Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sessions with Sue 1

After 13 years of living in darkness and denial, today I did something that I've been afraid to do. I started seeing a counselor. This may make me seem weak to some of you, but at this point I can't afford to keep worrying about how things make me look. I'm turning 21 a week from today, and I wanted to use this symbolic time of transition as an opportunity to make things right and learn how to be happy.
As I approach real "adulthood", I've learned that there's a difference between being ready to do something and recognizing that it's time to do something. It's been time for me to talk to somebody for years, but I was always too afraid, didn't feel like I was ready, believed it was for weak people, was certain I didn't need it. But I do need help, and there's nothing wrong with that.
This morning I met with a lovely woman named Sue. When I arrived at her office we sat down, she had me fill out some forms, then she asked me "Now, why are you here?" So I basically told her my life story. I hadn't meant to, but it wasn't possible for me to tell her about all the problems I'm dealing with without going back to the beginning (which was age 7 or 8), and talking a lot about my dad. Plus, I rarely have the opportunity or feel safe enough to talk about myself and my feelings in front of other people, and I just had so much to let out! So I just talked and cried, talked and cried. And she listened.  She offered her input and asked me questions here and there, but mostly she just listened. In our conversation she pointed out the following things, some of which I was already aware:
  • For a long time I have been, and to a lesser extent I am still being, emotionally abused.
  • What I experienced during my childhood was not normal. It was trauma.
  • I suffer from depression and anxiety, and the things that I feel are not my fault.
  • I did a good job of recovering in the best ways I knew how. I am no longer at the lowest point. Now I just need some assistance and tools to help me get the rest of the way.
My head's still pounding from all the crying I did during that hour that flew by. But you know what? I've also been feeling lighter all day. It's difficult, it's painful, it's awkward, but expressing your reality out loud to others is a really cleansing and empowering experience. I know I just started and it's not my place to get on a soapbox or anything, but I suggest anyone who's even considering counseling to give it a try. Even if it doesn't solve all your problems, sometimes it's worthwhile enough just to have someone to talk to.

Anyway, that was my morning. Just thought I would share. Love y'all.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Yoga Wisdom: Don't Fight Yourself

"You can't compete with the bones you've been given."
-Tara (Just B Yoga)

"I don't believe in Jesus."

While waiting at a bus stop with two of my friends this afternoon (I'll refer to them as "Esse" and "Jay")  this conversation arose:
Esse (to Jay): I want to stop celebrating Christmas, but if I told my parents I didn't celebrate Christmas anymore, they'd look at me crazy.
Me: Why don't you want to celebrate Christmas?
Esse: Because I don't believe in Jesus.
(This is news to me.) Me:...Oh. You don't?
Esse: I mean I'm down with the Lord and all that, but no I don't really believe in Jesus.
Me: Hm, okay. But which "Lord" are you referring to?
Esse: You know... (looks upward) the Lord. 
Then the bus came and things had already started to get awkward,  so I let it go.
Obviously I'm disappointed about my friend's choice. I tried not to show it, but I'm pretty sure she could tell.  (Besides, she brought it up in the first place, and you can't just spring "I don't believe in Jesus" on a follower of Christ and expect her to jump for joy.) 
Of course, young educated people questioning and/or rejecting religion, faith, or certain aspects of the two is nothing new. But a couple of things strike me as strange here. First: In referring to the "Lord", she was certain that she was referring to God and not to Jesus. This confused me, because growing up in the church (Esse grew up Christian too) I've always heard that term of reverance in connection to both Father and Son. After all, though Christians recognize them as two entities, they also believe them to be one in the same. So in my mind it doesn't make sense to use that term for one and not recognize the other, because they are inseparable.
The second: That she was using a Christian term to deny faith in Jesus.  Obviously the word "lord" is used in many ways in the English language and followers of Christ do not own it. But Esse used the word in a way that is particularly characteristic of Christians, "the Lord". I'm not sure what to make of this. Maybe because that term is also commonly used by black people (Esse is also African/black/however she chooses to identify herself) in everyday conversations to refer to a higher power (or the Higher Power), she feels that using it will allow her to still connect with that culture while remaining sufficiently ambiguous? Or maybe because she's in this ambivalent state of having her own beliefs yet not wanting to estrange herself from her parents, Christian thought and ways of speaking still influence her even though she rejects Jesus?
I really don't know. I am confused, as I think she is. To be honest, as I've gotten to know her I've had a feeling that she wasn't a typical believer, but I hadn't anticipated that she wouldn't be one at all. I want to be an understanding friend and I'll love her regardless, but I can't say that I'm not disappointed.
I'll be praying for you, Esse.

Although, now I am interested in learning about how many other black people/people of African descent are out there who don't believe in Jesus.  For most of my life I'd assumed (ignorantly, I'll admit) that nearly all blacks living in the US were Christian, but Esse has shocked me into acknowledging that that's not exactly the case. You learn something new everyday. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

On Repeat: "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am"

For my final project in one of my classes I'm analyzing two tribute/charity albums produced by the Red Hot Organization that are dedicated to Fela Kuti.  Fela Kuti did many things and is known today by many titles, so I'll just say that he was a Nigerian composer, musician, and political activist who is credited with founding the music genre known as "Afrobeat". The albums dedicated to him are  titled Red Hot + Riot (2002) and Red Hot + Fela (2013).

Back when I was familiarizing myself with Fela's music, before I'd even gotten my hands on the Red Hot albums, "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am" struck me so unexpectedly. Its sadness touches me in a very deep place, and it's simply mesmerizing. Not only that, but this song's groove is just so smooth. There's a certain attitude, a coolness even, that gives the song an easygoing feel even amidst its sad lyrics. It creates a space for you to grieve, groove, and heal all at the same time. The tune's infectious, and though I'm still new to his work, I must say that this is my absolute favorite Fela Kuti song.

I'm still learning how to understand pidgin English lyrics, but from what I've gathered this song's message is like the idiom "no rest for the weary". Everyday people are just trying to get by, live good lives, and make the best of what they have, but authorities and people who have power over them seem to have no sympathy and won't leave them alone.

There's a version of the song on both Red Hot album's, but I think the more recent one sounds more like the original. It also emotionally affected me in a similar way. Below is Fela's original from 1972, and My Morning Jacket/Merrill Garbus/Brittany Howard's rendition from 2013. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Good mood.

In a bad mood and want to be in a good one? In a good mood and want to stay that way? Start complimenting random people, especially strangers, and see what happens.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Let Bookworms Be

Ma came to visit me today and dropped off a book that I might need for a research project. I'd left it at home and asked her to look for it, which I knew would be problematic because I have so many books. Too many, she might say.

Sure enough, as we sat together over dinner she complained about the trouble she had to go through to find that one book. She was awed by the number of other books she found, and the variety of places in which she found them. Mind you, these are written treasures that I've accumulated from elementary school to the present: lining bookshelves, left in bags and old backpacks, piled onto desks, stacked in storage bins and drawers and cabinets, laying out in the open. Most read but many yet-to-be-read.

I know Ma was half-joking about it, but I fail to see what the problem is. After all, you can never, and I mean absolutely never, have too many books.  Right? So I said to her:

Who bought most of those books?

Who now has a child who can actually read and enjoys reading?

I thought so.

Wisdom from PostSecret

Via PostSecret

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Birthday Burden

Exactly 3 weeks until the big 2-1, and I have no plans. To be honest,  I keep forgetting about it. And my parents have been asking me what I want, but I have no idea.

It's actually become a hassle trying to come up with things for people to give me. As a kid and being a December baby, I always had birthday/Christmas lists. But now it's like, why do I have to ask people for things on my birthday? I have enough "things". I don't really need anymore "things", you know?

How about a hug? I don't get too many of those these days. Or maybe a kind word? Or a letter? Or let me see your face, let me touch your face. Spend time with me! All of that, plus a red velvet cupcake or two (or four) would be nice. I promise I'm not trying to be difficult, but there's really nothing fantastic you could get me, because I can't think of anything to ask for.

It's going to by my day, right? So let me not want anything,  if that's how I'm feeling this time around. I understand that gift-giving isn't completely about the receiver, but I'd much rather feel love than have it handed to me wrapped in fancy paper.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Compelling! Day 3 (final)

I sit here in my room today, after everything has ended, and I am still overwhelmed.

This morning I sat down at my small group table, and one of the guys whose name Travis turned to me and said, "I wanted to wait to say this, but your song was beautiful, it was amazing. I just wanted to make sure you got a compliment yesterday and today." Thank you, Travis.

Today was a Q&A session with the panel of staff that's been working with us in the "God at Work in the Arts" track this weekend. I hadn't submitted any "burning questions" questions yesterday, but the questions that were submitted got some really good discussion going about things that have been bothering me. Below are a few highlights.

On fighting against the desire to compete and be perfect:
"God calls each of us within our art to be in different places, and we have to be okay with that."
On overcoming writer's block:
"90% of everything you come up with is crap. Write the crap (and keep it, revise it), 'til you get to the good stuff."
On how far is too far:
"Good art proclaims truth about God, the world, and yourself."
On whether or not God is in all art, "secular" or not:
"God is in everything that's true. Approach art as an explorer, not with judgment."
"Christians often forget about the human side of Jesus. We need to remember that people are human."
"As a Christian in the arts world, you need to not be shocked by things."
On how to approach art that seems to go against God or be anti-God:
"We need to learn to be good interpreters, because God's calling is higher." 
"Loving and affirming your artist friends will take you a long way."   
 On how to reach our peers and impact our artist communities:
"Reach out during those in-between moments; take advantage of small opportunities."
"We've been strategically placed in relational networks, and we need to build trust between us and the people in them. This requires time and risk. Sometimes it means being countercultural." 
"Presence is key!"
My small group

Yesterday we spent a lot of time discussing the vision and calling that Ezekiel received from God, as recounted in chapters 1-3 of the book named for him. After seeing God, receiving his instructions from Him, eating a scroll that He handed him, and being lifted by the Holy Spirit back to Israel, the prophet said, "And I sat there, overwhelmed among them seven days" (3:15 ESV). That's how I feel right now. I can't think straight. I'm confused. I am both inspired and distraught. Inspired because I've heard, done, felt, said, and thought things that I hadn't anticipated. Distraught because in the presence of God I've realized that everything I've thought about myself, my life, my "art", about nearly everything, has been off-base. Like way off-base. Like I've been living in a cave with blinders and earplugs my whole life, off-base. I don't know what to do next. But I do know that I'm different now. I must be.

I am beyond glad that I decided to do something different and go to Compelling! This experience was completely new to me, so I tried to not go into it with too many expectations. And after a weekend full of Jesus, art, learning, prayer, fellowship, worship, and more Jesus, I am in awe. Thank you to all of the beautiful people who were there with me. God bless you.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Compelling! Day 2

I was overwhelmed today, but in a good way. I've been going since 9:30 this morning and I had to leave the conference early tonight because I was overwhelmed, and I just needed to sit by myself and process a number of things. Because I am so out of sorts (in a good way), I won't get too much into the details of everything we did today. Here are a few thoughts and verses that came up in our discussions, though:

"You connect closer to God through failure; if you're not failing, you're disconnected from your Creator and you're not living life."
"A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men." Proverbs 18:16 (KJV)
"And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.
Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads." Ezekiel 2:5-6 and 3:8 (ESV)

Today was the day I've been simultaneously dreading and looking forward to. After having a huge jam/create/reflection session, it was time to share our art with our tablemates. When my turn came, I sang a song that I wrote a couple of months ago called, "Grace of God". I thought I was in the clear; I had just finished the bridge and changed keys and then... I burst into tears. You don't understand how monumental this was for me. I was facing 3 of my biggest fears in succession: singing in front of people, singing something I'd written in front of people (essentially exposing myself), and I crying in front of people. You notice how these all have to do with appearances and what others think? Yeah, I'm working on it.

Anyway. So I sang and I cried and I couldn't finish my song, and I started to be disappointed in myself because I had broken one of the cardinal rules that I've used to guard myself for the past 13 years: Don't show people too much of yourself. Do NOT break character. Because you will fail, and they won't like you, and everything will fall apart. But then, something magical happened. The folks at my table supported and encouraged me. All of them listened intently as I sang, no one told me I sucked, and no one laughed at me when I cried. No one looked down on me. In fact, most of them gave me pretty awesome compliments. A dude named Warren patted me on the back. A girl named Mary told me she even envisioned a variety of beautiful colors in her mind as I sang.

As we closed for the day, that same Mary hugged me and said she was really glad that she met me this weekend, "I like the way you think about life. The things you were saying, the questions you were asking, they were all just... they made me think about a lot of things I've been struggling with. You're awesome." And I was awestruck. Someone actually benefited from meeting me in some way? Me? Really? Not only that, but I touched someone without even trying to. Wow.

Fear not.
And then, to top it off, one of the staff members from our table took me aside and prayed for me. I was leaving, but this staff member, Bianca, stopped me before I got out the door and said, "Can I pray for you? I'd really like to pray for you right now." And she did. No one's ever done that for me before. No one's ever stopped me like that, as if to say Hey, I see you. I care about you. Let's take a minute to hold hands as I speak to God on your behalf. It was absolutely beautiful. To be honest I felt a little awkward, and after she finished I rushed out of there so I wouldn't start crying again. But it really was beautiful.

And these were just small personal moments I experienced. There was so much more we discussed and that I reflected on, and it's going to take me some time to work through it all. I am accepting, however, that it's time for me to rethink everything. And I mean, everything. Maybe I'm making a breakthrough?

Compelling! Day 1

Today (Friday) was the first day of Compelling, an annual Christian conference for college students that's organized by the Michigan InterVarsity organization. Over 700 students from across the state come to this conference, and though we do spend time together as a whole, the special feature of Compelling are the tracks. A "track" is basically a course that you sign up to take when you register, and you spend most of your time with the group of people who chose the same track as you. Each track has a specific theme and purpose, and they
basically set the tone for your Compelling experience. I chose "God at Work in the Arts", because even though I'm too afraid to share my voice and the songs I write with people, I still create things. And for that I consider myself an artist, even if I might be a poor example of one.
This is my first time ever going to a Christian conference. Thanks to Bryen, I joined a group called Asian Christian Intervarsity at my school this semester, and he and other people in that group convinced me to register for Compelling. And contrary to what I'd predicted, I didn't chicken out! So instead of a typical weekend of reading, studying, assignments, and checking off to-do lists, I have a whole weekend of Jesus, art, learning, prayer, fellowship, worship, and more Jesus ahead of me! As you can imagine, I am outside of my comfort zone in many ways.
I inadvertently arrived at the campus neighborhood where the event's being held an hour and a half early, so I thought I'd go into the nearby cafeteria and find a cozy corner to nap in. But before I could do that, I ran into my friend Josh. He really wanted to sit and talk with me, so that's what we did. I told him about Compelling and how I was nervous about having to share my gifts with the people in my track. When I mentioned that I sing and write songs, he asked,
"Is that something you'd want to pursue?"
"Yeah, in my dreams maybe. But I don't think that's possible for me."
"What's stopping you?"
"Well... I don't have the look or the connections.  And I don't know if I'm good enough."
Cut to "God at Work in the Arts." Here I am with my nervous self, expecting to be trapped in a talent competition where everyone is better than me and no one minces words criticizing me and what I do. But I walk in, sit at my assigned table with seven other people, and all we do is talk. No pressure. Just, seven lovely people, kind people, who seem happy to meet me, care about what I have to say, listen to me when I speak.... and most of all, they speak my language because they're creators ("artists") too! And not even just them, the whole room was just full of people who spoke my language!  I was so relieved! I won't get too much into everything we talked about as a table and a large group because I'm still trying to process it all. But we started with two questions about art that I want to share with you. Here are the questions and the responses that people gave:
Art is...
truth/what is true
what you feel
to create/an act of creation
anything that's pretty
refreshment of the soul
expression through expressions/expressing yourself/an expression that leaves an impression
finding yourself (no one else can re-produce what you produce)
finding God
life and death
how/what you perceive it to be
The purpose of Art is...
to make people think/to invoke thought or introspection
to help or make people feel
channeling your inner soul
to transcend walls/break down barriers
to tell a story/teach and educate/ convey stories and lessons
to heal in a universal language
to challenge
to help you find your own identity
to provide and express freedom
to relate to one another
to explore
to create explosions/ to affect catalytically
to give to your audience
Isn't that awesome? The overall theme of Compelling this year is "City Without Walls". This means being boundless and limitless, not only in our individual actions but also in our ability to reach new people and draw them to Christ. The lady who leads our track said today that art has a special ability to communicate about essential needs, about how people are really doing. Furthermore, what artists want most is "to create truth, beauty, and a sense of wonder in the people around us. To captivate and impact them. Go deeper." To think, once I get over myself and my issues, that I could actually captivate people? Make them feel something? Impact their lives? What a wonderful and fear-shattering existence that would be.
Like I said, I'm still trying to make sense of everything we've been discussing, and I'm sure I'll have more food for thought as the weekend goes on. I just want to be open to this experience so I can gain all that I possible can from it. Wish me luck. Pray for me.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Off-track Prayer

Lord, please forgive me for being discouraged.  I get discouraged easily, and when I get discouraged I become inconsistent.

Lord, please forgive me for being inconsistent. When I become inconsistent, I easily get discouraged.