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  • Writer's pictureNina Castle


Independence Day.

What does that mean to me today?

What does that mean in the context of my family story?


Land of the free.

Home of the brave.

In war-torn South Korea, America was idealized as a paradise.

By marrying an American Army sergeant, my grandmother and mom were able to leave behind the heartbreaks from Korea for a better opportunity in America.

The struggles, sacrifice, scrounging, self-doubt, shame, and scrutiny in Korea were no longer obvious as a part of everyday life; instead, there was opportunity and optimism. A dream come true. A different kind of Cinderella story, where one marries a prince (or, an Army sergeant) and escapes to a better life.


Freedom from your past.

Freedom from your pain.

Freedom from your pessimism.

Well, not really. You can never truly forget your past or pain, or any pessimism that resulted, since these things shape who you become—these can be used for growth and self-reflection to be used in a positive manner, or you can allow the demons of it all to inflict your behavior, until you hopefully learn better someday.

My grandmother still struggled in America, although life was much better than in Korea. She constantly sent money to help her siblings and relatives in Korea. Her pain from her past was so very present although she tried to deny its existence and would rarely talk about it when asked. Unfortunately, that is how I learned to handle my emotions from early on—just block out pain so you don’t have to feel it. Sounds reasonable, right? Self-protection. Self-preservation. My mom did this as well. We often follow our examples. (Until we learn not to…)

I mostly grew up with my grandma because of the turbulent and troubled relationship that my parents had. It was definitely a love-hate relationship as they married and divorced each other twice, then even got back together again temporarily years later. Relationships are so complicated, aren’t they?

For being in the land of the free, I certainly did not feel any freedom growing up in my grandma’s home. She was extremely and unhealthily controlling. We couldn’t talk about feelings, display our emotions or affection, have many friends over, or go out much at all. And more. My job was to stay home and study to get good grades. But, even when achieving awards and straight As, I was compared to someone else’s relative who was a valedictorian, or who accomplished this or that, or who won this or that, or who was super skinny or super beautiful, etc. There was always something else that was so unreachable, to remind me how I did not measure up. When I was of average weight in junior high school, I was compared to extra thin Asian friends who wore a size 0-2. I was constantly told, “You’re so pretty, but too bad you’re fat.” Average weight. I was average weight. I was within a healthy normal weight when this was said. Wow.

She meant well. Really. She didn’t understand how this could affect a person, especially in the formative years. She wanted me and my sisters to be the best and perhaps by singing praise about someone else who had “the best” spot, she thought it would be a goal or encouragement for us. We were in the beloved land of the free, home of the brave, and she wanted us to be the best at what we did, to take opportunities to shine. She was not able to “shine” as she’d like here since she didn’t have the education, didn’t have the ideal husband, didn’t have the right opportunities. I truly believe if life had been different for her, or if she were born in a different place and time, she would’ve been a kick-ass entrepreneur of a successful company she started from the ground up.

Instead, she did shine as the matriarch of our extended family. She helped to bring so many nieces and nephews and their families to the land of the free. Today, there are hundreds here as a result of her efforts through the years. I believe that each one is very thankful to be here.


Considering the childhood I had, I am very thankful for where I am today. When I was in high school, I prayed that I would have a happy Christian family someday. God was important to me then and still is today. The constant yelling and fights, dysfunction and despair, that I saw in both parents and grandparents—I wanted none of that to be the case in my marriage someday. And it is not today, nor has it ever been. Grateful.

Grateful to have the freedom to be me.

Grateful to be able to make my own decisions.

Grateful to love freely.

Grateful to show emotions of all kinds.

I’m still figuring out and yearning for the real “free me”.

There are things I want to accomplish and venture out on; everyday life creates an obstacle to these things and I need to figure out how to get to where I want to go.

I’m not good at feeling shackled by someone else controlling my time, such as having to work for someone else. I have that entrepreneur spirit that I believe my grandma had, but I was trained to follow this scientific path as a pharmacist. If I had been allowed to follow an artistic path instead, what would I have done differently? I would like to try to go there now…


Freedom in Christ.

Wow, if that knock on our front door inviting me and my little sisters to church to ride the Joy Bus every Sunday didn’t happen oh so many years ago, where would I be today?

Today I’m free from sin and death.

I’m free from the many shackles that entangled me in my past because of Christ’s love for me.

I get to see my beloved mom and grandma again someday.

My independence is rooted in the comfort that the Holy Trinity walks with me each moment of my day. I see how God has been present throughout my whole life. He loves me unconditionally, even when I don’t “measure up” or am overweight or ugly or unaccomplished or fill-in-the-blank. Immeasurable, unconditional love. That should free one’s heart. That love alone removes barriers that keep me from being me.

He created me to be a free me.

He created me to love and create.

He created me to follow what I love to do.

He created me to live with Him in heaven.

He created me to be free.


Freedom. In the land of the free, home of the brave.

I am thankful for my freedom in Christ—the ultimate freedom.

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