thankful

Every year on Thanksgiving I try to write. This morning, I sit in the quiet of my mom’s house and bask in the beauty of silence (no honking cars or beeping in reverse trucks outside window!). I listen for the Lord, and I’m thankful. This Thanksgiving is completely different from last Thanksgiving; instead of comparing the two and justifying which is better or worse, I’ve decided to embrace the change and find joy in the present time. The other day, one of my friends defined “joy” for me: a state of hope that isn’t fleeting or conditional. Always present. I think this is why Jesus Christ reminded us so often to be joyful—in triumph, trials, and everything in between. It isn’t a moment or a person or a situation that gives us joy. It is hope. Hope for a better future, an everlasting life of no pain, fear, or anxiety. Hope that what we are doing is making a difference—whether it be trying hard every day for our children, working every day to make ends meet, praying for a concern that hasn’t yet been answered, or living a thousand miles away from those you love to become a doctor. We do it all with joy for tomorrow, that tomorrow will be better today, and we hold that hope above all else. Joy and hope keep us going.

This time last year, my future was uncertain. I was interviewing at medical schools and finishing up my last year of college, without a real sense of where I would be this time next year. I was confident in God’s plan for me and trusted Him throughout the journey. When I got into Harvard, I was over the moon, but I was also scared. It became a reality that I would be leaving my family, my boyfriend, and my home for at least four years. I worried that I would lose touch with those I love, that my niece and nephew would not remember me, that long-distance would be riddled with problems, and that I would find out I wasn’t really cut out for medicine. But like all things, God has power over tomorrow and will always provide.

This year, I’m thankful for change. It is hard, and it rubs against the grain that we’ve made in life but helps us find new places for joy. I’m thankful that God put me in Boston. I love the city (despite the cars honking and beeps in the morning), and I’ve made the most wonderful friends who are kind, compassionate, and will make important changes in healthcare. Ultimately, I’m thankful for friends who push me to become a better me. I’ve found a Christian community that reminds me to pray often, fellowship with others, and live into the freedom that God gives us. My relationship with Avery has changed as we navigate loving from a distance, and I’m so thankful for his constant support and ability to adapt as life moves around us. I’ve had to be more intentional about calling family and staying connected. I’m thankful for the long calls and FaceTime chats we have about life. I have fallen in love with medicine and thank God for helping me believe in myself. I didn’t realize the beauty of working with patients, being trusted during sometimes the scariest time of a person’s life, and having the power to really make a difference in the lives of others. I love learning about complex medical problems and having hope that new, life-saving discoveries will be made in areas like genetics, cancer, and heart disease. I’m thankful for financial stability, the ability to live in Boston and attend school, and those who so generously help me. I’m thankful that my family is healthy and well. The gift of health is fragile and fleeting, and it really is our responsibility to do what we can for as long as we can.

I’m thankful for home, both the place and the people, because without it none of this would matter. Home is where I’m grounded, renewed, refreshed, and reminded of what’s important. Home helps me remember that change comes unexpectedly at times, but joy and hope persist despite evolving circumstances. That is something to be thankful for.

values collection

Sometimes we must make big decisions in our lives.

I hate these times.

I’m horrible at making big decisions, or small decisions for that matter. I’m clearly not a very decisive person. I tend to change my mind often, and I’m easily convinced by someone who has a good argument. A part of this is because I dodge confrontation at all costs and quickly catch onto the current of the popular wave. I also think I change my mind often because life is complex, messy, and human lives are involved. This isn’t make-believe. Black and white answers are often misleading and potentially damaging. In many ways being indecisive is a conduit to being open-minded and listening to many perspectives.

I absorb new information like a sponge. Then, I add that new information to the pool of ideas that shifts and swirls within my head (it’s like a chaotic whirlpool up there). New information has huge influence over our lives. We’re all susceptible to the pull of new ideas or propaganda: politically, you may think differently today than you did five or ten years ago. You may have changed your mind about vaccinations. When you once thought they were harmless and very beneficial, now you’re skeptical because of alarmist news, trending discussion on the topic, and changing trust in authority. I’m not saying any of this is wrong, and I think it is even right to question new information. Some people spend their whole lives never questioning if what they believe is right or wrong. Those people are typically stubbornly blind in their ways and oftentimes closed-minded and hard. New information and the decision-making process can become an opportunity to explore what we believe and why.

I’m making a big decision right now, and it is hard. Every day I grow more anxious about deciding where I will go for medical school (full disclosure: it will be either Stanford or Harvard). There are a lot of factors to consider when making this decision, and, unfortunately, no one can make it for me. What I’ve learned throughout this very tough decision, though, is how to articulate what my values are. About five or six years ago, Mrs. Kelly Hinson, my high school cheerleading coach at the time, encouraged us to write down qualities we valued in a future husband. This was my first exercise is clearly stating what I find important, and I continue to reflect on my life in terms of values today.

It’s easy to get caught up in the impressing game. We all want to be impressive; it’s the driving factor for what we post on social media, how we dress, what we share with others, how we spend our money, etc. Not many people go around starting a conversation with, “Yeah, last week I failed an exam, wrecked my car, and then forgot to pay my credit card bill.” Or “I’m pretty unhappy at the moment. Yeah, I’m sad. I’m learning to cope and find outlets, but right now is honestly a hard time for me.” We just don’t shape the perception of our lives in this way. We aim to impress, subconsciously or consciously.

I’m trying to avoid the impressing game and focus on the values game. I’ve spent a lot of time narrowing in on what is important to me over the years. We spend a lot of time crafting our personal “values collection.” We avoid excess, eliminate toxicity, seek out righteousness, love what’s good, and hate what’s harmful. The actions of our lives become the patterns of our decision-making. As I make this huge, scary decision, I’m focusing on my own values: community, support, acceptance, love, flexibility, family, honesty, integrity, and compassion. Sometimes it requires taking it back old-school style and grabbing a pen and paper to simply write words that are important. If you feel caught up in the indecision of our political system or you’re being carried too much by the waves of other people, just write down what is important to you. Your own “values collection” can serve as a handy compass when navigating this complex, confusing world.

poems from seaside

I think

there are so many poems

about the ocean because it is

simultaneously violent

and peaceful.

At the same time it

crashes against the coast

destroys a weak vessel

and carries away debris

It

smoothes the rocky shore

coos the frightened bird

and hugs your planted feet.

It somehow reminds us

gently

chaotically

simply

subliminally

of that violent yet peaceful

love

that roars as it sings.

That kind of love that lives within you and within me.

——

If each day is a fresh page

Then I want mine to be

Inked with words of prayer

Stained with drops of coffee

Smudged with chocolate fingers

And scented with smells of you.

If each day is a fresh page

Then yesterday doesn’t matter

And tomorrow can’t be viewed

So I’ll sit here and

Think

Today, what good can I do?

——

prayers are like raindrops except you send them up instead of let them fall. everyday you send a raindrop up to heaven to join the puddle pooling at God’s feet. everyday you wonder, did my raindrop reach the stars or did it break along the way? then one day, you realize your raindrops were never supposed to go up all the way and stay. you just forgot to look around and see everyone soaked and smiling by the rain that wiped away their tears. your tiny little prayers were falling all the while, and finally you learn, prayers are a lot like raindrops,

they fall on those who are near.

sacred places

“There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” — Wendell Berry
I’m starting to understand that there truly are no unsacred places — this is a bold claim. Some may perceive the site where a white American minister burned himself alive in the name of racial reconciliation as unsacred, or the home of hundreds of incarcerated men and women as unsacred, or the doctor’s office where an abortion has been performed as unsacred, or a strip club where infidelity puts food on the table for women employees as unsacred. I am guilty, as I predict we all are, of having passed an opinion on each of these cases and many others without considering the human lives involved. And while yes, I do believe that there are very uncomfortable aspects in each of these places and scenarios, I’m starting to see that life is much more complicated than the simple dichotomy of sacred/unsacred or right/wrong or good/evil. I didn’t coin this distinction, though; that was Wendell Berry. Luckily it wasn’t me, because Berry importantly includes the alternative to unsacred: desecrated. I looked up “desecrated” in the dictionary to see exactly what he meant. Something desecrated has been violently disrespected, or possibly perverted, violated, infected, polluted, vandalized, debased, or degraded. Berry is onto something here. People — the most critiqued in society — are likely to have been victims of many waves of desecration in their lifetimes. I imagine people as those beautifully painted Russian nesting dolls. We may look whimsical and pleasing on the outside, but within each of us there are many unseen, hidden layers. These mysterious, unknown layers may be what have shifted some of us from the sacred to the desecrated. We’re all damaged, polluted, degraded in some way. Some of us are just better at hiding our layers than others.
So there are no unsacred places, only desecrated places, and those not yet desecrated, or the sacred. There are no unsacred people. There are people who have been cheated, lied to, abused, hurt, neglected, abandoned, scared, dishonored, gossiped about, rejected, and shamed; they are simply damaged. If someone we love is damaged, do we abandon them? Give up, toss them to the side, move on, and hope for better luck in the future? I hope the answer is no. At least, I’m hoping no one gives up on me. I’m damaged, just like you are. I want to see people as the complicated, multi-layered, dynamic living souls they are. This world is far too vivid and beautiful to see only in shades of black and white. That place we call harmony, sympathy, and understanding is all gray.
—–
How to Be a Poet by Wendell Berry
(to remind myself)
i   
Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   
ii   
Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   
iii   
Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.

self-talk

I recently heard a story from a beautiful, African American woman who wore a stylish black cardigan and dark red lipstick. Her dark, silky hair was perfectly curled, and her smile illuminated our faces like a flashlight exposing the darkness. As she began to speak, her deep, rhythmic voice reverberated off our concrete classroom walls; her voice and its warmness filled the room like blowing breath into a balloon. I was touched by her presence even though we were separated a considerable distance. She held a sweet sense of humility, a knowingness and experience, in her voice. She told us a story.

This kind and gentle woman had been incarcerated for 14 years. Her story starts as a child, when she experienced domestic sexual trauma that continued into her teenage and adult life. She got wrapped up in some bad relationships which propelled themselves into criminal activity. Her story is not unlike many others; when trauma starts this early on, it isn’t a choice. It is a lifestyle given without any permission or consent. Among her triumphant stories was a small detail about how she began to tell herself lies and believe them. Her identity was built on false narratives, destructive words that shaped her, and a lifetime of untruths. She said eventually, she didn’t even know her real birthday.

Although I am very different from this woman, I share many of her same vulnerabilities. We all do. We are all capable of telling ourselves lies that become truth and this truth becomes our reality and this reality becomes our life. We can tell ourselves that we are worthless, purposeless, hopeless, that we have no friends, no choice in our life trajectory, and no control, or that we’re unattractive, disliked, stupid, or meaningless. We can say these things, and they will become true. I spent a lot of time in high school convincing myself that I needed to change; that I needed blonde hair and tan skin before I could be loved. Or that I needed bigger muscles and a smaller waist before I could be attractive. Or that if I spoke and acted a certain way, I would fit in. I began to believe myself. These lies became my reality and that reality became very grim and oppressing as I tried to fit into all the images that society tells us are important. My saving grace came when I began to tell myself something else: I am smart, I have importance that goes beyond physical appearances. I am loved exactly how I am. Then I began to tell myself something even more radical: Maybe I could even change the world. These things I told myself changed my life perspective. Our self-talk matters.

You may truly think you are worthless or unloved or a failure. I am not condemning your feelings or telling you that you are wrong. The thoughts you have about yourself are valid. That is really how you feel and that must be recognized. What I am saying, however, is that you should start telling yourself a new narrative. Every day wake up and tell yourself the truth that you want your reality to become. Roll out of bed and tell yourself, “I am loved. I am important. My work is meaningful. My life is valuable. I am kind, lovable, and gentle. I am free from addiction. I am free from sadness/anxiety/depression. I am in control. I am loved by something much larger than me. I was created with purpose. I was created with passion. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Or maybe just tell yourself one of those things or maybe all of them if you need it. Some days I do.

This week my mantra has been “I am strong, I am capable, I am confident” because each of those words touches on an insecurity I’ve felt this week. On Monday, I told myself this phrase as I walked to class, practiced a speech, worked my job, went about life. On Friday, my mantra became my reality: I endured the week with strength, competence, and self-assurance. My positive self-talk came true.

As you read this I ask you a simple question: What do you need to hear?

And I implore you to take on a simple task: start telling yourself that. Today, right now, this week. It may save your life.

out of the forest

People talk about meditation as a new healing remedy, equivalent to the stardom of aspirin for heart attacks. Apps like “Headspace” and “Calm” lead users through a meditative practice, using words like “clear your mind, engage your senses, breatheeeee.” Sometimes this language feels foreign to those with busy minds and lives. It’s hard to see and understand the benefits of meditation unless you yourself experience it. I’m all for empirical evidence (and there is growing research on the benefits of yoga and meditation in cancer, post traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse disorder patients) so I understand the skepticism that often greets what some consider “out of this world” experiences. Meditation is much simpler than that though. It is simply making space to think, pray, dwell, or stop. It is a way to create opportunity for the thoughts you need to have about life, not the ones life is forcing you to have.

Last week during yoga, the end of my practice neared as we nestled into the comfortable and long-awaited pose of savasana or more clearly put: dead man’s pose. This pose is the final resting pose after many rounds of rigorous and challenging poses, a place to rest your mind and body and collect yourself before jetting off to the next appointed place. Savasana is a place where I’ve had some of my best thoughts, prayers, and ideas. Like meditation, this pose creates space.

I believe that God can give us visions, thoughts, words, people, dreams, signs — anything — to send us a message. The world is His creation and His spirit lives within us, so it is natural that when I have an image or word come in my head that I didn’t conceive, and it is good, then it is from God. I’ll try to describe my meditative vision I had last week during yoga as clearly as possible, leaving out personal details. I think anyone can imagine themselves as the narrator of this story, so I pray God uses my vision to speak to you as well.

I was standing outside of a very dense forest, with my nose almost touching the wintery, woodsy pines. I breathed in the crisp air around me and immediately felt filled with life and renewal. Curious, I took my hands and pulled apart the lush, thick greenery to peer inside the forest. My eyes wandered around as I drifted through the greenery and I saw old versions of myself deep within the woods, to the right and to the left. These versions of me were of my past, and I saw myself grappling with the old demons that caused me heartache, pain, and questioning. There were 3 distinct versions of me that I saw, each heartbroken over something in life that I’m now distinct from — redeemed from. As I observed the brokenness and pain that those girls felt — in middle school, high school, and college, I looked back at my path through the trees. The roots on the ground were knobby and distracting, the trees obstructed my vision to where the light came from, yet the path I had taken to this point was clear. As I left the forest and the past with it in those densely shaded trees and darkened canopy, I entered the light. I entered the present. I looked at myself differently now, with gratitude and love. I felt the warm sun shine down on my face. Instead of seeing my current flaws and shortcomings, anxiety and fears, I saw the triumphant moments I had overcome. I saw freedom, beauty, and healing.

I believe God gave me that vision to remind me to be thankful and to never forget how far He has brought me in this life. It was a simple, beautiful, and clear picture of God’s grace towards us in our brokenness, His love for wanting us even in those dark times, and the gratitude we owe to Him for pulling us out of the forest and into the light.

sunny rays

“Let the illuminating rays of the morning sun revive my spirit, renew my soul, and fill my heart with the hope of the descending dawn.” – mb

This morning I rolled over in my two-foot-wide bed and was greeted with the sunny and peaceful dawn of the morning. It has been rainy the past few days (or weeks, it feels like) and my spirits have felt the same dreary, sobering mood that the overcast, grey skies bring. But today, I rolled over and I saw sunshine and felt a joy and hope spring up inside me. I consider myself a somewhat-paradoxically optimistic yet skeptical person about things. I was raised on seeing the best in others, being the bigger person, and always finding forgiveness because life is too short to hold grudges against others. Skepticism, though, has woven its way into my life though and not in a necessarily bad way. Healthy skepticism can prevent pride, overconfidence, and faulty judgement. I’m at a place in my life, though, where I want to reevaluate what I’m making priority and what tendencies recur in my life. Periods of fasting and prayer have urged something deep within me to reconsider what I’m considering important in this life; what idols have I unintentionally set up? How do we as a society and especially as believers deconstruct those things that have begun to take root in our hearts and outcompete our love for others, doing good, and living Christ-like? What does it mean to live authentically as a Christian and a doctor, scientist, writer, teacher, lawyer, musician, etc.? How can I change my life in such a way that it is refocused, centered, and set on sights of above?

In my shallow attempt to answer some of these questions, I’ve quickly learned it is both complex and uncomfortable to address your life in such a way, as an observer or outsider. Life itself can be hard, and it’s my superstition that too many people are afraid of hiding their fears and insecurities, their big challenging questions. How are we supposed to parse through what is important in life if we can’t even discuss it with the people who are present in our lives every day? I am just as guilty about this as the next person, but for some reason I’ve felt the need to change that and to eliminate this hindrance in my relationship with others and with God. When I started this blog, one of my intentions was sincerity about the hard things in life, like body insecurity, loneliness, divorce, failure. This was my platform of exposing the vulnerabilities and being real with others. Now, my attempts to write are often displaced by obligations to study or work. So instead my goal has been to create real, vulnerable and truthful relationships with others. When I “feel the need” to start doing something different in my life, even if it so minute and seemingly insignificant, it is usually inspired by the heavenly Creator. I don’t want to wear these masks every day in front of others, always answering with the “right” question when someone asks something meaningful about your life. One time in church, I was so caught off guard because my pastor once asked me how I was doing. Of course, as we all do, I answered, “Oh I’m doing fine, how are you?” and his response was, “No, how are you really doing, what’s going on in your life?”. He caught me at a time where I was really struggling with some things behind the scenes, and this intentional, thoughtful question provoked something in me that is usually deeply buried in daily conversations. He didn’t just care about filling the space between us with empty words and conversation, but he wanted to dig deep into what was going on in my life. This type of real, intentional conversation and community with others is something that I long for these days. I’m tired of artificial conversation, wearing masks that make our lives look flawless and unrealistically strong. This is not what I want.

Jesus never said to avoid letting others into your mind where there may be insecurities, doubts, questions. In community, we have the opportunity to break down walls. My walls are pretty rigidly constructed after years of maintenance and reinforcement. I’m the first to admit to being the type that always appears put-together with “everything figured out” but let me first handedly say that this is not the case. My doubts and fears are cumbersome and admittedly scary and unwanted. I question things. I feel out of place, uncertain, and confused sometimes. Instead of bottling these feelings up, I’ve began to embrace them and talk through them with others. I’ve began, most importantly, to talk through them with God. As I would my best friend, I welcome God’s input on my situation and seek for His answers instead of my own. I really think our best bet at answering some of the hard, anxiety-inducing, and uncomfortable questions I mentioned above is partnering with God in prayer and in life. It requires a community of believers and friends that can help you navigate through life’s toughest issues.

I think something transformational is happening in my life right now, something that is helping me to reevaluate and rethink my old tendencies and desires. It feels small and subtle but present. For some reason I felt the need to write it down, talk it out, put it out there for the world. Maybe God is calling you into something more than artificial relationships and surface-level Christianity. My hopeful, optimistic heart is overpowering the skeptical, doubtful nature of the human being. I think there is more for us than achievement, recognition, reward, promotion, and perfection. Something urges me to articulate that when we partner with God, truly anything can happen. Let the renewing rays of the sunshine remind us that there is hope on the dawn.

“This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:14