Coming home always puts certain things in perspective, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
I was standing in line with my dad at Starbucks today. Behind us were a group of people from the class below me from my high school. I remembered them and the classes i had with them, but I did not remember their names, so I stood silent and listened as they carried along their conversation. “Well, I was just talking to Chris, and he says ‘STAY IN SCHOOL’. I think it’s stupid. He’s hiding. I mean, look, I work at Google now, you work with finance now… why do we need grad school for anything?” Then a haughty laugh. Man. I forgot how it was to be from Lynbrook Highschool, where success was already guaranteed to you just for going to the high school. I glanced back, and saw them dressed as if they were in their thirties already. I looked at myself. In a sweater jacket, a funny shirt, jeans and flip flops. All of a sudden, I just felt immature and silly. I just did not want to even try to start conversation to relearn their names anymore. I felt a strange shame, in that I was still a little kid, and not doing adult things. It’s strange to explain to these people who have grown up in the silicon valley with success as their destiny why I have chosen my path. And doing student ministry often feels as if I’m just doing some youthful splurge because I am trying to run away from adulthood. In reality, yes, there is much to be proud of my job. But when standing next to these people with their 100 grand jobs who expected me to do the same is just strange and jarring.
But simultaneously, in these last few weeks, this old feeling has started to overwhelm me, strangely dissonant with the feelings of immaturity I feel around these old high school friends. I have prayed with friends with diseases that shouldn’t be plaguing them at this age and don’t cure. I have had to sit with my grandma as she shows me her sugar level logs, stained with blood from the pricks in her finger and stomach she has to do everyday. I have had to speak at a memorial for a student who just recently passed away. I just recently had to sit bedside with a friend just a year older than I, who had just gone through his first batch of chemo treatments for cancer. I have been telling people that I have been feeling strangely old.
I was at a prayer meeting with the Mandarin congregation at my church up in San Jose. I told the two older ladies in my group that, “我觉得神要我的心长大很快。“ (I feel God wants my heart to grow very fast). I am growing up. But not in the way they predistined me to grow up during my time at Lynbrook where they laughed at me for not applying to any Ivy League schools and scratched their heads when I told them I was choosing to go to UCSD over UCLA. Age and maturity does not come with a big salary, big title or the fulfillment of a destiny of entitlement. Instead of entitlement, the maturity comes with a call to always find joy in the times of grief. To be inspired by my friend’s enduring faith that God will heal her even though we’ve prayed for it every week. To see the smile in my grandma’s face to see me with her poor vision and that her grandson has visited her. To see the joy that overrides grief at my student’s memorial as there was more laughter than tears when people saw the loving and cheerful impact he made at MiraCosta. To say goodbye to my friend who just finished with chemo in higher spirits than when we first got there. The grief is overwhelming. But the joy I see in the midst of all of this is inexplicable and unstoppable.
As I am in this airport pondering the “Kingdom that is here, but not yet”, I realizing that the “age and maturity” dictated by my Silicon Valley upbringing can just ring so hollow at times. Underneath this muddy and young exterior of jeans, a funny t-shirt, a sweater jacket and flip flops, perhaps there are diamonds of maturity being formed.
I have been realizing that as we grow up, God does not toy with us and manipulate us into His plan at our expense… but He brings us into something so undeniably and ravishly beautiful, that the pull of the grief, pain and shame of our path is but miniscule compared to the compelling gravity of His love and joy that endlessly pursues us. The joy and redemption is worth something, the scars are there, but the life we receive renders them as just marks of God’s grace.
The road is more painful and doesn’t feel as glorious, but it is irresistably filled with more of the grace of maturity than I could have ever deserved.