Last year, during my English Communication class, the boys and girls started a heated debate.
The topic? Showering.
It started when a girl claimed that girls liked to put on make-up, dress nicely, and be clean just for the sake of looking nice; not for the sake of someone else.
A boy proclaimed that was false. He introduced a hypothetical scene: It’s a long weekend. You don’t need to go out to meet anyone. Will you shower? Will you put on make up?
The girl defiantly replied: Of course! I will shower every day even if I don’t go out, and don make up on for myself.
The boy kept arguing that unless you have to go out, there is no need for showering every day.
Since both sides weren’t going anywhere, in a desperate attempt for support, the girl looked at me and asked, “Profe Eli, would you shower in that scenario?”
I looked at her hopeful eyes and said honestly, “No. I hate showering.”
The whole class roared with laughter; including myself.
If you know me well, you know I hate showering. It’s not so much the act of showering that I hate, but getting up enough guts to go to the bathroom. I had a housemate who lovingly made a post-it that said ‘Shower for Jesus!’ which I pasted on my journal. Great reminder.
But it’s not like I’m an overall nasty, dirty person. There is certain dirtiness that I enjoy getting rid of: mold. Because I mind mold so much, I have been an avid bathroom cleaner and ventilation advocate. I throw food trash diligently so that it doesn’t smell or mold, open windows to let the air in constantly, and use a lot of bleach-based liquids to clean every corner of the bathroom (especially the drain).
However, I rarely clean things like the top of furniture, where a lot of dust gathers, am an average floor sweeper, and rarely mop my floors. The truth is, I don’t think anyone can keep themselves and their house c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e-l-y clean. All Cleaners have a blind spot and a forte. Everyone has what we shall call a Cleaning Personality. My cleaning personality is anti-mold. With everything else, I am pretty liberal.
Thus, in cleaning terms, my kryptonite is showering, I am a Superman against mold, and I am unmindful about dust gathering.
Since all of us have different cleaning personalities, we might be super clean in certain areas while neglectful of others. So we end up having clean selves or homes in certain aspects and dirty ones in other aspects.
Spiritually speaking, we might notice some people haven’t cleaned up their ‘mold’, and judge them for not being a true/good Christian. Instead of judging, it is better if we get down on our knees to serve them in their weak area, which for us might be a strength. And while we are on our knees, we might notice an area in their home that is squeaky clean. Then, we can ask them to teach us to clean that part of our homes as well, as we will realize that had been a weak spot for us.
I will forever need someone next to me who encourages me to take showers. And spiritually, I will forever need someone/something to keep me accountable on my judging tendencies. I can help people notice and clean out mold as a mold-removal-enthusiast. And spiritually, I can help people with discernment through my logical and analytical thinking skills. And just as I don’t notice dust to be something dirty, I would appreciate someone helping me notice the dusty areas of my home. In a similar way, through many different Feeling friends, I appreciate learning to get in touch with my emotions and the emotions of others.
Ah, cleaning. So many thoughts have sprung from this mundane word and action.
[Definition of TCK (Third Culture Kid): A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.]
For the past few years, I saw a lot of posts on the internet that equate a TCK to getting on lots of airplanes and travelling tons.
And I could never relate to this because I am a TCK from birth and have not been on airplanes nor travelled much until I graduated from college. (Uncivilized TCK in the house!) For me, being a TCK has been mainly about culture. It means I mixed up the different cultures I was exposed to and formed my own culture.
[Proof of my TCK-ness: I was born to Korean parents who lived in Argentina, who moved to Paraguay when I was six, and I attended a mixture of local, Korean, and American churches, as well as local and American schools. Thus, I am currently a mix of Korean, Argentinean, Paraguayan, and American cultures all mixed into this little Asian body.]
So when I see articles like the ones below, I add a few words to the title as I read it:
“For Third Culture Kids with Parents of Higher Income who Travel a Lot by Airplane, Travel is Home”.
On this next website, #11 assumes all TCKs have a lot of airport and airlines experiences. Nope. Not true of me.
I could find many more articles on TCKs, and lots (if not most) will have something about airplanes, passports, and constant country-hopping. All of which do not apply to me.
I guess this means there are different kinds of TCKs, and that the vast majority can identify with the whole passport/airport travelling experiences. So even amongst the TCKs, am I a minority?! Maybe the less-travelled TCKs are not getting as much of a voice on the internet as the “higher end” ones?
For us, as a working-class immigrant family, traveling was only done to go to Argentina on summer break to visit relatives. And we didn’t travel by airplane. We went on an 18-hour bus ride (20 hours if the border was crowded) to Argentina. That one time we went to Argentina by airplane (a meager 2-hour flight) because for some reason bus prices and airplane tickets were the same price, we took a bunch of pictures to commemorate that. I still remember the thrill of that one time I got to be on the plane. I must have been about 9 years old. The next time I travelled by airplane was when I turned 19.
Also, the whole thing with the passport stamps. I didn’t even have a passport until I was 19 (because Argentina and Paraguay are part of the Mercosur, you don’t need a passport to travel between these two countries).
Lastly, there was no country-hopping for me as I grew up. I lived six years in Argentina, and then the next thirteen years in Paraguay. I don’t feel the itch to move to a new country every five seconds. This might be what some TCKs feel like, but not all! I quite liked living in South America, thank you very much.
So here is to the TCKs who have never travelled, travelled very little, are yet to travel, or don’t like to travel! To those who don’t know what a traveling bug or itch is! To those who didn’t have diplomatic, military, professional, missionary parents, but had immigrant parents with a lower income! To those who might have travelled a bit, but not by airplane (and instead travelled by horse, camel, bus, boat, ferry, railroad)! To the refugee TCKs, to the undocumented TCKs, the immigrant TCKs, and whatever TCK I missed mentioning, you are still a hipster, cool TCK!
(This post is to be read not too 진지하게 [a.k.a. not too seriously]. I’m not trying to define or undefine anything. I just found it funny how all the TCK posts that were popping up on my Facebook feed included that airplane statement, and I just wanted to give my own statement about that statement, if you know what I mean. )
지금 것 살아와서 눈치라는 것을 나름 열심히 공부하고 노력하는데도 눈치라는 건 안 생긴다.
왜 나는 눈치 없이 살아남기 힘든 대한민국의 민족성을 갖고 태어났을까?
예를 들면 눈치의 핀트가 안 맞아서 나를 좋아하지도 않는 남자가 날 좋아한다고 착각 하고 나를 좋아하는 남자는 누구인지 눈치를 못 챈다.
예 1) 어느 여름 날, 아르헨티나에서 바베큐 파티가 벌어졌다. 거기에는 많은 청년들이 모여있었다. 어느남성분께서 나에게 계속 말을 걸었다. 내가 보기엔 나한테 너무 관심이 많아 보였다. 그래서 사촌언니한테 “언니, 어느 청년이 나한테 접근 하는 것 같다.”하자 언니는 웃으면서 말했다, “야, 그 놈 여친 있어~~” 민망했다.
예 2) 대학 생활 하면서 수업에서 아는 언니가 나에게 어느 날 물어봤다: “너 술 마시니?” 그러자 나는 “음.. 마시는 편은 아니에요.”라고 대답 했다. 그래서 언니는 “아, 다름이 아니고 우리가 같이 듣는 수업에 너를 조금 더 알아가고 싶어하는 오빠가 있거든.” 나는 그 술자리를 거부 했고 그 후에 언니를 통해 생의 처음이자 마지막으로 가장 많은 빼빼로도 받아봤다. 여기서 내가 눈치 없는 부분은 이것이다: 나는 지금까지 나를 좋아했던 분이 누군지 모른다. 우리 수업은 20명도 안 되는 소규모 수업이었다. 그리고 그 수업엔 여자들도 있고 나와 동갑 아님 더 어린 친구들도 있었다. 그러니 그 수업에 있었던 오빠들의 수는 엄청 적을 텐데 그 중에 누구인지를 눈치를 못 챘다. 아직도 모른다.)
우리 엄마랑 오빠는 내가 어렸을 때부터 눈치가 없는걸 참으며 살아야 했다. (아빠는 나랑 비슷하게 눈치가 없다.) 그래서 나한테 비밀스러운 이야기를 할 때 “이것은 가족 아닌 사람한테 말하면 안 돼”라고 말하지 않은 이상 나는 무엇이 비밀이고 무엇이 아닌지 구별을 못 했다. 아직도 그런다.
눈치의 대한 정보를 28년동안 쌓아놓고 있다. 그래서 6살 엘리 보단 28살 (한국 나이 29) 엘리가 훨씬 더 눈치가 있는 인간이다.
허나, 평균적인 한국인 눈치만큼 있을려면 하늘에 별 따기로 느껴진다.
“이건 이런 대에서 말 하면 안 돼”라고 할 때 나는 단순히 그 상황 혹은 그 상황과 거의 비슷해야지만 그런 말을 하면 안 된다는 인식을 한다. 그래서 토종 한국인들은 대부분 나를 좋아하지는 않다.
눈치가 없어서 한국에서 대학 생활하면서 3 학년이 돼서야 이해 했다 (누가 말 해줘서): 한국 대학생들은 수업에서 손을 들고 질문 하는 학생을 이상하게 본다. 나는 항상 질문이 있으면 교수님께 물어봤었다. 그 수 많은 수업에서 얼마나 많은 한국 학생들은 나를 또라이로 봤을까?
4학년에 눈치 아닌 누군가의 정보 덕분에 알게 된 것: 교수님이 혼낼 때 눈을 마주보면 안 된다. 눈을 마주치는 것은 싸가지 없는 짓. 아이고. 내가 4년 동안 우리를 혼낼 때 교수님과 선배들의 눈을 항상 마주쳤는데… 내가 얼마나 싸기지 없어 보였을까? 그때 당시에는 “어, 왜 다들 말씀 하시는 사람의 눈을 안 볼까? 나라도 봐야겠다”만 생각 하며 빤히 쳐다봤다. 눈치가 조금 이리도 있었으면 나도 눈을 까는 건데…
지금 생각해보면 한국에서 8년 가까이 생활 해서 눈치 RAM을 많이 늘었다. 옛날엔 1GB RAM이었으면 지금은 2GB인 느낌이랄까? 왜냐하면 이젠 내가 눈치 없는 것에 대해 더 눈치를 챘으니 이상한 짓 하기 전에 가까운 친구들과 가족들에게 물어본다:” 이렇게 하면 돼나? 이렇게 말하면 싸가지 없는건가?”
언잰가 나도 엄마하고 오빠처럼 16GB RAM 눈치로 업그레이드 할수 있을깝?
I really have no nunchi*.
(*Nunchi: being aware of others in an interactive situation, like being socially awake and socially keen, picking up on something)
All my life, I’ve done my best to be good at nunchi, but it just doesn’t seem to come to me.
Why was I born into an ethnicity that considers nunchi essential for survival?
A very straightforward example of my horrible nunchi skills:
One summer in Argentina, there was a barbecue with a bunch of people my age. There was a guy who kept talking to me. I thought he was interested in me. So I told my cousin, “Hey, I think that guy is interested in me.” To which my cousin laughed a lot and replied, “Dude, he has a girlfriend.”
During my college years, I was in this class with less than twenty students. An unnie (older girl) I knew asked me whether I liked drinking because there was an oppa (older boy) who was interested in getting to know me better as we went out for a few drinks. I said I wasn’t really into drinking. Afterwards, through that same unnie, the oppa gave me a bunch of Pepperos (Korean candy). And here’s where I have no nunchi: I still don’t know who that oppa is. That class was not just small, but there were a few girls, and there were boys younger than me. That leaves only a few boys who were older than me. Nunchi level zero.
My mom and brother had to bear (and still have to bear) with my nunchilessness. (My dad is equally without nunchi as I.) Thus, when they told me something that had to be kept private, they always had to mention “Hey, don’t tell this to anyone outside the family” because otherwise I couldn’t tell the difference between something that was a secret and something that wasn’t. I still have a hard time differentiating this.
And so, 28 years have passed. I have been slowly gathering information about where and how to have nunchi. This means that the 28-year-old Eli has more nunchi than the 6-year-old Eli.
However, I am thousands of miles away from having the nunchi of a normal Korean person.
Because I had no nunchi, it was barely in my third year of college in Korea that I found out (because someone told me) Korean students consider it rude to ask questions to the professor during lectures. I am naturally a person full of questions, so I had asked countless questions until my junior year in Korea. They must have thought I was a weirdo.
Also, on my fourth year of university, I found out through someone that when a professor or a person in a higher position than you scolds you, you aren’t supposed to look at their face. For four years, whenever a professor scolded us and everyone was looking down, I thought to myself, “Why are they being so rude? They’re just staring at their books! At least I will show respect by looking at the professor.” If I had an ounce of nunchi, I would have looked down at my book too.
The past eight years I have spent in Korea helped expand my nunchi RAM. Before living in Korea, I had a 1GB RAM of nunchi, whereas now I have 2GB. I consider myself upgraded because at least now I am more cautious and ask “Hey, is it ok to do this? Is it having no nunchi if I say this?” to my close friends and family.
The question is: will I ever be able to have a 16GB nunchi RAM like my brother and mom?
As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after Thee;
You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship You.
After an early morning bathroom break, this song came to my mind and I sang it out loud as I lay back in bed. Deep within my soul, this has been my cry. However, instead of acknowledging and seeking after Thee, I have sought other things. Let me explain.
It has been about a month and a few weeks since I came back to my birth country Argentina. After staying in Korea for nearly eight years, I realize now that this is a huge transition.
Part of me wonders what on Earth gave me the guts to come back to Argentina without an Eli-like-planned-manner. I know the answer: my dearest Abba. When I was getting ready to come here and my friends and students in Korea made a big fuzz about me leaving, I only felt their care and love. They seemed to think I was making a big leap. I didn’t think so at the moment. Thus, as I said my goodbyes in Korea, there was only joy in my heart. I was sure God had told me that three years at HIS (the old school I worked at) was it, and my next step should logically be going to Argentina before transitioning into something else. I felt no assurance about the next long step, so I knew I was stepping out into the unknown.
However, if you know me, even when I don’t have a plan, I have a plan. Thus, I set up a system of perfect lies (as all good lies, they were mixed with a lot of truth) for myself.
As all workplaces, my workplace was not perfect. And being an INTJ (we are nicknames as the “masterminds” and “system makers”), it was easy for me to identify, talk, and ask about the problems I perceived at school. And because I was right most of the time (no arrogance intended), I worked myself up to believe I really cared about changing educational systems more than I actually did (proof of this will come later). Thus, I started looking for grad school programs that taught something in relation to educational systems. I found a program I liked because it involved comparative studies of educational systems around the world. I applied to two grad schools that provided this program: Oxford and Stanford.
So, here I was, closing my chapter in Korea, not knowing what will happen next; whether I would get accepted by either university or not, and whether I would have the money to go to either. But I believed this was what I wanted to do.
And now I am in Argentina. Before the disappointing results told me that I didn’t get into either of the universities, I remember lying in bed and asking the question I had not dared ask myself before, “If I really care about comparative education, how come I haven’t researched it or read books about it in all the spare time I have had since I came to Argentina?” I told myself it was because I was so tired.
Then, the rejection emails came. That day stung me like a bee. I felt worthless and stupid. I was embarrassed. Why did I aim so high? Why did I even dream? Maybe this means I shouldn’t dream anymore. Why did I tell so many people to which universities I was applying to? If I hadn’t, this would be less embarrassing. I am sure my Christian friends will tell me “It was God’s will”, but honestly, I feel like it was my incompetence.
Thankfully, I had my parents and cousin to speak Scripture into me on this very same day.
My cousin sent me a compassionate message as well as a passage from Luke where Jesus says that there’s no need to worry about what to wear or eat; just like the lilies in the field.
My parents were secure in God’s plan being good: they reminded me of different figures in the Bible. Moses, who had the calling to take his people out of Egypt took things in his hand prematurely and murdered an Egyptian. He ended up forty years outside of the place he was supposed to rescue his people from. Only forty years later does God communicate His immediate plan for Moses and Israel. Joseph went through major career detours before he ended up being second-in-hand to the Pharaoh.
All these things reminded me of one ringing truth: regardless of my stupidity or intelligence, God has the right to open and close doors as He pleases because it is His story that is being written in my life; not mine.
Thanks to these words and thoughts, I concluded that my dream for doing something educationally meaningful is not a bad nor a fake dream, but that the way I thought it would be played out was not to be. So yes, it’s still a bit embarrassing, but yes, I am eternally grateful to God for stopping this here.
Unbelievably, I was sad about the rejection news for only one day. Yup. One day. The next day, I felt quite good. The immediate image that came to mind is something that happened in Little Women. Laurie, who is best friends with the March family, got on capitally well with one of the four sisters: Jo. And spending so much time with her, he naturally fell in love with her. They had very similar temperaments: rather impulsive, quick to anger, quick to forgive. Jo notices that Laurie has feelings for her and starts avoiding him because she knows their temperaments only click as friends; not lovers. However, Laurie manages to declare his ardent love for her on one afternoon. Jo tenderly tells him that she can’t love him in that way; that he is a precious brother for her. Laurie realizes Jo will not budge in her decision and ends up going to Europe with his grandfather in order to grieve (in his heart, Laurie thinks that he can prove to Jo that he cannot forget her even with this trip). On his trip, Laurie meets and hangs out with one of the March sisters who was also on tour in Europe: Amy. The more he meets her, the less he finds himself drawing sad pictures of the rejection he got from Jo. Before Amy and Laurie know it, they are in love, and Laurie cannot evoke the feelings of a tragic hero any more. In the end Laurie and Jo go back to being good friends.
In a sense, I am Laurie. I thought I was deeply and desperately in love with Comparative and International Education (CIE). Yet as I stay in Argentina, eating meat, being pampered by my loving family, I wasn’t feeling the “tragic hero” feelings I thought would follow after such devastating news as rejection from the only two grad schools I applied to. Don’t get me wrong, I still think CIE is a very interesting and attractive field of study. It’s just that my love for it is not what I worked it up to be.
Now, let’s backtrack a little and remember how I said that even when I don’t have a plan, I have a plan (it’s the INTJ in me)? My second plan behind my grad school plan was applying to other international schools: I could learn even more in a new school environment! Thus, as soon as I received my two rejections, I started hunting for teaching jobs. There was something in me that was uneasy about this, but I still did it indeterminately. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it seemed as though God wanted me to rest.
Internal conversation I’ve had with God about rest:
Me: I have been resting for MONTHS now! Isn’t this enough? Can I get on to doing something meaningful and useful?
Have you REALLY rested? Are you REALLY resting?
Me: No, but it’s my fault because I have been sleeping late and doing nothing much except internet-ing. I have to be a responsible human being! I am almost twenty-eight! I don’t want to be a recipient of my family’s charity for too long. I want independence.
Me: I want them to be proud of me. I don’t want to depend on them.
Me: Because that would prove I am someone.
*imaginarily think God has His eyebrows raised*
Me: …ok. I have some issues.
I didn’t realize I built so many intricate idols in my heart until God started stripping them one by one.
Let me pause here to include a little bit about my physical health and how that plays into this whole thing. Since the end of December 2016, I started having this ringing on one side of the year, and soon the ringing was on both of my ears. The first month made it hard for me to sleep at night, but by now, I am used to this ringing (doesn’t make it any more pleasant, though). I also caught a nasty cold that barely left me about two weeks ago. And from late 2015, I have had this nagging and annoying pain in my right knee. So in the midst of my transition from Korea to Argentina, I brought with me knee pain + cold + ear ringing. Mind you, I am not a grandma, but a woman in her late twenties.
This added to the “What’s wrong with me? I don’t have a job, my body is a mess, I don’t get into grad school. What am I good for? I am that useless?”
Useless. Useful. My idol: usefulness.
I want to be a useful daughter for the Kingdom of God.
I want to adopt a bunch of kids even if I don’t get married.
I want to do something meaningful for education.
I want to make meaningful videos.
They are not bad desires. But the desire to do these things are not coming from my love relationship with God, but from my obsession with being a useful person. God becomes the means to this end. And this is a mindset I must get 100% healing from.
My mom, who is one of the few people who thoroughly knows me, keeps telling me: rest. You need rest. Your body needs rest. Don’t think of getting a job. Just tell me what you want to eat next.
My mom and my aunt (she’s like my second mom), have only been concerned with seeing that the ringing in my ears stop, which means they encourage sleep and eating at all times. And to be honest, I haven’t been doing those two things very faithfully (you got a glimpse of my thought battles above, and these things have made me uneasy about fully resting in my mind, which obviously affects bodily rest).
If my mom and aunt are like this, how much more God desires me to rest in Him?
My heart would be set on “this is a transitional phase… so what’s the next step?” And I know God is telling me that I need to stop thinking of it as a transitional phase because He wants me to be present here and now, walking alongside Him in this time He has given me in Argentina.
One thing I am sure of: all of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction does not come from God. It comes from sin. Sin leaves you craving for more in a way that sucks life out of you. God, once you embrace His Lordship and Fatherhood in your life, lavishes love in innumerable ways in such a way that you crave for more in a way that awakens life in you.
As rotten roots are being purged out of me, I am joyful to see how much unhappiness, uneasiness, guilt, and dissatisfaction are melting away into nothingness.
I think that’s why God is not showing me the “next” step. If I knew it right now, I would “too-faithfully” prepare for it with my 110% in my eagerness to be useful again. God doesn’t need nor want a work-to-death robot. God desires and rejoices in a daughter. I am learning to be a daughter of the King of Kings. This means being ready and joyful to receive rejection, suffering, and mocking from the world. This means giving up my idols of usefulness, and taking up my cross and following after my Savior. This means giving up my dreams of making my family “proud” of me through any kind of accomplishment. This means desiring to know God above all else, of responding to the pursuing Abba has been doing to capture my heart.
DISCLAIMER: If I have painted a perfect portrait of Argentina, let me tell you that I am having a new set of trials here:
-Being back with the family also means looking at their and my sins up close. It aint pretty many times. Judgmental Eli wants to rise up from the ashes too many times. Thank God for the Holy Spirit, who doesn’t allow for Judgmental Eli to judge for too long.
-Church members and some family members (since I left Argentina when I was six, this is my only circle of acquaintance; yet another reason it’s not very easy to transition back to my birth country) ask something along the lines of “So, you’ve been in Korea for eight years. Did you get a boyfriend? Do you have a boyfriend?” And when they hear me say “…no.” They ask very concernedly as though I am a human being who hasn’t thought things through, “DO YOU PLAN ON GETTING MARRIED AT ALL?” To which, if I get the chance, I reply, “Yes, I would like to get married, and I am ok with being single too.” And if I’m in a better mood, I lightly say, “Ha ha! I know, isn’t it so weird that I would never have a boyfriend? Please pray for me!” And we laugh together. On my bad days, I start realizing I am at that age where it’s not cute anymore to be single and be ok about it. So the criticism and the what’s-wrong-with-you and only-weird-personality-people-don’t-have-boyfriends-at-your-age thoughts will only multiply as time goes by. The main question for me is: will I allow those comments affect me more than what God tells me about Him, me, and the real purpose of marriage (showing Christ and the Church)?
-Some days, I feel like the family puts too much pressure on me to eat more; to fatten me up. I know they do this out of love, but it’s hard for me to not eat yummily sometimes what they have prepared to eat. There are times that I eat very well (this brings great joy to all), and days I don’t (this makes everyone concerned).
Conclusion in disclaimer: Compared to the “useful” worries I had back in Korea, these stresses seem so minimal that I realize I have virtually no usefulness and responsibilities required of me here.
I borrowed this post’s title from Relient K’s song “More than Useless”. I loved this song for a long time, and the only thing I’d change in the lyrics is from “do” to “be”. I think Relient K was a bit stuck on the “usefulness” idol like me ^^
Ever since I can remember, I haven’t been the healthiest person on earth. In fact, my cousin jokingly calls me ‘pathetic possum’ or says how I am ‘un producto fallado’ (which means ‘poorly manufactured product’). I agree. So many times I wish I was a healthy, robust person who would have to worry about losing weight instead of worrying about having enough energy to survive the day.
One of my first health diagnoses came from this slight pain I felt at the chest. I told my mom about it. I told her, “Me duele el corazon (my heart hurts)” quite literally. She took me for a check-up, and it turned out I had something called prolapso leve de la válvula mitral (mild prolapse of the mitral valve). It means that there are times when my valve doesn’t close properly and old blood is mixed with the new one, causing that pain of the chest. It’s usually not fatal or very serious. It just means I will have a slightly annoying life because when I am tired, stressed, or just suddenly, this can happen:
-difficulty breathing after some strenuous activity or after lying down
Thus, it is recommended that I don’t perform activities that cause much stress or accelerates my heartbeat, and that also means it’s better to avoid caffeine. Because when my heart rate does go up, I am more prone to fainting and pain at the chest.
Add to this the fact that I am anemic, with usually very low blood pressure. And I have been underweight since I was about five years old.
Not surprisingly, I got sick quite often as I grew up. Staying home due to illness was common for me. Thankfully, my mom was always a very caring and generous nurse, so my days of sickness always passed with great comfort.
Most (if not all) times I got sick I would end up crying out of frustration. I wanted to stop ailing. I wanted to be healthy. Why couldn’t I perform physical education activities like the rest of my peers? Why did I always get tired more easily? Why did I suddenly feel dizzy?
My cousin, the one who teases me by calling me a pathetic possum, was also one of the best in understanding my health situation. She didn’t make a big deal out of it yet was extremely considerate of my condition. When we went out together, she knew how even a small bag could become a huge weight for me and carried all my things herself. When she noticed I was lagging behind, she would stop, make me sit somewhere, and buy me a bottle of Coke. Then she would sit next to me and joke about this whole situation. This made me feel comfortable and thankful at the same time.
Also, the day my mom and I found out about my diagnosis of mild prolapse, when we told my brother, he nonchalantly made small jokes about it. But I distinctly noticed that after that, he tried to upset me a lot less than before (and that’s saying a lot about a brother!).
I consider myself lucky to have such a great family that didn’t make my health infirmities a weird thing, but just dealt with it naturally.
Now I am almost 28 years old and my health problems have gotten more diverse. My right knee has been bothering me since the end of 2015 and no doctor seems to know what’s the problem with it. It can swell up every now and then, palpitate, and hurt a lot if I walk more than ten blocks. And for about 3 weeks, my ears have been ringing and I can’t hear properly. I have had acute bronchitis twice, had severe nosebleed for a whole semester (in 2011), and the list goes on.
One big improvement, though, is that I get sick big-time only once or twice a year (usually with fever, vomiting, body-ache, coughing involved). Also, it’s been about a year since I don’t feel like fainting. My heart hurt every now and then, and I know that’s an indication for me to take a chill pill.
I believe my body being so pathetically easy to get sick has been a way to stop me from doing all the things I wanted to do, think about, and accomplish. Because all of the above mentioned health problems have always brought with them a new resolution for taking a new kind of chill pill.
Case Study 1: The Nose-bleeding Semester of 2011
At that time I was making my documentary Welcome to My Life, so I was filming a lot and thinking a lot.
In addition, I was the T.A. for two professors, I babysat, I was a part of three life groups, I was in charge of my church’s Children’s Ministry, I made videos for my church and my dorm hall, and I took 19 credits.
Thus, every day, I would wake up to a nose-bleed. The first ones lasted one to five minutes. But as the semester passed, the nosebleeds got increasingly longer.
On a day that was supposed to be a holiday, I was getting ready to film something for my dorm hall, and again, the nosebleed happened. Except this time it wouldn’t stop. So I grabbed a big piece of tissue, stuck it to my nose, grabbed my camera, and met the person who had asked me to make the video. I explained to him how to use the camera and told him to film it himself because my nosebleed wouldn’t stop. So I stayed in my room for about thirty minutes and since it wouldn’t stop, I went out in the hall to see if there was a friend that could help me. By this time, I felt very light-headed and couldn’t think straight. My friend was fortunately in her room and tried helping me with whatever she knew to do. She prayed for me, and since it wouldn’t stop, she decided it was time to go to the nurse. We went to her, and she was a very sweet lady who sympathized with me for being a foreigner with no parents in Korea, and told me to hold my nose in a certain way for quite some time. Thus, after an hour and thirty minutes, my nosebleed stopped. The nurse said that I should drink a lot of grape juice to help with this.
I tried being more careful for the rest of the semester, but since my schedule was so crazy, I still had my daily nosebleed. Still, now I knew how to hold my nose to stop the flow and started drinking lots of grape juice. I vowed to take a chill pill in the number of activities I did the next semester.
After some kind of health incident, I always vouch to take a chill pill. But it seems like every time I thought I took a chill pill, I could have taken a bigger chill pill. And my life’s journey so far has been about learning to take chill pills because of my body’s malfunctioning. And I admit that was it not for my physical infirmities, I would have been a much more merciless person to myself and others. My initial and natural responses to the different times I was ailing was to rebuke myself or tell myself to suck it up and move on.
However, due to the nature of things like low-blood pressure, which doesn’t really allow for much energy, I couldn’t pick myself up and I couldn’t perform the feats I wanted to. And thus many inner battles ensued. I found out, in these battles, that a constant idol that pops up inside of me is that of Efficiency. I want to be an efficient person who is useful and productive (And I want and expect everyone to be efficient too, ahem). Even my free time must be productive. For those who know me closely, you know what I mean.
Now we come to 2016, when I really felt like I was taking chill pills right and left. I only stayed working in school until late at night around ten times this whole year. That, for me, was a great accomplishment. When I left school, I left school-related thoughts there. This differed greatly from the Eli who was consumed with how to improve her teaching night and day from 2013 to 2015. Not only this, but I gave up on being “efficient” for Kingdom of God work. I asked God to send me people and circumstances, and I would be faithful to that; I would not seek to make something work by my own power. And fair enough, God filled up my week with meaningful encounters. I was a part of different life groups and it was in a non-intense way. This was good, right? I was a good girl who didn’t over-do things, right?
But the end of the year came, and my ears started ringing, my knee kept hurting, and I became frustrated. What did I do wrong that made me ill? Did I not take enough chill pills this year? I mean, I knew I was being stretched socially because literally every day was filled with people to meet, listen and talk to, and to teach. Could it be that this stressed me to the point that my ears were malfunctioning? But it is terrible timing to hurt! I need this time to totally focus on applying for grad school, something I couldn’t focus on wholeheartedly because of the above-mentioned reasons.
But I believe it was perfect timing to get ill (not that the illness itself is good). Because once again I needed to take a chill pill and even do my grad school application one day at a time; layering off the inner fears of not being good enough for the schools I applied for, centering my heart and mind on my Creator. Had I been super healthy right now, I would have been off my chill pill medication and gone off on an intense I-need-to-get-to-grad-school mode.
As much as I don’t enjoy being a ‘pathetic possum’, I know even this is God’s grace for me to learn to enjoy the life He freely gives one step at a time. It gives me time to pause and acknowledge that I depend on Him for sustenance. It makes me humble in realizing that just as I constantly struggle with physical weakness, there are others who suffer a psychological, emotional, spiritual weakness which I might not understand fully. And we can all seek the same Father who wants to heal us and comfort us with confidence that He will bring us to greater realizations than the ones we have today. Because more of Him means more freedom, truth, and love.
My nickname from 5th grade to 12th grade was Halmoni – La Abue (which means ‘grandma’). My classmates came up with this nickname for me because I was a year older than most of them, but I think the primary reason this nickname stuck was because I was such an old soul.
I would say things like:
“Dear, please do not copy that homework. Give this to me and I will help you complete it yourself. C’mon, it’s better to do it yourself. You will actually learn.”
“I don’t understand why you’d want to go to a night club. It’s so noisy, smoky, and it must smell terrible. Staying at home makes more sense.”
Then, I came to college. And I didn’t tell anyone my nickname had been grandma. But lo and behold, soon enough people started calling me halmoni too!
Then, I started my first job in Seoul. By the end of the first week, my boss and co-workers called me halmoni.
So until yesterday night, I thought my halmoni spirit had been with me since 5th grade. However, reading over my 2nd grade report card proved me wrong (read the last sentence of the report card):
Highly respected by her friends.
I don’t know why, but the idea that my 2nd grade teacher took notice and wrote the words ‘highly respected’ about a 2nd grade student in her class was just so funny. How halmoni-like must I have acted that I was regarded with high respect amongst my peers?
Evidence now shows that symptoms of my halmoni-ness showed since at least 2nd grade.
A silly dream of mine has always been to explain something about myself in a simple one-sentence format.
Because usually my answers can’t be simple:
Where are you from?
Argentina. But my parents are Koreans who aren’t missionaries who decided to go live in Paraguay when I was six, BUT I still identify myself with Argentina the most because I went there during almost every vacation, and retained its accent and basic culture.
What’s your first language?
English is my academic language, Spanish is the easiest to pronounce and easiest to use when I’m emotionally up or down, and Korean is great to mix here and there. I have no first language.