Finding joy in all weather, even bitter cold....

The spark of light in the dark

The spark of light in the dark

Starting off the new year in the Midwest means cold winter weather. Today is an exceptionally cold day.  Although I’ve grown up with winters in the Midwest my entire life, I’ve often complained about the cold temperatures.

I would complain about winter but continued to live in it, as if my complaints would actually change the weather or something. Despite all those complaints, the weather remained! How dare it? Didn’t it hear my agony? My plea for warmer weather! Well, here’s the thing. The only thing I can change about the weather — and Mother Nature and life — is myself. And my responses to the weather. So I started making a conscious effort to stop complaining about the weather, instead focusing on finding positive in it. Even in its very darkest, coldest moments.

It’s become easy to do but that has taken practice and I’ve had some wild and intense experiences for that practice. And I have moments when it’s more challenging than others. Let’s all be imperfect, let’s all be patient with ourselves. It takes a long time to commit to joy in a world conditioned by fear and negativity. But at the end of the day, complaining doesn’t do anything to remove the cold weather but it does remove us from joy. Complaining keeps us living in the complaint.

If I don’t like winter, I could move somewhere warmer. I could do that. It’s in my power. It is my choice. Often times we’d rather just stay where we are, because complaining and staying where we are is more comfortable than the change required to get to the new place. Even though we complain about it. Even though we say we want it to be a different way, we often don’t actually do anything to make it a different way. We confuse ourselves, don’t we? We spin around in our thoughts.

I didn’t want to stay stuck in complaint because it wasn’t yielding positive results so I traded in complaints for joy. The joy of winter gives me opportunity to be introspective and cozy, with time for writing, watching movies and getting lost in good books. Does finding this joy in winter mean it isn’t cold and bitter? No. It does not take the cold and bitter away. It means I’ve found something positive right in the very cold and bitter.

This approach is what I apply to every aspect of my life.

It is an approach that has been working very well after trying all of the other approaches. Approaches I hung out with often as a child, teen and adult such as avoidance, denial, anger and my longtime friend self-loathing. So, I’m sticking with it.

And I promise self-love is a better friend than self-loathing.

The other thing about joy. It doesn’t mean we deny the opposite side of the coin. I’ve had some bitterly cold experiences. Just like everyone on this planet. We all have. I honor that everyone’s experiences are different and unique. They are. But they’re also the same. Kinda the same, kinda different. Love, loss, gain, grief, contentment, shock, pleasure, sadness, joy, disappointment. These are universal terms. All over the world.

Some of mine have been globally unique and left complex scars. Scars from attempts of intertwining two countries and two families with no navigational map in a world that primarily celebrates having one. A world that didn’t leave a lot of space to safely be seen and heard about the complexities of two. A world that makes assumptions. Scars that often times bled internally, hidden from the entire world.

I’d like to see all of that change. I’m invested in my part in this change. I believe in creating safe spaces for all people to be seen and heard with compassion on their journeys. This starts with awareness. Awareness begins with discussing things even if it is uncomfortable to do. We will all understand each other better when we’re willing to listen and become more aware. And I believe we’ll subsequently become kinder to one another.

I spent many years trapped by the anguish of these scars. And somewhere on this road of life, I realized the entrapment of my scars didn’t change the truth. Not a bit. Kinda like how complaining about weather doesn’t actually change the weather. It’s still -50 degrees and that’s the cold bitter truth. We can make the best of it and find something joyful in it or we can be trapped by it.

Some time ago, I’m not sure when exactly, probably because it’s been such an ongoing journey, I decided to get really up close and personal with the truth and my scars. I decided to nurse them with restoration and gentleness. Even when voices in the world told me to not talk about these experiences. Many times I listened to those external voices who told me to not talk about my experiences or be honest — especially traumatic experiences — and to basically deny myself of myself. I suppose we have all subscribed to the whole notion of “well, if we just don’t talk about it…if we just deny it, then maybe it doesn’t really exist.” I certainly have. I listened to those voices who told me wild judgmental things about being an Asian woman in America — words that are utterly absurd to me now that I believed at the time. Then I stopped. I started honoring everything about me. And ignoring everything else. Intuition became louder. What was self-loathing melted into self-love when touched by compassion. What was trauma softened as I realized it could be transformed and made me able to understand others’ trauma. It is what has given me freedom to embrace who I am. With an openness, boldness and spunky joy that I make no apologies for. I encourage us all to live grounded in self-love and be as freaking happy as we choose to be. Dedication to being upset, annoyed, unhappy and so on is a real phenomenon in our culture and I’m striving to live differently than this. I’m an advocate for joy. “I’m sorry that you think I am too happy (how is this even a thing?)/honest/loving for you, I’ll immediately stop loving myself so that you are more comfortable” are words I do not live by. I spent far too long feeling wrong for being me and people pleasing, drenched in self-loathing. People pleasing is the fast track to failure…too much conforming, too little authenticity, too many people who all want different things. Now I am self-love’s loudest ambassador. And this is a freedom anyone can have.

Interestingly, this all reminds of me when you go outside and it’s -50 degrees out and at first you think, “Oh!!! This is so terrible. It is so cold and this hurts too much. So cold. So bitter. I can’t do this. Everything is terrible and I hate everything.” But. Then you stay out there in it and acclimate and by the time you go back inside you think, “That wasn’t so bad! Well, okay, it was really bad. It really is cold out there. But then it got better because I just kept walking through it. One step at a time. And now I’m back inside and I’ve gotten through it. The pain of it has passed. I have conquered it.”

Life has a way of giving us what we need to overcome anything if we have the courage to step in and keep walking through the cold and bitter. Brave the winds. The strength to endure is already in you. It is there if you allow it to come out. Let your strength shine. You might surprise yourself.

Everything, like the weather, changes. Our joy changes. Our pain changes too. And there is always joy to be found in the darkest, coldest places.

This I know for certain.

Getting to this Present Moment of 2019

Happy new year. We’re halfway through the first month of the new year. It is winter in Chicago and that brings forth the inward energy for me. The energy that is reflective and quiet.

As I focus on 2019 and what it is, I simultaneously reflect on everything that has led to this. And what 2018 was. 2018 was a year. A year I am still exhaling from.

It started off by me jumping on a plane to Asia on December 31st at midnight after spending time in my hometown, St. Louis. The adventure took me to Taipei, Seoul, Suwon, Chiang Mai and Shanghai. And a couple of undefined places in Korea and Thailand where I was literally asking myself, “Where am I?!” These were moments free of internet service to tell me where I was. A year ago I hopped on a van in Chiang Mai very early in the morning, fell asleep, and woke up on a windy dirt road leading to a farm somewhere in Thailand with no electricity. I then stopped asking myself where I was and thought, “ahhh, it doesn’t matter where I am. Here is where I am. I am here.”

This adventurous start of 2018 was very intentional. I had been wanting to go back to Korea for years.

Despite this desire, over the years I found lots of ways to keep myself from it too, most notably my workaholic tendencies (also known as my old friend avoidance) and my sweet dog, Dolly Lama. And the comfortability of my every day life that included all of the routines I had subscribed to, whether willingly or unwillingly (usually a mix of both). Routine weeks. Routine weekends. The life of waking up, going to work, being frazzled during the day, being tired at night. Checking work emails all night. Checking work emails all the time. Repeating through Friday. Going to yoga. And brunch. Questioning if I was doing this whole life thing right. Daydreaming about travel to Asia and beyond. Daydreaming about all the things I wanted to do in life. Realizing I don’t do them. My American life. Doing normal American things. With not a lot of space for Asia, on the other side of the planet, to be in my life.

Space was needed to be made.

The two primary things that kept me planted in the US were work and my senior aged dog. That all changed in 2017. This was both a challenge and a relief. I spent much of 2017 caring for my little Dolly as her health declined. I was engulfed in grief. So engulfed. Grief and I have become good, close, committed friends. The process of losing a pet that was by my side for over ten years had a profound way of making me look at my own life. This changed the entire game. As this was all unfolding in 2017, I instinctively knew it was clearing the path for me to soar back to Korea.

When you don’t take the path for you, it will take you.

My last visit was in 2009. It was my second visit with my birth family. Some of those memories are clear, others are blurry. And I trust what I don’t remember is for good heart-protective reasons. Since that visit in 2009, I had much time to let the reality of this experience sink in. And lots happened in life over these nine years. I moved from my small hometown to a larger, more diverse city (Washington, DC) then back to the Midwest to Chicago. I wanted to take myself back to my roots so I jumped at this opportunity to start off 2018 by returning. The opportunity to be able to take time to go back brought me a deep relief.

Presently I am flooded with memories of last January as I skipped around Asia, with most of my time there spent in Suwon, Seoul and Chiang Mai. It was a whirlwind. I got sick five times in four cities in three weeks. Well, of course I did! I accepted it. I knew I had to go all out. And I knew anything inside of me that felt sick was ready to be free, and no longer inside my body and heart.

One year later, as my phone’s album reminded me of where I was a year ago (admiring the glow of the lights in Thailand), I am present to where I am. Present to what brought me to where I am right now and to what comes next. Photos represent some moments from one year ago that have been a foundation for what comes next.

I’m not in Asia to ring in the new year this year. I’ll be there again soon. I have a peace in knowing it doesn’t matter where I am because I am here. See you soon, Korea.

The Season of Gratitude

Thanksgiving season in America.

I love gratitude. This time of the year is a bit strange for me. The weather becomes dark and cold and the sun hides out. This is traditionally and culturally a time of celebration and family and food. We see movies and greeting cards and magazine spreads and shopping advertisements with this idealized notion of what holidays are ‘supposed’ to be and that seemingly creates a lot of pressure that is often incongruent from reality.

Pema Chodron has a beautiful quote, “enlightenment is a direct experience with reality.” I long to see a day where we all embrace reality, not just the positive parts of life, with more authenticity. I’ll start. I adore joy and cheer and any opportunity to embrace them (including jovial displays of affection and expression usually involving dancing and hugs), but what is equally important to me is embracing the other side of that spectrum too. It is the grief and sadness that speaks too during the holiday season that is conditioned to be primarily focused on merriment. Grief and sadness brings up the orphan in me and the part of me that has experienced loss and subsequently but often simultaneously has also experienced gain. We’ve all had experiences that have caused great loss and great gain. This brings up the warrior in me too, the part of me that has experienced great triumph. It all speaks to me very quietly. Perhaps you feel grief and sadness during this time of the year too.

I honor these. I let them breathe. Despite living in a culture where we are conditioned to hide, suppress and/or refuse any emotions related to sorrow, pain, anger and grief, I give them full honor and space. This is humanness. We all have these emotions and I strive to see a world where we can be with these in healthy ways. This is where transformation lives. Being present with these is not always comfortable. It is often times bitter, dreary and with piercing winds, just as the weather. But what is so powerful is that giving this space for these experiences and emotions lets them be free. This freedom lets the light guide us and prevents the dark from defining us. It is the light that leads us, not the shadow.

This capacity to honor the space for the grief and sadness is the same capacity and energy for joy, cheer, love and gratitude. One cannot flourish without the other. Our capacity to feel love, joy, anger, sorrow is what makes us human. It is all connected.

I am grateful for all the experiences that have made my life to be what it is right here and right now. As an American. With so much freedom. This time of year especially, as the year comes to an end, I reflect on family and what that means to me. I reflect on the life I’ve created and had, as a Korean born American with my family in the middle of the United States. And how this American life has been all I’ve ever known since I was a baby until 12 years ago when I met my birth family across the globe knowing very little about Korea. Back then, I didn’t quite know what to do with this very foreign information and these foreign relationships. I am still learning. So, I get cozy with embracing the not knowing and the learning. I reflect on having two families, one in America and one in Korea, and how different these relationships are from each other. And their similarities despite being a world apart from each other. Different but the same. Same but different. How my family in America feels like home. How my family in Korea feels very foreign. And how sometimes each one feels both foreign and familiar. How that can all be exhausting. How home is really a place within my heart. How the definition of family is both very simple and confusing to me. How all families are imperfectly imperfect humans. How this is all great beauty, not a beast.

Having gratitude does not mean there is no grief or shadows. It’s not using ‘just think positive!’ as an avoidance tactic. It’s being really honest with the human experience and reality. ‘Tis the season of light only because of the dark. The sun is always about to shine again regardless of what happened in the dark. The darkness has a purpose too and we can honor that while being grateful for it. The darkness is what makes me so grateful for the light. I am grateful for freedom more and more every year as an adult and every time I soar outside of this country. I imagine more people would feel the same if they realized how fortunate we are in America. I am so grateful to have every moment and every experience and the purpose they have served to lead me right here. Each moment has brought me to this one. Everything is connected.

Returning

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grace

Yongin, South Korea, January 2018

This is a space for sharing about transformation, love, gratitude, grief, change and adventure through my perspective as a Korean born, Missouri raised adoptee in reunion.

Writing about my adoption journey has been a long time coming. I don’t know why I didn’t write sooner about this unique topic.

Ohhh but I do.

Years of untangling, the trauma, the gratitude, the aftermath, the emotions, the non-emotions, the denial, the glaring and blatant, the avoidance of commitment, the commitment, the healing. The full circle.

In January 2018, I returned to South Korea to reunite with my birth family for the first time since 2009.

This was my third visit to South Korea since my birth. Adopted as an infant, my first visit back to my birthplace (and exposure to Korean culture) was when I met my birth mother, father, sister, and brother in 2006. After this first reunion, I left Korea in 2006 in a confusing state of gratitude/grief unsure if I’d return. I subsequently began pursuing a move to Korea.

I moved to Washington, DC instead but I returned to Korea in 2009. I left the country in another confusing state of gratitude/grief again unsure if I’d return. A couple of years later, while living in DC, I had a deep visceral longing to travel back to Korea. It remained a goal over the years until January when I returned.

I left Korea this year and felt my old friends gratitude and grief nudge me on the long plane ride around the planet back home to the US. It was my same old reliable friends, but different. They were present and so was I.

12 years after my first trip to Korea, I am very, very good friends with my gratitude and grief.

And am planning my next visit.