Do you see what I see?

Perception is a funny thing. We all have perceptions of people and things, but our perceptions can be slanted or incomplete based on our contexts and how well we know a person.

For example, tonight I was hanging out doing dumb but fun online quizzes with the middle schooler with whose family I live. We looked up how romantic we were, what color our brains were and so on. On one of these quizzes, we had to pick an occupation out of a limited list. Since the quiz offered nothing journalism related, I chose the most preferable option on the short list: realtor. After I clicked the box, my friend Hannah referred to the options and said, “Really? I would’ve chosen military for you.”

What?! Anyone who knows me well will know I hate war and am not athletic. As a creative person who has never fit in with any one group, I also prefer to work outside the established boundaries, unlike the strict and formal military culture where, to my knowledge, orders are always followed as given.

I expressed why I would not work in the military, and Hannah admitted that she probably thought that because of my hair. (Half of it is shaved.) Because we’re still getting to know each other, Hannah supposed that out of my limited occupation options, I’d choose the military. She perceived this based this on my appearance. It’s understandable but also inaccurate.

I think it’s safe to say that we should hold off making judgments based on our initial perceptions of people! Let’s explore this a bit more now—let’s look into contexts.

After we had satisfied our slap-happiness with online quizzes, I went on Facebook to show Hannah a picture, and as I scrolled to find it, she saw a picture of me from the Office of Multicultural Development’s spring banquet. I was wearing a pale rose colored dress and playing an inflatable guitar next to one of my best friends in his snazzy suit and shades. Hannah was surprised to see me in a pink dress and said she couldn’t picture it.

“What do you picture me wearing?” I queried. I love dresses! The picture seemed natural to me.

“Sweats. Jeans maybe,” she replied.

I realized that whenever I see Hannah, I’m at home, and when I’m at home, I crash and am comfortable bumming out. I don’t have to perform like I do at my internship; at home I can wear my ugly sweater, and nobody will care. While I enjoy dressing up, I also enjoy dressing down afterwards, and since Hannah and I only interact in the latter context, her perception of me was slanted.

Let me be clear: Hannah’s a dear. She’s amazing, funny and smart. Together we laughed till she cried. We “died” by laughter at least five times in the space of a few hours.

But as I reflected on the night, I realized her perceptions about me were incomplete and rather one-sided—through no fault of her own but because we’re still new friends and only operate in the context of her house after I’m off work.

Perceptions can be slanted based on our context and based on appearances. People may perceive someone with arched eyebrows as judgmental. In reality, the woman may simply not be aware of the attitude her plucking job conveys. Hair color, attire, makeup, and an assortment of other physical characteristics cause us to perceive people in certain ways, some positive and others negative. I won’t break them down here, but I will add that our most obvious perceptions or judgments may be based on skin color, since that’s probably the first attribute we notice about a person, whether we can verbalize that or not.

To see is to perceive something with our eyes. Judgments follow soon thereafter. We would be wise to hold off these judgments until we know people better since first and even second impressions are never complete.

What do you see when you look at a person?

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Connecting people across racial lines

According to Gallup Strengths Finder, my number one strength is connectedness. Months after taking the Strengths test, I am beginning to realize how true that is. I love connecting people to each other!

For example, I found joy in introducing my friends Sarah Han and Sara Hahne to each other and seeing their reactions as they finally met the other girl on their campus for whom they are always confused. When my Honduran-American friend visited me at Wheaton, I introduced her to my friend who was a missionary kid in Honduras for most of her life, and they conversed in Spanish while I stood back and watched, glad they could speak their home languages together.

Throughout my life, I have felt like a mediator. I was never part of the “in” crowd, but I had good relationships with adults, and I could reach out to the new kids at school. I connected with the outcasts and the lonely. In my freshman year of college, one friend described the main group on my dorm floor as being a pack of wolves. She called herself a lone wolf. I was in between, connecting with both sides, she said. I was pleased at this and thought of myself as a mediator because I do not like to leave out anyone.

Perhaps there is a difference between mediating and connecting, but we can consider that another time. For now, I want to share who I would most love to connect.

Most of my friends now are from the Office of Multicultural Development, a hub and “home” for minority and third culture kids at Wheaton College, IL. Everyone is welcome, regardless of race or culture, which is why I hang out there all the time despite being a White American.

Since I am a White person involved with minority issues, I hope I am in a position to mediate between the majority and the minorities. Perhaps White people will listen to me when I say that #blacklivesmatter because they may be more comfortable around me. Once this trust is established and conversations on race have begun, I can urge them to talk to minorities about minority issues since I am not one myself and have not had the same experiences. I can connect the two parties and help integrate our school into a more harmonious place for the glory of God.

As time passes, I increasingly realize how much joy I find in connecting two people or parties. I love when they are delighted to know each other. I love seeing people make their own connections, and I am glad when they become acquaintances or friends. Something clicks, and I am thrilled.

Why am I writing this today? For one, I did not want to study for finals. Secondly, I was reflecting on the joy of connectedness. Thirdly, as I wrote, I realized that I long for unity and harmony in the world.

Because of Christ Jesus, Christians of all cultures and races can attain this. He has made us one in Him. I especially long to see people of differing cultures and races connect and unite, whether they be East Asians and New Englanders, Blacks and Whites in the States, Puerto Ricans and African Americans, or people of the same race but differing socializations or cultures. We all have some form of common ground, and this commonality is what connects us. When people connect, opportunity abounds for Jesus to be shared and glorified. After all, He is the great Mediator connecting the world to God!

Today I write because am happy and because I hope someone will read this and consider branching out of his or her comfort zone and to make new friends of a different race, culture or background who can challenge and love him or her well.

People have so much to give.

Words of wisdom from my Connecticut graduation

“Life has many blessings; cherish them. Maintaining loving relationships and enjoying the basic things of life are more important than wealth.” -Ms. Cookie Yopp

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Lately I’ve been missing Connecticut, the state in which I was socialized, and some dear people there such as my second family, the Vecchios. While enjoying the warming temperatures at Wheaton, I’ve been reminiscing on sunny Saturday mornings spent at the Cheshire High School track cheering for Dad’s long distance runners. I’ve also been remembering the importance of some things I learned more recently in another place that shaped me: Denver, where I learned the importance of introspection and rest.

Today I am enforcing those disciplines for the few hours I have free. After church and brunch, I returned to my room to relax and do some crafts, exhausted from being with so many people all week and having to talk every hour. While delving into my craft supplies, I found old cards from my high school graduation.

“We’re proud of you,” my friends, cousins, aunts and uncles wrote. They told me they loved me and that I am welcomed and amazing. They also encouraged me to keep pursuing Jesus.

I do not repeat their comments out of pride but rather out of a deep sense of amazement that I could be so loved. I thrive on words of affirmation and also need to keep hearing them to remember the truth about who I am. Someone saying “I’m proud of you” has a crazy impact on me. Reading my friends’ notes about my talents encouraged me, and nearly everybody brought their point back to God: Follow His ways. Trust Him. Love Him.

I’d like to share from these graduation cards some words of wisdom similar to the proverb at the top. Please be encouraged and amazed at how mighty God is.

“As long as you remember to keep God a vital part in your life, you really can’t go wrong.” -Rachel Wittman

“The enemy trembles at your advance, because you and Jesus are one, and your love for Him is greater than all else…Keep your lion-like boldness and let your dreams know no boundaries, because you have seen that with God, nothing is impossible.” -Erica Kyne

“(The Lord) has a plan and a path for your life. Be sensitive to His leading.” -Mr. and Mrs. Harris

“(God) will never let you down!” -cousins Kelly and Mike Heckman

“Hold on to your faith and you will go far in life.” -Jessica Bennett (my French prez)

“This is an exciting time for you, and God will guide you every step of the way.” -Aunt Theresa Boyes

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” -2 Chronicles 15:7 (from Aunt Sue and Uncle Tom Gerace)

“Just remember that you don’t have to have it all figured out and you’ll never be alone with God by your side. Don’t get overwhelmed; let God handle the decisions. And HAVE FUN! Enjoy life and remember it only comes once (on earth!)” -Sarah Bennett (the friend, not cousin)

With this in mind, have a restful Sunday and a Spirit-led rest of the year! (I say that as a college student nearing the end of my second undergraduate year, unsure of what comes next.)

In God’s grace,

Skye

“But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” -Relient K

Not all Americans are White

When I was talking about an acoustic Kinyarwanda song I had heard, acoustic being the style in which I write as a musician, my dad asked if the singer was Rwandan (as opposed to American).

“I believe so. He didn’t look American,” I replied, adding, “Or sound American.”

In that moment, I realized I had thought and voiced a horrible stereotype: that American equals White. I did not address it then but moved on to address some other aspect of the song. However, I was convicted and later felt ashamed, especially because I had voiced this in the presence of my black American friend.

I know that Americans are composed of people from all different races and ethnicities: African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and of course Native Americans; Blacks, Browns and Whites; citizens originally from India, Lithuania, Nigeria and Paraguay — the list goes on. They are all American.

It sounds obvious when I say it, but do we think that way? Obviously something in me did not. Why was that?

Only 62.6 to 77.7% of American citizens are White, with 17.1% being Hispanic or Latino and Blacks and African Americans rank next highest at 13.2%. The rest of the population is composed of Asians, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and people of two or more races.

In 2013, at the time of these statistics, 41,777, 674 Americans were Black or African American. Let me spell that out, literally, so it sinks in: Forty-one million, seven hundred and seventy-seven thousand and six hundred and seventy-four Americans are Black. Not White.

I know that conviction from the Holy Spirit is good but that guilt and shame comes from the devil. Thus, now that I recognize how I was wrong, I know I should not dwell on what I so unthinkingly said. My thinking was wrong. Now that I’m aware that I have sometimes equated American to White, I must humble myself before God and humankind and pray that God will work to break the incorrect stereotypes I’ve internalized throughout my life. I pray He will fulfill them with something more complete.

 

~~~

 

As an aside to answer my father’s question, the man in the music video was indeed Rwandan. His name is Luc Buntu, and he’s from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. According to his Twitter, he’s a worship leader, song writer and recording artist. The specific song to which I listened is titled “Ntutinye,” found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZwmC4a8KRE.

~~~

Map found at “Most common ancestries in the United States” by Applysense – Map from Blank USA by Lokal Profil.Information and colors from USMapCommonAncestry2000.PNG by Porsche997SBS, who sourced the info from Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County.svg.Combined by Applysense.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Most_common_ancestries_in_the_United_States.svg#/media/File:Most_common_ancestries_in_the_United_States.svg

Beauty in the Broken: I Have Worth

“She has great worth, and he saw that in her.” My best friend Annabelle’s mom spoke this about one of her daughter’s best friends and that girl’s boyfriend, but I immediately thought, “Someday somebody will say that about me.”

This summer I have been learning that I have worth, value, and beauty. God used my time in Denver with my mentor Melanie and the Denver Urban Semester (DUS)/ Issachar community to begin healing my heart from half a lifetime of not believing who God says I am — a woman of “beauty beyond measure,” as my friend Blake told me, and someone with great worth.

If I took the time to reflect on my friends outside of school during secondary school or my friends from senior year and a few others, I am sure I could compile a lengthy list of people who loved me and appreciated me. However, I never felt as if I truly belonged until I was out of my former school environment and in college. I never searched my heart and put to words my feelings about not believing I had worth until this summer in DUS.

Although I know my female friends have affirmed and accepted me this past year and in previous years, I receive the messages better from males. I do not know why male affirmation appears more significant and believable to me than that of females, but my brain and heart work that way. Hence, I would like to note and thank several guy friends who have especially revealed my worth to me.

Niles, Lauren, and I after the hospital day

Niles, me and our friend Lauren. Photo credit: Millie Cline

Niles McConnell sees such treasure in me. He said I am his friend, and for him to let someone in like that is significant. He sees me as a woman, and he informed me that my love for God is obvious and uncommon, which is the highest praise I could desire. Niles’ refrain of “You’re the woman, Skye” boosted my confidence this summer. When we spent a day at the hospital because of his hand injury, he encouraged and affirmed me without my asking, and he asked me questions about myself, contributing to what ironically became one of the best days of my summer in Denver. I know that Niles cares about me because of how intently he listens to me and asks hard questions. I am honored to know a man like Niles, for he loves our God and his Eastside and lives so purely for Jesus.

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Brandon and I decorating cookies last summer. Photo credit: Mrs. Wallis

Brandon Wallis is one of my best friends. He lives in Connecticut, “back home,” although we know each other from RBGY Camp. We have been friends for about seven years, and we have grown especially close in the past one or two. Brandon “gets” me, which is rare. He trusts me and opens up to me more and more each time we are together, subtly affirming my worth. Honestly, I am simply grateful that he trusts me and calls me one of his best friends.

Brandon and I are like the same person in some aspects such as our unique movie tastes (we love Barbie movies) and enjoyable pastimes. We make beautiful music together, color in coloring books and spend time doing other odd and creative recreations, laugh and have fun anytime we hang out, and talk about deep things and about life in general. I feel comfortable wearing sweats or pajamas around him, yet his making me comfortable no matter what makes me want to dress up sometimes. Basically, I always feel beautiful around him. I love Brandon and thank God for strengthening our friendship in recent years.

The Liar with Josh Fort, Shinyoung, and Ili

From L to R: Josh Fort, Shinyoung Kim, Iliana Rivera, and me at Arena Theater’s performance of The Liar. Photo Credit: a girl who lived in Fischer Hall

Josh Fort encourages me by saying how I encourage him, which I find ironically humorous. He takes care of me by making sure I do not eat lactose and that I get rest; he notices when I am not my usual, cheerful self; and he knows who that normal, healthy self is. The fact that he knows who I am stands out most to me. It demonstrates that he knows my value and inner beauty.

I am also incredibly grateful for Josh’s compassion, how he is always a phone call away for either an emergency or to hang out, and for his kind care for me. Several times this summer, I thought of how Josh takes care of me and how he is one of my top four closest friends at Wheaton College, and this makes me believe he is one of my best friends as well. Finally, Josh is forgiving. I have cried with him over my sin, and our relationship has burgeoned since then; may all praise be to God.

Maurice Bokanga

Maurice Bokanga in his noble hat. Photo Credit: unknown; stolen from his Facebook page

I can cry on my friend Maurice Bokanga’s shoulder. He understands why I walk in the snowdrifts instead of on the sidewalk, and we build each other up in our faith by encouraging each other to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He makes me laugh, and I trust him. My trusting someone on a deep level means a lot, incidentally.

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Samuel and I goofing off. Photo credit: us 😉

Samuel Kim, another friend from Wheaton, also “gets” me. When he asks how I am, he honestly cares. His care makes me feel incredibly valued. Samuel and I have shared laughter, serious conversations, tears and prayers, and spicy birthday Thai food. (I had to bring that up, Samuel.)

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Shinyoung and I. Photo credit: Shinyoung Kim

Other times this summer when I thought about times I truly felt valued, I repeatedly remembered eating at the Stupe with Shinyoung Kim, a new friend at Wheaton. I remember sharing some childhood story in which he was honestly interested. He intently looked at me as I shared memories and was not bored by me. I bring this memory to mind when I need to remember that people actually want to listen to me and care about what I say.

I am also grateful for my other DUS brothers and everyone else who has shown me my worth by telling me of my value and beauty, caring for me, praying with and for me, listening to me, simply liking who I am and not being judgmental, hugging me and working through the causes of my tears. God used you gentlemen on my road to healing, to believing who Jesus says I am and who He made me to be. I love you, my friends, and I thank you from the center of my heart.

On Mr. Harris and Frail Bodies

Whenever Mr. Franklin Harris snoozes at church, I wonder if the ninety-five year old man with whom I sit will awake again. He is a wonderful example of someone who loves Jesus, and he brims with wisdom. His body is frail, though.

He recognizes his disability consisting of his inability to stand for long and his use of a walker. Mr. Harris is more hunched than my grandma was, and she went from being a tall woman to one under five feet. Every week I half expect to hear news of Mr. Harris’s passing simply because he is so aged and frail. Seeing him nod off again today reminded me that these bodies in which we live are only shells.

oikos psychou

The body is

a shell.

Soon it will be empty

like a hermit

crab.

Where will your soul

go?

Every time Mr. Harris mentions his heart surgery from a few years back, current doctor appointments, or his frail body, he turns those same sentences into clauses worshipping His Creator. Week after week he reminds me, “God is good.”

Mr. Harris doesn’t know why he remained alive after his heart surgery but to glorify God and share Jesus for a little while longer.

Mr. Harris reminded me of God’s faithfulness when I was grieving my aunt’s death last month. I asked him how to grieve properly, and he replied that he had a wife years and years ago who died, and his second wife also passed away. He clearly knows heartache, but the Sunday I asked about grief, he recognized God’s faithfulness in the midst of pain.

Whenever my ninety-five year old friend leaves this earth, I will rejoice that he will have left pain and heartache behind. He will meet his Savior, Jesus Christ, and see God’s face for all of eternity. I will grieve my loss, not his.

He has been excited about knowing Jesus and has been faithful to God since he was a child going to saw-dust and chair-lined revival meetings with his mother. Today he told me that he was excited about Jesus then and wanted to tell his friends about Him, and he said that still has not stopped.

Mr. Harris points every conversation back to God, and I know that when his soul leaves his bodily shell, rejoicing will ensue. I will grieve him as I would a dear friend or close family member, but my soul will be delighted for him, wishing I could go as well.