So...it's been forever

By Melanie Kim '23

Illustration by Jocelyn Salim '23


When I said I liked looking out at the birds outside of the window, I think people assumed I was talking about the small birds that perch delicately and sing bright little tunes.


No.


I’m talking about the mourning doves that are too fat to land on the tree branches.


Their coos are loud, yelling squawks. They rise up from the backyard playground structure in a whir of wings. They writhe among the leaves of the purple ornamental cherry tree and tumble down. Trying again and again, yelling coos as they slip off of the branches and fly back up again.


Maybe it shouldn’t be so funny.


Maybe it’s sad that I spend a half hour just watching those birds slip off and yell-scream-coo. Maybe it’s sad because it’s a nearly-20-year-old girl just sitting alone by the open window laugh-snort-chortling. Or maybe it’s sad that I find these birds’ frustration and perseverance an entertainment.


Quarantine? Or maybe I was just always like that.


The time my brother fell off of his chair in the restaurant, clonking down with a forkful of food flying after him. The time when I managed to gash my cheek with the trash can lid because I propped it up and it fell down on my face. The time I tried to rip off a chunk of bread from a stale baguette and it ripped into my arm instead. My first reaction was always to laugh.


In a group call with my friends during quarantine, after watching a video of us back at college in our freshman fall, I said, “Wow, I haven’t laughed that hard in forever.” Which strictly speaking, wasn’t true.


In the tangly mess that is my brain, I had lost track of what joy meant. Joy became equated with laughter and temporary fleeting happiness. Moments spent with other people, moments where I felt thrilled or excited.

As a result, during this quarantine, I struggled a lot because I wasn’t “happy.”


But that’s not how the Bible defines joy.


“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:1-2, ESV)


A friend said this about the verse. When an infant is weaned, it doesn’t mean that the infant doesn’t need the mother anymore. It means that the infant is content with the mother, not for her milk but simply with being in her presence.


It’s an analogy that the psalmist so perfectly planned out.


A quiet soul.


It’s hard to have. I have a lot of aspirations, a lot of hopes and dreams, a lot of pride. I like to uplift myself in my mind; I glory in my achievements. And it can get really ugly.


Maybe the mourning doves are wanting too much, trying to land on a branch that is never ever going to support their weight. And maybe sometimes God’s telling me, hold on a minute. Is this really what’s best for you? And I just plow ahead, full-tilt, not even pausing a moment to think that maybe He’s trying to spare me a lot of heartache and pain.


Have I calmed and quieted my soul before God? Have I been able to trust that He is enough and that He will provide me with joy in His presence?


I don’t think that I need to fully understand what joy is about. God doesn’t lay out the steps to every goal and every path to living life more like Him. He just sets out what our heart attitudes should be, and the rest of our lives should follow.


The mourning doves have no real reason to keep climbing upward. So why? Why do they keep climbing? They’re just thoughtlessly wobble-shuffling their round bodies up that tree without any real understanding of their situation. (Maybe they need to do some bird-pilates or something.)


And I’m just wobble-shuffling my way upwards to who-knows-where, convincing myself that I need to earn my “joy.” That if I can just have a little more fun, laugh a little more, understand this crazy mess of a time a little more, then I can stand up on that high tree branch of “joy.”


That’s where humility plays in. Humility in knowing that I cannot understand everything that is going on. Humility in recognizing that God is in control of the situation. Humility in recognizing that my heart is not my own. Humility in trusting God with His timing. Humility in remembering that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died on the cross so that we might be free and know abundant joy—not just in our forgiveness, but in our daily lives.


I was so moody throughout these quarantine months. Still am, to be honest. I don’t think I used to be so up and down. Maybe it’s just the amount of time that I spend by myself, mulling in the spicy tea of my thoughts. Spicy? Maybe not. Kinda muted eh-ness. But I manage to trick myself into thinking I’m not happy. I don’t have joy. And ta-da! I’m back in that slippery spiral of fighting to get back up to the top and failing and failing and... (you guessed it) failing.


I’m high key pretentious sometimes. I write stuff like, “I sat in front of the computer screen yesterday and skimmed for tragic poems. Why? There is nothing remotely tragic about my life. There is nothing remotely tragic about my strangely raspy, raggedy voice. But I sat there and read because for once, it felt good to be saying someone else’s words. It felt good to pretend that there was some deep story, some deeper narrative coursing through my veins.”


And then in my journal on March 29th: “So... it’s been forever.

I need to be actually turning to You now, God, not

Drifting

Farther

When I feel lost and trapped.

All I know is that this way of living life is

Exhausting and

Trying and

Hopeless.”


To which I say: dude, where does all the angst come from?? Just laugh a little, please? Maybe seize myself by the shoulders and give a real hard shake for good measure.


Because in my heart, I’ve already told myself that I have the power to make myself happy. In a circumstance that I can’t control, it becomes unfair and impossible to be happy. Because I’ve lost control. What would it look like if I just let God take control? If I just turned to him and said, yes, God. I trust you.


That requires me to sit a little, think a little, but mostly just learn to be still in God’s presence. To let His joy and His presence wash over me. To stop fighting to climb up the endless tree branch of my self-interest and desires. Are my eyes raised too high? Have I exalted my heart too much?


Is my soul calm and quiet before the Lord?


That’s a real question. It’s gonna take some more soul-searching, some more Bible reading, some more people-talking, some more mourning-dove laughing, and a lot of waiting. And I joke about this, but the angst is real. And a lot of times I’m not looking out of the window and laughing at the birds—I’m contemplating my very existence.


But I’m confident. God promises us that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV).

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