The Formative Moment of the Rest of My Life (and the Story I Tell Myself)

The end of 6th grade marked the celebration of finishing elementary school where all the soon-to-be graduates in the school district would go to Camp Orkila for about a week. It was incredible fun full of cute girls, hyper boys, cheesy campy activities, “counselor” High School students even more sexually frustrated, and some teacher chaperons (see photo album: https://goo.gl/photos/VGdk2X5iFTyVurEH9).  When the buses arrived back at school for the parents to pick up their kids, my best friend’s mother picked me up instead of my mom. When I came home, someone in my family greeted me and showed me immediately to the Master Bedroom closet. It was empty, because my mother decided she couldn’t stay. She wouldn’t return to that house again and I wouldn’t have meaningful contact until I was 20.

What followed were months of fetal crying and brokenness as many young children who are abandoned by their mothers would react. I think I generally was hurt less than others may had been since there was never a particularly strong emotional connection between myself and my mother. Regardless, it’s still painful to feel abandoned and unwanted.

That summer, I went to a Korean-American Youth Group church retreat with a left arm in a sling from when I took a one armed turn on a bicycle while pressing the front brakes. Through an emotionally intense, “last night” worship session, I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” of brokenness and “accepted Christ in my heart.” The intense negative emotions associated with my mother’s abandonment were channeled toward an intense sense of “original sin” guilt and Christ’s crucifixion as the fix.

My 7th grade year was very awkward. It’s awkward for anyone newly entering middle school, but with the fairly recent abandonment and emotional development retardation, I believe the issues may had been amplified (see photo album: https://goo.gl/photos/3bUN1se2NFyzCKUW9). Somewhere toward the middle of the year, I was in my basement bedroom full of spiders and strange noises next to the boiler room. Stricken with emotion and determination from a source I cannot fully place, I lay prostrate on the ground crying. Inside my mind I had the image of the television depictions of kids with divorced parents that are sitting on a couch while crying with intense guilt since they blamed themselves for their parent’s divorce. “It’s my fault my parents divorced!” the TV child star wails. The child would be inconsolable and essentially turn into a useless, despondent, unproductive mush for the remainder of the show being a BURDEN.

As that image played in my head, I think I felt I had to make a choice. I could either surrender to my grief, or I could fight. Prostate on my knees; pounding the ground with my fists; that day I chose: “What do you need a mother for? So what? You have the infinite God of Love on your side. THE HEAVENLY FATHER. He is the only Father you need. If you have Him, you have more than enough.” With that pep talk, I “hardened.” I’m not sure what the best descriptive work is, but whatever fears, or concerns, or perceived weaknesses in my mind preventing me from achieving what I wanted, I was determined to not let stand in my way. I held disdain for that loser of a child blaming themselves for their parent’s divorce. I was NOT going to be a VICTIM. I was going to be a WINNER. I will succeed no matter the circumstances (At that time, my little 12 year old mind probably limited my biggest obstacle to only the mother abandonment emotions, and not things I had yet to experience or comprehend).

Toward the end of that school year, I ended up taking a chance on the school’s talent show playing some classical music entirely on my own initiative. It seemed to impress a lot of my peers and teachers and that was perhaps one of the first times I had “accomplished” something without anyone dictating my actions. From there, various risks I took lead to success (and some failures which I didn’t really care about), and I gradually discovered what I excelled at more than my peers, and what I sucked at (ie. Track & Field). With each success, confidence grew. With each failure, I knew I just needed to have discipline to practice and eventually conquer or reassess if it was something worth it to me to invest the resources to succeed.

Whenever I’d feel the inevitable hot, red face of embarrassment, or the “butterflies in the stomach,” I would simply draw from that same determination on my basement floor and push through. I did that at least until I had enough confidence in my previous accomplishments, became more comfortable with failure, and my body and mind became accustomed toward my sometimes socially risky behavior.

CHOICE & FREE WILL?
The common narrative I tell myself is that I’m constantly making the “choice” to be an INITIATOR and not the PROCRASTINATOR. At this point, I have lived so long as an Initiator and seen the great benefits, it’s difficult for me to remain passive. It takes more effort for me to NOT act. I am a fighter. I am a doer.

But, I wonder how it all started. From that moment in my bedroom I felt I had to make a “choice” between surrendering or fighting. It didn’t seem as though that choice was mundane, but it felt as though it was an EPIC choice which would determine the FATE of the rest of my life. I SAW the vision in my mind of the LOSER life, and it sickened me. And I wanted to crush it. And I gained ambition from someplace.

Perhaps one could say it was the Holy Spirit. Perhaps one could say it was psychological inspiration from a perceived “higher power.” Perhaps it was genetics? Perhaps my brain responds to grief with a “fight” rather than “flight” response? I can’t say exactly, but can I necessarily claim it was entirely by my “own strength of character” that I made the “right” choice?

I just don’t know what that means anymore since it’s hard for me to imagine today to ever demand a grieving 12 year old to “stop crying and man the FUCK UP!” How horrendous that would be for a full grown adult or parent to say that to a child abandoned by their mother!? What kind of monster would say such a thing!? We would coddle that child and salve their emotional wounds with affection. Yet, from someplace, inside my little head, that loud voice is what got me to push forward.

In my delusional mind, I try to take 100% credit and thus make myself out to be some kind of “hero.” But in reality, how can a 12 year old really be fully responsible for ANY of their actions? Nevertheless, it does seem to be the narrative I run with, and it seems to work well in increasing my personal energy.

It’s just that when I write out this formative experience, trying to take 100% credit for the “choice” of 12-year-old me seems a little absurd. But if it wasn’t 100% “free will,” then what the hell was it?