just keep swimming – a journal excerpt

Grief sometimes comes in waves,
and today was the high tide.

Day by day, I feel its ebb and flow, oscillating like the tide.

Some days, it is calm and still enough, I can see my own reflection on the surface. Other days, I wake up with the water up to my neck and the sadness gnawing at my insides.

Man was never meant to swim the ocean. Man was never meant to say goodbye.

Yet we swim,
our hearts at the mercy of the seas.

I first felt it come when I was walking down College on my morning meanderings after breakfast. It came up on me by surprise and one of the first thoughts I had – as if bred from instinct – was,

“What did I do wrong?”

As if I made a mistake by being sad.
As if I was responsible for the waves.

Remember it is the ocean you are swimming in,
Remember your helplessness in the seas,

and remember, you have a rescuer.

Some days, the high tide will come and you will have to swim for your life.

And when it does, always remember –

“It is not your fault.”

 

long-distance | prompted 1

The following piece is a response to prompt 1 of the Raconteurs, a storyteller’s collective I recently kickstarted with some of my friends and fellow bloggers. Check us ooouutttt: raconteurcollective.com.

Dear _______,

Hello friend. Not too long ago, I would have never thought of writing this letter to you. I think I had nightmares of that sort of thing. The world has not been too kind to me recently and lots of things in my life have changed. But it seems things have changed for you as well. So here we are, I guess.

Sometimes, I can’t help but to feel like our friendship is on a timer. If we know we will have to say goodbye for good, is it even worth saying hello? If I know I’m going to lose you, is it worth giving into our friendship? Maybe we can evade the heartache. Or at least cushion ourselves from it.

I know, it sounds silly. But you know I have a soft spot for goodbyes. I never know whether it’s better to peel off the bandaid nice and slowly or to just rip it off in one fell swoop.

I guess it doesn’t matter anymore when your friend chooses for you.

When you get about halfway through the slow-peel, you kinda wish you just ripped it off. Like, just pull the damn thing off already.

It’s weird. You’re still here, but you’re not really here. I’m still here but you said goodbye already. Hello? I’m still here. You’re still here but I already miss you. We’re both still here but our relationship is emotionally long-distance.

You probably already know this but I’m learning that just because we don’t talk anymore doesn’t mean we’re not friends. I’m trying to tell myself that more and more. Really, I am. But you know how it is. I’m a slow learner.

I’m beginning to think that this timer isn’t so much for our friendship as it is for myself to learn these things.

So I guess I should thank you? For letting me… erm.. “practice”. So it won’t be so heavy later. One less farewell to lament when summer comes.

Maybe by the time this gets to you, I’ll realize that I shouldn’t have ever sent this to you. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe we’ll be friends again. Like, the type that talks to each other. Then you’ll read this letter anyways and things will get a little awkward but it will be okay. Because this isn’t the first time I’ve wanted to send this letter. Because we’ve done this before and we can do it again.

And maybe it won’t work out. Maybe we won’t be that type of friends but I’ll learn to be okay with it. I’ll have to. Timer’s ticking.

You have a beautiful soul – I’ve never seen one quite like it. I’m really going to miss you. I already do.

Take care, yeah? We probably won’t see each other anytime soon but maybe I’ll catch you in my dreams.

Thanks for the memories.

Love,
Justin

deep space – journal snippets

This past year, I started journaling differently. Less bullet pointy. More fluid. Less note-taking, more storytelling. Aside from the fact that it makes the task of reflection way more exciting, I’ve come to see that God is much like a storyteller Himself.

As the semester comes to its close, I get to indulge in my favorite part: re-reading everything I’ve written. The adventures. The movie scenes. The poetry. I decided to transcribe some excerpts and quotes from my journal and compile them into a timeline of sorts. Just as a fun experiment. Enjoy!(?)

 

“Blood. Sweat. Tears.
All fine choices for ink in a time like this.” – the last entry [December 19th, 2016]

August 22nd, 2016 [Day One of school] – I didn’t know I could turn into a robot

“When the pace of life is too fast for the soul to keep up, it rips out through its fleshly cage, leaving the body soul-less, life-less, color-less. Cold like metal. I can smell the rust. […] Is it happening again? Are the darkest chapters of my story repeating themselves? Am I facing my biggest fears once again? Jesus, I’m scared. I feel alone.”

August 24th, 2016 – Midweek Nothingness

“But then again, no matter how long you stay in Thailand, your body never really gets used to the humidity. I pray the same over my soul, lest it gets used to feeling pain.”

September 4th, 2016 – the wind blows eastward

“My body has lost too much blood. Each day, I wake up with soreness and exhaustion weighing on my body. The phone has been charging all night and by dawn, it is still at 11%. Did I even sleep? But it doesn’t matter. The relentless tempo of time stops for none. […]

I’m sick and tired of being tired. I’m tired of fighting pain.”

September 5th, 2016 – “fight fire with fire” published on the reverie.

“I’m dyin’ out here, Jesus. And I’m tired of it. Was this not my prayer in Thailand?”

September 6th, 2016 – In the Mourning, When I Fall…

“The lament has begun. […]

Why am I running? Because I’m scared. That no one will get it. […]

The Lord rests in the shadow of the moon.

‘Your pain is all you’ve ever known.'”

September 12th, 2016 – “grip strength” published on the reverie.

September 18th, 2016 – Oh look, nothing

“I’m still nervous to draw near to Jesus because recently, I’ve associated that with pain. It’s like hanging with a surgeon. Damn.”

September 21st, 2016 – pockets of Joy

“Go play, Justin. That is your mission. That is why I created you… I want to show you how to fly.”

September 25th, 2016 – Just tryna savor this, but everything’s flavorless…

“I think my soul’s nerves are in shock… In a similar fashion to how my leg’s nerves were shot after the centipede bit me. My bruise felt numb for a good month or so afterwards. Damn centipede.

The things that usually give me life and joy don’t do quite the same anymore…

Damn. Who am I?”

October 2nd, 2016 – “stone the prophet” published on the reverie.

October 2nd, 2016 – “pain, revisited…”

“Yet an invitation was extended to me to make their pain, my pain. Will you take it? […]

If not now, then never. And so I dive in. My nerves re-awaken from their slumber of numbness and welcome the sting and rush of fiery pain.

It is almost ‘refreshing’ to feel something, even pain, after your nerves have been shut off and in shock for so long.”

October 5th, 2016 – so WHAT THE FUCK HAPPEN

“I fell into a whirlpool monday night. […]

I am alone. No one is here for me. They’re busy. It’s late. They’re tired. It’s so draining to go to them. It won’t help. I’m by myself. I am alone. Lonely. All alone.

Jesus, where are You??  …Hello? God, it hurts. I don’t know what’s happening. I cannot hear you. Please help me. Rescue me.

No answer.”

October 8th, 2016 – “the crescent’s edge” published on the reverie.

October 9th, 2016 – Storms coming…

“The force of the gravity was so powerful and overwhelming… I could not escape from it. I just got sucked into its gravitational pull and it was over at that point. No matter how hard I tried, I could not escape.

Space travel is an incredible thing but doing it alone can be terrifying at times.”

October 17th, 2016 – so that was my last FallCon… I guess??

“I don’t understand. Did I do something wrong? […]

I return home with no story to tell. not even kayaking. […]

I’m getting more sad, more often. Episodes upon episodes like a netflix binge.

I need a fucking massage. and alcohol.”

October 18th, 2016 – [untitled]

“Hi. I really need more of you in my life. I’m navigating through a thick jungle of black holes. If I am not careful, I might step on a trap. […]

When I go to bed each night, the world becomes still enough for me to feel everything again, especially the things that hurt.”

October 19th, 2016 – “the return” published on the reverie.

October 21st, 2016 – MORE STINKY SHITS, YAY

“I have nothing. everything in my life is falling apart.”

October 23rd, 2016 – Week of Stinky Shits

“He listens to me, absorbs and feels everything that I feel. Com Paseo.

He looks at me tenderly.

He wants to take it all in. The pain I feel. He wants to receive it and hold it with me, for me.

He looks at me tenderly.

He is so so in love with me. He is mad for me. He is eager and always waiting to talk with me.

He looks at me tenderly.

His gentleness, His listening heart, His deep care disarms me. I surrender.

He looks at me tenderly.

October 30th, 2016 – ⌘Q

“I feel like there’s no one person that I can fully depend on. I want there to be a friend who can always be there for me, all through the day. Through the depressing waking moments, through the anti-social meal times in the dining hall, through the daydreams while I sit inattentively during lectures, through the YouTube binges, through the moments in the middle of the week when there’s nothing I want more than to fly kites at the beach, through the times of stillness when I stare off into blank space, through the nights when the loneliness is unbearable, through the pain, through the wonder.

Who will slow down their lives from the busyness of the world? Who will press pause the mad game we call life? Who will care enough to have their days be interrupted and stopped? Who will slow down for me?

Only they will find the Kid.

Jesus: I wanna be that person for you. Will you let me?”

October 31, 2016 – Today, I let go of the rose

“The petals lay wrinkled and dampened, pigmented by beauty and bloodstains. I don’t even know what my fingerprints look like anymore.”

November 1st, 2016 – “bare minimum” published on the reverie.

November 7th, 2016 – Day of Adventure

“Treasures everywhere. Today was a gift. One of my favorite days in this semester, hands down.

I got back home and almost instantly found myself driving into a black hole.

Oh SHIT. what’s happening. the pain. grounding. how do i do this thing. don’t get sucked in. external world. where am i. what are your surroundings. describe it to me.

breathe.

oh god.”

November 9th, 2016 – OH GOD. SARAH SAID A LOT OF THINGS.

“Will people have the time for me? Will people have the patience for me? Will people want to sit with me?

Jesus: I will. I have all the time in the universe and I will lavishly spend it all on you. I wanna be your best friend.”

November 13th, 2016 – turning point?

“We love moments of nonetheless. We like big buts. […]

Sometimes, we don’t want to hear nonetheless… Sometimes, it just sucks. […]

Trapped in the limbo of hating where I am, yet immobilized by the pain and unable to move forward.

Sometimes, pain is inconsolable.”

November 15th, 2016 – “homesickness” published on the reverie.

“I can’t stand being apart from them. I just want to be with them. That’s all I really want.

Old friends. New friends.”

November 22nd, 2016 – a respite for the soul

“Man. I don’t wanna be sad anymore.”

November 23rd, 2016 – “homelessness” published on the reverie.

November 25th, 2016 – black friday 2016

“thursday was already black. […]

is emptiness better than pain? i don’t know. idk if one is inherently better than the other but in a time like this, i need a break. my soul is tired. i need rest.

and if nothingness will give me that rest, i’ll take it.”

December 4th, 2016 – New Wineskins

“He cries. We both close our eyes.
The God that wants to be my friend, He is a little something like this. Gentle. Tender. Soothing. Affectionate.”

December 6th, 2016 – “writer’s block” published on the reverie.

December 11th, 2016 – of finish lines and end times

“‘blisters on my feet, i crawl back home / frozen from the sleet burned sand and stones / nourished back to life by life alone / with one shake of the mane, regain the throne’ – Matt Thiessen […]

Seems like I’m always off-time. Bad timing. I experience time differently than most people. Never really recovered from jetlag or something. […]

Fill me, Jesus.
Come and show me that you’re everything I’ve ever wanted and some.”

December 13th, 2016 – “metamorphosis” published on the reverie.

December 19th, 2016 – so that just happened

“‘I did it. It’s over at last.’ –text message to Paul [thursday dec 15, 2016, 3:54PM]

I cried on the bus ride home.
With my forehead pressed against the icy window, I watched two streams racing across the glass, one of winter rain, one of warm tears.

I pulled off my helmet. I can breathe. My soul heaved a heavy sigh, expanding far wider than my lungs ever could. […]

A forest of black holes.
Kid Wonder’s most dangerous mission yet.

No man has ever ventured this far into the cosmos. And I’m confident that no man ever will.

This deep into space, man can only dream of traveling to. Many may seek, but only few will find.

Only children.”

metamorphosis – a reflection on my last Fall Semester

“Who am I?”

The loudest question echoing in my mind of late – the tension of my heart. A fun question when you know the answers, a haunting one when you don’t.

I wonder if caterpillars have midlife, existential crises like humans do.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and not recognized the person standing in it? Has even your own reflection become a stranger?

It is so routine, so habitual, that we overlook the slightest of changes in appearance. The nuances in color. The subtlety of texture. We glance over the minutia of change.

One day, it hits us. We stop in our tracks, frozen by unfamiliarity and cold air.

There is a change in the wind. The canvas of the woods shine a different hue. It seems so sudden that the leaves put on their yearly red-ish, golden outfit. Without invitation.

For us Southern Californians, we are reminded that Autumn is a thing. A sigh of relief. We sigh again because we can see it in the air for once.

This past semester was a season of shedding leaves.

I have occasionally toyed the thought of plants being able to feel pain and emotions. You know, human things and such. If they could, I think I now have an idea of how shitty of a time of year Autumn and Winter must be for them.

It is a time of death and release. It is a time of amputation. Imagine having to amputate your body parts a couple times a day for a few months. Imagine doing it every year, like some twisted family tradition. SoCal has it good.

It is time of acknowledging the outlets and instruments we use to receive sustenance and life from the world around us, only to saw them off.

It is a time in which we must face the reality that our leaves do not work anymore. No matter how hard we try to cling onto them, they will eventually fail us and leave us as unsatisfied and lifeless as they are. They will brown and die. And we will have to let them go. We will watch little children play with them and trample on them with their size-three rain boots.

Maybe it would be better if trees didn’t feel things.
Maybe I should just be a plant.

The recent months of my life have been bitterly cold. I have watched, often in horror, my leaves slowly change color, wither, and die. They’re not working anymore. It seemed like every week brought a harsh gust that would blow through my branches. My leaves – the things and people I depended on for love – would be lost in the wind.

I have been stripped bare. I’m almost naked, save a couple leaves. Wintertime is here and it’s not as holly jolly as I remember it to be.

To confront the truth that the devices we depend on for love no longer serve us anymore is terrifying, to say the least. Those places are now off the map. A coffee smudge. Be it money, status, family, significant others, self-image, knowledge, busyness, or what have you, our fears are eventually realized when we discover that those things will never quench our thirst.

For me, it was friendship.

I have wanted to run away countless times this semester. I don’t know where, but just far away. I didn’t want to face the reality that my friends could not love me in the way they have so faithfully in the past. I was afraid no one could ever understand me anymore. And the people who could were not there. I didn’t want to confront the prospect that I just might be as alone as my fears told me I was.

When the memories you’ve tried your hardest to bury begin to surface, you run. The places we run to may differ but we all run somewhere. Human nature, I suspect.

Who am I?

When your soul is being tortured, you start to see parts of yourself that you didn’t think could live inside of you.

Amidst the darkness of loneliness and depression, I must confess there is still something strangely beautiful in death. In seeing the autumn leaves adorn our city walkways like ornaments. In the crisp, icy winter wind. In the letting go.

Even as I release the thorny rose from my grip, I see beauty and bloodstains. I can’t always tell which is which but there is something oddly remarkable in that.

There is pain, there is promise. There is heartbreak, there is hope.

Jesus once met a woman who was thirsty for relationship, a little like how I am myself. He invited her into a season of Autumn. Her leaves happened to be lovers.

“Give me this living water you speak of”, she begged Jesus, her desperation now more real than ever.

To which He responded, “Then give me your thirst.”

Here’s to new wineskins, autumn leaves, and hungry caterpillars.

Here’s to springtime.