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.

Growing in Grace

green leafed seedlings in black plastic pots

“What we pay attention to grows…what we put our attention on grows”

I recently finished reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy and took note of these words (and many others). Since then I’ve been in an inquiry around transformation, and what it really means to live a life committed to growth, transformation, resilience and healing.

It is a process and it is hard.

I should have expected this because I read the book (which I recommend that anyone reading this blog also read).

“Transformation doesn’t happen in a linear way, at least not one we can track”

“Emotional growth is nonlinear.”

“It is so important to cultivate our patience, our thoughtfulness, our willingness to slow down and seek the wisdom of those not already part of our movements–not to get them in step with our point of view, but because we need their lived experiential wisdom to shape solutions that will work for the majority of living beings.”

Yes, and…

…this is so antithetical to my internalized, individual norms of fixing it now, internalizing critique, making it always and only about me.

But as Lisa Thomas Adeyamo says (and adrienne maree brown quotes on p. 123-124 of Emergent Strategy), “Everything given time and nurturing, is moving towards balance and healing…healing is our birthright.”

I have been re-reading these words, these two pages in my journal where I’ve taken notes, multiple times today.

They are grounding me.

They are reminding me that I can teach myself new things. I can grow in grace. Perhaps there is no greater calling in this new year.

Later in the book, amb shares a conversation Jodie Tonita during which Jodie says, “In the face of daunting challenges, we must summon the courage to believe we are the ones we have been waiting for, take risks and experiment towards solutions. We’re being asked to behave in our inherent capacity, step into the unknown and challenge deeply held assumption. For most of us, that’s radically disruptive and contrary to how we’ve organized ourselves to succeed in life to date.”

Yes. It is so much to unlearn and to relearn and to learn anew.

There is courage in saying, “I did my best, and I will continue to strive to do better, now that I know better.”

There is courage in listening without personalizing and defending, but with openness to grow.

There is courage in change.

There is courage in extending grace to oneself as well as others.

But, it is a process and it is hard.

“What we pay attention to grows…what we put our attention on grows”

I am seeking to grow.

Holding Space When Humanity Shows Up

3 bouquets of flowers at a gravesite

Showing up for my foremothers with flowers & gratitude

It’s been a long week, full of humanity.

Way back in February, I gave a TEDx talk on humanizing pedagogies, which in short asked what might happen if we re-conceptualized our perception of excellence, specifically educational excellence, but generally was really talking about what happened if we really started listening to and learning from one another. This week, that talk finally went live on the TEDx YouTube channel, an exciting moment I’ve been waiting for, well, throughout the entire pandemic-borne time of social distancing.

It dropped on a day when I had a very human and humbling moment, saying something out of frustration that didn’t assume the full humanity of a student, within virtual earshot of the student. I took responsibility and owned the impact of my words, but it certainly was not a shining star moment, and it led to a restless night and some good use of the skills I’ve been working on in therapy.

I realized that my reaction to this student, my assumptions of intention, my frustration was bred from my own sense of internalized perfectionism and internalized expectations of performance. This happens a lot when there are situations in which I feel I am dealing with entitlement or where I am working to meet someone 95% of the way, and they want me to move even further. I feel angry, angry that I’ve had to work so hard to get to where I am when others feel that they deserve time, energy and efforts that I have given and given and given at the expense of myself and my family.

Tonight, I read responses from a survey designed to get feedback from students about their online learning experiences. When one student responded, “Nothing” to the question of what professors, the program and university had done to support his online learning, I felt struck, as if all of the efforts that I have put into making this semester work for us all meant nothing.

I also feel these feelings, this frustration, sometimes towards my family, like all I do to keep us afloat, to support their learning and growth as human beings, to love them in the midst of big feelings I am struggling with, is not enough.

I know this is misdirected anger at myself. I hear the echoes of their humanity, or see them struggle and I feel a sense of my own inadequacy.

But it is not inadequacy, it is humanity.

They are teaching me humanity.

This weekend, I posted a Twitter thread after listening to a beautiful conversation that the Black Gaze Podcast (Drs. Shamaine Bertrand & Kisha Porcher) had with Dr. April Baker-Bell about Black language and linguistic justice. Hearing this conversation reminded me of where the internalized perfectionism and expectations of performance came from. It reminded me that these words that I swallow, that only rarely escape (and that I beat myself up for when they do), that this anger, comes from internalized oppression, from years of not feeling good enough around a society that I tried to prove my worth to, instead of accepting that my worth was in me.

Here’s the thread (revised slightly because I caught grammar mistakes in the first tweet that irritated me so I have to correct them now):

Let me tell you, I am declaring being done w/ the shame spiral & apologizing for my #AsianAmerican identity. There’s a lot of work to do as a community, but we can’t do that work if we can’t acknowledge that shame is part of white supremacy that keeps us in our place/

First, I want to shout out Black feminist & linguistic scholars, including the fantastic @BlackGazePod convo w/ Dr. @aprilbakerbell, @DrPorcher & @dr_s_bertrand. Your unapologetic stance that Blackness will save Black people reminds me to stand in my own truth/

Okay, and also shout out to the fantastic essay by @poetpedagogue that reminds me that we cannot abolish systems that promise us opportunity if we play by the rules until we conquer our own internalized oppressive mindset/

So here’s the thing, like many #AsianAmericans, I have made choices, my parents & ancestors made choices. For me, those choices have been rooted in assimilation for survival bc they thought it was the best option/

I am making different choices for myself & my own children, to embrace who we are and reclaim our complicated identities as #AsianAmerican as #TaiwaneseAmerican, as descendent from Han colonizers of Taiwanese indigenous people/

As people who have made choices or had choices made for us that separated us from linguistic identities that themselves were cloaked in language and cultural oppressions that we don’t know, but are our histories/

But I am not ashamed. Part of humanizing ourselves & others is the true belief that people do the best they can w/ what they have & that people, even the best of them, have human moments. When we know better, we must do better, but sometimes even then, we stumble/

Now, what there is for me to do, is the hard work of reclamation, of building community from an insider-outsider space, of listening/ learning/ seeking/ speaking, not from a space of shame, but from one of power, of visibility w/o performance/

Last thank you to @DrK_WhiteSmith for reminding me that we can be responsible for our actions w/o apologizing for ourselves. #Nomoreapologies for my existence. I will own my mistakes & my humanity, but I refuse to apologize for who I am. /end


Today, I went to put flowers at the gravesite of my foremothers (my mother, grandmother and aunt). Their strength gives me the strength to demand better for myself and for my children, even though I will falter along the way. Even though they faltered along the way.

We are always only human. We are always only learning.

And I am holding space for myself to be however I am, even when I am so imperfect.

And I am proud to be who I am, even when I am so imperfect.

This is the hard work of reclamation.

Reclaiming space to be exactly who I am, in each moment.

Holding space and striving to be in integrity with my most powerful, generous, and loving expression of self.

And loving my full humanity.

Giving Thanks

Picture of a pink notebook with the words "Today I am Grateful" on the cover

This has been a very hard last month, transitioning into the school year. To say otherwise would be to lie, and I am nothing if not honest.

There have been many things to carry. Many things to learn. Many obstacles to navigate. Many breaths to breathe.

But I am learning and I am navigating and I am breathing.

I am not carrying everything.

I am choosing what I can carry, and laying down the burdens that are not mine.

I am responding to trauma without reacting to it.

I am allowing myself to grieve so that I have a pathway to joy.

And I am thankful.

Because there is power in gratitude even in the hardest of moments.

There is power in gratitude for learning, for wisdom to navigate, for breath.

There is power in gratitude that I no longer feel obligated to carry it all for myself and others.

There is power in gratitude that I can see trauma, respond to it, and keep myself grounded in my own inner strength.

There is power in gratitude for joy and grief.

There is power in gratitude for authentic community.

There is power in gratitude for knowing who I am without the need for external validation.

I am grateful.

I am grateful that I am not alone.

I am grateful for faith in the dark.

It has not been easy. It will not be easy.

But today, I draw from the power of gratitude and grace.

Grace and Peace Be With You

A small white feather floats above an open hand

My son starts high school on Wednesday.

My daughter starts kindergarten on Thursday.

When my daughter was a newborn 5 years ago, and I was still on maternity leave, home with her in all of her infant glory, I thought about this time. I anticipated it would be hard, emotional, full of excitement and conflicted inner feelings.

But, of course, I didn’t predict that it would be happening in the middle of a global pandemic which would find us starting the school year online.

I also couldn’t know that I would still be in the midst of a transition into my first semester in a new position, with more responsibility and new course preps.

It is all so much.

I wonder how we will manage with supporting a 5 year old with 5 hours of synchronous & asynchronous instruction in a language no one in our home speaks fluently.

I wonder how I will manage leading, teaching, offering professional learning opportunities, writing, and mothering.

But, when I breathe, I remember that it can only be done through grace.

I am blessed to be in community with people who remind me who I am — my family, friends, colleagues (current and former), church family, heck, even my tweeps (many of whom have never met me IRL). They are people who are full of grace. They check in on me and remind me to claim my peace. They hold space for me when I have no space to hold for myself.

It is all so much.

It is all so much.

I know this will not be easy, and I may not get it all done. It is okay. I will be okay. I am so deeply loved by family and community who give me strength. I have faith. I have support.

I know that my children may see struggles this year — social, emotional, academic. It is okay. They will be okay. They are so deeply loved by family and community who give me strength. I have faith. I have faith in them. I have support, and so do they.

May grace and peace be with you all. A peace that surpasses all understanding. As we fight battles that no one else may know, and that we may never have predicted, I hope we do so in community, extend one another grace, and experience peace.

It is all so much.

But we are not alone.

The Last 10 Days: Notes from Home

A group of people with hearts under the words Community with the #EDSE457

Thanks to Bianca Tolentino @StudentBianca for this doodle 

Has it only been 10 days since I last wrote?

Time is strange that way.

So much has changed. My 14 year old and 4 year old both home indefinitely. My husband working from home, for at least the next 3 weeks. Spring classes online until the end of the semester. Commencement postponed.

Supported a virtual conference, held optional class with my students, got sick and had to take 2 days off, hoping it was just a sinus infection and not COVID-19, despite the precautions (I regularly come in contact with a lot of people and had had two people sick in my own home in the last few weeks. While I’ve been minding social distancing before it was mandated, I still worried), hoping that if it was, I’d be the rule and not the exception, trying to rest when it seems like I still have so much to do.

There have been moments beauty and light among the grief for the normal and the worry for the future:

  • Friends texting me to get off Twitter so I can rest, and to check in on me when they know I’m sick
  • My 14 year old being the older sibling I always knew he could be, but that he never has been, playing with my 4 year old, which is the biggest desire of her heart
  • My classroom community of preservice teachers looking out for one another, and keeping in contact with each other and me through it all (we are still planning a virtual “great rice cook-off” and an in-person rice-themed gathering #Whenthisisover)
  • DJ D-Nice’s #ClubQuarantine
  • A hilarious Twitter thread with friends
  • The kindness of grocery clerks and small-restaurant owners at curbside pick-up

I’m learning to take things moment by moment and day by day at this point, bringing the best of myself that I can to each moment and allowing that sometimes that best is not my best.  As someone who has a trauma history and who struggles with uncertainty, this is the grace that I hope we can each accord to ourselves and others.

And I’ll keep writing, for me, if not for others, because writing has always been a refuge, even when it’s hard.  I hope you’re the best you can be in this given moment and sending you love, however you are.