Almost 26 and finally becoming a “b”

This title may have shocked you a little bit as you may have wondered what on earth does she mean by becoming a “b” at 26? Questions may arise as you may or may not personally know me. Well, I am not becoming the trending “b” that you see in the memes nor am I becoming the sassy “b”. But because I am turning a year over a fourth of a century in a few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about life, in particular, my 26 years of life.

It took me about 26 years to finally realize how worthy, how beautiful, and how loving I am. (Please don’t mistaken me to being conceited here. Let me explain.) My entire life, up until this point, I’d always struggled with low self-esteem, never believed in myself, and consistently played “second best.” You can say I didn’t love myself for who I am. In my defense, I would say I had a pretty normal childhood. I was never popular, but I did have good friends. I was pretty shy and kept to myself–quiet and soft spoken–an introvert most would consider, but I was very passionate about certain things: books, art, poetry, writers, Jesus, movies, etc. I had five siblings and my parents were always loving and caring toward us all. But I don’t know why I had neglected myself so earnestly for so many years.

What do I mean by becoming a “b”?

“Be bold, be brave, be brilliant,” I heard. 

Growing up, I was taught to be polite, respectful, and modest. You see, this is my culture. For example, when you are offered a drink of water, it is polite to decline the first offer. Then after a few relentless offers, you finally accept. This shows mannerism. Another example is when you attend a party and find the best seat in the house, but then an elderly woman enters the room, you ought to get up and sacrifice the seat for her. This shows respect. Lastly, when relatives congratulate or boast about your accomplishments, you deny the honor. This shows modesty. All of these cultural traits are self-denying and center around a distinct trait: humility.

I’ve wrestled with humility my entire life. The Bible talks about humbling yourself in several books: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” I believed, and still believe, that having a humbled heart is often seen by peers as weak, but it is actually strength. Sadly, I had adapted to the lie that low self-esteem equals humility. But I’ve come to understand that I can be humble yet confident in the Lord. I can have self-esteem yet humble.

I can say with confidence that I will be turning 26, am beautiful, worthy, and loving.

I wish I could say that this realization happened in seconds or that it happened just as easily as I had written this; but it didn’t, as I’ve already stated above, it took over a fourth of a century. It took many, many years of pruning me to understand. I honestly want to believe that the older you get, the more wisdom you receive; however, wisdom simply doesn’t just come with age like a gift you unwrap and then install. Wisdom comes from listening, experience, and well, wisdom really comes from God.

Just a couple weeks ago, I received a conviction to be bold, brave, and brilliant. (If I were to share my story, it’d take pages. But it is a testimony that is dear to me and has changed my life. Maybe I’ll share it some day.) I wholeheartedly believe this conviction came from the Lord. Knowing me, I am pretty meek because I had believed it was humility. But as I was praying on a particular day, I heard, “Be bold, be brave, be brilliant.” I realize now that to be bold, brave, and brilliant is an act of humility as I will serve the Lord with my life.

Stranger’s face

My father’s birth mother died in 1981, after the war broke out in his home country of Laos. Back in Laos, my father’s family like many others had very little or nothing at all. The luxury of pulling out your phone to snap a quick picture was unprecedented. Dad never seen a photo of his mother. There isn’t a single photograph of her, I presume. Her face will only be an image in his memory.
Today, Dad pulled out his phone and showed me a picture he snapped from a video and said, “Me Kab. Tus ntawm no zoo li kuv niam kiag tsis txawv li os.” (“My daughter Ka, this woman looks exactly like my mother.”) Dad looked at his phone screen for long minutes. Quiet. He couldn’t tell me the stories of his mother anymore. He couldn’t tell me of how she’d have food already cooked for him after his long days of laboring in the field, of how she had hand washed all his clothes before dinner, of how she would take her hand and bless his forehead every time.
My heart breaks a little tonight as I stare at my dad who stares at a stranger’s picture because her face reminds him of his diseased mother. It pains me to see that the only visual photograph my father has of his mother is of another woman; that my dad wants to keep a stranger’s photograph as a visual reminder of how his mother looked.
Nws raug kuv siab ntau vim kuv pom kuv txiv quaj. Kuv txiv tsis muaj duab los puav pheej khaws uas dab muag nco txog kuv pog. Txog txhij hnub no, kuv txiv tsuas khaws tau ib daim duab uas yog ib tug niam pog li xwb vim tias kuv txiv hais tias tus niam pog ntawv zoo li peb pog. Ua rau kuv tu siab heev vim kuv txiv tsuas khawv lwm tus daim duab los saib xwb. Qhov no uas rau kuv hlub kuv txiv heev li.

The beginning death of my vanity

In this season of my life, I am going through some shedding and pruning for new hairs and fruits. Spiritually. Mentally. Personally. In this season, my heart is convicted. In Ecclesiastes, The Preacher emphasizes on fearing the Lord and keeping His commandments which is true wisdom. I’d sought after and desired wisdom since I was a child.

One of the many key themes in the book of Ecclesiastes is “vanity.” Ecclesiastes relentlessly repeats how meaningless all of the world is. I started thinking of that single word that stuck out to me, vanity. Vanity: “vanity of a person is seen as having excessive estimation (overestimation) of one’s self, abilities, looks, or other attributes that makes them have an excessive belief in their own abilities or attractiveness to others.” Chapter 6 of Ecclesiastes, it reads:

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.

This is a strange and complex concept, the meaning that all things gained are worthless and meaningless in the end. I am not an expert nor do I fully understand this, yet, but this has got me thinking about my own vanity, my excessive pride and admiration in my own appearance and achievements. Honestly, sometimes try not to flaunt or draw attention to myself and my status because as much as I want to say that I am not concerned with appearance and achievements, truthfully, there is a piece of me that does fancy both.

Titles and status are highly valued in my culture. When my dad has family dinners with distant relatives and family members, he likes to express how proud he is by mentioning that I, his youngest daughter, completed her B.A. and is now working as a teacher at a dual language school in the cities. So sometimes when I am in the room or overhear him proudly speak of me to others, I would hide behind a smile because the sense of embarrassment overwhelms me. Then I would slowly walk away awkwardly and act as if I had not heard a word, that it’s not a big deal. However, I would go home from the dinner parties feeling, perhaps, a little contented.

As this scene repeated itself over and over, I started to develop a sense of pride in secret which is what I occasionally call a false humility. This is evident in that when a friend asks, “How have you been?” and “What’s going on in your life?” I’d make it sound like everything in my life is going great. I’d talk about what it’s like to teach preschoolers, to work with other teachers, to work full time, I’d talk about all that I know about teaching. I’d talk about it proudly as if I had been doing it for more than a few months. I talk in such a way because I think I have something to prove, that I have to show others how good I am doing in life, that I am in the direction of surpassing their expectations of me because I carry a title.

This has gotten me feeling weary, deceiving, and dishonest. It’s basically exaggerations and even lies sometimes. I carry a high expectation of myself. I carry a title that I think is high and worth carrying. I focus on what others think of me because I value myself and what I have going for myself. I have all these things yet don’t enjoy them, and in the end, it will be all meaningless. This is what I’m trying to say. This is my vanity.

Today, I will put my vanity to death. To be real with myself and others around me, I will be disciplining in ways that, I believe, will prune my bad fruits. This month, I want to challenge myself to selfless acts. I will reduce my mirror time every morning by half, and I will instead dwell on The Word and prayer. This month, I will also volunteer and help others when I can before helping myself, be it at school, on the streets, grocery store, at church.

I conclude with this prayer…

Lord, I want to know your heart. Place your will in me that I may be used by you.

Amen.

Child of a refugee

Buzzfeed recently released an episode of second generation Americans who had no choice but to translate for their non-English speaking parents at an early age. Buzzfeed asked these individuals, many of whom were of Asian, Middle-eastern, and south American descents, several questions:

  1. What is it like when your parents speak broken English?
  2. What makes learning English so difficult for your parents?
  3. What is it like being your parents’ translator?
  4. How does it feel to have had grown up with parents that struggled with English?
  5. Why do you translate for your parents?
  6. How do you feel about your parents now?

My parents are refugees of the Vietnam War. Their home land is Laos, but during the Vietnam War in 1975, there was another war that took place in the land of Laos called the “Secret War.” This war forced thousands of families, many like my parents’, out of their homeland, fleeing on foot with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They crossed over the Mekong River while hundreds met death before even making it to refuge in Thailand. From Thailand, my parents registered to start afresh in America.

Just like the young men and women in the Buzzfeed video, my parents, too, speak and understand little to no English. Since an early age, my siblings and I shared in the responsibility of translating for my parents. I remember speaking to adults on behalf of my parents since the age of 6 whether it be over the phone, at the front door or the supermarkets and department stores. To this day, I still hold onto that mediator responsibility.

Although my parents hardly understood English, they always attended my school conferences, greeted my teachers with smiles and handshakes, made friends with other of another language despite the language barrier, gave English speakers the benefit of all doubts.

But growing up, I remember there was this one time when my mom went to the grocery store to buy food to prepare for that night’s dinner. As she put the groceries onto the counter, the cashier immediately noticed that my mom, a non-English speaker, was alone. Upon realizing this, the woman cashier then snickered nasty, racial slurs in front of my mom. The woman’s eyes rolled and glared at my mom, and her brows wrinkled, giving my mom “that look.”

My mom came home upset. She felt hurt because of the way the cashier verbally harassed her for not understanding nor speaking English, and only because my mom couldn’t speak nor understand English, that cashier woman felt it was okay to verbally abuse my mom. My mom felt ashamed because she couldn’t understand nor speak English although she’d taken a number of ESL classes for several years, and to mention, she had to give up on learning the language just to work alongside my dad.

That cashier woman broke my mom to pieces. She didn’t consider the fact that my mom had to flee her homeland to a neighboring country as a refugee of war. She didn’t take a second to think about all that my mom had endured in life: leaving her homeland by force and saying good-bye forever to her family that she had left behind only to come to this country. She couldn’t find it in her heart to see my mother, a breathing and moving person, as another human being.

As a second language learner, born and raised in this country, I have heard countless stories from my parents and so, so many others like my parents who struggle daily with the English language and get harassed and bullied by people. Alone, it’s already hard making new friends, adapting and learning new things, asking for help; it never has to be like this.

The overcoming of emotions and fear to tell my mother this…

At the age of maybe 9, I was chosen to go up onto the stage. It was Mother’s Day at church, and the small congregation had their eyes on me. I was asked to answer a question by my pastor. The question was, “Do you think you are smarter than your mother? And why?”

A boy a year or two older than I didn’t hesitate when responding into the microphone that was held to his chin. “I am smarter than my mom. Why? Because I know how to do math.” The congregation laughed, and the boy hopped down from the stage back to his seat in the pew with his friends.

A teenage girl who was a little older than my oldest sister couldn’t answer the question without having to take pauses every few minutes because her emotions overcame her. I listened to the vulnerable girl answer the question. “My mother is the one who taught me all that I know. She is the smart one. And even though I let her down so many times, she is always patient and teaching me new things, loving me for me.” I watched as sparkling rivers of thankfulness streamed down her face. Her mother came up onto the stage and handed her a white kleenex. She received the tissue and pulled her mother’s arm into hers, and they hugged for a good minute as the audience awed and sniffled.

It was my turn. At this age, I was soft-spoken, more than I am now, shy and conservative. I wasn’t like my dad and second oldest sister who weren’t afraid of showing their emotions, expressing their gratitude, revealing their love. Heck, I wasn’t even good with my words or social skills, much like now.

The microphone touched my bottom lip. My lips didn’t move, but the only sound that I gave out was my heavy breathing, inhale and exhale. For a good 5 minutes, I let the congregation stare at me as I blankly stared back at them. I peaked to my mom’s eyes that twinkled and face that glowed bright in the crowd. She just smiled, revealing her pearly, perfect teeth as she always does. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I wasn’t lost for words; I knew exactly what to say. I was just afraid to say something not because it would’d been wrong or offensive, but simply because I was scared.

In my public speaking course during college, I discovered that public speaking is the most commonly shared fear amongst people. Fact: some (if not most) people are more afraid of public speaking than of heights, snakes, dying, etc. In this course, I learned a new word which oftenly describes me, anxious/anxiety. Some may say it is normal to feel nervous, but I get more than nervous. I freak out. I start shaking. My heart starts thumping so loud I could hear it in my ears. My face and ears boil up. Sometimes my vision becomes shaky. All of this happens before I approach a large audience, give a small speech, talk in a group, or even when confronting a single person. I don’t get anxious all the time. Some of my friends and family know me as the most outgoing, easy to talk to person. I can easily speak to strangers that I meet at the grocery stores or in the parking lot. I usually am the mediator when it comes to speaking on behalf of my non-English speaking parents.

However, sometimes to counter anxiety, other emotions drive me to conquer my greatest fear. To answer that question now, as I’ve learned and matured since 9, I’d say, “My mother is the most wisest person I’ve ever known. She is far more intelligent than I am. Her discernment and judgement are not of disaster but of prosperity and good. As her second youngest child, youngest daughter, of all her daughters, I have lived with her the longest and counting. I’ve seen what she had endured and overcame. Her characteristics rubs off on me. Her gentle hands that caress the hairs from my face. Her sharp tongue that scolded me when I did wrong. Her heart that has loved me unconditionally even before she knew me. I don’t think I could ever be as insightful, thoughtful, caring, loving, wisdomous as she.”

I don’t really care

Since an early age, I had pretty deep morals set in stone. As a senior in high school, I went vegetarian, gave up meat completely for a little over a year. The commitment was perhaps a phase, but it started because I gave up meat for Lent and then saw a PETA video of farmers neglecting chickens, GMO inserting steroids into animals resulting to animals being so plump that their legs broke being unable to support their bodies. During college, I minimized my living style not only because I was a broke and in debt college student but also because I believed I had too many excessive, unnecessary things that I was becoming materialistic. I thought about people in other nations, third world nations. I thought about all that I had and questioned if they all were necessary things. I tried carrying my entire life in my backpack. Everything of importance to me was in my pack on my back. After watching a PETA video of helpless, innocent sheep getting their wool coats viciously ripped off by workers, I cleaned out my closet, read every label tag that I had, and rid everything from wool. Surprisingly, I didn’t have many. Most were my winter sweaters and socks, but I had no regrets, plus it downsized my closet which reminded me of when I was a child. As a child, I chose to have only two pairs of underwear although my parents bought me new packs each season. Having two was all I needed, really. I didn’t mind having to hand wash my own underwear in the shower every or every other night.

As a child, I blew my parents’ minds and expectations of me when I babysat our neighbor’s daughter for 2 hours and was given my very first “paycheck” for work (except I was paid in cash). It was eight dollars. My mom took me to the grocery store to buy a carton of eggs, a jug of milk, and a small chip bag for me. With the eggs, my mom was able to make a meal for my entire family of five siblings. Ever since, both my parents would still tell that story and speak of my generosity and thoughtfulness. They remind me that I have a huge, soft heart filled with love for others, for people. They remind me that giving to others, sharing with others with what little you have is the most selfless, kindest act a person can do to show love. Although I choose to make these sacrifices without ever knowing if they would impact others, without ever knowing if my sacrifices would help anyone or anything, I don’t really care. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I don’t care because I care about other things that are more important. I don’t care because I chose.

A Quarter of a Century Woman

I’ll be turning a quarter of a century in a little over a month, and I am actually pretty excited. I was never really a party gal. I’d rather sit outside in a lawn chair with a few close friends and sip on cold orange juice from wine glasses or maybe go to a coffee shop and let my clothes absorb the smell of coffee beans as I lose myself in a good book or in some writing, and then take pauses to spy and eavesdrop on strangers I may never see again. Conversations over coffee are always the most interesting.

Getting older is kinda nice. You start to feel more mellow. You want to spend your time thoughtfully. You start to enjoy being in the moment. You become more present in your conversations as they get deeper and more meaningful.

Your days are longer because your body has become alert at 7 or 8 a.m., and your nights get shorter because you probably prefer to be home by 9 and in bed at 10.

People will assume you’re pretty wise and experienced. So sometimes they will ask to hear about your plan for your life, but you know they’re just reminding you your clock is ticking. There is a little pressure in wanting to respond with something impressive, so they wouldn’t get the chance they’re waiting for, the chance to give you a life lecture. But tell them the truth in a surprising way because unlike you, surprises never get old. And no surprised face can ever look the same or be repeated.

You start to crave steamed sticky rice stuffed in pork sockets. You also want to wash that down with the bland veggie soup, the kind your mother makes for your father. Home cooked meals become what satisfies your appetite.
On sunny days at the park, you chase your nieces and nephews on the playground, and although you are short and petite, you feel like a giant, and you doubt you can make it through the tunnel, yet you still try. You run and run until you feel too old for kid games. (Breath) But it makes the inner-child in you happy. You think about your age, and you tell yourself to not be too serious.

In the midst of waiting and not understanding

For the past few days, it was without a doubt emotionally challenging and draining for everyone in this nation. The many deaths all over the United States shook the lives of every breathing civilian. The deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the Dallas Police Officials, and many, many others were results of fear and anger, the prime emotions that drive perfectly sane individuals to do the unthinkable, the unimaginable.

So much had happened in a matter of days. Tragedy from all over the world, from different communities, other states, but one personal tragedy broke my heart to its core in the midst of this nation’s turmoil. My heart couldn’t be more torn. Sadness couldn’t had affected me more.

I have so many questions, so many. But I know that my questions may not be fully answered. They may not be fully clarified. And I may not be able to comprehend or even agree with the answers, but in the midst of waiting and not understanding, I will remain faithful and know that my God is still the ruler, that this is His world. I believe that these doings were not of God, not from God. (I can get into it more, but I’d have to pull out my philosophy books and formulas. I don’t know if I’m ready for that.)

Anyway, I am lost for words. The only words that I can bring myself to say (or sing) are the words (or lyrics) from a hymn written decades ago…

 

“This is my Father’s world. O let me never forget.

That though the wrong seems often so strong, God is the ruler yet!”

Will it be depression or reflection?

I am at the point in my life where being an adult is not a choice but rather a requirement. Being an adult is more than becoming independent. It is more than just knowing how to handle your own problems, more than taking knowing how to take care of yourself. But being adult actually means being the dependable one, handling others’ problems, knowing how to take care of others, etc.

In the past, I had always thought becoming an adult was solely a concept of independence. I thought it centered around “self.” For example: living on your own, paying for your own bills, scheduling your own doctor visits, etc. However, for the past few months, I’ve realized that being an adult is rather the concept of being a responsible party for either your parents, younger siblings, friends, etc.

Today, the classic adjective word “adult” has been trending as a verb. I’ve heard this verb being in taglines such as “How to ‘adult'” or “‘Adulting’ for Dumbies.” Okay, so I made those up. But it is a trend, and it is picking up.

In all seriousness, I believe people my age (mid 20’s) have their lives pretty much figured out. Right? People my age have stable careers and/or are married or in a relationship. I have neither. I am 24, live with my parents, have no full-time job, have no boyfriend, have no direction in life.

For the past three months of living at home since graduating, I have been through, what do people call it, unemployment depression. I’ve had several job interviews, one job offer, no promises of a future career. I am at a point in my life where the questions “What are you doing with your life? Where are you going?” really terrify me. These questions keep me up at night and make me cry pity tears often.

I won’t deny that depression has gotten the best of me. I lie in my bed many times a day because I tell myself, “Why get up?” As many days and months have gone by since I’d felt like my life had a purpose and that I was going somewhere, I am now tired and exhausted of feeling sorry for myself. I believe rather than sulking in my unfortunate life-after-college, I will take this time to be patient.

Perhaps I’ve tried to rush into finding a career, when in all honesty, I don’t even know what I want to do. Sure, I have this ideal job in my head, but it’ll take time. Perhaps this is a season in my life where I ought to reflect on my life, wisely, before jumping to current of the real world.

I don’t want to slap a Bible verse onto this thought like it’s okay, but, really, it’ll be okay.

Philippians 4:6