Sometimes things don’t always work out the way you plan them. When I was a freshman in college, I had my eyes set on med school. The end goal was fuel that propelled sleepless nights and ritualistic study groups. In the early days, all I thought about was becoming a doctor. But after two years of six hour labs and mediocre report cards, I decided that a course correct was in store. I knew I loved speaking, teaching, and developing people and I wanted to harness those gifts and passions.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
- C.S. Lewis
"Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Author
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to preach out of Luke 5:27-32. I love this passage because it reveals what the Kingdom of God really looks like. The Kingdom of God isn't full of (self) righteous, religious people but rather it's a Kingdom full of misfits: tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves, idolators, and worse. In this passage Levi, a tax collector, is approached by Jesus and Jesus says to him, "Follow me."
As I meditated on these verses, I couldn't help but recall a Ted Talk I heard a few months ago given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled The Danger of a Single Story. I highly recommend her talk so check it out after reading this blog. One single story she experienced was when she moved to the United States for the first time and her American roommate asked how she had learned to speak English so well. What her roommate didn't know is that Adichie's dad was a professor, her mother was an administrator, and she herself had grown up in a conventional middle-class where English was the primary language in Nigeria. Her roommate then proceeded ask what her "tribal music" was and was quite disappointed when Adichie produced a tape of Mariah Carey.
Adichie then shares about how people have a single story about Africa. A land of beautiful landscapes but also a land that is war-torn by violence and in need of AIDs relief. Single stories give one perspective about a place or person and defines who they are, rather than discovering the complexity of that place or person.
And then I thought about my own experience of the single story. As an Asian American, what are the "single-stories" that are put on me? In the quote above Adichie says that it's not necessarily that stereotypes are untrue, but rather that they are incomplete. But how do these single-stories shape our identity? And what are the single stories we believe about others that impact the way we choose to engage them.
As I married these two ideas together, it hit me! Jesus rejects the single story about us and enters into our story. Imagine if Levi was a victim of a single story as the Pharisees had portrayed him ("a sinner and tax collector"). Jesus may have never entered into his story and we wouldn't have the Gospel of Matthew. But what does Jesus do? He says to Levi, "Follow me" and then proceeds to have dinner with him in his house! How radical and scandalous is that?!
Here are a few take-aways as we choose to reject the single story:
- People's stories are not as simple as we may perceive them to be. Let's reject the single story and hear what people's stories really are.
- If you have a resistance towards someone or people group, try inviting them over for dinner before you put any judgements or labels on them.
- Ask yourself the question, "What are the single stories I believe about people? And how did I come to these conclusions?"
Adichie closes her Ted Talk by saying, "When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place (or person), we regain a kind of paradise" (Parenthetical added). When we reject the single story about any person or place, we can experience heaven and earth being weaved together, we see God's Kingdom manifest in our communities and we allow Jesus to enter and redeem our broken stories.
I'd love to hear your comments! What is your experience with the single story stereotype? Please comment below.
I began training for my second California Coast Classic a few weeks ago. California Coast Classic is a fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation in which 200+ bicyclist ride down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 8 days. In 2011, I rode my first CCC; I had never owned a road bike before then. The first time around I meticulously examined the weekly training recommendations and followed them precisely. It was all about making sure I got in the right amount of milage every week to prepare for something I had never done before. As you can imagine, I was nervous and unsure if I would ever survive to tell about it. In case you're wondering, I did.
But this year's training regiment has been different. I'm way behind on my training schedule. I just started training a few weeks ago and have been inconsistently riding. Yesterday we were set to ride 30 miles. The training route said "Hills" but I thought to myself "How hard could it possibly be?" I knew I could ride 30 miles no problem because I had done it before, but I guess I wasn't quite ready for the hills.
As we took off, I was near the front of the pack. I loved the wind in my hair and at one point I passed one of the elite riders. I mean he was older so I psyched myself out and said, "There is no way I am going to be behind this guy."
But then we approached our first hill. It was hard; it was long. I felt like I was in the Tour de France as we passed through a picturesque valley with orchards and vineyards in the backcountry of San Diego. It was a scene right out of a movie. But with each passing cadence, I began to feel my chest get heavy. I could literally feel the muscles in my legs shredding. We made it to the top of the hill and I thought to myself, "That was a lot harder than I remember three years ago."
But it got worse. As soon as we got to the top I heard someone shout, "We have two more of those." There was no way I was going to make it. I was already near the back of the pack and we were only on the 12th mile. 30 miles didn't seem so short after all.
The hills, however, weren't what bothered me. It was the fact that the other riders were kicking my butt. If I can be honest, a few years ago I secretly enjoyed hills because I was able to race to the top and pass several people along the way. But this year's training has been quite the opposite. I was the last one up.
The sad part is that sometimes we feel like this in life, don't we? We train, we work hard, but it always seems like we're behind somebody else. Here are a few take-aways from my reflections on being behind:
- Ride at your own pace. There is no point in riding faster than you've trained for. There's not point in beating yourself up for not going as fast the other person. We'll all make it to the top, eventually. And even if you don't, your friends will be waiting for you cheering you on.
- Ride in community. One of the best parts about training for the CCC has been the community it has created. Even though getting passed by people "I think I should be faster than" crushes my ego, it's way better to ride together than alone.
- Don't let others' success keep you from training. I've been trying to unlearn the lie that if I'm not the best, I shouldn't even try. The lie says, "If someone is better than you, you might as well try something else." In my experience, the best motivation has been surrounding myself with people I aspire to be like who are further along than I am. It gives me goals to strive for and mentors to help me along the way. Don't let their success keep you from working harder, use it as motivation.
Needless to say I finished the ride, but I've got a lot more work to do. This week what are you training for? What goals are you're willing to discipline your mind, body and soul towards? Trust me, you're closer to the top than you think, just keep pedaling.
The last month has been incredibly challenging to say the least. One thing I have noticed particularly in Asian American culture (at least in my family) is that "getting help" is taboo. If we ask for help, it means that we are weak and that we are bad. Worse yet, if you're an Asian American Christian, to struggle means that you don't have God's favor, and that's really bad. When we're week, it shows everyone else in our tribe that we are incompetent or unworthy. As a result, we try to hide so that we don't look shameful or unworthy. But what if we began to actually admit our weaknesses. What if instead of pretending that we need to have it all together to hide our weaknesses, we celebrated weakness as a reality of life. And that when good things happened to us, it is a result of God's grace, not our own efforts.
Weakness, struggle, pain and suffering are all part of life. They are certain. Strength, victory, success, and fortune are often our goals in life but aren't always reality. Now I'm not suggesting we give up trying. We will try, that's part of DNA (well most of at least). But for us to think that strength, victory, success and fortune are a result of our efforts is exhausting. If it is completely dependent on our own doing, our own striving, then we are headed for despair.
Today, I starting from a place of weakness. I'm admitting "I really don't have it all together." And then, asking for help where we need it the most. What if our failures were the starting point of God's grace in our life. What if our weaknesses were the place where God's strength is made perfect. I don't know about you, but I grew up believing the reverse. Rather than believing in this truth, I started to believe that being good was all about me. With my own strength I could move mountains. I felt like if I could just fake it, I could make it. There wasn't a real sense of ownership of my failures and when I needed help the most, I couldn't admit it.
For the last month, my family has been going through a really hard time. There has been a lot of heartache and struggle. A lot of difficult conversations and old wounds being exposed again and again. But during this month, I've learned a few valuable lessons that I thought I'd share with you:
- When I get old, I want to have some really good friends that know me and can call me out. Not just the superficial friends, or the friends that I'm "ministering to them" but the men and women in my life who will call out the best, and worst, in me. Who are those people in your life? Do you have them already? And what will it take for you to sacrifice everything to make these kinds of lifelong friends?
- Weakness isn't saying you're weak, it's merely a reality of where we're starting from. I think true strength is found when we can start from humility. This month has been extremely humbling and I am meeting God in those moments of struggle and pain.
- Finally, pain is real. Emotional suffering is hard. I've learned that the secret to overcoming either of these is powerlessness, not control. It's hard and it's difficult, but I know in my weakness God's strength is made perfect. So today, I'm starting from a place of powerlessness. I'm starting from a place of utter dependence knowing that somehow in my weakness Christ will be formed in me.
Growing up, my family and I loved camping. We would go to National Parks during summer vacation and even to this day, the smell of burning wood chips brings back nostalgic memories of making s'mores under the moonlight. My dad at the time was finishing up medical residency so we didn't have much money to stay in fancy hotels, so camping was the best option for us. I didn't mind.
One time we visited Yosemite National Park. I love that place. The scenes are picturesque and awe-inspiring. I think heaven will look like that one day. Crazy canyons, infinite mountain peaks and waterfalls that demand your utmost attention when you're standing at their feet. Our camping rituals included setting up a tent, roasting meat over the fire, hiking just a few miles because my mom would get tired and most importantly, enjoying one another's company. These memories were great.
If you've ever been to Yosemite, you know there's no shortage of bears. They are protected creatures in National Parks and even to this day, bears rule the land, especially at night. One night, after we had finished dinner and climbed into our tent we were awakened by a creature who was a few hours late to dinner. It was a not-so-friendly bear of some sort because you could tell by the sniffing and large steps in the general proximity. I was afraid... Very afraid. I had only seen pictures at the Visitor Center or heard rumors of their presence, but to be within a few feet of a real bear with only a piece of nylon to protect us, I was certain that this was the end of my short-lived life.
As the bear approached our tent, he would crease his nose into the side of the tent. The snarling and heavy breathing was more than I could handle. I held my breath while my heart beat out of my chest. Then, out of no where, my dad took his foot out of his sleeping bag and with one foul swoop kicked the bear in the nose and the bear ran off. I know he ran off because I'm still alive today.
I'll never forget that moment. The fear of the bear was transferred to the fear of my dad. When the bear was near the tent, that was the most scared I'd ever been in my life. But after my dad literally kicked the bear in the face, I was fearful of my dad. It was a comforted fear though. I knew my dad would never kick me like that but he was merely protecting me from the danger at hand.
The other day I was talking to a guy about faith and spirituality. He asked, "If I am supposed to fear God, how does that free me to be a son? Doesn't that make me a slave?" And it was in this moment I remembered this story of my dad. My dad isn't perfect, nor is he God but this experience with the bear reminded me of my all-powerful Heavenly Father. He is way stronger than any bear that tries to get in my tent.
Fear is real, it's right outside our tents, but who will be in the tent with you to protect you?
It says in scripture that God is a refugee in time of need (Psalm 61:3). He's a fortified tower (Proverbs 18:10). He can destroy nations with a blink of an eye and with just a few words He created the world. This is the God that I worship. It's crazy, but that's the kind of fear (or reverence) I have for God. He's not going to use his power to harm or hurt me, rather to protect me. He's powerful beyond anything I can possibly imagine in this world. He's able to deliver me from my fears, my pain, my frustrations, my temptations. He's more powerful than anything that I know.
Today, I'm learning to trust in this kind of God. A God who's stronger than a scary grizzly bear. He protects me when we're camping but also when I'm surrounded by darkness and the world feels like it's collapsing all around me. Fear is real, it's right outside our tents, but who will be in the tent with you to protect you?
A few days ago I read an article titled, "Why Bar Hopping Beats Medication for Social Anxiety Symptoms". I'm not really the bar-hopping type and honestly I don't struggle with Social Anxiety Symptoms but I know a lot of 20somethings who enjoy going to the bar and I know several people who struggle with social anxiety as this title suggests. For the longest time, I've shared that with people who have a hard time in social settings (i.e. large groups, meetings, classrooms, etc.) to redirect their focus or attention onto someone else when they even get feel social anxiety bubbling up. In the article, the author suggests that "one of the most efficient strategies that has been used requires the redirection of mental focus from oneself to the folks around you." I didn't know that this could actually be proven by research or quantified.
In this research experiment, participants were asked to point out one unique attribute about the person they were meeting in a bar. For example, one person was asked to remember the color of the other person's eyes, or another would be asked to report the details of their hairstyle. This research proved that people who did this were less anxious than if they were asked to simply asked to meet someone new at the bar.
The article states, "The brain can only hold its focus on so numerous factors at a time, so if you crowd out the psychological processes that underlie the usual fast escalation of social anxiousness fears throughout a conversation with a stranger, the anxiousness becomes a significantly smaller enemy that you have to contend with." That's remarkable. Our minds can only do so much at a time, no matter how good of a multi-tasker you are, if you focus on one aspect of the conversation or individual, your mind doesn't have the mental capacity to think about yourself. But what about medication you might ask? I know several people who are on medication for social anxiety and depression and I'm all for it, but here's the catch: medication has a global impact, meaning it enhances or impedes most of your senses (even the good ones) rather than fixing the issue at hand.
So why did this article jump out to me?
First, it's true, if you focus on someone else, the pressure that you feel on yourself is far less. Rather than being inward focused, the opportunity to see someone as they are can have a stronger impact on personal anxiety than covering it up with medication (not for all but some).
What if our minds began to have the mind of Christ and was transformed by the gospel to hold beauty, strength, love, patience, kindness, joy and peace?
Second, one of the things we as Christians can revel in is that we have a person we can focus on all the time to give us the resilience to fight against anxiety. His name is Jesus. When we enter into situations that bring about anxiety, my hope is that we would fix our eyes on Jesus who is the one who can ultimately take away any anxiety. I know this can sound cliché but the truth is that our minds only have so much space to process fear, anxiety, doubt, frustration, struggle, etc. But what if our minds began to have the mind of Christ and was transformed by the gospel to hold beauty, strength, love, patience, kindness, joy and peace? What if our minds were so focused and concerned more on the latter than the former. How would we enter social situations? What would be our disposition towards community be like? What if we were attuned to what God is doing in others rather than having the microscope on our own deficiencies or weaknesses?
Third, I began to think, what would our communities begin to look like if social anxiety didn't have power over us in ways to debilitate our ability to love one another? What kind of community would be fostered as a result of focusing on one another rather than ourselves?
Here are a few tips for this week:
- When you feel socially anxious, try to find one thing in the other person that you want to know about. Maybe it's what their hobbies are, or how many siblings they have. Getting to know someone is key to overcoming self-centeredness.
- Share your struggle of social anxiety with someone you trust. I bet you're not the only one struggling with it. Ask that they would pray and support you.
- Focus on Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to transform your mind so that in moments of anxiety you will find a way of escape. In moments of anxiety, turn your attention and affection to Jesus, the one who has overcome your anxiety.
For more on this article visit GADFORUM.COM and if you know anyone who struggles with social anxiety, please send them this article!
The voices we often choose to believe about ourselves don't come from God but come from everyone else but God.
Every Tuesday night, we have about 12-15 young adults from all different walks of life come together in an attempt to create a beautifully imperfect community. We have snacks, get in the Word, and pray for one another. We call them Bridge Groups. These groups have become the lifeblood through my veins as I walk through life. Trust me, if you're a 20something-working-professional, these kinds of groups are the most important things you can invest your time into (more on that in a later blog).
A few weeks ago, however, we talked about the voices that are in our heads and the voices that we choose to believe. The reason why we started talking about this was because one girl shared about how her boyfriend had just broken up with her. Now you have to understand, this girl doesn't speak much during discussion time, so this was incredibly courageous of her to share and completely unexpected by any of us. As she shared about the voices in her head that said, "You're not pretty enough or datable anymore..." I looked around the room and could overtly see people nodding their heads as if to say, "I've struggled with that too." I was shocked by her vulnerability (and so proud of her).
"Who told you that you were naked?" - God
As she wrapped up her thoughts, I was reminded of the story of Adam and Eve and when they first sinned against God (Genesis 3). Right after they sinned, they hid because they were scared. God called out to them (as if he didn't know where they were) and said, "Adam and Eve, where are you?" They replied, "We hid because we were afraid that we were naked." Then God said to them as I believe he says to us time and time again, "Who told you you were naked?"
The voices we often choose to believe about ourselves don't come from God but come from everyone else but God. Who told you you weren't skinny enough? Who told you you weren't talented enough? Who told you you would never be good enough? Who told you you weren't datable or lovable? Who told you that you're the only one struggling with sin or shame? Who told you that you had to do more and work harder to earn God's love? If you've ever asked yourself any of these questions, you might want to ask yourself, who's voice are you listening to?
Throughout the years, I've had to turn down these voices in my head in order to hear God's. If you want to hear God's voice, try these three things:
- Slow down. Stop talking and start listening. Take 15-30 minutes in the morning and listen to what God would say about you or to you today. Do that everyday and ask God to speak to you.
- Resistance is your friend. I heard a spiritual director once say that "Resistance is your friend so lean into it." If you hear a phrase in your head that causes resistance, sit there and let God purge your thoughts. Ask yourself, "Why do I feel this way?" and rather than moving on quickly, sit in the uncertainty. Maybe God's trying to renew your mind in this process.
- Seek community. Don't be afraid to share the negative voices you hear in your head to your community. Be vulnerable, not just transparent. Invite others into the process of healing because you're probably not the only one struggling with these thoughts.
My prayer for you today is that you would hear God's voice say over you, "You are my son or daughter, whom I love, in you I'm well pleased."
I won't ever forget it. I was sitting on my bed in my college dorm room listening to my roommate talk to their mom. I had never heard someone talk to their mom the way he did. With "I love you's" and "I can't wait to see you mom" statements, I just couldn't handle it anymore. So I tried to ignore it, and tried to tune it out.
But as I processed the next few days and as I heard my other roommates say similar things to their parents, I couldn't help but evaluate my relationship with my parents.
Growing up, we never were that affectionate.
Growing up, we never were that affectionate. Even the word "affection" is hard to chew. My mom and dad worked really hard to love me with their sacrifice and service working full-time. They provided everything I needed (except for emotional support I later found out). But I didn't even realize it at the time, but the emotional support was what I needed as I left for college and began my journey into adulthood.
I will never forget the moment my dad said, "I love you." It was over the phone and I was leading worship at a summer camp. During that camp I had a lot of time to talk with God. During the day we would have space to walk around the great redwood forest or listen to the river running through the canyon. It was in this space that I began to ask the question, "What did I need from my parents growing up?" So I called me dad one day to let him know how I was doing. At the end of the phone call, rather than immediately hanging up, I said, "Dad, I love you." After a pregnant pause, he reciprocated. Wow did that feel awkward. It was so weird to hear that because honestly I had never heard it before. Those three words, although it can become cliche, changed the way I felt about my dad and changed the way I saw me.
I had never heard that growing up. It was foreign to me. But when he said it, it was like a fresh start. It was words that anyone else could say to me but without the same kind of impact or power.
As I reflect on this defining moment, I am grateful for it. It's so true. It's easy to recognize that security, finances, health, etc. are really important to have in our lives. But what about emotional health? What about emotional stability and security? Growing up I did't have a lot of that. It has taken me years to figure that part out, but it has changed everything about me.
If we as individuals aren't emotionally stable through love and acceptance, then I believe somewhere down the line--at work, school, home--we will crack.
If we as individuals aren't emotionally stable through love and acceptance, then I believe somewhere down the line--at work, school, home--we will crack. There will be a day when money won't be enough to cover our pain. There will be a day when the love of your life just won't be enough. There will be a day when your grades will fail you. So why not start working on our emotional stability today? Why not listen to the voice of God calling out to us, "I love you" even if you never received that from your parents.
My journey hasn't been an easy one, but I know it's one that others can resonate with. If you find yourself asking, "Did I receive love growing up?" then you may want to pursue resources to help unpack some of those emotions.
I heard a story once about a man who went to visit Mother Theresa in Calcutta, India for a few months so he could discover God's calling in his life. The first morning, he went into the room to visit with Mother Theresa and she asked him, "What would you like me to pray for you today?" He simply replied, "I simply want clarity." She then, without missing a beat, said, "I have never had clarity and clarity isn't what you need. But one thing I've asked for is trust so I will pray that you will have trust in God."
When I heard that story, I was blown away. Clarity is something to be desired in our day and age. We're asked to know what we want to be for the rest of our lives by the time we're 18 years old, or so it seems. If we don't know what we're doing when we're 21, then, "we probably won't ever figure it out."
Clarity (sometimes) is a fancy word for control. When we ask God for clarity it's because we are nervous that we don't know our future. So what do we do? We pray and pray to find the answer only to discover that when receive an answer we quickly turn from trust mode to control mode. Clarity gives us permission to rely on ourselves, rather than continuing to trust in God who gave you that image in the first place.
If you were to tell me that I would be what I'm doing right now--living in San Diego, married to a beautiful wife and serving people--I would have never guessed that story myself. But for some reason, because I am where I am now, I feel a constant need to control my future and where I'm headed. I feel an urge to be clear on my thoughts, my emotions, and my decisions. Rather than feeling the freedom to trust in a God who got me here in the first place, I push and pull on my own strength to get answers that maybe only God intends to know about.
Some of us worry about our future careers. Some worry about who they will marry. They wonder if they'll be a good mom or dad or what internship they should take this summer. But as we step into the decisions of tomorrow, what if we believed in the deepest parts of us that God knows our future and he can't wait for us to step into those plans. What if I told you that you couldn't make a mistake and that whatever turn you decide to take, Jesus will be right with you all along the way. I pray for trust, not clarity, today.