A Year On

The incense sticks are nibbled down by orange embers, and the smoke is thick in my throat. Smoke dissipates up toward the mantle, where the ashes are, between two candlesticks. The left one is burning more quickly. Tears are on the verge of cascading down my face, but I hate crying in front of people.

A year on. I can pretend nothing’s changed during the week, but the silence on Skype every weekend is overwhelming. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the last messages he sent. Nothing super special, but they were his words. The messages are old though, and the damn Internet has probably deleted them.

Now I understand why people still call just to listen to their loved one’s voicemail. Why they scroll through their social media feeds, why they keep the emails. Even the clothes.

We cleaned out the closet, Nye Nye and me, and hauled a trunkful of clothes to Salvation Army. Driving away, I felt like I was leaving a small piece of him behind in the blazers and shirts I had placed in the bin, left to warm in the blazing, muggy heat of summer.

The candles are extinguished, but the haziness of the incense remains, lingering, a memory. We embark on year two without you, but that doesn’t get easier. The world still turns like nothing has changed, but I think of you every day.

Junior (*gulp*) Year Reflections

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Me oh my, what a year.

As is often the case around here, it’s been a while, friends. I’ll make my excuses, but it’s up to you to decide whether or not they’re good.

After returning from France (and currently plotting my way back!!), I jumped into the deep end with intro classes for journalism. I filled out the paperwork in France and enrolled in a poorly-orchestrated schedule of my own design. Lesson: it’s okay to take things slow. That was a lesson gleaned in hindsight, because as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Although, I’d still question mine, because my regular eyesight is horrendous and I’d wager I’m legally blind without my glasses.

All classes except one required a good deal of reporting, so I spent most of the semester running around both Boston and Cambridge doing research, interviewing sources, gathering photos, and then plunking down on my bed for hours to organize, draft, edit, and do more research. I was a grumpy cat this semester.

Despite my grumpy cat status, it was a transformative semester, academically speaking. I learned a lot. I had the pleasure of making acquaintances I otherwise would have passed by. I finally understood what it meant to love something because I love writing. As much as the workload was stressful, I never felt obliged nor burdened. Starting assignments was difficult at times, but always immensely satisfying in a way other fields (except French) have never been.

That being said, I don’t know if I want to go into journalism as a full-time career, but I’ve picked up techniques, sharpened my writing skills, and learned so much. I’m grateful for that, and though I hate uncertainty and volatility, the biggest lesson of this year has been that God is faithful.

Faithful as in, He may not follow your plans, but He never ceases to walk along side you. Many times this semester I thought I would have a meltdown. Not a tantrum, but a committed-to-an-institution meltdown. There were too many things out of my control (and that are still out of my control) this past year, and while God has not provided answers, he has provided, graciously, peace beyond understanding.

I freely admit I detest- no, abhor- the lack of answers. Often I find myself enraged. But I have also received His peace, a soft whisper to my heart, telling me not to worry. Against my mind’s better judgement, my heart listened.

The second thing I’ve learned is that you have something to say. I’ve never believed that I have anything to say. I don’t like trouble. I’ll take things as they come. But this semester I’ve had to deal with confrontation and contribution as I’ve bumbled my way through membership on the Navigators’ student leadership team. That itself was surprising because I almost quit on two occasions. But it was probably one of the better decisions I made this semester.

My last takeaway (although there are many more), is not profound. Only this: it’s never too late to start.

I’ve been telling myself since freshman year that I would write for the school newspaper, but never mustered up the courage to join. Well, this semester, I did, and wrote for the features section. It’s not a huge accomplishment by any means, but I’m proud of myself for following through with a small goal.

Also, I lied. There’s one more thing- let life surprise you. It’s part of the adventure.

[Changes are coming to this little site of mine. Hope you’ll stick around. xxx]

 

The End.

This is the end. Death is life’s final punctuation mark, the period. Life sees commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, ampersands, and others, but all hint at something more to come. Death is the period. It is the end. There is nothing to come after that.

I do not know how I will continue on. For me, this is an ellipsis, but I feel that my own story has come to a squeaking, resisting, angry halt. It’s difficult to concentrate, and I only want to be mindless, because thinking about nothing is easier and nicer than thinking about something. Something always leads back to what I do not want to think about.

One saving grace is that we were not in the habit of seeing Ye Ye often. Once or twice a year in person, once a week on Skype. If we had lived closer to them and seen them several times a week, I do not know how I would bear it. But, distance graciously allows me to pretend that everything is fine, because really, our daily routine has been minimally interrupted.

I never want to see a funeral home ever again. Why do they call the places funeral homes? That is not a home. It is the antithesis of a home. Homes are warm, inviting, happy places. Funeral homes are cold, where death greets you at the door and invites you to suffer, to see him place the final punctuation mark on your loved one’s manuscript that was their life. Homes are not final. Death is final. I hate that.

As we began to clean my grandmother’s house, we found Ye Ye’s 8mm movie camera, forgotten in a woven basket my aunt shipped back from Kenya. Ye Ye always had a video camera with him on family vacations, and I guess this was the first one. We also found an envelop with camera negatives, containing photos from his first years in the U.S. It made me realize a two things: We often don’t really know people until after they’re gone, and we don’t spend enough time with people while they’re here. How can we remedy that? Instead of a slap in the face, life’s final punctuation mark should bring closure. We make a nasty habit of expecting everything to be as it should, every day. Tomorrow may be different. Please be prepared. Dearest friends, if I have not spent enough time with you, I am sorry, and I hope that will change.

After.

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It has been one week. Can I tell you how many times I have been muttering “no” to myself? How many times I have screamed in the car, believing that if I yell “no” loud enough, that everything will be back to normal? How many times I have remembered, cried, said I was fine, and did life, after?

TOO MANY TIMES. TOO MANY TIMES.

I want to scream at the cosmos, smash the stars until their glitter is piled around me in a  shattered heap of porcelain, rip apart the clouds and tear the sky into shreds.

THIS IS NOT MY LIFE.

But it is.

Frankly, I find this all a cruel joke. I told myself that this year, I would choose joy. I told God that I would trust him. And I also remember that over Christmas break, I prayed for brokenness. I believe that brokenness is how we draw closer to God, and he to us.

So in a way, I feel like this is all my fault. Maybe I would still had a grandfather if I had prayed for something else.

How could I have known?

But as I spit these bitter words onto my virtual page, I am reminded that choosing joy is something that we do regardless of our circumstances. Frankly, I don’t see how I can do that right now, or ever. I feel as if I received the short end of the stick. I am livid. How can this be? How can I choose joy, how can I trust God now? I feel as if I am being punished for wanting to draw closer to the creator of the universe. This is the test in which I must walk through fire. You know, everyone says following God isn’t easy, but I never imagined it would be this difficult.

I sent him an email to set up our weekly skype, because in my mind, I’m going to receive a reply in a couple hours. The next morning I woke up and found a reply; my heart skipped a beat, only to sink in crushing disappointment to realize it was an automatically  generated email. The words slapped me with their formal, brief, almost cold reply. He didn’t write it. It was standard. Was I naive to expect more, or expect the miraculous?

Yes.

And no.

I  believe that God is powerful and that he is not arbitrary in his ways. I want to walk away from this and still be able to say that God is good, all the time. Despite wanting to scream at the creator of the universe, I find myself resentfully comforted by these words:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the heart, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORd; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:13-14

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3

Death really sucks. Sorry. It just wasn’t supposed to be this way. I’m still angry, but more than anything, I’m hurt. I’m disappointed. I’m devastated. Is it too much to ask for someone to come back to life? I don’t think so, and this isn’t over, yet. But honestly, After should be illegal. I have descended into listlessness, unable to concentrate on anything that requires even a small amount of substantial brain power. Funny, because I am also doing everything in my power to keep my brain from thinking too hard about the things I do not want to think about. Nothing works. My mind is as occupied as ever. But, if I think about it hard enough, everything returns to normal.

Normal is such a precious state in which we fragilely remain. It is the glass of a snow globe, and mine is shattered.

 

Grief.

Grief is one of those things you read about all the time, but can never relate to until it’s happened to you. You know how people say it’s so bad they can’t breathe? Physically, breathing remains as easy as it ever was. But every breath means you actively accept defeat. Another breath means another moment that you are accepting as your new reality, the one you didn’t choose, dousing you in ice water on a snowy day. That’s why you can’t breathe.

And the world continues on, as if everything is normal, and it is normal. But not for you. Now, something that you’ve always had is missing. The world can’t tell, but you can. Everything looks different. It’s life, after. And when you think about everything too hard, your eyes threaten to spill over, as if they were holding Niagara Falls, and your eyelids are an inadequate dam to prevent everything from cascading down. The ground is watered with your tears, and the air is punctuated with you repeating “no” to yourself, under your breath, before you fall asleep, because this isn’t real. It’s fake and it’s going to end soon. When you wake up everything will be a nasty dream, and everything is going to continue on as usual.

But you know that it’s really real, because your dad flew home to Alabama on a beautiful Saturday morning, and it should be illegal for the weather to be so fine on such an awful day. You know it’s really real because he calls and asks you when you’d like to fly out, and your family always, always buys plane tickets months in advance, not days. You know it’s real because your emails go unanswered, and your grandpa always answers you. You know it’s real because he’s never, ever late for anything if he can help it, but now he’s missing everything.

It feels strange because his phone number is still in your phone, and you keep getting texts, but they’re from your dad because his phone broke. Every time his hame pops up on your notifications, you hope it’s him, and you see his profile picture you took for your address book because you hate it when contacts don’t have photos. You remember that the photo was taken at IHOP after your sister’s graduation, and the lighting was horrible, and you were teaching him how to send text messages.

You realize that this week, you’re going to miss your weekly Skype. That even if you call, he won’t pick up. You’ll never see him type, “Hi Marissa.Ye Ye is here” ever again. Ye Ye is not going to be here, ever again.

Despite all of these realizations, you’re in denial. You grasp desperately at any distraction, any semblance of “normal” life, the life you once had. It’s funny though, because really, nothing’s changed. You still go about life. You just know in your heart that someone is gone, and somehow that makes all the difference. And the distractions work…until you start thinking, and a sinking feeling creeps up. They call it a sinking feeling for a reason; your heart just kind of droops as it inches towards the acceptance of a new reality, even though your brain is not budging, refusing to acknowledge it.

Denial comes next, as you lie to yourself. Everything’s fine. Nothing is wrong. It’s just another ordinary day. Everything is as it should be. Your world is in tact. But deep down you know you’re lying to yourself, and that’s a little bit pathetic, but you want nothing more than for it to be true. This isn’t real life.

Then you start worrying that you will forget. Memories punch you in the heart as you look at all the photos you took on vacation and you realize that you’ll never, ever find Chinese food in a foreign city ever again, because it just wouldn’t be the same without him. It was our thing. The first thing we did when we arrived in Paris was eat Chinese food at his favorite restaurant. And the highlight of our vacation to Italy was the night that we found a Chinese restaurant. Same in England, too. We would’ve found some in Colorado, together, but not anymore.

You scramble for the postcard he sent you all the way from Tibet, which took three months to arrive at your dorm, worrying that you had tossed it out when you moved. You scramble for the last birthday card he sent you, a cupcake-shaped one, wondering if it had been lost during the move, too. You scroll through your email, looking for the last messages you received from him and placing them in a folder you’ll never ever delete. You salvage his old camera, the one he brought with him from Taiwan to America that you had put in the junk pile because it was broken, but now it sits on your shelf, the most prized of all of your cameras.

And while you do all this, you stay in denial. That’s the only way you make it even somewhat bearable, when it isn’t bearable at all. Denial numbs you until you believe it. It feels nice. You know that you’ll see him next week, that your emails just got lost, and that you’ll have an extra long chat together on Sunday.

It’s not to be.

Ye Ye-

I’m going to miss talking with you every week. You always cut the conversation short and told me to keep studying, but I would have talked to you as long as you would have liked. I always had time for you. Thank you for putting me through my first year of college and for teaching me the valuable lesson of not being afraid to fail. You showed me that it’s always possible to get back up.

Thank you for showing me new bits of the world, from France to Italy to England. You fulfilled your promise to 8-year-old me, and now I love Paris (and France) almost as much as I love you. I was so excited for you to read about my study abroad experience, and I’ll still be writing about it here. I know you would have enjoyed a postcard or two.

I had so much fun spending spring break with you- I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. You helped me check something off my bucket list (Loveless Cafe), and our walk around your neighborhood was one of the highlights of the trip.

I’ll miss your birthday cards (thanks for always remembering) and always eating Chinese food when you visit. I wish you were still coming to visit in July; Dad and I were going to make Chinese food on #domesticwithdad…but I also thought about making something funky, because I bet you would have tried it because I made it.

Here’s two of my favorite pictures of you. The first one was taken at the Vatican. Do you remember that? It’s probably my favorite picture of us. Thank you for showing me Italy even though you don’t like Italian food. The second photo was from Christmas last year, I think. Do you remember Tyler, my cousin? He’s really into origami and taught us all how to make star destroyers (from Star Wars). You and Syd got lost because the instructions were really complicated, so you called your star destroyer the “model T.” I remember I laughed at that.

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I only knew you as “Ye Ye,” but I wish I had known more about you, the scientist. I’m sorry I never sent you the article I wrote about you last year. My flash drive stopped working for some reason, but I’ll try to recover the file. Of course, I only had good things to say about you, and so did Pat Corder. Brilliant, generous, kind; I think I got some of my writing skills from you. Pat always said she was amazed at how you could hammer out a proposal without drafting anything first. That’s kinda how I write my articles. But nonetheless, you are still the coolest. Your big science brain was just icing on the cake. I remember on the train returning from Florence, I asked you why humans didn’t feel like they were hanging sideways off the planet. Even though the question was way below the complexity of what you probably did every day, you so patiently drew an explanation. And I’ll never forget the day we stood in our kitchen, asking you about vacation plans, and you told us to figure it out, because “I don’t want to use my brain.” That was one of your best lines.

Every May 21st is going to suck. Sorry, but there’s no eloquent way to put that. But I won’t just remember you on May 21st, I’ll be thinking about you every week, sending you the email that won’t be read, and waiting for the Skype call that will never come.

Last year during spring semester you said, for the first time that I could remember, “I love you,” as we were hanging up from Skype. I always knew you loved me, but that was the first time I could remember you saying that. I felt so special. And I just want you to know, I love you too.

Love,

Marissa

Sophomore Year Reflections

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Wednesday was the last day of classes. Sophomore year has quietly come to an end. I’m just going to say this up front: weird. Weird is not eloquent, and it’s certainly an odd description, but that’s how I’m feeling. Weird.

Not weird in a you-are-strange-get-away-from-me kind of way, but more of an onerous incredulity. Can onerous even modify incredulity? If it hasn’t before, it can now. Last year I remember thinking that freshmen year completely flew by…and here I find myself again, asking what happened to sophomore year. Time flying is not an accurate phrase; time vaporizes.

I don’t know how to feel. Surrounded by boxes, book, and chaos, it appears that my most pressing concern is moving myself out of this shoebox I call a room… Ok, actually, I am a little bit scared…and apprehensive. BUT, this year I told myself I’d do a few things differently…

This year I am choosing joy. I’m also choosing Jesus, and more importantly, I’m choosing to trust Him. At church, Pastor Adam made a passing remark, but it was one that I scribbled down: Jesus holds your future, and a He will hold you well.

Next semester I am embarking on the first of what is hopefully two semesters abroad. I’ll be studying in Grenoble, France, at L’Université de Grenoble-Alpes, and hopefully picking up all of the language’s lovely colloquialisms as I stay with a host family. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I’m excited! I’ve been dreaming about this since I was 8 years old.   

There are a few things that I want to remember from the past year…

I acknowledged my creativity and gave it a chance. I was a staff writer and photographer for BU’s lifestyle magazine (made it in both print issues!), and staff photographer for BU’s foodie magazine (photo editor next year!). I learned about magazine journalism, wrote a lot, and had the privilege of talking to many interesting people in Boston.

Understanding that sometimes, life is challenging. You take detours you don’t want to take, and you’re stuck waiting around…but here’s a little bit from Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 29:10-14

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”  

A lot of people will cite Jeremiah 29:11. It’s a sweet little promise: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

But! Someone once mentioned that it’s important to look at the context in which promises are given. God is speaking to the Israelites during their time of exile in Babylon. I’m going to take a wild guess and say this was no picnic.

So, this year I learned that sometimes, God and I are a little bit out of synch, but that doesn’t mean He stopped caring. I personally believe that challenges are one of the ways God draws us closer to him, because He is giving us another opportunity to trust him. Yes, He has something wonderful in store…but don’t get discouraged if the sailing isn’t smooth.

Squaw and I became friends because I sat next to the least-scary-looking person on the first day of lab. Thanks for lots of laughs and never a dull moment.

Lunch buddies! I have finally made a few friends in a campus ministry (or any ministry, for that matter). I also joined a community group at Aletheia that I love.

And above all? Facing fear, trusting God. Thanks Clarisa; that’s still sticking with me, even now.

I’m excited for summer! I hope you are too, friends.

Love, Marissa

 

Leading with Love

Lead

Hey, friends.

What does it mean to be a leader?

I feel like culture and society glorifies the word. After all, what organization isn’t looking for someone with exceptional leadership skills?

The question I’m going to pose is: How often do we think about leading with love?

The word leader evokes power, strength, control, and people with stern faces wearing suits. Leader, when I think about it, does not bring to mind smiles, fun, laughter, or kindness.

When we find ourself in leadership positions, do we strive to lead with love? Or, do we strive to exert our power and flaunt our superiority? I know, finding a balance in between is difficult, and being a girl…well, that’s a different story altogether.

What I forget is that Jesus led with love. Glynnis Whitwer wrote: “Jesus didn’t scold those whose weaknesses were evident. He didn’t shame the prostitute or the beggar. He didn’t publicly correct those struggling with sin. Instead, He welcomed them to come to Him and receive mercy and forgiveness. Jesus always led with love.”

Isn’t that wonderful? Jesus was not a macho, I’m-stronger-and-better-than-you guy who was always ready for a throw-down. He hung out with the uncool kids…the people that we sometimes feel aren’t worth our while. Maybe we are those people.

I had a beautiful conversation with the security guard who works in my building. His name is Robert and he really exemplifies what it means to walk with God…and to lead with love. Right now, he has a terrible roommate. This roommate is messy, loud, and generally inconsiderate. But when recounted his situation to me, Robert spoke without bitterness nor hatred. He was frustrated, but what shone through more than anything was Robert’s desire to be more like Jesus. Instead of talking bad about this roommate, Robert has been trying to help him. Quietly, not judging, because he knows that this roommate needs Jesus. And, Robert understands that to shun and hate this man makes him no better. So, as he shared with me today, Robert has made it his mission to love this roommate.

It’s really, really easy to judge people. I’m saying that because I judge people. A lot. And, it’s not easy to lead with love. But, I want to challenge myself (and you!) to judge less and love more. Culture says that doing this wouldn’t make us very “strong” leaders. It goes against a lot of the notions that go along with power. Thankfully, we’re not being held to the standards of society, and we don’t have to be in positions of power to lead with love. We’re being held to God’s standards. If we claim to be His followers, then we will strive to live a life that emulates Jesus’. Think about how beautiful it would be to lead with compassion and kindness instead.

Have a beautiful week. Don’t be afraid to lead with love! And as always, here is the original inspiration: http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo/i-want-to-be-right/