Saturday, 22 December 2012

learning to be okay with the fact that things always sound better in my head

In my head, the words I conjure up are unfailingly eloquent. I have things to say, and I know how to say them. My sentences are perfectly arranged, my metaphors all in order, my analogies irreproachable. I get excited, lying in bed with my eyes closed, as I think about all the wonderful ways I can express my thoughts in writing. So I sit up in bed and turn on my laptop, still excited. And I open a blank page, and, well, crap. It's all gone. If I picture my oh-so-beautifully-crafted sentences travelling from my brain down through my head, shoulders, and arms to my fingertips, I imagine they must all get lost somewhere around my elbows and start breaking apart, drifting to my fingertips in fragments of words and phrases that I can't properly piece back together. It's very, very frustrating, and it makes me just not want to try at all much of the time.

I feel the same way about coming home. (Actually, come to think of it, I could probably make this feeling a metaphor for just about anything in life, but since I just got back home three days ago after being away for six months, this is what is on my mind.)

Because I'm away from home for several months at a time during the school year, I always forget, to some degree, what it's like to be here. So in the few weeks leading up to my return, I make fantastically bright plans for how I'll spend my time at home. How I'll show nothing but love and respect to my parents, play with my sisters every minute of my free time, and above all, be patient with every member of my lovable but crazy, drive-me-up-the-wall family. This will be the break that I am able to show them the perfect, flawless example of Christ's love, I think to myself every single time. I get excited, lying in my terrifyingly wobbly bunk bed in Berkeley as I form these laudable intentions. I board a plane, sit in an uncomfortable seat for 12-plus hours, still excited. And then I come home and after just two days I realize how hard it is to carry all these good intentions out. I snap at my dad when he repeats unwelcome advice for the tenth time, and I find myself spending more time with a book than with my sisters. I frustrate myself with my inability to put into perfect action the perfect plan for showing the perfect love to my family.

There's a "but," of course. That "but" is that, ultimately, it's okay. (Not that I snap at my family; no, no, that's not okay. And I have to repent each time.) I'm learning, however slowly and resignedly, the very simple lesson that things will always sound better in my head. Even when it comes to things like loving my family. I'm a very flawed, very incompetent, very sinful human being, and I can't hope to live up to my castle-in-the-sky standards of eloquence and lovingness. But even knowing this, that the way I plan it in my head is not how it will be in life is no reason to stop me, or anyone, from trying. And in the act of simply sitting down in front of my sorely unused blog screen or in front of my younger sisters, words and actions come to life that might not have been part of my plan or even come close to measuring up to my impossible ideals, but that still in some way carry out the same intention behind it all.

The conclusion I inevitably but somewhat abruptly come to is no new, world-shattering revelation, nor do I pretend that anything I've written above is such a thing (or who knows, maybe it is to somebody). Simply the often repeated but for all that still so very true phrase that we are called to excellence, not perfection, which belongs to God. Just as my fears of not meeting my perfect standards in writing and in loving shouldn't stop me from trying in the first place, so my failures to meet them when I do try shouldn't cause me to wallow in frustration or self-condemnation. Especially because I know that, ultimately, I can only love because He first loved me. And this is where my writing-loving analogy breaks down, because I don't have a way of applying 1 John 4:19 to my writing. But hey, this post was only ever going to be perfect in my head anyway.

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Colossians 3:23).

"I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business." - Michael J. Fox

Monday, 8 October 2012

In the spirit of gratitude, caffeine, and irrational decision-making…

…I find myself writing yet another post in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping or studying. My urge to write something, anything, everything in the world that has ever been or ever will be written, overtakes me at the most inappropriate times. Either that, or this is simply a glorified form of procrastination, one which I find allowable and exempt from condemnation by virtue of its (pretended) eloquence.

It’s the sixth – or seventh? – week into my junior year, and, I think, about time to do some (written) reflection on the semester so far. Because so far, it has been glorious.

The first word that comes to mind when I think about summing up the past month and a half is gratitude. Gratitude for all that God has done in my life over the past year in bringing me to and growing me in Livingwater. Gratitude for how through all of that He was steadily preparing me for the season he would lead me into this year. Gratitude for how He has allowed me to co-lead a sophomore small group this semester and be blessed beyond expectation in watching my “small groupies” grow and spur each other on. Gratitude for two roommates whom I can call sisters and with whom I can eat, pray, and love to the fullest. Gratitude for God’s daily, sustaining grace in my classes, activities, and job when it all becomes too much for my frail human self to handle. Gratitude for the fact that He has even brought me to Berkeley, where, after two years, I still walk around every single day feeling joyful and privileged to be part of the community, the campus, the city. Gratitude for the Holy Spirit that lives within me and empowers me to do the things I cannot, or the things I do not dare to dream of doing.

I came into this school year expecting to pour out into others as a small group leader, and as a sister and friend. And yet I find that as I serve, I am still being continually poured into and blessed by the very people I thought I would pour into and bless. “I know I’m filled to be emptied again” – but out of his goodness, God is filling me as fast as I am emptying myself, if not faster, so that there is a constant overflow of love and joy in my heart that I know only comes from him. 

It’s been a truly, truly blessed start to my junior year. It’s also been the busiest six – or seven? – weeks I’ve experienced in my two years as an undergrad, and it’s only going to get busier. This week I begin my internship as well as official ISAC meetings on top of everything else, and I have two midterms, a paper, junior special large group, and far too much reading to depress myself thinking about. But I count all of these things blessings that God has given me out of his grace (yes, even those aggravating midterms), and above all I desire to be faithful with all that he has entrusted me with. So, even though it’s 2:43 AM and I’m still not done studying, and my to-do list has become longer than the student roster for Astronomy C10, I am neither stressed nor daunted by the coming week. Because I know that in all things God is with me, and his favour rests upon me. And even if by this time next week, I’ve been fired from my internship (is that even possible? I sincerely hope not), received all failing grades, fallen sick, become overwhelmed or discouraged, had people turn against me, and lost everything I have… well, may the name of the Lord still be praised. God is good whether he is good to me specifically or not. I hope that I may have the conviction and the faith to continue to praise him when hard times come, as they inevitably will. But for now I am simply a joyful daughter who has much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

when a good girl attempts to be a rebel

I am nineteen years old and the most rebellious thing I have ever done was to get a second cartilage piercing without my mum's permission (the first one I got only after I had wheedled an exasperated "Oh, fine, do what you want" out of her. Unfortunately a dodgy-looking bump appeared on my ear a few months later and I ended up taking it out anyway). This complete lack of any acts of rebellion in my record combined with a fit of restlessness at 12:02 AM on Saturday night propelled me to make a spontaneous decision  - a phrase never associated with my name unless it is used in the context of shopping - to sneak out of the house. In the past I've often contemplated going for a nice, solitary walk by myself at night but I was always too scared. Not because of what might happen to me outside my home, but because of what might happen to me inside it, if I were caught. But Saturday night was different. I realized I didn't want to die without having sneaked out of the house while my parents were sleeping at least once in my life, so I stood up from my chair abruptly, yanked open my closet, and put on some socks.

Filled with a mixture of equal parts giddiness and apprehension, I tiptoed to my parents' room to check that my dad was home and sleeping, opening the door with an unnecessary amount of caution, seeing as my dad sleeps like a rock. A drugged rock. Sounds of deep breathing greeted my ears, and my eyes adjusted to the dark enough to register my dad's sleeping figure on the bed. Good. I closed the door just as carefully as I had opened it, grabbed my sneakers (appropriate footwear for sneaking out of the house, of course) from the shoe area in front of the door, and made my way through the house to the other door. Probably-necessary-explanation: my family lives in two apartments that were connected essentially by breaking down the dividing wall and replacing it with a door. Consequently, we have two front doors we can use to get in and out of our apartment(s), so I was able to leave through the door farthest from my parents' room. With nothing but my cell phone - tangible representation of my acknowledging that my parents might actually discover me missing and call me shouting - and 2000 won (about $1.70) in my pocket, I gathered up my nerve and pressed the button to open the door, hoping to everything good in the world that my parents would not hear the obnoxiously loud beeping. And with one small step for Yurie and one giant leap for her spontaneity and rebellion, I found myself outside my home. Standing on the other side of the door at midnight, with my parents and sisters asleep, and with all the time and freedom in the world.

Once outside, I walked calmly out of the apartment building and down the various hilly streets until I reached the main road. Then - and I have no idea why, or what came over me - I started running. Perhaps it was the sudden fear that one of the men in business suits or high school boys eating ice cream might attack me; perhaps it was the realization that I could run just for the sake of running... that it was a cool night, that I was wearing running shoes, that nothing else was weighing me down, no time constraints, no bag, no crowds of people. It was completely exhilarating. It was everything that that overused expression "sense of freedom" could convey and more. I ran with a manic grin on my face that probably would have scared away any potential attackers, enjoying the feeling of the breeze playing across my face and the rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement. There was a long string of colourful round paper lanterns - pink, orange, green, yellow - hanging from tree to tree, celebrating the approaching holiday of Buddha's birthday, and they brightened my run and made me feel safe. Yes, apparently all it takes for me to feel safe out in the almost-central city at night is some paper lanterns. Should this worry me? Maybe.

Guided by the happy-birthday-Buddha lanterns, I ran until I reached the entrance to Insadong, which, admittedly is not very far from my home at all. But for a first sneaking out of the house excursion, I felt that was good enough, and besides, I was sweaty and wanted to be back in my pyjamas. Before heading home, I walked around and on the giant paintbrush statue on the corner of the street a few times, relishing the fact that nobody could judge me or shoot me weird looks. And then I turned around and ran back. Back the way I had come, back with the same manic grin on my face, with the same breeze and lanterns accompanying me. As I reached the bottom of the hill I live on, I made toward the convenience store to buy a drink, but I came to a terrified halt when I saw my dad sitting at a table outside the store. Panicking, I made a sharp right turn and ran full pelt up the hill without looking back until I remembered that my dad was sleeping in his bed and I had seen him there before I left the house. Paranoia is stronger than reason. At least it was for me at that moment.

When I reached home (after stopping to lie down on the road for a minute or two and look at the star...yes, just the one star...) and walked inside the door I was greeted by the darkness of a sleeping household and the squeaking of one exercise-obsessed hamster running on his wheel. And that was the end of a successful sneaking-out-and-running-to-Insadong-experience, I reflected happily, as I walked to the kitchen to get a drink. I had almost reached the fridge when- "Yurie." I stopped. So did my heart. Crap. CRAP. My mum called out to me from my sister's room, where I assumed she had been sleeping, and in that petrifying second I finally understood what it meant to have your blood freeze. My heart having failed me, my brain decided to join it, shutting down and failing to produce any coherent thoughts about what I could say to explain my entering the house at that time.

"Yes, Mum?" I asked, walking into the room as one might walk into a four hour long math lecture - extremely unwillingly. Unless you really, really like math.

"What does 'omw' mean?" My mum was looking at her phone with brows knitted in incomprehension. Relief swept over and through every inch of my being at this harmless question, and my heart and brain resumed their normal functions.

"It means 'on my way.' 가는중."

"Oh, okay, thank you. Goodnight."

"Goodnight Mum."

I walked out of the room, grabbing my glass of water from the kitchen and fleeing to the safety of my own room. And that was the first and last time this good girl tried to be a rebel. I think I'll just stay inside at night from now on.

Friday, 13 April 2012

an unplanned letter

To my beautiful little brother –
I don’t know why, but I can’t get you out of my mind tonight. I’ve often thought about you before, but tonight the memory of you sits on my heart – not heavily, because the one memory I have of you is precious and happy and beautiful, but in a way that absolutely prevents me from focusing on and writing my Education 40AC essay which is supposed to be my “life history.” My professor told us our essays had to be tear-inducing for us to get A’s. He wanted to weep when he read about our personal experiences. There’s absolutely nothing in my educational experience, which is what I’m meant to write about specifically, that would make anybody cry, so I just gave up hope that my essay would be a particularly moving one. But I began thinking about the one and only truly sad event from my childhood – the loss of you, my beautiful little brother, and Mum and Dad’s beautiful son. And instead of moving onto other thoughts, my mind has remained on the thought of you, Junghoonah. I don’t care that it's 3:48 AM and that I still haven’t finished my life history. I want to write you the first letter I’ve ever written to you. If I don’t do it now, I probably never will.
It doesn’t seem fair that I have eighteen years to pull from in writing a life history, and you didn’t even have one. You were born three years after I was, in October 1996, and you left us in May of the next year. My one memory of you is connected to this one particular photograph of the two of us - we were sitting on a children’s playmat on the floor of our front room – you know the kind that has all different squishy things to push and pull and play with? I just have a faint memory of sitting on that with you and showing you all the different things on the mat and laughing. I was three, and I was so excited to have a younger sibling! I don’t think I was ever possessed with sibling envy, or a feeling of abandonment – I didn’t feel that way when Eugenie and Izzie were born later. I was just happy to have you, and happy to be able to play with you.
Though thinking about you is not sad or painful for me, I wish I could still say that – that I am happy to have you, and happy to be able to play with you. I know that Eugenie and Izzie might never have been born if you had lived, and I know that everything was all part of God’s plan – when you were born, he probably decided that you were so adorable and delightful that he wanted you to be with him sooner – but sometimes a part of me wishes that I could just have had all three of you as my siblings. You were born in ’96 – if you were still here with us, you’d be 15 going on 16. You’d probably be a freshman at CCS, where I went, taking geometry and biology and English. (I bet English would have been your favourite subject. As your older sister, I wouldn’t have allowed it to be any other way.) You’d probably have a crush on a girl in your class but be too embarrassed to talk to me about it. I would be encouraging you to play varsity sports, if you weren’t already, and I’d be cheering for you at the games I could go to when I go home for break. I’d be that obnoxiously loud and supportive older sister, and you’d be embarrassed but probably really happy deep down. Or maybe you’d hate sports, and find enjoyment and satisfaction in music instead, or art, or writing, or community service, or – or – I don’t know. How will I ever know? I can only make lighthearted guesses.
I hope you don’t laugh or think me completely frivolous when I say this next bit, but I would often think of you when our family got in the car to go somewhere. I suppose it’s not so much of a problem anymore now that I’m away from home; but Eugenie and Izzie always argue about who has to sit in the middle seat. I’m significantly bigger than they are, so they rarely question my exemption from this debate, since they recognize that it’d be that much more uncomfortable for me. But anyway, this ritual debate would often lead me to wonder what it’d be like if you were still with us too, and we had a family of six instead of five. Mum and Dad would have had to get a minivan, which they’d probably have a terrifying time driving in Seoul. We’d sit with Mum and Dad in the front, Eugenie and Izzie in the middle row, and you and me in the back. Eugenie and Izzie would probably be their normal, silly, bickering, funny little selves, and I’d probably spend most of the car ride making fun of you or having a serious conversation with you in the backseat. In fact, I was thinking about all of this for a few brief minutes earlier today when one of the older brothers at my church gave me a ride home in his minivan with my friend. (I think it was determined that I would be thinking about you today/tonight after all.) I told them that I’d always wished our family had had a minivan, but didn’t go any deeper than that. How could I have? It’s not something you bring up randomly in conversation: “I always wished my family had had a minivan…it’s a wish I connect to my wish that the little brother I once had was still alive.” I don’t want people to feel sorry for me – especially because the sadness I felt at your passing was so uncomprehending and faded so quickly (I was only four!) – if anything, I'd want them to hear about you and have cause to smile at my happy little memory of you. But this awkwardness in talking about you has made it hard in some ways. It’s made it hard because I don’t want you to be forgotten, but how can people remember you if they never knew you existed? I want people to know that Junghoon Kwon lived and laughed and walked – crawled? – this earth, if only for a short time. The sadness is long gone and long healed, but I want to make sure the memory of you is always alive, somewhere, somehow.
I was talking to Mum about you on KakaoTalk just now. I can’t imagine what it was like for her and Dad to lose you all those years ago, Junghoon. She told me that she rarely ever talked to me about you because it was so hard for her, but that there are so few people to remember you that it’s a relief to know that I still think of you. She told me that you had Eugenie’s face shape – or rather, she has your face shape – and my/Izzie’s eyes, nose and mouth. I’m sorry you had to have my eyes – they’re so small! But you’d’ve been beautiful all the same. In a way I think this unplanned, spontaneously written letter is as much for her as it is for you. I think it encourages her that she and Dad aren’t the only ones who think about you and miss you, even though I was so little at the time that I just can’t feel the same sense of loss they did. At least, it never hurt me to think about you the way it hurt them. But I know they want to keep your memory alive too, and this letter to you is my feeble little attempt at doing that, when it’s placed so strongly on my heart.
I think after writing this letter, my impression of you is stronger than it ever was. More and more, I am excited about meeting you in heaven, brother. I can’t wait to see you, to talk with you, to worship our God for all eternity with you. I can’t wait to see how joyful God will be at the reunion of two of his beloved children! It’s going to be a happy day – but wait, there are no such things as “days” in heaven, are there? You would know better than I. I’ve often wanted to write a letter to you, but every time I’ve thought about it, I’ve chickened out; I’m not sure why. But I’m glad that God put on my heart the memory of you today – twice – and that he prompted me to write this. Maybe he’s preparing me to be excited to meet you? Who knows.
I’m not quite sure how to finish a letter like this. I would say something like “I hope you’re well,” but that’s ridiculous – you’re in heaven! You’re doing much better than I am. I’ll settle with “I’ll be seeing you” instead, because I know I will see you again one day.
I'll be seeing you, Junghoon!
Your sister,