I’m Awksome

Happy New Year, blogosphere. Why not start off fresh with a bit of story time?

All my life, I never really fit into anything but awkward. I’m working towards awksomeness.

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When I was around 1, my parents left China to pursue food science graduate school in the States. At 2, I flew over to join them. However, due to a complex mixture of academia drama and job insecurity, I found myself always the new kid. By the time I was 7, I had lived in China and four different states. My parents always informed me I was an aggressively happy kid, so much so I made this Kellogg cereal commercial campaign. (That or people just wanted to see a Chinese kid sporting a bowl-cut sit under an oak eating American cereal. Go figure.) I disagree. I think happiness usually evaded me as the crybaby.I started the waterworks at the drop of a hat. In part, bullies somehow always squirmed themselves into my life, wolves in sheep’s clothing. By 2, I knew how to kick, to bite and to cuss. I never learned to scream. I still remember a middle-school boy repeatedly kicking me in the stomach at a family party.  I always sputtered out, it didn’t hurt as my face scrunched up in agony. The bus cultivated a brood of kids who played wack-a-mole with my head. Otherwise, they taunted me until any friends I made rushed off in embarrassment. It doesn’t help a new girl in Arkansas to be Asian. I didn’t fit the “exotic” mold with my American accent and short hair. Quickly, I was brushed off as “less than” the “more Asian” new girl who came just a few days earlier. In Arkansas, I remember both close-knit friendships and brutal bullying. A “friend” turned the playground into a battleground when he pulled at his eyelids and told other kids to do the same. I quickly learned who my allies were, as they defiantly shoved hands into pockets. Sometimes, it was hard to forgive ignorance even for those I loved.

The sky was more my home than the earth.

The sky was more my home than the earth.

I remember never belonging, if this is what awkward is. I remember crying in class and watching as a jock poked fun at my pain, mocking my tears. Hatred consumed me but I diverted it towards self-harm. Instead of fighting for respect, I gave into the lies. I believed I was ugly, fat and worthless. “Chink. Go home to your country. Go make me some fried rice.” To even my friends, I was just the fat Asian nerd. I believed my skin color meant that I could only be smart and never a complete person with feelings, looks or, God forbid, a personality. Failing in school, then, meant failing in life. To protect this one solace of identity, I cheated and became incredibly arrogant, all the while feeling more and more insecure. Without close friends or a network, I slowly began to unravel. I swallowed pre-packaged brownie after brownie  to keep the pain at bay. Hugging a chip bag, I brainwashed myself with TV until I no longer remembered that I had no plans that weekend. I didn’t even want happiness, I just wanted numbness. I thought I could find solace at home, but my rapidly expanding figure soon even turned my family against me. “Just put on a belt,” My dad said, “It’ll at least stop your hips from widening. I mean, look at them.” In Gulley Park, I once asked my mother if I was pretty. I received only silence in return, drowned by my own sobs. She told me, quietly, that content of character mattered more. While I agree with her, to this day I wish she had at least said something during those few precious seconds.

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In hindsight, I recently learned kids who move 5-7 times before they turn 13 are more likely to commit suicide. Perhaps my own breakdown was a blessing in disguise. After a prolonged trip to China the summer after 6th grade and again after 7th grade, I no longer knew who I was. I was too American for Chinese people and too Chinese for the Americans. Both too much and not enough, this border-less, country-less girl. You’d think the hyphen in Chinese-American would get you two countries, but growing up it sure didn’t feel that way. It was in the midst of confusion and a major depressive episode that God found me. Somewhere in between my family’s disappointment and society’s disapproval of my existence, God told me I was beautiful. That I was beloved. I wasn’t an accident or a burden or something horrible to look at. I was His, a precious child.

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High school. Before crazy makeup.

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After (or during) Ulzzang phase.

I wish I could just stop the story there. A happy ending smacked on the end of a rather cruel tale. However, I don’t think God promises only sunshine and rainbows. I think He calls us to search out grace in the midst of the storm. My family moved to a new state right after freshmen year. Since everyone already formed their cliques, there was very little room for an Asian American, awkward girl. If I thought southerners were cruel, high school in the north led me into a whole other ballgame. While healthier than before, girls started vicious rumors about my looks in the locker rooms, even snapping pictures while I changed. They gossiped that I looked so androgynous, I had to be a boy or hermaphrodite. I have no idea where this started or how far the pictures leaked. I only knew I grew to be so paranoid, there were some moments I couldn’t breathe. Junior year unveiled a new bully who said I looked like a toad in taunting whispers at the back of architecture class. (I hear he goes to Columbia now on a soccer scholarship.) He got the entire back of the room to talk about how ugly and socially inept I was. To combat these rumors, I changed my look completely. I became obsessed with Ulzzang and himegyaru trends from Asia. I spent hours coloring and recoloring my hair, stacking false eyelashes, buying colored circle lenses and pursuing double eyelids. It wasn’t just that I wanted to redefine what it means to be a “cool” Asian, I just didn’t want to look like me anymore. I dressed in ridiculous outfits, including tight skirts with 5 inch stiletto heels. To class. I’m not joking. All this, just because I wanted to be lovely. To be loved.

In high school, I trained my brain to believe God loved me but no one else did or ever could. I paid the price for that in college. I sought after attention, only to find it temporary and fleeting. My desperation only brought me more hurt and anguish. However hard the lesson was, I learned to truly trust in the Lord. I couldn’t find my own way, blindly in the dark. Turning towards friends meant temporary comfort, but they were human too, they had a limit to how much they could listen or empathize with. Gradually, I learned what it meant to have a living relationship with God and not turn away when I felt ashamed.

“God. I really loved him. Why did he betray me?”
“God. I want to die. But I know it’s not time yet, you have something more in store for me.”
“God. He said he didn’t want a relationship. It’s just like all the others. Is it always going to be this way?”
“God…am I going to die alone? I know you’re with me, but everyone else seems like they’re in a relationship.”

“God…how can I love you more?”

When I learned to be real in prayer, I learned to stop looking elsewhere for love. I began confiding in God, actually telling Him why I didn’t feel like praying that day or what seemed to block my joy. Our relationship became living and active with its own highs and lows.

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Today, I resolve to be awksome. Perhaps in myself, I can only achieve awkward. However, God, awesome that He is, lives in me. Hence, awksome. Dorky, I know, but its mine. Today, I know how to be brave. I can laugh, cry and dance my way in His courts. And you know what? I think God loves it. “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” –Jeremiah 31:13

The past threatens me with regret and misgivings. In the eyes of the world, I’m completely hopeless. My mother jokes that I was given the short end of the stick: a minority woman who chose English and Psychology as majors. I’d like to politely disagree. I have the strength of thousands of years of Chinese heritage, tradition and wisdom. I had an ancestor who helped design the Forbidden City. My monolid eyes, so hated in Asia and America, remind me of my tenacious family, refusing to bend to surgery or a quiet death. As a woman, I get to share a link with remarkable people like Mother Teresa, Isabel Allende and Maya Lin. Did you know it is believed the first people to enter the empty tomb were women? The first to know, the first to confess Jesus’ resurrection. My majors will make me one of the most versatile and well-versed graduates in the work force. I read Chaucer and lived. I read Freud and B.F. Skinner, cringed and lived. If I can do that, I can do anything.

This is my pledge to be awksome, not just for this year, but for the rest of my life. I don’t know where God will lead me. I don’t know who or what He has in store for me.

But I know it’s going to be awksome.

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