The Art of Being Broken

9439696-vintage-metal-world-globe-lies-cracked-and-broken1Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
– Matthew 5:4 (NRSV)

Things are very much not okay right now. There’s so much crap going down all over the world (see: wars, hurricanes, political shams, etc.) that it’s hard to tell if I just notice all the bad in the world now that I’m older, or if things really are getting worse. It’s become very hard to hold onto hope amidst all this chaos.

And then there’s my wreck of a personal life. These past few years have been the most growing I’ve ever experienced, but they’ve also been the most trying. This year in particular has wounded me the deepest, and I’ve never felt closer to the brink of falling apart. In the span of the last 12 months, I:

I might as well buy a t-shirt that says “emotionally unstable” on the front. Living under the weight of everything above, plus generalized depression and anxiety, has taken its toll on me. I am an expert at pretending to be okay, but I can’t continue to do that every time someone asks me how I’m doing. Because the truth is this:

I am broken.

Continue reading “The Art of Being Broken”

CSP, Part 1: Foreigner in the Fatherland | 外人在祖国里

Yay blurriness?
A sloppy selfie taken after arriving in Hong Kong.

The last three months of my life were not what I was expecting. Romantic ideals of getting in touch with my “inner Chinese culture” and exploring the depths of the language were weighed down by social anxiety, isolation from loved ones, and overarching feelings of incompetence, and what I thought I was getting into quickly turned into a fight simply to stay in one piece. But it was precisely in those dark times that I learned the most about myself, about my heritage, and most of all about God.

No amount of mental preparation could have spared me the radical transformation to be effected in myself — the bursting of an ideological bubble so long held firm by a self-contained and sheltered existence — yet in the end I find that’s precisely what I needed after all. Between all the fun times and the fascinating explorations, the semester invisibly held me through a burnishing flame that not only melted away the façade of who I thought I was, but further illuminated the God who all people are made in the image of.

The China Studies Program (CSP), sponsored by BestSemester through the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), was a three-part abroad semester hosted by Xiamen University (厦门大学 Xiàmén Dàxué, often abbreviated as 厦大 Xiàdà or XMU) on the southeast coast of Fujian province, right across the Strait of Taiwan.

After a brief orientation period in Hong Kong, Segment 1 focused on academics in Xiamen. During this month I took courses on Chinese Language, Intercultural Communication, Contemporary Society & Public Policy, and Tai Chi. This post will focus largely on Segment 1.

Segment 2 was a travel component we called “the Trek”: one week in the ancient capital of Xi’an, another week in the modern capital of Beijing, and a few days in the metropolis of Shanghai. During this Segment we were given a rigorous overview of Chinese History spanning about 5000-7000 years.

Finally, Segment 3 marked a return to Xiamen, where seven of the ten students would begin internships at various companies in the area, while three of us (me included) would continue with an elective course called Dimensions of East Asian Culture — encompassing short workshops about Chinese Home Cooking, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Painting.

Continue reading “CSP, Part 1: Foreigner in the Fatherland | 外人在祖国里”

Alone in the Darkness

It is not good that the man should be alone…
– Genesis 2:18b (ESV)

streetlamp

I’m not the kind of person that views the idea of home as a specific place — I’d be glad to rewrite the adage “home is where the heart is” as “home is who the heart is with.” It’s been a difficult concept to wrestle with, and it’s only been these past few years that I’ve discovered what that means in relation to spiritual friendship and the community of Christ.

So in a sort of roundabout sense, home is where the friend is. And my friends… well, they’re all over the place.

I think of Westmont College as my home because that’s where the majority of my current friendships have been formed. But when school isn’t in session and everyone goes back to their geographical homes, I can’t help but feel that I lose my spiritual home. My community splinters every few months, and while I know that kinship still remains, it’s just not the same.

Is it too much to admit that I’m lonely?

Continue reading “Alone in the Darkness”

Clipped

Originally posted to my Facebook on June 8, 2015.

They say that just to touch the sky,
to see the world with eagle’s eye
is our pure joy, our apex grand,
our purpose, and our life’s demand.

And great it seems, to watch the dance
of shifting wings in sweet romance;
but what of us who cannot fly
who cannot soar, not touch the sky?

“Your wings are bright,” they say to us,
“too bright and far too dangerous;
the color of your plumage bright
shall blind all others in their flight.

“So do not fly! Do not succumb
to sweetened poison on your tongue.
You wretched thing, we’d pity thee
if we weren’t so far up this tree.”

And thus I stayed here on the ground,
tethered to the earth, and bound
fast to running our good race
for Him above, for His good grace.

But dust and dirt, they sting my eyes;
they stifle every sound and sight.
Perhaps this life here in the soil
could use a Friend to share the toil.

For all who touch the floor will leave,
and each step leads to parting grief;
but until then we share the dust,
and until then we walk — we must.

Although this race below the sky
can still be run if we can’t fly,
this path on which we slowly roam:
it needs a wing to walk us home.

To Chase the Light (Coming Out)

Most wardrobes don’t have secret worlds with epic adventures and magic waiting inside, but a few of them still conceal stories of their own. There, the sun never shines, the eternal winter doesn’t thaw, and the lion isn’t your friend.

You spend years upon years fighting the monsters, hiding from lions, and wishing that someone would come to strike down the wicked witch, but no one ever does. You stand by the lamppost for hours at a time, ready to escape your cold shadow of a world, but always stop at the border, thinking it safer to fight the demons you hate than fight the people you love.

Until, one day, you realize that living in darkness is hardly living at all. That if there was even a glimmer of light where the wooden doors have cracked open, it would be better to die in the sunlight than to waste away in the shadows.

So with one final push, the closet door swings open, and you know there’s no going back. The next words will change your life forever:

Dear world,

I’m gay.

Continue reading “To Chase the Light (Coming Out)”

Singled Out

There’s a reason everybody freaks out when someone’s about to get married.

Families get involved, venues are booked, banquets are planned, gifts prepared, invitations sent, dresses tailored, decorations, music, cakes, photos, friends you haven’t seen in three years, and oh my word thank God there’s an open bar.

It’s a freakin’ big deal. But why? Why do we spend so much time, money, and energy on a single day of rituals when couples nowadays can simply get a marriage license and elope? Why do we all care so much?

Contrary to popular belief, a wedding isn’t all about the soon-to-be-married couple.

In a traditional nuptial, after the bride and groom have exchanged their vows, the celebrant asks the wedding attendees this question:

“Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”

To which the congregation responds,

“We will.”

The presence of this question, or at least the spirit of it, conveys the prime reason that nonaffirming Christians often refuse to attend same-sex weddings — whether or not that’s what they might be consciously thinking. When asked to formally voice their support for a gay union, answering in the obligatory manner would be simply dishonest.

It’s interesting to note that we often don’t think about this passing formality in weddings while it’s happening. We only subconsciously note it when we have something to be opposed to, like a same-sex marriage. In the last wedding I went to, I was too busy keeping myself from crying because my cousin looked so beautiful in her wedding dress to really dwell on the gravity of my affirmation.

But lately, especially in juxtaposition to gay unions, I’ve been beginning to realize that the public commitment of a marriage is one of the most inextricably important elements of a wedding. It is what holds the couple accountable in faithfulness to one another, and holds the community accountable to recognizing and nurturing that relationship.

In a sense, the marriage covenant solidifies the ties between each individual and the community — formal recognition forces the bride and the groom into the public eye, almost as if they have become full-fledged members of the world at large.

Which is great, except that it’s kind of a problem.

Continue reading “Singled Out”

O why, o love, have thou such darkness strained

O why, o love, have thou such darkness strained
in this our earth where hot seeks cold, up down?
Your right seeks right, and thus forsakes its crown,
for left is Right, and right is left as stained.
Yet conflagration bright still burns as white as first of day;
and passion laid to waste, self-spurned, cannot imprisoned stay.

You ask me much, o love, this price to pay,
of crosses borne alone with no respite,
with rusty thorns to add to sorry sight,
and yet expects to steady, come what may.
What good is faith when trials come? when brothers shake their feet
and spit on those to thirst succumbed? How fragile this conceit.

Or hast thou, love, seen brokenness so sweet,
that comfort overcomes your wish to live?
That desperation surely shall forgive
the broken soul so joyful in defeat?
When gentle tethers turn to chains that on the heartstrings fray,
all heaven’s mercy does contain the jury’s cold dismay.

And wilt thou, love, press on and seek to pray
for God to be your only evermore?
Since witnesses betwixt thee wage their war,
what hope is there to down their weapons lay?
If murderers and whores shall find their company with Christ,
then friends among the outcast bind their hearts together thrice.

O love, your conflagration seeks no ice;
it burns to be contained by equal flame.
But Nature’s heralds turn such warmth to shame,
as if for every fire shall snow suffice.
The blaze alone, they say, shall raze the paradigm set forth
in Eden, when in Adam’s gaze good eros showed its worth.

How tragic is your face, o love, to Earth,
whose soil feels the wretched sting of sin,
and groans to be redeemed as once had been;
and loveless love, you mourn your day of birth.
How different should your hope appear had ice been your desire?
Would grace still quell your fearless fear, still tame your fireless fire?

For years to come, o love, shall you yet tire;
how long to still believe in rest at last?
If barely crawling through the race, surpassed
by all, then love, will you so soon expire?
If goodness comes to those who seek the will of God divine,
then let me hear the ones who speak out life from Christ the vine.

And as the deer who pants for streams and longs for fall of rain,
my pining soul cries out; it screams for balm to ease the pain.
O thou, o love, in darkness will you shine?
Will doubtless doubt be yours to still contend?
Will unto hope you hang until the end?
So long as Jesus’ righteousness be mine.