Pen Peace

Power of the Pen. That’s what it was called when I was elementary, middle school. It’s what the artistic kids did. They wrote poems. With verses and rhymes and words I never tried to write but knew from greedily reading books.

That was before I decided to be a writer. That was when I didn’t believe in myself. I mean, I believed in myself to finish my homework and get up at 6:20 am and never skip swimming practice. But I strongly disbelieved that I am artistic. It wasn’t natural. Nothing was natural. Except following the rules, making others think well of me, hiding my badness.

Power of the pen

And I’m here with my wooden Hiram College Alpha Society pen (obtained by following the rules) writing in my friend-made journal. I drew an identifiable mermaid and wrote my name across two pages and recorded how to become a peaceful person. This pen is POWER, I think, and it takes me back.

Those artistic kids knew it in seventh grade. They knew they were created to create.

I know it now. But the same thing stops me from creating. I live conflict. There’s no peace in my nature. I thrive on the conflict and I forget my purpose, my peace. I chase myself and fall. So that record of what it means to be peaceful is the point. Without it, I’m chasing others’ thoughts of me.








When I choose peace, I face my ugliness. I give up control. I strive for pure motive. I wait. I look to forgiveness from the all-time-forgiver who gives me more and more and more.

And I can create. I claim that graceful (not the type of movement but the unconditional kindness) power.

I haven’t written for months because I’ve been choosing miserable conflict. In this small moment I choose humility and self-control. Peace. Creation. I hope for more.

CLE + Joy: The Forest City

I grew up in the trees. Although we started arguing before I could talk, Frank the Forester spent a lot of time with me in the woods.

My first December, I was plopped in the cut greens as he prepared Christmas trees. My puffy snowsuit, patterned with primary-colored geometric shapes, prevented me from rolling away. Soon, I’d be decorating the half-tree in my bedroom, one of three Christmas trees in the house.


Christmas 2013: My first adult tree

As children, he guided Will and I through our Shaw Road woods regularly, fostering our love for the sublime “Super Sugar Maple Tree,” venturing down to the Black River, playing catch with monkey balls. Sometimes I’d worry that a tree would fall on me, and I’d use that as an excuse to beg to leave. As we left, he’d spray the shaving-cream-like sanitizer in our hands, and we’d pile in three to the bench and me straddling the gears to ride home. Speeding over the tickle bump on Chippewa Road.

One winter, my brother and I were left alone in the Christmas trees beyond our backyard pond. Dad had cut down several dead and overgrown evergreens to make way for new ones. We dragged those trees, at least eight, to make a circular wall, piling the sappy trunks above our heads, warm in that fort of green needles.

In middle school and high school, when my parents guilted me out of laziness, I’d help Dad sell Christmas trees. I wandered through the rows, at home in the dark silence of the snow and green. Sometimes he’d run with me through the rows, always warning me to watch for the holes from already-dug-up trees. When there was enough snow, I’d walk right behind him, still stepping in his bootprints like he’d instructed when I was too small to make my own path.

I felt a little more at home when I recently found out that Cleveland is known as the Forest City. I was also suspicious as, compared to Chatham Township, the city seems far from forested.

I’ve been to two cemeteries since moving to Cleveland. Those and the trees lining the RTA tracks on Shaker Boulevard are the extent of my nature experiences here. My goal in this city is to get in those trees. Not the ones strategically planted in parks but the ones bordering wilderness.

The trees are subject to humanity but always created by God. They are always beautiful, creating shade and color and air and quiet. Where do I find it – that quiet wild, that collection of towers I will always fear? I want to be suppressed by the pure creation. I want to be in that innocent, proclamatory worship.

3 Thanksgiving Cliches Renewed

I’ve never enjoyed Thanksgiving – in the way people look forward to turkey and stuffing all month, name it as their favorite meal, crave pumpkin pie. I’m glad I grew up in the United States. I love my family. I enjoy being grateful. But somewhere between my hatred for vegetables (yes, even mashed potatoes) and the holiday posts infiltrating my feeds, I haven’t found real meaning in the holiday.

Thanksgiving exudes cliche. I admit to mimicking the popular choice, “I’m thankful for my friends and family,” when we go around the table. It’s easy to go through the motions, especially when most of the motions involve ingesting seconds and thirds of American comfort food and falling asleep in front of the TV.

My problem is that I haven’t looked deeper, bothered to understand how the traditions affect my everyday choices. So here’s my attempt to trace Thanksgiving cliches back to the meaning the should always hold:

1. The “I’m thankful for _____” cliche. I am thankful for my friends and family. But is that all there is to it? Are these people simply there to benefit me and make me feel loved? We all know that’s wrong, but we often make it sound right. Someone recently asked me, “Was it just me, or were everyone’s ‘I’m thankful for’s a little shallow last year?” I jumped to the defense, but he had a point. This year, I want to reflect on the following blanks before saying what I’m thankful for:

  • “I’m humbled by ______.”
  • “I admire _____ because ______.”
  • “I often fail at _____, and I’m only able to continue because of ______.”

It takes vulnerability to complete these statements, and that’s what I want. I want my gratefulness to be so true that it hurts.

2. The “I have to visit my crazy family this holiday” cliche. Yeah, they’re crazy. They bring out the worst in us and they don’t bother to be polite and they hurt us. But I’m much more of a criminal then they are. More importantly, my family formed me and knows me better than anyone. And they still love me unconditionally. We crave ingenuity in this world blanketed with artificiality. Family is as real as it gets, baby. Perfection is not an option in a fallen world, but forgiveness and relationship will always be there.

3. The generosity cliche. I fall into giving because it feels good, because my blessings mean that I have a responsibility to give. I see the holidays infiltrated with this mentality. But this type of generosity is no better than hording everything for myself. I want to give because my sole purpose in life is to glorify my creator. Because every person reflects his image. Because I am a servant. Because loving everyone I know is not a means to feeling good but the end to loving God.

There are probably a few cliches in these paragraphs (*cringe*). And I know I’m participating in one simply by writing a holiday-themed post, promoting thankfulness via social media. I’m okay with that because it’s real thankfulness. And to get there, I’m experiencing real forgiveness, real love, and real relationship. Let Thanksgiving drive us not only to gratefulness but also unstoppably toward contagious, real joy.

You are beautiful. Thank you.

Thanksgiving table

Finding Identity

Do you ever lie in bed ready to go? Unable to stay there, sleep, because you know there’s one thing to do in that moment, one thing driving your soul? One thing to “dangle from…limp wherever it takes you”? That was me at 1:30 pm on Saturday, November 9th.

Unable to fall asleep for my craved afternoon nap, I lie tired under my white-white sheets under white-white quilt under white-white down comforter under white-yellow lines of sun shining through white-gray mini-blinds.

Shades of white

I brainstormed for my blog. I want a new design, my own domain. I want a title. Choosing them comes down to this: my identity. In the sun-bed, I realized this: I’ve claimed myself more than ever in the past 12 months. And I knew that I had to write.

So, I transplanted myself, laptop on lap, to my oversized chair under white-white slip cover under white-yellow lines of sun shining through white-gray mini-blinds.

I’ve stifled identity – to make friends, to keep friends, to impress teachers, to please bosses. I forget to be real.

But this year, I’ve claimed the following:

  • I am a writer. I write to create beauty and share love. And I will be joyful.
  • Building relationships is my life mission. And I will be joyful.
  • Objectification will play no part in my self-image or the way I view women. And I will be joyful.
  • I am God’s child. I’m inherently beautiful. And I will be joyful.
  • I’m given gifts designed for my personality, past, sense of humor, petty desires, every day. And I will be joyful.

Joy does not come naturally to me. I often forget that real joy comes from clinging to the mission so tightly that you have to let the rest of it go. Do you ever want to spend an hour complaining, a day in bed,  a weekend without socializing? Introvert time is necessary, but I know I’m hiding from my purpose, my identity, when I use my words and time selfishly.

Surrounded by these shades of white, though, I am pure.

I will claim my faults, desires, strengths, and this blog. I will write because it empowers my identity, and hopefully yours.

If you want to join me on this identity pursuit, this missional life, let’s do it together. What keeps you awake when you could be taking a nap? Who are you?

“We could, you know. We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—even of silence—by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. A weasel doesn’t “attack” anything; a weasel lives as he’s meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.

I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.”

– Annie Dillard, Living Like Weasels

India Memories

I drank chai in the dry heat at least twice every day – my only break from rice and savory curry. It sat on the sunned bench in a small silver tank. The creamy brown tea was hotter than the air, burning my fingers through the small paper cup. I stood in the middle of the brown sand drive, loving my India dessert.

A gecko smaller than my pinky finger hid between my suitcase and the wall. He scampered out of the room through the crack under the door, came back once, and left again. I felt guilty for wanting him gone, concerned he didn’t like the open hallway.

I experienced love and homesickness in the form of baking chocolate chip cookies with once the wrong kind and once the right kind of vanilla extract.

Middle-aged women prayed for me on a Tuesday afternoon. We were under the ceiling fan with the window open – one in starched sari and one in worn salwar kameez.

I frequented the tailor shop, always scattered with uncut, patterned fabric, smiles the main form of communication, the green-gray-eyed seamstress always curious.

Rats, monkeys lived at the train station, the baby monkey clinging to its mother’s thin and stretched belly. I stood for hours, careful not to let the edge of my foot touch the ground beneath my sandals, ready to run if the animals inched closer when the light intermittently went out.


I watched the sun rise from my bunk on the overnight train, sandwiched into a compartment with one young and one old Indian man and my travel buddy on the three other beds. All were asleep while I fearfully clung to the orange ball shining through the dust-covered window. It looked like The Lion King out there.

The older man made conversation with us in 10 or less English words at the end of our train ride. I’d been afraid of him the entire trip after hearing him grunt and seemingly argue with an attendant.

I bought chai for two rupees from a chai-wallah who got on at one of the train stops while the others continued to sleep. He offered me a second cup and had the happiest smile.

We sped up switchbacks to the hill station in the back of a taxi, signs warning fast drivers in English at every turn.

I looked up to the moon in the clear black sky through the palm leaves, the fumes of mosquito repellent and gasoline-smoke strong.

I ate the sweetest supermarket pineapple alone on the roof, rushing to beat the mosquitoes.

Rat-or-bat noises squeaked through my window air conditioner after I returned from a two-week trip. I pulled my bed away from the wall. The noises stopped after a week.


My favorite dining hall dish was spicy red egg curry. On that forever mound of white rice.

I ventured into the kitchen pantry to find (and eat) the Nutella I knew was there but was only served when guests came for breakfast.

I pretended to learn to cook but was only overwhelmed – all to get some home-made food and spend time with generous friends.

We ventured to the city – to buy a cell phone, go to the dentist, and get subway – all in an auto on our own. It was a long day.

I haggled prices and talked with an accent that wasn’t mine. Did anyone think I was mocking?

I bought an expensive long green sweater for the mountain’s cold evenings – and because I trusted the quiet shop owner.

I squinted at the Himalayas after climbing hundreds of steps. We took the cable car down.


I rode a horse along the mountainside, fearing for the blisters I’d have from the stirrups, and fearing for my place in the saddle, as we galloped down the steep, stony path.  Sultan was white and followed my directions, but he listened more to our rushed guides.

I met students – held their hands and sang with them and told them about OHIO.

I watched older students mock their teachers in a skit. So composed were they usually, I finally saw them free and pressing boundaries.

I listened to the fears of young women facing long train rides and life in villages. They held my hand on their bunks.

I recorded the names of my soon-to-be-teacher-friends and attended their farewells three mornings in a row.

I ate lunch with beautiful ladies, young and old, every day under the pavilion. When it got hot, we moved to the almost-air-conditioned dining hall. They always shared their homemade food, and it was always the best. They always joked, and we always laughed, grinning and holding each other’s stares.

My friend some days in the spring brought to work jasmine for my hair, and I saved all of the flowers in a tin.

I fainted on the street in the busiest and most dangerous part of the city, but I wasn’t afraid. These friends I’d known a few months – I trusted them.