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If I Can Stand, I Go

This is the work ethic I developed as a kid. Through most of public schooling, my parents booted me to school no matter how awful I was feeling. There wasn't really another option. Better to be in the company of teachers, because they know everything, right? Such is the mentality of my first-gen immigrant parents. I remember the one time when I got picked up from school in the middle of the day in elementary school. I think I had thrown up. I'm pretty sure my parents asked if I could return to school later that day.

Fast forward few years later. I cough my way through my Neurodevelopment class in college, getting glares from fellow students because I seriously never considered the option of missing class because I was sick. I was raised to go to school, even if green mucus is coming out of your left lung. It was gross. I’m sorry. But not really, because I really needed to be in class. I empathize with people who show up sick. I don’t want to sit next to them, but I empathize. We all grew up the same way, brotha… However, I now realize the value of quarantine. Really, keep your germs at home.

Forward a few more years, and a few jobs later to my current placement. It was winter and I’d caught whatever’d been felling these kids left and right. It was like the swine/bird/cow whatever flu and everyone was literally coughing on everyone. It looked like a scene from those pandemic movies except people weren’t turning into zombies afterwards, although we certainly felt like the undead. I wanted to call in sick but visions of students’ faces were floating around me and I knew that (a) I'd miss them and (b) I'd be doing them a disservice if I stayed in. So I went to work, huddled under a blanket most of the time, barking at students to keep their distance. It was worth it. I made some of that hearty miracle Korean seaweed soup afterwards and it was delicious.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if God treated my spiritual life with the kind of discipline I was taught by my parents to have about work. If I knew the value of “showing up” spiritually even if I wasn’t feeling it. If He had had a back scratcher in his hand and made me recite the 10 Commandments from memory while I cowered behind a laundry basket. (This is how my grandmother taught me my times tables, by the way.) I’ve wondered what it would be like to receive a real life lightning bolt tinged slap on the wrist every time I stepped out of line or if my tongue shriveled up every time I lied. But that’s not how it happens. Instead, there seems to be silences, periods of darkness, and winding roads.

But perhaps spiritual work is meant to be inherently different. Perhaps we are meant to learn by falling and rising. Perhaps wanderings, questions, and confusions are as much a part of the process as rules, discipline, and structure. Perhaps resignation and acceptance are more on the same side of the coin as peace and love than we thought. Maybe God disciplines us in ways that look different from the kind we expect from immigrant parents, and the results of it look different from just pushing through sicknesses. God desires not only correct behavior and fortitude, but also a heart of love, pity, compassion, and empathy. These qualities are not received through switches you choose for yourself in the backyard.

These are not perfect analogies. Often we must develop for ourselves spiritual practices and habits that will push us through the up-hills and the doldrums. The marathon of the spiritual journey requires a patience and endurance that is not forged through just wishing and hoping. Parents too, desire to instill not only the practice of doing a task well, but pride in its completion. But whatever spiritual discipline is, it certainly doesn't shield us from the bumps and ridges in the strait and narrow road. It seems to teach us not only to be warriors but also to be shepherds, and to draw strength not only from spiritual highs but also from weaknesses and shortcomings.

This blog will be about this road. It will be about spiritual “sick days.” The days when God schools me like I would have schooled my Special Ed students (the ones that had the mental age of a 6-year-old.) It will be about singing on mountaintops and sliding in the valleys. It will be about a journey through life as I teach, pray, and love. It will be about being yellow in a white world, and being human in an excitingly diverse world. It will be about laughter and love as well as fear and grief. I would welcome your own comments, thoughts and experiences if you would share them in the comments section. I sincerely hope to be blessed by our mutual walks on this road home.