I’ve started walking recently.

Pre-pandemic, I ran. I ran a lot (not as much as my friend Jung, but a lot more than zero and pretty consistently). I ran because it felt like the only time I could put my brain on pause. I ran in spite of injuries and exhaustion.

Pre-pandemic, I also ran a lot professionally. I was running from a meeting to another meeting, a session to another session at a conference. Metaphorically, I was running between multiple obligations, from a school site to campus, to shuttle my kids to and from school or activities, from a work meeting to a volunteering gig — it never seemed to stop.

Then the pandemic came, and I stopped running physically.

But, I felt like I was literally sprinting mentally all the time.

I was sitting in front of a computer all day, but I was still “running” from meeting to meeting, jumping from paper to paper, moving from one task to the next. It literally never stopped and it has been the most exhausting (and highly sedentary) period of my life.

I was so tired, and anxious, and depressed (though yay for high-functioning depression & anxiety that hides it all!).

I am on a sabbatical, which is, by origin, a period of sabbath (shabbat) or rest.

But I am realizing that I have still been so busy. I have still been (metaphorically) running, dashing, moving, carrying far too much along the way. I have still been running through and despite injuries and exhaustion.

I am healing, but I am not healed.

And if I keep running, I will never heal.

So this week, I have started to walk, as I move towards rest. I have finished things on my calendar and not replaced them with more things (although there are still more than enough things on the calendar that have not been cut).

I am slowing my pace, intentionally.

I am pulling back and making time for the people I love most.

I am not allowing myself to be defined by the judgment of others.

I am coming back to myself.

I am building back my strength in a low-impact way.

I am planning and taking time away, for myself.

I am focusing on one thing at a time, even if it’s not quite according to plan.

I am remembering to breathe, eat well, and hydrate.

I am beginning to unlearn the notions of moving towards a goal as quickly as possible and beginning to embrace the journey itself.

It’s growth and it’s good.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Step, step, step.

One foot in front of the other, gently, at a pace that can be sustained.

Accepting Responsibility, Holding Space for Possibility, Moving Towards Freedom

A Zentangle design

Friends, I am moving towards freedom.

But the journey towards freedom means a lot of unlearning.

Today, I had a very powerful lesson on responsibility: accepting and taking responsibility for impact not aligned with intent; on what I cannot control: the pain of grace withheld and being misunderstood by someone I thought would know my heart; on holding space for love, possibility and humanity in the face of grief and trauma; and on what it means to really let go and journey towards freedom.

I want to share this lesson here.

I had a really excellent day for the most part today. I spent the day with other leaders in my faith community whom I love and respect. Towards the end of the day, one of the leaders offered up a suggestion for accountability that I thought was a good one, but that seemed to intimate a lack of trust and transparency. I was not offended (although probably a little hurt because I’m part of the team that was critiqued) because I know our meetings are open to everyone in our faith community; however, I can also understand that sometimes just having open meetings without giving everyone a chance to weigh in can seem secretive.

In a half-joking/half-serious manner, I suggested that the leader take my place in the group or that this person feel free to attend any of the meetings or to be nominated for service in this group the following year, in that way being privy to the decisions being made. This is after I asked to squeeze in next to another ministry team member because we were wearing (coincidentally) matching patterns, thereby asking this other person to move slightly.

The leader was offended by my comments and my request and, in no uncertain terms, made sure that I was well aware of their discontent.

This is not the first time this has happened with this particular person, in a situation in which I harbored exactly zero ill-will and was trying to support the person’s idea.

But this person’s actions opened up in me the multiple times my behavior has left an undesired impact on someone who I cared deeply about, who did not show me grace. It brought up trauma from my family of origin, from the family I lived with after my mother died, from my older daughters, and most recently from this past year professionally. It reverberated viscerally in me and my desire was to plead for forgiveness.

Given what I could control, I took responsibility for the unintended impact of my actions. I have always done this, in each of the previous situations, and today.

I know that I am not ever owed grace, that impact is greater than intention, that likely with whom person I was interacting was not fully responding to me, but to their own story about what my actions meant (because honestly, I believe in the importance of their suggestion and that greater transparency in leadership is key to faith in any institution, and plan to support actions to that end).

But I felt an incredible wave of grief, for all the times that I needed love, grace and forgiveness and it was not given to me. I was in tears. Tears for that girl that I was, for the mother I was, for the leader I was, for the person I am.

Thankfully, my pastor was there, and sat me down, and received my pain. She did not dismiss it or minimize it. She listened, and responded in love, sharing from her own experiences and holding mine. She heard the greater context and my intentions and let me say what there was in my heart to say. She let me cry, and reminded me that I had taken all the responsibility I could in the situation, that I could not be responsible for the residual feelings of another person, whether valid or not. After we talked, she asked if I could let the situation go. Then she reminded me that she would still be there later if it resurfaced.

And readers, in her compassion, there was freedom.

My pastor is so wise. And her words that I could not be responsible for the residual feelings of another person, whether justified or not; that I could not make someone else understand my intention; that another’s misunderstanding of my character did not make me a bad or unlovable person; her words were revelatory.

I simply cannot live my life dependent on others’ affirmation because not everyone, even in my desperate desire for love which leads to incredible self-sacrifice and with my expert chameleon skills to become what others want me to be, will affirm me.

So I just have to live, do my part to take responsibility, and hold space for the possibility of restoration.

But I cannot hold space for restoration if I am holding on to anger, towards myself or the other person.

Holding space takes a lack of attachment to the outcome. It is in the hope of restoration without the assurance that it will be there.

Holding space is an act of faith.

Unconditional love of myself is an act of faith:

whether and when I make mistakes, because I am human;

whether I am joyful or sorrowful, because I am human;

whether I do nothing or everything, too much or not enough (and just enough too), because I am human.

Unlearning is an act of faith. It is a reminder that because we have been hurt in the past in similar situations, we do not have to hold on to that hurt.

This past week in therapy, I let go of guilt. In the past when I’ve let go of something hard that I am holding onto, I imagine burying it or dropping it to the bottom of a lake, because it is heavy, but permanent. It can only be hidden, but it will not disappear. This week, I sent my guilt (and there’s a lot of it) off in a rocket and detonated it, leaving nothing but a transference of energy and shifted (imaginary) matter behind (if you’re a rocket scientist and this is not how it works, just indulge the metaphor, please, it’s my blog). And in that, there was freedom. I don’t have to hold on to the guilt, the hurt, the pain.

But I do have to feel it to let it go. I do need those feelings received and affirmed by someone I love and respect. I need my humanity to be received and affirmed, in its fullness. I need to feel that I am loved in my imperfection, even as I know I am never owed forgiveness.

It is a powerful path to freedom, but it is not an easy one.

But today, right now, I am a little closer to free.

The Same But Different

Photo of an Asian American woman (the author) in a white sleeveless dress with blue and yellow flowers in a field of lavender

My sister and my (youngest) daughter remind me of more free versions of myself.

My six-year old has been one of my greatest teachers. She is so self-expressed and unapologetic (at home) that I have actually wondered at times how it is that I birthed her from my body. She is brilliant and passionate, but also can be grounded in a resolve that will not be moved. I do not ever remember feeling free in this way, in any space, so in many ways I am in awe of her, even when I am frustrated by her or she is acting in ways that seem literally incomprehensible to me. I admire her sense that she is completely loved in her space so that she can be however she wants to be and doesn’t need to conform to any of our expectations.

When my little one leaves the house, however, I see parts of me that I recognize more easily. She is very careful to survey a new scene. She gathers information and wants to make sure she does the right thing. Sometimes she is paralyzed by the fear that she will not do the right thing. She still gets frustrated when she feels unseen, but unlike at home where she will make sure she gets the attention she needs by calling out her needs, she understands that outside, she has to be more patient. Sometimes her patience wears thin, and in those moments, if she is still unseen, she cries. She doesn’t know what to do with herself when she is bored and she is bored quite often because her mind moves quickly. She wants desperately to engage with others but she wants always for others to want to do what she wants, and when they don’t, she feels hurt, as if others don’t understand her because they are not her.

All of this is me. And yet, so much of her is not me.

My sister, although we have only been together really for the last 3.5 weeks, has also taught me so much in this time. We are, in some ways, more easily similar. We enjoy cooking together, shopping, being out in the world. We are both friendly with the same smile. We both crave connection with others. We’ve lived through hard things and periods of major isolation. We love one another deeply. We inherently get the hustle and that it’s necessary for survival.

But my sister is also 20, and she is 20 in a way that I was never 20. She wants to have fun and wants all the things at once. Like my daughter, she is unapologetic and feels free to want things and to want them as soon as possible. She does not feel a need to wait on others and while she cares deeply about people, she is also able to let go of those who don’t treat her well. She trusts herself and her plan and while she is willing to listen to others, she also deeply has faith in her intuition. She is also able to judge when she has enough and doesn’t necessarily feel the need to strive for more if she is satisfied with what she has.

All of this is not me. And yet, we share many of the same qualities.

Today, I had a really powerful therapy session.

It was the first time, maybe ever, that I saw myself, the me that I’ve been hiding away for a very long time. The me that is unapologetic and that chooses to love freely and not from any obligation or desire to be loved. The me that is able to let go of the things that don’t serve me. The me that feels brilliant and passionate, and accepts that there may be inherent contradictions and complexities in who I am and the choices I make, but that these contradictions and complexities don’t make me unlovable. If I make space for them, those that truly love me with love me even more deeply because they have seen me even when I can’t see myself.

All of this is me. It’s not the me that I’ve been or that I’ve known, but it is the me that has always been with me, waiting patiently to be seen. Crying when she has not been seen. Wanting the many other parts of me to follow her lead, to trust her authenticity. Carrying a sense of confusion and overwhelm that maybe she was wrong in her certainty.

But she was not wrong. I am not wrong.

My dear friend told me tonight on a call that when she saw the pictures I took earlier this week with my sister, in the lavender fields, like the one above, that she saw me experiencing life in a different way, in a way that was grounded and at peace. And this is true. It is a journey that I have to remind myself is not linear, but I am so grateful that today, I remembered myself, that I could see me, and love me, in all of the complexities that I am, and independent of the judgment of others.

I am growing and it is a gift.

Joy and Healing

Author (Asian American woman) smiling with sister (Asian American woman) smiling, both wearing dark tops with a jacaranda tree in the background

It has been three weeks since my sister arrived in the states, and I have to say that it has been an extraordinary three weeks during which I have experienced so much pure joy and learned so much about her and myself.

Even though we grew up over 20 years apart in different parts of the world, we share a deep love and connection that feels completely natural. My sister is helping to change the way I see my life and my world and I could not be more grateful that we get this time together.

As those of you who follow this blog know, this has been such an incredibly hard year for me, one of immense growth, but one of equal struggle. I did a lot (read: too much) last year, and it came at a huge cost to my emotional, mental and physical well-being.

Being with my sister is both freeing and healing. While I am still getting things done, I am embracing the beauty of moments together. And in embracing moments with her, I am reckoning with so many moments lost with others in my life who I love so deeply, and I am changing my life. I am beginning to reprioritize, to shut down my laptop each day, to remember to breathe intentionally, to take trips to the library and read for an hour in the children’s room with my 6 year old, to laugh until my belly aches while playing Apples to Apples with the whole family, to reconnect with those closest to my heart, to spend time being present with them.

I am healing. Healing is a process. And while it has been filled with so many moments of joy, it is hard. But I have done many hard things that have been destructive rather than healing, so I am grateful to be moving forward at this time in my life.

The other day, my sister and I were in Home Goods (where, of course, I ended up buying more than she did) and we found this sign which is sitting on my desk.

The sign reminds me that, while I am in a field where there will always be more to do and perfection will always seem like the elusive goal I could be striving towards, I can instead choose progress. I can recognize that moving forward towards healing and towards honoring my own humanity is the only way that I can fully honor the humanity of those around me.

I am so grateful for the gift of having my sister in my life. I am so grateful to my community for holding me up when I was so afraid I might lose my sister before I had the chance to know her. I am so grateful for the community for telling me over and over again, before I could hear it, that I needed to slow down, to honor my body and my spirit, to be human. It took awhile, but I’m getting there.

Progress not perfection.

Breath by breath.

Moment by moment.

Step by step.