Stories of Grace | How God is Redeeming my Asian American Identity
“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”
“What’s it like being Asian here?”
I’ve been asked this several times in Seattle, and I still don’t know how to answer this question. I’m an Asian American, and among many other first-generation immigrants, we are often times called “third culture kids,” because we’ve created a third culture among ourselves that is neither truly “Asian” nor truly “American.”
As a result, much of my life has been a quiet tug-of-war, of never quite fitting into the Asian norms or high expectations set by my family, but also feeling like a foreigner to many American mannerisms. Was I supposed to stay silent or speak out? Was I supposed to obey authority or challenge it? To me, it was a dichotomous place of tension I lived in, never really knowing how to reconcile the two cultures from which I learned.
Coming to DCC, the disparity of Asian and minority representation in leadership was something I acknowledged but was not unaccustomed to. I grew as a believer in predominantly white churches, but the personhood of Jesus Christ always made me feel so close to Him and His people, despite our ethnic differences.
It wasn’t until recently that I felt safe enough to talk about my Asian quirks and heritage to non-Asians here. I attribute this space of comfort to my community, which has taught me so much about God’s acceptance and love far beyond any body of Christ I’ve encountered.
I moved from a group of Asian Americans to a community of majority white members. I knew my community cherished me, but there were many times I still felt on the fringes, catching the tail ends of pop culture references and missing punchlines to jokes. Those were the moments I asked myself, can a Christian feel lonely even among Christians? How terrible if this were the permanent reality—of being not only a stranger to this world but also a foreigner among other believers as well?
But thankfully, this was not the plan God had for me. After a year of persistently attending community, sharing vulnerably with my discipleship group, and receiving an abundance of generosity from my Christian friends here, I’ve been deeply filled and refined into a godlier woman.
When I was overwhelmed and pining desperately to leave Seattle, it was my Scottish-Swedish friend who comforted me when I had no words left to say. When I was flailing for friendship and laughter, it was my German friend who brought me ice cream and took off her make-up alongside me. When my lease ran out of time and I didn’t have a place to stay, it was my Jewish-German friend who immediately offered her place for me to stay. When I was harassed on the street and felt completely helpless, it was my German-English friend who empathized with and comforted me. When I was stressed from the demands of work, it was my German-English friend who gave me perspective and reminded me of the grace of God. When I felt stagnant in my faith, it was my Chinese friend who consistently prayed for me and challenged me to think beyond myself.
I say all of this to remind myself that the Lord provides, loves, and restores. He created me with black hair, brown eyes, and a small frame. He created me and put me in an Asian household among American neighbors. He planted me in Seattle and watered me slowly, nurturing me through interracial friendships and a church that is becoming more and more diverse.
For most of my life I had always believed that ethnic differences were divisive. But I’ve learned that humility, vulnerability, and intentionality regardless of race are the things that break walls of judgment and lies about people. I’ve received such deep love from these brothers and sisters that I want to continue demonstrating the same kind of God-given love to those in the next chapter of my life, whether or not they are Asian or American.
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” -Colossians 3:11
-Michelle Shieh, your Taiwanese-Japanese-American