In re Jan 11

When I was applying to Moody, the biggest draw was its tuition-paid perk. I had been in college for three years, and I just wanted to graduate as soon as possible without incurring debt. I’d also been rudely awakened to the consequences my friends were experiencing from their drinking and usage, and I wanted to separate from those influences. A conservative Bible college seemed like a safe place.

In re the ‘bubble’ nature of Moody’s subculture: the bubble is simply what we make it. Despite its imperfections, Moody to me has become so much more than a place of safety.

Moody Debate Society redeemed my bitterness toward debate, through incredibly sharpening friendships and a Christ-centered pursuit of knowledge.

GRIP Outreach for Youth supported my teaching partners and I as we entered the Chicago Public Schools with debate and learned how to start, carry on, and end a ministry well.

Professors became mentors and cherished friends, something I had longed for yet not experienced prior to Moody.

Honest sisters provided community when my loneliness felt crippling. Loving brothers challenged me to think more theologically and intentionally about how I should live my life.

Through my studies in Bible, theology, and communications, as well as through chapel, Missions Conference, and Founders Week, I have learned how to praise God and love Him more fully.

I have found a house church fellowship devoted to pursuing the hope of Christ and the beauty of community by living life together in the most mundane ways.

I have witnessed through friends and faculty what it is to humbly and faithfully follow Christ. This has become far more desirable than the height of my dreams for a successful and exciting life.

Admittedly, Moody still makes little sense to me on paper when I consider my career goals. Yet ministry opportunities will exist wherever God calls me to teach, so I am neither  regretful nor ashamed of my time here.

Through Moody, I have come to love the city of Chicago (and I think I want to stay.)

*

This first week of school was arduous.

Yet I remain convinced of Christ’s sanctifying work on Moody’s campus. Not because we are special or even the best, but because our God  is faithful to keep His promises toward those whom He calls His own.

Advertisements

Be Not So Soft

The first thing I would see was that forsaken bench, wedged between two claustrophobic cinder-block walls, in that tiny closet of a squad room, the last door to the right, the armpit of the forgotten bomb-shelter-turned-communications-department-building, unapologetically mundane.

Michael once told me never to lift up that cushion—in nine years it had never been washed, the stains of burger juice and Cheetos dust and spilled vodka coffee from teammates past had engrained themselves into the fabric of the tapestry weave. Michael said someone had once stowed and forgotten an entire donut under one cushion, and I always wondered about that but I was never brave enough to see if it was still there.

Mona would sit here, extending her legs to cover all three seats, playing with her hair as she dismissively shot down all my argumentative analysis on the resolution for why we should not feel justified in entangling ourselves in the Syrian war conflict for hegemonic reasons. Then she would get up and make room for one of the boys, which is actually a pretty good metaphor for how she always snagged the juiciest politics cases, by letting them have her, by letting them think they’d won, then befriending them after the round and stripping them of all their competitive prowess. Our coach always made sure the girls were the most aggressive members of the team, angry lipstick and tight collared shirts popping as they screamed KRITIK and PERMUTATION, and WE SUBSUME THE BENEFITS OF YOUR PLAN, and POINT OF ORDER JUDGE, OUR OPPONENT IS BEING RACIST AND ABLIST! And all those arguments had their inception on this bench, where Megan and Mona and Rose sat, and where coach drilled into them that they had to be STRONG WOMEN and EMERGE VICTORIOUS FROM THE PATRIARCHAL OPPRESSION and I wavered in the doorway, all waist-length curls and no courage, smitten with a boy who said he’d marry me and too timid to ever reiterate the impact of my argumentation twice.

I curled up on this forsaken bench, and its half-heartedly stained frame sighed to support me, I, all tucked knees and concave curves and biting pain, as the head of the department stared down at me, with the withering look of a mother disappointed that her favorite child was not more perfect—

‘you are the reliable one,

the one people except.

you do your work.

you keep your head down.

you do no wrong.’

If starvation was inconvenience, I was putting the entire team at a disadvantage; even the trophies and silver plaques seemed to judge me from their place on the walls. The posters boasting clichés-once-wise would mock me: be not so soft, be not so easy to crack, hit your opponent while he is down—or sleep with him—just win.

After she left I would weep—because I was the only one clean enough, sober enough to medal, and Coach craved the medal’s accolade like Michael craved a high. I wondered how much blood-sweet these cushions had seen.

The school finally got their funding, and they tore the entire communications building down. The new building was stolid and shiny and multilevel and had gleaming trophy cases expectantly empty, and there were elevators to shuttle the competitors up and down so that the girls would not snag their stilettos on the carpeted stairs. But I wished I could have had a part in the demolition of the squad room:

I would have shattered the cinder walls block by block, I would have upended the filing cabinet with all our terribly important rankings and scores, and that bench—I would have burned its fatigued upholstery until the stench of dried sweat and blackened coffee filled the room. I would do all these things but for the fact that nothing exists anymore, not least the forsaken bench, for what once was can hurt me no longer.

 

 

 

 

 

By Grace You Have Been Graded

Perfectionism in academic performance disregards the potency of grace.

To my fellow perfectionists: we will not survive. Rather, we will not survive this semester if we cling to unachievably high standards as the validation of our character and identity.

The routine is familiar—through sleepless study nights in the library basement and grueling cramming sessions before class, we proudly pursue self-discipline in the best ways we know how. But while studiousness is the mark of a mature student, an over-reliance on our ability to just work harder—coupled with the expectation to always attain masterful achievement—easily becomes a distant destination that offers no satisfactory arrival. Contrary to what our sleep-deprived classmates might communicate by their habits, survival and the preservation of sanity are still important standards to value.

Finishing all the reading, submitting flawless homework, and achieving all A’s—these things may constitute the law that we place ourselves under. Yet, this law too is obsolete and we are free from its burden because the foundation of our identity does not lie in our academic performance. We still slip into a voluntary enslavement nonetheless—tempted by the grade, or the professor’s accolade, or the honors recognition in chapel, or merely the note of respect in a peer’s voice. These desires can be good, but when idolized as the internal validation of our worth, their goodness sours.

 

Living in light of grace dictates that we separate our identity from academic performance.

 

The imagery of an academic altar upon which we offer our efforts as sacrifice for the idol of accolade stands in stark contrast with the finished work of Christ. The grades we so zealously labor for and lose sleep and sanity over become meaningless components of our worth in the face of what has already been purchased and bestowed upon us.

In approaching the altar, we bring nothing. Our hands are not burdened with perfect work as purchase for our salvation; rather, they are humble and empty, cramped from our striving. In all this grasping, we see that the most perfect work has already been achieved by Christ, the only One who can fully redeem our desires for perfection.

 

How does a recovering perfectionist act in light of grace?

 

Internalizing grace may look like clicking the submit button on something not comfortably edited and still imperfect. Lest academic laziness be rationalized, I am not defending the submission of shoddy or subpar work; just as any effort ought be carried out as unto the Lord, slacking in diligence certainly insults the privileges God gives us.

         The thought of missing a deadline, even due to legitimate justification or uncontrollable circumstance, still turns my stomach. When requesting leniency from my professors, I want to be able to approach them humbly and without fear of judgment, grade reduction, or the debilitating shame that would come with their disappointment. Not to their credit but to the glory of God, many Moody faculty members have shown grace in their readiness to work with diligent students, even in matters of deadlines. I know this to be true: Requesting an extension on an assignment is not an admission of failure; rather, it is a gift to be valued and used responsibly.

Because of grace, perfectionistic standards are rendered null and void. Therefore, let us not live before the grade. Let us live instead before the truth by which we have been saved.

***

Fat With

what are you fat with?

the words spring off their cream paper and parade themselves before me, prideful in their long and serifed strides, and I sit, and observe, and think:

I am fat with the love of my father,
who knew that you don’t verbalize your love for someone unless they are dead or dying,
and in childhood I was neither,
and yet my father broke with the cultural norm to tell me he loved me every night before bed,
and I would say in response:

leave-me-alone-I’ll-rest-goodnight-I-love-you

because I wanted to prove I could sleep through the night on my own,
that I would one day grow up to be a big girl and handle the big life on my own,
that I did not need him, but I sure did want him there,
and I did not yet know to be shy in telling someone I loved them.

I stopped saying I love you when I was twelve.
the words passed through my throat but never emerged,
they made their home there, they unpacked their bags and burdens and stayed, stuck.

I am fat with the love of my mother,
who did not lavish affectionate words on her children;
she doled them out like the packaged cookies we were allowed to have only for dessert at dinner,
we learned to savor her affirmation like the buttery texture of shortbread—
sandy, with a little bit of sweet, then melting—all too fast.

when I was a very small girl,
my mother would give me a goodnight massage every night before bed,
and while doing this she would spin long bedtime stories with the characters of my favorite books;
she would sing to me the hymns from the Japanese church where she met my father,
she would pray to her God (who later became my God) while stroking my hair and rubbing palms deep into my back;
and I would squint in the darkness and imagine that all the black around me was made up of a billion pixilated dots all living together, like the TV screen, and the darkness felt like velvet, and I loved my mother, and when she left I would not dare move a muscle, because it was as if I had become one with the bed and did not want to break its spell.

I am fat with the care from my grandmothers:
my grandmother natch gave me creative sensibility, and an appreciation for practicality and savviness; she taught me skills: how to arrange flowers in a pleasing and balanced way (ikebana), how to dye fabric in indigo with knots for patterns (shibori), how to make paper (washi), how to fold paper (origami); how to role sushi (musubi); how to keep the family happy at new years (with a big steaming pot of nishime).

but from grandmother lea I inherited eyes to see beauty, and it is after her that I am named;
emiko means beautiful child, she who never knew her father, a drunk, yet still loved her family well; she, who witnessed pearl harbor at seven years old yet held no bitterness against america; she, who grew up on the dirt floors of a shanty in oahu, yet did not carry the roughness of pidgin with her;  she, who came to california by herself and married a hard man and also earned her doctorate; she, who painted cards for me every birthday and easter and christmas and still wrote to me faithfully during the years I did not value her words.

I am fat with the privilege that my family has given me:
I have the richness of japaneseness without its stigma and much of its pain,
I have the ease of being American and navigating adulthood with respect and not oppression in society;
these things have made me grow full, carrying the layers of heritage my family has borne quietly and proudly,
I am them and I act in their name,
into my okinawan californian skin they have engrained in me this:
that love means little apart from action,
that things we cannot affect shall not embitter us,
that a good life is an intentional one,
that sometimes our culture is too confining—
and in times such as these,
we, the people claim ourselves as
not derived of any rising sun,
or any star and striped flag,
but of ourselves,
our souls-still-searching,
sanctification never too far
out of reach.

I am fat and full with all of these things.
I will chew slowly the ramen and slurp gratefully all the dashi too.
I will hold hashi and fork in opposing hands and wield both—
and laugh—mouth open and uncovered—at the beauty of it all,
the miso dribbling down my chin.

***

Stalks

         The stalky parts of a salad are my least favorite part. I push them around my plate like a child, tucking them behind equally despicable tomatoes and wilted lettuce leaves. I often wonder–why do salad makers even include the stalks? Their sinewy crunch has no unique nutritional value. And why does the Maker allow the sinewy parts of my life? The pesky moments that, at the time, hold No Distinct Value–the months spent waiting for an acceptance letter; the grueling drudgery of Middle Semester, when the glint of summer is too far off for comfort; the mundaneness of a lecture twenty minutes in, when my eyes are harnessed already to the sluggishness of the clock. What has He taught me through these stalky times that I’m tempted to discard as useless?

         He has shown me that waiting–and doing so faithfully and unglamorously–is absolutely necessary to the formation of perseverance. Faith, a notable component of surviving the Great Race, has rarely been for me a joyful endeavor; admittedly, it’s embodiment has often been a begrudging surrender of plans and power because No Better Option has presented itself (oh heart, but to lean on Christ is always the Better Option!) Patiently chewing the seemingly tasteless parts of life has taught me to properly undertake and appreciate every ordinary part of the human experience–not the dizzying highs or terrible lows, but the oft-forgotten In Between-ness of faithful, ordinary living.

         I must fight the temptation to shut my eyes tight, mentally skipping past the inedible–the silent parts of conversation, the fidgeting moments spent waiting in lines, waiting for the laundry, waiting for the microwave, waiting on people to change, waiting for the light to turn green on the next step of my life. My father still tells me that most of life is spent waiting; I used to hate hearing that, because I crave the Exciting Life, the Edge-Dwelling of the Persecuted.

         And yet, the way we handle the In Between parts of our lives is as indicative of our faith as our behavior in life’s extremities. Am I still as patient and humble as I present myself to be in the times when all eyes are turned towards me? It is still my burden to redeem the middle moments, the still times, the quiet and waiting parts of my days. Must finish the salad to appease the One who served it. Must chew and finish every bite.

***

Cage

ichi.

         So we will confine her, constrict her, cage her in long and curving bones until she cannot breathe. And in this way, she will be conformed to perfection. And in this way, she will stay quiet and flat enough that the rest of us may stretch ourselves up with tall and graceful confidence. You must see this, you must see that the bones are friendly, they embrace her in a hard-loving sort of way, like how a mother chides her daughter to rearrange the ikebana—tug out each sulking lily that stands awry, there must be learned balance, with deft fingers fashion a greater unity, with severity remake the whole thing until it stands perfect and all the stems are the same length and the daughter can be an honor to her mother.

ni.

         She is girl called woman, and we desire that she will blossom into a poised and well-postured and self-disciplined beauty.  For curves must fall naturally like gentle hills and valleys in the right places, she must be soft but not too soft, firm to withstand his wandering hands, arms crossed to cover her weakness.

san.

         So we will confine her, day after day, until she knows no other support; we will build these bones up and around her—lovingly, of course, for her own good—until she is finally silenced, for wideness is weakness and fullness is lack of discipline and she is too vibrant for us to contain. It’s for her own good, you know. When we release her from the bonds of day into the softness of night she will thank us, bone-marks and bluish bruises and all.

shi.

         She will see the good in the flattening, say it represents her rebellion, say this will make her a humble woman.

go. 

         As we are drinking in the very end of this night the boy slips his hand around my waist. “You are not wearing a brace,” he remarks.  There is curiosity clinging to his voice like soap that never quite washes off. I am right, aren’t I? The curiosity seems to say. I let the silence grow like my stomach never will. “You don’t have to answer that,” he adds softly, but it is too late. I have no answer. These bones have spoken.

***

Thicket

thicket. is
the density of these thoughts at 3AM,
the morning’s chill flirting with
the uncovered parts of my legs
this eminent dissatisfaction lurks,
while everyone is brimming with ideas,
and theologically weighty conversations,
and laughter,
and passionate pontification,
yet every genius thing we say fades like stars meeting sunrise
for we cannot capture words that
escape into the air above our mouths.

thicket. is
wading through  the overgrown underbrush
of my own unbelief,
its disguise is solidified ideation–
I have made up my mind
which theologies I have tried and tasted
and found good,
God is to me only within the circles of certain tradition-tested thought,
these lines are double yellow and cannot be crossed,
there are no intersections, or venn diagrams,

do I know what I believe?

do I know who I believe?

but who is God, but the one who rescued me from eternal death and pulled me into his marvelous light?
and who am I, that I could ever behold such devastating mercy?
what is this study of God,
but a magnification of his incomprehensible greatness,
or what are these papers,
and definitional terms,
and all these ‘ologies’,
if not a way to better understand,
and thus, praise with new and more precise words
the One from whom
all my blessings flow?

 

thicket. is
the moments before glimpsing  the clearing,
there are no trees to hide behind,
and from honest and barren ground rises a plea–
because of your mercy,
reorient this wandering and wayward saint,
illuminate this heart overgrown with pride,
let me see the gap of stark sky proclaiming your peace,
let me enter into the land of the living,
let me taste of the freedom that is fides quaerens intellectum,
let me seek and never quite find,
until I finally stumble before your throne,
thicket of your footstool forsaken
for the fullness of
glory.

***