Retreat: Testimony

Wow.

So I forced myself to drive out to the university where spring retreat was being held- I had seen many pictures of this place in all the pictures I stalked when I first befriended my fellowship friends last summer so I was curious to check it out.  The night before, my anxiety kept me up all night with me knowing I should show up at a respectful time to participate, especially since I felt guilty that I had not paid anything and had not planned to come, much less stay.  Nobody knows how hard it is to push the small part of yourself through all the anxiety and fear, simply to challenge yourself to be present in the experiences of life, no matter what they are.  Something so natural to someone else, like looking forward to how fun retreat is, or a vacation, is stressful to me no matter what.

Anyway, as usual, there were things I was not too keen on, one of them being the Sunday message given by the pastor (more on that in another post), but one of the most crazy experiences this Sunday was testimony.  To be honest, I was a little apprehensive as the last testimony I witnessed was during their Thanksgiving dinner led by the pastor… it felt a bit forced and inauthentic, with every single tumor that disappeared, every mini good thing that happened, resounding in ‘PRAISE THE LORD.’

I thought it was strange that testimony was scheduled for more than an hour as nobody spoke for the first five to ten minutes.  However, slowly but surely, one by one people went up to speak.  These felt spoken from the heart.  One kid was in high school, and he talked about how he felt he was in a dark place, and was depressed that he wasn’t getting good grades.  He said he knew that it might get better, yet he might regret if he didn’t speak up about it.  Another who really got to me was Donna, Bobby’s mom who lost both her father and her husband AND got cancer all around the same time… nuts.  She apologized for being difficult to be around and also spoke of her pain and gratitude for the kids especially.  It was really hard to listen to her, but I felt her suffering, and a couple people were crying with her.  It was so real, and I was almost tempted to go up and talk about my experiences too, except I still don’t know if I’m completely convinced of the beliefs in the bible and I still question a lot of things… but I do wish I have the courage one day to speak up, and at least talk about my personal experiences or give a word to encourage others, especially the younger kids.

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“Technically a Christian” part 2

Continuing onto the last post I wrote regarding my relationship with Christianity, which you can read here, I’m still pretty confused and seeking answers.

I’m really liking fellowship and still continuing to grow closer with everyone, and getting to genuinely know and care about people.  However, aside from that and despite having many deep philosophical talks with individuals including the evangelist who is a cool guy, I’m still not sure I found any clear answers.  I’ve gotten into a few sticky topics, most of which revolves around homosexuality.  I’ve come to  discover many of them don’t exactly support gayness, and that they don’t see it as anti anything, but rather that in very clear, literal terms, the bible has passages stating that it is an abomination to lay with another man.  According to them, the individual is not a sin, but the act is, and we are to love them regardless and not judge them, because we all sin.  The word “sin” still makes me cringe, not sure why.

Does a gay person really feel like they’re accepted though, even stated that way?  Again, according to many people, homosexuality is a choice, something that people experimented with at some point in life and ended up thinking was for them.

But on the other hand, if it is not a choice but just an identity of who someone is, to be condemned for it as a sin is pretty frustrating, and since the majority are not gay, who are we to speak for that demographic?  Just as if I as an Asian American am offended by the O’Reilly interview in Chinatown (ugh), who are all the white people in the comments section telling us to calm down and not be so serious??

One thing I’m confused about is when I’ve discussed the passage where God forces Abraham (I think?) to sacrifice his son to prove his love.  When pushed to a corner, Christian friends usually fall back to “well that’s why it’s the Old Testament, the New Testament is more forgiving.”  But, it’s the same God right?  Unless whoever wrote the bible intended parts of it to be more focused on the overall message and moral, rather than interpreted literally word for word.

In fact, the parts about not laying with another man take place mostly in the Old Testament…

I’m still confused.  But I think it’s really great opening up and sharing true fellowship and seeking the purpose of life.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Christianity

Someone once asked me before if I was a Christian or not.  I responded “Technically, I am I guess.”  The answer understandably complexed him, because well, it confuses me too.

Let me start from the beginning.  When I was hospitalized at the age of three, my parents were Buddhists.  I remember faintly the scent of burning incense with some sort of mini red and gold shrine in our house.  The suffering they went through guided them to pray to a different figure instead, and well, six weeks later, I got to come home.  From that time on, we thanked God before every meal, and my family attended church and were involved in the religious community for about a decade.  At some point though, I’m not sure if it was necessarily loss of faith, but rather the experience of witnessing and experiencing hypocritical and un-Christian-like behavior that caused a drift from the church.

Regardless, even though it may be wrong,  I always couldn’t help but wonder, question, and even challenge the whole idea of God, and what it meant to be a devout, true, “good” believer.  When I was about seven years old, I would think up immature ways to test that God was real, like praying that the water be turned hot immediately if he was indeed, listening to me.  I was incredulous that God had the ability and personableness to attend to my talks with him if other people were also demanding his attention.  Not understanding the concept of faith either, I would also request that he perform other similar mini miracles to prove his existence.

At my mom’s deepest moments of despair, I heard her once whisper that it was unfair and that it felt like we were being punished.  Though brief, that moment stayed with me, and throughout life later, whenever I witnessed or experienced pain, I would cry out in my head, Where are you now? Why aren’t you helping if you care?  Nevertheless, no matter how much I felt upset or resentful, like a habit I couldn’t help but converse with God whenever I was feeling very, very lost.

After we stopped going to church much when I was around twelve years old, it wasn’t until I entered college that my identity in limbo as a Christian would be pulled to the forefront again.  There was a group of older Asian students I wanted to be friends with, but I soon found out they were very religious.  The first time I sat down with a particular senior in the student center, he stared at me and flat out asked if I was a Christian.  I said yes. He asked what kind of Christian I was, to which I felt stupid and couldn’t answer because I wasn’t sure. He asked if I attended church regularly, and I said no, I had stopped going when I was about twelve.  After a long awkward pause, he continued staring at me and then finally said, “Well, that’s okay” even though it felt like I had failed some interview.  I felt incredibly intimidated.  Nevertheless, I would end up becoming better friends with some of the other people in the group, the ones who at least, didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or judge me for any transgressions I might commit by accident, such as cursing or sharing openly that I had imbibed some alcohol.  The ones who were genuine in their goodheartedness, and that took awhile to read and sort out.

During my darkest period of time, I started to attend one of the weekly Christian discussion meet ups, openly tearing up at bible passages, but also recklessly challenging perspectives not meaning to be rude, but in a genuine quest to understand better what it meant to be Christian and why certain beliefs were formed.  For example, I didn’t understand why some Christians believed all non-believers were denied entry to heaven when some of my closest friends and most wonderful human beings were non-believers, while there are more than enough shitty Christians who give all Christians a bad name in the world… while Hitler could be allowed in if he found redemption the second before his death and asked for forgiveness.  I didn’t agree with the idea that homosexual people were sinners, just as liars and other kinds of sins existed.  How could it be a sin if you had no choice in the matter and were born to love one or the other type of person?  I wasn’t particularly pro-LGBT rights before I got to college; I simply had no opinion and had lead a pretty sheltered, conservative life.  From my standpoint, I believe that the bible has great teachings to share with us, but it is definitely outdated and open for interpretation.  But stubbornness and strong faith leads us to believe that it is not interpretation, but simply  the word of God, and there is no room for debate, only truth.

Whenever I entered discussions with religious friends, it felt enlightening but also like we were entering a delicate danger zone.  At my most vulnerable, I reached out to many people and some reached back.  I am forever grateful for that, but always wondered if it was because they were good friends and cared for me, or because they felt pity and considered it a duty to lend me a hand.  I suppose it could be both, that they loved me and that it was through God’s love as well?  At my darkest times, I felt conflicting emotions when some friends would attempt to comfort me by sending me more bible passages.  Maybe they provided a minimal sort of comfort, but it also kind of irked me.  However, I recognized that it was a way of sharing their care for me in their own way, and I felt a tremendous amount of gratitude.

One particular story never sat well with me, and that was the passage where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his own son as evidence of his loyalty to him.  That didn’t sound like a very kind God to me, it felt cruel to force anyone to choose between someone else one loved and yourself.  But was I blasphemous for thinking these kinds of thoughts, would I end up denied entry as well?  I say that in an attempt to avoid the sentencing of going to hell for eternity instead… again, that seems rather unforgiving.  My friend once said that she doesn’t believe there is a hell, it’s just too extreme.  When we got into a heavy discussion about heaven and hell, I came to a theory that for people who have comparably minimal worries in this life on this planet with no particular worries embedded in serious health or financial issues, maybe that was the heaven that God has blessed them with (also, please, no more #blessed. It’s an abused word).  After all, for immigrants or refugees, the ultimate dream was to reach a safe land where they could live together and provide each other with food and basic comforts, not just survive day to day, and so many of us already have that that we don’t even notice it.  So if you already have all of these elements, and are deeply worried about getting better clothes than your friends, or a hot boyfriend or something like that, check yourself.

And while we are on the subject of hypocrisy, there is A. LOT. OF. THAT.  It’s a ridiculously easy thing to do, and all of us do it from time to time.  But everyone is constantly passing judgments off of each other, even Christians.  I get that even Christians can make mistakes, but it just seems I hold Christians to higher standards especially ones who are always focused on telling others what it meant to be a real Christian and holding others in contempt for not doing the same.  I think it’s important to respect your body and treat it well, but i also think it is a woman’s right to dress themselves however they see fit and not have to get a giant scarlet “A” slapped on them for it since men don’t.  That doesn’t mean I am a fan of Kim Kardashian for showing her nakedness all the time everywhere she goes, because I don’t think starting your fame from a sex tape is a skill I admire, and I don’t think her main goal of being naked all the time is to conquer and end gender inequality.  She is obviously talented at staying in the public eye, but to constantly seek the limelight and be considered a role model isn’t healthy either.  Even her sister Kylie’s example encourages young girls to demand a specific type of beauty that exudes superficiality with lip fillers and plastic surgery, and there’s more than enough of that in the world.  At the very least, that entire clan can use their platform to contribute more to society.  But maybe my opinion is misconstrued by what I don’t know.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with embracing your curves, but I also think she gets way too much fame and money for no particular reason.  News articles and the media are always featuring the latest antics of Kimye and whether Kylie and Tyga are back together, but girls in our culture pay attention to that shit, and we prize that clan’s flaunting lips and booties over girls fighting for their rights in challenging societies, risking their lives to make a real difference, like Malala Yousafzai.  But I think I know what the issue is here.  We prefer not to dip into others’ tainted waters, we prefer to stand by the pool in our shades, all the while saying “Oh man, that’s awful!”  We want to block out all the misery in the world instead of get swallowed up in it, because it’s much easier that way.  When I look at the seven featured Facebook news, I find myself gravitating towards opening the one about TSwift and THiddleston on their romantic getaway abroad, making out, rather than the one about more killings and deaths in another airport.

Going back to my original ramble,  I think women are valuable beings who deserve to be treated with respect from their counterparts, and not suppressed or mistreated by men, but that does not mean they are holy vessels who must absolutely save themselves for marriage.  (It’s always been a bit amusing to me that I am considered a wild child in comparison to my conservative Asian parents and their friends and more so to other Asians, particularly in the motherland- yet, I am by far the most prude in other groups of friends.  I’ve always considered myself standing somewhere on middle ground on the spectrum, always in moderation of opposing opinions, yet if I had to choose, I’d say I agree more so with the perspective of most in modern times, yet my natural inclinations lean towards conservative views; after all, I am an old soul).

To expand on that, a lot of women have been pushing the boundaries for gender equality and demanding that women get to sexually explore as much as men do.  While I think it’s a fair right to demand, I also am just not a fan of hook up culture personally, and wish both men and women don’t sleep around so casually, because while I don’t think waiting until marriage is practical or reasonable, I still think the idea of sharing bodies is so intimate that it has to mean something to both parties.  I also believe it is my right to go out and have a night of fun that may or may not involve drinking a little or wearing an outfit that may or may not reveal more skin, as long as it’s responsibly handled and there is no disrespect and lack of consideration for others (acting trashy, there is a difference here that many conservatives don’t seem to consider).  Some people do curse too much, and it can get excessively rude or annoying, but if you’re judging the quality of a human being as a whole by how much profanity they spout above their actions, something is clearly wrong.  There are plenty of people who appear friendly and nice on the outside, but won’t be there where it counts down the wire, just like there are tons of individuals who seem rough around the edges but are actually some of the kindest souls out there.  If we had to nitpick, I think the amount of cursing one produces should be ranked pretty low on the scale, wouldn’t you say?

Bottom line, I can see how tempting it can be to believe wholeheartedly in God and find peace and comfort in having full faith, but my doubts have rarely strayed from my thoughts.  Christianity has been the cause of the crusades, wars and killings of other religions, intolerance practiced, multiple incidents of misrepresentation and dark interpretations of the bible.  I know that the argument is that Christianity is not the cause, but people are, because people are, well, sinners.  But still, it was and continues to be a source of both terrible and wonderful things, bringing out the worst and best in people.  And I may continue to have these complex, fluctuating feelings, which kind of sucks, but that’s the way my relationship is with Christianity.  I am a Christian because I do pray on rare occasions and attended church and read the bible; on the other hand, there were years where I barely touched on religion and felt “faith” was a rather demanding alien concept, and I still hesitate if asked the question “Are you a Christian?”  Technically, yes I am. I guess.  I’m here neither to evangelize nor denounce anything, but portray my honest thoughts.

 

My Story Now in Insomnia: 19%

So I said this blog was going to be a space of good health and all that… but the past couple days have been really hard so I’m just going to be blunt and lay it all out there.

I don’t ever want to return to that feeling of hopelessness the way I felt for months two years ago, but it’s pretty damn difficult.  It really feels like the whole world is working against you in more ways than one.

I’ve been riddled with multiple ailments since I was a kid, and the one that’s affected me the most is my chronic lung disease.  Sometimes you dig yourself into a hole thinking about what could’ve been, and how much easier your life would be if all you had to worry about was hustling and getting a job and all the common problems.

I am only left with a lung function of 19%, and am literally living life on the edge.  Even on a day of not sleeping or overexerting myself or stressing out, I feel it immediately and need to take time off to just recuperate and rest.

When I was three, my mom and brother got really sick with pneumonia and I caught it as well.  After what appeared to be a normal check up, I was suddenly hospitalized and sent to the emergency room, where I was in severe care for a few days.  I remember looking over and seeing a black girl a bit older than me in a bed next to mine, and she smiled at me. I remember a few of these rooms, and even now when I smell alcohol and this weird hospital soap smell, it sends shivers down my spine.  I remember days of just being surrounded by dark curtains, where all I had was a sad TV to look at with cartoons and other things I wasn’t really interested in, but being unable to ask anyone because it was late and all the nurses were tired and tending to other things… in addition to my having a tube put down my throat so I couldn’t speak.  I remember someone occasionally coming over and asking me if I’d rather have a blue or pink pad to rest my IV on, and nurses cheering for me because I’d finally pooped after being bed-ridden for endless time.  I remember some nurses crowded in my room watching TV, someone coughing, and one nurse offering me ice cream even though my parents freaked out later as some other doctors deeply believed it would adversely affect my breathing condition.

Even now, I find it ridiculous that the hospital was so unsanitary that they would allow nurses to cough in the rooms of at-risk children like myself who were easily exposed and heavily affected by any form of contagion nearby.  I wondered if this was how I caught a virus that nearly killed me, weakening me so much that I could not leave the hospital for the next six weeks.  It nearly completely ruined my lungs.

When I was finally able to leave the hospital, there were many sleepless nights where the silhouettes of my parents hovered over me, measuring my oxygen levels, feeding me some sort of Iron drink, and giving me breathing treatments.  The first night back at home, I was so weak that when I wanted to seek my parents out, I dropped out of my bed and dragged myself to the edge of the stairs to call them out… I can’t believe I still remember this, and every time I feel the vulnerability of that helpless moment, I feel paralyzed all over again.   I was chained to an oxygen tank for many years, and this eventually changed to a portable one that was difficult and heavy for me to lug around in my still limited capacity.  I think I was finally able to get rid of it when I was about ten years old, but I was homeschooled completely until 4th grade.

My parents were Buddhist, but converted to Christianity when they prayed to God and I was able to leave Robert Wood Johnson.  After 4th grade, I was still easy susceptible to the flu and cold weather, so I was homeschooled usually from November to beginning of April, and this pattern remained until college.  This trend made it really hard for me to establish relationships with other peers, and I had more experience conversing one-on-one with teachers than anything.  At an early age, self-doubt and loss of confidence started becoming apparent when I felt like my health and inconvenient conditions wasn’t understood by many people, and I felt often like I was very vulnerable and at the mercy of my teachers or other administrators.  I experienced a lot of injustice where kids would walk behind me, laughing and taunting me to walk faster when I couldn’t and was so out of breath I couldn’t even defend myself.  I often walked alone because I was slow and couldn’t keep up with other kids, and I felt awkward asking my friends to wait for me, especially with my backpack.

Painful experiences included one time, when I had a long-term pass that allowed me to arrive late to class past the six-minute mark since my pace was much slower.  My sickness caused me to be absent for a couple days, and when I returned, during lunch period I walked the exhausting uphill path from building 100 to 800 to find my science teacher to make up a test.  One of the hall monitor teachers who had a reputation for being an asshole gave me the most difficult time when I showed up and lacking a specific pass from my teacher allowing me to find him for the test.  He drilled me on why I was in that building during lunchtime, and why I had arrived there about five minutes after the last bell rang.  I explained to him that it’s difficult for me as I walk slower, and he relentlessly questioned me, asking me why and almost mocking me as if I were lying.  I told him my teacher was expecting me for a test, and he allowed me to pass, saying I had better have that pass with me when I returned by him.

So there I was, so burnt out and oxygen-deprived, feeling like I had hiked up Mt. Everest, trudging on to my science room to make up the test.  Alas, the teacher looks at me, surprised, and says he wasn’t expecting me to come immediately the day after my absence to make up the test, hence he didn’t have one prepared for me.  I asked him for a return pass to lunch and told him about the man giving me a hard time.  He gave me a sympathetic look and told me the teacher is well known for being a jerk, handed me a return pass, and sent me on my way.  I was so disgruntled as I flashed the pass to the old jerk, and he had to squeeze in one last dig, asking me if I got my test done when there was no way I could’ve finished it in five minutes.  I told him no, and he said “I told you so” as I began my trudge back to the lunch room.

Other times, there were students I became friendly with and considered friend-quaintances, only to have them turn around in their seats to stare at me in April to ask if I was a new student:  in my absence, I had been easily forgotten as if I had never existed in their lives, and it hurt.

There were also gaps in my education where the time lapse in between transitioning from school to homeschooled caused some teachers to quickly skip over chapters in a hurry, whether they were lazy or whether it was to help me catch up as quickly as possible with my class, I will never know.  Some asshole teachers were not nice at all, and when I first returned to my high school math class, I asked Mr. Lynch if I could take the quiz Monday instead of Friday since I had not had a chance to go over a chapter with anyone, and he said “We can discuss it Monday.”  Monday, I came in, and he handed out the quiz.  I went up to him to talk about it, and he said “You’re taking it today.  We discussed it Friday already, what’s the problem?  If you did the chapter’s homework then you should be able to take the quiz just like everyone else.”  Needless to say, I didn’t understand a damn thing about sines and cosines, receiving a fat “U” for Failed, and unable to persuade him otherwise.

In the span of a few years, my old doctor had retired and I did not consistently visit a hospital in that time.  In high school, my parents took me to see a Morristown Hospital doctor, then back to RWJ for Dr. Hussein, and finally now, to where I am a patient at UPenn.

To make matters worse, my parents fought often, and I still remember the many nights when I felt really alone, sick and depressed- I would huddle in my bed, thinking I was going to hear my parents fighting in the next room over, or my mom bursting into my room to dish out some of her anger.  Other nights dragged on for probably months at a time where nobody spoke or communicated in the house, and I was forced to act as Owl Messenger to where my mom was holed up with her door closed, back to my dad where he was playing Freecell quietly.

My mom and I have a very complicated relationship.  I understand all that she has sacrificed for me over the years, but she was also riddled with her own depression and issues, using me as her therapist and complaining about her past, my father, and her unsatisfactory life, often of which I internalized into blaming myself for existing and for burdening everyone.  I felt so guilty and so silenced, and always worried that something was going to happen, and the whole house was always on eggshells or stepping on glass.

Over the years, our family has improved in many ways, and I went to see a therapist after my complete mental shutdown two years ago, and only then did things seem to start to get better bit by bit.  During that time period, my ex broke up with me and I found out I may need a lung transplant.  My parents were so worried about my getting too serious with a boyfriend, and freaked out, preventing me from living as normal of a life as I could for myself.  All the anger burst out of me, and I had no room to tolerate anymore.  For about two months, I was riddled with thoughts of suicide and sleeplessness.  Every second in existence was agony, and I would cry and squeak out jokes at my best friend that I would be tempted to cut myself if I only knew where the veins were, or I would like to drown myself in the bathroom if only there was a bathtub and not just a shower head.

She came to stay with me a few nights to make sure I was okay at school, and probably saved my life, sleeping on the floor in my room and listening to me as I cried over and over again.

My mom has hovered over me like a helicopter parent, trying to shield me from all the bad while simultaneously making me paranoid and aware of a lot of negative things.  I think depression runs in our family, and battling to gain happiness has always been a huge challenge.  I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of the anxiety and depression I feel is related to her own draining energy, but I still love my mom and appreciate all that she has done for me- I just need space and my independence, and yet it seems impossible since I will forever need to rely on my parents for many things.  Will I ever find a significant other to care for me unconditionally?  My parents will not be around forever, what will I do then?

And honestly, as much as I want to wholeheartedly have faith that everything will work out, nobody knows for sure.  There is so much in Christianity that both troubles me and gives me hope.  But in all seriousness, why is there so much suffering, cruelty, negativity, and injustice in the world if there is a God?  I need some sort of justification for this, and yet every time I’m in a really dark place, I pray.  I can’t help it.  Help me figure it out.  Please.

So even now, it feels like I’ve accomplished nothing, and I’m just stuck here in a sad, sad limbo.  But that’s not true, I’ve managed to gain some good friends in college, I graduated, and I need to believe that there is more to my life than what it seems like now.

Depression, anxiety, chronic lung illness (bronchiolitis obliterans), ear surgery, insomnia… what else?  Occasionally, I will open up to a friend who asks about my story, and explain to them what I have.  You will have people who respond in a really unhelpful, ignorant way, saying useless, vapid stuff like

“But you’re such an inspiration!”

Or am I just a fucking reminder that your life doesn’t suck compared to mine?  or

“At least you’re not like, really poor and stuck in a Third World country where you cant afford medication,” or “Maybe it’s all in your head?”  “C’mon, it’s not really THAT bad.”

No, and no.  You don’t fucking know, so shut the fuck up, please.  How do you talk about yourself honestly without sounding like you were seeking pity or victimizing yourself, or downplaying your challenges?

I so envied the college peers I was surrounded by, who only cared about partying harder and ending senior year with a bang, where their greatest conversations consisted of how embarrassingly drunk they got and how they were going to make it through exam week.  I related more to other people of a different, more isolated temperament… and yet, I felt like I was constantly used by others because they knew I relied on and valued their friendship so much.  Even now, I only have a handful of people who really understand me, or recognize enough not to belittle me, hover over me, or differentiate me.

I am hypersensitive to noise and get easily irritated… when I read Chopin’s biography, I really related to his character.  Maybe it’s a symptom of people with lung/breathing issues, you’re always on edge, grumpy, and oxygen deprived, so it makes you whiny and irascible.

There are a million things I’m trying to accomplish, even though on the outside it appears like I’m doing nothing.  Part of me feels a deep, deep despair as if there’s no point in grudgingly trying to figure out my future or my next step, and the other half is freaking out at my freak outs.  So if you have any advice for me, I’d love to hear it.  But only if it’s of substance.  Please.

And Dear God, please help me figure out what my purpose in life is.