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“Are you there, God?” It’s me, Nancy Emmanuel Hugh.

Dear God – if there is a God:

Am I doing this right? Is this thing on?

Hello, my name is Nancy. I am six years old. You may know me from being God. Today, I would like to share with you my prayer, which is that I would like to be white – that is – to not have a color and a question mark. To be a Reynolds, which is Steven’s last name and also the name of the tin foil, or a Hellman, which is Stacey’s last name and also the name of a mayonnaise, which is also white but is also HELLMAN, which I would not like for you to send me, which is why I am talking to you.

Anyway, how are you? Oh, hm, that’s nice.

I think being white means you can play out in the ditch when it floods and you can eat Gushers and you get grounded (please explain this? Are you put in the ground?) instead of smacked around. Maybe if I shut my eyes and count to ten, I will open them and wake up colorless.

Dear God – if there is a God:

You may have heard by now that Nancy is not my real name. It’s the name that Vicky – my mother’s nice white friend – gave me and told me I should use because I’ll fit in better at school with an American name. So, I think that makes Ophelia my Chinese name? But I think I have another Chinese name.

But I don’t have a middle name, unlike Cara Anne Matthes or Beth Anne Butler or Casey Anne Jordan. So I thought I’d pick one for myself, and it iiiiiiis… Emmanuel!

What do you think? I think it’s so pretty and girly and I think it’s the long version of Emma, so it’s like Emma Anne DeLonghi’s name but more original.

To be beautiful, you have to be blonde and to have blue eyes, as you know since you look like this too, but I’ll settle for green or even for brown like Helen Moy has, but they have to be light enough that people can tell they aren’t black. So, not like a fermented black bean, please, and more like a Taco Bell bean.

Today in math, we played Around the World with multiplication tables, and I got that 1 x 3 = 3, but what came out was “SAN!” and then afterward, Brittany said, “three,” which was the right answer, and I was so embarrassed. Should I have said nothing instead?!

Dear GITIAG:

Do you know Stephanie? She looks like a mix between who I am and who I wish I were. I sneak out during classes to watch her paint. (Don’t judge me; you would sneak out too if you already knew everything.) Stephanie is an older girl, which means I should pretend I’m cool so maybe she’ll forget I’m 13.

She’s painting a mural on the school hallway, and her hair is short and her voice is like smoke and she has paint on her white tank top. I don’t know why I keep coming back to watch her. Obviously because she’s very good, and I want to be an artist too, or at least look like one, as you can tell by all the black I’m wearing. I hope she never finishes the painting.

Someday, I’d like to be as good at something as Stephanie is at painting.

Dear GITIAG:

I’ve decided you don’t exist, which makes being angry at you really hard. Because now who else do I blame but myself for this predicament (good PSAT word – level I) in which I know the boy I’m dating is using me, but maybe it’s fair because I’m using him too – testing the prayer that I could love a boy and make my mother happy. (He’s just her type.)

High school is hard so far – thanks for asking. If I still had a Top 8, let’s just say you wouldn’t be on it. I changed the spelling of my last name so people can’t find me (but I hope they like my profile song if they do). Now it’s “Hugh,” so it’s like the same, only different.

Have you heard of the Day of Silence? I’m going to do it: a whole day where no one can ask me to talk and I don’t have to answer any questions.

Also, have you heard of Linkin Park? They’re a band. Backward, their name is Krap Niknil.

Dear GITIAG:

Hey – are you ignoring me?!


 

The Protocol

Trigger Warning: Spiritual and Emotional Abuse; Purity Culture

Act 1: Membership Class at Church

Scene 1: Membership Class

Scene 2: Members’ Gossip

Scene 3: Rebuke

Act 2: Counseling Scheduling Office

Scene 1: Making an Appointment

Scene 2: Meeting Love

Roles:

Fidel: Pastor

Martha: New Member/Enabler

Joy: Leader

Tom: Skeptical Member

Casy: New Member

Angel: New Member

Love: Counselor

Act 1: Membership Class at Church

Scene 1: Membership Class

Fidel is leading a membership Class. Joy is facilitating it. Tom and Martha are new members.

Fidel: Just go ahead and write down in the box how much you earn on average per month. That way, we’ll know how much to look out for in your monthly tithe.

Tom: Okay.

Fidel: Also, don’t forget to take out 10% from your housing stipend if you get one. For example, if you make 2,100,000 KRW per month and are given 400,000 KRW for housing, you would want to tithe 250,000 KRW. Not 210,000 KRW.

Tom: Oh…

Fidel: Yes. And if you aren’t able to give, or are late, we will go ahead and check in with you. If you don’t tithe for two months straight, your membership will be cancelled.

Martha: But if we don’t tithe for just one month… we will be okay, right?

Fidel: That’s really between you and God. Everything we practice here is biblical. If you look at Malachi 3, there is an actual curse on the land because of the lack of tithing. That’s why we do it.

Martha: That makes sense.

Joy: I’m so excited to be part of a church that keeps track of these things. That way I know we are all buying in and there are no freeloaders.

Tom: That’s true… (To himself) but something about this just doesn’t feel right

Fidel: We will always send you a confirmation message to let you know that we’ve received your tithe… So don’t worry at all about that.

Martha, Joy, and Tom: Okay.

Fidel: Okay. So, let’s go over the most important aspects of today’s membership class so we can go ahead and get you all sworn in this coming Sunday. How many consecutive absences can you have before your membership is revoked?

Martha: 6.

Fidel: That’s right, Martha! 6 absences before a revoked membership. Remember, this is not to harm you. The rule is there so that we can check in and basically phase you out in the event that your participation shows that you don’t want to be a part of this community.

Fidel: Let’s see… What should you do for every uploaded sermon by one of the head pastors?

Joy: We have to put on a detailed comment that shows that we digested the message. We should also write several statements talking about the most important aspects and how it applies to our lives.

Fidel: That’s right, Joy! And how long should it be?

Joy: It shouldn’t be too short, but it shouldn’t an essay. Like a solid paragraph or more.

Fidel: And where do you post those comments?

Joy: On the public facebook page. You can just see where everyone else is posting their comments.

Fidel: Good. Good. Alright, now let’s go to the most important piece of today’s membership class: Restoration. Who can tell me what restoration is?

Tom: Restoration is a process of bringing someone back to wholeness when they’ve fallen into sin.

Fidel: And what reasons would cause someone to get into restoration?

Tom: Um…

Fidel: Well, first of all… Restoration is not something that is initiated lightly. We have a process where members are first approached about their misconduct. In the case of stubbornness, or rebellion, the chances of restoration are a lot higher. That’s why it’s best to just ‘fess up about any sins you’ve been involved in. Now what are the big things that might cause a rebuke?

Tom: I think it might be sexual…

Martha: I know. It’s sexual sin. Not masturbation, but oral sex. Of course, anything beyond that would be cause for restoration. It also is case by case, I heard.

Fidel: That’s right! It is definitely case by case, so I don’t want any of you freaking about any of this.

Tom: What else might we get put on restoration for?

Fidel: The main thing we look for, which may also be a case for removal is divisiveness. Deliberately maligning the leaders, especially the head pastor, would be a cause for dismissal from our community. But in cases where there is contrition, we may be able to put them on restoration.

Fidel: Well, that’s about all the time we have for today. Hope you enjoy it out there. Please be careful going down the hill with all the rain. Let’s also be quiet and mindful of our volume as we walk down the neighborhood.

Scene 2: Members’ Gossip

At Casy’s house

Casy: How was the membership class for you all?

Tom: I thought it was pretty good. I love how the church keeps a strong record of everything and how their expectations are clear. It sort of makes me feel safe in a way.

Angel: But did you hear about the Dating Protocol?

Tom: Yeah, I’ve heard of it. But I think it’s a good thing. I mean, we all know the expats struggle with temptation living out here in Korea. Expats in Korea need a lot of accountability.

Angel: That’s a good point. Thanks for sharing that, Tom… But do you think it’s weird that people have to be secretive about dating when they start?

Martha: Isn’t that to protect the community in the event it doesn’t work out?

Angel: It just all feels like so much pressure to me. It’s a bit too much. What if it doesn’t work out? Is it always supposed to work out? I’ve heard you even have to write reports about your dates so that the pastors can check. Isn’t that a bit much?

Tom: It’s probably just their way of checking and making sure everything is accountable. Accountability is a huge need for men in the church.

Casy: What I want to talk about is the freaking End Times thing. Do you all really think that we need to plan our finances based on this prediction that it could happen soon?

Everyone: It’s probably good just to be safe.

Tom: I just bought like 20 gallons of water, boxes of batteries, and nonperishable items, like canned tuna, and ramen.

Martha: And toilet paper. Goodness, toilet paper is so important.

Angel: Is anyone else going to actually pull out stocks?

Tom: I am. Just in case. It seems like the Pastor is on to something.

Angel: Wait, wait, wait. I need to ask Tom about something. Tom, don’t you have something to tell us? Angel winks.

Tom: What are you talking about?

Angel: Oh, come on. So… Did you ask Jasmine out on a date?

Tom: Oh… that. Well, I asked P. Fidel. He said that he would check to see if Jasmine is in season and whether I can ask her out on a first date.

Angel: In season? Do girls have to be in season? Would the pastors even tell us if we’re in season? I’m probably not even in season.

Tom: Yeah… well, you know. Like guys, we have to have 10,000,000KRW saved up and stuff before asking a girl out. It just shows that we can be serious if we want to be.

Martha: That’s weird.

Angel: I mean, I get it, but it’s a little bit much. Well? What about Jasmine?

Tom: I’m waiting on P Fidel. I mean, I can’t just ask… maybe I should check my e-mail. Looks at phone.

Tom: Oh wait… oh shoot oh shoot… oh shoot. Reads e-mail.

Tom: I got the green light. P Fidel asked P Adam and they said that I can ask Jasmine out! Whaaaaattttttttttttttt…. Spins around in a daze.

Martha / Angel: Eeeeeeeeek!

Casy: Dude, congrats!

Scene 3: Rebuke 

7 months later…

Fidel via Kakao: *Kakao* Hey, Tom. How are you doing. Are you free to catch up?

Tom via Kakao: Oh hey P Fidel. Sure, can you give me a few minutes?

Fidel via Kakao: *Kakao* Sure. Kakao video chat me in 5 minutes.

Tom via Kakao: Sure thing.

Video chat starts.

Fidel: Hey Tom! Thanks for talking. Are you alone? Is this your place?

Tom: Hey P Fidel. Yes, I’m alone. This is my place. Would you like to see it?

Fidel: Sure. Give me a little spin will you?

Tom: Well, that’s my bed, and my balcony, and a small kitchen. It isn’t much, but it’s a nice cozy place here in Seoul. I like it.

Fidel: Great! It looks pretty nice!… Listen, I wanted to talk to you. I know that we have been talking about your dates with Jasmine. You mentioned that it has been tempting to get physical, and that you all have made out a few times. You also mentioned that you touched her rear. I read your message from earlier about your trip to LA coming up. When did you plan that?

Tom: Oh right. Well, I just planned it two days ago. I was thinking of going to see Jasmine’s hometown and introduce her to my hometown as well. Just light stuff, nothing big.

Fidel: Listen Tom, I know that you’ve been struggling with depression and mental health. And on top of that, you all have really been riding a fine line between spiritual health and sin. I just think this trip is a bad idea. Is there any way that you can call it off?

Tom: Call it off? I mean, I’m scheduled to fly out later today.

Fidel: Right, you’re scheduled to fly out later today, but you only informed me two days ago of your plans. That’s not really that much time to react, and I don’t feel honored in the way that you’re going about this. Look – I’m gonna be honest with you. I’m not happy at all about this. I think it’s a bad idea.

Tom: Well, I’m sorry you feel that way. My plan is to go ahead and go through. I promise that I won’t get involved with Jasmine there.

Fidel: What’s the rooming situation? Are you staying in different places?

Tom: Well… sort of. We were gonna stay at each other’s homes. Obviously not in the same room.

Fidel: Okay, Tom. I’m gonna be very clear. 95% of people that have stayed in the same place when travelling have had oral sex or more. This is a stupid decision. We, as a church, cannot bless this move. Think about what people would think when they saw pictures of you on social media travelling together. So, if people ask me, did I bless Tom to go and travel with Jasmine, the answer is going to be ‘no’. I don’t want you posting on facebook any photos.

Tom: Okay, I won’t. I’ll book separate hotels.

Fidel: Okay, well, I just want to be clear, I don’t agree with this decision. I wish you had told me sooner. I don’t think it’s a good idea at all.

Tom: I understand.

Act 2: Counseling Scheduling Office

Scene 1: Making an Appointment

Sprite: Welcome to the counseling office.

Tom: Well, I’m an English speaker, and would like to request counseling in English if possible.

Sprite: Sure, there is an English counselor. Her name is Love. Would you like an appointment?

Tom: One more thing… Is there a Christian counselor? That’s actually kinda important to me.

Sprite: Oh! Actually, Love is a Christian, I think. She is, right? Yes! She is a Christian, so you should be all set! Your appointment is scheduled for next Monday at 1pm.

Tom: Awesome! Thank you so much. (Bows)

Scene 2: Meeting Love

Love: Hey Tom, it’s nice to see you today. What did you want to talk about today?

Tom: Well, first can we pray? I always like to start my sessions with prayers. It makes me feel like the Holy Spirit is guiding this session.

Love: Oh, absolutely.

Tom bows his head.

DEAR GOD…


About the Author: Tom* spent several years living in South Korea. They originally went to Korea as an ESL teacher. Originally from California, they has since returned home to teach near Los Angeles.

Finding Hope When I’m Worn Down By Injustice

Content warning: homophobia

I realized that I was in need of hope when it confronted me at a gathering of LGBTQ+ Asian Pacific Islanders (API). There, I heard the stories of Filipino Christians advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, LGBTQ+ Southeast Asian refugees combating police brutality and deportation, and Pacific Islanders fighting for queer and trans justice. As I sat in the back of the room listening to different individuals share their stories and witnessing their existences, I felt filled with hope because of them. I was brought to silent tears, feeling overwhelmed and raw, because their existence reminded me of what I haven’t dared to hope for.

Lately, I’ve been worn and tired of trying to find answers to injustice. For too long, I felt consumed with seeking resolution, going in circles in my mind about uphill battles: the pastors and leaders who will never be held accountable for attempting conversion therapy and for outing me, Inter Varsity leaders who won’t be held accountable for firing LGBT-affirming staff, friends and family members who will never affirm queer and trans people, a god who I don’t know truly cares about me or is real. I felt overwhelmed and tired just thinking about people whose lives have been taken or broken apart by police brutality, deportations, unfair housing conditions, lack of access to medical/ mental health resources.

I’ve been shelving my heavy emotions around these injustices for a time so that I can recover and enjoy life. Life has been pretty good: I’m financially stable these days; I have the luxury of working part-time and working on music the rest of the time. I have friends who care about me, and my mental health has been drastically improving in the past year. I’m glad I’m taking the time to enjoy life and fill my headspace with things besides pain.

But sometimes I feel the temptation not just to shelve my feelings about injustice, but to pretend that I’m done with it. I’m reminding myself that I can enjoy my life, but also revisit and confront pain and injustice. I can’t pretend that I don’t need healing or that injustice doesn’t continue to affect people around me.

I still value taking time to recover from engaging deeply with injustice, but I don’t want to give into the desire to forget about it. I’m challenging myself to stay connected to the hope evident in the resilience of LGBTQ+ APIs around me, who I am so grateful for. I’m challenging myself stay hopeful that a just world is possible, not just for myself, but for everyone who needs it.


About the Author: Yiann grew up in the Bay Area and is spending most of their time between youth education and music right now. They sing the kind of soulful, reflective songs that belong to a rainy day, and and their songs are most often about unanswered prayers. Yiann performs around the Bay Area, and you can keep up with their music @kapwatheband or @yiannc.

Instagram: instagram.com/yiannc

Photo credit: Matthew Evearitt at beholdcreators.com

Perfection is a Lie We Tell Ourselves

I’m turning 40 this year. Today, in fact. And honestly, I think I am going through some kind of mid-life crisis.

For the first time ever in my life, I considered walking away from my 4 children and husband. Just open the front door, walk out, and keep walking.

This is especially disheartening since I was abandoned by my father and I had thought myself better than this.

I had hoped, anyway.

There’s nothing particularly wrong. We lead a good, comfortable life. I love my children. I love my husband.

And yet. And yet.

I feel trapped. Resentful.

Angry.

Seething.

There is no declaration of wonder and awe and gratefulness like the Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime. “This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.”

No.

Instead, the other day, I screamed and screamed. I couldn’t stop screaming. The screams just kept pouring out of my throat until I finally managed to stuff them back into my insides.

Swallowing my bitterness as I was taught.

Swallowing. Always swallowing.

My 22 month old baby boy just stared at me; frozen.

I can’t quite recall what happened to rip such a primal sound from my core, but I guarantee you it was not serious enough to warrant any such thing.

THIS IS NOT MY BEAUTIFUL LIFE.

THIS IS NOT MY BEAUTIFUL HOUSE.

THESE ARE NOT MY BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN.

The irony is not lost upon me: I got everything I wanted.

I have my beautiful house. I have my 4 beautiful children that I asked for and got in quick succession. I have my decent, loving husband who is not necessarily beautiful but still extremely attractive to me and at this stage in my life, what else was I expecting?

Actually, I take that back.

He is beautiful.

Who else but a beautiful man would put up with my shit without ever once martyring himself? He is a unicorn.

And yet. And yet.

I am furious.

Why am I not keeping up my end of the bargain?

I got everything (or almost everything) I wanted so why I am so sad? Why am I so lonely? Why does everything feel so bad?

Why do I feel as if I’m living a stranger’s life and everyday, I’m stuck in this slog of parenting, this endless parade of literal and figurative shit? I mean, I begged for these children but did I really think it through?

I feel as if I’m some Sheryl Crow cliche.

And it hits me.

Even if I got what I wanted (or thought I wanted), the problem is that I’m still stuck with myself. I tell myself that if just XYZ happened or my life was XYZ that I’d be ok. Everything would be fine. I’d be better. I’d be satisfied.

But it’s not true.

In the end, there I am. Still.


Virginia Duan is an author/writer and incapable of writing in brief. She swears. A lot. She also finds it almost impossible to refrain from commenting online for the sole purpose of making people admit they are idiots. Fatal flaw is fatal.

Website: https://mandarinmama.com

Practice over Perfection

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
Lao Tzu

Hello, my name is Marsha, and I am a recovering perfectionist. Somewhere between striving for straight A’s and drilling scales on the piano, my joy for learning became a twisted drive for praise and perfection.

 

Perfect daughter. Perfect sister. Perfect student. Perfectly anxious all the time.

Fear of failing after being praised for being “so smart”, but also questioned as to why I only got a 103 on an 100-point test when there was a 5-point bonus question.

Learning to see my body as a thing to be judged and ridiculed when relatives repeatedly compared me with a cousin in a game of Who’s Fatter This Visit?

Fear of displeasing my parents and bringing unrelenting judgment from elders. Never Chinese or Thai enough. Too loud, too athletic, too boyish, too opinionated.

Fear consumed my curiosity and joy. To combat my fears, I chose to battle the judgments and expectations with perfection. Somehow, I thought trying to be perfect would free me from the judgments of others, to find peace within. Instead, perfection trapped me between the depression of the past, all the mistakes I could not change, and the anxiety of the future, where failure could happen at any moment. By college, the disease of perfection progressed to self-loathing. Who could love someone so flawed? Why should I even try if the possibility to fail exists? Nothing I do is ever good enough. This must mean I’m not good enough.

I was about 4 years out of college, struggling in a stressful job, drowning in an unhealthy relationship, when I realized something had to change. With this realization, I carried all my anxieties, sadness, doubts, and fears into the hot room the first time I walked into the hot yoga studio down the street.

My face felt like it was going to melt off in the humidity. Nothing would be left of me but a puddle of sweat and a yoga mat. As the class began and I attempted to move my body with the teacher’s instruction, the heat began to strip away what I carried into the room, leaving behind only what was necessary. To survive the heat, the bright lights, and the glaring reflection of myself in the mirrors, I had to put down my baggage and dig into strength I didn’t realize I already had.

After final savasana, the cool air rushed over my rosy-pink face as I walked out into the air-conditioned lobby. Despite looking like I had just fallen into a pool with my yoga clothes on, I felt light, clean, and unburdened by the baggage I had carried into the room just 90 minutes before.

In that moment I knew I had to make a choice to change: do I keep choosing perfection or do I choose a new path and let the illusion of perfection go?

I came back the next day. And the next. And the next, for 60 consecutive classes. The heat melted the walls I had built up around my heart. The structure of the class built a bridge between my mind and my body, giving me a chance to observe myself without judgment. In a room full of mirrors, there is no hiding. I came to appreciate the connection with myself through my own reflection, to check in and show myself compassion – arguably one of the hardest things I learned how to do.

After each class, I left the hot room a kinder, more patient person. I found a deeper well of empathy for others and the ability to listen with intention. I discovered how to make space for my own self-care, how to be fully present for others.

Over time, the priority in my yoga practice has shifted from finding depth in a posture to a mental practice of courage, determination, strength, patience, and awareness. I now approach the postures with curiosity, how my body feels journeying into and out of the asana, being fully present in the moment instead of anticipating how deep I could bend. In the same way outside the hot room, I shifted my life from trying to be perfect and now choose to approach life with awareness and curiosity for what each day brings. I’m much more interested in living than being.

The courage I found to walk into the hot room each day became the courage I used to leave an unhealthy relationship and punishing job.

The determination and strength I cultivated by getting into certain postures again and again after falling out drove my decision to move back in with my parents as a necessary step to applying for graduate school and switching careers. I knew I could persist and make it happen someway, somehow.

The awareness of my breath gave me the awareness to recognize my old perfectionistic behaviors during stressful times and stopped me from repeating old patterns of behavior.

Most importantly, however, my practice taught me how to love and accept myself exactly As I Am.

As I continue my practice, I am often reminded that it is a yoga practice and not a yoga perfect. Life isn’t perfect because it is so much more. I use to say that yoga changed my life, but I’ve come to realize that I changed my life.

Yoga gave me the path. I walk it.

 

About the Author: Marsha Ungchusri is a Chinese-Thai-Texan-American currently living in the DMV area. Grocery shopping is her shoe shopping. When she isn’t practicing yoga, you can find her experimenting in her kitchen, refining recipes and flavor combination to feed the people she loves. You can find her cooking adventures @princesshungry and bite-sized reflections of her yoga practice @marsha.fierce.