Contentment

A few months back, I ran into one of the 1Ls in the library. I asked him how things were going. He was busy sending out job applications. He said, “You know, I’m looking forward to securing a job. Then everything will be fine and I won’t be stressed out.”

I told him, “Maybe that’s true, but I know many of my classmates already have jobs lined up for this summer and they’re still stressed out.”

He responded, “What? Why would they be stressed out?”

I told him, “Because contentment is not determined by your circumstances. It is determined within.”

Then I walked away.

This is a common story. I know I’m guilty of it. “When I get that career, I’ll be happy. When I get that promotion, I’ll be happy. When I get that spouse or that family or that house, I’ll be happy.”

But that isn’t true. I may enjoy this new thing for a while, but the novelty will wear off. I realize that what I expected to feel is different than how I actually feel. And these things come with their own difficulties, particularly relationships.

What if I never get these things? Will I become bitter? Will I lash out and say that I was robbed of something I was entitled to have? Or will I say that it is well with my soul, to know that everything I have is freely given, to rejoice in what I have received?

I want to practice contentment, to trust in the provision of grace.

Casting aside fear

One of my friends asked me what law school is like. I told him “There’s a lot of fear here.”

Some of that fear is a natural part of legal training. Lawyers are trained to be risk-averse. We are trained to look at a situation, see all the ways it can fall apart, and prepare for disaster.

Law school also attracts risk-averse people. There are many people who didn’t know what to do in life and decided to go to law school. I fit in that category.

There is wisdom in carefully assessing risk and preparing for bad outcomes. But I feel fear creeping in. Not as abject terror, but as the subtle chill of anxiety. Will I get the right grades? Will I get the right job? Will I pick the right firm? I see it in how my classmates are afraid of sounding stupid in a cold call or don’t want to speak up in class.

During finals week, most of my conversations with my classmates started like this:

Me: “Hey, how’s it going?”

Classmate: “Good. How many finals do you have?”

Now, I understand that people have finals as a front-of-mind concern. But this interaction still bothered me. I would steer the conversation to other topics: “What are you most excited about for this summer?” or “What do you hope to learn?”

Fear is a powerful motivator, but a tyrannical king. It can spark us to action, but burn us in its grasp.

For me, this fear centered on one pivotal question: “Will I be successful?” But this question was rooted in something even more foundational: “Will I be accepted?” Will I be successful enough, polished enough, good enough to be accepted? Will I be loved?

But then I remember that it is written that perfect love drives out fear. I believe that I am already perfectly loved by one who is perfect in love. As it is also written, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

I am not bound by fear of failure. What can failure do to me? It cannot take away the perfect love that I already have.

Writing about faith

On my birthday, I invited people to share critiques or comments with me. One good friend encouraged me to write more openly about faith. This friend told me that I am an amazing storyteller and that it would be wonderful to read more about how I see God working in my life.
I have been thinking about discussing this topic more openly. Writing about faith can be a delicate task. It can be a volatile subject. I don’t have problems with people disagreeing with me, but social media is a poor platform for the nuances and complexities that are inherent in discussions of faith.
Yet I don’t want my voice constrained by possible offense. I will take pains to write about faith in a way that is helpful and hospitable for all. As always, I will endeavor to write about my own experience. The stance is reflection, not sermon.

28th Birthday Post: Critique

Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be turning 28 years old. As I reflect on these years, I am grateful for the maturity and wisdom that I have received. Much of that wisdom has come from others. My most meaningful relationships have been deepened in the well of tender confrontation and loving critique.
So this birthday, I invite your difficult words. If you have a criticism or point of confrontation, I invite you to share that with me discreetly by message, email, text, or phone. I already know some of my weaknesses (passivity, conflict avoidance, excessive reliance on structure), but invite more.
Don’t feel obligated to tell me a critique if you don’t have one! But I want this day to not just be Happy, but Constructive. Thank you!

Watch Your Language

Two weeks ago, I was on the bus heading back from the airport. On the bus was a young woman talking loudly on her cell phone. She had several bags and a large rolled up poster. Evidently she was an undergrad just coming from a medical research conference. She told her phone companion that many researchers were shocked that she wasn’t even in medical school yet, and that they were confident that someone who was already presenting research would get into a good school.

As the bus moved along, she started talking about all the food available at the conference. She described in detail the delightful pastries, the sandwich platters, “those cute little cheesecakes.” She complained that some of the food wasn’t of acceptable quality, but that some were really excellent, and all of it free. She was loud enough that even though she sat near the front, I could hear her from my seat near the back.

What struck me about this was not her, but the people around her. The bus was traveling through a run down part of Chicago. Some people on the bus may be struggling. Some people may not know if they’ll be able to afford food this week. It struck me as tactless for this young woman to be so vocal about food in that situation.

At the same time, I needed to check myself for how often I behave this way. Even if I am not as outspoken about it, there are ways in which I assert my entitlement to things and complain when I don’t get them. This experience reminded me to be mindful of others around me. This is not about censoring myself for the sake of fragile folks around me, but about taking care about how my words may have an effect on others.

Wedding as Community Bond

This weekend, I was at another wedding, this time at a small church in Ann Arbor. The church building was owned by a Lutheran congregation, but was used by a Korean community. The ceremony was in Korean and English; the prayers, the sermon, the vows were all done in both languages. There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen, no flower girl or ringbearer. They served simple Korean food: japchae, bulgogi, kimchi. There was no fancy silverware—tables were laid out with plastic cups, wooden chopsticks, paper plates. There was no dance, no big toasts, no instagram hashtag. There entire wedding lasted about two hours.

What this wedding did have was a strong sense of community. Church members decorated the space and served the food. People laughed and talked across the long tables, children running around to play. After it was over, the younger guests stayed behind to clean up the tables and pack away the metal folding chairs.

This wedding reminded me of the role that marriage plays in an immigrant community. In a community that has few resources, everyone has to chip in. The wedding is not just the celebration for the newly married couple, but is a declaration of the vitality of the community. Marriage is connected with family, both in bringing forth children and in joining two families together, thus strengthening the community. This is true for all people, but is more valuable for an immigrant community trying to cement a place in a new country.

I’m complete

“I finally found you. My missing puzzle piece. I’m complete.”

Katy Perry, Teenage Dream. This song was in a dance performance at a wedding I recently attended. It expresses a sentiment I hear often: “You make my life whole. You make life worth living. My life would suck without you.” A beautiful expression of intimacy. With you, the sun is brighter, the sky is bluer, everything is better.

Yet does this mean that life is incomplete without a romantic partner? I remember talking to a friend years ago who had just gone through a breakup with her boyfriend. When I asked how she is doing, she responded, “I’m fine. Just getting used to being alone,” and started weeping. She was responding to the pain of loss, but there was a deeper pain of incompleteness. Without him, her life lost all color and happiness. I want to take pains to communicate to others that a romantic relationship is not a prerequisite to a rich and fulfilling life.

My counseling teacher once reflected on the wedding tradition of lighting candles. The couple each lights a candle, then light a single candle together, symbolizing their unity. “But when you do that, don’t blow your candle out! You still have a life outside of your marriage. Your union is not extinguishing your individual lives, but joining them together to something unique and beautiful.”