. And it’s not just two of my friends. It’s definitely in the double digits. My Facebook news feed is lined with wedding pictures, engagement pictures, and new relationships being started. As wonderful and glorious this may be for many people, its rather distressing and scary for someone who has never been on a date before.  When I graduate, there is an expectation of making a career out of the education I have received.  In that career making, there is an expectation of money making as well. There are many facets of expectations we have on our lives and what we want to happen.

In our lovely American, evangelical Christian culture, you go to college, get married, start a career, have a family, continue in your career, retire, move to a nursing home, and then eventually die. All of those things are great, wonderful, and beautiful in their own way, but is that the only way to live our lives? Living our life around the expectations of this grand, happy, American life, put on us by ourselves and others?

I am inclined to believe that these expectations greatly effect the way we live our daily lives. I’m convicted that each day I wake up and each moment I do not surrender my day to God, I am living under the pressure of these expectations. If I do not surrender my day to God and his will, I am living for myself and my pleasure. Therefore, I am denying myself the opportunity to please God and bring him glory.

When I live in the expectations of society, I live under the pressure of the world and not under the peace of God. I believe that God has a plan for me, and I know God’s plans for me are far greater than my expectations or my own plans for my life. Therefore, I’m able to trust him when I surrender my day and each moment to him.

It sounds easy doesn’t it?  But how often do we actually live our lives like this? I know I don’t live this way very often at all. In fact, most of my day I am too busy to think about God or what he wants in my life. Most of the time I’m not even thinking about God because there are so many other things going on.  When I’m on Facebook and I see new relationships starting, wedding pictures, and engagement pictures, I wonder what’s wrong with me. Or why I’ve never been on a date. Or I wonder if I will ever get married. And my heart longs for it. This is mostly because of a fear of being alone and living my life by myself.  But what would it be like if I slowed my life down and brought my concerns and troubles to Christ in every moment in my life?  Is that even possible?

I pray that God would teach me how to live my every moment surrendering to him and his will for me. Even the moments where I feel left behind, alone, and forgotten by the rest of the world and my friends. I pray that God would give me eyes of discernment to know myself and how he’s made me. I pray that he makes his plan for me clear. I pray that as a church, we are able to live like this as well. I pray the church would not escalate the effect of expectations on people’s lives but instead point people to God and his will for them.

I also pray for you, as you read this. I pray that God would be relevant in your life. I pray that he would show you his plan for you. And I pray he would give you the patience to wait for what he has planned. I pray that you would have the strength to surrender your every moment, thought, movement to God. And most importantly, I pray you would have the strength to surrender the pressures you feel from society, culture, yourself, and the people around you to him.