*Disclaimer: I was given the honor and opportunity to speak at an outdoor celebration to conclude a 10 week discipleship I just completed at my church. I edited my story to tone down the candid insanity. This is one continuous thought and it might be weird reflecting on thoughts about God, so I apologize in advance if I might seem crazy because I probably am. This was written for my church, but I am sharing my story because it might help someone somewhere heal and to grow stronger in their faith. I am so thankful to have grown so much by God's grace so, here it goes.
Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story tonight. I have had to confront a lot of old and wild thoughts to honestly reflect on how I got here. I didn’t just drive here after work, like how did I really arrive at this moment? We just completed a ten week discipleship together and it feels like this is only the beginning all over again. I’m new here. I got baptized when we entered this program and I put a lot into perspective this season as a brand new Christian, and I’m going to have to go backwards a little before I can go forward with my flow of thought.
I am the only Christian in my family, but growing up, that wasn’t part of my identity. When you’re Asian, the most common question that people will ask you is what are you? What kind of Asian are you? Where are you from? I’d always reply that I’m Thai, and if you should know anything about the culture (besides the food) is that Buddhism is rooted in the culture and traditions. Although being Buddhist wasn’t my primary identity—like I wouldn’t say, “Hi my name is Alyssa and I’m a Buddhist,”—it’s just part of the family I come from and how I was raised.
I grew up as the closest grandchild to my ying (which means my mom’s mom), and my ying was a woman dressed in white who shaved her hair like a monk and she lived a simple life of prayer and meditation so, I think of her as a great example of a good woman with a strong spirit. I didn’t understand what Buddhism was as a kid, like I didn’t know any Zen principles or anything like that, especially when this religion was chanted in the mother language, and I guess that I didn’t only have a language barrier with my grandma—I also had a language barrier with my understanding of faith.
I got to live a fairly normal American life, but if there is anything that I have realized in hindsight, is that I did not know Jesus when I was a kid. God has always known me, God knows each and every one of our souls, but I did not always know God. I didn’t have the spiritual awareness to know about how He works in my life and I did not know that I could pray to Him when I experienced something traumatic in my past. I have tried so many different medications over the years— antidepressants, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotics, lithium—and I don’t like medication. I don’t like seeing the psychiatrist or being told that there’s a chemical imbalance in my brain.
I coped with the battle inside my head by returning to the roots I knew—reading, drawing, painting—and then connecting that to my worldview, which was limited but began from within. I took myself off my medication and really recovered by building a foundation with meditation, and reiki, and yoga—but when someone told me that Jesus is the truth and that those practices actually led me away from God—I struggled with myself all over again because that was my truth at the time. I found that mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and holistic healing through yoga—so it took me a while to let go of what I knew.
I was also let go from my job around the time Covid started affecting us and then my studio also closed, so I felt sad again. I took a break from yoga to give Jesus a place in my heart and mind, and what I realized is that God does so much more for us. I started with reading books of the Bible and searching for videos online, churches near me, and after a painful break up I really started praying to God to lead me to find a church family so that I can grow in my faith as a Christian.
So, I feel very blessed to be here tonight because I found this wonderful church. You guys do it all—the online sermons, baptism, discipleship—and when I saw that was coming up soon, I knew that God was nudging me in the right direction to reach out already. If I stayed at home on the internet alone, I would have missed out on the opportunity to really grow in my faith and heal my brokenness if I wasn’t brave enough to change. I went from being a yoga instructor to becoming a follower of Christ. I am the only person in my family to take the leap of faith to embrace Jesus as my Lord and Savior because He is the truth to clarify any confusion, He is the light to shine away the darkness, and He is the only thing that makes any sense in the current times we live in.
When I think about the state of the world or the weight in my heart, Christ helps me hold myself together. This is why I am so grateful for this church and my group to really guide me this season. We’ve taken the time to read the same book and to reflect on these lessons with our groups, and I am so thankful to my group for listening to me process my candid insanity. We learned who our almighty God is, how He speaks to us, and the power of prayer. I used to meditate before I started my day and before I would go to bed, but now that quiet space is my time alone with God to let Him know what’s on my heart and mind and to ask Him for His guidance in my life. People think meditation and prayer are the same, but the key difference is that meditation is to quiet the mind while prayer is to really connect with God and He doesn’t mind if you pour your heart out to Him.
God loves each and everyone of us, and I stand before you today because I took the leap of faith and I hope that you can also grow stronger in your faith by hearing my story because I see God working in my life now. He has inspired me to paint again, He led me to a better job where I can grow in my abilities, and He has led me to this church to grow in my faith with five other good people who I keep in my thoughts and prayers. We have prayed for each other over the weeks and one of the first things we prayed about was to hear God speak to us. One of His messages to me recently is to trust Him—like I’m driving and thinking why certain things have happened to me and I hear Him tell me, trust me—Yes I trust you, but what’s going on?--trust me, He says. He doesn’t want you to be confused by your emotions or discouraged by who you are or the mistakes you’ve made or whatever suffering you have gone through in the past. Put your faith in Jesus and trust Him.
If you have the heart to change, you can let go of what you think you know about yourself but also get a better grasp of who you really are through Christ, and maybe I have a Zen approach to Christianity which all that really means is that it starts with a beginner’s mind. My group helped me realize that I had an internal rather than an external approach to my relationship with Christ, where I didn’t grow up with the Bible or going to church or knowing any better. I didn’t have this external knowledge to understand how God works in my life, like I experienced the definition or meaning of a word before knowing the perfect word to describe that feeling.
I don’t have a whole lot figured out yet, but I know that God has guided me in the right direction to really grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord. Granted, there is so much more that I still need to learn and work on personally, but I am aware of that and I acknowledge that. Wherever you are on your journey of faith, I would like to encourage you to also reflect on your roots and to grow in His grace—and to be nice to yourself as you do. Don’t get too carried away by what everyone else is doing. Remember what really matters at the end of the day or at the end of life, and your peace with God is so important.
I hope that I didn’t offend anyone’s beliefs as I shared my voice and candid thoughts about changing faith. As I wrap up this thought, I’d like to emphasize that this is what I think today. This is how I feel at this moment. I still haven’t made up my mind on my final thoughts about Buddhism and yoga, but it’s on my heart because I acknowledge that it has helped me in my faith journey to understand myself as the woman God created me to be. I used to end my yoga classes with this lesson here—that I hope you felt what you needed to feel and found what you needed to find. I experienced that through prayer because of the guidance I've had this season and my life has changed for the better knowing that God is with me, and I hope that you know that He is here for you too. “To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18). Thank you.
If there is anything that this painting has taught me, it’s that sometimes things don’t go the way you planned them to and sometimes your perception of yourself will change. I think at first I wanted to try abstraction or cubism, but then I overthought it and tried to look pretty and normal. Then I put more color back into this painting and some more thought, and I realized that this isn’t about body image or style or color. This is kind of how I see myself and I’m a little hard to understand (still in progress).
My life and art is not perfectly documented.
There is a period of time that I was offline and a time where I felt like I lost my sense of creativity altogether, but I wanted to kind of map out my mind with the photos I could keep intact. This isn't necessarily my best work, it really is just random pieces that I still have somehow. I was always a creative person, like I got in trouble for drawing on the wall with crayons and I was the kid in class that would always draw things for you if you asked nicely. I liked drawing cartoons and anime at first, but as a teenager, I became influenced by fashion magazines and an editorial flair for art and style. I studied printing in Oakland, CA and turned my final project into a textiles and fashion piece. Then during my senior year, I landed a spot on the prom committee of a popular teen magazine and wrote a few pieces for the fashion section.
I developed parts of my style by being influenced by fashion magazines, but my style is more influenced by how I grew up as a creative misfit stuck in the quiet outskirts of town doing what I can with what I have. I didn't stick with fashion and chose to follow the art route to challenge myself to design what I needed to. I continued my studies in San Diego, CA and spent a lot of my free time painting in my dorm room. I drew and painted a lot over the years and explored other creative practices like metal and ceramics during my design studies, but I don't have everything perfectly documented. Here's a glimpse into what I still have from my college art photos.
After these photos, it took me a few years to get back into the flow again to create what I currently have in my portfolio and in progress page. Sometimes I think that's a few years lost from making art and adding to my portfolio, but with what I experienced, I can also see that time period as a critical journey in my growing faith which is very important to me as an artist and writer. My inspiration found me again when I took another look at an old painting. I have tried three different painting ideas that did not work out on my horizontal canvas (in my first post), maybe it felt forced or unnatural, until one fine day, I just drew the layout for an artsy woman and I don't know how those lines came to me and worked out so perfectly.
In a way, I really do feel like God gave me that stroke of creativity and He inspired me to paint once again. I see Him really working in my life because God led me to a job working with plants and He encouraged me create painted planters. It might not seem like a big deal, like hey this girl only paints pots, but that process took years for me to come to and I might have missed this endeavor without God's guidance in my life. This is all still fairly new to me, but I can explore this idea of both an art journey and a faith journey in another post. Until then, please ask yourself these questions:
Hello and congratulations on finding my blog.
Many of you may know me as a classmate or co-worker or that person who made your coffee, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing, but if you are reading this, maybe you didn't know me as an artist. Chances are that you also probably clicked too far into my Instagram, saw my website, read my blog, and still won't follow me back like many others--but I guess by now I'm used to not feeling connected to others, especially through social media. I don't know why the other side of the screen is usually very silent, but my philosophy is to not judge my progress on likes and followers (because I honestly don't have very many), and I guess my real challenge with this is to not be afraid of expressing myself. That's just an irrational thought and not the reason why I logged back in.
I probably logged back in because I was bored, and I had a slight culture shock to checking my Instagram feed after years away. I was offline for a few years and during that period of time I really plained myself down and handled my anxiety off the internet. I went through a rough experience and was paranoid that someone would hurt me again, so I eventually grew fearful of expressing myself online and at all. I stopped checking the internet and I stopped painting while I finished my academic and work commitments. I guess I had plenty of time to do some soul searching and I grew more in my faith in a whirlwind of thoughts just to come back and remember that I used to like to paint. I don't have my life or art perfectly documented, but here are a few things I was able to keep intact. Ohmygoodness I forgot I made gifs.
On one hand I am a little anxious about being online again, and on the other, how am I ever going to communicate myself effectively if I remain ineffective in my communication because of an irrational fear? I can communicate more effectively through my art and writing than sharing partial song lyrics and plant memes like the millennial I am, so I created this webspace rather than to limit myself to my very unpopular Instagram account. I guess I don't have to explain myself or feel like I need to, but that's not what this blog is about. I guess I would like to share my growth through my art, talk about my creative process and inspirations, and then to share some of my thoughts on art and other topics like identity, perception, and culture. Right now, I am wrapping up a few more time commitments this upcoming month, but I would really like to catch up on some reading, writing, and painting in the year ahead. I feel as if my thoughts are shattered pieces and I am putting them back together like the gold of Kintsugi.