Back in eighth grade, a friend and I got lost while exploring.
“If we have to spend the night in the woods,” Amelia growled at me, “I’m going to have to kill you.”
I smiled nervously, calculating how best to escape should it come to that: “Maybe if you climb that tree, you’ll be able to see which direction we should go.”
I didn’t know if this would be any better than my original idea of letting the dog lead us home (we’d ended up going in circles for an hour), but it put a little distance between us. Just in case. We were in the woods not far from my house. I should have known how to get home, but I didn’t. Up in the tree, Amelia thought she could see a break in the forest, so we walked in that direction until we finally found the road.
There’s this picture of me sitting in an old photo album at my parent’s house. I am probably four and I’m standing on a patio chair outside with my brother and my dad. I’ve got a popsicle stick in my mouth with red juice stains surrounding my lips. We must have all finished swimming because the three of us are all shirtless, wearing swim-shorts.
Being shirtless isn’t a huge deal when you are a four year old girl. It’s probably not preferred, but it is not the worst. I remember my mom would frown at me as I refused the pink and purple swimsuits and demanded to wear swim-shorts just like dad. We were just in our own backyard and nothing was growing on my chest yet – but still, it wasn’t proper swimwear for a girl. However, with the picture as evidence, I had gotten what I wanted. I swam in those swim-shorts and was just like the boys. I stood proudly on the chair with a popsicle in my mouth, my thumbs up in the air. I was a girl, but I was a girl who could do what the boys could do too.
I was 16 when I stumbled into speaking in tongues. I was praying. Some words fell out of my mouth, and I wondered if this was The Gift. But I didn’t know what to do with it, and I wasn’t sure what was supposed to come next.
I tell people that’s how I found the Quakers. Let me explain.
I met with my pastor, who took an “open but cautious” stance on the charismatic gifts. My best Christian friends had mixed responses and no experience. Several of them disapproved of all charismatic phenomena. Nobody I was close to knew much outside of YouTube clips of hotline preachers. But I was desperate to nurture whatever God was doing in me, confident that she was.
I sought out people who were involved in a Filipino charismatic Catholic community. I sought out everyone. Any inkling that somebody was into tongues, and I found a way to talk to them.
A woman at my church heard from her son that I was talking about the Holy Spirit. She affirmed what God was doing in my life and gifted me with a box full of DVDs, CDs, and books from John Wimber, a founder of the neo-charismatic Vineyard denomination. I discovered in John’s words an integrated Evangelical spirituality that valued mysticism and biblical authority; tradition and new wineskins. The way John ministered was not typical of charismatics; it was grounded in deep listening. His theology celebrated God being present and alive but also embraced the eschatological tension of the “not yet.” He was different.
I'm having a hard time. People won't look at me. They won't make eye contact.
The university I attend discriminates against gender and sexual minorities in its policies. My friends there have been forced to endure racism. When confronted, faculty and staff choose to turn away.
The problem is, these are people. And the "turning away" isn't a metaphor. People I’ve worked and worshiped with won't look me in the eyes. People I have known for years now turn away from me.
I'm not trying to shame anyone. I'm pointing this out because I need to see where I am situated in the system I operate in and where others are situated. This helps me understand what is happening and why.
But people I care about won't acknowledge my physical presence. And every time it happens, I feel a little more erased. A little more like I’m not supposed to be here. A little more like this is really my fault. After all, how can all of these people be wrong? It makes me wonder if I’m really a human.
Maybe my purpose was to validate, approve, and prop up others. Maybe I’m only valuable as long as I am useful. Maybe I’m not useful anymore because I am not silent.
Put it down: the phone, the pen, the keyboard. Sit with yourself a minute.
What's missing? What are you holding onto? grasping? rejecting?
White nationalism, harassment, greed, and fear... these elements are rising. When will we have courage to speak?
Fake news pours from every faucet, and the real news hurts. It's easy to retreat. It's easy to get lost when we try to escape.
The world is changing; it's not an infinite supply; it swirls and rattles around us. We don't want to look to the realm of nightmare and open up that cellar door. No, we are right, and that rightness kills us. We scuffle back into our closets and hide from the light.
I know some might say there’s no need to add to the noise. That it’s not that big of a deal — that staying silent is some sort of testament to the unapologetic inherency of who I am. I understand those arguments, and I can comprehend their validity. I don’t mean to nullify them in any way. But when I lay my head down at night, something continues to reverberate within me; to pull me deeper into the tides of its freedom, its power, its incredulous vulnerability. The world is supposed to know our stories, and I have believed for quite some time now that its only by them that we can liberate others to live out the sheer and unguarded beauty of their own.
I don’t mean for this to be a big, hairy deal. I hope it doesn’t come across that way. Sometimes, culture and truth simply collide in a way that demands of us a moment that pushes history forward, both personal and corporate, and leaves upon the soil a mark that otherwise would go unseen and unscathed. I believe these moments exist to define a generation, to reshape our culture, to bring truth back out unto the frontlines — where it has quite honestly always belonged. But most importantly, I believe they exist to liberate ourselves. To let our shame slink away like a weighted necklace at the bottom of a deep, deep ocean. And yes, I realize I just pseudo-referenced a James Cameron movie in a relatively momentous blog.
I imagine you’ve heard a sermon about the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. It’s still regularly preached in Evangelical churches I attended. Still, from the dozens of Acts 8 sermons I consumed, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about this famous eunuch.
What is a eunuch anyway? Eunuchs in the Bible were typically castrated before puberty, sometimes with their consent, but usually not. They retained high voices. They didn’t develop body hair or facial hair like men. They looked and sounded different from the men and women around them.
They were also mostly single and childless. Never having children myself, I feel drawn to these solitary eunuchs. In a world where everyone seemed to be part of a family unit of some sort, they stood out as loners.
The local builder leading our work team in rural Guatemala resisted help from a group of volunteers. He took pride in the quality of his work, and he knew these volunteers didn’t have the experience or precision necessary to complete the water filter system correctly. One volunteer was angry: “What is this? I didn’t pay all this money and come all this way to stand by and watch someone else do the work.”
Another volunteer stayed out of the way. She busied herself pounding bent nails out of old boards, and calmly remarked how great it felt to be hammering out the injustice in the world.
These comments illustrate the attitude so many of us carry: we think that our money, effort, and good intentions earn us the right to help people we don’t know in a place we don’t understand.
A conflicted heart rests in me after spending the Holiday with my family. A heart full of love and memories called me home, yet looks and passing words of judgment make me feel as if I don't belong once I'm there.
A weak hug given to me when you saw me and a warm, welcoming, long embrace to my sister when you saw her. Comforting my sisters when we found out that Mom was going to rehab for addiction, yet dodging my embrace when I went in for a hug. Talking openly to my sisters about their homes, their families, their lives, yet not uttering one word to me, sitting on the opposite couch as we watched a Holiday film, avoiding being even in the same room with me... the Father whom I was so close to in my childhood and young adult life, no longer recognizes me as his own.
Once upon a time there was a giant. She lived in a cave and humans called her "bad." In fact, she would have ventured to say that there was no such thing as good or bad; she was a mix of both, like all of us.
She was named Evbo. Her skin was tough, halfway to leather. When she wore no clothes, human men and women became like bats, winging their way to her to draw blood and suck. They pulled her hairs and twisted her fingers; Evbo let them without fuss, knowing how strongly they were drawn, how irresistible she was. In exchange, and without their full knowledge, she took from them information about the plants and animals, fields and rivers, mountains and valleys. When she did not want her blood drawn, she wore a leather cloak made from a giant bull that swept the ground as she walked.
Evbo went off into the mountains one day, looking to be alone. She trod the mossy path, picked up boulders where they had fallen, carried them a while, and deposited them on their home soil. They nestled back into their hollows and breathed their thanks.
What do you want to be when you grow up? I remember answering this question many times as a child, and spending hours before sleep pondering my exciting grown-up life. I wanted to be an artist. A ballerina. A doctor.
As life, and my uncoordinated limbs would have it, dancing never became my thing. And my incredible distaste for hospitals, needles, and vomit prevented my doctor dreams. Even though indeed I am an artist now (and have been adult-ing for a time), my childhood dream was a little more involved than I’ve ever lived out. You see, I wanted to live in a tree house in the woods for 5 years by myself, and once I emerged, I would be a famous painter.
Alas, my little heart didn’t yet know how extroverted I would become, or my love of hot showers. As I became a teen, I found that I loved writing, and working with people. Gearing up towards college, I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter (in Hollywood!), and change the world with my words.
In my dreams I am frequently met with all manner of bodily calamity – teeth falling out, piping hot lava, exhaling steam pipes swallowing me up in fine, chalky mist. These dreams have been accelerating lately – there have always been zombies, but now they’re butcher-proof, the triggers on my pistols don’t work or the barrels spray only water.
I would be surprised if this back-order of spontaneous nightmares had nothing to do with November's election, or with the wider climate of fear and hatred that seems to be growing around us. I recently preached on the marked increase of hate crimes affecting Muslim, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities since the election. In December, our Japanese Americans in Chicago held a press conference with Arab and Muslim American groups condemning recent rhetoric seeking to justify a mass detention or profiling of these groups on the basis that, well, “we did it to those Japs.”
I stumbled into speaking in tongues. At the time, it wasn’t what I wanted.
I was sixteen. I’d only been “born again” for about six months, and I knew I could experience God the same way people in the New Testament did. Paul talked about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians – healing, prophecy – and I believed.
I wanted Jesus to fill me with the Holy Spirit, the same way he did for believers in Acts.
I tend to get loud when I pray, and I needed to pray. I didn’t want to freak out my parents, so I decided to pray at a park near my house. At night. I wanted power. Power to do miracles. Power to heal the sick. Power to raise the dead. I’d wait in silence, but eventually, the prayers came out. I cried out to God, even argued with God. And every time, I felt something: warm waves of love crashed into my chest. I physically trembled. I shook.
I love to dance. Specifically, I love to dance salsa and merengue. I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember. It’s a form of self-care and healing for me, and I’ve spent many nights dancing alone in my bedroom. (It’s not as sad it sounds, I swear.)
This love of dance comes from my family. I was always my mother’s dance partner at our family parties, and from a young age, my dad instilled in me a love for salsa, exposing me to the giants of the genre like Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, and of course, my queen, Celia Cruz.
I didn’t learn all of the formal steps until this last year, actually, when I was given a brief salsa lesson in addition to instructions for a protest that I was a part of. I was participating in a "Salsa Shutdown" organized by Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant-led organization that is working for the permanent protection of undocumented people in this country. The Salsa Shutdown was a means of showing the consumer power of immigrants.
I have been attending Quaker meetings here in the UK for nearly a decade but have never settled at one. I usually attend for a few months then find some convenient excuse to leave it behind and neglect my spiritual needs. ‘I didn’t like that Friend’s testimony’ ‘There isn’t enough discipline at this meeting’ ‘It’s too near a noisy road’ I tell myself I don’t need a religious community, I don’t need God. I know deep down these are just excuses I tell myself to disguise the real reason I cannot remain at one meeting for any real amount of time; my fears and insecurities.
I am afraid of getting close to a Quaker community because of the sheer challenges presented by Quakerism. For me Quakerism is not easily defined and it varies a great deal depending on which part of the world you worship with Friends. Is your meeting Liberal or Conservative? Perhaps it is Evangelical? Is it programmed or unprogrammed? Would the majority of Friends at your meeting be comfortable being described as Christians or would they not? It sometimes seems there are more questions than answers and, in some ways that frightens me. This isn’t what religion is supposed to be about is it? It’s about answers not questions. Quakers live their faith, not just talk about it, which can be an intimidating prospect. I’m far from perfect.
Today I am God's. Let me be cut down, redistributed, rebuilt from the ground up.
So much of me wants to be good already. To have everything figured out, to never fail. And so I'm constantly lamenting how I mess up; I'm not perfect; I've let my expectations down. Then I'm free to hate myself, because who would love someone who's not perfect? And I feel justified in avoiding other people because (it feels) I don't deserve them.
When I'm the arbiter of my own goodness... it's more than I can take. When I act like I am deeply, fundamentally, irreparably bad... it invites abuse.
Then the hardest thing is to turn all this over to God.
I am torn because the last six months have been really crazy. And I want to write about them. But I don’t know how to do it anymore.
I try to write about the place I find myself in right now, but each time I write a sentence and then delete it. I am so tired. I cannot defend my feelings anymore. I cannot explain all of the situations in the last 10 years or even four years or even four months or even four weeks that have helped me question my sanity. I feel like all I can do is find and hold the broken pieces of what I wanted to be. I can’t even explain what went wrong anymore. I just know that I’m holding broken things – broken pieces of something that used to be whole – and they are pointy and heavy things and my hands are bleeding.
And I am tired of making my bruises and cuts and scars teaching tools. I know it is good, but I am tired. It’s confusing and complicated. This often feels like the only way I know how to make meaning out of the pain – I want to point to the scar and say, “Look. This is real. Let’s not do this to others.” I want to point to my scars and say, “Hey, me too.”
Not long before Donald Trump announced victory, early on the morning of Wednesday, November 9, my brother Kento died.
I was in Italy, meeting him for the first time just days before he passed. There in the hospital, he was unable to speak or move much at all. But he squeezed my hand. And it meant the world to me.
Our hands touched.
And then he died.
It’s been a hard month. Hard to know what’s real. Some days, I find myself curled up on the floor, crying, not always sure about what. Other days, most days, I’m numb. Tired. I’ve been struggling to pray, talk, write. It’s hard to make sense of these things. Of anything.