Cage

Last night I wanted to write I want to crawl out of this cage on my wrist, but it was too dark to see because it was the middle of the night.
Obviously.
And I was in that state where you’re too tired to turn on the light but not tired enough to fall asleep, so I didn’t turn on the light. So, I couldn’t find a pen. So I couldn’t write on my skin.
End of story.

This morning I looked in the mirror. Last night felt like a bad dream that I was still half-living in. My feelings haunted me. I noticed a black mark on my wrist in the mirror. I looked down and turned my wrist over to inspect. There scribbled in black pen ink, as if someone had written it without being able to see, was the word cage.

.
.
.
.

This evening I was thinking about my boyfriend coming over. And how my feelings start turning after the sun sets.
I’m always meanest to myself at night.

I need to laugh more. So I put on disco music while I was making coffee this morning.
I danced alone.

The thought of returning often crosses my mind. I bat it back like a tennis ball hitting a racket. I’m a pro at thought-batting. I’ve been doing it for the past twelve months.

I will always want family, I realized. Watching movies makes me know that I will always want familiar chatter in the form of many humans all crammed together on the couch, taking selfies.

And I always want to hold your hand when I walk with you. And I will always want to sled down ski hills sitting on a snowboard with you, even when others ask us why.
We sound like salsa dancing footwork and fake British accents. And apparently we fangirl over college Bible classes. We bake cookies for our friends and eat ramen with peanut butter. We hug in the elevator.

You wanted to take the dog on a one-hour walk to your apartment instead of leaving him in his kennel. You even asked your family if he could come inside even though you knew your mom would be against it.

And now it’s the middle of the night. And I can’t go to sleep again. But instead of re-carving my thoughts into the walls of my mind, I decided to let them out–really out. Instead of wishing I could, I’m going to

crawl out of the cage that I made for myself
let God unlock the cage and gently lead me out and into himself.

Wading in My Own Perceptions

You don’t have to be this person for anybody.
you are allowed to do so much, beloved.
And you are right that this place is much too comfortable for your taste.

some people here have only had their religion subconsciously “happen” to them. But there are a few who have taken it in their own hands to decide.
this world has a knee-deep culture. It is up to you to decide whether you get swept downstream or not—

no.
no it’s not.
i am the product of many choices. These Choices belong to God and have been made by other humans and myself.
i can choose. There is little I can choose though, in the end. I am not in control of it all.

Excerpts from King

“In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

“I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership.”

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.”

“If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”

-MLK, Letter From a Birmingham Jail

A present pain

my. heart. hurts.
it beats a bit s lower than usual.

it’s estimated time of arriva l is delayed.

It feels like it’s limping forward but still trying to crane its neck backward at the same time.
Trying to rip outwards is not the answer.
But neither is wrapping inwardly.

I am surrounded by hanging sheets of gauze and linen. All is white and I sift through the reality around me in blurred images. This maze of comfort is confusing. And more than a little annoying.

Did you hear that?
Can you hear me?

a n n o y i n g .

be intentional about who you spend your time with.

“I was thinking about hugging you and how I miss that a lot.”
I think I’ve learned how to numb the pain. I’ve buried it deep. Do I want to constantly be hurting?

That is the question. If I can control my pain, why not?
Missing you keeps you close. When I turn off those engines in my brain, they could have reverted to autopilot or they could have crashed and exploded in flames. I can’t tell.

I miss the coffee. I miss the shops. I miss talking and walking and feeling like I can go anywhere anytime.
I miss the steel and stone that dared to scrape the soft belly of the sky.
I love the clouds, but they seem unattended by some missing piece of magnificence.

I want to hold you. I want to hold. I want to hold.

My Time Right Now

I am so thankful. So utterly thankful.
I have a slight breeze, a person speaking Mandarin to me, a friend of a friend to buy coffee with, a book written by N.T. Wright to ponder, and someone in my corner all the way across the sea.
I have the time to sit on a carpeted commons room with my back against the wall and my shoes beside me because the bottom of my feet are enough. The people around me are quiet yet communal in spirit. They are enough right now.

I have the time to speak French, the time to learn Korean, the path to run a few kilometers, and the opportunity to hear the testimony of a sweet soul’s journey to healing.

Someone is watching Harry Potter and someone is doing homework.
I write.
Right now it’s enough.

Maybe it won’t be tomorrow, but
maybe it will

the things I want

I want a lot of things.
I want someone I can do cartwheels on the beach with. Even though I can’t do cartwheels.

I want to go to Chicago and stand in the fog.
Like little cat feet.

I want to drink coffee
in a coffee shop
with my heart sitting across from me
instead of being tethered thousands of miles away
across the sea.

I want to watch the sunset from my house back in my own country

I want to walk away from someone only to have them drag me back into their arms
and never let me go. Even if I get into an airplane.

I try to not think too hard about the things I want. There’s a lot of them.

 

Breathe and Be (excerpt)

October 3rd, 2019

This feels so out of control and I don’t know what to do. I want to scream and cry and stop everything from happening all at once. I have to see everything first. I have to make eye contact with everything going on around me and all that I have to do.
I want to fall into someone’s arms, I want to hold someone’s heart. I want to weep in the lap of my Lord and embrace my Saviour with my eyes closed to the rest of the world.

I want to throw away every email I have to write. I want to jam every early 6:00 am morning wake-up into a jar, seal it, and shove it far away on the topmost shelf. I want to catch up to my friends walking down the hallway and laugh with them at their jokes. I want to crush the feeling I know I’ll have tomorrow morning in my hands this instant so I won’t have to face it when the sun rises.
I want to swallow the pill of my troubles right now. All at once–not later.

I want to throw a blanket on the prospects of my future so I won’t have to look at them. I’ll leave it in my attic to collect dust like old furniture covered with sheets. I want to relive every moment of my life so I can hold it all, feel it all, be it all. Every single time and place.

I don’t want to be empty. I don’t want to think too hard or cry out for help when I need it. I want to collapse but I don’t want to fall.
Can I just wipe off today? Like dust?

Can I hold my hand and tell myself it’s going to be okay and that people will look at me?

Story Fragment #8

The wimpy blanket limply covered Kate’s lying form as she tried to get to sleep on the second floor of the Airbnb. It had been a decorative blanket, similar to the ones normally placed at the end of hotel room beds. Kate was now sleeping in hers, sandwiched in between the unsubstantial blanket and a clammy bedsheet. The stale air was not hot enough to turn on the air conditioner but not cold enough to get another blanket. Besides, her arms ached after a long day of swimming and the remote was resting on a table a few meters away.

Kate’s sister Liv was lying unconscious in the bed beside her. No lights were left switched on. Everyone had gone to bed and had been fast asleep for at least a quarter of an hour by now. 

She checked her phone. The first two digits of her screen glaring back at her were zeroes. She sighed, swiped right, and before she knew it, found herself talking to Jon. In fact, in a few minutes, she was closing the door to her room and quietly slipping down the staircase. She paused when she entered the kitchen and clutched her phone tighter in her hands. It vibrated once. 

“I’m in the kitchen,” she replied. “Can you come down?” Then she sank to the floor with her back against the wall.

The seconds ticked by in the dark, but not too many had gone by before Kate heard the screen door to the porch close and two soft feet padding across the wooden floor. They moved closer to her, stepping over from the wood lining of the dining room floor to the smooth, cool tiles of the kitchen. She picked herself up off the ground.

She didn’t have to see his face to know that he wasn’t smiling. And he wasn’t surprised when she gingerly pulled him onto the nearest couch in the room. She didn’t wait for him to ask what was wrong—it all just came out.

“I kept waiting for something to happen,” she began. “This evening. I wanted you to do something, I think.” Her voice went down to a whisper. “But I’m not even sure what it was that I wanted you to do.” She bit her lip. This was what disappointment sounded like; it was pathetic. The words felt like they were forming before they could first finish being thoughts—like they were dangling in a place where no one wanted to see them. However, her mind had already made itself up not to apologize, no matter how blindly she stumbled. 

“I just— do you ever feel alone?”
He nodded like the answer should be obvious.
“No, I mean utterly alone? To the point where it hurts?”
Jon was silent for a moment as the darkness stared back at him. He shook his head slowly. “Not even once?”
“I’m sure I have before, I just don’t remember any specifics.” Kate’s eyes pierced him through the darkness. What he said seemed to propel her away, away…                                                                                           then closer, closer…

“I guess I’m just built that way.” She whispered, letting her gaze fall away, away—

“Hey,”

Her chin tingled as if it were cold when she realized it was being guided gently closer, closer.
Their gazes met. “Everyone’s built differently for different reasons.”
She stared at him, unmoving.
“It’s okay to feel alone. Just don’t waste that feeling.”
He drew closer, closer, and her cheeks felt exposed and soft, kind of like his. She could have memorized every variance in his breathing.

“Jon,”
she whispered.

“Kate, I really really like you.”
He whispered back, his voice so close, she felt it more than she heard it. 

And at that moment that was all that was—more profound than even the darkness around them—it expanded from ear to ear, blooming sweeter every second. Her eyes faded and leaning forward, she found that she couldn’t think of or feel anything else besides him. 

That night when she got into bed a second time, she fell quietly and sweetly to sleep. Her world was unhindered by clammy sheets; it was hurtling above the surface of the earth, pushed to the brink of flying, and soaring with the stars above the still dark sky. On her bed, the darkness embraced her lying form which felt oddly out of place. It was as though her ribs had been carved straight out of her chest. Smiling, she pulled her hand closer so she could feel the lingering sensation of his fingers cradling her own. 

 

One century ago, the Influenza Pandemic shook the roots of not only the US but the entire world. The summer of 1919 marked a period of reeling from the devastating effects of not only a world war but an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide due to a pandemic.
The world was not only recovering from warfare and viruses, though–many African Americans were struggling through living their daily lives of facing the injustices in Jim Crowe America.

A global pandemic makes pestilence and death a more tangible reality while social injustice continues to rage on… sound familiar? Though we are not currently engaged in a world war with battle names and death tolls blaring headlines, I would say that we are engaged in a different kind of war. Mayhem and death counts do blare headlines, just not in the way that we would have expected.

However, we should have seen it coming.

Last night as I was listening to an online summer course about COVID-19 and how the church has responded to pandemics in the past, a certain figure was brought to my attention.

Francis Gimké was an African American Reverand at a Presbyterian church in Washington D.C. He spent some years of his life in slavery in South Carolina and gained his freedom after the Civil War. (You can read more about his personal life here and here).  

What caught my attention about Grimké was a sermon he addressed to his church community in which he reflected over the slowly declining pandemic and the social distancing precautions of the time (it was the first message he preached in the church building when it reopened after it had been closed for months due to quarantine restrictions). In his message, Grimké attempts to make sense of not only the alarming illness and deaths at the time but also the social injustice raging in the nation. He connects the nation’s response to the Influenza pandemic and the racial tensions in an effort to spur his fellow believers to cling to hope, search for meaning in the face of mass death and illness, and to strive to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I would highly recommend reading Grimké’s full sermon. I do, however, want to touch on a few thoughts he brings up that I believe we should all take time to ponder–whether Christian or not; black or white.

During these terrible weeks, while the epidemic raged, God has been trying in a very pronouncedly conspicuously and vigorous way, to beat a little sense into the white man’s head; has been trying to show him the folly of the empty conceit of his vaunted race superiority, by dealing with him just as he dealt with the peoples of darker hue. … And, not only in epidemics, in scourges, but also in the great convulsions of nature— in earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, in disasters on sea and land, the same great lesson is taught. Under such circumstances of what avail is the color of a man’s skin, or his race identity? What does the lightning, the thunderbolt, the burning lava, the sea, care about color or race? White and black alike are dealt with indiscriminately; the one is smitten as readily as the other; the one is swallowed up as readily as the other. And that is the lesson which God is teaching everywhere through the operation of natural laws. And it is the great lesson which He also teaches in His inspired word; and which Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the light of the world. He that followeth after Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,” sought constantly to emphasize both by percept and example.

And later on:

For this awful race prejudice, this colorphobia, out of which so much that is evil has come, so much suffering, so much heart-burnings to those who are the victims of it, but which is regarded so lightly by the white man—so lightly that it never brings him any compunction of conscience—-so lightly that even in revivals of religion it is never included by him among the sins to be repented of—is not the little thing that he thinks it is, for it is an offense against the great law of Love—against the great law of human Brotherhood, as well as against the great law of Righteousness, of Justice.

Grimké points out that racial prejudice and colorphobia directly counter Jesus’ calling for humanity to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. “And, therefore, never mind what the white man may think of it,” Grimké notes, in reference to this “great law of Righteousness”–“We see clearly what God thinks of it, and it is the estimate that he puts upon it that is to determine its character.”

He ends his sermon by encouraging his audience to re-examine their faith if they found they had not gained much help out of our religion during the pandemic and a possible explanation for the events resulting from the pandemic: “We ought to come out of this epidemic more determined than ever to run with patience the race that is set before us; more determined than ever to make heaven our home. And this I trust is the purpose, the determination of us all.”

May we learn to love God and others better through all that has been going on in the world–through both racial prejudice and COVID-19.