Musings

Travel: What It Means by Amanda Liew

Travel.

Over the past few years my travels have defined me in ways I could never expect.

I've begun to see my trips as markers along my path purely because of how much each trip has taught me -- how I changed after I studied abroad, how my perspective on solitude changed during my first real solo trip. It's taught me a different kind of self confidence, how to interact with strangers, how to be satisfied with solitude, how to be flexible, the list goes on. 

It's also taught me how to appreciate "home."

2015 was filled with Australia, Jordan, National Parks, and 17 European cities. To say the least, it was a whirlwind. When I came back, though, I made a different kind of New Years Resolution: "to grow deeper roots."

To me, that meant spending more time in New York City & deepening my roots in my faith, my relationships, my job, and my community.

It has been a beautiful year of exactly that: growing roots deep. After 8 months of limiting myself to a few domestic trips here and there, in 3 short days I embark on my first international trip of the year: Iceland. I feel that familiar sense of excitement tingling in my stomach, my wanderlust ready to burst out, my eyes already imagining incredible photographic shots, and more.

To add to the excitement even more, this trip is the first time I get to share my love for travel with my wonderful boyfriend, Caleb. We joked at the beginning of our relationship that there were different "versions" of ourselves - Party Caleb, Outdoorsy Caleb, California Amanda, Get Down to Business Amanda, and more. A beautiful part of our relationship has been discovering new sides of each other, and finally, finally...Travel Amanda gets to step into her element. And with that, I get to share an extremely important aspect of my life.

Travel on.

Giving Away Money That Isn’t Mine by Amanda Liew

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I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I pretty much popped out of the womb a self-motivated child, and hit the ground running ever since. Add in some casual immigrant we-moved-to-this-country-so-you-could-have-it-all motivation and some school teachings that you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be, and there you have it: a deeply ingrained work ethic and attitude towards accomplishment. And so, I’ve run the race non-stop for 23 years. While by no means have I even come close to the finish line, I’ve crossed quite a few great milestones since I began: a good school, a good job, a good salary. Or really, since A + B = C, it seems like the real milestone is a good salary in the end.

When I view my money as something I earned, due to my oh-so-hard-work in both my education and my career, it becomes something I deserve. And when something is deserved, it’s really quite hard to part with. But here lies the problem, because it goes a little further than that, and it automatically turns giving into a zero-sum game. Every dollar that I give to a charity or someone in need is automatically a dollar less that I have for myself. It’s a pretty basic concept of removing something from my pot and putting it into someone else’s. And let’s be honest, no matter how much we try to be generous and how much we want to give, that’s pretty hard. Charity projects try to spin it in a good light, like “Oh, just give up coffee once a week and make a tiny sacrifice to donate that amount instead!”, but in the end, that’s still taking hard-earned money out of your pot and putting it somewhere else. 

Now imagine this: we time-travel back a couple of weeks, and you’ve just won the $564 million powerball. Someone waves you over from your now insignificant tiny pot and goes “Hey look! This is all yours now!” Surely, surely, surely, in this scenario, every single one of you would share some of those winnings - maybe buy your parents a huge mansion, take your significant other on a crazy vacation, lend a couple mil to your friend’s app startup - and why? Because it’s a whole lot easier to give away money when it didn’t feel like yours to begin with. 

What if that amazing situation is reflective of our current circumstances, though? That sure, I’ve worked hard, but if you take a step back, a lot of my success and well-being comes from circumstances well beyond my control. My parents cared enough to place me in high achieving programs from a young age, I was fortunate enough to go to a good school district where my teachers and classmates challenged me, I endured micro-aggressions but for the most part escaped relatively unscathed in terms of racism or bullying, I got into a great university that was pre-professionally focused, I had multiple friends guide and recommend me towards good internships, and I was fortunate to intern for a firm that had a high return-offer rate which ultimately translated into a well-paying job. Yes, I worked hard and yes, I’m ambitious. But I would be blatantly lying if I said it was just me. Because it’s so much more than hard work that got me here, it’s blessings upon blessings upon blessings. And how can I look at my own money after taking a real look at my past and still say “This is mine and I earned it.”?

A few years ago at Flood Church, I first heard the concept of "radical giving.” Contrary to the standard ten percent tithe that’s often recommended, radical giving challenges this very basic assumption of why we have what we have, and therefore why we give what we give. If I truly believe, as I often say I do, that what I have is not mine, but a gift from God, how much easier is it to give away? On the flip side, how much more selfish does it seem for me to hoard onto it? How much more wrong does it seem to claim God’s money as my own and then to say “But...I worked hard for this gift!” Instead, the worry of the zero-sum game starts to melt away. Not easily, but slowly, as I learn to recognize that God has provided for me in crazy ways up until now, and surely He’ll continue in that same way to provide for me as I continue to live. It doesn't mean that dollar bills will be falling from the sky, but that ultimately my needs will be taken care of. The concept of “sacrifice” might still come into play, but it stings so much less when it stops being about reaching to take from my insignificant little pot and it starts being about sharing together in that gigantic $560 million winning.

God has been challenging me continually over the past few years. It was easy, truth be told, when I was a student and my pot was little. But since I’ve come to associate my own wealth with my own accomplishments, it's become much harder. It will probably become even harder when one day I add in a family or (knock on wood) I get laid off or (extra knock on wood) a medical emergency comes up, but ultimately doesn't God call me to the same? I’ve always been meticulous with my finances (multi-tabbed excel spreadsheets and all), but I’ve come to realize how much I cling to my savings account as my safety blanket. I pat myself on the back because I set aside an amount for donations, but that’s not radical giving. That’s I’m-safe-in-this-controlled-environment-giving. Even as I write this, I'm convicting myself because I totally had a sense of pride when I donated a seemingly large amount today, but really I knew I had enough in my “donation bucket” to do it. So it’s not easy, and I get that. And I’m not advocating throwing your money into the wind, embracing enforced communism, or just laying on the ground waiting for blessings to come. God calls us to be good stewards of our money, to work to glorify Him, and I think with that comes the need for wisdom in which charities we donate to. But maybe, just maybe, if we have a little paradigm shift and view what is in our bank accounts not as ours, but as God's, we can unclench our fists just a little bit and more freely give money that isn’t ours. 

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As some of you might have noticed, the past few weeks my life has been slightly dominated by Cycle for Survival and Tacky Prom. It’s been a whirlwind of leading a team of 16 riders, coordinating multiple fundraising efforts, and trying to reach our $5,000 goal. As I’ve gotten swept away in logistics coordination and getting closer to pulling my hair out, I’ve had the opportunity to re-evaluate why I give to begin with, and beyond that, why I feel so emboldened to ask others to give. Of the many things I've been provided with, I've been provided with a voice - so I ask on behalf of those who have none. If you would in fact like to help us raise money for rare cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering, you can do so at the following link. This year I ride in honor of Janette, a survivor and patient of MSK, and my god mother, Fairy Mom, who passed away from cancer but still managed to shine bright every single day:

http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/Apostlesshenanigans

Beyond that, I recommend the non-profits charity:water, Doctors Without Borders, and First Book. Charity Navigator is also a wonderful resource for finding other reputable non-profit organizations.

Sometimes you have to take a few turns in The Shit Chair by Amanda Liew

Black - Musings

Sorry for the thousands of times I use the word “shit” in this post. I normally don’t cuss, but sometimes you have to say it like it is. My senior year of high school, one of the volunteers at my church organized a bible study for a handful of us senior girls to prepare for college and leaving home. What started out as a bible study quickly fell apart as we got distracted by random tangents or started opening up more about our lives. As people started sharing more and more, though, we came up with this thing: The Shit Chair. And so, once a week, someone in the group would get a turn in The Shit Chair. It was literally just an opportunity to talk about all of your shit, and it ROCKED. It was insanely cathartic – first off, we were in bible study and using the word "shit" (rebel!), but more importantly, how many opportunities do you have a chance to just spill your secrets and everything that you’ve been struggling and hiding from the world? It was wonderful and healing to have each other to pray for us, follow up with us, and to truly know what was going on behind the façade. At the same time, it was jaw-droppingly MIND OPENING. Because EVERYBODY. HAD. SHIT! Even though I knew all of these girls for a pretty long time and saw them almost every day at either school or church, we were sharing heart-breaking experiences about our families, ourselves, and our fears. And they were BIG problems, not just the ones you expect. On one hand, it was heart breaking because I realized how everybody was so broken. On the other hand, though, it was so liberating to realize that everybody else was so broken. I realized how good everybody was at hiding their shit, and that I was not just a total weirdo because I had to deal with things that other people couldn’t see. At the same time, when I shared my own story, everybody said the exact same thing to me: “I had no idea. You hide this so well!”

So, since then, I’ve decided against hiding things and putting up faces. The majority of my very close friends already know the shit that went down back then, and  in the four years since, I’ve told this story to others and to myself as a means of saying, “Don’t worry. Everyone has their shit.” I have X and Jane has Y and Stacey has Z; everybody’s got something. What I didn’t realize, though, is that sometimes you have to take a few turns in The Shit Chair. About a month ago I had to deal with something large in my life – it was traumatic, embarrassing, humiliating, and frustrating in so many ways. As I expressed my aggravation over why I had to deal with this, my housemate echoed back the exact same thing that everybody has their own issues and everybody has their own shit. Without even thinking about it, I shouted back at her, “But I already HAVE my own shit! __________ is my shit! I’m not supposed to have another one!”

Boy, was I wrong. Since that day, I’ve realized two things: we really have so little control over our own lives & we don’t need to reduce our lives into understandable packages. For the first one: Even though my original shit still has some effect on my life, for the most part, it’s a thing of the past. I’ve made significant amounts of progress, and because of that I feel stronger. Yet foolishly in my mind, I had this deal with God: “Okay, I’ll accept this. I know it was meant to be in my life, and I know You’re using it for such and such purpose in the future. This will be my burden to bear.” But what in the world was I thinking? Life sure does not work like that!

As for the second point (and maybe this is just my Type A personality coming out), I’ve realized that so often I want to be able to reduce and condense my entire life into definable and understandable statements. It’s like the Alcoholics Anonymous phrase: “Hi I’m ________, and I’m an alcoholic.” I want to be able to say, “Hi, I’m Amanda. I’m 22. I’m a graduating senior from Penn. I have a mother, father, and brother. I’m a Christian. I’m an Asian American. I like this, this, and this. I’m really happy about this. And the shit I have to deal with is this.” When I’m able to explain my entire 22 years of existence with simple statements like that, it means I understand what’s going on, and I’ve got at least some level of control over things. But our lives can’t be reduced into simple statements like that. We have more than one thing that we love, more than one interest, more than one major accomplishment. We’re all probably going to have more than one career in our lives, more than one major relationship, and for sure more than one piece of shit.

So, to you who actually took the time to read this immensely long post on shit, I encourage you to take a nice long sit in The Shit Chair. It can be with me, it can be with someone else, but let it out. And for the situations when you need more, I highly encourage you to talk with someone who actually knows what they’re doing. Like so many other people at this school, I finally went to CAPS today and it rocked. We all have shit in our lives, and we all desperately need to talk about it. And when you’re done, don’t say bye too quickly – because I can guarantee that at some point in the future, you’ll have to take a few more turns in The Shit Chair.

Word count on “shit”: 23.

And because this picture is too appropriate to not include:

Everyone+poops

Thoughts from a Conversation by Amanda Liew

Black - Musings

He said he wanted to live a life worthy of a memoir.Isn't that what we all want? A life that's worthy and significant? Something that we can look back on when we're 80 years old and be proud of? But then I wondered: is it that we want to live lives that are worthy of memoirs? Or that we want to live lives worthy of someone else writing one? For me, it's the latter. I don't care who reads the story of my life. But to have one person want to spend enough time with me to hear the story of my life - to capture the moments that can't be excavated through my facebook, twitter, or blog - and then to turn them into a labor of love? Now that's true significance. I have big dreams and aspirations, that's for sure. But I don't think fame is one of them. We all claim that we want a voice, but for what reason? We say we want to be heard, but by whom? So why do I blog? Why do we tweet and why do we post? The flippant answer is probably attention. But I think it's deeper than that. There's still a feeling of catharsis when I post and know nobody will see it. There's still an urgency to get my thoughts down even if I know they are for myself. At least for me, I think I'm in some sense writing the outline of my own memoir - just a few pages here and there. So that maybe one day, someone will come along and I can show them the major pieces, but they can fill in the rest of my memoir themselves. We only share with the public what we wish. For some people like myself, that's more than others are willing to do. Very rarely are we able to convey something's full existence in one go. Instead we pick and choose and tailor down. Therefore, I don't think reading somebody's blog or following them on Twitter will enable you to truly know a person. Just like reading someone's memoir will only tell you so much. I suppose the only person who can truly know it all is the author of that memoir.