[Jinsol] grabs her DSLR and ushers Jeary into a spot in front of her; she takes several photos of him with the Charles river as a beautiful backdrop, reassuring him that no one but her will see the photos. She tells him to be candid and he does so. I take a moment to just watch – Jinsol giggling as she puts the camera to her face; Jeary smiling cheekily behind his sunglasses.
I should have known that she would turn to me and call my name but a part of me thought myself safe, that Jinsol would be content with just pictures of Jeary, so I stay where I am, filming the two of them and their photoshoot, hidden safely behind my camera. Yet, she turns to me and gives me the same instructions to stand on a certain spot as she did with Jeary and I comply without hesitation, a small seed of pleasure bubbling up in my chest.
I’m not camera shy (more because I don’t know how to not people please and when people want to take a picture I feel rude refusing) but I’m not a happy photo subject either – I prefer to take pictures of myself rather than have others take pictures of me…more control; less unwanted exposure. But, I’ve been to enough places with Jinsol to be used to her pointing the camera at me and for the first time, I’m completely comfortable as I pose in front her. I don’t feel embarrassed; I don’t feel ashamed; I don’t feel worried about covering up whatever blemish I might have on my face or fixing any awkward wrinkle in my outfit – I just stand there and smile and wait expectantly for her to capture the moment. Because, I’m finally starting to trust that the world (or at least Jinsol and my community of friends) isn’t always out to tear me apart, point out every flaw I have, and critique me based on what I look like on the surface. And, also understanding that even if that’s the case, it doesn’t matter what shows up on camera – it’s what God sees that defines me.
Nevertheless, Jinsol loves on me in a way that makes me trust her, to know that she wants to take pictures of me, not to make me uncomfortable, but to show me I’m beautiful.
1 Samuel 16:7 | The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
[Stone] and I are arguing again when he says something that sends me into a rage; I so adamantly want to refute one of his statements that a stream of curse words slip out in my attempts to show him that he’s wrong. I rarely curse (I’m still in the process of trying to understand the biblical case against cursing so for the time being, I refrain from it in public as I know it’s frowned upon…bottom line, I never curse in front of people). I’m appalled as I realize how frustrated I am at him and how unable I am to control my words as I lash out with biting, hurtful intent. I hide my face behind my hands, utterly humiliated over the fact that Stone is seeing all the ugly parts of me – the angry, resentful, crass, and unforgiving Rebecca.
Days later when the memory resurfaces as I’m praying, I cringe as I realize that that wasn’t just the ugly part of me – that was the real me. Pastor Charles’s words resound in my head: stress, hardship and frustrating circumstances don’t make you into an angry person; it reveals your anger. Stress doesn’t make you a terrible person; it reveals who you truly are – a broken, sinful human being. We’re hateful, anger-prone, unforgiving people to begin with. The moments where I am able to display grace and patience and forgiveness – that is all by Jesus’s grace, not by my own strength and nature. At the crux of it all, the real me is the wicked personality that fought with Stone on the train back to Philly, not the composed, thoughtful, and gracious Rebecca that everyone else sees.
The thought absolutely breaks me and for a second I am utterly devastated. “I hate that Rebecca,” I tell the Lord. “She’s so ugly,” I think and I want to curl up in a ball and hide. But, the Lord tenderly points me to the cross and reminds me, “I see none of that. I only see Christ’s righteousness in you.” It confounds the crap out of me; it makes me cry in relief and sorrow; it gives me hope – that as ugly of a person I am, yet, I am still loved by a beautiful God.
Psalm 51:17 | My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
[Jessica] It is drizzling as we head back to South Station to pick up our things when we pass by a homeless man. He is huddled with his back to the wall, his stuff around him, a cardboard sign in front of him. I ignore him and charge forward, focused on getting to my destination when I realize that Jess is no longer next to me. I look back and find her stalled on the sidewalk; she looks at me with a strange expression on her face, as if she’s lost something. I move back towards her, questioning why she’s stopped and she motions for me to wait after a half second of contemplation and goes back towards the homeless man. I watch her bend down and hold her umbrella over him, offering it to him. I feel something in my heart move as I watch the bright cerulean blue of her umbrella twirl brightly in the rain, such a stark contrast to the gray that colored that day. The man hesitates for a second; I see Jess reassure him to take it; he takes it, and she makes her way back to me. We make the rest of our way back, arms latched together, sharing my umbrella as she contemplates whether she should buy another one since it’s predicted to rain again Sunday.
There was a verse I read a month ago that cut me to the heart:
Luke 11:42 | Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.
I read it and wept because I felt like I wasn’t pursing justice. I was reading my bible, praying, going to church, serving but when I examined my heart, I wasn’t doing it because I love justice and love God. I was doing it because I just knew it was the right thing to do, and I did it out of obligation, therefore effectively negating any goodness that I accomplished through my works. And, because I am a naturally critical and judgmental person, I became embittered towards my church as I saw only the surface level actions that my community partook in. I saw next to no one serving the homeless outside of Bethesda ministry. I rarely saw people step out of their comfort zone to welcome a newcomer. I saw the lack of diversity in our church, the lack of people’s classmates and coworkers showing up to our bible studies and services. I saw people cozy and happy, hanging out with each other in their free time, and my heart became hard and angry. Why are we not pursuing justice? Why are we not intentionally sharing our faith? Why are we so happy in the comforts of our church community when the community around us is starving, freezing, and grieving? The more I judged my community, the more I hated myself – because I know that I am just as comfortable; I am just as complacent; I am just as oblivious to the crap that goes on in this world – and worse, when I do know, I do nothing about it. I pray about it for a few days, forget, remember months later, repeat, and hate myself for it. “When are we ever going to change?” I cry out to the Lord.
I remember Jessica’s umbrella and her steadfast servant’s heart when she showed up to Bethesda, My Brother’s House homeless ministry every month, back when she was in Philly. I remember her expressing her desire to use architecture to help impoverished populations. I remember her asking Joyce if she can sleep on the couch instead of the air mattress provided for us because she knows that I don’t sleep well when I share a bed and refuses to share with me, even though I insist I’ll be okay, and I feel incredibly humbled and lucky to be in the presence of such an older sister in Christ.
When I see intentionality like that, when I see self sacrifice like hers, it reminds me that just because I don’t see this everywhere, all the time in my community, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We’re broken people, fixed in our ways and slow to change, unwilling to break up our rhythms of life to serve others. But, we try. We’re trying. And, I think for the Lord, that is enough, that is all He needs to manifest His glory in our weakness. So that when we do get it right, when we do manage to do something for His kingdom, all glory goes to Him. We can’t boast about anything – only about our unwillingness and botched attempts to do good. That’s all we have to offer and He knows that – and so He tells me, “grace. I have grace for you.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 | But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
[Jeary] tells me about his job and I feel envy fill my belly as he informs me that he’s interviewing for his dream job the following Wednesday. I ask him how he got into his current job industry and marvel as he shares with me the story of how God threw him a curveball and curtailed his plans to get him to where he is now. There’s genuine excitement and nervousness in his voice as he expresses his desire to grow in his career and his wishes to help support his family back in Korea. When he asks where I’m at with my job situation, I feel that familiar feeling of inadequacy and insecurity as I explain to him that I haven’t really been job searching because I don’t even know what I want to do. Nevertheless, I share my tentative plans with him and tell him of the rollercoaster of options and paths that I’ve sifted through, only to still feel incredibly lost and confused.
All that being said, there is still an insurmountable amount of peace that accompanies me in nearly every waking moment (don’t get me wrong: there are moments where I blink and think “what in the world are you doing, what have you got yourself into, you’re screwed, you’re absolutely screwed,” but those are thankfully far and few in between). Peace follows me to Boston; Jesus walks with me on the cobblestone streets and presents Himself in the refreshing chill of the rain, in the coziness of the cafe that Jessica and I hide in, in the testimony of Jeary’s college and young adult career, in the silent and humble servitude of Joyce who hosts me, in the caring, rebuking, and encouraging words of Stone as he older brothers me on various subjects, in the excitement of Jinsol’s laughter and it seems like all is right in the world, in the copious amounts of ice cream and sweets I consume in my inability to control my sweet tooth, in the sun rays that warmed the Saturday in which we biked along the Charles, in the music that plays on my Spotify playlist that can move me to tears, in the gradient violet blues of the sunset that race my train home. Nothing is a given in this world; none of this I deserve, yet I have, and it is the Lord’s way of showing me: “Everything I have is yours. I have plans for you, child, so do not fret; do not fear; for I am with you.”
Romans 8:28 | And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
[home] I am sitting on Cathy’s futon, absentmindedly listening to her and Sophia catch up when I feel that familiar peace press into me. I watch Cathy folding her laundry and observe Sophia wrapped up in the blankets and think to myself: Philly is home. Boston is wonderful and charming and a whimsically beautiful escapade, but there’s no doubt about it; Philly is home, Philly is home. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
Thank you, Jesus, for going before me and behind me.