In the opening of the 2021 film Minari, a young Korean immigrant family is uprooted from California to Arkansas to follow their aspirations of land ownership. As they drive up to a lonely trailer, their new home, they are welcomed by an open field outlined by towering trees and a harmony of buzzing insects. Like a blank canvas, the new surroundings hold exciting possibilities and yet, their faces are tense with doubt and fear given the uncertain future.
Their story resonates with memories of my childhood that began thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean. I was six when my parents crammed all our livelihood into extra large wheeled duffel bags to dream in a foreign land. I leaned toward the television screen with my chest protruding forward and upward. I eagerly watched each scene to find my story weaved into theirs. As much as I anticipated feeling seen and known, I also dreaded disappointment. I swung between vulnerability, “Will they tell my story too?” and self protection, “I’m expecting too much; it’s just a movie.”
Because of my fraught relationship with my grandmother, I naturally looked to David, a 7 year old and his grandmother to be my spokesperson. As I watched the elderly and the young navigate the clashing tides of generational and cultural differences, I waited for relief and comfort to blanket over me. It didn’t come. Instead, I gasped.
The moment was subtle and easy to miss and yet, it screamed at me. Anna, David’s sister, opened his bedroom door and discovered that David’s disapproving, judgmental rejection of his grandmother had softened. Their affection had blossomed and was now mutual. David shared his room with his grandmother despite his initial protest and disdain but he not only grew to accept his roommate, her presence brought comfort. Anna played the dutiful older sister who remained neutral amid their conflicting dynamic but their newly formed bond pushed her further to the sidelines. She was the proverbial fly on the wall, not because she wished for it.
I knew all too well that being female in my home meant not being chosen. The unspoken but implied understanding was that men are like the heaven or sky and women the earth or ground and it persisted, neither challenged nor questioned. Growing up in this cultural framework of gender, I learned self-reliance and self-sufficiency were necessary survival skills. Reading a room and responding only after I have done the former task thoroughly was a must, lest my longing to be chosen be exposed. My adaptability was reinforced by sayings like, “We don’t have to worry about you; you’ll figure it out.”
Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to reflect on my story and invite trusted, wise, and curious listeners to speak truth and kindness into formidable moments including those that left an ill impression. This process has created more room to echo Joseph’s words when he is atlas, face-to-face with past harm, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 5:20 ESV).
Being able to bless our pain is not merely the result of time healing all wounds or keeping physical distance to avoid triggers. It requires intentional labor—grieving pain; naming its impact minus excuses; surrendering as Jesus did in his vulnerable state (“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Lk. 23:46 ESV); forgiving; and reclaiming the glory that was lost and marred. It’s remembering that Jesus’ scared body were not limited to his humanness but they mark his resurrected form. His wounds bear witness to his sacrificial, lavish, costly, healing love—“…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Is. 53:5 NIV) And it’s embracing our scars for they tell of God’s redeeming goodness.
Moreover, the fruit of revisiting and walking the terrain of your life is discovering that your desires are birthed there. Our redeemed stories reveal our passions and the good we are called to. This is the redemptive work of the gospel! We are not the sum of our painful experiences; they are not the definition of us. Nor are we doomed to futility and hopelessly stuck in the myriad of haunting failures and traumas; they are not our final verdict. They however, become the burdens and concerns that compel us; they are the battles we are willing to fight.
This fall, I’m hosting a fair trade party to join other women in their stories. Purchased items from the party will support artisans locally and abroad to receive a fair wage that empowers them to care for themself and their family and restore dignity and pride to their work. Many of them are women living in extreme poverty. They have been prey to the false promises and enticing lures of human trafficking or are highly vulnerable to it. They are single moms striving to raise their children rather than having little to no viable option but to give their child up for adoption in hopes of a more secure, thriving future.
One party can feel like one drop in an ocean of complex societal problems. It feels naive to think a party can make a difference. And yet, a single droplet creates ripple effects and has the potential to reach far beyond its initial impact. One party matters because it acknowledges the human journey and grieves that tragedies and heartaches are not the way it's supposed to be. Moreover, it honors the cost of resiliency. It restores agency and voice and celebrates hopes and desires.
Our stories redeemed, testify of a God who graciously and mercifully bestows “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that [we] may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Is. 61:3 ESV)